Thursday, 15 November 2012
the 60th anniversary of the double hanging in Toronto!
As we approach the 60th anniversary of the double hanging in Toronto on December 16, 1952 when Lennie Jackson and Steve Suchan, both members of the Boyd Gang were led from their cells to the gallows at the Don Jail, we remember Detective Sergeant Edmund Tong, 48 who was senselessly and callously murdered on a cold March 6, 1952 night.
My Dad, Detective Robert Weller was fond of telling me stories about his exploits when he was a member of the North Toronto Police Force, after his WW2 experience as a Pilot Officer with the RCAF and then with the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force, after amalgamation in 1957. He was especially fond of telling me about that notorious bad boy, Edwin Alonzo Boyd and Dad's part in capturing him.
Dashing, daring and flamboyant, Edwin Alonzo Boyd and his gang burst onto the front pages of Toronto newspapers due to a series of well executed bank robberies and two breakouts from Toronto's infamous Don Jail. Boyd's swashbuckling style of hopping bank counters and lightning fast stick-ups electrified Toronto residents. Although their reign as Canada's most notorious crooks was relatively short, a mere 10 months for the actual gang, their escapades were the stuff that legends are made of. These guys were damn near local heros until two of the members shot down two detectives in cold blood, killing one. The gang consisted of four members, Edwin Boyd, Willie Jackson, Lennie Jackson and Valent Lesso (a.k.a.Steve Suchan). The two Jackson's were not related.
Boyd robbed his first bank in September of 1949. He plastered his face with makeup and stuffed his cheeks with cotton to disguise his appearance. He escaped with the loot even though the bank manager emptied his revolver at the fleeing robber. Boyd decided to see just how well his disguise had worked, so a day or two later, bold as brass, he walked into the same bank and changed a twenty dollar bill with the teller he'd robbed. He wasn't recognized, so he decided to hone his skills and become a full time bank robber.
Mug Shots from the Globe and Mail on September 9, 1952
Boyd continued robbing banks, sometimes with his ex-jailguard partner, Howard Gault, sometimes solo. His solo efforts were not always successful. At one stick up the bank manager grabbed a gun from a desk drawer and popped off a few rounds at Boyd who returned fire with a couple of slugs himself. He had no choice but to turn tail and run, but this time without the loot. Another time, Boyd was chased in his stolen car by a bank employee, just barely escaping.
Finally his luck ran out. On his last attempt with Gault, everything went wrong, and even though Boyd got away, Gault didn't. Gault broke down under police questioning and spilled the beans. Soon the two of them were comfortably behind the soft iron bars of the Don Jail.
During this time there was another gang pulling off bank jobs in and around the city. They were more violent and carried heavy arms, including a sub-machine gun. They sometimes clubbed a bank employee over the head or fired their guns into the wall to get their point across. Two of the members of this gang were Steve Suchan, and Lennie Jackson. Suchan had avoided capture but Jackson wasn't so lucky. Steve Suchan was a multi-talented musician and probably the least likely bank robber in the history of Toronto. However, when he discovered he couldn't make a decent living as a violinist, he traded his violin in for a hand gun at pawn shop.
Edwin Alonzo Boyd, under arrest
Lennie had had an accident while trying to hop a freight train some time earlier and now walked on a wooden foot. He had been working at a local bar where many of Toronto's more successful crooks hung out. He liked the cars these guys pulled up in and he liked the large amounts of cash they spread around even better. It didn't take Lennie long to make a career change and throw in with them. But, unfortunately for Lennie, he had been picked up by the police with some incriminating evidence and was lodged in the Don Jail when Boyd arrived.
Boyd ended up in the same area as Lennie and soon the two were comparing notes. Not long after this, another career criminal came into the cell block. He was born just across the Don River in the tough Toronto neighbourhood of Cabbagetown. His name was Willie Jackson and he had a long history of violent robberies in his resume. Willie was a joker and prankster and quickly became friends with the other two. He was also awaiting transfer to Kingston Penitentiary to serve seven years for robbery with violence.
Diagram of Escape Route from the Globe and Mail on September 9, 1952.
Not only did Lennie's wooden foot help him to walk upright, but it also came in handy to hide things, like hacksaw blades. So Lennie whipped out the blades and the three proceeded to saw the bars from the window leading outside. On November 4, 1951, the three slid through the opening and dropped to the prisoner's exercise yard below. Using some bedsheets that they had tied together, they then lassoed the top of the surrounding wall and climbed to freedom.
Steve Suchan had arranged a safe house in Cabbagetowwn that they could get to quickly and organize themselves. Later, Lennie Jackson and his girlfriend, Ann Roberts took off for Montreal with Suchan close behind. Boyd and Willie landed at Steve Suchan's parent's house in the west end.
Reward for capture of the Boyd gang
Realizing they would need money to keep in hiding for a while, they robbed a nearby bank. A couple of weeks later they pulled off the biggest hold up in Toronto's history. After splitting up the money, Lennie and Suchan headed back to Montreal to lay low. Boyd and Willie hid out at Suchan's parent's home.
Steve Suchan's father came up with a great idea. He had a little hiding spot in the wall where the boy's could safely stash their money. The next morning the old man was gone and so was most of the loot. The whole gang then headed down to Montreal to hide out with wives and girlfriends in tow. Willie Jackson got busted for carrying a gun and was soon returned to Toronto where he recieved an additional two years for escaping custody. The rest of the gang also came back to Toronto, but under their own steam.
Detective Sergeant Edmund Tong
On March 6, 1952, Detective Sergeant Edmund Tong and Sergeant Roy Perry pulled over a black Mercury Monarch automobile. It's unlikely that Tong knew the car contained Suchan and Lennie Jackson or he may have had his revolver at the ready. As Tong approached the suspect vehicle, he was hit by a .455 shell and fell to the ground in a heap.The fugitive's weapons were then aimed at the police car, which still held Perry, and they peppered the cruiser with bullets. Although Perry was wounded in the arm, he was very lucky to escape with his life. Tong was to die several days later, but not before naming his killer, Suchan.
The manhunt was on, and this time it would be relentless. Suchan and Jackson made it back to Montreal unscathed. Even though he had nothing to do with the shooting, Boyd felt the heat. His picture was once again plastered all over every Toronto newspaper. Up until this time, Boyd and his wife could at least leave their house and attend a movie after dark, but now they had to stay completely out of sight.
the Boyd Gang arrested
Meanwhile, the next day in Montreal, the cops were in Suchan's apartment waiting for him return home. As he entered his place, he was told by police to freeze, he reached for his gun and was shot down before he could pull his gun out of his holster. A few days later, due to a neighbour's tip, the police moved in on Lennie's apartment. The second arrest didn't go as easily and a lengthy shootout ensued. Finally, with dozens of tear gas bombs burning his eyes and lungs, Lennie came out with a few bullet holes in him. The two survived their wounds and would soon be returned to Toronto.
Now Boyd was the only gang member left to be captured. Detective Dolph Payne had kept Boyd's brother under surveillance and discovered that he had rented a flat on Heath Street, but hadn't moved in yet. He secured a key to the back door from the owner. Payne then watched Boyd move into the flat from a neighbors house. Wanting to avoid a shootout, he waited until he was sure everyone was asleep. At the crack of dawn the police crept inside the house and captured Boyd and his wife while they were still in bed. Boyd's brother, who was sleeping in another room, was also apprehended. No shootouts, no struggle, not even a whimper.
Image of Police Constables (July 7, 1949). City of Toronto Archives
Boyd was once again a resident of the Don Jail and, much to his delight, the other three gang members soon showed up. Incredibly, the powers that be at the Don herded the four of them together into the otherwise empty deathrow cellblock.
Soon they had a piece of metal, a file and more hacksaw blades smuggled in to them. By eyeballing the guard's keys, they were able to file the metal piece down to something that resembled a key, but it actually worked. Now they could let themselves out of their cells for half an hour or so while all the guards were supervising the transfer of prisoners to Toronto's City Hall courthouse. It took several days to saw through the bars, but finally they were ready.
the Boyd Gang in Jail
Just before dawn on September 8, 1952, the four slipped out through the bars onto a wall that was conveniently located just outside the window. But to their horror, there was a cop stationed at the base of the wall. They lay on the top of the wall for a few minutes watching the cop and wondering what to do next. Suddenly, the officer walked across the laneway and knocked on a back door at the Riverdale hospital, as the door opened, he entered. It didn't take them long to drop to the ground and disappear down the hill into the wilds of the Don Valley which ran next to the jail.
Once again a huge manhunt ensued. The reward for information leading to the gang's capture hit twenty six thousand dollars causing hundreds of phone calls and letters to the police. Most of these leads proved false.
They holed up in an old barn on Heath Street, near Yonge and Sheppard. One at a time they'd leave the barn to scrounge up clothes and food. Rumor has it that Boyd actually spent a night with his wife on one of his excursions. But they tended to be a bit lax while hiding out here and were spotted many times. Most people thought they were just hobo's seeking shelter, but some became suspicious and called police.
On September 16, 1952, North Toronto Police and the OPP in a joint operation closed in on the barn and surprised the gang. They were apprehended without incident and finally returned to the familiar old Don Jail. They would never escape jail again.
Now it was time for the gang to go to trial. While Jackson had not fired a shot at Tong, he essentially confessed on the stand, which undoubtedly hurt their case. Otherwise, there was absolutely nothing exciting about the court cases, so I won't bore you with the details, just the outcome. Edwin Alonzo Boyd was found guilty of bank robbery and various other crimes, he received several concurrent life sentences. He was released on parole in 1966. He assumed a new legal identity and moved to western Canada.
the Boyd Gang Wanted Poster
Willie Jackson received a total of 31 years, which included the time that he had already been given in his previous convictions. He was also paroled in 1966. Both Lennie Jackson and Steve Suchan were sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of Detective Sergeant Edmund Tong.
Various other non members of the gang, which haven't been dealt with here, received jail time for crimes ranging from harboring a criminal to armed robbery. Justice was swift and sure back then. On December 16, 1952, with my Dad as a witness, Lennie Jackson and Steve Suchan were led from their cells to the gallows at the Don Jail.
the Don Jail in Toronto
At 12:14 AM, the hangman released the trap door and the duo fell through on the end of a hangman's rope. They were officially pronounced dead at 1:00 AM.
This closed the book on the Boyd Gang. Their escapades were soon forgotten by both the news media and the public. Toronto could now go back to being "Toronto The Good"
Edwin Alonzo Boyd died quietly at age 88 on May 17, 2002. He had been living under an assumed name in British Columbia since his release from prison.