‘A mile north of Leslie and Sheppard they found an abandoned barn far back from the road and moved in,’ writes Susan Goldenberg
Something all Canada wanted to know for eight nerve-racking days in September 1952 – where was the Boyd Gang, Canada’s most notorious cop killers, bank robbers and prison escapees? Surprisingly, hiding in a remote part of North York.
On Sept. 16, 1952, North York police were catapulted into national attention and acclaim for their brilliant capture of the gang, headed by Toronto-born Edwin Alonzo Boyd, without a gunfight. Boyd had been famous for leaping over bank counters in lightning-swift robberies.
A huge manhunt for the four-member gang had been launched Sept. 8 following their escape from the Don Jail in Riverdale where, peculiarly, they had been all put together. One member, Steve Suchan, had fatally shot Toronto Detective Edmund Tong March 6.
While police and reporters swarmed the jail yard, assuming that the escapees were hiding on the roof, the fugitives slowly made their way through the nearby Don River ravines up north. At that time the area was largely bush, broken only by the river and railway tracks.
A mile north of Leslie and Sheppard they found an abandoned barn far back from the road and moved in. The CNR ran through the property; Boyd thought they could hop on a freight train and go west.
The gang thought they were safe – so certain that one member, Willie Jackson, went to Sheppard and Yonge to buy food and cigarettes. For fruit they picked apples from nearby trees. They spent their time going for strolls, believing they would be regarded as tramps. However, several North Yorkers in the area recognized them and called the police.
At 7 p.m. on Sept. 16, according to a Globe and Mail article from Sept. 17, 1952, North York detectives Bert Trotter and Maurice Richardson went to the scene. Guns drawn, they walked through the grass and under a barbed wire fence to the barn.
“The first one that moves gets it,” Trotter shouted. “My name is West,” said one man, actually Boyd. Willie Jackson and the unrelated Lennie Jackson, were crouched in the straw beside him. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” they said in fright. Steve Suchan was outside picking apples.
The captured gang was taken to North York’s police station at Yonge Street and Princess Avenue. Word of their capture had been on the radio and the area was clogged with reporters, photographers and interested onlookers. Schoolchildren skipped classes to catch a glimpse.
Trotter received a hero’s welcome at his home. He swept his wife Shirley up in his arms. Wearing a party dress, his nearly two-year-old daughter Jacqueline climbed onto his knee. When he managed to get one hand got free, he reached for a cigarette. He had kept his pledge not to smoke until the gang was again behind bars.
Suchan and Lennie Jackson were both found guilty of capital murder and hanged back-to-back shortly after midnight on December 16, 1952. Boyd was sentenced to eight life sentences on an assortment of bank-robbery offences. Willie Jackson got 30 years. Both were paroled in 1966. Boyd lived under an assumed identity in British Columbia until his death in May 2002.
Written by Susan Goldenberg.
Originally published on September 20, 2018, on toronto.com.