Monday, 25 September 2017

The last two hangings in Canada

Bramwell Everitt of the Toronto branch of the Salvation Army knew something went wrong when his father Cyril came home from the hanging in the Don Jail with his blue chaplain’s uniform splattered with blood.

Something did go terribly wrong that night of December 11th in 1962. His father said, “I don’t want to get into it now but something went terribly wrong.”

It’s been almost 55 years since two men were hanged from the gallows in Toronto’s Don Jail. They were also the last persons to be executed in Canada.

Cyril was their chaplain, a man who was committed to saving the souls of the two convicted killers whose lives were scheduled to end.

One of them was Ronald Turpin, 29, who was a petty thief who has shot a police officer and the other was Arthur Lucas, who was 54 then.  He was a black man, a career criminal and a pimp from Detroit who killed two people slated to be witnesses in a major drug trial. Both men were tried and convicted within a year of having committed their crimes.

More than half a century later, questions are still lingering about what exactly happened on those two fateful nights. Doubts exist about the fairness of their trials, enough that the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted had opened a file on Lucas’s death.

One thing remains certain: Lucas and Turpin were hanged on December 11, at 12:02 a.m., as the hangman slid a greased plank out from under the trapdoors in the Don Jail’s death house. The event drew mass protests on the night of the hangings.

The two murder trials sped through courts at a pace that would be considered remarkable today. Lucas committed his crime in November of 1961 and Turpin in February 1962. They would be hanged by December 1962.
The lawyer who defended both men was Ross Mackay who was 29 at that time. He was recognized as bright, but inexperienced. I was told by a lawyer I used to work for and who personally knew Mackay that the Mackay was also an alcoholic but since I never knew the Mackay personally, I can’t be sure if that statement given to me was actually true.

His daughter, Alison, practices criminal law in Brampton and remembers her father as a passionate lawyer for those accused of murder. She said that he defended a lot of murderers and probably far too many. He’d do one after the other,” She added that he’d often go to the Kingston penitentiary as he thought it was important to go even after their trials to see those people.

Ross Mackay died in 1983, still firmly believing that neither Lucas nor Turpin deserved to be hanged. Turpin never denied shooting Nash, but Lucas maintained his innocence right up to his drop in the gallows.

Questions continue to linger. Turpin certainly shot Nash, but his trial was held in Toronto amidst the public furor that comes after a cop is shot.                                                                                                              
By in one of those strange quirks in life that we all often experience, my own life became entwined in Turpin’s case for three reasons.

On that night of the murder, I had been arrested for giving shelter to a person being looked for by the police (not Turpin) and I was sitting in front of the police desk at the old police headquarters on King and Jarvis Streets.

The chief of police and this deputy entered the station and looked at me sitting on a bench in front of the front desk. The deputy asked one of the detectives who arrested me. “Is this the guy who shot Nash?” He was the constable that Turpin shot dead.

The detective replied, “No. He is here on another matter.” The deputy then faced the chief and said, “Well, we all knew Nash was going to get it some day.”  The chief didn’t reply and I have no idea why the deputy made that statement nor do I intend to guess what he meant by it.  

I met Turpin later when we were both in the Don Jail. I was waiting to be transferred to the Guelph Reformatory and Turpin was waiting to be hanged. Our meeting was purely co-incidental. We both were to be seen by the jail’s doctor and while I was sitting on a bench in the jail’s clinic, Turpin was brought into the clinic and seated next to me.

He whispered to me, “Nash shot me first and I fired in defence.”  If that was true, then he didn’t deserve to be hanged. However in those days, even if the jury believed him, they would have convicted him of capital murder because shooting a cop dead for any reasons whatsoever was punishable by death.

Another strange co-incidence occurred after Turpin was executed. I used to go to Simpsons in downtown Toronto and play the piano in the department where pianos were being sold. One day, the salesman told me that he was the lone witness who saw Turpin shoot Nash. He said that if Nash shot Turpin first, he didn’t see it happen.

Turpin’s and Lucas’ trials were Mackay’s first murder cases.

Mackay’s plea to the judge for a change of location for Turpin’s trial fell on deaf ears. Quite frankly, I can’t see the justification for a change of location for his client’s trial. Admittedly, the newspapers were full of details about the murder of Nash but a jury in another city would have also been well aware of the circumstances of Nash’s murder. The evidence against Turpin other than his own admittance to having shot Nash was sufficient for any jury to find Turpin guilty of shooting Nash to death from the several shots he fired at Nash. 

The case of Turpin was clear.  There was no doubt that he shot Nash. However, the doubt of his guilt comes from what exactly transpired the night of the shooting and in the trial that followed.

Ronald Turpin was a 29-year-old with a penchant for petty theft. On February 12, 1962, Turpin broke into the Red Rooster Inn on Danforth Ave. With $631 of loot, he fled west driving his truck.

Constable Fredrick Nash, 31, was on shift that night. For some reason I can’t be absolutely sure of but I later learned that he knew Turpin from earlier events  so he pulled Turpin’s truck over near Dawes Rd. for a routine check. What happened next was anything like routine.

Both men were shot that night. Nash was hit at close range through the abdomen. The wound was fatal and he died on the scene. Turpin was shot in the arm and in the face, carving a scar into his left cheek that would give his mugshots a sinister appearance. 

Turpin never denied shooting Nash since he was caught red-handed by the witness I wrote about earlier however the circumstances of the shooting are still the subject of debate, as was his trial.

Now there are people who still believe that Arthur Lucas was really innocent of the murders he committed in Toronto. He wasn’t innocent at all. I will explain why I believe that he was guilty of the two murders he committed in Toronto.

On November 16th, 1961, Lucas made the trip from Detroit to Toronto. He registered for a room at the Waverley Hotel, a budget hotel beside the Silver Dollar Room on Spadina Ave. A man named Willie White registered with him. I have no idea what the purpose of White accompanying Lucas was.

Incidentally, while I was the investigator for Ontario Legal Aid in 1964, I investigate a capital murder that took place just around the corner in an apartment on College Street. The accused was facing the death penalty. I was able to find a witness who verified his statement to the police. The witness had been a patron of the Silver Dollar Room tavern. The charge of Capital murder was dropped and replaced with manslaughter and the man served four years of a five-year sentence. 

On the night of his arrival, Lucas phoned Therland Crater, an associate of his from Detroit who was staying nearby at 116 Kendal Ave., in Toronto.  Crater was a small-time drug dealer and pimp who helped police arrest Gus Saunders, a big trafficker at the time, and was slated to testify at his trial. In order to not be murdered before the trial of Saunders. Crater went to Toronto to stay safe.

I don’t know how Lucas found Crater but I presume that since they were associates in Detroit, Crater probably made the mistake of calling Lucas on the phone.  In any case, Lucas went to Crater’s place at 3 a.m., according to court records.

Later in the morning, the landlord at the Kendal Ave. house phoned police after one of the other residents in the house saw a pair of legs in the hallway while looking through the front window.

Crater lay on his back in the downstairs hallway, his neck had an open football-shaped wound. He was shot four times which was overkill, the medical examiner decided since Crater actually died from the neck wound.

Upstairs, Crater’s common-law wife, Carolyn Ann Newman, lay on the bed with her throat also cut. She was nearly decapitated, said police reports at the time.

After the murders were committed, Lucas returned to the hotel. He checked out shortly after arriving at the hotel at around 6 a.m. Willie White also checked out.

The double-murder was splashed across the front pages of the Toronto Star in the days that followed.

The Toronto-based Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted is still looking into Lucas’ case after a request from his family. Win Wahrer, director of client services said, “People are claiming he’s innocent and, if he is, he deserves to have his name cleared. We’ve been looking at it for a couple of years.” 

Wahrer speaks weekly with Larry Conway, son of Arthur Lucas. He phones from Detroit, still haunted by his father’s death. “I talked to him one time over the phone ” which Conway remembered in an interview with the Toronto Star. “He said he would be home. I didn’t think he was in trouble – he didn’t think he was in trouble.” Conway’s voice trailed off. “Every time I talk about this I break down and cry.” Wahrer declined to give any details on their assessment of the case, stating it was still under investigation by their Association. Hey, Wahrer. You are wasting your time and that of your Association.

And now, I will give you the incriminating details of the evidence that clearly proved that Lucas murdered both victims.

1. His ring was found in the bedroom in a pool of Newman’s blood.

2. He made a call from Crater’s phone to his apartment back in Detroit.

3.  While fleeing Toronto and driving over the Burlington Skyway (a very high bridge above a body of water and land) he threw the revolver out of the car window hoping that it would land in the water below. It instead landed on the land. The police found the discarded revolver on the ground just below the Burlington Skyway and no doubt along with his fingerprints still on the gun. Court records show that forensic experts matched the gun barrel to the bullets in Crater’s body.

4. By the time Lucas returned to his home in Detroit, the local police were already waiting for him. They found bloody articles of clothing in the car. The blood matched the blood of the victims.

Lucas maintained his innocence until the end of his life, even when his death was certain and Salvation Army chaplain Cyril Everitt offered him the chance of a clean conscience through confession.

Alison’s father, their lawyer, believed Lucas was innocent until the end. Whether by blind conviction to his task as a defence attorney or faith in facts, Ross’s belief has been passed on to his daughter. What follows next is his justification in his belief  that Lucas was innocent. 

“He didn’t have the sophistication to plan and kill like that. It looked like a complete setup—like a ring that he supposedly wore is placed within inches of the lady’s body. Somehow the gun he used to shoot the man, he’s supposed to throw over the bridge yet it’s found just on the ground.” unquote

There is no doubt in my mind that Lucas was not a sophisticated hitman. In fact he was a careless hitman. Further, why would another man be stupid enough to enter a crime scene to simply place Lucas’ ring near the body of a victim? Further, how did this person get a hold of Lucas’ ring and revolver without him knowing about it? And finally, what would be the motive of this unknown person for doing all of this so that Lucas would be convicted of the murders?

Whenever I read about numbskull theories, a thought comes to my mind. “Fools grow like weeds without having to be watered.

And now I will take you to the executions of the two men.

Bramwell Everitt remembers his father’s last-minute attempts to save the lives of the men. He was watching the 50th Grey Cup on TV at home. The phone rang. Then 21-year-old Bram answered.

“Hello. Diefenbaker here. Is your father there?” said the voice on the other end. “I nearly dropped the phone,” Bramwell said in an interview with the Toronto Star. Diefenbaker was always against capital punishment.

The 13th prime minister of Canada was phoning to speak with Cyril, offering him a slim chance for clemency for Lucas. Turpin, he said, was done for. Shooting a cop carried an automatic death sentence at that time.

When Parliament was debating the matter of the death penalty for first degree murder in 1976, I got caught up on the debates. I was asked to find a case where a defending lawyer was declared insane while defending a man who was accused of murdering a five-year-old girl. The lawyer represented him during the trial and the two appeals had been officially declared insane. Nevertheless, the man was hanged.

I found the case and it was sent to Parliament In the course of my investigation, I also located the dead girl’s aunt and she told me that the family was contacted by the arresting officers and they confessed that they had charged the wrong man with the girl’s death. They said they finally found her killer but they couldn’t charge him with the crime because he was insane and in a hospital for the criminally insane.

My report was well received by the members of the House of Commons and the Senate. Forty parliamentarians and senators wrote me and thanked me for my report. Diefenbaker told me years later that he called his fellow members of his party to study my report. I was even quoted in Parliament about my concern that innocent people were being hanged. At the end of the debates; the Canadian Parliament soon after abolished capital punishment.

And now back to the hangings of Turpin and Crater.
Cyril Everett said that Lucas was unwavering in his profession of innocence, but at peace with the penalty. He always maintained that he didn’t do it, but he also said he’d done many other terrible things in his so-called career that it was just catching up with him.

Lucas said to Cyril, “I’m telling you I didn’t do it, but I’m ready to go.  I did some other things in my life”

Bram Cyril’s son remembers when his father left to be by their side. He was their constant companion throughout the incarceration and determined to be there at the end. Putting on his dark blue Salvation Army chaplain’s uniform, Cyril bid his wife and son goodbye and headed to the Don Jail.

December 10, 1962 was a cold and windy day. I remember that day because I was in solitary confinement in the Guelph Reformatory for telling a guard to eat shit.

The hanging of the two condemned men was scheduled for 12 a.m., December 11. Cyril walked up the stone steps of the Don Jail, in which a bust of Father Time was staring from the archway as a reminder that time was up for two of the prisoners.

Neither of the condemned men had any last words on the gallows, but Everitt later told the Toronto Star that in those dwindling hours of his life, Turpin said, “If our dying means capital punishment in this country will be abolished for good, we will not have died in vain.” As it turned out, capital punishment was abolished. It wasn’t because of his death that the death penalty was abolished.

While Cyril was at the jail, Lillian White, Turpin’s common-law wife, called Cyril’s son at home as she had done regularly while Turpin was incarcerated.

Bram said, “She was a really lovely lady – dad had met with her a couple of times. She phoned the night of the hanging after my father had gone and asked if my father would call her when he got home.” unquote

Incidentally, prior to them being executed, there was always a guard sitting across each cell 24 hours a day and their cell lights were always  switched on. 

The two men passed their final hours much like they had the previous year—speaking with each other, the guards watching them their chaplain, Cyril Everett. The two condemned men ate steak as part of their last meals and, when the hour of their execution arrived, they walked along the Don Jail’s stone hallway towards the gallows which was a very short distance away.

Cyril was there to say the last words. He later told recounted that people, likely police and prison officials, were standing around smoking. He had them all put out their cigarettes.  Hespoke the final committal for the damned men.

The last vision of the two condemned men was a flat grey gallows wall with wooden beams overhead and the rope curled above them.  The room was not more than six feet square. The last humans they saw were the faces of their chaplain, the guards and their executioner. Then black hoods were placed over the heads of the men. They were placed on the platform back to back with their hands bound behind them and their feet bound. The nooses were then placed around their necks.

He spoke the final words for the condemned men. Cyril read Psalm 23—“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For thou art with me.”

The pair had arranged a signal with Cyril. He would say a phrase, signaling to the hangman that it was time to loosen the trapdoor and they would be dropped to their deaths.

The last words they were to hear were, “My eyes have seen thy salvation. They never heard the end of the word, salvation. Cyril said,  “When I came to the part about ‘as it has pleased Almighty God.’ I left that out because I didn’t think it had pleased God.”

The two men hung together, hands and feet bound, in the cramped gallows at the Don Jail; their crimes both deemed capital and their characters unfit for this world.

Turpin died quickly and cleanly, however Lucas’ death was messy. Their chaplain later described the bloody scene in an interview with the Salvation Army’s internal newsletter.

“Lucas’ head was torn right off. It was hanging just by the sinews of the neck. There was blood all over the floor.”  The rest of his body would have ended up crumpled on the floor.

After the hanging and customary verification of death, the bodies were taken down and taken to a mass grave at Prospect Cemetery, near St. Clair Ave. W. and Caledonia Rd.

The deaths of Lucas and Turpin brought the total number of people executed in Canada to 710. All of them were hanged.

The death penalty lingered in Canadian law for more than a decade. The government of Lester B. Pearson passed legislation in 1967 to temporarily suspend executions for murder except in the cases of the murder of police and prison guards.

The death penalty was abolished July 26, 1976, with the passage of a bill barring its use introduced by the government of Pierre Trudeau.

Today the gallows at the Don Jail have been taken down. A ghostly outline of the timbres remains on the wall, preserved as a reminder of what was once commonplace. The building itself is being renovated to become offices for Bridgepoint Health.

The cells where Turpin and Lucas spent their last days have been taken out, replaced with a kitchenette and washroom for the nearby meeting area.

I want to point out briefly with respect to me serving time in the reformatory for first offenders as I mentioned earlier in this article.  I was later pardoned and the federal government ordered that all records of my arrest, conviction and incarceration were to be destroyed—which they were.   

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this article. 

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