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“Convict’s Thrilling Escape: Leaps From Fast Train,” Toronto Globe. November 25, 1918. Page 08.

Man With Bad Record in Toronto Fools County Constable and Flees Near Shannonville – Recaptured at Napanee

John Gowans, who was on his way to Kingston penitentiary, where he was to commence a second five-year sentence for housebreaking, escaped from the custody of County Constable Frank Brown near Shannonville on Saturday morning. Gowans made his escape by obtaining permission to go to a lavatory, and then by leaping from the window of the train after he had slammed the door upon Constable Brown.

Gowans was the housebreaker who entered the house of the widow of the late Dr. Fenton, and assaulted her when she endeavored to hold him until the arrival of police. He was later arrested, and only recently completed his sentence. Judge Winchester on Wednesday sentenced Gowans to five years’ imprisonment upon convictions registered against him for housebreaking in Parkdale.

The convict was recaptured at Napanee on Saturday just before midnight.

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“Jack Lett Is Given Ten Years In Prison,” Toronto Star. November 22, 1918. Page 02.

Canadian Express Co. Robber Also Pleads Guilty to Robbing Union Bank.

Jack Lett, the embryo highwayman who robbed the Canadian Express Co. of $20,000 on October 23, was to-day given ten years in the penitentiary. He withdrew his plea of not guilty and pleaded guilty to robbing the Union Bank and stealing an automobile. For these crimes he also received five and three years respectively. The sentences are to run concurrently.

His brother, Walter Lett, also withdrew his plea of not guilty and pleaded guilty to having received $1,000, which he knew to be stolen. This money he gave to his wife. He was let go on remanded sentence provided he gives $1,000 security and finds two other securities of $1,000 each.

James Gordon Dougall is to spend not less than one year and not more than two years in the Ontario Reformatory.

In addressing Jack Lett, Chief Justice Meredith said: ‘I have no desire to add to the severity of your sentence by lecturing you. I regret that I have no testimony as to your mental capabilities, so I must judge you as I have seen you. The main trouble with you seems to be inordinate vanity. In opening your case your counsel has pictured you as a pigeon-chested, varicose-veined misfit, who is undeveloped both physically and mentally.

Looking Into the Future.
‘Your picture of yourself is that of a bold highwayman. It is to cure you of this delusion that you are to be disciplined. If you were allowed to go free that gun of yours might go off some time, and then some judge would be talking about Jack Lett being hanged by the neck until he was dead.

‘If there had only been a ‘man’ in that express car who would have given you a good thrashing, taken away your pistol, and thrown you out you would have been cured. The only thing to do now is to seek to cure you by the panacea of hard labor.

‘Jack Lett, you were not made for a highwayman. You were given freedom of that express car. Afterwards you went wandering about like a frightened child, and impressed the first man whom you met as a thief. Moreover you left your plunder right under the very nose of those who suspected you. 

‘Walter Lett, you certainly did not do all you could to save your brother, and let me tell you the offence to which you plead guilty is a serious one.

Severe Words For Dougall.
‘James Gordon Dougall, your case has caused me a deal of thought. You were the chief clerk, you held a responsible position, and you can understand that your connection with this crime will cast suspicion upon your associates and inferiors. You were leading a disgraceful life. Don’t you think one should be horsewhipped for a life of that kind.

‘You were found guilty of the lesser offence, but a jury might well have found you the instigator in this farce.’

All the prisoners refused to say anything in their defence, and received their sentences in silence.

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“Jack Lett, Dougall Both Found Guilty,” Toronto Star. November 22, 1918. Page 05.

Mercy Plea on Behalf of Former Chief Clerk at Union Station.

After considering their verdict for 40 minutes the jury yesterday returned a verdict of guilty in the cases of Jack Lett and James Gordon Dougall with a strong recommendation for mercy in the case of the later. During the trial Jack Lett’s manner was one of cold indifference, while that of Dougall was broken-hearted. These two young men were charged with the robbery from the Canadian Express Company of $20,000 on October 23, Douglass was remanded until to-day or sentence. Then other charges will be preferred against the Lett brothers; Walter Lett is charged with receiving $1,000 from his brother which he knew to be stolen; Jack Lett is charged with robbing the Union Bank and stealing an auto.

At the afternoon sitting of the trial of James Gordon Dougall, charged with conspiracy in connection with the Canadian Express Co., $20,000 robbery, the young man’s father gave character evidence. Dougall, Jr., is 32 years of age and was chief clerk at the Old Union Station. His father commended, ‘My boy–’ and then broke down.

Chief Justice Meredith: ‘Your boy was always a good boy, gave you no trouble and you cannot speak too highly of his character.’

‘Oh yes, yes,’ said Mr. Dougall.

Gordon Dougall, sitting in the dock, hung his head and wiped his eyes.

Mr. Dougall, Sr., has lived in Barrie for 60 years. Gordon Dougall came to Toronto nine years ago.

Frank Denton, K.C., addressed the jury briefly. He admitted that his client, Jack Lett, was guilty of the crime, but made a plea on the ground of mental and physical weakness. Jack Lett has recently undergone several operations. Mr. Denton wanted to know why Cox, the Grand Trunk conductor who gave Lett the information regarding how the express money was handled, was not in the dock.

On behalf of his client, James Gordon Dougall, W. K. Murphy urged that he had taken no part in the crime, but that he had merely listened to the plans of his friend with whom he had grown up.

Mr. T. C. Agar, the Crown counsel, dismissed the case of Jack Lett in a few sentences since his counsel had admitted that he was guilty, and confined his address to the jury to the case of James Gordon Dougall.

His Lordship: ‘Mr. agar, all the points you presented were taken up from the statement of Dougall to the police.’

T. C. Agar: ‘I think so, my Lord.’

His Lordship: ‘Then, if he had kept his mouth shut there would have been no evidence against him?’

Referring to the messengers who held up their hands, His Lordship said: ‘I call them messengers, I cannot call them men.’

The jury retired at 3.15 pm.

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“Witnesses Identify Jack Lett As Robber,” Toronto Star. November 21, 1918. Page 02.

Two Express Messengers Say He Made Them Kneel in Car and Gagged Them,

THEN TOOK $20,000

Hewitt Ave. Residents Say He Called at Their Houses, Carrying the Plunder.

John Lett, Walter Lett and James Gordon Dougall were all three charged to-day before Chief Justice R. M. Meredith, with stealing $20,000 from the Canadian Express Company on October 23, on a train leaving Toronto for Hamilton. Frank Denton, K.C., is defending the Lett brothers, and U.K. Murphy is defending James Gordon Dougall. Jack Lett is charged with the actual commission of the crime.

George Williamson, the messenger who was robbed, said, in his evidence: ‘Just after we had left the Union Station a man got in the side door of the express car. The door was closed but not latched. He pointed a revolver at us and told us to kneel down and put up our hands. He ordered my assistant, Wilson, to lie down, then he swore at him and pushed him down, tying and gagging him.’

Both Went on Their Knees
The gags and ropes were produced and identified. 

Judge Meredith: ‘What were you doing at that time?’ Williamson: ‘I was down on my knees. Then he ordered me to open the strong box. I was tied and he helped himself. Before he jumped from the train he said: ‘If you open your mouth or say anything about this, I’ll get you again.’

Judge Meredith: ‘Did you have a weapon?’ ‘Yes, in my hip pocket.’

‘Couldn’t you use it?’ ‘No.’

‘Not when you were kneeling down saying your prayers all the time?’

Williamson and Wilson, the other messenger, who was called next, said that they got loose just west of New Toronto. Twenty thousand dollars was taken, and $100 in silver.

Both Identify John Lett
Both messengers identified Jack Lett as the man who robbed them.

W. J. Greenway, 37 Hewitt avenue, and Mrs. Roberston, 39 Hewitt avenue, both identified Jack Lett as the man who called on them on the morning of Oct. 23. He carried a paarcel wrapped in a black apron. He asked Greenway if he had a garage to rent, and if he knew anyone who had a room to rent. Greenway referred him to Mrs. Robertson, next door. Lett asked if she were a widow, and asked her for a room.

Mrs. Robertson: ‘I told him to come back in the evening. Mr. Greenway phoned me not to take him. He asked me if he could leave his parcel until evening. He said he was a printer and that these were his books. Afterwards, I became suspicious and opened the parcel. It contained sealed parcels. One of them was open, and I saw $2 bills. The man came back and rang the bell and tried to get in, but I had locked the doors. Then the police came and he ran away.

Found $8,800 Hid in Park.
Detective Taylor was called. He told of taking Jack Lett to High Park and finding $8,876.70 in a Canadian Express bag. He went to the home of Mrs. Walter Lett, 534A, St Clair avenue west, and recovered $1,000 from her. The police still keep this money, although they have turned over the rest to the express company.

Detective McConnell, who arrested the Lett brothers on November 5, told of finding $99.90 in silver in the Howard High Park Methodist Church.

Dougall’s Connection
The Inspector of Detectives, George Kennedy, gave evidence. He told of his interview with James Gordon Dougall.

‘Dougall said that he had known the Letts since he was a boy, that he had been raised by them. He said he saw Lett six weeks before at the Duke of Connaught Hotel at Hamilton. They discussed the possibility of robbing a jewelry store in Hamilton, which displayed a tray of diamonds in the window. They even walked down and looked at the window. Dougall said they would be caught if they broke the window. They also talked of robbing a Hamilton bank. They walked back to the hotel and met a railwayman named Cox. Cox said he knew an express messenger who left the Union Station often carrying between $60,000 and $100,000.

‘Later John Lett called up Dougall and asked if he knew a boarding place convenient to the Union Station. Dougall suggested a hotel at the corner of Spadina and King. Lett went there and registered under the name of Miller. Dougall admitted that he was to get some of the booty.

‘Again Jack Lett called up Dougall and asked him to get two keys made for a Ford and a McLaughlin car. Dougall said he hadn’t time to do it.

‘On the morning of the robbery Jack Lett called up Dougall, said he was speaking from a church, and asked Dougall to meet him. Dougall refused, say he had an appointment to go to Gravenhurst with a young lady that morning.’

James Henry, the police court stenographer, read the interview that he took down between Inspector Kennedy and Dougall. Dougall said that Jack Lett had previously robbed a bank and stolen a McLaughlin car in Hamilton.

Walter Lett’s Part.
Inspector Kennedy told of questioning Walter Lett:

‘He admitted bringing his brother to Toronto from Barrie and giving him a captain’s uniform which he, Walter, had worn. Walter Lett said he enlisted early in the war in a Forestry battalion, obtained his captaincy, and went to England.

‘He also admitted receiving $1,000 from his brother, which he knew was stolen. This money he gave to his wife.

‘Jack Lett, when I questioned him, admitted holding up the messengers and taking the money. He said that when he got to the roadway he expected to meet Dougall and Walter Lett, and when they were not there he was frightened. He hid some of the money in High Park and left a bag of silver in the High Park Methodist Church, from where ‘phoned to Dougall. He said he went to Mrs. Robertson’s, then left another parcel there. When the detectives came he ran back to High Park and hod. A man with a car drove past. He held him up, took his car and drove to Medhurst, where he abandoned the car. He purchased a ticket to North Bay, and got off at McTeir, and returned. After the robbery Walter saw Jack at Barrie and received $1,000 from him. He also tried to get his brother over to the United States.’

Walter Lett Acquitted.
Walter Lett was acquitted of the charge of conspiracy to rob the company, at the direction of Chief Justice Meredith, because there was no evidence against him, but Walter Lett is still held on the charge of receiving stolen money.

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“Three Go For Trial In Train Hold-Up Case,” Toronto Star. November 15, 1918. Page 04.

John Lett, Walter Lett, and Gordon Dougal Committed on Story to Detectives.

On their own admissions as given to Detective Mitchell after being cautioned, John Lett, Capt. Walter Lett, and Gordon Dougal, were committed for trial by Col. Denison in the Police Court to-day. The Crown submitted that it was not a case for bail, and the trio remain in custody.

The men are the alleged conspirators in the hold-up near Sunnyside on October 23 when $20,000 was stolen from messengers of the Canadian Express Company.

‘John Lett, when cautioned,’ Detective Mitchell testified, ‘admitted holding up the two messengers at the point of a revolver, taking $20,000, and jumping off the train at Sunnyside, with the money.’

‘Where was it, in a box or safe?’ queried the colonel.

‘Safe, I think,’ replied Mitchell.

‘He admitted throwing a parcel of it away in the High Park district. I later accompanied him there and found the package. It contained $9,000.’

Walter Lett, the detective continued, admitted going to Barrie the day before the arrest and receiving $1,000 from John Lett, knowing it to have been stolen. He further admitted that his brother had come to his farm at Jordan and had told him of the proposed hold-up. He further said that the day after the robbery he came to Toronto to look for John, his brother.

What Dougal Says.
Gordon Dougal admitted, after being cautioned, that John Lett and he met the night prior to the robbery to discuss the robbery. It was arranged then that Dougal was to meet him the morning of the robbery at Sunnyside, which he admitted leaving the house to do. The meeting did not take place. He further admitted after arriving at the Union Station he had a telephone message from Lett about 8 a.m. – a hour after the robbery. Lett told him that he had got the money. Lett said that he was phoning from a church and wanted to know why Dougall didn’t meet him. He told him he had got the money and had hidden it under a rock pile.

In the church the police a black club bag, which belonged to Williamson, the Canadian Express messenger. The bag contained $99.90 in silver and papers belonging to the company.

Cross-examined by Frank Denton, K.C., counsel for the Letts, Detective Mitchell replied that the admissions included references to another man.

‘Did not the admissions allege that this man was the brains behind the hold-up – that he prompted John Lett and Dougal?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Was there any admission that Dougal was to get any of the money?’ asked Mr. W. K. Murphy, counsel for Dougal.

‘That was not suggested.’

‘If the Crown Attorney of the other court wants the other man he is able to get him,’ Col. Denison commented.

Find Reservoirs
The crocks of exhilaration cached beneath the sidewalk belonging to Mrs. Annie Portchuk, Adelaide street west, did not waste their sweetness on the desert air. According to police evidence in the Women’s Court to-day, they formed the reservoir from which the pop bottles which the lady retailed at $3.50 per, were filled. This marks the second time within the week that the Porichucks have moved in court circles. The record of to-day’s visit includes the fine, $200 and costs or three months.

Murdock Henry had a clothes sideline. He pleaded guilty to-day to augmenting his wardrobe with some $50 worth of garments to which he had no right. Most of these, the police stated, had since been recovered. The colonel was told that the quick change of costume set had been Henry’s first bad break. The colonel gave him the right to don the becoming Jail Farm uniform for the next 15 days.

Found guilty of defrauding Mrs. Dorothy Whitaker, wife of a soldier overseas, out of five $100 Victory Bonds, and of stealing an automobile the property of Jas. O’Leary and Ed. Murphy, W. F. Grimwood goes to the Ontario Reformatory.

Mrs. Whitaker stated that she had given him the Victory Bonds, 1917 issue, last November to put in a safe in the Bank of Montreal. She had since asked for them and couldn’t get them. In connection with these, Mr. S.N. Gibbons testified to having sold a motor car to Grimwood for $700. ‘In part payment for this, I received four 1917 Victory Bonds from Grimwood,’ Mr. Gibbons said. Mrs. Whittaker further remarked that she had given Grimwood $1,700 in Government pay checks and her own savings. This she gave him, she said, to invest in the Mossop Hotel, which he told her he was to convert into a club.

Two offenders against the O.T.A. got docked $300 and costs or three months in as many minutes. Harry Hurd was a retailer. He kept the bowl flowing on the broad highway. He that ran might drink, if he stopped and paid $1 for the quencher. John Parker added to the H. C. of L. He likewise retailed. His wee deoch and doris cost $5.50 per. Art Penn both makes and sells. ‘He has his own labels and makes a profitable business of it,’ said the Crown Attorney. Fined $800 and costs or five months.

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“$9,000 In Bills Found By Police,” Toronto Globe. November 7, 1918. Page 09.

Practically All Stolen From Canadian Express Co. Now Recovered

Covered over with leaves a bag containing $9,000 in bills was found by detectives yesterday afternoon in the yard at the rear of a house on Garden avenue. With this find the police have recovered all but $150 of the $20,000 stolen in the Buffalo express hold-up on October 23. The remaining $150 is alleged to have been spent by John Lett in travelling expenses.

Shackled with handcuffs, John Lett was taken by detectives through the residential section of High Park yesterday to try and locate the spot where he left the money. Before leaving headquarters he drew a map of where he thought he had gone after jumping off the train at Sunnyside. This diagram took the officers to Garden avenue, and after a lengthy search they found the spot. The bag had been thrown over a fence, and was lying between the fence and a chicken coop. It had not been disturbed, and the leaves that partly covered it from view had been blown over it by the wind.
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“Letts and Dougall Get A Remand,” Toronto Globe. November 7, 1918. Page 09.

Alleged Train Bandits Will Appear in Court Next Wednesday

John Lett, the alleged train bandit, Captain Walter Lett, his brother, and J. G. B. Dougall, Chief Clerk of the G. T. R. ticket office, appeared yesterday in the Police Court, and were remanded in custody till Wednesday, November 13th. All three are charged with conspiring to rob the Canadian Express Company of $20,000.

Besides the charge of conspiracy, three charges of robbery were preferred against John Lett as follows: Robbing the express messengers of $20,00, robbing H. S. Fergus of his motor car, and robbing the Union Bank, corner of Church and Wellesley streets of $1,200 last May.

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“Three Men Are Arrested,” Toronto Globe. November 6, 1918. Page 09.

Face Charges in Connection With Express Car Robbery

UNION BANK CASE, TOO

With the arrest of three men yesterday, the police say they have apprehended the persons implacted in the Canadian Express daylight train robbery, when $20,000 in money was stolen on October 23 last on a Grand Trunk train en route from Toronto to Buffalo, the express messengers in charge of the car being ‘held up’ by a bandit between the Union Station and Sunnyside. John Lett, alleged to be the man who robbed the messengers, is also charged with robbing the Church street branch of the Union Bank of Canada on May 2, and obtaining the sum of $1,200. His brother, Walter Lett, was arrested at a downtown hotel, and is held on a charge of conspiracy, and of receiving stolen goods. Early yesterday afternoon Gordon Dougall, 97 Spencer avenue, a clerk in the Grand Trunk ticket office at the Union Station, was also arrested on a charge of conspiracy.

Inspector John Miller of the Provincial Police, Detectives Mitchell, McConnell and Nichols, spent all Monday night searching for John Lett and his brother. Walter was arrested early Tuesday morning, but it was nearly 7 o’clock in the morning when they caught John Lett, who was wearing the uniform of a C Captain in the Canadian army, and had a revolver in his pocket. He made no resistance.

Three Charges of Robbery
Three charges of robbery, with violence, will face John Lett when he appears in Police Court this morning. He will be charged with holding up the two express messengers, George Williamson and William Wilson, and with stealing a motor car from Mr. H. S. Fergus in High Park, under threat of shooting, and with robbing the Union Bank of $1,200. The fourth charge against the prisoner is conspiracy. It is alleged by the police that Dougall, a chief clerk with the Grand Trunk for eight years, conspired with the two Letts to commit the train robbery.

Dougall was to have received a share of the money, the police state, but, owning to John Lett having to make a hurried exit from the city to avoid arrest, did not get his quota.

John Lett, according to the inspector, did the work of holding up the messengers alone, and hid the stolen money. It is charged that he handed over $1,000 to his brother, and, after leaving over $7,00 in a house in Parkdale, buried $9,000 in the residential section of High Park. After getting rid of the money, it is alleged John Lett commandeered Mr. Fergus’ car in High Park, at the point of a revolver, and drove to Midhurst, where the car was abandoned. From Midhurst Lett purchased a ticket to North Bay, and after riding on the line as far as McTier, got off and doubled back to a nearby town. Here he is said by the police to have put on the military uniform of his brother, Walter. He had been out of Toronto until Monday night. The police learned of his coming to the city, and a close lookout was kept for him. Walter Lett was an officer in the army, and went overseas with the 122nd battalion.

$3,100 is Recovered.
Three thousand one hundred dollars was recovered by the detectives yesterday after the arrests. One hundred dollars was found on the top of a boiler of a Methodist church in the west end of the city. Detectives spent yesterday afternoon searching for the remaining amount that was hidden in the High Park district. The police say that they are unable to find the exact spot where the money was placed, and are doubtful that it will ever be found by them. The bills were in small denominations, and it is feared that they have already been found.

John and Walter Lett are the sons of a Barrie family. Recently Walter has been conducting a small fruit farm near Jordan. They are both six feet in height. John is 32 years of age, and Walter 30. Dougall is also a tall, heavy-set man of 28 years of age. Frank Denton, K.C., has been retained to appear on behalf of John and Walter Lett.

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