"Get a doctor. I'm shot in the back."
The year 1932 was not a good
time to be out of work. A world-wide depression had throttled the life
out of the Canadian job market. Times were bad - and they were going to
Wallace Ramesbottom of Sarnia had just turned 18. He had been supporting his family by working as a fireman on a Great Lakes cruise ship. But with summer's end the job was gone. He had had a sick father to care for and no employment prospects.
Henry Quinn was a decorated World War I veteran who had fallen on hard times. He had served sentences for writing bad cheques, stealing chickens and bootlegging. He just needed money and wasn't fussy where it came from.
The two men landed on the London doorstep of John Traxler during the late afternoon of January 12th. They had driven in from Wallaceburg in a car they had stolen from a dealership. Traxler, who had just lost his job in a junk yard, could see Ramesbottom and Quinn were desperate. He proposed a business venture that promised them a quick return.
Traxler's plan was to rob a small grocery at 536 Philip Street, a poorly lit cul-de-sac by the railway tracks. The store was run by 65-year-old Samuel Weinstein whom, Traxler argued, wouldn't put up much of a struggle. Ramesbottom was elected as the hold-up man while Quinn would be the outside man. Traxler waited from the comfort of his living room for the result.
Ramesbottom entered the store just after seven that evening and asked to purchase cigarettes and chewing gum. He handed the merchant a dollar bill. As Weinstein opened the cash register to make change, Ramesbottom pulled out his gun and demanded the money in the till.
Nothing went right after that.
Weinstein, in a scene out of Dick Tracy comic strip, came around the counter and grabbed the robber's arm. As they fell to the floor the gun went off. Weinstein fell silent. As Ramesbottom got up the store-owner's daughter, Lillian, entered from the living room. He turned towards the front door only to face Weinstein's wife, Bertha, and her daughter-in-law. All three attempted to apprehend him but the young man fought them off and bolted out into the rainy night.
"Get a doctor," groaned Weinstein. "I'm shot in the back." In reality, he had taken a bullet just below his heart. By morning he was dead.
Ramesbottom ran west from the store where he was spotted by a dog-walker. He couldn't have left more witnesses at the crime season if he had sent out invitations. Quinn, realizing the robbery had gone bad, had taken off towards Traxler's home.
Ramesbottom crossed the railroad tracks and continued down Nelson Street to the stolen car he had parked. Before driving back to Sarnia, he threw the gun into the Thames River where it lies unrecovered to this day.
A report about a stolen car for use in a possible robbery already had London police on their toes. Officers converged on the neighbourhood where they discovered Quinn hiding out at Traxler's house. He was charged with vagrancy.
By the time Ramesbottom hit Sarnia, he found a police road block ready for him - thanks to a description of the stolen car he was driving. The gum and cigarettes he had legitimately purchased from Weinstein were still in his pockets. The robbery had cost him exactly 90 cents worth of merchandise - and his life.
Under the "common purpose" provision of the criminal code Quinn was also charged for Weinstein's murder. Traxler received two years in a penitentiary for the "Fagan-like role" he took in the crime.
Ramesbottom claimed his gun went off by accident but was found guilty of murder. The judge rejected the jury's recommendation for mercy and sentenced the young man to hang on April 26. The last moments with his family were described by jail officials as "pathetic."
Quinn followed his partner to the scaffold on June 24. Just before his execution, he was reconciled with the wife he had abandoned four years earlier. It was a short reunion. Quinn had to leave early to keep one final date - with the hangman.