Saturday, March 04, 2006


OK, here are the basics: In March 1946, a torso was found just outside of Hamilton, Ontario, and identified as that of 40-year-old streetcar driver John Dick. Police informed his 25-year-old widow, Evelyn, of this, and she replied, "Don't look at me -- I don't know anything about it." Needless to say, they took her down to the station. While police were investigating this so-called torso murder, they came across a suitcase in Evelyn's attic; inside the suitcase was a baby's corpse encased in cement. (The baby wasn't John's; Evelyn hadn't yet met John when this baby was born.) Evelyn was charged with both murders, and so was her married boyfriend (repeatedly referred to in the press as "the husky oarsman"). (He was eventually acquitted of all charges.) At the preliminary hearing she set the number of lovers she'd had at 150, including several prominent local lawyers, businessmen, bankers, and so on. Evelyn was tried alone in October 1946 for the torso murder, convicted, and sentenced to hang. Then she got a new lawyer, who won an appeal and a retrial for her. Over the winter Evelyn put on 20 pounds, which was the subject of much comment in the press. At her second trial for the torso murder, in March 1947, she was acquitted. (Incriminating statements that had been evidence in the first trial were inadmissible in the second.) This was followed by her two-day baby-murder trial, at which she was convicted of manslaughter. A psychiatrist testified that Evelyn's "mental age" was 13. Evelyn was given the maximum sentence of life in prison, of which she served 11 years at the Kingston Prison for Women before being granted a ticket-of-leave in 1958. She was given a new name, and she effectively vanished. As of 1985 she no longer had to report even to the parole board. She may be dead now, or she may be an 85-year-old woman somewhere in Canada.

Responses to specific comments:

1. Kat:
The women were hiding in the bathroom because they didn't want to lose their seats in the courtroom when the session reconvened after lunch. Hundreds of people lined up outside the courthouse every day hoping to get in to watch the trial, and getting a seat was very competitive. The building was supposed to be cleared out during the lunch break, but these 35 women who were admitted that morning didn't want to risk being turned away after lunch.

2. Insubordiknit: First, no, I don't know if she did it. (And whether or not she did doesn't really matter to my work.) Second, I actually don't know what happened to the gifts! She received flowers and jewellery, mostly. I wonder if she was allowed to keep the jewellery for when she got out of prison...

3. Lori: Yes, it was a very sensational case, especially coming so soon after the end of WWII when people were probably especially receptive to such a distracting and juicy story of sex and violence.

4. Janine: I hadn't even thought of the connection between this case of dismemberment and the title of the book I'm reading (for fun) right now! Maybe a subconscious thing?

5. Em: I imagine coming up with a title will be the very last thing I do. (Got any suggestions?) But of course I'll follow the fail-safe formula of Something Clever: What It's Really About.

6. Susan: I forgot to include the following gem: "Hamilton Women Boo Short, Fat Evelyn Dick." (Ouch.)

7. Sylvia: I have about eight research questions, actually. Basically I'm looking at the ways this story was told in the newspapers of the time and then in subsequent retellings (e.g., books, films, a play, a novel), how the case is constructed as a narrative, what cultural preoccupations are evident, which elements are considered important in that postwar period versus later years. In terms of the press coverage alone, I'm arguing that the narrative adheres to (feminine) generic codes of melodrama and soap opera, despite the facts that the actual events seem instead to resemble (masculine) film noir or detective fiction.

8. Karen: Yes, and the play "How Could You, Mrs. Dick?" is opening in Hamilton on the anniversary of the discovery of the torso! I'm so excited to see it.

9. Gina: John Dick was a Russian immigrant -- "the Russian" from the headline.

10. Anne and Marielle (re: an 11-year-old sense of humour): You will appreciate the mileage I've gotten out of the joke that I only chose this topic to make a name for myself as a Dick expert... (nyuk nyuk nyuk)

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