Double Trap: The Last Public Hanging in Canada


247 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations
ISBN 1-55002-671-6
DDC 364.66'092






Reviewed by Janet Arnett

Janet Arnett is the former campus manager of adult education at Ontario’s Georgian College. She is the author of Antiques and Collectibles: Starting Small, The Grange at Knock, and 673 Ways to Save Money.


In 1869, Nicholas Melady was found guilty of murdering his father and
stepmother, and sentenced to death by hanging. This event, which took
place in the small western Ontario town of Goderich, was the last public
hanging in Canada.

The author of this account of that high-profile crime and hanging is a
descendant of the male victim and of the murderer. He has done an
outstanding job of archival research in tracking down and organizing the
circumstances and evidence of events that happened more than 130 years
ago. Part of the reason he was able to do this is that the case was the
media sensation of the day. While any double murder would have shocked a
rural community of the time, for a son to kill his father and his
pregnant stepmother added an extra measure of outrage. The local press
plus Canadian and American urban newspapers responded by reporting at
length on every possible development in the case and indulging in many

Melady, the author, paints a vivid portrait of Melady, the victim, and
his relationship to Melady, the accused. By sifting through newspaper
reports, court records, and oral accounts kept alive as family history,
he takes us through the father–son dispute, the robbery-gone-wrong
plotted by three drunken farm “boys,” the murder scene, the
investigation, inquest, arrest of the entire Melady family (including
two breastfeeding infants), fabrication of evidence, the entrapment of
Nicholas and his betrayal by his cohorts in crime, the trial, and the

There is a detailed review of what is possibly the first known example
in Canada of an impostor used as a jailhouse plant to gain the
accused’s trust and entrap him into self-incriminating comments. The
public hanging was fuel for the capital punishment discussions taking on
life at the time.

The author’s style is fast paced, and while there’s no reluctance
to luxuriate in the gruesome details, the result is a compelling and
informative look into the criminal investigation, prison, and justice
systems in Canada before the age of fingerprinting and other technology
we take for granted today. The work will be a treat for CSI fans.


Melady, John., “Double Trap: The Last Public Hanging in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024,