Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Last to Die: Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Last to Die: Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada

Article excerpt

Robert J. Hoshowsky, The Last to Die: Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2007), 222pp. Paper. £12.99. ISBN 978-1-5500-2672-6.

Do not read this review if you are squeamish. Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas dropped to their deaths moments after midnight on 11 December 1962 at Toronto's Don Jail. The rituals that had accompanied the hanging of 695 other men (plus thirteen women) since Confederation were duly followed. There was a steak dinner (Lucas had asked for chicken) and their lawyer confirmed that final appeals had failed. 'If it's any consolation to you', he remarked, 'you may be the last men to hang in Canada' (p. 174). Lucas was decapitated by the noose, a detail that was kept from the public. Some officials claimed the executioner had failed to do the height-weight sums that were part of his Can$500 fee, but the hangman himself claimed syphilis had rotted Lucas's bone structure. The finality of the death penalty encourages doubts about process and even guilt. Turpin and Lucas died together, but for different crimes. Nobody doubted that Turpin, a violent career thief, was a cop-killer, although a defence of heavy-handed policing was attempted: Toronto cops were not saints when stopping a suspect vehicle at two in the morning in 1962. Lucas was a Detroit hoodlum whose CV included Leavenworth; 'unsalvageable', said his prison file. It seemed he was sent to Toronto by gang bosses to shoot a rival drug dealer, incidentally slashing the throat of his victim's girlfriend. …

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