Ontario Murders

Ontario Murders book cover

Ontario Murders

The second in the series of historical murder books was commissioned before British Columbia Murders was even in the marketplace because it was evident to the publishers that they were going to have a hit on their hands. They were right, as British Columbia Murders sold an incredible number of copies that first year alone, more than 15,000 copies.

Excerpt from Ontario Murders, Chapter Two, Advertisement for Murder:

CANADA. – University man – having farm – wishes to meet gentleman’s son to live with him and learn the business, with view to partnership; must invest five hundred pounds to extend stock; board, lodging, and 5 per cent interest till partnership arranged.

Times, London, England, 1889


It was a complete scam. The farm did not even exist. However, this fact was not known to one unsuspecting Englishman who answered the ad and went on a journey far longer than the one he anticipated.

Excerpt from the Prologue which refers to the same murder:

The murderer emptied the victim’s pockets and then methodically cut the identifying labels off every piece of clothing on the body. He ripped the stiff collar from the dead man’s neck with so much force that a piece of the linen shirt came with it. He left nothing on the body that could lead to its identification.

His plan was to drag the corpse along the path to Pine Pond and there sink it into oblivion. As he looked around, however, he could not find the trail he remembered from a year ago. Then, figuring the body would never be found anyway out in this desolate swamp, he settled for concealing it among the tangled thickets.

So confident was the murderer as he walked away that he didn’t notice the cigar case even as he stepped on it. Handwritten on it was F.C. Benwell.

Excerpt from Ontario Murders, Chapter One, Stolen Lives:

In no time, the largest manhunt in Ontario’s history to that point was launched. More than 100 officers descended on the area, aided in their search by a bloodhound named Dr. Keen, who was brought up from Michigan to help in the search. The surrounding terrain into which the suspect escaped was perfect for hiding in, with thick woods, reforested sections, and valleys. Even the cultivated areas were covered in big, leafy tobacco plants.

Day 1 would go to the hunted man, who remained undetected. However, in a field 365 metres from the shooting, officers did find a shirt and badly torn blue coat. A Thompson sub-machine gun also turned up nearby, hidden in some bushes.

The police kept up the search through the night and into Day 2, now without the bloodhound. As Day 3 began, authorities began to wonder if the robber-turned-suspected-killer had managed to elude them permanently. But that evening a farmer in Straffordville, 10 kilometres north of the murder scene, reported finding a man sleeping in the hayloft of his barn. Hearing the description of the intruder, the police realized it was the robber.

As the 100 officers moved to seal off the wooded area near the barn, a blinding hail and thunderstorm moved in. An Ontario Provincial Police officer sent his entire 200-man force in to set up a tight cordon of the area. It would take another 24 hours before the killer would be flushed out of the bush.

What has been said about Ontario Murders?

McNicoll writes well . . . 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.

– Canadian Book Review Annual

I picked this up wanting to get a feel for the mystery, scandals and dangerous criminals that are right here in my backyard. I’m not normally a mystery novel reader but this book has a different feel . . . I liked that each of the tales didn’t take too long to get through and it was a great history lesson with most of the stories taking place in the late 1800s/early 1900s . . . it was a quick, enjoyable and informative look at some of Ontario’s sordid past. McNicoll did a fine job of researching and putting together this book.

– Lara, reader on Chapters.ca website

Ontario Murders can be purchased directly on line from the publisher, www.lorimer.ca or from Amazon, Chapters or other sites. It can also be found in bookstores and libraries throughout Ontario.