History

THE LAST NIGHT OF THE CONDEMNED

It’s been 40 years since anyone in Canada has been executed

ROBERT HOSHOWSKY December 9 2002
History

THE LAST NIGHT OF THE CONDEMNED

It’s been 40 years since anyone in Canada has been executed

ROBERT HOSHOWSKY December 9 2002

THE LAST NIGHT OF THE CONDEMNED

It’s been 40 years since anyone in Canada has been executed

History

ROBERT HOSHOWSKY

IT WAS THREE in the morning when the mud-splattered Ford van rolled through the back gates of Prospect Cemetery in Toronto’s west end. Opening the van’s door, prison guards unloaded two plain pine boxes and carried them across the frozen earth until they reached two empty graves by a stone wall at the cemetery’s boundary. Salvation Army chaplain Cyril Everitt looked around and asked the men—prison guards, witnesses and a funeral home director—to put out their cigarettes. “All of you know how these men came to their deaths a few hours ago,” said Everitt. “Their bodies have been separated from their souls, and we therefore commit their bodies to the grave.” As the cas-

kets were lowered, Everitt began reciting the ritual for the dead from the Book of Common Prayer. Fie reached the line, “as it has pleased Almighty God,” and suddenly stopped. Everitt substituted another phrase, lost in time, and resumed praying. He didn’t believe the deaths of these two men pleased God—or anybody else.

For months leading up to that early morning of Dec. 11,1962, Everitt had been spiritual adviser and friend to Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin, the last people to be executed in Canada. Before he met the doomed

pair, they had lived vastly different lives from that of the Salvation Army officer. Lucas, an imposing black from Georgia’s Bible belt, lost his mother and father by age 7, while Turpin, raised in Ottawa, divided his youth between foster homes and jail. For his part, the English-born Everitt was the son of Salvationist parents who had moved to Canada when he was five.

While Everitt spent his youth in the Salvation Army, Lucas was beginning a criminal career ranging from armed robbery and gambling to prostitution and narcotics. Meanwhile, Turpin was forging cheques, and committing petty theft until he landed in Kingston Penitentiary for 18 months for

stealing a car. But it was crimes far worse than those that led him and Lucas to Cyril Everitt and to their ultimate fate.

Early in the morning of Nov. 17,1961, a Toronto police operator received a call from a terrified woman screaming, “Not my throat!” The line was traced to a rooming house, home to Therland Crater and his common-law wife, 21-year-old prostitute Carolyn Newman. Meanwhile, another tenant in the house, a postal worker, returning home from his night shift opened the door and saw Crater’s bloody body on the hallway floor. Clad only in boxer shorts, Crater, 44, had been shot four times and his throat sliced wide open, severing the jugular vein and carotid artery. Upstairs, Newman lay naked on the bed. She was also dead, her throat slashed from ear to ear.

Police quickly learned that Crater was a drug pusher, pimp and key witness in the coming trial of a suspected drug trafficker in Detroit. Someone killed Crater before he could testify, and it was Newman’s misfortune to be with him at the time. Soon, a name emerged as the hired killer, Arthur Lucas, a 53-year-old American from Detroit who drove to Toronto to perform the hit.

Less than three months after the gruesome murders of Crater and Newman, another crime shocked Torontonians. In the early hours of Feb. 12,1962, Ronald Turpin, 28, broke into a restaurant and stole $632.84. Driving away from the crime, he crossed the path of police officer Frederick Nash who noticed a defective headlight on Turpin’s truck and pulled him over. Turpin appeared nervous and, according to his own testimony, gave Nash a fake name before the officer ordered him out of the vehicle. The two men struggled and gunshots were fired. Nash crumpled to the pavement, and Turpin, shot in both arms and the neck, struggled to start his truck. Failing that, he raced to Nash’s police car and was grinding gears to get it going when officers in another police car arrived and took him into custody.

Both Nash and Turpin were rushed to Toronto East General hospital. Turpin experienced minor injuries compared to those of Const. Nash, a father of four, who received a fatal wound in the chest. He didn’t live to see his 32nd birthday, just one week away. Nash’s dying words to a fellow officer were: “I got him. He shot first.”

While Turpin later testified he shot Nash in self-defence, Lucas protested his inno-

While Everitt grew up in the Salvation Army, Lucas started his criminal career ranging from robbery to narcotics and Turpin was forging cheques

cence from the day of his arrest claiming that, despite compelling circumstantial evidence to the contrary, he was elsewhere at the time. The jury thought otherwise, convicted him, and a judge imposed the mandatory hanging punishment. “I only met Lucas after he’d been sentenced to death,” recalls Toronto lawyer Julian Porter. Now 65, Porter was a law student when he assisted Walter Williston in Lucas’s pro bono appeals all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

As a last resort, Lucas asked the federal cabinet to commute his sentence to life in prison. Porter remembers going to Ottawa to lobby Donald Fleming, the minister of justice. “I said, ‘You’ve got to commute this.’ I went through whatever arguments I had, and he said, ‘Have you got other arguments than were advanced to the Supreme Court?’ I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Julian, I can’t help you.’ ”

At the same time, Brig. Everitt, who died in 1986 at age 78, was also doing everything possible to save Lucas and Turpin. On

Dec. 2,1962, he was at home watching the Grey Cup on TV when the phone rang. His 21-year-old son Bram picked it up, and recognized the voice immediately. “Diefenbaker here.”

Everitt raced to the phone, and Bram remembers his father saying, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” to the prime minister of Canada, a vociferous opponent of capital punishment for most of his life. According to Bram Everitt, now a 61-year-old director of sales for aMississaugua, Ont., trucking company, “Diefenbaker said, ‘Cy, Turpin’s a cop killer. His deal’s done. But if you can find something about Lucas, I’ll be glad to look at it. If you can find one shred of evidence why it shouldn’t happen, I’ll go to bat for you.’ ”

Adds Bram Everitt: “There was nothing more my father could do. Arthur Lucas always maintained his innocence, right up until he looked at the end of the rope. But Lucas was also resigned to the fact that he was gonna go because they got him for this one, which he didn’t do according to him, but there was other stuff that he did do.” Despite the -8° C temperature, almost 200 demonstrators gathered outside the Don Jail on execution night, 40 years ago. Some carried signs protesting the hangings, calling it public murder. Inside the jail, it is unlikely Turpin and Lucas heard the uproar less than 200 m from their cells. Everitt arrived at the Don Jail early that day, around 8 a.m. He had visited Turpin and Lucas daily, and asked them now if they had any special requests. Both men said they simply wanted to talk, as they had always done. Turpin loved horse racing and, in between conversations about betting at Woodbine Racetrack and reading scripture, other ministers stopped by and offered to pray with them. After several interruptions, according to Bram Everitt, his father asked these other ministers where they’d been the past 10 months. No more came by after that.

Around 9 p.m., Everitt joined Turpin and Lucas for their last meal, steak and pie with potatoes and vegetables, eaten off cardboard plates. The meat had to be tender enough to eat with spoons, since knives and forks were considered weapons. At 11:40 p.m., Lucas put his hands on the cell bars and said to Everitt, “You know, brigadier, we is lucky.” Asking him what he meant by “lucky,” Lucas said, “Well, if I were on the street, I could be killed by a car and I wouldn’t be ready to meet my maker. But this

way, because of your talking to us and leading us up through the steps to salvation, I’m ready to meet my maker.”

Just before midnight, the sheriff, prison governor and four guards walked down death row to the cells of the condemned men. Before they arrived, Everitt told Turpin and Lucas they would know the end was near when he spoke the word “salvation” while reading from the Gospel of Luke. This was the cue to the hangman to pull the lever.

Taken out together, hands cuffed behind their backs, Lucas and Turpin began the 40pace trek to the gallows. Everitt started reading the 23rd Psalm. En route, Turpin fainted and had to be dragged the rest of the way. The two men stood back to back on the gallows trap door, legs bound, black hoods over their heads. Lucas whimpered slightly as the hangman placed the noose around his neck. Everitt stood beside them.

In an interview published shortly before his death, Everitt revealed what really happened that night, disclosing a secret he had kept from his wife and son for 24 years—it was worse than anyone could have imagined. Before Everitt finished saying “salvation,” the hangman sprung the trap door. “Turpin died clean,” recalled Everitt, “but Lucas’s head was nearly torn right off. It was hanging just by the sinews of the neck. There was blood all over the floor. The hangman had miscalculated his weight. What a way to die!”

As the bodies hung about one metre off the ground, jail surgeon W.H. Hills climbed a stepladder and placed his stethoscope on the men’s chests, waiting for their hearts to finally stop beating. Sixteen minutes later, Dr. Hills finally certified the deaths of Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin. Nine people, none of them family or friends, had witnessed the executions.

After the hangings, the lifeless bodies were cut down. Still clothed in their grey prison shirts and blue trousers, Lucas and Turpin were wrapped in white sheets, and placed, unembalmed, in the pine caskets. Guards loaded the bodies into the unmarked van, deliberately smeared with mud to disguise it, and drove to the cemetery. Everitt, ashen and shaken, did not return home until four in the morning. Before he went to sleep he told his son, who had spent the night fielding media calls, that the experience was “awful.” “I thought he meant ‘awful’ because they both died,” recalls Bram. “My

dad didn’t want to talk about it. All he said was, ‘There was blood everywhere,’ so I knew something had happened.”

The executions had a profound effect on Everitt, who regularly visited the graves of Turpin and Lucas on the anniversary of their deaths. They were buried in Section 13 of the cemetery, an area still considered common ground. No tombstones or plaques are permitted, just plain, numbered grey blocks, half the size of a household brick. Lucas is in grave 415; Turpin in grave 416.

In an ironic twist, Williston spoke to his client Lucas as well as to Turpin just hours before their executions. Because of legislative changes the year before, the lawyer told

the doomed pair: “If it’s any consolation, you may be the last men to hang in Canada.” Replied Turpin: “Some consolation!” Today, all traces of Turpin and Lucas’s graves have disappeared. The numbered stone markers are gone—either stolen, discarded, or simply absorbed into the soft earth. Lucas and Turpin are still somewhere next to the stone wall where Everitt presided over their burial four decades ago, in the shadow of a service building used by cemetery workers. Weeds and rusty pop cans litter the area and some of the younger cemetery workers are unaware of the presence of bodies beneath the dirt, especially those of the last two men hanged in Canada. 17/1