Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas
Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas were the last two Canadians to suffer the death penalty before the abolition of capital punishment. They were hanged in the Don Jail back-to-back, shortly after midnight on December 11, 1962. Ronald Turpin, 29 years old, was fleeing the scene after stealing $631 from a Kingston Road restaurant in the east end of Toronto. He was stopped by police constable Frederick Nash as he was attempting a getaway in his truck. During an exchange of gunfire, both were wounded – Nash fatally. Turpin had a long criminal record, and was known for fooling around with guns. A few hours before his execution, he wrote a note of forgiveness to someone who had once wronged him: ‘I know you did me wrong, but I can’t go into eternity with feelings of resentment on my soul...’ Lillian White, Turpin’s girlfriend, dressed in black, made a dramatic entrance into Don Heights Unitarian Church just before midnight on December 10, 1962. She chain-smoked, dabbed at her eyes, and joined the congregation keeping a “death watch” with the lights dimmed and one lit candle. Arthur Lucas, a pimp and hired killer from Detroit, was 54 years old. He was charged with the murder of a U.S. prosecution witness Therland Crater, who had been hiding out in a Kendal Street rooming house. Crater had been shot four times, and his throat slashed from ear to ear. His girlfriend’s throat had also been slashed. Lucas requested that his favourite psalm, 35, be read to him before being hanged. ‘Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt...’ “Jack Ellis” was the pseudonym used to protect the identity of the hangman and his family, who were ignorant of his occupation. He was a regular churchgoer, and believed strongly in capital punishment. The height, weight and physique of each man were obtained through conversations with the guards and county sheriff. Armed with this data, he experimented with sandbags of approximately the same weight as that of the condemned. He had hanged 15 men since 1953. These two men would be hanged on two ropes, back-to-back, using the same wooden trap-door. The last double hanging had taken place ten years earlier. “Jack Ellis” was paid $500 by the York County sheriff’s office for each of the two men. Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Everitt of the Salvation Army was prison chaplain to the two men during the ten months preceding their death. Both claimed to have been converted by his ministry, and Everitt was convinced that they meant it. As they were led to the gallows, he read the 23rd Psalm. The condemned men’s legs were tied at the ankles and the knees. Standing back-to-back, a noose was fitted around each of their necks. White hoods were placed over their heads. Later, the bodies were removed from the jail through a side door, and placed in unmarked graves in Prospect Cemetery. Everitt choked over the usual graveside litany, ‘may it please almighty God.’ He visited their graves for many years, once a year. Shortly before he died in 1986, he stated, ‘To this day I don’t believe it pleased almighty God.’ A crowd of about 150 had paraded outside the Don Jail that night, some of whom protested capital punishment. While this was the last time the sentence was invoked, capital punishment wasn’t abolished until 1976.