Reliving a nightmare — researcher strives for definitive account of 1958 Ear Falls murders

By Donna Gordon

On Christmas day, 1958, the residents of Ear Falls awoke to the news that Tom Young  had shot and killed his father, Albert Young, 47; his newly-married neighbours Jimmy and Clara Gordon, ages 18 and 16 respectively, his next door neighbor, George Williams, 47, and the local OPP constable, Cal Fulford, 28.  After a thorough investigation, a preliminary hearing and a five day trial, Tom Young was found guilty and sentenced to death.  At about 1 a.m. on Tuesday, June 30, 1959 he was taken from his cell and hanged, the last execution to take place in the Kenora jail.

Perhaps the most shocking headline to appear on the front page of the Dryden Observer in over 100 years of publication. Tom Young’s murderous rampage in Ear Falls coincided with the accidental death of Alex Notte at the paper mill and the local murder of Grant Boyd by his wife Laverna.               Observer archives

This is the unabridged version of Donna Gordon’s article that appeared in the Dryden Observer, July 13, 2011. It is significantly longer and more detailed than space would allow in the newspaper. Gordon’s article also ran with a companion piece, featuring an interview with the writer. It follows the main story below —Ed.

If Tom Young had been seen by a mental health specialist in December 1958, he probably would have been diagnosed with depression. He had lost his job with Ontario Hydro – work he was very proud of – and was unemployed.  His common-law wife, Alice Wagamese, had left him and he was back in Ear Falls, living with his father and brothers, with whom he often fought. And he was drinking, a lot. By his own admission, most of the bad times in his adult life were caused by alcohol.

Just before Christmas he went to stay with his grandparents five miles away in Goldpines, and on Christmas Eve he visited with friends and family there, drinking some fortified wine in at least one of the homes he stopped at.  By about 10 p.m., he decided to go to Ear Falls so he “borrowed” a few bottles of wine from a neighbor, put on his warm coat and mitts and walked into town. 

Searching for ‘the real story’, an interview with Donna Gordon

He stopped to see his sister and her husband, Katie and Ken Rutherford, and gave them some of his wine and then he made his way down to the river to Chris Williams’ house where his two brothers, David, 18, and Jimmy, 21, were partying with their friends, Percy Williams, 15, Percy’s sister Clara and her husband Jimmy Gordon.  At first things went well, he kidded around with Clara, danced a bit and shared his wine with Chris and his wife, but at some point he got into an argument with Chris and his brother David and was asked to leave.  He slapped David across the face and went to his father’s cabin about a mile away along the river.

This image of Albert Young’s cabin in Ear Falls where Tom Young shot and killed five people on Christmas Eve 1958, originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Jimmy Gordon, a little drunk and a little cocky, decided to follow Tom home and confront him about his behavior and he went out into the cold with no coat or mitts.  David Young, Percy Williams and Clara Gordon put on their coats and boots and went after him, hoping to also pick up some of David’s records to play on the phonograph.

When they reached the Young cabin, they went into the attached porch in single file, David in the lead. He started to open the door and saw Tom putting a clip on his rifle.  David quickly closed the door and as he turned to run he warned the others, “He has a gun. Run.” When they got out the door, David, Jimmy and Clara turned right and Percy turned left.  Tom came out and immediately shot Jimmy – one bullet and he was dead.  Clara screamed and she too was shot and killed instantly.  David and Percy kept running and escaped.

It is probable that it was at this point that he also shot and killed his father, Albert, who was asleep in the back bedroom.

Knowing that two witnesses had escaped, one would expect that the natural reaction after shooting three people to death would be to run away. Tom did not do that.   Instead, he carried Clara into the cabin, laid her on his cot and partially disrobed her. (In the newspapers of the day it was speculated that he had raped her but forensic testing indicated that this had not happened.)

In the mean time, David and Percy had run along the river to the next house where Percy’s uncle, George Williams, lived.  At 5’ 2” George was commonly called Peewee by his friends and family.  He had served overseas during WWII, was the maintenance foreman at the Hydro station and was a loving husband to Ida and father to five children, ranging in age from seven to sixteen.

When the boys told him that they thought Tom had shot Jimmy and Clara, they also told him that they had heard a third shot and thought that Tom had killed himself.  George said that this was something that the new OPP constable should look into but because they didn’t have a phone in the house, they had to go and get him.  George had been drinking that evening so he got his 16-year-old son, Stanley, to drive them to the police station.

At first, they went to the office door and did not get an answer. Thinking that the officer was out on patrol, they drove back into town, stopping at George’s office at the Hydro station to phone the OPP office in Red Lake to tell them what was happening. When they went back to the Ear Falls detachment, they knocked on the residence door and got Constable Fulford out of bed.

Cal Fulford was born and raised in Emo. He had married his high school sweetheart, Betty, and they had three children: Ralph, 9; Janet, 6 and Linda, 20 months.  He had joined the OPP in 1954 and had served most of his time in Dryden.  He had been posted to the new Ear Falls Detachment just one month before. This was a very happy time for the family – a new residence with lots of room for their growing family and a job with more responsibility.

After Cal listened to the boys, he decided that he didn’t need to call for backup but he did ask George to accompany him. They sent Stanley home, then George, Cal and David Young took the cruiser back to the cabin.  They parked behind the generating station and walked boldly down through a clearing to the cabin – two men with lots of experience with guns who obviously did not think that they were in danger.

When they arrived at the cabin, they found the body of Jimmy Gordon by the side of the house.  After checking to make sure he was not still alive, George said that he was going in. He took two steps in and saw Tom Young across the room.  His last words before he was shot to death were, “Now, just a minute …”

At that point, both David Young and Cal Fulford turned and ran.  David again turned right and made his escape down to the river.  Cal crouched down and ran for his car.  He was about 40 feet away when Tom, shooting through the window of the kitchen, felled him with a shot to his shoulder.  He was wounded, and bleeding heavily, but he managed to go another 60 feet before he collapsed.  At this point, Tom Young came out of the cabin, turned Cal over, opened his coat, removed his service revolver from its holster, wedged the barrel into Cal’s mouth and fired.

David Young went further along the river this time, to the house of George’s brother, Frank.  Once again they went to the Ear Falls detachment and Betty made frantic calls to Red Lake to ask for assistance.  At 2:45 a.m., Corporal Dick Bender and Constable George Firth drove the 50 miles from Red Lake to Ear Falls.  Shortly after they arrived, they found the body of Cal Fulford on the trail, but officials at District Headquarters instructed them to just keep the cabin under surveillance until other officers could be dispatched.  By 8 a.m., Constables Peterson, Moore and Kellar had arrived from Red Lake, Corporals MacGarva and Roller came from Kenora and Constables Thacker and Cran came from Dryden to help catch this murderer.

While they were consulting about strategy, a local man, Tom Bannatyne, told them that Tom Young wasn’t in the cabin, but was in fact five miles away at his grandfather’s house in Goldpines. The police quickly drove to Goldpines, surrounded Robert Young’s cabin and threw two tear gas bombs into the room to flush everyone out.  Tom came out with his hands up and he was arrested and taken to Red Lake before being transferred to the District Jail in Kenora.

Despite the fact that it was readily evident that Tom Young had committed all of these crimes, the police did a very thorough and professional investigation.  Inspector R.L. Needham, from the Criminal Investigations Branch in Toronto, came to Ear Falls to lead the team, with much of the work falling to MacGarva, Roller and Bender. Photos were taken, evidence was collected and sent to Toronto and Ottawa forensic units for analysis, and witnesses were interviewed.

Preliminary Hearing

This image of a handcuffed Tom Young, taken during his trial, appeared in the Kenora Daily Miner in 1959.

On January 27, 1959 a preliminary hearing was held before Magistrate Joseph V. Fregeau at the Kenora Court House.  Thomas Ambrose O’Flaherty was the Crown Attorney and J. Thomas Brett was Tom Young’s defence lawyer.  There was no legal aid then as we know it today and Mr. Brett would have been handed this case simply because it was his turn: he would receive no money for the hours he put into the case but would be reimbursed for any expenses he incurred.

A preliminary hearing is not a trial, but it is a formal court session where the Crown Attorney presents evidence and witnesses to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal trial. This was no jury, the magistrate alone making all decisions. Eight witnesses testified – four police officers, David Young, Percy Williams (as close to eye witnesses as you can get), Tom’s aged grandfather, Robert Young, and his brother-in-law, Ken Rutherford.  At the end of the day, Magistrate Fregeau committed Tom Young to trial.

Trial

The trial was held in Kenora from March 17 to March 21, 1959.  O’Flaherty and Brett were again the lawyers for the Crown and the defence, and Justice Edwin George Thompson, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Ontario, presided.  Justice Thompson repeatedly emphasized that he was going to ensure that Tom Young got a fair trial and that there would be no grounds for appeal.  He often asked questions of witnesses to clarify points and on three occasions he heard arguments from the lawyers away from the jury to determine points of law.

Sitting on the all-male jury were: D. Keith Affleck (foreman), Hugh Jones, Edward Dawson, Armand Chagnon, William Parry, Louis Prior, Frank L. Campbell, John O’Connor, Frank Hamilton, Howard Myles, John Dickinson and Arthur Perlin. From the moment they were empanelled they were sequestered – a policeman accompanied them to and from their homes so that they could get what they needed for a four or five day trial.  They listened intently to four days of testimony – some of the police and medical evidence being very detailed, and some of the witness memories being contradictory.  They also got to hear Tom Young’s version of events for the first time.

Tom maintained that he was extremely drunk and did not remember anything from the time he left the party at Chris Williams’ until some time later when he found himself walking on the highway, carrying his rifle. (He said this in every statement he gave to police and when he talked to psychiatrists.) He said that he went back to his father’s house and saw the dead bodies, but was confused and didn’t know what to do, so he went to his grandfather’s place in Goldpines, intending to go to the police in the morning.

The jury did not deliberate long, and in the end, they did not believe Tom’s story.  They found him “Guilty”. According to the criminal code of the day, there was only one sentence available for the crime of murder: execution by hanging.  Just before he adjourned the court, Justice Thompson said:

“The sentence, therefore, of this Court Thomas Young, is that you be taken from here to the place whence you came, and there you will be kept in close confinement until Tuesday, the 30th day of June, 1959, and upon that date you will be taken to the place of execution, and then you will be hanged by the neck until you are dead.  May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

Execution

Even though the date for the execution was set, there was no guarantee that it would happen. By law, all death sentence trials had to be reviewed by the Department of Justice in Ottawa. This involved a thorough reading of all transcripts, a psychiatric interview of the convict and clarification of all points of law.  John Diefenbaker was the Prime Minister at the time and he was ardently against the death penalty and personally worked hard on each review to have the sentence commuted to life in prison.

The execution was the topic of conversation among the citizens of Kenora.  As they waited for word from Ottawa, many were convinced that Tom Young would not die.   Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were visiting Canada and some thought that they wouldn’t go ahead while she was there. The hangman, who was supposed to arrive on Sunday, was delayed and did not arrive until late Monday afternoon, which was also when the telegram from Ottawa also arrived with instructions to proceed with the execution.

Everything was prepared in the sound-proof concrete execution chamber which was installed when the Kenora District Jail had been built on River Street in the 1930s. The “trap” required for the hanging had been shipped from Port Arthur and was ready. The hangman finally arrived. Both sides of the highway leading to the jail were lined with cars, many with young children in them, as the citizens of Kenora waited for confirmation that Tom Young was dead.

Tom’s brother, Jim, visited him the night before the hanging, as did Dean L.M. Watts of St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral. The Sherriff told reporters that the prisoner had given them no trouble and “from the first was resigned to his fate.” Shortly after 1 a.m., Tom Young was lead to the gallows. Sheriff David Bruce and the man in charge of the jail, Bill Goss, were there, along with Armand Benoit and Cpl. Herb Roller.  Dean Watts also attended.

Tom Young was declared dead at 1:20 a.m. on June 30, 1959.  He was the last man hanged in Kenora and only three others would be executed in Canada before the death penalty was done away with.

It has been 52 years since this tragic event took place.  The newspapers of the day covered it extensively, but much of what they wrote was incorrect and all of them focused on only one victim, Cal Fulford.  I have conducted extensive archival research and have been lucky enough to talk to many people who have first-hand memories of the events.  I am looking for other memories, however, so if you know anything that can add to this story, please contact me at dmgresearch@yahoo.com Donna Gordon

Donna Gordon can be reached at Box 23051, 2121 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, ON,  K2A 4E2

3 comments on “Reliving a nightmare — researcher strives for definitive account of 1958 Ear Falls murders

  1. Darcie

    I thank you for your full research of this crime. That was my grandfather Christopher Williams you soke of. He is a Hero Of our Family and my Dad had a chance to execute him the murderer and he is just. I Know the police men gave him fair shot and would have “covered” him. BC He WAS the RESPECTED man of the day he was THERE and and could SAY: justice prevails. I Love Canada N Support all their decisions!! XOXOX

    Reply
  2. Randy Boomhower

    I lived in Dryden when this tragedy unfolded and all I knew of it was my parent’s version. Their’s closely reflected the perspective of the news reports of the time. As an adult and new citizen of Ear Falls I came to learn more fully the depth of the tragedy to local families. The pain of loss and rejection experienced by the families immediately involved but also other native families was still existant in 2003 when I moved from the town. This article recognizes the depth of the tragedy and my hope is that the result will be a healing of all.

    Reply

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