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:
HORRIBLE TRAGEDY AT LUCAN
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