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hangings of london

Hanging Days
by Christopher Doty

courthouse circa 1870Constructed between 1826 and 1829, the mortar had barely cured on the London Middlesex Courthouse when its first hanging took place. At the time, Upper Canada worked under British law which imposed the death sentence for some 230 offenses, including the theft of turnips. Fortunately, this penalty was reserved for more serious crimes here in London. What follows is a short chronology of all executions relating to the area.

1830 - Cornelius Burley (a.k.a. Cornelius Burleigh)
London's first and most macabre hanging. Burley was found guilty of the murder of a constable who had been attempting to arrest him for larceny. On the first attempt the rope snapped, sending the prisoner plummeting to the ground, knocking him unconscious. The second try was successful, making Burley both the first and second man hanged in London. Click here for more information.

1832 - Henry Sovereene (a.k.a. Henry Sovereign, Henry Sovereen)
Despite his regal-sounding name, Sovereene was one of the most odious individuals to swing from the gallows. Found guilty of the murder of his wife and seven children, London's first mass murderer attracted crowds from more than 50 miles away at his public hanging. Click here for more information.

1839 - Hiram Benjamin Lynn, Daniel Davis Bedford, Cornelius Cunningham, Joshua G. Doane, Amos Pearly and Albert Clark
Following the failure of a bloody raid on Windsor, six men - three of them Americans - were executed for attempting to overthrow the government of Upper Canada. Click here for more information.

1868 - Thomas Jones
By 1865 only murder, treason and rape were capital offenses in Canada. However, the amendments didn't save this Delaware resident who was described as having a "sullen disposition and violent temper." Jones was executed for the murder of his 13-year-old niece, who had testified against him over the charge of stealing. Click here for more information.

1871 - Cyrus Pickard (a.k.a. Angus Pickard)
Like a lot of murder cases, this one involved money and romance. Unfortunately for Cyrus Pickard, there were small amounts of both. This broken-hearted 20 year old murdered his employer over the nonpayment of twenty five dollars. Click here for more information.

1872 - Phoebe Campbell
One of the London area's most shocking murders was committed by Phoebe Campbell, who dispatched her husband with an axe after having an affair with a hired man. The only woman to go to the gallows in Middlesex County. Click here for more information.

1885 - Benjamin Simmons
A social derelict, Simmons stabbed his live-in lover to death, earning him the spot as the twelfth person claimed by the gallows. The public, however, still felt sorry for him. Click here for more information.

1890 - Henry Smith
Another wife-killer, Smith savagely beat his spouse to death with a fireplace poker. He was later executed by an "improved" hanging method. Click her for more information.

1899 - Marion "Peg-Leg" Brown
London's most famous hanging. Brown, a one-legged native of Texas, shot and killed a police officer who was attempting to arrest him for assault. His ghost is said to haunt the London jail. Click here for more information.

1909 - James Hartwick (a.k.a Thomas Hartwick, unconfirmed)
This Thorndale-area native confessed to killing his wife in 1908 and, by some reports, was executed in April of the following year. However, no one has ever turned up a contemporary account of his hanging. His descendants believe the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of insanity and Hartwick spent his remaining days in a psychiatric institution.

1924 - Sidney Murrell
Murrell held up a bank in Melbourne but the only thing he got was a one-way ticket to the scaffold for killing one of the locals. He maintained his innocence to the end - and there's reason to believe him. Click here for more information.

1924 - Clarence Topping
An emotional youth, Topping put two bullets in his girlfriend after she rejected his matrimonial advances. A bold move, considering there was a police officer in the house when he did it. Click here for more information.

1932 - Wallace Ramesbottom and Henry Quinn
Both men were sentenced to death for the murder of a 65-year-old grocer. Both men had hoped for a reprieve, Ramesbottom because of his young age and Quinn because he had won a Distinguished Conduct Medal for heroism during World War I. Both men received no reprieve. Click here for more information.

1939 - Jessie Taylor
This dirt-poor housewife was found guilty of beating a friend to death with a piece of kindling in order to get her hands on $1900 left to her in a will. However, the deceased had lied and left her money to a local church instead. Although condemned to hang, Taylor had her sentence commuted to life and she served 12 years in Kington Penitentiary.

1951 - Walter George Rowe
The last man hung in Middlesex County, Rowe was founding guilty of murdering a man he never knew, saw or even knew he had killed. He claimed his gun went off accidentally, but the jury wasn't amused. Click here for more information.

The death penalty was abolished in Canada in 1976 while the London Middlesex Courthouse became obsolete with the opening of new facilities in the 1970s. Today the courthouse, minus its brick prison wall, serves as the administrative headquarters for the County of Middlesex.

Click here for more information on hangings in Canada

Thanks to Jane Falls for providing the inspiration for this site