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Vengeance of the Black Donnellys: Canada's Most Feared Family Strikes Back from the Grave Paperback – June 1, 1995

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About the Author

Thomas P. Kelley was a prolific writer of murder mysteries in the 1940s and 50s.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Canada's Most Feared Family Strikes Back from the Grave

It happened, God alone knows why,
In Lucan, long ago.
Dark clouds were on the moon that night,
The fields piled high with snow.
As the mob killed old Johannah,
She cried out with her last breath:
"Your murderin' souls will roast in hell
You'll all know a violent death."

-- Old Song --

It happened during the dark hours before the dawn of February 4, 1880, in an icy cold that would have made a Spartan sob. And only God knows why.

It occurred at a notorious farmhouse on a lonely sideroad, surrounded by fields "piled high with snow," while from afar the baying of a farmer's hound intermingled with whistling winds. One of the mobsters said, "It began in blood, it ended in blood," and it would seem that the Donnellys of Lucan had been none too popular with their neighbors; that an out-raged vigilante committee had finally accomplished its drastic purpose which -- according to The Toronto Telegram of February 5, 1880 -- had been "to extirpate the vipers."

And how that kill-crazed mob had proceeded to "extirpate!"

Recently I interviewed a very elderly Toronto woman, the former Sadie Frank of Lucan, Ontario, and daughter of the late John Craven Frank. At the age of 15 she had been living in the village when the Donnelly massacre occurred. She told grim stories of midnight fires, mutilated horses, poisoned cattle and bloodshed and, as well as giving the writer a lock of Pat Donnelly's hair, she admitted, "I once had a secret crush on Pat." She told the following story.

"Around eleven in the morning on the day of that awful tragedy (nine hours after it had happened) my eighteen-year-old brother drove County Constable Alfred Brown out to the ruined Donnelly farmhouse. It presented a horrifying spectacle: carnage was everywhere. There were large blood smears on the snow in the yard where Tom Donnelly had been beaten down, slashed and ripped apart by the mob before he was dragged back into the house then mutilated further. My God, it must have been terrible, the work of howling maniacs, and Constable Brown became so sickened by all he saw that he had to throw up.

"By then the house was nothing but ruined and blackened embers, still smoking. The kitchen floor had given way and dropped into the cellar; the butchered bodies of three of the Donnellys had fallen with it into a potato bin. The horrible stench of burnt human flesh and scorched potatoes was such that my brother could never eat another potato in his life."

It had been a slaughter that belonged to the Dark Ages. The sharp knives of the mob had castrated Tom Donnelly before chopping off his head. The kitchen of the house literally swam in blood, where Bridget Donnelly was murdered in a revolting manner; the bodies of four of the Donnellys were so hideously burned and slashed that they were buried in one casket; while the Lucan coroner, Dr. Flock, reported of John Donnelly that, "he had so many shots in his body that he would have had to be cut to mincemeat to get them all out." One story has it that old Johannah Donnelly was scalped, while mob members heated an iron poker until it was a cherry-red. Well, you can guess the rest.

I heard all this years ago from a man whose father had been a member of the mob, and who swore on the Bible that his story was true.

On that long-gone night, all hell had broken loose far out on the Roman Line -- the long road that runs by the old Donnelly farm. And the vandal mob had yelled like mad fiends while they fired the house and flames rose over and around the bodies of the annihilated Donnellys.

"Vengeance, by God! Vengeance at last, boys!" the mob's bearded ringleader, Jim Carroll, had shouted. "Damn them to hell, the bastards had it comin' to 'em and now the fire is eating up the bodies of the Black Donnellys while their souls are roastin' in flames a lot hotter."

Carroll, a burly brute with a face that was hard on the furniture had shifty eyes, walked with a sway, could scratch his knees without bending and his black hair snapped combs.

One member of the mob, a half-baked farmhand named Purtell, who rarely washed and stank stronger than a mother's love, kept jumping up and down, tickled as hell, shrieking, "Hear 'em sizzle -- hear 'em sizzle!" Only a few minutes earlier, Purtell had been chasing the pretty twenty-one-year-old Bridget Donnelly through the house with an axe, shouting, "I'll bash the young sow's head in." Roaring drunk, as were most of the mob, and aided by several others, screw-ball Purtell finally caught Bridget Donnelly in an upstairs bedroom, struck her to the floor, crashed his axe against her head, dragged her down a flight of stairs by the heels and helped to slaughter and slash her apart. Her young blood was fresh on the filthy moron's work clothes.

Flames from the burning Donnelly farmhouse rose up like a blazing holocaust, amid a mad, inhuman howling from the mob. High overhead in outer space a shooting star swept across the heavens -- falling -- falling -- falling. Dirty clouds scudded across the moon while from afar the mournful baying of a farmer's hound went on and on and on.

On the morning following the Donnelly massacre -- Thursday, February 5, 1880 -- the Toronto newspaper, The Globe, brought out in huge headlines the appalling facts that were to shock all Canada -- and later the United States as well -- facts of what was to be described as "the blackest crime ever committed in the Dominion" one that seemingly wrote "finis" to the longest and certainly the most violent feud in the history of North America. The Globe read in part:

Five Persons Murdered by Mob
An Entire Household Sacrificed
Result of a Family Feud
Thirty Men Engaged in the Bloody Work
The Story as Told by a Child Witness of the Crime

LUCAN, Feb 4 -- Lucan woke this morning to shock the country with intelligence of the blackest crime ever committed in the Dominion.

The crime consisted of the murder, or rather butchery, of a family of five -- father, mother, two brothers and a girl. The victims were named Donnelly, a family that has lived in the neighborhood for upwards of thirty years. They resided on Lot 18, 6th Concession of Biddulph. The farm consists of fifty acres. They bore the unenviable reputation of being:

"The Terrors of the Township!"

On the same date The Toronto Telegram informed in part: "The Donnelly family, to a marked degree, bore quarrelsome characteristics -- when they were not fighting among their neighbors, they constantly fought among themselves."

This latter information does not come as a surprise, when it is remembered that old Johannah Donnelly frequently said: "From the time they could toddle, I taught me seven sons to be foin fist-and-club fighters. Sure an' 'tis I who taught them how to gouge, bite off an ear and crack a head with a club; I showed them the best way to send a fast punch to the chin and a good hard kick to the -- !"

There is no record of any of the Donnellys ever having attended a charm school.

Even today in the Lucan area, as well as in the surrounding districts, you hear stories which tell that every member of the mob that raided the Donnelly farmhouse died a violent death; that old Johannah prophesied as much as life was being clubbed from her body. Nor are all such stories entirely local. That learned Canadian historian, Edwin C. Guillet, in his Famous Canadian Trials, Volume 8, writes of the men that slaughtered the Donnellys: "Some people claim that almost all those men eventually suffered a violent death."

Oddly enough, a surprisin


Product Details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Firefly Books (June 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1895565553
  • ISBN-13: 978-1895565553
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,088,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on July 30, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I read both the BLACK DONNELLYS and Vengeance of the Black Donnellys over 25 years ago. I, in turn loaned my copies of these books to several family members who,in turn, read these books and passed them around to family members and friends. Their reactions echo mine. My parents and an aunt and uncle travelled to Lucan, Ontario several years ago, and visited the Donnelly grave. While there, they took pictures of the Donnelly tombstone and did ask some people about the Donnellys. Even though the Donnellys were murdered 118 years ago, there are decendants of the members of the vigilante committee around and it is still a rather sore topic to try to discuss. The Vengeance of the Black Donnellys is strictly a fictional story, which the author, Thomas P. Kelley states at the beginning of the book. But - if you read the "Black Donnellys and think about some of the events that are mentioned in the Vengeance of the Black Donnellys, maybe truth is stranger than fiction. If t! his book is made up, maybe the author is hitting on some truths that followed the murder of the Donnellys and none of the survivors of the vigilante committee is willing to acknowledge just how close the author has come to relating how those responsible for the murders came to meet their death.
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This book is, I think a much improved and expanded version of "the Black Donnely's" with more detalic effort. This book is the better book of the series. If you liked "the Black Donnely's" you are really going to like this one, it is filled with more town myths and legends of what goes on at the Donnelly's old farm after dark.
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T.P.Kelleys second 'Donnelly' book is more of a ghost story than the first.he relates the history through the use of storytelling,as opposed to his first book which was more telling of story.this was the first book i read in the DONNELLY catalogue of books and it was the perfect one to start with.it allows the reader to involve themselves in the aftermath of the crime committed on the victims.a fantastic tale and a worthy read.
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This is the sequel to Kelley,s "The Black Donnellys";the story of Canada's most barbaric feud.This was a true story of 35 years of fighting,feuding,barn burning,animal mutilation,revenge and mayhem that ended in the massacre of 5 Donnelly family members on February 4,1880.This massacre was carried out by a Vigilante

Group.See my review of that book on January 29,2006;and visit the super web site "The Black Donnellys"for the whole story, many excellent pictures and lots of information.

Kelly was the first author to write a book on this all but forgotten tragedy in 1954.He ignited a great interest in the whole story.He was not,nor did he ever profess to be a historian.He was a very successful pulp fiction writer.In fact he was probably the greatest Canada ever had,and his books sold in the millions.He was somewhat like Ned Buntline ,a New Yorker,who went out west and was one of the most popular pulp fiction writers of the Wild West.Kelly would find a story that he felt would interest a lot of people,spend some time to learn the essence,then set about to tell it,filling in the details where necessary,from his own imagination;right down to and including conversations.He was an excellent storyteller and left the nitpickers worry themselves about details and accuracy,if that was their avocation,but it wasn't his.

"The Black Donnellys" was such a great success,he decided to follow it up with a book that told story of the awful fates that were visited on the members of the Vigilante Committee.Though there were probably some things that really did happen to some of them;Kelley let his imagination run freely,and created all kinds of legends and stories.
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This book is a must read if you are into some of the history of the Black Donnellys in Lucan, Ontario, Canada a history in the blackist years of Lucan. The Donnellys were butchered where ever they may have been and then tossed into their home and when all was in the torched the house drank liquormade merry and wathed thew house burn with the bodies in it. I liked the story because it kept me riveted to my seat and there were a lot of suspence in it, albout all the 30 people that murdered the Donnellys died of a misterious death and some were so disfigured that they were hard to recognize . I would recommend this book to every one that likes to read , the author did a magnificent job in writting it
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