Tag Archives: true crime

The Beatle Bandit: A Serial Bank Robber’s Deadly Heist, a Cross-Country Manhunt, and the Insanity Plea that Shook the Nation by Nate Hendley

There have been several excellent true crime books reviewed here at The Miramichi Reader recently, such as those by Dean Jobb and now another great Canadian true crime author, Nate Hendley, has just released his latest, The Beatle Bandit which takes us back to a bank robbery and a murder in North York Ontario on a hot July morning in 1964. Today, one’s mental state would be questioned if they tried to rob a bank, what with video surveillance, alarms, information sharing between police forces, and the Internet poised to spread the news at lightning speed. But, back in 1964, it would appear that a bank robbery was not such a risky undertaking. Just walk in and demand the money. That’s what Matthew Kerry Smith did, and he was successful to a certain point, remaining at large for some time until some dogged police work and a little luck paid off.

However, on that fateful July day, things got complicated when an ex-army civilian customer took it upon himself to try and stop Smith, AKA “The Beatle Bandit”. Jack Blanc, using one of the bank’s revolvers (yes, banks kept guns onsite in those days) tried to shoot Smith, but Smith, armed with a semi-automatic weapon shot Blanc dead.

“Forensic science being what it was in those days, combined with paper files and limited information sharing, it took time to solve the mess that The Beatle Bandit created.”

North York Police had an unidentified bank robber and a murderer on their hands at this point. Forensic science being what it was in those days, combined with paper files and limited information sharing, it took time to solve the mess that The Beatle Bandit created.

Nate Hendley was contacted by a man who had planned to write a book about the Beatle Bandit but never got around to actually writing it despite having banker boxes full of information. Torontonian Nate Hendley was the obvious choice as his authorship of dozens of true crime books speaks for itself. While Mr. Hendley had a lot of the legwork of research gifted to him, as it were, it still needed to be assembled into a story that readers would find interesting. This has been admirably accomplished by Mr. Hendley and published by Dundurn Press. Mr. Hendley’s writing style is relaxed with a pleasant tone and as such is very readable. He excels at unpacking the crime in light of the time setting in which it occurred, particularly regarding the laws (or lack of them) at the time. (There was still the death penalty, for example). Highly recommended for readers of the true-crime genre.


About the Author

Nate Hendley is a journalist and author. His books include The Boy on the BicycleThe Big Con, and Bonnie and Clyde. He lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (Nov. 16 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 216 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459748107
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459748101

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions by Mark Stobbe

True crime aficionados can rejoice, for here is a very insightful look into the so-called “Mr. Big” sting operations that have been carried out by the RCMP and other police forces over the years. There are a lot of surprising elements in Mark Stobbe’s book. For instance, it was the RCMP that devised and perfected Mr. Big over the years. I simply took it for granted that it would have been an American tactic to get criminals to confess, but no, it was created here in Canada. In fact, as I came to learn, it is little used in the USA.

“The bottom line is that if a person tells Mr. Big they have killed someone, they and their associates have a very good chance of going to jail for a very long time.”

What is the “Mr. Big” sting? There is no one person who portrays Mr. Big, rather, police create an imaginary criminal gang to trick homicide suspects into a confession. “Mr. Big” is the top boss who requires the prospective gang member to come clean of his offences so that he can make them ‘go away’. Mr. Big is typically used as a last resort when evidence fails to fully incriminate a suspect. It is elaborate and expensive to stage a Mr. Big sting, but it is effective. It is not without its pitfalls too, and it has its detractors. Nevertheless, it has put men and women behind bars who would otherwise have never been convicted of murder. They are the next best thing to a smoking gun at a murder scene.

The “Mr. Big” Sting follows several cases of unsolved murders into which police decided to bring Mr. Big into the picture. The murders and facts of the case are examined, legal aspects are discussed and after all avenues of conviction are exhausted, Mr. Big is brought in.

Fascinating in its reach, especially for those who like “Law and Order” type shows and stories where criminal cases in which police, lawyers, judges, and the legal system are all involved, The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions is a book you need to read.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Stobbe has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Saskatchewan and has taught at Keyano College and Okanagan College. He began studying the criminal justice system after being accused and acquitted of the murder of a loved one. Dr. Stobbe now lives and works in Regina, Saskatchewan.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Sept. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 264 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770416129
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770416123

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Three Non-Fiction Flash Reviews

Civilians at the Sharp End by David A. Borys

Subtitled “First Canadian Army Civil Affairs in Northwest Europe”, Civilians at the Sharp End follows the story of the Civil Affairs branch through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany in 1944-45. David Borys highlights how Civil Affairs helped civilians caught in the jaws of war by delivering food and medicine, providing shelter for refugees and displaced persons, establishing law and order, dealing with resistance groups, and aiding in the reconstruction of infrastructure in damaged urban areas.

A very detailed read of this little-known effort of the Canadian Army, and a must for WWII historians.

  • McGill-Queens University Press (February 2021)
  • 268 Pages
  • 7 photos, 2 maps
  • ISBN 9780228006497

Montreal and the Bomb by Gilles Sabourin

A thoroughly enjoyable read, Montreal and the Bomb take the reader back to the end of WWII when the race for nuclear power was on. Not as high profile as the contemporary Manhattan Project, yet the research was just as urgent and vital. But did the Canadian project have anything to do with the bombs dropped on Japan? The answer to that and other questions are in the book! Written for a general-interest audience, the author wisely restricts detailed descriptions of the nuclear principles and focuses more on the men and women involved.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Baraka Books; 1st edition (Oct. 1 2021)
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 208 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771862653
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771862653

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream by Dean Jobb

An excellent true crime book from Dean Jobb, The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream had me turning the pages at a good clip due to the way the story is told by Mr. Jobb. A serial killer before Jack the Ripper (but in the Victorian era too) the Canadian doctor Thomas Neill Cream was a bounder and a murderer, particularly of young marginalized women who had little recourse but to turn to prostitution as a means to paying the rent. Poison was the weapon of choice and Dr. Cream was skillful in his acquiring it and administering it. This book is meticulously researched, contains courtroom scenes and it follows Cream from Canada to England and back again as he attempts to reinvent himself to avoid capture. With B & W photos and maps, this is a true-crime lover’s dream of a book. Highly recommended.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperAvenue (June 1 2021)
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 432 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1443453323
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1443453325

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Murder on the Orford Mountain Railway by Nick Fonda

I would like to begin this review by stating that the title is somewhat misleading. No murder has taken place on the Orford Mountain Railway, but near the railway’s construction camp. Now that that is out of the way, Nick Fonda’s book is a work of creative fiction surrounding the mysterious death of young Ralph Andosca, the son of the camp’s cook, who was ambushed while on horseback and shot dead at point-blank range in 1905.

Mr. Fonda has chosen to relate the story of the murder to the reader in a curious way. The scene is present-day, and a gentleman is giving a presentation regarding the historic railway murder and the recent discovery of a diary written by an unknown woman to an audience in a church hall near where the murder took place, in Quebec’s eastern townships. An effective way to unpack the story, and it serves to build suspense, but it also includes the presenter’s unfamiliarity with operating a presentation device to which a techy named Shaun comes to his rescue. Those little asides the story could do without, I felt. There are also times when you get the feeling that the story was being stretched to fill pages, such as the flight of Senor Andosca from Italy. As well-written as it was, it wasn’t germane to the actual murder here on this side of the Atlantic.

Apart from that, it is evident that Mr.Fonda is very familiar with life in the eastern towships at the turn of the last century. He even gets a mention in of the Fossmobile, Canada’s first gasoline-powered vehicle, of which only one was made in Sherbrooke, QC. There is also a second (but unrelated) murder of a young boy that took place weeks earlier that the author delves into: a 14-year old had been killed in nearby Farnham very near an existing rail line.

There are likely thousands of historical crimes in Canada that can be written about, and for fans of the genre, Murder on the Orford Mountain Railway is certainly worth a look.

*Note: this review is based on an advance reading copy that was supplied by the publisher. Murder on the Orford Mountain Railway will be released June 1, 2021


Nick Fonda is an award-winning journalist who has been documenting life in the Quebec’s Eastern Townships for years. Fascinated by local history, which inspires this novel, he is the author of three books of nonfiction focusing on the Townships and the acclaimed short stories collection Principals and Other Schoolyard Bullies. He lives in Richmond, Quebec.

  • Publisher : Baraka Books (May 1 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 200 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771862467
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771862462

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Twice to the Gallows: Bennie Swim and the Benton Ridge Murders by Dominique Perrin

Billed as “A New Brunswick Non-Fiction Novel” Twice to the Gallows by Fredericton author Dominique Perrin is the perfect type of story that leans more toward the “creative’ side due to the paucity of facts surrounding the unusual case of Bennie Swim, a double-killer (he was only convicted of murder for one of his killings) in the Carleton County area of New Brunswick back in the early 1920s.

Bennie’s story is the timeless one of an angry jilted lover with the mentality “If I can’t have her nobody can” and sets off to visit Olive, the girl who wanted nothing to do with him and her new husband, Harvey. He has a revolver that he traded his worldly belongings to acquire.

What facts are known is that acting in a blind rage Bennie killed both Olive and Harvey Trenholm in their home, and then attempted suicide by shooting himself, at which he failed. He then fled the scene and managed to escape capture for a few hours (it was wintertime, so he wasn’t hard to track on foot). As Mr. Perrin notes in the Afterword:

“Bennie’s behaviour may look pretty stupid to us, but it was driven by his unbearable loss and passionate jealousy.”

More facts are known once Bennie is in jail awaiting trial, his quick conviction (despite the best efforts of his beleaguered lawyer in a losing cause) and his incarceration awaiting his execution by hanging. Bennie attempts to claim insanity, and while he cleverly fools two New Brunswick doctors, an Ontario psychiatrist is brought in and isn’t fooled one bit. Bennie must hang. However, a professional hangman cannot be sourced locally, so two apprentice hangmen are brought in, much to the Sherriff’s chagrin, as one is a total drunk and the other inexperienced in the science of a proper hanging (hence the book’s title). This section is particularly entertaining as Sherriff Foster appears to be the only competent person in Bennie’s solitary life.

Mr. Perrin has done a fine job of recreating the times and mores of an early 20th century rural New Brunswick with its small inter-related communities of simple, hardworking folks. Of necessity, he recreates dialogue where needed and reasonable speculation where possible when all the facts are not known. He has certainly performed careful research through archives, tracing out all the connections to the story down to the present day. If you like books that recreate true historical crimes (such as Debra Komar’s, for instance), then I am sure you will enjoy reading Twice to the Gallows.


Dominique Perrin served in the Canadian Armed Forces for twenty-six years. Since retirement he has become a jazz musician, playing alto saxophone. He regularly plays in jazz clubs of several European cities. He also performs and gives lessons in advanced saxophone in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where he lives.

  • Publisher : Chapel Street Editions (June 11 2019)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 242 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1988299241
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1988299242

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Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot by Geoff Mynett

“Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot throws new light on the extensive manhunt for an accused murderer in northern British Columbia in the early 1900s. After a double murder in 1906, Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper Simon Gunanoot fled into the wilderness with his family. Frustrated by Gunanoot’s ability to evade capture, the Attorney General of BC asked Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in Seattle to assist in the pursuit.

In 1909, two Pinkerton’s operatives disguised as prospectors were sent to Hazelton, BC, to find and apprehend Gunanoot. From 1909–1910, they delivered reports to Pinkerton’s in Seattle detailing their progress. Many of these reports, written around campfires in the wilderness, provided a vivid picture of life in the frontier, relations of settlers, prospectors, and the conflicting loyalties and tensions in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

One of the most famous fugitives in BC history, Gunanoot’s story has taken on the status of legend. This is a tale of early twentieth-century crime-solving techniques, politics and backwoods survival, based on never-before-published accounts of the two operatives.”

Somewhere in the dim recesses of my memory – second-year college, I believe – I took an elective course on BC history, the content of which was, for the most part, colonial settler history. Despite a decidedly narrow window onto Canada’s west coast past, I enjoyed the course, learning more about my home province than I’d previously known: the Dominion enclave of Victoria, the capital (at the time) of New Westminster, place names alone alluding to perceived provenance, and the vast wilds of BC’s northern interior. We learned what we knew at the time about Simon Gunanoot, perhaps BC’s most famous “outlaw,” quotation marks indicating the fact we don’t know all the facts, and assuredly never will. But now, for the first time, through extensive research by author Geoff Mynett presented in a well-organized, engaging narrative, we have perhaps the very best account of this fascinating story.

“One night in June 1906, a Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper named Simon Gunanoot argued and then fought with a packer named Alex MacIntosh. When MacIntosh’s dead body was found the next morning, Police Constable James Kirby swiftly concluded that Gunanoot and his brother-in-law, Peter Himadam, were the killers and out to bring them to justice.”

As a retired lawyer, Mynett shares meticulous research in readable detail, along with good story-telling, suitable slices of speculation, and a clear passion for the subject matter, before, during, and after the trial of this story’s famous fugitive.

“While waiting for trial, Gunanoot would have understood that, if convicted, he could well be hanged. Necessarily, he had to trust entirely to his counsel’s abilities and to the mercies of a Vancouver jury.”

Like any great tale, particularly one in which the players involved may or may not share a common language (literally), this story struck me more often than not as a childhood game of “whisper.” When something is stated with certainty, then told and retold, partially forgotten, then embellished, too often peppered with preconceptions and prejudice, and so on, until eventually what actually occurred (or what was initially said) no longer resembles what it once was. So too during an investigative search by operatives in frontier wilderness, discrete discussions over too many drinks in saloons and around campfires – the setting alone, uncertainty, and personal biases skew every facet of every piece of dialogue. The result? Too many versions of “facts” to be certain as to where the truth lies. Even reading the text I found myself unwittingly deciding my own version of truths, taking sides and pulling for certain parties over others.

This book sheds light on a richly layered piece of history, challenges preconceived notions of right, wrong, justice and law, and provides an intriguing window onto a time and a place, surprisingly not far removed from where we are now. I applaud author Geoff Mynett for his diligent work and commitment to share an important and riveting story from BC’s past and doing it exceptionally well.



About the Author: Geoff Mynett was born in England where he qualified as a Barrister. After emigrating to British Columbia in 1973, he became a Canadian citizen, requalified as a lawyer and practiced law until his retirement. His first book, Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician (Ronsdale Press, 2019), received a Jeanne Clarke Memorial Award. His second book, Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot, was published by Caitlin Press in 2021. Geoff and his wife Alice live in Vancouver and have two sons.

  • Title: Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot
  • Author: Geoff Mynett
  • Publisher: Caitlin Press Inc, 2021
  • ISBN: 978-1-77386-050-3
  • Pages: 256 pp

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The Seventh Shot: On the Trail of Canada’s .22-calibre Killer by Ann Burke

“Who shoots someone six times then stops to reload and shoots a seventh?”

The answer: someone with a 9-shot pistol instead of the usual 6-shooter. This unique gun would prove to be a vital clue in tracking down the murderer (and rapist) of two women in May 1970 in the Gormley, Ontario area.

Ann Burke has worn many hats over the years, but her favourite one is her writer’s cap. The Seventh Shot is her first book and it is a true-crime story told in the best journalistic style. There is even a personal connection, which serves to make the story of the serial killer (and former Metropolitan Toronto Police Officer) Ronald Glen West all that more fascinating. The fact that West may have killed even more adds to the story as well, for there were other unaccounted for murders and disappearances in the surrounding area in the years before West was incarcerated. These many unsolved cases are recounted by the author in the chapter entitled “The Cold Corridor”.

In a TMR interview with Ms. Burke, she was asked: “What do you want the reader of The Seventh Shot to come away with?”

She replied: “I would like them to discover, as I did, that however cruel and evil these crimes were, that there are heroes out there. I cannot tell you how many times I was assured that the officers “felt a commitment to bring justice for the sake of the survivors”, and at no small cost to themselves.”

In a documentary style, Ms. Burke introduces us to these ‘heroes’ —mainly OPP officers— and manages to get personal interviews with them, all retired now. She then proceeds to recreate the crimes, how there were similarities between the two victims, West’s background and so on. Adding a nice touch to each chapter is an appropriate quote that sets the tone for what is to follow. Latitude 46 Publishing of Ontario is to be commended for all aspects of this title, from cover to cover.

It is quite imaginable that The Seventh Shot might be made into a made-for-tv mini-series. Five stars for an excellent first book and a great read!


About the author: After serving in the Royal Canadian Navy as a Navigational Operator/Radar Technician, Ann turned her interest to her greatest love, writing. Working largely in the social services sector as a counsellor in a Women and Children’s Shelter, co-ordinating a Homeless drop-in and directing a rural community centre, she freelanced for newspapers, including The Toronto Star. Her most memorable years were spent working for The Walden Observer in Lively, Ontario and covering events for The Sudbury Star. She now lives in Innisfil with her husband. You can read an interview with her here.

  • Publisher : Latitude 46 (Oct. 22 2020)
  • Paperback : 174 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 198898923X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1988989235

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The Ann Burke Interview

Ann Burke’s The Seventh Shot (Latitude 46 Publishing) is a recounting of two grisly Ontario murders some thirty years on, and the remarkable efforts of police detectives to unravel the senseless brutality of these crimes.
The author and one-time classmate of the killer, haunted by the grisly crimes, she sets about shedding light on how the Ontario Police brought this killer cop to justice. Drawing on faded archival files, hours of interviews and a personal passion to see the story finally reveal itself, The Seventh Shot is a mesmerizing account of an unforgettable crime, comparable to the recent intrigue and terror brought from the Golden State Killer case: a suspect, who was also a police officer, who went long undetected, until the power of DNA changed things forever.

After serving in the Royal Canadian Navy as a navigational operator/radar technician, Ann turned her interest to her greatest love, writing. Working largely in the social services sector as a counsellor in a women and children’s shelter, coordinating a homeless drop-in, and directing a rural community centre, she freelanced for newspapers, including the Toronto Star. Her most memorable years were spent working for the Walden Observer in Lively, Ontario and covering events for the Sudbury Star. She now lives in Innisfil with her husband.

Was it difficult to listen to the stories of those who first attended the crime scenes of the two women? How did those who initially attend the crime scenes describe their reactions?

Yes, the vivid descriptions that they gave after so many years demonstrated to me how deeply moved they were. Some forty-five years later, the officers described the scenes as if it was only yesterday. Death was not a new concept to any of them but none of those attending had experienced anything like this. I felt vulnerable just listening to their stories of their initial arrival at the sites. There was no doubt that their individual commitment to find the perpetrator lasting those many years was driven by those first moments.

What do you want the reader of The Seventh Shot to come away with?

I would like them to discover, as I did, that however cruel and evil these crimes were, that there are heroes out there. I cannot tell you how many times I was assured that the officers “felt a commitment to bring justice for the sake of the survivors”, and at no small cost to themselves.

Did you, as some writers suggest, find yourself attached to some of the characters in your book?

Yes, In respect to the officers, it became important to me to share who they were, as well as what they did. As well, I wanted to acknowledge how archivists went beyond any of my expectations in assisting me, and how West’s childhood friends, in spite of their sense of loss of someone they believed to be a friend, offered up their own interpretations of what may have brought West to commit these despicable crimes.
And yes, for the victims. I often thought of how proud Helen would have been of Dale for taking the actions that he did and how terrible for Doreen dying without knowing if the child in your arms would die as well. Yes, I became attached.

What would you say fueled your motivation behind the obvious in-depth research conducted for The Seventh Shot?

I have spent a number of years as a journalist and background work became second nature. In the case of The Seventh Shot, I soon discovered that there was actually a wealth of information to uncover. I have always had a fascination for digging through old files, letters and books. Each time I uncovered something previously hidden, it inevitably moved me towards the next discovery. I am finding that since the book was launched, I have been introduced to even more facts. It is always very compelling to follow up.

What aspect of writing this book did you personally find most rewarding?

I embrace the fact that people are so willing to share very personal aspects of their lives and careers with me. I have remained friends with some, in touch with others, or at the least, compelled to keep some up to date on where I was with the book at any particular time. I hope that some lives may be a little better because of the book and that there is the chance that at least one more crime may be solved: the Murder Park crimes.

This book deals with particularly painful and dark material. How do you feel you were able to balance this?

Perhaps surprisingly, my past writing has been more of a humorous nature, more often than not. It is no secret that humour is a great buffer for dealing with the darker side of life, in fact this coping strategy is often referred to as dark humour. It is something that cops have done for years. I worked for a Coroner many years ago and I learned some things about ‘coping’ from him. I don’t believe we could cope without humour in our lives.

You said that you planned to write at least one book on your retirement. Why this one? Why Ron West?

I can honestly say that the subject of the book presented itself. It began by having attended high school with the subject (and ex-cop), hearing about his conviction for the murders years later and the fact that I had indirectly been involved as a witness in an attempted murder attempt by an ex-cop. Recognition for actions I took in the attempted murder case I mentioned, assisted in my connecting with the leading players in this book.

Who will this book appeal to, do you think?

First and foremost, I would have to say True Crime fans, however, I think that it will appeal to those curious about some of the ins and outs of policing, as well as giving some insight into the dissection of a cold case. I also hope that appeals to those looking for some modern day heroes because they are out there, I promise you.

Do you think that there are more Ronald Glen Wests out there? Do you think they would be able to conceal their crimes for so long now?

I am sorry to say yes. While writing this book I became aware of the Golden State Killer and learned of the incredible parallels that existed between West and D’Angelo. (I cover this in my website – www.annburkeauthor.com) I would love to hear that it was otherwise but I do not doubt that for a moment there will be more. Killers such as these two are very clever and are underestimated in their ability to move about like ‘ghosts’. They blend in with the background, so to speak, and we will always be surprised when they are finally identified to us. Their seeming normalcy is their greatest weapon.

What is your take on the nurture vs. nature theory and Ronald Glen West?

I have spent a lot of time looking into both sides of this argument! As well, I have discussed with Dr. Lee Mellor, Criminologist for his take. I am not only less convinced that it is one or the other so much as a combination but believe that there may be other factors that include head trauma for one. I do believe that West is a (sexual) psychopath and totally lacks empathy for anyone other than himself. I will leave this one to the experts.

(Contributed)


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Daring, Devious, and Deadly: True Tale of Crime and Justice from Nova Scotia’s Past by Dean Jobb

Historical non-fiction can sometimes present itself as a stained parchment paper timeline of facts, the kind that is best saved for a game of trivia or a college term paper. Other times, it can deliver as a timely, fascinating excursion. In this case, Daring, Devious, and Deadly is definitely the latter as an easy, must-read work. Author Dean Jobb does an extraordinary job of winding several notorious, landmark cases in Nova Scotian history into a book that should be on every Canadian History bookstore shelf. Each tale reads as a dramatic episode of a favourite mystery or court case TV program. In part, due to the verbatim capture of dialogue that journalists recorded at the time, Jobb was able to thoroughly research and document these criminal cases as captivating stories rather than daunting historical text. A read that is hard to put down mid-tale; history is held under a page-turning microscope, not too subtly blowing the dust off Nova Scotia’ sordid, unsettling history of deceit, bloody violence, and various courtroom shenanigans.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

This book, which could serve under another apropos title of “Anglo Saxon Men Behaving Badly over Two Centuries”, opens with the sharp-tongued comedic legacy of A.B. MacGillivray, an early 20th century Cape Breton magistrate. Presiding as judge over cases resembling present-day courtroom reality tv, we are offered an initial flavour of Nova Scotia’s shifty legal system. Episode one features corrupt magistrates hastily resigning after a contentious libel case involving a victorious newspaper press. As if binge-watching Netflix, we are quickly spun into Death at the Waterloo Tavern, a suspenseful whodunit or who-done-who wrong at an 1850s brothel. 

Every tale in this book was an attention-grabbing newspaper headline. Highlights include the controversial beginnings of the Bank of Nova Scotia, featuring decades-long mismanagement and embezzlement, and how bank tellers’ fear of missing out when the PT Barnum circus came to town led to a robbery in broad daylight; mariner crimes involving mutiny, murder, and libel; gruesome homicides, the resulting prosecution, public executions, and time served; and one of the most deadly cases in Nova Scotia’s history, earning it a 100-year commemoration by Canada Post, the 1917 Halifax Explosion.

“Every tale in this book was an attention-grabbing newspaper headline.”

Given the current global climate of radical political unrest, another timely historical piece, Death at the Polls, may have you wondering if this isn’t something that could occur in the present. 

Earlier in 2020, I’d originally planned to visit a friend who recently relocated from the West Coast to Halifax, a city I’ve never travelled to before. Needless to say, with travel plans indefinitely cancelled, I am glad I had an opportunity to explore a piece of Nova Scotia’s controversial underbelly this way, perhaps fuelling a future trip with a connection I otherwise wouldn’t have considered while mindlessly traipsing down Barrington Street in Halifax. When the time comes, I will impress my dear friend with my knowledge of brothels, infernos, and hangings in her new backyard, as one does, post-pandemic. 


Dean Jobb is an award-winning writer and the author of Empire of Deception. It won the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award and was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize. Dean writes a monthly true crime column for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and he is a professor of journalism and a member of the faculty of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Program at the University of King’s College in Halifax.

  • Paperback : 240 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1989725238
  • Publisher : Pottersfield Press (Sept. 21 2020)

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The Laura Churchill Duke Interview

Laura Churchill Duke is the author of Two Crows Sorrow (2019, Moose House Publications) the true story of a grisly murder that took place in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in 1904. It is currently on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Non-Fiction. I wanted to know more about Ms. Churchill Duke and the research that went into telling Theresa McAuley Robinson’s story.

Miramichi Reader: Laura, tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.

I grew up in the Annapolis Valley, attended Acadia University studying organizational psychology. It was while writing my honours thesis that my supervisor picked up on my love of writing and worked a lot with me to further develop my skills – and worked hard to get me to stop using the passive voice!

After graduation, I lived in Japan for three years, teaching English at the base of Mt. Fuji. I travelled the world, and eventually returned to the Valley where I took an advanced diploma in public relations from the community college, and then returned to Acadia, working for my previous honours thesis supervisor, as project manager for his psychology research centre.

When my son was born 13 years ago, I decided not to return to the traditional workforce, and instead carved a niche market for myself. I created the website and blog, Valley Family Fun (www.valleyfamilyfun.ca) as a way of sharing ideas and information with families so they can spend more time having fun together. Our family documents our travels and local adventures, encouraging others to do the same. I have grown to have tens of thousands of followers, all looking for more family fun.

I currently work as a freelance journalist for Saltwire Network with my stories reaching across Atlantic Canada. I am the CBC radio Information Morning community contact for the town of Kentville. I work as the communications coordinator for Campaign for Kids, raising funds for kids in financial need in the local area. As part of this, I organize and run a yearly Burger Wars campaign for the month of April with over 40 participating restaurants in the Valley. We run a strong social media campaign for this and people love to go online to watch me eat burgers on Facebook live!

I am president of my sons’ school PTA and spend as much time volunteering at the school as possible. I know this period of time is so short, so I try to pack as much as possible in with them!

I also run a home organization business on the side with two friends called Your Last Resort (www.YourLastResort.ca) and we have seen first-hand the powerful impact that cleaning one’s home has on one’s life.

I have two sons: Daniel – 13, Thomas 11. My husband is a history prof at Acadia, and we have 5 pets, which are rescue animals (a Shepsky dog and 4 degus).

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

I have always loved writing. In grade 2, I was awarded a writing prize, and in Grade 6, my teacher, Mr. Pulsifer wrote on one of my detective stories “keep writing, because you might make money at this someday!” Then, my thesis supervisor, Dr. Michael Leiter, really took me under his wing, giving me lots of writing opportunities, both academic and media-related.

I have always been obsessed with true crime shows and books. Before writing Two Crows Sorrow, I read a lot of local historical murder books. I really love the books by Debra Komar and devoured as many of her books as possible.

MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

Horn of the Lamb by Robert Sedlack is probably one of my favourite books. It’s by a Canadian author and is about a simple man who has an extraordinary impact on the people around him.

I also love books by Liane Moriarty, an Australian writer, who I think is definitely writing to my age cohort! What Alice Forgot is a powerful book, that makes us look at our lives and think about how we got where we are today, and to appreciate that journey and our beginnings.

MR: Let’s discuss your fascinating creative non-fiction book, Two Crows Sorrow, which I believe is your first book. How did it come about? Where did the idea of telling Theresa McAuley Robinson’s story start?

In 2012, I was commissioned to write the scripts for Valley Ghost Walks (www.valleyghostwalks.com). We were starting a new walk series in Kentville and needed the scripts. I researched Kentville’s history to write these dramatic historical monologues, and in the process, came across the story of the murder of Theresa McAuley Robinson. Because the trial for this murder took place in Kentville, it came across my radar. I began researching her story, and it stuck with me.

I kept thinking that this would make a great novel…. If I wrote fiction. However, I am a journalist and a reporter. I don’t write creative stories!

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Then, a few years later, I went to a conference where the keynote speaker asked, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” The answer came to me immediately. I would write this book. So, I decided to step outside my comfort box and try to put her story to paper.

“I am overwhelmed at how well this novel has been received.”

It was hard flipping between writing an article and writing a story and had lots of friends who helped read earlier drafts, indicating where it read like an article, where I had included too much research, and where I needed to work further.

MR: How has the book been received?

I am overwhelmed at how well this novel has been received. I have asked people from afar who have read the book if it matters that they are not from the Valley. They say the story translates across borders and is not limited to Nova Scotia. This is evident in the wide-spread reception of the book.

I have had readers write to me from across Canada – in Edmonton, Vancouver and Ontario.

Because I have lived abroad and have friends overseas, the book has gone to England, Ireland, Japan and Australia – that I know of!

Recently, I received a phone call from a woman in Cleveland Ohio, who told me how much she loved the book and how well it was selling in Barnes & Noble, Walmart there. It’s also being placed in all branches of the Cleveland Public Libraries!

MR: In researching and writing your novel, you likely have had a few outstanding experiences, either with people or places. Anything stands out for you? Something especially memorable?

Before writing, I did so much research – months and months of it. I spent so much time in the archives reading trial transcripts, newspaper articles, the victim’s personal letters, etc. I interviewed so many people to find the ins and outs of the time period and to know what everything meant. Luckily, one of my best friend’s friend was living with her at the time, and she was a former forensic crime scene investigator from the UK. We would go for lunch and talk about dead bodies, pugilistic poses, murder scenes and the likes over dinner. I can just imagine what people overhearing our conversations, thought!

Theresa was also a community columnist in the local paper, bringing the local news from Burlington, NS, much like I do today. It was wonderful to read her words in the paper, and she had a gift for description.

I went down so many rabbit holes in my research, wanting to know everything about everyone –  I researched every jury member, every family member, wanting to know everything about everything.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

I really believe I already have. Theresa’s story stuck with me until I wrote it. To me, this was not about writing a book, but telling her story. I would write something again if it equally compelled me. I’m sure it would have an element of crime in it, too, though!

MR: What are you working on now?

I am poking into a few other local crime stories to see if there is enough of a story there. The hard part is finding time to do this, as I have to fit this in around everything else that I actually get paid to write!

So, mostly, I am writing Christmas lists, newspaper articles 😊

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Our family loves to travel. Two years ago our family lived in Wales for 6 months. We are planning to go away in 2020 for a month to revisit Japan, so I can show my family where I used to live, and why I love the country.

I love to hike and explore new trails – and then blog about them; I love to bake, read, have a glass of Moscato with my friends, and spend time with my immediate and extended family, all of whom live within 20 minutes!

Thanks Laura!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

First Degree, From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial by Kayla Hounsell

Who doesn’t like a good courtroom drama? From Perry Mason to Matlock to Law & Order, tense courtroom stories have always been popular. No two are truly alike. Add in the fact that it is a true crime drama, and you have a story that is all the more realistic. This is where a book like Kayla Hounsell’s First Degree, From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial really excels. Ms. Hounsell is currently CBC’s National Reporter for the Maritimes and while she covered the trial, she hadn’t considered writing a book about it until a stranger (who would become the book’s editor) emailed her with the idea. The result is an extremely interesting and dramatic recounting of the story of two Dalhousie med students, Willam Sandeson and Taylor Samson, the murder victim. It is also a world of drugs, primarily marijuana, and the desire for the “big score” the deal that will pay off debts and (if you believe Mr. Sandeson) allow him to get out of dealing before school starts in the fall.

“A rare Canadian look at the intersection of campus life, drugs and murder.”

Greg Marquis, author of Truth & Honour
Ms. Hounsell succinctly describes the case that Mr. Sandeson’s lawyer, Brad Sarson is about to take on:

Sarson could not have picked a more high-profile, labour-intensive case in Nova Scotia — a case which would eventually involve surprise witnesses, calls for a mistrial, and a private investigator who would end up working against the team that hired him. It was a trial that involved society’s most desirable cohort — people who were young, attractive, and from all appearances, headed for success.

A turning point in the trial comes when the defence calls for a mistrial. Judge Arnold is not amused: “The clumsy sequence of events in this case cannot help but result in confusion in the community as well as the skepticism about the efficacy of the jury system,” he explained. “The importance of the public’s confidence in the Canadian jury system cannot be overstated. This public trust, respect, and acceptance if eroded will be at great cost to the effective operation of the criminal justice system.”

A mistrial was denied.

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Ms. Hounsell is to be credited with keeping all facts to the forefront and avoiding any speculation or the embellishing of personalities and events. She lets the story tell itself, and she has done a wonderful job of collating the various police and family interviews, testimonies and courtroom proceedings to make the entire book flow very nicely. If you like true crime, then you’ll enjoy First Degree. Added to the “Summer Reads” list and it will appear on the 2020 long list for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Non-Fiction.

First Degree was nominated for the 2019 Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award (Non-fiction).

First Degree, From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial
Nimbus Publishing

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The Boy on the Bicycle: A Forgotten Case of Wrongful Conviction in Toronto by Nate Hendley

Readers of true crime will be happy to hear that Nate Hendley is back with The Boy on the Bicycle (2018, Five Rivers Publishing). This was a project Mr. Hendley had put on hold while finishing his encyclopedic book The Big Con, which was a history of confidence men, hoaxes and frauds from past to present.

“The experience of 1956 had a very negative effect on my life”.

Ronald Moffatt

The Boy on the Bicycle revisits the murder of seven-year-old Wayne Mallette on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto 62 years ago in 1956. at the time, the only clue in the case that horrified Torontonians was that of a boy leaving the grounds of the CNE after briefly speaking with a security guard. Unfortunately, a truant young teen named Ronald Moffat was picked up by police and under extreme duress, confessed to the murder and was convicted as a juvenile offender. Although the real killer (and child predator) Peter Woodcock was eventually found and confessed to the killing, thus freeing Ronald, no compensation was forthcoming for the months he spent in detention, his distraught parents using what little money they had to pay legal costs.

How could this have happened? Why did Ronald confess to a crime he didn’t commit? Whatever became of the other principal characters such as Peter Woodcock, the various police investigators and judges? Mr. Hendley does an admirable amount of forensic investigation to get to the many facts of the case and the stories behind the forgotten account of Ronald Moffatt (who fully co-operated with Mr. Hendley in telling his side of the story).

“Beyond [a few] references, however, no one had written a complete book about Moffatt’s wrongful conviction. There was a very human side to the story as well: unlike Steven Truscott, Moffat never received an official apology much less compensation for his arrest and incarceration.”

In an interview with the author, Mr. Moffatt was asked: What do you personally hope to get out of the book?

Ron Moffatt (2016)

Ron replied: “This year I finally get to be “heard”. I feel that is important as I have lived with this locked up inside of me for over 60 years. The experience of 1956 had a very negative effect on my life. It would be nice if somehow the justice system decided I deserved financial compensation for the wrongful conviction, but I have come to the conclusion that will never happen.”

The Boy on the Bicycle is an exceptional read and serves as a unique time capsule of the times and mores of post-WWII Toronto when murders were rare and sexual predators were practically unheard of. While Ronald Moffatt remains uncompensated for his wrongful conviction, it was Mr. Hendley’s wish to finally tell Ron’s story after these many years, which he has done in a direct, yet compassionate manner. Five stars!

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This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James Fisher

Some Rights Reserved  

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Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Murder Lost to Time by Joseph A. Lapello

Clipping from the Toronto Mail and Empire Newspaper

The year is 1917. Less than two decades into the new century and already the Great War is occurring in the muddy fields of France. Soon there will be the Spanish Influenza which will kill many more millions. An inauspicious start to a new millennium, to be sure. In one of Canada’s largest cities, Toronto, there has been a murder. A cab driver is found dead in west-end Toronto, stabbed multiple times. The cabbie’s name is Carmine Lapello (AKA Tony Lapello, Tony Ross), an Italian Canadian. Inquests occur, but the murderer is never found.

Now, we take a leap forward to the year 1964 when a ten-year-old Joe Lapello is going through some cardboard boxes in his parent’s basement. He finds an old photo of a handsome young man (see book cover above). He takes the picture to his father and is told that the picture is of Joe’s great uncle, Carmine Lapello. Joe’s father was only seven years old at the time of the murder.

I was left wondering, my eyes lingering on the photograph in my hands. My great uncle stared back at me, forever trapped in monochrome, a mere memory lost in time. Still, his image seemed so alive. Perhaps it was his escaped smile or maybe the sorrow in my father’s voice, but for whatever reason, a single thought began to haunt me then. Even as I left Carmine behind, back in his box, and continued cleaning. Even as I closed my eyes when night came; for days to come the words would always echo in the back of my mind: who took my great uncle’s life?

A cab similar to Carmine Lapello’s

Joe Lapello vowed to someday discover who had killed his great uncle. It would seem that “someday” would never come, for life intervened, forcing the deceased Carmine to take a backseat until the time was ripe for Joe to investigate. Ten years after discovering the photograph, Joe meets Joseph Pill, who was actually with Carmine the night of the murder. Mr. Pill, by this time, is quite old, and pretty much down on his luck. Incredibly, their paths cross in a downtown pool hall and Joe gets more information about that fatal night.

Take another leap forward to 2005 and Joe comes across Carmine’s photo once again while cleaning out his deceased mother’s house.

Up until this point my resolve to someday solve my great uncle’s murder had been no more than a child’s fantasy, an unreachable adventure that could only ever be a dream. After all, I was only a child when I first encountered Carmine and the stories of his unsolved homicide. Back then, clutching his photograph with hands too small to clean a storage shelf, I had looked at the unshed tears in my father’s eyes with a dismay I hadn’t yet properly grown into. But I was no longer that young innocent boy; I had grown up with my great uncle’s ghost following me periodically along the way. I now had the renewed inspiration needed to begin my quest. With these thoughts in mind, I took my great uncle’s picture and attached it to my computer’s monitor as a reminder of my decision. I would research this old murder with the sole intention of answering Joseph’s question. Sooner or later I would find who took Carmine’s life.

Murder Lost to Time was a captivating book to read. I think it is pretty safe to say that Mr. Lapello would have been hard-pressed to discover much information before the Internet came along. It was by using it that he was able to get leads on where to look, what archives to search and he even uses Ancestry.ca to assist in tracking various descendants and such. Mr. Lapello took a very methodical approach and used good old-fashioned faculties such as logic and reasoning to put together a complete picture of  “the Ward” (St. John’s Ward) a poor immigrant section of Toronto now lost to high rises, condos and businesses. It was quite amazing how Mr. Lapello pieces it all together, narrowing down the list of possible murderers, the places they went, the people they knew and even their eventual ends. Prohibition, bootlegging and the “Black Hand” all figure into the grand scheme of things, too. I learned quite a bit about this time period in Toronto!

If you enjoy true crime stories, and especially ones that happened in another time period, then I know you will like Murder Lost to Time. I gave it 4 stars at Goodreads.

Murder Lost to Time is available in paperback as well as a Kindle edition.

 

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Joseph A. Lapello

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Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
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Death at the Harbourview Cafe by Fred Humber

Three deaths: one, a popular Chinese businessman, the second his adopted son, and the third a rookie RCMP constable in a popular cafe and store in the unassuming town of Botwood Newfoundland. If that doesn’t have the makings of a good mystery-thriller, then I don’t know what does. But this isn’t fiction, it’s a true crime story that occurred in 1958, and it remained untold for many years, but lay dormant in the collective memory of the town and any eyewitnesses that happened to be in Botwood that fateful November day.

“After intense research, I was able to uncover an RCMP file and the findings of a provincial magisterial enquiry, completed in December of 1958 and withheld from publication for nearly sixty years after the event. Its findings and formal statements from those called by the enquiry, most now deceased, combined with current interviews and research, have been used to create Death at the Harbourview Cafe.

Fred Humber, a native of Botwood, was thirteen years old at the time. and as a first-time author, he has done an admirable job of getting the facts straight and unfolding the story in an easy to follow chronological order. He provides us with a backstory on the times, the extensive Chinese population in Newfoundland, as well as life in the busy port of Botwood itself. Notable too, are the inclusion of black and white photos which help to set the scene in the reader’s mind.

“I told the Mounties that Mr Ling had a gun in his quarters….I mentioned to the officers that I believed Jim had hurt Ken so the latter could not talk.”

Hearsey Canning's official statement

The following excerpt from the book takes place when Hearsey Canning (an employee of the cafe Cafe whom Jim Ling affectionately calls “Boey”) climbs a ladder to the second story to call out to Jim whom no one has seen for days now:

Hearsey climbed up the ladder, stepped out onto the roof of the back porch extension, and went to the window on the left. She had to be careful of the barbed wire. After twenty minutes of knocking on the window, she finally heard Jim speak from the inside. “Who is it?”
Hearsey replied with the Chinese name Jim had given her. “Boey. Come down and let me in, will you, Jim?”
“No! No! No!” Jim sounded quite agitated.
“Where is Ken?” she asked.
“Me not know,” he replied, his voice rising in volume and sharpness.
“Is he in there with you?”
Jim replied, “No! No No!” This time he was even louder and quite emphatic.
“Do you need a doctor?” Nothing. The place fell silent.
There was no question about it. By this time, Jim was coming unglued. He had screamed in such a high pitch and volume, Hearsey figured he had gone savage with rage and frustration. Her questions to him seemed normal enough.
What the hell was going on?

This was a particularly tense part of the book, and there are others too. Death at the Harbourview Cafe is a story worthy of a prime-time drama, and Mr. Humber draws on the many peculiarities in the story (an unarmed RCMP constabulary, citizens milling about the cafe after shots have rung out, and Jim Ling’s mental health issues just to name a few) to maintain a level of strangeness, confusion and suspense in the telling of this real-life drama. Included are nineteen appendices which contain artifacts, photographs, news clippings, official letters and eyewitness statements.

A well-compiled and researched book, Death at the Harbourview Cafe will be enjoyed by all fans of the true crime genre, fact or fiction. It goes on my 2018 Longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award in the Non-Fiction category.

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Death at the Harbourview Cafe by Fred Humber
Flanker Press

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher

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Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
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The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History by Nate Hendley

Toronto-based author Nate Hendley has written over a dozen books, primarily in the true-crime genre. He has written books about the American Mafia, Ontario’s infamous Black Donnellys and the wrongful conviction of Ontario teenager Steven Truscott. His latest book is The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History (2016).

“This book is dedicated to whistleblowers and skeptics everywhere.”

Dedication page
When I think of con (or confidence) jobs, I immediately think of the movie “The Sting” with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. It was a big operation they staged, but most cons are on a smaller scale, such as the Nigerian email scam that I’m sure anyone with an email address has received and continues to receive (see below).

The Big Con is a big book, almost 400 pages, and as such, it is very authoritative, making it a great reference book to have for those who enjoy reading true crime, crime fiction, or who are born skeptics and get a certain “kick” out reading how easily people can be fooled.
Mr Hendley has expertly organised The Big Con into Eleven sections such as Classic Cons (small and big), Business Fraud, Despicable Scams, Great Pretenders, Hoaxes, Urban Legends, and Popular Delusions, Dubious remedies, Online Scams, Para-Abnormal Fraud, Pop Culture Cons, A Gallery of Rogues (and One Hero), and finally, Section Eleven: Interviews.

The following is an excerpt from the “Classic Cons” section, and is reproduced in full with the author’s kind permission:

THE SPANISH PRISONER

The Spanish Prisoner con is the forerunner of the modern-day “419” or “Nigerian e-mail” scam. A person receives a letter from a foreign city, supposedly written by a Spanish prisoner or on his behalf. The letter explains that the prisoner is a wealthy man who is being held captive on totally unjust charges. Because the man is in jail, he can’t access his fortune. The letter asks the dupe to send some money to another address in Spain (or elsewhere). Supposedly, this money will be used to bribe the guards to release the prisoner from his Spanish hell-hole. The mark is promised a huge fortune for being so helpful. Money is sent, but the “wealthy prisoner” never makes good on his promise of a huge payout. The address the dupe sent his money to, of course, is controlled by the con artist who penned the letter in the first place.

This scam has deep roots. An article published in the March 20, 1898, New York Times is headlined, “An Old Swindle Revived—The ‘Spanish Prisoner’ and Buried Treasure Bait Again Being Offered to Unwary Americans.” “One of the oldest and most attractive and probably most successful swindles known to the police authorities has again come to the surface, having been brought to the attention of Anthony Comstock, president of the Society for the Prevention of Crime … it is known as the ‘Spanish Prisoner’ and has been in operation more than 30 years,” explained the Times.

The Times detailed several other attributes of the Spanish Prisoner scam, which are worth noting, given the durability of this con. The letter in question is usually neatly written, though with a few grammar mistakes or foreign idioms to indicate the writer doesn’t speak English as a first language. The letter writer has been imprisoned on either trumped-up or political charges. Often, the supposed prisoner has a poor, helpless daughter. The writer hopes to recover his fortune to help his daughter. The “helpless daughter” gambit is designed to tug on the dupe’s heart strings and make him more likely to put money in the mail. The prisoner says he sent the letter to the dupe after a mutual friend (who goes unnamed) vouched for his integrity and dependability.

Like many classic cons, the Spanish Prisoner letter mutated into a new scam that continues to be carried on today. The scam in question comes in the form of a frantic e-mail message sent by a foreign dignitary or tycoon (often from Nigeria) who is desperate to recover his lost fortune. The e-mail recipient is promised a share of the wealth if only he can help the poor man regain his wealth.

Authoritative and Readable

Other popular cons and hoaxes contained in The Big Con are bad credit scams (“no-hassle loans”), ATM skimming, Ponzi schemes (“It remains unclear if [Charles] Ponzi was a cold-blooded conman or was simply deluded”), Pyramid schemes,  opportunists who use natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, or faking cancer to get people to donate money. The Bermuda Triangle. Then there is the real story of Frank Abagnale, the subject of the film “Catch Me If You Can” starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio.

There’s just so many cases of scams contained in The Big Con, that space does not permit mentioning them all. Mr Hendley always quotes his sources at the end of each article, so you can be sure of what you read is up-to-date.

Very readable The Big Con is one of those books that you can pick up and start reading anywhere. There is an extensive bibliography at the back for further reading suggestions. Mr Hendley has done sceptics a genuine courtesy by assembling the history of frauds, cons, scams and hoaxes into one beautiful volume. The only thing lacking are photographs to complement the text. Aside from that, this book is perfect reading for the casual reader, true crime/fiction aficionado and sceptic.

You may get the book from the publisher here, or ask your local library to stock it.

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Nate Hendley

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/