OttawaMatters.com, in partnership with the Historical Society of Ottawa, brings you this weekly feature by Director James Powell, highlighting a moment in the city's history.
March 27, 1946
Shortly after midnight on March 27, 1946, after playing checkers with his guards, a composed Eugène Larment, 24, was led from the condemned cell in the Carleton County jail on Nicholas Street to the gallows.
Hopes for a last minute reprieve had been dashed when his lawyer's request for an appeal was refused by the Office of the Secretary of State.
After Pastor Gordon Porter of the Salvation Army gave the young man spiritual consolation, Larment was hanged by the neck until he was dead. It was 12:32 a.m. This was the third and last judicial execution carried out in Ottawa's historic jail.
The first was the famous hanging in 1869 of Patrick Whelan, convicted for the murder of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, the father of Confederation struck down by an assassin's bullet on Sparks Street the previous year. The second was that of William Seabrooke who was executed in early 1933 for slaying Paul-Émile Lavigne, a service-station attendant.
To paraphrase the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, Larment's death marked the end of a life that was poor, nasty, brutish and short.
Born into an impoverished family, Larment's first brushes with the law came when he was but a child.
A frequent truant from public school, Larment was sent to an industrial school in Alfred, Ontario at the tender age of twelve. Most likely it was the St Joseph's Training School for delinquent boys run by the Christian Brothers from 1933 to the mid-1970s. Like the residential schools for indigenous children, such training schools, including St Joseph's, became notorious for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of their young charges. During the three years he was confined there, Larment apparently received no visitors and no mail from home.
He escaped and made his way to Ottawa. Picked up by the authorities, someone reportedly told him that if he confessed to purse snatching, he wouldn't be returned to the industrial school. Desperate to avoid going back, he did so, and was instead sent to a government reformatory.
After he got out on parole, he attended the Kent Street Public School for a short time.
With his family described as being "in a bad fix," he sold junk to scrap dealers to earn a pittance. He also worked as a delivery boy. In 1938, at age 16, he was charged with vagrancy and breaking and entering, and was returned to the reformatory.
Shortly after being released in early 1940, the now 18-year-old Larment and four friends stole a taxi on McLaren Street in downtown Ottawa and drove to Preston where they tied up and robbed two men at gun point at a service station. They netted a meagre $27.
Spotted later that night on their return to Ottawa, the young men led police on a wild chase down Bronson Street into LeBreton Flats. Gunshots were exchanged. Turning onto the Chaudière Bridge heading for Hull, the joyriders hit an oncoming car and crashed into a guard rail. Dazed but uninjured, Larment and his companions were taken into custody. They received six-year terms in the Kingston Penitentiary for armed robbery.
Larment was released from jail in late September 1945.
Less than two months after his release Larment, with Albert Henderson and Wilfrid D'Amour staged a daring robbery of the Canadian War Museum on Sussex Street (now Drive).
At about 9 p.m. on Monday, October 22, 1945, the trio smashed the plate glass of the front door of the museum within a few hundred feet of passersby on the sidewalk, and just a laneway away from the Government of Canada's Laurentian Terrace girls' hostel. The bandits made off in a stolen car with three Thompson submachine guns used in World War II, two automatic pistols and four World War I revolvers.
The following night, a janitor at an O'Connor Street apartment building called the police to report some men acting suspiciously.
A "prowler" car manned by Detective Thomas Stoneman and Constable Russell Berndt was dispatched to investigate.
The officers found three men loitering outside of the Bytown Inn. The trio split up, with two, later identified as D'Amour and Henderson, walking in opposite directions along O'Connor Street. Detective Stoneman approached the middle man who had remained between the two canopied entrances of the Inn.
"I want to talk to you," the officer said after he got out of the driver's side of the car.
"What do you want?" replied a man in a khaki trench coat.
Without warning, the man pulled a gun from his pocket and fired at Stoneman from a distance of only six feet. Stoneman was struck in the chest and fell to the ground grievously wounded.
His partner, Constable Berndt, who had just returned to the police force after 3 ½ years in the navy, ducked when the gunman subsequently aimed at him. Trading shots, the bandit fled through a maze of laneways and alleys, pursued by Berndt who disconcerting found himself followed by D'Amour. Fortunately, another police cruiser arrived on the scene. Constables Thomas Walsh and John Hardon joined the chase for Stoneman’s assailant, while Flight Lieutenant Appleby, a decorated pilot who had accompanied the police officers, tackled D'Amour. Meanwhile, the shooter, Eugène Larment, who had run out of ammunition, was chased into the arms of beat policeman, Constable René Grenville, at the corner of Metcalfe and Slater Streets. The third man of the trio, Albert Henderson, managed to evade immediate capture but was picked up at his home on Albert Street a few hours later.
Back at Larment's family home on Wellington Street and in an abandoned building next door, police discovered the missing weapons stolen from the War Museum.
Initially, the men were charged with attempted murder. But the charges were upgraded to murder when Detective Stoneman died a few days later.
The fifteen-year veteran policeman with the Ottawa Police Force, aged 37, born in Mortlach, Saskatchewan, left a wife Lois (Cleary) and one-year old twins, Richard Thomas and Jill Lois. Stoneman was accorded a civic funeral. Uniformed policemen from the Ottawa and Hull municipal police, the RCMP, the Ontario and Quebec Provincial Police Forces, the RCAF service police and the naval shore patrol marched in the funeral cortege. The slain policeman was buried in the Beechwood Cemetery.
Even while in jail, the charges against Larment, D'Amour and Henderson continued to mount.
In early January, the threesome tried to break out of the country jail. Before being recaptured, they brutally beat up Percy Hyndman, a prison guard. A blow to the head from a heavy broom opened a nasty gash in Hyndman’s scalp requiring five stiches to close.
The trial of the trio for the murder of Detective Stoneman began in mid-January 1946 in front of Justice F. H. Barlow of the Ontario High Court.
Deputy Attorney General Cecil L. Snyder, who had an outstanding record of 37 convictions in 38 murder cases, was the special Crown prosecutor.
For the defence was lawyer W. Edward Haughton, K.C. who represented the trio pro bono; there was no legal aid at this time.
The trial lasted roughly a week. Throughout the proceedings the courtroom's hard wooden benches were packed with people eager to witness the unfolding drama.
Snyder, the Crown prosecutor, quickly established that the gun that fired the fatal bullet was a revolver stolen in the War Museum heist.
There was also no doubt that Larment was the shooter.
Larment admitted to firing the weapon "from the hip" in two statements that he made to the police, the first, hours after being apprehended, and the second, a couple of days later.
One of the jurors, Thomas Bradley, worried about police procedures in obtaining these statements, was permitted by Justice Barlow to question the police witness. Bradley enquired whether Larment had been asked if he wanted a lawyer before he made his statements. The detective answered no, though he added that Larment had been free to ask for one. Apparently, the detective had pursued standard Canadian police procedures of the time. Justice Barlow ruled that the statements were admissible in court, saying he was satisfied they had been obtained "in the proper manner."
With the identity of the shooter determined, Snyder focused on whether Larment, D'Amour and Henderson had "a common intent to commit crime," the test necessary to convict all three for murder.
He argued that the three men had robbed the Museum together and had armed themselves with weapons the night that Stoneman died, even though Larment's weapon was the only one loaded (with three bullets). He also noted evidence from D'Amour that the trio had tried to steal a car shortly before the shooting. Although the accused men had been drinking heavily before the shooting, a pathologist at the Ottawa Civic Hospital testified that a blood sample taken from Larment shortly after his arrest showed a "fair indication that the person was sober when it was taken."
The trio's lawyer stressed the deprived backgrounds of the accused.
He argued that "society might very well be indicted for the death of Detective Stoneman in addition to Eugène Larment."
He also noted that the trio's ability to reason had been impaired by alcohol. By one account, Larment had drunk as many as fifty beers (most likely the small draft glasses of beer popular in taverns at that time) at the Belmont Hotel in Ottawa and at the Avalon Club in Hull through the afternoon and evening prior to the shooting. The three had also reportedly consumed a bottle of liquor at Larment's home. Haughton also contended that Larment was unaware that Stoneman was a policeman when Stoneman approached him. Fearing for his life, Larment had fired in self-defence. The killing was neither premeditated nor deliberate but rather was caused by a "misunderstanding" and a "genuine misconception of Stoneman's intention."
He concluded that Larment should be acquitted of murder, or at worst found guilty of manslaughter.
Finally, he asked for the acquittal of D'Amour and Henderson on the grounds that a "common intent" had not been proven. There was no evidence that they knew that Larment's gun was loaded, they were drunk, and during the evening there had been no joint criminal venture.
In his instructions to the jury, Justice Barlow made it very clear that he thought all three defendants were guilty of murder.
He rubbished the idea that Larment fired in self-defence and thought the degree of Larment's drunkenness was "most exaggerated."
He said to the jury, "Gentlemen, in my opinion you ought to find Larment guilty without reasonable doubt, and in which you ought to find D'Amour and Henderson guilty beyond reasonable doubt as parties to a common design with Larment who resisted arrest by violence."
After deliberating for 3 hours and 55 minutes, the jury returned with their verdict.
Larment was found guilty of murder as charged.
Notwithstanding the judge's opinions, D'Amour and Henderson were found innocent.
Some of the jury members broke down.
William Bradley, the juror who asked questions during the trial, tearfully said that given the evidence he had no choice but to find Larment guilty even though he opposed the death penalty. He planned to donate his juror fees to the Ottawa Boys' Club that worked with troubled youth. The Ottawa Journal had little sympathy for jurors' tears, describing them as "maudlin." If tears were to be shed "they should be shed for the widow and family of Detective Stoneman, ruthlessly murdered."
Although Henderson and D'Amour were found innocent of murder, they were not free men.
They were subsequently found guilty in Magistrates' Court on a range of charges related to the assault of the prison guard in their abortive jail break, the theft of weapons from the War Museum, car theft and other crimes.
Henderson received a 29-year sentence, while D'Amour received 27 years in the Kingston Penitentiary. These were the longest sentences ever handed down in Magistrates' Court history.
Did the men receive a fair trial? They probably did by 1940's standards. They were also fortunate to have been represented by an experienced trial lawyer who somehow managed to get two of them acquitted on the murder charge.
But by today's standards, the statements made by Larment and his companions would likely have been inadmissible in court.
Under Section 10b of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every person has the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay, and to be informed of that right when they are arrested or detained. Also, the expressed opinion of the presiding judge that Larment (as well as D'Amour and Henderson) were guilty of murder would represent probable grounds for an appeal today.
After his execution, Eugène Larment's body was turned over to his family for burial. It is reported that he was interred in an unmarked pauper's grave in Beechwood Cemetery, the same cemetery where the remains of Thomas Stoneman were laid to rest.
The last judicial executions in Canada occurred in December 1962 when Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin were hanged for separate murders in the Don Jail in Toronto.
Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976.