Today is a rather intriguing episode. We’ll be talking about the crimes, scandals and tragedies that have occurred in the Talbot settlement. Before we begin, I’d like to acknowledge funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage and Tyrconnell Heritage Society operators of Backus-Page House Museum.
Before we begin, I’d like to give a heads up that this episode may get a big graphic in detail. If you get a bit squeamish at injuries or death, this episode might not be for you. With that being said, let’s get on into this week’s episode.
Murder is a very serious crime and is extremely punishable in almost every country. Thus, a person convicted of murder receives a harsh punishment, usually a long-term sentence to prison for the retribution and rehabilitation of the guilty. In Canada prior to 1961, any person convicted of murder was subject to the death penalty. When the abolition of the death penalty came into place in 1976, mandatory life in prison became the sentencing for all murderers. Here in the Talbot settlement, many settlers have taken their last breath at the gallows. Today we will be looking at some of the historic scandals, murders, and crimes that have taken place in our area. Some information in this episode is from the highly recommend book ‘Sim’s History of Elgin County’.
The first murder we will be discussing is what is known as the “Mount Salem Massacre”. Mount Salem was a quiet community in Malahide township of Elgin County. That changed on the 12th of October 1942. The affair started on the farm of Fred Lobb over the sale of a cow. This cow belonged to Fred and was sold by Lobb’s adopted son Herbert for $50. Lobb went into a rage after discovering his cow had been sold without his knowing and stabbed Herbert in the chest. Lobb trying to stab him a second time, instead stabbed his wife who was trying to protect their son. Herbert managed to break free and run down the road to the Hawley farm. The Hawley’s then called the police and a doctor. When the police arrived, they waited across the road at the Hawley farm and took watch of Lobb’s property. While doing so, a car with 3 men rode into the Lobb laneway and got out of the vehicle. Fred thinking it’s the police fired point blank at the men without giving them a chance to identify themselves. Seeing the relentless actions of Mr. Lobb, the police called for reinforcements and continued watching the house. That was until around midnight, when Mrs. Lobb left the house and informed the police that Fred had left at 8:45pm. Mrs. Lobb was scared to come out and notify them in fear that Fred was lurking outside and would shoot her. Police began searching the property. When nearing the blacksmith shop the constable was shot in the leg. A second shot was fired and hit the sergeant in the face and hands. Police surrounded the building with their guns ready. A squad was set up with a machine gun pointed straight at the shop. They waited. At 1:30 am an unexpected explosion came from within. Then followed by silence. Fred Lobb had shot himself in the stomach by pressing the trigger with a notched stick. The 6-hour drama resulted in the death of 3 men and injury of many officers and 2 of Freds own family.
The next story is of a secret love affair and its grave consequences. Samuel Mitchell was the proprietor of the Lawrence Hotel in Lawrence Station for a couple years. In 1880, Mitchell, his wife Sarah and their 2 daughters located in Port Bruce. While living at the small port town, a man named Alexander McIntosh came into their lives. What they didn’t know was that Alexander would be in amongst the background for many years to come. Mr. McIntosh took a special liking towards Sarah Mitchell, who also had shared feelings. Mr. Mitchell left his job at Lawrence Station and decided to move to Aylmer and operate a new hotel, in which he hired McIntosh as the bar tender. The affair between McIntosh and Mitchell’s wife continued, unbeknownst to the rest of the world. By 1884, Mitchell moved to St. Thomas and became a teamster for Reiser’s Brewery. Mr. McIntosh, feeling bold, took up residency in their house as a border. At this point, Samuel Mitchell had begun to get a little suspicious and suspected something was happening behind his back. For quite some time the thought had plagued him. When complained to his mother Samuel said he “couldn’t stand it any longer”. After discovering his suspicions were correct, Mitchell had finally had enough. He shot and killed his wife’s lover. Samuel Mitchell was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years in the penitentiary. He served his time, got out and returned home to his previous job.
*Hogs Hollow was a small community situated on the south-western outskirts of St. Thomas
Next, we’re going to discuss the horrific murder of the herb doctor at Hogs Hollow. Dr. Needham was of Native American descent and was an excellent herb doctor. One day Needham and his son Murray, who was identical to his father with great strength and knowledge, were attending the Wallacetown fair. They had a booth set up for selling their herbs. George Lipsey and Harry Fitzsimmons, full of whiskey, started to pick a fight with the young boy. Murray defended himself and gave them a great beating. The fight left Fitzsimmons with a scar on his face shaped like the letter z. This scar would later help identify the man. Lipsey swore to Murray that they would get even, and the two battered men left the fair. Dr. Needham and his son were planning on heading to Stirling after their time in Wallacetown. The two revengeful men had learned of this information and decided to follow. Lipsey and Fitzsimmons hid in the bushes at Kettle Creek crossing awaiting the passing of Needham’s wagon. Somehow the men didn’t see the wagon stop and drop off Murray at the bridge. When they had recognized the wagon, they noticed it was tied up at the Mitchells. With this they set out to fulfil their promise. Lipsey and Fitzsimmons jumped on the wagon and threw the doctor off. Not being able to tell their victim was Dr. Needham and not Murray. Lipsey held the innocent man down, while Fitzsimmons with a sack containing pork and an axe head beat the doctor. The men fled and the police and local militia were called upon to search for the killers. The area was so shaken they called upon the provincial government who notified detective John Wilson Murray. Word arose that Fitzsimmons was seen in Red Wing Minnesota. The detective proceeded to Red Wing. Identified by his scar, Fitzsimmons was captured and brought back to the settlement. He confessed to his crimes in St. Thomas and was sentenced to penitentiary for 10 years. He would later die while serving his sentence. As for Lipsey, he was killed in a circus row in the western part of the United States. Son Murray Needham later died in 1902 after a fist fight with a man in London.
Tragedy struck Wardell Woods on December 14, 1894. John Hendershott (uncle of the victim) grew tired of his lifestyle and the limitations of poverty. His solution to the predicament was to gain money by the sudden death of someone who was heavily insured. Mr. Hendershott believed he needed an accomplice in order for his plan to be successful. Hendershott managed to convince his boarder, William David Welter, to join. Welter was seen as a very dull-witted man, but he had a good relationship with Mr. Hendershott and was engaged to Hendershott’s daughter. The first person they considered for their scheme was Patrick Fitzpatrick. Patrick was known in the community as “Pat the Diver”. He took to alcohol often and found himself in trouble with the law on countless occasions. From April until June 1894, Hendershot made several attempts to insure Pat, treating him at the Penwarden House in St. Thomas. Though their plan had failed, pat was turned down on medical grounds for being insured. Welter and Hendershott would have to find another victim instead. Not long after John Hendershott persuaded his nephew, William, to take out a policy on his life. Welter and his puppeteer arranged that John would travel to Eden to visit family while Welter took William into the Wardell to cut wood. Both men armed with axes, began their work. As time progressed, William discarded his coat and wristwatch on a nearby stump. Hit by a spell of exhaustion, the young Will Hendershott knelt by a little brook to take a drink. As he turned his back, he was struck on his shoulder. The blow was meant for his head. Stunned William staggered around in a circle while Welter continued to hit him until he dropped dead. Welter placed his body under a fallen tree.
Instead of going to a nearby neighbour, Welter walked to his uncle’s house a mile and a half from the scene to report the “accident”. By the afternoon the news hit the paper that William Henry Hendershott, who had been living with his uncle John Hendershott of Middlemarch, had been killed by a falling tree in Wardell’s Woods. The paper stated that William David Welter had said they both had chopped and saw a tree, and while it was falling, William ran to save his possessions, stumbled, fell, and was struck while in motion. 5 men went to the scene to inspect and found blood splattered everywhere. The very next day the insurance policy placed upon William was noticed. Sunday after the accident, Elgin County Attorney Donahue and Constable Fairbrother went to the scene to gather evidence. They notified the provincial detective John Wilson Murray. When Murray arrived, he exhumed the body on December 18th and removed the head for examination. On December 21st an inquest was held. The verdict – “According to the evidence produced we unanimously find that the said William Henry Hendershott came to his death at the hands of William David Welter, and that John Hendershott was an accessory before the fact.” After a second trial in March, at 10:05 March 15th the new jury reached the same verdict. Guilty.
What you are about to hear next is from a newspaper clipping of the St. Thomas Daily Times provided by Elgin County Archives.
“At 10pm (night before hanging) Rev. Spencer, their spiritual adviser, was admitted to their presence. The reverend gentleman spent an hour with the prisoners, and it was during this time that they confessed to him the true account of the murder, —which generally conceded that any confession made was in accordance with the opinion held all along by the public.”
“At exactly fourteen minutes past eight the souls of William David Welter and John A. Hendershott were ushered into eternity. The day was a perfect one. The sun rose on a clear sky, casting its golden rays across the dewy earth, awakening into ambitious life another day, ushering into existence the last of which the murderers Hendershott and Welter should look out upon a world of which they had so recently formed a part.”
“Both men were deadly pale. Welter seemed to walk with a steadier tread and had a firm fixed expression on his face, nerving himself for the last terrible moment. Hendershott was more nervous and seemed to sustain himself with an effort. While Welter maintained a cold silence, and walked up to the scaffold, Hendershott was praying aloud, and begging the mercy of God.”
After the proceedings of Sheriff Brown, Dr. Chamberlain, 3 Reverends, Governor Moore, and Deputy Sheriff, the condemned men were placed in position on the scaffold, facing south.
“Both prisoners shook hands with the hangman. Hendershott, looking at the spectators, said “goodbye”, to which a few in the audience responded. Radcliffe (the hangman) quickly adjusted the straps tightly about the legs of the condemned men, their arms having been previously bound, and taking the black cap, first drew it over the head of Welter and dropped the noose over his shoulders. While performing this operation Hendershott turned and viewed the work. As the hangman drew the knot about Welter’s neck Welter said in a clear voice, which could easily be heard in any part of the yard, “Too tight, please.” As the cap was drawn over Hendershott’s head, he closed his eyes, and continued to offer up words in prayer. He then repeated the words, “Goodbye” to which Radcliffe replied. The men on the platform were grouped about the men, and as the hangman gave the signal, Rev. Spencer in a clear voice commenced the Lord’s Prayer. Radcliffe had taken his position to the left of the men. As the Rev. Gentleman reached the word “deliver” the hangman pressed the lever and at exactly 8:14 the souls of the condemned men were launched into eternity.”
A photograph of Mary Lily Hendershott, daughter of the older prisoner and sweetheart of Welter, had been Welter’s solace during his confinement. He requested that his picture of her be buried with him.
Although this was the first execution in Elgin County, several murders have taken place. The following are some of them:
James Farwell, Straffordville, 1854
Charles Knight, Yarmouth, 1858
Mrs. J. Murdock, South Dorchester, 1860
Michael Shaughnessy, St. Thomas, 1861
Chief Needham, St. Thomas, 1870
Albert Bradley, Orwell, 1873
Marshall Pigott, Malahide, 1878
An infant child of Ellen Coughlin, 1881
An Italian in a riot in St. Thomas, on Good Friday, 1885
Louis Napoleon Stillwell at Eden, in 1885
Alex McIntosh, St. Thomas Easter Sunday, 1883
Fred Glover, Southwold, 1893
Roger Allin, St. Thomas, 1893
William Henry Hendershott, Southwold, December 14, 1894
If this week’s episode interested you, let us know on our social media. We’d love to make a part 2 of crimes and tragedies of the Talbot Settlement. Thank you for reading! Come back next week for Episode 29 – Titles & Class