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Crime of Passion
by Christopher Doty

geraldine and clarence"If you won't marry me, you won't marry anyone else."

Clarence Topping didn't like to hear the answer "no" - especially when it came to affairs on the heart.

When his first love refused his marriage proposal he tried to shoot himself through the head. He only succeeded in grazing his temple. Although it's a morbid thought, Topping might have saved someone's life if his aim had been more accurate.

There are plenty of fish in the ocean and Topping eventually found another sweetheart, 18-year-old Geraldine Durston. In 1923 things were heading towards marriage when Durston decided to leave Strathroy so she could enroll at Beal Technical School in London. While taking classes, Durston became interested in another man.

Topping made an attempt to reconcile things with Durston on November 22 when he visited her boarding house at 318 York Street. With some friends, they enjoyed a pleasant evening playing records on the gramophone and dancing to such popular songs as "Yes, We Have No Bananas" and "Charleston."

At the close of the evening, Topping begged Durston to come to Strathroy with him so they could arrange marriage. Durston told Topping any hope for romance was useless and returned his ring. Topping became insistent and forced his way back into the house, threatening to kill her and commit suicide.

Friends intervened, forcing him leave. Topping did not return to his lodgings to sleep - only to retrieve the .25 caliber revolver he had used on himself several years earlier.

Shortly before seven o'clock that morning Topping returned to Durston's rooming house and demanded to see her. "If you won't marry me, you won't marry anyone else," he reportedly said.

Durston and her friend, Viola McNaughton, locked themselves in the bedroom while the house's owner, George Cook, attempted to reason with Topping. Someone telephoned the police for help.

Upon the arrival of Constable Walter Harper, Cook tried to give the young man one final chance to leave the house in peace. Again, Topping refused. Cook reluctantly returned to the kitchen to tell the officer to proceed with the arrest.

Before Cook could speak there was a crash followed by two shots. Harper rushed from the kitchen to the bedroom and discovered Topping kneeling over the prostrate form of his girlfriend, a smoking revolver pointed down at her. He had smashed down the door and put two bullets into Durston's chest. A brief gun battle followed, injuring McNaughton in the cross fire. Topping was taken into custody alive and uninjured.

While doctors at Victoria Hospital worked to save the lives of Durston and McNaughton, Topping lay sleeping on a wooden cot in his jail cell, exhausted. He woke the next morning to learn that Durston had died from her wounds. Upon hearing the news, Topping broke down and sobbed bitterly.

Clarence Topping did not utter a word at his hanging on April 10, 1924, although observers noticed he was smiling as the executioner pulled the cloth hood over his head.

Perhaps the 23-year-old was thinking he would have better luck finding a soul mate in the afterlife.