This is Part 3 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.
Catching a Killer
On the night of Thursday, October 4th, 1934 the normally quiet town of Belleville, Ontario was shaken to learn that a long-time, prominent member of the community, Mrs. Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea had been found murdered. The crime had in fact taken place on the lawn of her daughter’s Bridge Street home.
The Belleville police force immediately began their investigation. First they fond the murder weapon, a lather’s hatchet, near the murder scene and next they believed they had the discovered the identity of the killer, the victim’s son, Harold Vermilyea. Police later testified that they had narrowed their search for the killer to Harold within three hours of the crime. However, the mystery to solve was that Harold lived about 3,000 miles away from Belleville in Ontario, California. Undaunted, Belleville police contacted the police in California and requested their assistance in apprehending the suspect.
Harold Vermilyea was the oldest of four children born to Nathaniel and Catherine Aurelia (nee Farley) Vermilyea. Nathaniel was a prosperous farmer who provided for his family in the village of Thurlow, just east of Belleville, Ontario. According to the 1901 Census of Canada, the Vermilyea household included the parents, children, a lodger and a domestic servant. According to the 1930 U. S. Census, Harold indicated that he left home and made his way to California in 1909 where he was employed in the citrus fruit industry as the manager of a fruit packing operation.
All was well for Harold, his wife Clarise and their two children, a daughter Catherine Aurelia (after his mother) and a son Douglas Than until the Great Depression era took hold. Harold lost his job and for the first time was unable to pay the bills.
In June 1934, Harold wrote to his mother what he later described to be the “begging” letter. In his letter, which was printed in it’s entirety in the October 6, 1934 edition of the Toronto Star newspaper, Harold explained his financial predicament to his mother, how he consulted with several prominent people about even broaching the subject with her, and asked for her help by giving him some money. He wrote, “If you could spare $1,000 now, it would be a life saver for this family. But whatever you do for us, should be done for others of the family. In other words, nothing is settled unless it is settled right.”
His mother did not send any money and in fact, it was his sister, Mrs. Helen Faulkner, who replied to his letter offering some advice.
The Belleville, Ontario police sent a telegram asking about the whereabouts of Harold Vermilyea to the Ontario, California police on October 5th, 1934. California police went to Harold’s residence and were told that he was away on an auto trip in northern California. So they did what was to be expected, they staked out his house and on October 6th, Harold returned, was met by the police and arrested.
Harold, a U. S. citizen since 1922, was held in custody at the Los Angeles County jail awaiting an extradition hearing. The process was shortened considerably however when on October 13th, Harold voluntarily agreed to waive extradition and return to Canada. Harold maintained his innocence stating that he was in northern California seeking employment at the time of the murder.
His trip back to Belleville, Ontario began on October 17th when he boarded a train, as Transcontinental Western Airlines reportedly “refused to carry a manacled man,” handcuffed to Detective Frank Izard of the Belleville police force and accompanied by Inspector Gardner of the Ontario Provincial Police force.