Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Infamous Edwin Alonzo Boyd


Edwin Alonzo Boyd was born in Toronto on April 2, 1914.  Four months after his birth, World War I broke out in Europe.  Ed's father, Glover Boyd,.was an electrician and was employed by Eaton's department store.  Glover joined the army in the summer of 1915 and served overseas during the earliest years of his son's childhood. When he returned home in 1919, he worked as a lumberer in the Muskoka woods.

In 1920, a second son, Gordon, was born to the Boyds and Glover decided to search for work closer to his family in Toronto.  Accordingly, he answered a recruiting ad and was accepted as a police constable with the Toronto Police Department.  Glover Boyd was to remain with the force for a quarter of a century.

Two more children followed Gordon, a son named Norman and a daughter, Irene.  Gord and Norm contracted scarlet fever in early 1930 and the family was quarantined.  In March of that year, Ed's mother, Eleanor, died of the disease. Ed was only 15 years old when she passed away.  After her death, he dropped out of school and left home.  As a youth, he drifted across Canada and had some minor run-ins with the law during the Depression years of the 1930s. At the age of 22, he served time at Prince Albert Penitentiary in Saskatchewan for robbing a gas station.

During World War II, Boyd joined the Canadian Army as an infantryman. While overseas, he married Doreen Mary Frances Thompson and the couple had three children.  After the war, he returned to Toronto with his British war bride and found employment as a streetcar driver. Unhappy and bored with his job, this son of a police officer turned to crime.

Boyd with Doreen and children

It will be exactly 62 years ago tomorrow, on September 9, 1949, that Edwin Alonzo Boyd committed his first bank robbery.  Operating as a lone bandit and wearing a disguise, a drunken Boyd robbed a branch of the Bank of Montreal in Toronto.  Armed with a pistol (a Luger he had taken from a dead German soldier in France), the inebriated thief escaped with $3,000, a princely sum in those days.  Acting alone and with the help of accomplices, he committed six more robberies before being captured and imprisoned in Toronto's Don Jail.

Boyd's mugshots.  He was described as 37 years old, 5'7 3/8 ", slim build, black hair (grey), blue eyes 

It was in the Don Jail that Boyd met Leonard "Tough Lennie" Jackson and Willie "The Clown" Jackson (not related) who were to become his partners in further criminal activity.  Lennie Jackson, an ex-hairdresser from Niagara Falls, had an artificial foot (he lost his foot in a railway accident) and the three men escaped from prison on November 4, 1951 by concealing hacksaw blades in Jackson's prosthetic device.  The trio of  convicts used the blades to saw through the bars on an outside window.

After their escape, a fourth man joined the band of thieves.  His name was Valent Lesso (alias Steve Suchan).  The group committed four more robberies in four months and was dubbed "The Boyd Gang" by the press.  Although "Tough Lennie" Jackson was the real leader, it was Edwin Alonzo Boyd who was better looking and more charismatic.

The Boyd Gang engaged in further bank robberies and on March 6, 1952, two of the gang members, Steve Suchan and Lennie Jackson, shot and killed police detective Edmund Tong, a crime for which they would later hang.  They and Boyd were soon apprehended, but escaped from the Don Jail a second time on the night of September 7, 1952.  Once again, they used hacksaw blades hidden in Lennie Jackson's wooden foot along with a cell key they had created from the palm print of the original. 

The exploits of the Boyd Gang made sensational front page headlines.  On September 8, 1952, their escape was also detailed by anchorman Lorne Greene (of Bonanza fame) on the first news telecast of the new CBC television network.  Ten days later, some men were seen at a barn in the Don Valley, about 24 km. (15 miles from the prison) and the Boyd gang, except for Boyd himself, was captured there without incident. 

Edwin Alonzo was later found at the rented flat of his brother Norman.  Police had kept the flat under surveillance and obtained a key to the back door from the owner.  They watched from a neighbour's home as Boyd moved into the flat.  At the break of dawn, they entered the house and captured Boyd and his wife while they were still sleeping in bed.  Norman, who was sleeping in another room, was also apprehended by police. 

The Toronto Nugget reported that "Edwin Alonzo Boyd, Canada's Public Enemy Number One, surrendered meekly with his henchmen to two suburban detectives, ending the greatest criminal man hunt in the Dominion's history."

In 1952, Edwin Alonzo Boyd Boyd was given eight life sentences while Willie Jackson received a thirty year sentence foe his crimes.  Both men served their time in Ontario's Kingston Penitentiary and both were released in 1966.  On December 16, 1952, the last rites were administered to Steve Suchan and Lennie Jackson.  Nor long after midnight on the morning of December 17th, they were executed, hanged back to back.

Boyd was originally paroled in 1962 after spending 10 years in prison, but was returned for four more years due to parole violations.  After serving 14 years, the notorious bank robber was released on lifetime parole.  He then moved near Victoria, British Columbia where he lived under an assumed identity and drove a bus for disabled people.  He remarried and devoted himself to the care of his disabled wife, Marjorie, whom he had met on the bus.  Edwin Alonzo Boyd died in British Columbia on May 17, 2002 at the age of 88.


* Edwin Alonzo Boyd was the subject of an episode of the CBC biographical series Life and Times.  Boyd's biography contains interviews with the notorious bank robber himself during the months just prior to his death.  His  ex-wife, his daughter and his adopted son also speak out on the program.  During the interviews, Boyd, the man known as the "Gentleman Bank Robber" chillingly confesses that he "did a few things that could have got me hung."

* I have obtained some of the information in this piece from a book entitled Edwin Alonzo Boyd: The Story of the Notorious Boyd Gang by Brian Vallee.  I recommend the book to those who want to read further about Edwin Alonzo Boyd and the Boyd gang.

- Joanne

Where do people live the longest? Reflections on age and longevity


We turn not older with years, but newer every day.

- Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet
From an 1874 letter

Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world according to a recent study conducted by the department of Global Health Policy at the University of Tokyo.  The results of the study appeared in Lancet, the highly respected British medical journal.  Several factors, such as an increase in female literacy in the ealy 20th century, were cited as reasons for the improvement in child survival rates.

The report found that a Japanese child born within the last few years will live to an average of 86 years of age.  It attributed this longevity to several factors including universal health care, better education and a healthy lifestyle.  It credited government investment in public health during the 1950s and 1960s with lowering mortality rates for infectious diseases among children and adolescents. 

The study also be noted that having certain drugs covered under health insurance lessened the number of deaths due to strokes, one of the major reasons for the continual increase in Japanese longevity after the mid-1960s.

Government investment in health care and education leads to beneficial results.  The results of this report should be required reading for those who want to cut and slash education spending and oppose public health care.


Rowan Atkinson, the British comedian who is best known for his portrayal of the bumbling Mr. Bean, announced that he is too old to play the character anymore.  Atkinson, who is 56 years old, said in an interview in Australia that he has a feeling that he probably won't play the part of Mr. Bean again.  "Never say never," he remarked, "but I just feel I'm getting too old for it.  I've always liked Mr. Bean as a cartoon-like figure, who doesn't really age much."  He added that he's always seen Mr. Bean as "an ageless and timeless being and I'm clearly not ageless and timeless."

As a fan of Rowan Atkinson and his Mr. Bean persona, it saddens me that he may never play that role again.  Yet, I realize he can't portray the Bean character forever.  The problem lies in determining how long an actor or athlete should continue performing.  Should they, as the poet Dylan Thomas put it, "rage against the dying of the light" of should they, as Kenny Rogers sang, "know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away?"

Many athletes continue way past their "best before" date  because they love their sport and they enjoy competition.  Even when they are past their prime, they still have a desire to compete.  Some are willing to adjust and make changes, if possible, to extend their careers.  In baseball, older pitchers become knuckleballers or closers.  Older position players assume the role of designated hitter. 

Who has the right to tell star athletes how and when to retire?  I know that If I were an athlete, I'd want to finish my career in the same manner as baseball great Ted Williams.  Williams went out in a blaze of glory by hitting a home run in his final at-bat on September 28, 1960.  How's that for a grand finale?

Hockey's Lanny McDonald also ended his career in glory.  The Alberta native is considered a local hero in Calgary for leading the Calgary Flames to their one and only championship in 1989.  McDonald retired after hoisting the Stanley Cup and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Entertainers can have much longer careers than athletes.  Singer Tony Bennett, born August 3, 1926, is still performing at the age of 85.   Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones is still strutting on stage at 68.  Jagger, who was born on July 26, 1943, once famously remarked, "I'd rather be dead than singing 'Satisfaction' when I'm forty-five."  You certainly changed your mind about that, didn't you, Mick?

Paul McCartney and the late John Lennon composed a song that asked "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I'm Sixty-four?"  McCartney, born June 18, 1942, is now 69 years old.  In October of 2006, not long after he turned 64, the former Beatle remarked, "In one old people's home they changed the words of the song to 'When I'm 84' as they considered 64 to be young.  I might do that."

Some of the most prominent world leaders are septuagenarians and octogenarians.  Here is a list of them:

Queen Elizabeth II (85 years old, born April 21, 1926)

Pope Benedict XVI  (84 years old, born April 16, 1927)

The 14th Dalai Lama (76 years old, born July 6. 1935)

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India (78 years old, born September 26, 1932)

Raul Castro, President of Cuba (80 years old, born June 3, 1931)

Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe (87 years old, born February 21, 1924)

King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia (born 1924)

Here are some great quotations on the subject of age:

The man who works and is not bored is never old.

- Pablo Casals (1876-1973) Spanish musician and composer

It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.

- Spoken by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark (screenplay by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman)

Every man desires to live long; but no man would be old.

- Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
From Thoughts on Various Subjects (1727 edition)

The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
From The Picture of Dorian Grey [1891]

So much about age is relative.  Swiss tennis champion Roger Federer recently turned 30.  He was born August 8, 1981.  In the sport of tennis, Federe is a greybeard, a grizzled veteran.  There is always some up-and-coming 17-year-old ready to challenge.  If, however, Federer were a 30-year-old politician, he'd be considered a greenhorn, too young to be a national leader.

- Joanne