Ontario Murders: Mysteries, Scandals, and Dangerous Criminals


144 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55153-951-9
DDC 364.152'3'09713




Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
British Columbia.


Four of the six cases that McNicoll covers in Ontario Murders date from
the 19th century: con man John Reginald Birchald’s cold-blooded murder
of Frederick Cornwallis Benwell; alleged “black widow” Olive
Sternman’s trial for the suspicious death by poisoning of her second
husband; compulsive liar Phoebe Campbell’s bludgeoning of her husband;
and Patrick James Whelan’s murder of Thomas D’arcy McGee, one of the
Fathers of Confederation. The remaining two cases concern bank robber
Herbert McAuliffe, who killed two police officers in pursuit of him, and
the alluring and deadly Evelyn Dick, who was implicated in the death of
her husband as well as that of her infant son.

McNicoll writes well. Her description of heinous crimes manage to
preserve their lurid appeal while avoiding an overindulgence in
gruesomeness: “Lying front down, the torso was clad only in long
underwear, the arms and legs of the garment torn away. Little blood
drained from the stumps or was evident on the ground around the body.
The largest amount of blood visible on the underwear, Mattick later
reported, was around the neck.” The book’s focus on older murder
cases avoids the pitfall of presenting material that is already well
known. McNicoll is particularly good at explaining the relevant points
of contention in the trials of the accused, and her firm grasp of
narrative pacing produces stories that are engaging and suspenseful.
Each of the cases discussed is, indeed, remarkable for the details of
the crimes and the unusual personalities involved. The coverage given to
female killers—or alleged killers—makes for a refreshing take on
what is often considered a male-dominated mode of crime. These are
well-told, gripping stories. Black-and-white photos are included.


McNicoll, Susan., “Ontario Murders: Mysteries, Scandals, and Dangerous Criminals,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14302.