The Maple Leaf Mystery Conference is a reader-focused mystery conference this spring spotlighting our favourite Canadian mystery writers and providing skills-based workshops for new and emerging writers. Registration opens March 7th! The conference runs from May 24-28, 2022.
On July 24, 1964, twenty-four-year-old Matthew Kerry Smith disguised himself with a mask and a Beatle wig, hoisted a semi-automatic rifle, then held up a bank in North York, Ontario.
The intelligent but troubled son of a businessman and mentally ill mother, Smith was a navy veteran with a young Indigenous wife and a hazy plan for violent revolution.
Outside the bank, Smith was confronted by Jack Blanc, a former member of the Canadian and Israeli armies, who brandished a revolver. During a wild shootout, Blanc was killed, and Smith escaped — only to become the object of the largest manhunt in the history of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force.
Dubbed “The Beatle Bandit,” Smith was eventually captured, tried, and sentenced to hang. His murderous rampage had tragic consequences for multiple families and fuelled a national debate about the death penalty, gun control, and the insanity defence.
THE DON by Lorna Poplak
Conceived as a “palace for prisoners,” the Don Jail never lived up to its promise. Although based on progressive nineteenth-century penal reform and architectural principles, the institution quickly deteriorated into a place of infamy where both inmates and staff were in constant danger of violence and death. Its mid-twentieth-century replacement, the New Don, soon became equally tainted.
Along with investigating the origins and evolution of Toronto’s infamous jail, The Don presents a kaleidoscope of memorable characters — inmates, guards, governors, murderous gangs, meddlesome politicians, harried architects, and even a pair of star-crossed lovers whose doomed romance unfolded in the shadow of the gallows.
This is the story of the Don’s tumultuous descent from palace to hellhole, its shuttering and lapse into decay, and its astonishing modern-day metamorphosis.
The 1935 murder of architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury, world famous for his design of the iconic Parliament Buildings and Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, and the arrest and lurid trial of his thirty years younger second wife, Alma, and the family chauffeur, George Percy Stoner, her lover, who was half her age, riveted people. Debate continues even today as to which one of them really was responsible.
Francis and Alma had moved to Bournemouth, England when Victoria had ostracized them for their scandalous, flagrant affair while Francis was married to his first wife. Their life in Bournemouth was tangled. Francis became a lush and impotent. Sex-starved, Alma seduced George, previously a virgin. They conducted their affair in her upstairs bedroom with her and Francis’s six-year-old son in a nearby bed, “sleeping” she said, and the near-deaf Francis, apparently unaware, downstairs in his armchair in a drunken stupor.
The lovers were tried together at the historic, high-profile Old Bailey Criminal Court in London, U.K., resulting in intense public interest and massive, frenzied media coverage. The trial became one of the twentieth century’s most sensational cases, sparking widespread debate over sexual mores and social strata distinctions.