Murder Near the Family Tree, Part 2

This is Part 2 in a series of posts about the murder of Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea (nee Farley), mother-in-law of my wife Ellen’s second cousin, twice removed. The murder case and the ensuing murder trial of Mrs. Vermilyea’s son, Harold Vermilyea caused a sensation in 1934 southern Ontario that was followed across North America.

The Crime

Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea lived at the home of her sister-in-law, Mrs. Elizabeth Farley on Bridge Street in Belleville, Ontario. The town of Belleville in Hastings County has a rich history as an early settlement area for groups of United Empire Loyalists who were granted land in respect of the loyalty to the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War and to compensate them for losses they may have incurred ‘south of the border’ during that war. Bridge Street, in particular, is a splendid avenue, lined with large Victorian homes whose occupants tended to be people of influence and means in the town.

Both Catherine and Elizabeth were widows who enjoyed the benefit of having two maids to look after the household chores and needs. On the night of Monday, October 1, 1934, one of the maids, Miss Eunice Mountney, answered the door of the home to a man who asked for Mrs. Vermilyea. The man however refused to give his name as he wished to “surprise her.” The man left suddenly when he learned from the maid that Mrs. Farley was having guests that evening.

Three nights later, on Thursday, October 4th, the two maids had the evening off duty and so Mrs. Farley and Mrs. Vermilyea were occupying their time in the library of the home with another of Mrs. Vermilyea’s sisters-in law, Miss Mary Kelso who had come for a visit, when the doorbell rang. As she customarily did in the absence of the maids, Mrs. Vermilyea answered the door. She returned to the library moments later explaining that it was someone asking for food. On two subsequent occasions that evening Mrs. Vermilyea answered the door. On the last occasion, at about 9:30 p.m., Mrs. Vermilyea answered the door but found no one there. On checking about the home, Mrs. Vermilyea found the office door ajar and when she entered the room she was heard to say “Is it you back again.” No one was able to identify the caller nor state whether the person was a man or a woman.

Miss Kelso later testified that Mrs. Vermilyea and the ‘visitor’ went to the upstairs of the house and about ten minutes later they came back downstairs. At this time, Mrs. Vermilyea stated that she was going out for a few minutes. The time according to Miss Kelso was 9:40 p.m.

About this time, George Gorman was returning home from an evening at the theatre and he passed a man and woman “walking hurriedly” in a west direction along the south side of Bridge Street. Shortly after the two people had passed him, George reported that he heard a single groan so he stopped and walked back to find on the lawn of a home “a bundle.” Mr. Gorman stopped a passing car and when someone lit a match to provide some light, Mr. Gorman saw that the ‘bundle’ was in fact a severely injured woman.

The lawn on which the victim was found was at the home of Mrs. Helen Faulkner, the wife of Dr. James A. Faulkner, then the area’s new Member of Provincial Parliament and Minister of Health for Ontario. Hearing voices outside her home, Mrs. Faulkner called out and asked what was wrong. She allowed Mr. Gorman and Mr. C. B. Smith, the driver of the car stopped for assistance by Gorman, to carry the victim into her home and place the injured woman on an emergency operating table that her husband kept in the house. In the light of the home, Mrs. Faulkner recognised the victim and exclaimed “Oh, it’s my own mother.”

Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea died in her daughter’s home, the victim of a brutal attack. The police immediately arrived and began their investigation. Police Officer Isard found the murder weapon near the home, a lather’s hatchet (see image above of a lather’s hatchet courtesy of the Florida Center for Institutional Technology) . Police also learned from the next door neighbour of Mrs. Faulkner, a Mr. Hunt, that “angry words” had been heard outside at the time of the attack, followed by the sound of several blows and a man saying, “Take that.” No one saw the attacker fleeing the scene.

The hunt for a murderer was on!

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