General Articles

Public Phony Number One

Canada’s most famous yegg regards himself as a daring glamour guy. To the cops he’s a cowardly bum who can’t stay out of jail

ROSS GREGORY August 1 1948
General Articles

Public Phony Number One

Canada’s most famous yegg regards himself as a daring glamour guy. To the cops he’s a cowardly bum who can’t stay out of jail

ROSS GREGORY August 1 1948

Public Phony Number One

Canada’s most famous yegg regards himself as a daring glamour guy. To the cops he’s a cowardly bum who can’t stay out of jail

ROSS GREGORY

THE CANADIAN BANKERS’ ASSOCIATION offers, subject as below, to pay a total reward of $5,000 for information resulting in the arrest of the following escaped convicts:

! DONALD (Micky) McDONALD alias Micheál McDonald,alias John Allen Ross, wanted by Windsor, Ontario, City Police, for bank robbery.

DESCRIPTION

Date of birtb,

Complexion,

Hair,

Eyes,

Height,

Weight,

1907, Canada Medium Black, greying Green 5’ 8%"

147 pounds

Appendix operation scar; mole left cheek; scar base left thumb; scar base right thumb; tip of middle finger on left hand amputated.

F.P.S. No. 134945 F.P.C M 1 R 000 12 L 1 U 100 15

AMP.

ON THE rainwashed façade of every police station in the land there hangs the portrait of a man whose life has been as tattered and as yellow as the fraying poster that bears his likeness. It is the portrait of a myth, of a man whose whole career was such a failure that he wasn’t even a success as a cheap crook, a man who is even a washout as Canada’s Public Enemy Number One.

The Great Myth, as police sergeants call Donald John “Mickey” MacDonald, grimaces out at you from under the black WANTED sign, the light-grey felt hat for which he had a mania cocked on his head, the crooked smile that hoaxed so many unhappy women twisting across his thin face.

This is Mickey MacDonald as the public knows him: the man who broke out of Kingston Penitentiary on Aug. 18, 1947, in the first successful prison break since Red Ryan (Canada’s only other major Public Enemy) tore loose in 1923; and who still lives the shuttered, back-alley existence of a fugitive a man tinged with the glamour given him by newspaper headlines and smooth - talking criminal lawyers.

But there is also the MacDonald the police know: MacDonald the procurer, the drunk, the

coward and the dope addict. MacDonald who beat his wife’s face into a bloody pulp and paid similar compliments to many of his girl friends. MacDonald who was quick to assault other men—as long as they were 80 years old. MacDonald who struck his mother and broke her health. MacDonald who whimpered in the shadow of the hangman’s noose and who turns yellow in the face of a police service revolver. MacDonald the colossal flop, who didn’t net enough money to buy cigarettes in the periods he spent outside prison, who could have done better shining shoes at 10 cents a shine.

The two men who know most about him agree that MacDonald the big shot is a myth. Inspector John Nimmo and his partner, Detective Sergeant Edmund Tong of the Toronto police, have been in on every one of Mickey’s 10 arrests. Neither has ever had to use a gun to capture him.

And prison officials are certain that when MacDonald made his notorious penitentiary break with two fellow prisoners, he skulked nervously in the rear, letting nerveless, gun-happy Ulysses Lauzon, long-term hank robber, and swarthy Nicholas Minelli, Ottawa gunman, take all the chances.

In the early morning darkness, the three convicts in Kingston’s Portsmouth penitentiary had carefully removed previously sawed bars from their cell. They crept warily through the sleeping Big House, tossed prison-built grappling hooks up to the eaves through a nearby window and pulled themselves up on knotted bed sheets. Then, with the same sheets, they lowered themselves from the top of the forbidding grey stone building, scaled the 25-foot outside wall and climbed into a waiting car. The dramatic break—almost unprecedented — put MacDonald back on the front page.

MacDonald was a notorious figure long before the newspapers headlined the escape and the

Windsor bank holdup that followed (two gunmen, suspected to be MacDonald and Lauzon, got $30,000).

Sentenced to Die

NOW 41, he had been arrested 10 times, received sentences totaling 41 years and 30 days (though he only served \‘¿Y¿ years thanks to concurrent terms, appeals, paroles, and his last escape). And he had whimpered for 11 months in the Don jail death cell, waiting to be hanged for the murder of Jimmy Windsor, proprietor of a dance hall just north of Toronto’s city limits.

Mickey was already in jail in the spring of 1939 when they charged him and his brother, Alex, with murder. He was waiting to go to Kingston penitentiary on a two-year sentence for robbery with violence. (He’d held up a bootlegger, beaten

up him and his wife and escaped with $2, a few bottles of liquor and an overcoat.)

Continued on page 46

Public Phony Number One

Continued from page 11

Four masked men had killed Windsor with one .45 calibre bullet before the eyes of his girl friend, two sisters-inlaw and their husbands at seven o’clock on the night of Jan. 7, 1939. Police thought the motive was robbery.

Newspapers headlined the search which went on for weeks. Then Mickey was arrested. At about the same time his brother Alex was jailed following a Port Credit bank robbery. Later both were charged with murder.

The Port Credit robbery gave the police their biggest clue. John Shea, one of three picked up for the bank job, told (hem he was in MacDonald’s apartment when four men returned the night of the Windsor slaying. He turned king’s evidence, testified that Mickey had boasted of firing one shot.

“I asked him how he knew Windsor was dead,” Shea testified. “And Mickey said he knew because he could see the whites of his eyes.”

Beads of sweat stood out on MacDonald’s prison-pale forehead when he heard Mr. Justice McFarland pronounce the death sentence. In the death cell he was a quaking wreck of a man until, in one of his few intervals of intelligence, he decided to put on an act.

Mickey became in turn demanding —shouting at his guards to be taken to see the governor of the jail—and meek and pious, spending long hours with Salvation Army officers. He got a new trial when the appeal court ruled that since Shea, the key witness in MacDonald’s conviction, might have been an accomplice, his statement involving Mickey could not be accepted without corroboration.

Mickey got off on the murder charge, went, to jail anyway on the earlier charge. When he got out life traced a familiar pattern for Mickey and he received three more sentences. The last was fifteen years for highjacking a liquor truck.

While he was serving this sentence MacDonald made his prison break. Since his first offense in 1925, until his 1947 break, he had spent half his time in Kingston.

Disconnected Conneclions

Can MacDonald, the man who was never able to get away with anything all bis life, get away now? The men who know him best, the police and penitentiary guards— say he hasn’t got a chance. Said Warden Allen, immediately after the escape: “If you see

Lau/,on. shoot. If you see MacDonald shout. Lauzon’s deadly; MacDonald’s dopey.”

Already t he net is beginning to close on the dapper, green-eyed convict. By the time (his appears he may be back behind the bars. Or he may be dead, cut down by police bullets as Red Ryan was.

Police believe he’s on the run in the U. S. He had “connections” there but they are rapidly being disconnected. Already Minelli, one of his companions in the Kingston escape, has been captured in California. And James Lahard, one of his old Jarvis Street buddies, was mowed down by a Cincinnati police machine gun when he was cornered in a dope-racket raid.

It will lx* no trick to catch him once the police face him. He’s a sissy who gives himself up at the first sign of danger. In the words of Inspector Nimmo, the Toronto police officer who has been arresting MacDonald off" and on for 20 years, Mickey “deflates like a punctured balloon” when accosted by a uniformed policeman. A detective’s pointing finger has been enough to make him stop shouting during questioning. Frisked during a raid on a Toronto beer parlor, he and his pals used to act “like scared little boys.”

“Kitty Cat” MacDonald, Mickey’s first wife, now divorced, reveals her former husband as a drunk, a dope addict and a woman beater.

“If he stays on the dope he’ll probably keep quiet and stay out of trouble a while longer,” she says. “But if he goes on the booze, he becomes a crazy man and he’ll do something foolish and get himself nabbed.”

This dark, nervous, brittle woman, who now describes her 13 years with MacDonald as “the unluckiest 13 fate ever dealt anybody,” knows that Mickey’s greatest weakness is women and that, inevitably, they will spell disaster for him.

“When he finally does get caught, there’ll be a woman back of it,” she said recently.

Did crime pay financially for boasting Mickey?

Not as far as Kitty Cat knows: “He was always on the bum. The only money he ever seemed to have I gave to him and he drank and gambled that away as fast as he could bleed it out of me.” The truth is, that every time MacDonald pulled a big job he was immediately caught and the loot taken from him.

Yet Donald John MacDonald started as a normal boy. He was born in 1907 of hard-working Scottish Highland parents. His father was a blacksmith for a bread company and a part-time street-corner preacher. The family lived in downtown Toronto. Mickey led the life of an average schoolboy in a working-class family, scrapping sometimes with the other kids in an average way, getting average marks in class and moving at an average if not a swift pace from grade to grade. Inspector Nimmo remembers him as a pleasant, cheerful youth who used to greet him politely as he pounded his old Dundas and Pembroke beat.

By the time he was 16 the change had started in Mickey MacDonald. A cigarette constantly drooped from the corner of his mouth and he had begun to sneer at work. His motto became: “Let others work for money. I’ll take it from them.”

Mickey began to go really wrong when he fell in with a group of burglars and gamblers who used to operate outside the city at a place called the Chicory Inn, near Clarkson. His new cronies sometimes hid from police in the MacDonald home. Soon young Mickey began to drink heavily. Then, goaded by his.associates, he stuck his big toe in the swirling river of petty crime.

He stole a car and heat up the driver, got caught and was put on probation for a year because he had no previous record. Almost immediately he got drunk and robbed a store of $15. The judge sent him to Kingston for two years. Mickey was 18 and already a convict.

When he got out of the penitentiary, in 1927, Mickey MacDonald turned his attention to liquor and women. He prided himself on having a way with girls. His routine on meeting a girl had always been the same. He swaggered up at once and announced: “I

am Mickey MacDonald. I want to know you better.” Insult and rebuke rolled off his thick skin like water off a duck. He talked big and, with a detective-story imagination, told how he fooled “those dumb coppers.” In his Toronto heyday, Mickey could always be seen smiling and talking to strange girls who, in an astonishing number of cases, ceased to be strangers to him.

MacDonald’s creed for a successful love life was: “Woo ’em, win ’em, then wipe the floor with ’em.” There was hardly a girl he wasn’t willing totakeon in a fist fight. His good-by’s often sent his discarded girl friends to the hospital. “He always went for the face when he hit you,” one of his former girl friends said recently. She lasted three days before Mickey gave her the brush-off. It wasn’t nice:

“He was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, when all of a sudden he jumped up and socked me over the eye. I screamed, but he never said a word. He just kept punching. When I fell, he picked me up and held me with one hand while he hit me with the other. He cut my face to ribbons. Then he dropped me in a heap on the floor and walked out the door.”

She spent two weeks in the hospital following her parting with Mick°y and still bears the scars of his blows. She feared going to court about it: “If he got anything it would only be a short term and when he got out he would kill me in a drunken rage.”

“We Are So Ashamed”

MacDonald treated his mother almost as badly as he treated his girl friends. When she pleaded with him to quit drinking and get an honest job his answer was to come home drunk, often bringing a drunken Jarvis Street bum home with him. And still his mother gave him money.

Mickey’s treatment of his mother, coupled with his own unhappy career, has left her completely broken in health. She is cared for by her daughter Annie, who once tried to help Mickey, now wants to forget him.

“We are so ashamed of him,” she says. “And we are completely disgusted. We are doing our best to try and forget him and all the unhappiness and trouble he has brought to us. I will never have anything more to do with him.”

Significantly, MacDonald met the 16-year-old girl who was to become his first wife and the “Kitty Cat” of the newspaper headlines while he was running from the police. She was peeling potatoes in the kitchen of her mother’s dingy apartment in a dilapidated Sherbourne Street block one day in 1931 when a trap door leading into the mud-walled cellar popped open and up came the fugitive, grinning boldly and talking fast. The cellar was common to several buildings and he had entered it farther down the street, after the police had broken up a crap game in which he was taking a leading part.

Mickey talked himself into safety, dinner and a sweetheart. He dated her steadily for two weeks, then tried to talk her into running off with himWhen young Margaret’s mother grew suspicious he held secret meetings with the girl in the same cellar which had been his escape alley. Shortly after, Margaret left home and she and MacDonald began living together. This was the start of the tragic partnership that was to change the young factory worker into Kitty Cat MacDonald, gunman’s moll and prostitute.

The underworld bet that MacDonald’s latest affair would last no longer than his previous ones. When it did, there were whispers that Mickey had been tamed after all. Thus Margaret became Kitty Cat. It takes a cat to tame a mouse.

Kitty Cat had her baptism of fire in the first days of her alliance with MacDonald. During a drunken brawl with one Oscar Campbell in a Dundas Street restaurant, Campbell was shot through the leg. MacDonald swore in the witness box that he had seen no gun during the fight. He got off the wounding charge but drew three years for perjury.

I While he was waiting to appear in court on the wounding charge he got jnto a drunken argument with a restaurant proprietor whom he knocked unconscious by ripping a telephone from the wall and hitting the man over the head with it. For this he got two years—which ran concurrently with the other three.

Up to this time—and after he was released from jail—MacDonald had got most of his drinking and gambling money from Kitty Cat—who earned it as a prostitute. MacDonald didn’t work. “He only worked one day I know of,” says Kitty Cat. “He drove people to the polls on election day. And he was drunk when he came home.”

MacDonald went back to Kitty Cat when he was released from Kingston in 1933. They lived in a room on George Street, later in an apartment at Yonge and Summerhill. One day Kitty Cat came home and found MacDonald with another woman. Said Mickey: “I just hired her to do the cleaning.” Kitty Cat’s claws came out. She threw the visitor out. When they were alone MacDonald beat her until both her jaws were broken. She was in hospital two weeks.

When Kitty Cat came out of hospital she found MacDonald in jail, charged, with a crony, with robbing a drugstore. She got the bail reduced from $10,000 to $5,000, raised the entire sum and got Mickey out. When he went to court he was acquitted.

Beautiful Black Eyes

Mickey and Kitty Cat became bookmakers. One day she took a bet from a taxi driver on a long shot. The horse won and Mickey was furious. He set about beating up his common-law wife. He broke no bones this time but systematically went about cutting her face with sharp, hard blows.

For Kitty Cat, life with Mickey was like swinging a wildcat by the tail. She couldn’t let go. In December, 1935, they were married. Mickey’s reason for going through with the ceremony was because he’d promised it to her for Christmas and it saved him buying a present. The wedding party was so rowdy that the two were evicted from their apartment.

Shortly afterward MacDonald “sold” his wife to a Toronto gambler for $200. “Lounging, liquor and ladies rip hell out of a ketbook,” he told a friend. She left the gambler and returned to Mickey who thought the whole thing a great joke. He’d spent the $200.

“He used to hit me so often I bought four different colored dark glasses to match my hats,” Kitty Cat said. “1 needed them to hide my black eyes.

“Life with Mickey was so unreal and unbelievable it seems like a bad dream now. Once he came staggering in drunk carrying a brand-new garbage Pail. He said: ‘I’m going to cut you all UP and throw you in this can with a lot °f cement and throw you in the lake.’

1 dodged around the kitchen table and °ut the back door.

“One time he took me for a drive, didn’t say a word, just headed straight f°r the deserted ¿astern beaches of Lake Ontario. He drove out on the Pmr, opened the door on my side and jped to shove me off into the water. He was so drunk I was able to outrun aim.”

finally she left him and moved in *kh a man who was bigger than Mickey—physically and financially. In «une, 1944, she divorced MacDonald. Kitty Cat and her thin-faced exhusband saw' each other for the last time under circumstances as ironical as their first meeting. They talked for a few moments through the barred windows of adjoining cells in Toronto city hall. MacDonald had been sentenced to 15 years for liquor highjacking. Kitty Cat had received a sentence of 15 months for bootlegging. They talked briefly, then started on their separate ways over the paths they knew so well.

His Most Stupid Crime

Before this, MacDonald had indulged in the most brutal prank of his career. In 1944 he knocked down the 80-year-old doorman of a Jarvis Street hotel, after the man had asked him to make less noise in the beer parlor. After the doorman went down, MacDonald pulled him up and struck at the bloodstained head again and again. Then he j kicked him and swaggered away.

The police caught him, as they always did, and Mickey went free on bail, waiting for the elderly doorman to get out of hospital to testify. While on bail he committed the most stupid crime of his career: the highjacking of the whisky truck that sent him to jail for 15 years (he also got 2 years for the assault on the doorman).

Brother Edwin helped Mickey plan the job, with three others. (Brother Alex was in Kingston.) The gang held up the truck in the early morning, held the truck driver prisoner in the back seat with a revolver against his ribs and drove to a farm northwest of the city.

The heavy truck was supposed to be driven up a ramp into the second story of a big barn and the liquor cached in the hay. Instead the gang drove the truck off the centre runway, which was supported by heavy beams, and it crashed through the thin flooring killing two horses. In the noisy confusion MacDonald escaped with a bottle in his hand, the rest of the gang with him. Ten hours later the police nabbed them all—in Mickey’s apartment.

Mickey was married again during his second year of his 15-year sentence, to Kathleen Donovan MacDonald, on April 10, 1946. It was one of the few marriages to take place inside a federal prison and needed a special dispensation from the Department of Justice.

The ceremony was performed by a United Church minister. The altar was the warden’s desk and the only crosses were the shadows of the bars on the windows. Mickey MacDonald trod his lonely wedding march down bare hallways between cell blocks with an armed guard as escort on either side of him. It lasted just eight minutes, Mickey kissed his new wife once. She never saw him again, nor does she want to.

His Future is Past

“I never see the man! I never hear from him. I don’t want to be mentioned in connection with him!” she shouted through the door of her Toronto apartment. “Even my friends don’t know I’ve had anything to do with Mickey MacDonald.”

And that’s about all there is to the story of Donald John “Mickey” MacDonald, the man who would like to be called Canada’s Public Enemy No. 1 and who has succeeded only in being an enemy to himself. Hunted and hated, he has no future, nothing to look forward to: only the cold grey stone of the penitentiary walls or, perhaps, the sharp, final burn of a policeman’s bullet calling a halt to his nervous flight down one of the dark alleys he knows so well, iç