The Last to Die: Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada

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I would like to express my deepest gratitude to those who granted me interviews, sometimes resurrecting painful memories in the process. Arthur Lucas and Regina vs. Ronald Turpin. While they remain an invaluable source of information, they remain factual and colourless by their very nature.

Newspaper accounts from the Toronto Star , the Globe and Mail , and the Telegram helped add necessary emotions and detail. No work of non-fiction is possible without extensive research, and I wish to thank the following for their assistance and encouragement: Peter C. Special thanks to my friend of twenty-five years, George Serhijczuk, for his invaluable research and suggestions on this and other projects.

A work like this is not possible without access to protected files. Other materials consulted in preparation for this book include archival television footage, documentaries, radio transcripts, and photos and documents from privately held collections. I wish to thank my wife, Elizabeth, for her love and patience, and my parents, Ann and Morris Hoshowsky, for teaching me never to be afraid to ask a question, no matter how strange it might be.

I dedicate this book to them. One final note: a number of people I contacted asked that their names not be used in the book, and I have abided by their requests. I thank them for their time nonetheless, and respect their wishes to remain private, and for their past actions to remain in the past. In many cases, individuals referred to in The Last to Die used different spellings of their given names, or assumed an alias.

Often, court records and newspaper accounts provide variations on spelling of names as well. To maintain consistency, birth names are used and maintained throughout the book. Just one year earlier, in , amendments had been made to the Criminal Code, and murder had been divided into capital and non-capital murder.

Capital murders were planned or deliberate, used violence, or resulted in the death of a police officer or prison guard. While capital punishment would not be abolished for another fourteen years following the deaths of Turpin and Lucas, the notion of putting a man or woman to death had been losing favour with politicians for decades.

The Last Execution in Canada

After McLane was publicly hanged, he was beheaded, then disemboweled. From until the hangings of Turpin and Lucas in , a total of people met their ends on the gallows, of them men and 13 of them women. Following the British system, which employed the noose, all were hanged. No other method of execution was used in Canada from the time of Confederation, unlike the United States, which continues to use hanging, the firing squad, the electric chair, the gas chamber, and lethal injection.

The laws regarding capital punishment in Canada changed over the years, and the variety of offences that resulted in the ultimate punishment grew smaller. Previous to , it was possible to be hanged in Canada for murder, rape, treason, robbery with wounding, buggery, arson, administering poison, and displaying false signals that could endanger a ship. Just two years after Confederation, hanging offences were reduced to three: murder, rape, and treason.

Despite his best efforts, all bills were soundly defeated. In the s, Canadian politician, clergyman, and journalist William Irvine also introduced a bill favouring abolition, which was similarly defeated.


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In the years that followed, hangings in Canada became less and less of a public spectacle. Newspaper reporters, once called upon to not only cover the story but also act as witnesses, were no longer welcome at hangings. Increasingly, executions, which were once held outdoors in a carnival-like atmosphere, were moved inside thick-walled stone jails and conducted at midnight in near-secrecy.


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One botched hanging was largely responsible for ending the era of public hanging in Canada. Along with several others, Mrs. Thomasina Sarao was found guilty for the murder of her husband, Nicholas Sarao, in and sentenced to die. The precise weight was needed to calculate the length of rope required.

Too short a rope usually resulted in strangulation, instead of a clean break. Rather than being allowed to meet Mrs. Sarao, the executioner was given a slip of paper with her weight written on it. At seventy-one years old, the hangman had performed or assisted at hundreds of hangings in Canada, the Middle East, and England. Upset at not being permitted to weigh the woman, the hangman was forced to rely on the numbers provided. Unknown to the hangman, Sarao had gained about forty pounds while in jail. As Frank W.

Anderson wrote in Hanging in Canada : Two seconds after the bolt was drawn, hangman Arthur Ellis and the tense spectators knew something disastrous had taken place. The noose flew up through the trap, slapped against the overhead beam and fell back through the hole. Then it swung back and forth in hypnotic fashion. Sarao had been decapitated. For the hangman, the bungled hanging was a disaster, and it would be his last. No one would hire him for the rest of his life, and Ellis, old, feeble, and suffering from malnutrition, died in poverty in Although decapitations were relatively rare, careless mistakes on the gallows were not.

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The Last to Die : Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada

It was not uncommon for condemned men to die a slow and agonizing death at the end of the rope, sometimes kicking and flailing in mid-air for minutes. By , recommendations were made in Parliament to exclude juveniles from the death penalty and to provide mandatory appeals. That same year, the federal government recommended retention of capital punishment, but recommendations were made to distinguish between a condemned man or woman facing death or life imprisonment. In other cases, even if an individual was sentenced to die — as was the case with child-killer Gary Alexander McCorkell — the judge presiding over the case asked the jury if they wanted to make a recommendation for mercy.

No such recommendation was made for Ronald Turpin or Arthur Lucas. By , a moratorium was placed on the use of the death penalty, effectively limiting its use to the murder of policemen and corrections officers. In June , Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau delivered an impassioned speech in the House of Commons rallying against capital punishment. To make that quite clear: if this bill is defeated, some people will certainly hang.

While members are free to vote as they wish, those who vote against the bill for whatever reason, cannot escape their personal share of responsibility for the hangings which will take place if the bill is defeated. It is in that context, Mr. Speaker, that I wish to place my remarks on the issue before us. Any discussion of capital punishment must begin with the identifications of its intended purpose, which is clearly the security of society, the protection of innocent people against the ultimate criminal violence.

It is not that goal which divides us. It is a goal we all share. What divides us is the question of the appropriateness of state execution of murderers as a means of achieving that goal. It was replaced by a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for twenty-five years for all first degree murders. Capital punishment did remain in the Canadian National Defence Act for serious military offences, such as treason and mutiny. The abolition of capital punishment was not without controversy. Some members of the House alleged the vote was not entirely free, while others, like Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament John Reynolds, said the debate should have been a national referendum, since the majority of the Canadian public at the time was still in favour of capital punishment.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program. Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credits in subsequent editions. Robert Hoshowsky has masterfully reconstructed the lurid tale of the two low-lifes who became the last two criminals hanged in Canada. The devil is in the details, and he digs them out fearlessly, including much new information that reveals new and unexpected nuances about the crimes.

The author has not only interviewed all of the survivors but dug deep into hitherto unseen archives on the case, which brought to an end nearly one hundred years of capital punishment in this country. Their double hanging on December 11, , at the Don Jail was an epochal event that deserves book-length recognition — and this is it. My hesitation in investing valuable reading time in such a gruesome subject soon dissipated. Not only is this a dramatic retelling of the actual events, but Hoshowsky has demonstrated the rare ability of writing a book that is more than the sum of its parts.

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I would like to express my deepest gratitude to those who granted me interviews, sometimes resurrecting painful memories in the process. Arthur Lucas and Regina vs. Ronald Turpin. While they remain an invaluable source of information, they remain factual and colourless by their very nature. Newspaper accounts from the Toronto Star , the Globe and Mail , and the Telegram helped add necessary emotions and detail. No work of non-fiction is possible without extensive research, and I wish to thank the following for their assistance and encouragement: Peter C.

Special thanks to my friend of twenty-five years, George Serhijczuk, for his invaluable research and suggestions on this and other projects.


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A work like this is not possible without access to protected files. Other materials consulted in preparation for this book include archival television footage, documentaries, radio transcripts, and photos and documents from privately held collections. I wish to thank my wife, Elizabeth, for her love and patience, and my parents, Ann and Morris Hoshowsky, for teaching me never to be afraid to ask a question, no matter how strange it might be. I dedicate this book to them. One final note: a number of people I contacted asked that their names not be used in the book, and I have abided by their requests.

I thank them for their time nonetheless, and respect their wishes to remain private, and for their past actions to remain in the past. In many cases, individuals referred to in The Last to Die used different spellings of their given names, or assumed an alias. Often, court records and newspaper accounts provide variations on spelling of names as well. To maintain consistency, birth names are used and maintained throughout the book.

Just one year earlier, in , amendments had been made to the Criminal Code, and murder had been divided into capital and non-capital murder. Capital murders were planned or deliberate, used violence, or resulted in the death of a police officer or prison guard. While capital punishment would not be abolished for another fourteen years following the deaths of Turpin and Lucas, the notion of putting a man or woman to death had been losing favour with politicians for decades. After McLane was publicly hanged, he was beheaded, then disemboweled.

From until the hangings of Turpin and Lucas in , a total of people met their ends on the gallows, of them men and 13 of them women. Following the British system, which employed the noose, all were hanged. No other method of execution was used in Canada from the time of Confederation, unlike the United States, which continues to use hanging, the firing squad, the electric chair, the gas chamber, and lethal injection. The laws regarding capital punishment in Canada changed over the years, and the variety of offences that resulted in the ultimate punishment grew smaller.

Previous to , it was possible to be hanged in Canada for murder, rape, treason, robbery with wounding, buggery, arson, administering poison, and displaying false signals that could endanger a ship. Just two years after Confederation, hanging offences were reduced to three: murder, rape, and treason.

Despite his best efforts, all bills were soundly defeated. In the s, Canadian politician, clergyman, and journalist William Irvine also introduced a bill favouring abolition, which was similarly defeated. In the years that followed, hangings in Canada became less and less of a public spectacle. Newspaper reporters, once called upon to not only cover the story but also act as witnesses, were no longer welcome at hangings.

The Last to Die : Robert J. Hoshowsky :

Increasingly, executions, which were once held outdoors in a carnival-like atmosphere, were moved inside thick-walled stone jails and conducted at midnight in near-secrecy. One botched hanging was largely responsible for ending the era of public hanging in Canada. Along with several others, Mrs. Thomasina Sarao was found guilty for the murder of her husband, Nicholas Sarao, in and sentenced to die.

The precise weight was needed to calculate the length of rope required. Too short a rope usually resulted in strangulation, instead of a clean break. Rather than being allowed to meet Mrs. Sarao, the executioner was given a slip of paper with her weight written on it. At seventy-one years old, the hangman had performed or assisted at hundreds of hangings in Canada, the Middle East, and England.

Upset at not being permitted to weigh the woman, the hangman was forced to rely on the numbers provided. Unknown to the hangman, Sarao had gained about forty pounds while in jail. As Frank W. Anderson wrote in Hanging in Canada : Two seconds after the bolt was drawn, hangman Arthur Ellis and the tense spectators knew something disastrous had taken place. The noose flew up through the trap, slapped against the overhead beam and fell back through the hole. Then it swung back and forth in hypnotic fashion. Sarao had been decapitated. For the hangman, the bungled hanging was a disaster, and it would be his last.

No one would hire him for the rest of his life, and Ellis, old, feeble, and suffering from malnutrition, died in poverty in Although decapitations were relatively rare, careless mistakes on the gallows were not. It was not uncommon for condemned men to die a slow and agonizing death at the end of the rope, sometimes kicking and flailing in mid-air for minutes. By , recommendations were made in Parliament to exclude juveniles from the death penalty and to provide mandatory appeals.

That same year, the federal government recommended retention of capital punishment, but recommendations were made to distinguish between a condemned man or woman facing death or life imprisonment. In other cases, even if an individual was sentenced to die — as was the case with child-killer Gary Alexander McCorkell — the judge presiding over the case asked the jury if they wanted to make a recommendation for mercy. No such recommendation was made for Ronald Turpin or Arthur Lucas. By , a moratorium was placed on the use of the death penalty, effectively limiting its use to the murder of policemen and corrections officers.

In June , Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau delivered an impassioned speech in the House of Commons rallying against capital punishment. To make that quite clear: if this bill is defeated, some people will certainly hang. While members are free to vote as they wish, those who vote against the bill for whatever reason, cannot escape their personal share of responsibility for the hangings which will take place if the bill is defeated.

It is in that context, Mr.