Author Dean Jobb has recently released a new Nova Scotia true crime collection: Madness, Mayhem and Murder through Pottersfield Press. The collection features a variety of true crimes stories from Nova Scotia’s past.
In an email, he spoke with Katie Ingram about this new book and his interest in the province’s criminal past.
You had previously written about Nova Scotia’s true crime, in this book’s predecessor, Daring, Devious & Deadly, published in 2020, and years ago in Bluenose Justice and Crime Wave. What makes Nova Scotia true crime such an interesting topic for you?
I studied Atlantic Canada’s history in university and when I started out as a journalist. I covered the courts for the Halifax Daily News and the Chronicle Herald. As I reported on current cases, I began researching and writing about important or forgotten crimes and trials from Nova Scotia’s past. So, my love of history dovetailed with my growing interest in the law and the justice system.
2. As mentioned above, you’ve covered this area extensively; how did you choose what to include in this most recent book?
Nova Scotia has a rich history of crime and justice, so I had plenty of stories to choose from. To make the cut, each story had to be a great read and say something about what life was like at that time. I also aimed to include stories from around the province — from Truro, Antigonish, Lunenburg, Windsor, Liverpool and Cape Breton, as well as Halifax.
3. How relevant is historical true crime today?
True crime stories offer a window on the past. They deal with major events and expose how our ancestors lived, what they believed in, how police investigations and forensic science have evolved, and how the courts have grappled to ensure that justice is done. The cases I’ve collected are filled with dramatic events, memorable characters, and surprising twists and turns. And they’re intriguing stories with a lot to say about how society and the law have changed over time.
4. If not stated above, what would you like your readers to take away from the collection?
I hope these compelling stories will entertain as well as inform. Each one offers a mini-history of its time and place. Readers will learn a lot about the past and have a better understanding of how society, the law and the courts have changed, and how justice could be as elusive in the past as it can be today.
5. Do you have a favourite story in this collection? If so, which one and why?
It has to be the foiled plot to assassinate Prince George of Wales in Halifax in 1883. The future King George V was a young sailor on board a Royal Navy warship anchored in the harbour when two Irish-Americans were arrested for possessing a large cache of dynamite. Fenians, American-based terrorists fighting to free Ireland from British rule, had denoted bombs in London and other English cities, and there’s clear evidence the men arrested in Halifax had planned to blow up the prince’s ship as part of the Fenians’ “dynamite campaign.” Had they succeeded, and killed the heir to the throne, their act of terror would have changed the course of history.
6. You included an overarching look at capital punishment in the form of hanging in Chapter 13. Why did you choose, in this chapter, to focus more on the history of the event instead of a specific person or story?
There are calls, from time to time, to reinstate capital punishment for murder in Canada. A look back at the history of hangings in Nova Scotia offers a reminder of the cruelty of executions and the often-arbitrary decisions that were made when condemned prisoners pleaded for clemency. And (it’s) a reminder, as well, that capital punishment did little to deter murderers.
7. For each story, they have several credits, including other books and archival sources. How difficult was it to find enough information to ensure a well-rounded tale?
A surprising amount of information has survived. Newspapers are the most important source for the details of old crimes and in the nineteenth century, papers often published transcripts of major trials. The Nova Scotia Archives has files or records of some of the cases recreated in the book, and the Supreme Court published its rulings in several cases that involved important legal issues. I visited local museums and courthouses, to find out more about cases and the history of the community. And I gathered any previous accounts of the cases and scoured memoirs, published diaries, and history books for insights into people, events, and what life was like at the time.