Monday 27 June 2011

The story of three men. Two were bad and the third was naughty.

The bad men were Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas, both convicted murderers and the naughty man was me.

On December 11th 1962, the two bad men were to share their fates in a double execution with a noose around each of their necks with both men standing back-to-back on the same trap door with black hoods over their heads. At 12:02 a.m., Turpin, 29, was hanging by his neck along with Arthur Lucas, 54, in the Don Jail in Toronto whereas at that same moment, I was laying on my bed in a prison cell while serving a time of solitary confinement in the Guelph Reformatory in Guelph Ontario. Here are our stories.

Donald Turpin was a Canadian white man who lived in Toronto. He was convicted for the February 12, 1962, murder of Metropolitan Toronto police constable Frederick Nash. Turpin, was also wanted for questioning in Toronto for an October 25, 1961, shooting incident. On the night of February 12th he had just robbed the Red Rooster Restaurant of $632.84 when shortly after that, Constable Nash pulled him over for a routine traffic violation—a broken tail light while Turpin was still fleeing the robbery.

Turpin was carrying a loaded .32 calibre handgun at the time and shot Nash in the chest. He was apprehended immediately after the incident trying to escape in Nash's cruiser car since his wouldn’t start. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to hang by the neck until he was dead.

Ronald Turpin was born on April 29, 1933. (just half a year before my birth. Had he lived to the time of the writing of this article, he would be 78 years of age. His father was often away from home working as a conductor with the Canadian Pacific Railway.

At age 13, Ronald was placed in a foster home. (I was also placed in a foster home at age 13) He dropped out of school in Grade 8 and, for a while worked as a clerk in Ottawa. In 1951, when he was 18, he stole a car. That little escapade earned him 18 months in Kingston Penitentiary. From that time on, Ronald earned his living as a small-time thief and counterfeiter, spending short periods of time in prison.

On Oct. 25, 1961, Ronald, together with his girlfriend Lillian White, arrived at the home of prostitute Della Burns, who was throwing a party. The good times rolled for a while, but were abruptly interrupted around midnight when Della answered a knock at the door. Someone she had never seen before fired two shots at her, but missed. Della later told police that Ronald Turpin wrestled the gun out of the stranger's hands. He and Lillian then left the party with the stranger's gun—the 32 Calibre revolver that was used to later shoot and kill Constable Nash.

Unknown to Ronald, Della was under police surveillance in the murder investigation of one Lorne Gibson, an underworld character believed to have been killed by gambling competitors.

Ronald and Lillian had run out the back door of Della's residence just as a police cruiser pulled up at the front. Della and the other guests told the officers what had transpired.

One witness, Frank Benson, gave a different version as to what transpired in Della’s residence. He claimed Ronald Turpin was the gunman. Police felt that the weapon used in the attempt on Della's life might very well have been the one used to kill Lorne Gibson. In fact, it was theorized that Turpin might have committed both crimes. The hunt was on for Turpin. Officially, he was wanted only for discharging a firearm with intent to wound. The interrogation of him with respect to the earlier events would have been conducted once he was in police custody.

Ronald and Lillian hid out in Sudbury. They continued on to Buffalo, before succumbing to the urge to spend Christmas in Toronto. They decided to remain in the city they knew so well. The month of January was uneventful other than that Ronald committed crimes in the open using various aliases. In February, he decided he and Lillian should move to Northern Ontario. With this in mind, they purchased a beat-up old van.

On Sunday, Feb. 11, 1962, Ronald and Lillian had a farewell drink with Della Burns. Ronald slipped away to raise a little money for the impending trip. He robbed the Red Rooster Restaurant of $632.84. (equivalent to $9,250,00 in 2009) The robbery had gone well, but now a police car was trailing him. Maybe, thought Turpin, it was because one of his headlights or one of his tailights were damaged or perhaps maybe the officer recognized him. We will never know the reason why Constable Frederick Nash had Turpin pull over.

Turpin identified himself to the officer as Orval Penrose but he didn’t fool Nash. He had run-ins with Turpin in the past. Then he was asked to get out of his van. An eyewitness, Leonard Boreham, (who I met several years later) saw the two men wrestle on the ground. He was a witness who had just got off of a streetcar watched as shots rang out and Nash crumbled to the ground. The other man jumped into the police car and attempted to drive away. When a second officer arrived at the scene, Turpin was still behind the wheel of the police car. When the policemen approached Turpin, he threw his gun at him and shouted, "Look after the police officer.''

Turpin was grabbed by the police and taken to a hospital. He had been wounded in both arms and had a flesh wound in the cheek. Constable Nash died of his wounds. He left a wife and four children.

On May 28, 1962, Ronald Turpin stood trial for the murder of Constable Frederick Nash. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.

It was on Death Row in Toronto's Don Jail (built in 1865) that Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas met for the first time.

The two men who had been brought up in unstable environments and had led lives of crime, awaited death together. They got to know each other well. Both leaned heavily on the spiritual comfort given to them by Brigadier Cyril Everitt of the Salvation Army who visited them often while they were on death row in the Don Jail.

Arthur Lucas was an American black man who lived in Detroit and had driven to Toronto to murder an FBI witness in a Toronto house that had been rented by the witness. The FBI witness was a material witness in a pending American narcotics trial. Lucas had been sentenced to hang for the November 17, 1961, murders of Therland Carter and his girlfriend who just happened to be in bed with Carter when Lucas arrived.

Artuur Lucas was born in Cordle, Georgia on December 18, 1907 (approximately one year after my own father’s birth).

Both his parents died of natural causes before he reached the age of seven. Arthur was raised by an aunt and uncle in Byronville, Florida. He quit school in Grade six.

By the time he was a teenager, he was running errands for small-time gangsters and making his living on the streets. He had an IQ of only 63, which is classified as borderline intelligence although anything below 70 is considered mental retardation.

As the years passed, Lucas graduated to more serious crimes, specializing in narcotics and prostitution. While still a young man, he served a prison sentence in Leavenworth Penitentiary in the State of Kansas.

In 1953, Lucas married Dolores Chipps, a prostitute who originally hailed from London, Ontario. Dolores gave her husband, Lucas a son. Apparently, Lucas was so angered by the event, he kicked the mother and his baby out of the apartment and then ushered in Lillian Boykin, who followed the same occupation as Dolores.

In 1961, Lucas was making his living by procuring young girls to work in brothels in and around Detroit. He also wasn't above being paid to administer a beating to anyone who had crossed a fellow hoodlum. That's what he was intending on doing in Toronto in November 1961.

A Detroit crook, Gus Saunders, had been fingered by an FBI informer, one Therland Carter. This man (better known as Checkerboard) was to be a material witness against Saunders in an upcoming narcotics trial. Saunders loaned Lucas his pink Buick to drive to Toronto to teach Carter a lesson by beating him. Carter tried to escape further beatings by Lucas by fleeing into the hallway but Lucas shot Carter in the back of the head with his 38-calibre revolver. As an after thought, he slashed Carter’s throat. Because Carol Newman who was Carter’s girlfriend had previously been sleeping with him, she was just unlucky enough to be in the room when Lucas arrived to carry out his murder of Carter. He slashed the terrified woman’s throat while she was still in the bedroom. She also died.

At 7 a.m. on Friday, November 17, 1961, a postman, Francis MacGuire, discovered Carter’s body in the hallway of the house. He contacted the landlord who lived nearby; Sygmant Turlinski, who entered Carter's apartment and also found the nude body of 20-year-old prostitute Carol Ann Newman. She sometimes had plied her trade under the name Jean Rochelle

Toronto detectives were soon told by informants that the double murder had connections in Detroit. The word went out to the Detroit underworld for information. It wasn't long in coming. Red Thomas, a punk who had it in for Saunders, told the police of Arthur Lucas' trip to Toronto in Saunders' pink Buick.

Detectives called on Lucas’s wife Dolores, who he still saw on a regular basis. She stated that her husband had come to her house in an agitated state and told her, "I just killed two people.'' He also told Dolores that a man named Carter was one of the victims and that the murders were committed in Toronto. He said had not intended to hurt the girl until she had screamed. Carter had washed blood from his hands and had even rinsed blood out of a pair of shorts in a pail of water, which Dolores turned over to the police. The pink liquid in the pail proved to be diluted blood. Lucas was also very concerned because he was sure he had lost his ring in the bedclothes on the two victim’s bed.

She also told the police that Lucas was driving back to Detroit on the same day of the murders. Less than 24 hours after the double murder, police picked up Arthur Lucas at Lillian Boykin's house in Detroit. He denied having murdered anyone. He claimed he had called on Carter to find a position for one of his prostitutes. He had some drinks with Carter and had borrowed money from him, leaving his ring as collateral for the loan. The police didn’t believe him.

On April 30, 1962, He stood trial for the murder of ‘Checkerboard’ Carter. He was found guilty and sentenced to death with no recommendation for mercy. I don’t know if he also stood trial for the murder of Carol Anne Newman but with the conviction of murdering the FBI informant, that would have been enough to sentence him to death. A trial for the murder of the girl would have been unnecessary.

On the night of Constable Nash’s murder, I was also arrested about the same time Constable Nash was shot because I had previously hid someone who was being looked for by the police. Actually I didn’t know that person was being sought however they also noticed that I had an unregistered 38 cal. revolver in my apartment which I registered with the RCMP in Victoria B.C., after I had purchased it for target shooting but I didn’t know then that I had to re-register it every time I moved.

On the night of my arrest, I was taken by the two police officers who came to my apartment after midnight and taken to what was then the Toronto police headquarters which was located at the north-west corner of Church and King Streets. I was seated on a bench in front of the front desk of the police station while I was still handcuffed. Minutes later, the chief of the police force came in and began talking with the desk sergeant. He turned towards me and asked one of the detectives that had arrested me, “Is he the bastard that shot Constable Nash?” The detective replied, “No, Sir. He is here on an entirely different matter. Minutes later, the deputy chief came into the building and after been told that Constable Nash had been shot to death, I heard him remark to the chief, “Well we all knew that someday Nash was going to be shot.” I didn’t know if he meant that Nash would be shot by someone else or by Ronald Turpin.

Meanwhile, the police said that they would drop the possession of the unregistered firearm against me if I pleaded guilty to harbouring the person being looked for. Without the benefit of having a lawyer, I pleaded guilty that same day to the harbouring charge after I was taken to court and much to the surprise of the police and I, three days later, the judge sentenced me to fifteen months in a reformatory and six months indefinite. (indefinite sentences are no longer given by judges in Canada anymore) Many years later, that same judge told me when I later met him that he never would have sent me to prison because as he said, “Times have changed.”

I was taken to the Don Jail and placed in the newer unit where the cells were much larger than the cells in the older part of the old jail. It was while I was waiting to be transferred to the Guelph Reformatory which is for first adult offenders only, I had occasion to meet Ronald Turpin. He had been placed in the Don Jail about the same time I was had been while he was waiting for his trial. As I was being taken to the doctor for a medical examination, I passed the small wing where Ronald Turpin was being held in a very narrow cell. There was a guard sitting in front of his cell. Minutes later, Turpin was brought in to see the doctor and he sat down beside me.

He told me that Nash had shot him first in one of his arms so he reached for his gun that was on the front seat of the van he had previously driven and turned around and shot Nash in his chest. To this day, I don’t really know if he was telling me the truth. Years later, I met the eyewitness to the shooting of Nash, Leonard Boreham when he was a salesman in the piano department of Simpsons on Richmond and Bay Streets while I was practicing some of my compositions on one of the store’s pianos. He told me about the same that he told the police and later when he testified at Turpin’s trial. He told me that if Nash has shot Turpin first, he hadn’t seen it because when he came on the scene, the two men were wrestling on the ground.

As I previously mentioned, on the night the two condemned men were to be hanged, I was lying on my back while I was serving a period of solitary confinement in that part of the Guelph Reformatory where solitary confinement prisoners were kept.

In March 1962 I was transferred to the Guelph Reformatory in Guelph Ontario. Upon my arrival at the reformatory I was asked by an inmate carrying a clipboard if I could type. I told him that I could type 50 words a minute. Three days later, I was working in the reformatory hospital as the clerk for the hospital and in the evenings and weekends, I slept upstairs in the area where the inmates suffering from mental problems were kept. I was assured that I was kept there simply because it was convenient for me because of my work in the hospital. It was a bit embarrassing however because while I was there, I had to wear the same white clothes that hospital orderlies and mental patients wore and you couldn't differentiate between the two in terms of dress. However, if there is ever a way to enjoy serving time in prison , it could only be found in that part of the institution. The inmates there never worked so it was read, sleep or play board games and nothing else. I spent three months in that part of the institution until one day, the superintendent (his name was Charles Sanderson but was referred to by inmates and staff alike as "Good Time Charlie" because he always took away inmate’s good time, no matter how minor the offence) learned that I had written a rather nasty letter about him. His revenge knew no bounds. I ended up losing all of my good time (one day a week) and had to serve the entire 15 months I was incarcerated.

I was immediately transferred to the main part of the institution and I began working in the woolen mill. The institution made gray woolen blankets (amongst many other things) for all the other correctional institutions in the province.

Later, I applied for and was accepted as a student in the plumbing course. I enjoyed taking the course and the atmosphere was very relaxed and cordial. The instructor, a civilian, was a very decent man and a good instructor.

Some time during the end of the summer of 1962, there was talk about a riot and the head of security knew that I knew just about everything that was going on in the institution and since he knew that I had been a former employee in a correctional institution, he asked me what I knew. I confirmed what he suspected and I told him that in my opinion, a riot would serve no useful purpose. The superintendent had me brought before him and he asked me what I thought the men wanted. I told him and he agreed to consider it if I would agree to talk to the ring leaders who were planning the riot. I talked to those whom I suspected may be behind the proposed riot.

Because I was being observed by guards with binoculars, I also talked with many other inmates who couldn't possibly have anything to do with the pending riot. I failed to stop the riot as half of the institution rioted anyway. Talk about luck. Before the riot began, I was ordered to go into the dinning room where the other half of the institution were eating and who didn't riot. The head of security asked me later if I could at least try and calm the other half of the prisoners down after we were all taken to the really large enclosed area (bull pen) where we were all kept. I spoke with the men and they agreed to keep it cool. While I was with the men in the bullpen, I had got the security chief to get me a small note pad and pencil and I began drawing cartoons of the institution, its inmates and staff alike and shared them with my fellow inmates to keep them amused.

A week after the riot, I was given a new job in the main tower (the administrative offices) where I was given my own private office on the fifth floor. My job was to simply be available for any typing or drafting or any other kind of work that had to be done. For the most part, I was doing nothing but reading and designing large Christmas cards that could be hung on the wall of the library. I was also painting pictures and portraits and doing sign painting in the institution and playing the piano for church services in the prison chapel and writing inmate appeals for some of the inmates and getting an extra meal at 10 p.m. because I was quite thin for my age (29) then. As a trustee, I more or less had the freedom of the institution. Life was relatively easy for me at this time. I had no troubles with the inmates because many of them needed my services and the guards were friendly to me because they knew they could count on me to keep things cool if talk of a riot began again.

One day (about a month after the riot) the Superintendent had me brought into the Captain's office again and then he demanded that I give him the names of the ring leaders of the riot who still hadn't been discovered. I told him I couldn't give him the names.

He then gave an order to the captain that during the meal times and from after work at 5:00 in the afternoon until the time I was to be locked in my cell at 9:00 p.m. for the night, I was to be placed in a cell in solitary confinement in the main tower until further orders. A week or so later, he demanded the names again and again I refused to cooperate. He then had me thrown naked into the hole. I refused to eat and after two weeks, he promised to remove me from the hole and place me in solitary confinement on the condition that I would eat. I began eating and he placed me in solitary confinement in another part of the institution for a couple of months. The guards sympathized with my plight and used to bring me books to read and extra food.

It was just minutes after midnight on December 11th 1962 while I was lying in my bed asleep in my cell serving my term of solitary confinement that Turpin and Lucas were hanged.

Meanwhile, the superintendent upon learning that I was being given various treats by some of the guards, realized that he had martyred me and decided to get me out of his institution right away. He had me transferred to what was then classed as Canada's most secure prison at that time; the so-called infamous Millbrook Reformatory in Millbrook, Ontario. I never saw Sanderson again but years later, I learned that he was caught lying in an inquest about the death of an inmate in the Guelph Reformatory and he was subsequently fired. He later got a job as a justice of the peace in Guelph.

When I arrived at Millbrook, I discovered much to my pleasant surprise, that the Superintendent there was an old acquaintance of mine who once offered to hire me as a supervisor at another reformatory where he had been the superintendent. I had turned down his offer as I had been offered another job elsewhere. While in the Millbrook Reformatory, I was treated with respect by the guards and whenever I was in the Superintendent’s office, I was the only inmate he would see with no guard in his office and I was the only person who ever entered his office who when he spoke to me, placed his hat on his desk. He later told me that when anyone else came into his office, be it an inmate or guard, he always wore his hat.

He later recommended that I be sent to a minimum security reformatory but while I was still in Millbrook, three members of the Provincial Parole Board came to the reformatory to hear my application for parole and they granted it. I spent the last six weeks at a minimum reformatory in Mimico, just southwest of Toronto as a trustee and in that capacity, I was one of the two clerks in the main office in that reformatory. The superintendent in Millbrook and I later became good friends for years after I was released from the reformatory.

When I was released, I had $18.50 to my name and a new pair of shoes and an old suit the Salvation Army donated to me. I got myself a job the next day and two months after that, I was the first ex-convict in Ontario to be licenced to work in a collection Agency. I won’t go further into how I fared after that as I have already done that in my memoirs.

I will say however that because of my later work as a speaker in United Nations’ Congresses around the world and because I successfully negotiated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s official observer to the United Nations at the UN’s headquarters in Geneva in 1975 that resulted in the PLO no longer sanctioning any form of terrorism in Olympic Games beginning in Montreal of 1976, not only was I pardoned, but the Canadian federal cabinet later ordered that any record of my arrest, conviction, sentence and incarceration was to be destroyed by the RCMP, the Toronto Police and the Ontario Archives. Apparently, I have learned that this rarely ever happens until the ex-convict reaches eighty years of age and has had no conviction in the previous ten years. When my records were destroyed, I was only in my fifties.

Brigadier Cyril Everitt of the Salvation Army who was present during the executions of the two men. He cleared up some myths that had been going about, one of them being that Turpin fainted on the way to the execution chamber and his unconscious body had to be strapped to a plank and then while in a standing position as he was positioned over the trap door by guards reaching over the trap door, he was dropped to his death. Another of the rumours was that Turpin did not just faint when he saw the noose hanging in mid-air, but that he actually dropped dead on the spot of a heart attack. If this happened today, there would have been a great kerfuffle to revive the condemned man or woman, only to have them put to death at a later time.

Apparently none of these things are what really happened. Here is what their final moments were.

The two condemned men ate the same last meal. As they awaited their fate, the two men could hear protesters gathered about 180 metres (yards) from their cells, speaking out against the practice the demonstrators called ‘public murder.’ Before their hangings, Turpin and Lucas were told they'd likely be the last people hanged in Canada, to which Turpin responded, "Some consolation." Nevertheless, both men believed right up to the last moment of their lives that they might in fact really be the last persons in Canada who would be executed for murder. It turned out that their belief was accurate.

When it was time for the men to be taken from their cells to the execution chamber, they were each handcuffed with their hands behind their backs. Then after walking a few yards (metres) immediately after that, they reached the junction between the small death row they were exiting and the cell block they were going to walk in to get to the opening halfway down the cell block which was forty feet (12 metres) away and which would lead directly into the execution chamber on their left. When there is no execution, the solid iron door to the execution chamber is welded shut since normally the cell block is filled with jailed prisoners.

Once inside the execution chamber, they were led by the guards on each side of them to the trap door in the middle of the small room. The two men saw the two ropes above them, coiled in such a way so that when the trap door sprung open, the strings keeping the rope as coiled would break and the full length of each rope would stretch out, with the nooses at the end of the ropes then breaking their necks at the end of their drops. Obviously they were frightened and it showed on their faces.

The executioner then placed them back to back, secured their arms and legs, placed a hood over each of their heads and then fastened the ropes around their necks. Then he stepped back and reached for the lever that would spring the trap door open.

Brigadier Cyril Everitt then read something from the Bible. Both condemned men and their executioner knew that when the Brigadier said the word, ‘Salvation’, both condemned men would plunge into eternity after the hangman pulled the lever.

Before I tell you about what happened to the two men when they reached the end of their ropes, let me tell you about the typical modern method of judicial hanging which is called the ‘long drop’. This is the method that Iraqi officials used to execute Saddam Hussein. In the long drop, executioners planning the execution calculate the drop distance required to break the subject's neck based on his or her weight, height and build. They typically aim to get the body moving quickly enough after the trap door opens to produce between 1,000 and 1,250 foot-pounds of torque on the neck when the noose jerks tight. This distance can be anywhere from 5 to 9 feet (1.5 to 2.7 meters). With the knot of the noose placed at the left side of the subject's neck, under the jaw, the jolt to the neck at the end of the drop is enough to break or dislocate a neck bone called the axis, which in turn should sever the spinal cord. In some cases, the hangman jerks up on the rope at the precise moment when the drop is ending in order to facilitate the breakage.

This is the ideal situation in a long drop. When the neck breaks and severs the spine, blood pressure drops down to nothing in about a second, and the subject loses consciousness. Brain death then takes several minutes to occur, and complete death can take more than 15 or 20 minutes, but it is presumed that the person at the end of the rope most likely can't feel or experience any of it although I don’t know how anyone can make the presumption since no one has ever spoken to a condemned person who was hanged and died.

In a less-than-ideal long drop, if the distance is miscalculated or some other factor misses the mark, the subject will die of decapitation (if the drop is too long). This happened to one of Saddam Hussein’s cousins and henchman (Chemical Ali who was convicted of murdering thousands of Kurds by having planes fly over their villages and drop canisters of poison gas onto them).

Then there is the risk of strangulation (if the drop is too short or the noose knot isn't in the correct position. Strangulation can take several minutes and has taken as much as twenty minutes which results in a far more excruciating experience. The carotid arteries in the neck, which supply blood to the brain, are compressed, and the brain swells so much it ends up plugging the top of the spinal column; the Vagal nerve is pinched, leading to something called the Vagal reflex and the lack of oxygen getting to the lungs due to compression of the trachea eventually causes loss of consciousness due to suffocation. Death then follows in the same pattern as it does when the neck breaks, with the entire process ending in anywhere from five to 20 minutes. For the person being executed this way, the actual experience of the hanging lasts anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes or at least that's the general belief by forensic scientists.

As gruesome as Turpin's death was as any hanging is, Lucas' end was far more disturbing. No one talked about what happened to Lucas during his hanging for years afterward, and many believe the hangman was drunk and responsible for the mistake, which was not the case.

After Lucas reached the end of his rope, he was practically decapitated. The image of two men dropping to their deaths is horrific enough, but imagine what it was like to see blood spraying everywhere when Lucas’ body reached the end of his rope and Lucas' head was barely clinging to the rest of his body. Now, try to imagine blood everywhere, and having to climb on a stepladder and press a stethoscope against the chest of each man in turn, listening to their dying heartbeats for almost 20 minutes. That was the responsibility of the jail doctor.

The media was told the deaths of the two was "practically instantaneous," and that's the story that stuck for decades. The blood remaining in Lucas’ brains was no longer being pumped out by his heartbeat however he may have sensed some inking as to what had just happened to him and he if he did, he would experience some pain at the end of his neck that was still connected to his skull but all of that would have been very brief.

Turpin on the other had didn’t have his neck severed by his rope and his heart continued to beat, thereby pumping blood into his brain. I don’t know if he was conscious of what was happening by then but it is also conceivable that he was aware of something. We will never know of course.

Everitt only revealed what happened in 1985, a year before his own death. When he did tell his story, Everitt said the hangman miscalculated Lucas's weight. Lucas lost about 50 pounds while waiting for his date with death. That wouldn’t have cause the decapitation. If Lucas had syphilis, however, it would have weakened his neck muscles, connective tissue and blood vessels, resulting in his near-decapitation. The awful way that Lucas died was a secret Everitt kept from his wife and son all those years before his own death.

The bodies were removed and taken away. Where they are buried, I have no idea. I do know that they weren’t buried in the yard in the jail property like many other condemned men were.

It was while I was writing a paper on capital punishment for an international business magazine in 1976 which was later sent by the publisher to all the members of the House of Commons and the members of the Canadian Senate during the capital punishment debates in 1976 that I began researching some instances when innocent persons had been hanged.

The former director of Ontario Legal Aid was asked by a member of the Canadian House of Commons to look for a case that he had heard about where a man was hanged for murdering a five-year-old child in St. Catherines and had been defended all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada by a lawyer who prior to taking on the case, had been declared insane and was still insane when he took on the man’s case.

The former director turned the matter over to me to find the case. Arrangements were made with the Chief Justice of Ontario for me to search through the thousands of cases that had been heard by the court and were now in the basement of the Court where all the transcripts of the cases were archived so that I could find out who the condemned man was and who his lawyer was. It took me three weeks to find the case and then I spent another week finding the transcript of the trial in which the man’s lawyer was judged insane.

There was similarity of that case and the one in which Turpin and Lucas were hanged. There was a lot of doubt about the competency of their legal representation, which was conducted by a brilliant but alcoholic lawyer named Ross MacKay who acted for both Turpin and Lucas. MacKay was just 29 years old and inexperienced. Turpin and Lucas were his first and last capital cases. Further more, he had no budget, compared to the estimated $40,000 (equivalent to $585,000 in 2009) spent by the government to prosecute Lucas alone. The prosecutor had veteran detectives, top prosecutors and forensic experts at their disposal. On top of that, Mackay had less than three weeks between the trial of Arthur Lucas, and the trial of Ronald Turpin.

The majority of the newspapers were against Turpin who had a lengthy criminal record for break-ins and the like and Lucas, who was slow (his IQ was just 63, in other words, he was retarded), he just happened to look like a real dangerous killer. Nowadays, it would be highly unlikely that he would have even been brought to trial in Canada because with him being mentally retarded, he would not have been fit to instruct his lawyer and as such he would be sent to an asylum for the criminally insane for the rest of his life. That wouldn’t apply in the United States because in that country, many condemned men in the past had been executed notwithstanding that they had very low IQs.

MacKay had a problem with the bottle all his life, but representing the last two men to be hanged in Canada just made his predicament much worse. After the trials, a popular Halloween costume among lawyers was a noose worn around the neck. One lawyer would ask the other, "Who are you supposed to be?" and the response was, “One of Ross MacKay's clients.”

I did see the man later when a lawyer I was working for introduced him to me. I was sympathetic to him because despite his problems with alcohol, MacKay had a unrepentant client who murdered a policeman and left the officer’s four daughters without a father, and a menacing-looking black American pimp who was accused of coming to Canada and murdering a witness and his girlfriend who just happened to be in the bedroom with the FBI witness of an FBI drug trial. Neither man drew much sympathy from the press or the public, but MacKay did his best to represent them which wasn’t much considering his bouts with alcohol.

He finally got his licence back to practice law and he was sober when I met him. I would be less than honest however if I didn’t admit that drunk or sober, McKay had an uphill fight defending these two men since the evidence against them was so overwhelming.

In the course of my research, I spoke with the aunt of the little girl who had been murdered by another man. She told me that the little girl was last seen on the street holding the man’s hand. The police presumed that he had raped her and then placed her little body in the furnace of the building of which he was the janitor. It was pure speculation only. The man confessed then he claimed that the police continued to beat him until he confessed to the murder. He claimed after he was out of their clutches that he was innocent.

The aunt told me something that was very shocking. She and the dead girl’s mother received a visit by the detectives who were the original investigators years after the man was hanged and they told the girl’s mother and aunt that they had charged the wrong man with the murder of the little girl. They found the guilty man years later but they couldn’t charge him because he was insane and in an asylum for the criminally insane and even if he was charged and taken to court, he would be classed as being unfit to stand trial.

Canada was trending towards abolition, and in the early 1960s, there was a push in many countries to eliminate capital punishment and Canada was no exception. As early as 1914, a Canadian Member of Parliament named Robert Bickerdike introduced a private members' bill for the abolition of the death penalty. Although it was defeated, there were other members' bills over the years. In 1935, a woman named Thomasina Sarao was unintentionally decapitated during her hanging in Montreal, which led to more and more executions in Canada taking place behind closed doors. Sarao's beheading didn't directly lead to the end of capital punishment, but the idea of a woman dying in such a gruesome fashion certainly didn't help the pro-death penalty camp.

By the 1950s, more changes were made to Canada's Criminal Code, limiting the reasons a person could be executed. By 1961, changes were made which divided murder into a capital and a non-capital crime. One of the reasons by then that a person could be executed was for the murder of a police officer such as the crime committed by Roland Turpin when he shot Fred Nash in February of 1962. There was always the possibility that even though a defendant was found guilty of murder, the jury could recommend mercy, sparing the defendant’s life. This didn't happen in either Turpin or Lucas's cases.

Prior to the executions of Turpin and Lucas, there were a number of appeals for both men. Cyril Everitt, the Salvation Army chaplain who was spiritual advisor to both men, even appealed to John Diefenbaker, the Prime Minister at the time. I find it strange indeed that Diefenbaker refused to commute their death sentences considering the fact that he was an abolitionist. In fact, many years after Parliament abolished capital punishment in Canada during the parliamentary debates in 1976, I met Diefenbaker and after I was introduced to him, he told me that after he read my paper in 1976, he called his caucus together and asked them to vote as abolitionists.

Before Canada abolished the death penalty for murder on July 14, 1976, as many as 1,481 people were sentenced to death, with 710 executed. Of those executed, 697 were men and 13 were women.

In my paper that was sent to parliament, I urged the members of parliament to consider that the worse thing that could happen to anyone is to be hanged for a crime they didn’t commit. One of the members of the House of Commons actually quoted me in their debates with respect to that issue.

As bad as both Turpin and Lucas were, and as apparent as it must have been seen then that they were really guilty of the murders they committed, it would have been better if they and others like them were sentenced to life without parole than risk sending innocent people to the gallows.

Since the beginning of this century, we have been reading about a great many persons who after waiting for their executions, were later found to be innocent. We can compensate them for what society has put them through. If they had been executed, there would have been nothing that society could do for them to make up for that terrible mistake each of the executed persons had gone through as victims of those injustices brought upon them.


Unknown said...

Very interesting. My dad always talked about Turpin he knew him when they were young. Or knew of him, he was hanging with some bad guys, but managed to straiten his life out. I too was in Milbrook in 1969-70. Very bad experience but I won't go into that. Glad you got straitened around. Take Care and have a good Christmas.

Unknown said...

Very interesting. My Dad used to about Turpin, he was in the Kingston a couple of times when he was young and knew Turpin from Toronto. Fortunatly like you he turned his life around. I too was in Millbrook in 1969-70. Very bad experience, but I won't get into it. Take Care. Have a good Christmas.

Steve White said...

Dahn, I found this blog entry in the course of research for a biography I'm writing of a good man redolent with synchronicities with The Don, the hangings of Lucas and Turpin, and The Salvation Army. I have to say that your various encounters seem oddly and similarly synchronistic — that is, according to a remarkable concept put forth by the psychologist Karl Jung, those encounters and experiences exemplify "acausal coincidence". By that, Jung was describing what I'm sure you and every educated and experienced person has experienced: a "coinciding" of incidents in the absence of any trace of a cause or reason for that coinciding, but which is nonetheless startlingly meaningful.

But let me get down to brass tacks, so to speak. My subject's family background and upbringing were abysmal. His father was incarcerated for an egregious crime at the same time that demonstrators were outside The Don with pickets and slogans prior to the scheduled hangings of Lucas and Turpin. A small boy at the time, the poor lad wondered whether it was his daddy who was going to be hanged by the neck. His dysfunctional and overwhelmed mother didn't manage to correct him, nor assuage his fears.

He was one of those rare and endangered creatures who come up from squalour and degradation to achieve education, overcome adversity, and even become a guiding figure for offenders and addicts whose similar backgrounds led them down a different, slippery slope. He is connected with the Salvation Army. He found himself eventually assigned to counselling offenders at — guess where? When he first entered the high-security clanging gates of the prison, the childhood memories were reactivated.

Add to this the poignant experience of Cyril Everitt, the Salvation Army chaplain who attended the condemned men, and perhaps you'll understand my rather obscure reference, above, to strange coincidence.

I would welcome public or private contact by you, if you have new thoughts to add to this sad old tale.

Best regards,

Steve White
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