Home » History » ‘A Sordid Story of Drink and Dope’ from North York, 1927

Roy Risebrough, long retired in this 1979 photo, in one of his early cases came across a tale of alcohol and drug addiction. - Jeff Goode/Torstar file photo
Roy Risebrough, long retired in this 1979 photo, in one of his early cases came across a tale of alcohol and drug addiction. - Jeff Goode/Torstar file photo

‘A Sordid Story of Drink and Dope’ from North York, 1927

North York historian Susan Goldenberg writes about ‘a sensational case that grabbed worldwide attention’

In 1927, while North York’s police department was in its early days, a sensational case occurred that grabbed worldwide attention.

On January 2, Chief Roy Risebrough with constables Wilson and Smithson raided a house on Wilson Avenue where they found Mrs. Emma Heins lying dead on the bed and her common-law husband Arthur McCullough trying to hide illegal bootlegging equipment.

What got people’s interest was Emma’s gripping sad tale of decline from riches to rags due to alcohol and drug addiction. Coroner H. F. Sproule said, “Hers is the story of a woman who passed through several stages from high society to low society.”

Once a society leader in Louisville, Kentucky, Emma drifted to Calgary after her husband left her, opened a boarding house and met McCullough. She already was a heavy drinker and cocaine user.

They first moved to Parry Sound, Ontario, where they were convicted for operating a still. Additionally, Emma was arrested on a charge of intoxication in the cemetery, sobbing, police said, “for a child presumed to be buried there.”

When police searched their squalid North York house they found illicit liquor making equipment everywhere, including the cellar. The house was very cold because the heater in the front room was unused. A live chicken wandered around and there also were two loaves of bread, a beef roast, 10-pound bag of flour, some rolled oats and a jar of jam. Besides the bed, there were only a dilapidated table and chairs. By contrast, there were trunks of beautiful clothing from Emma’s wealthy past.

“Hers was the old story of a wasted life and a woman who had at one time been someone but who had lost her social position because of drink,” the Toronto Star commented in its January 14 account of the inquest that day. “She was found dead in the depths of degradation.”

The inquest concluded that Emma died from the effects of drinking alcohol manufactured by herself and McCullough. “It was a sordid story of drink and dope,” the Star declared.

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on January 31, 2020, on toronto.com.