"It was a bad job."
Good fortune always seemed to evade Henry Smith.
After moving to London, Ontario from England he had tried his luck at running a hotel, gardening and cattle farming. The last venture ended in bankruptcy and ruined Smith financially. By the late 1880s he was eking out a small living by growing vegetables at his Regent Street home. He also began to drink - and to take his frustrations out on his family.
After one particularly violent outburst on February 18, 1890 his wife, Lucy, took refuge in a neighbour's house. Smith tracked her down and pleaded with her to come back home with him. When she refused, Smith exploded: "Come on over or I'll break every bone in your body." The statement would later prove to be as good as a confession.
At 8:30 that night, Smith returned to the neighbour's house where he met their son. His hands and clothes were covered with blood. "Jim, come over, the missus has killed herself," Smith deadpanned. "She knocked herself about and killed herself."
When Jim Middleton's parents saw the inside of the Smith home they immediately called the police. Lucy Smith's face was bruised and battered and nearly all her hair had been torn out. Her body had been placed in a rocking chair where someone had tried to wash the blood off her face. A thin iron bar, measuring about two feet, lay nearby. It was covered with hair and blood.
Smith was immediately placed under arrest. He denied all knowledge of his wife's death, claiming he had gone out to his stables when she died. He remarked to police that "it was a bad job" and asked someone to tend to his horses while he was gone.
At the trial, Smith admitted some responsibility: "I struck her just once with my fist and I don't know whether it was the fall on the stove or the blow that caused her death."
Faced with the violent injuries that caused Lucy's demise, it was an open and shut case for the jury. Smith was found guilty of murder and sentenced to die on June 16th.
Henry Smith was the only citizen of London and Middlesex County to be executed with a "modern" hanging method. Rather than constructing a scaffold, officials threw up a rough frame. The hangman's rope was tied to a 350 pound weight suspended by pulleys from a cross beam. When released, the weight was supposed to pull the prisoner off his feet, dislocating his neck. The contraption might have saved money and time, but it wasn't a pretty thing to see in operation.
"When the body was jerked up the crowd of 100 who had assembled to witness the execution gave an involuntary shudder," noted the London Free Press. "Many turned away sick, one of the number fainting."
This method was used a few months later in Woodstock to execute another convicted murder - with disastrous results. The devise failed to break the prisoner's neck, leaving him to slowly strangle to death.
The contraption was never used in London again.