Murder Near the Family Tree, Part 4

This is the 4th and last post in a series recounting the events associated with the murder of Catherine Aureila Vermilyea on the night of Thursday, October 4th, 1934. Mrs. Vermilyea was the mother-in-law of my wife Ellen’s second cousin, twice removed, Dr. James Albert Faulkner. The murder case and the ensuing murder trial of Mrs. Vermilyea’s son, Harold Vermilyea (pictured on the left) caused a sensation in 1934 southern Ontario that was followed across North America.

Bringing a Murderer to Trial

When Harold Vermilyea, the son of the murder victim returned to his home in Ontario, California on Saturday, October 6th, he was greeted by the police who arrested him on a charge of murder. Harold professed his innocence stating that he had been away in northern California seeking employment at the time of the murder. On October 17th, Harold left Los Angeles where he had been held in custody and boarded a train, accompanied by two police officers from Ontario, Canada.

While on the train, Harold told a Toronto, Ontario newspaper reporter that he was glad he was going back to Belleville. “I want to get it over with.” The crime was reported on across both Canada and the United States. Police boarded the train car in which Harold sat every time the train slowed or made a scheduled stop to provide additional security. By October 20th, Harold’s trip ‘back’ had brought him to Toronto and an overnight stay in the infamous Toronto ‘Don’ Jail. The police made good use of Harold’s short time in Toronto to construct several police ‘line-ups’ to allow potential witnesses, taxi drivers and hotel employees, to try and identify Harold. Not having enough men for the purpose, Toronto police reportedly went to the streets around police headquarters and ‘recruited’ passersby until they had sufficient numbers for the line-up.

On Sunday, October 21st, Harold was admitted to the Hastings County Jail in Belleville, Ontario, a place that was to be his ‘home’ for the next several months.

The Evidence

There was such interest in this case that crowds waited for hours, sometimes in the rain, in order to get a seat in the courtroom. Harold was identified by Miss Mountney, the maid, as the man who came to the Farley home on the night of October 1st, refused to give his name and left abruptly before Mrs. Vermilyea could greet him. Next, four hotel workers testified that Harold had stayed at the Walker House hotel in downtown Toronto, under the name of Mr. Carter, from Septmber 30th until October 5th. A taxi driver, named John Bannas, testified that he had driven Harold from Toronto to Belleville and back on both October 1st and October 4th. The round trip fare that they had agreed upon was $15.00.

A medical expert testified that blood stains were found both on the pants that Harold was wearing and that blood stains were also found in the taxi that Harold had been in for the return to Toronto. As this was before DNA testing could provide more definitive evidence, all the expert could provide the court was that the blood was human.

The evidence showed that Harold upon returning to his hotel in Toronto learned that the Belleville murder was already in the early editions of the newspaper. He immediately checked out of the hotel in the early morning hours and took a taxi to Hamilton, Ontario where he boarded a train, using the name of B. F. Collins, bound for Chicago, Illinois. Arthur Iszard was the porter on that train and he was able to identify Harold as the passenger named Mr. Collins who, upon entering the United States at the Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan border, wired ahead to Chicago for an “aeroplane reservation.” The pilot on that Chicago to Los Angeles flight along with a passenger, the publicity director for the Metro-Goldwyn Moving Pictures Company, also identified Harold as being on the flight to L.A., occupying seat number 11.

And finally, the evidence showed that Harold had stored his car in a garage from September 25th until October 6th and then tried to have the operators of the garage erase the record of the car’s stay.

The Defense

Two well respected lawyers were appointed to defend Harold at his trial. Both Charles A. Payne and Col. Richard H. Greer had received the honourary title of King’s Counsel or K.C. in recognition of their legal work. They depended on the evidence of Dr. J. J. Robertson, a Belleville physician, to show that Harold was insane. Dr. Robertson testified that, based on his examination and interviews, Harold had thought up “the plan for weeks and weeks.” Harold, the doctor continued, thought his mother should divide up part of her estate (which was valued at $40,000 at the time of her death). Harold’s proposal was that he and each of his three siblings could be given $5,000 by their mother. As Dr. Robertson stated, “His mother was well off, a sister was well off and they didn’t need any money, but his his children did need help.” When his ‘begging’ letter was responded to by his sister, Harold saw this as a sign that they were conspiring together to ruin him, at least that’s what the defense wanted to the jury to believe.

The Decision

Mr. Justice Jeffrey, the presiding trial judge, in his charge to the jury stated, “Some might say that it was only circumstantial evidence, but sometimes circumstances linked to form a chain of evidence beyond any reasonable doubt.” The jury took four and one half hours to reach a verdict. During this time, the courtroom spectators refused to give up their seats but rather waited in the courtroom, in some cases sending their children home to bring food and drink. When the jury returned, they pronounced their verdict of guilty as charged.

The following day, Mr. Justice Jeffrey pronounced sentence on Harold – “The sentence of the court upon you, Harold W. Vermilyea, is that you be taken from this place to the place from whence you came and there be kept in close confinement until the second day of May, and upon that date you be taken to the place of execution and be there hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.”

After the trial and sentencing, Harold’s brothers, Arthur and Clarence told a reporter, “He got justice. He got a fair trial. What has happened is best for him and everyone else.” His lawyers appealed his case unsuccessfully and on May 2, 1935, the sentence of the court was carried out in the yard of the Hastings County Jail ending the sensational trial saga of the mid-1930’s, believed at the time to have been one of the longest murder trials in Ontario history to that time.

Murder Near the Family Tree, Part 3

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.

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!

Murder Near the Familly Tree, Part 1

Last week, I shared that I had found ‘new-to-me’ information about one of my wife’s cousins, Dr. James Albert Faulkner. James is Ellen’s second cousin, twice removed and was, in addition to being a noted physician in the Belleville, Ontario region, the Ontario Minister of Health in the provincial government Cabinet from 1934 – 1937.

I got an additional surprise when checking information available on the Find-A-Grave site about the James Faulkner family when I found that James’ mother-in-law, Catharine Aurelia Vermilyea (nee Farley) had been murdered. Mrs. Vermilyea suffered a violent and untimely death on the evening of October 4th, 1934, on Bridge Street in Belleville, Ontario. Although I would not usually pursue research into a family that is not directly related to either Ellen or myself, I will often at least record any vital record type information about a relation’s in-laws to complete ‘the picture’ and for future reference. It was through this that I discovered the note on Mrs. Vermilyea’s Find-A-Grave ‘memorial’ page that referenced the manner in which she died.

Thirty-six hours after the murder, her son, Harold W. Vermilyea, was arrested in Ontario, San Bernardino, California (Harold is pictured above with the arresting officer William Hammond of the Ontario, California police department). And so began a story that competed on the front pages of newspapers in Canada and the United States with the Linbergh baby kidnapping and the trial of Bruno Hauptmann for the crime as well as the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany. The Vermilyea murder story was gripping as there were no witnesses to the crime, the son of an affluent Belleville family was accused of matricide, and everyone wanted to know how someone, in 1934, who lived in Ontario, California could murder someone in Belleville, Ontario and be back home in California thirty-six hours later.

In the next couple of posts, I will re-tell what many pages of newspaper articles from the Toronto Star’s Pages of the Past told captive southern Ontario communities about Harold, the Vermilyea family, the crime and the punishment.