Thursday, January 26, 2023

The 1934 Hintonburg-Island Park Drive Teenaged Car Chase and Shootout

I recently came across a fantastic story. It was about an event I'd never heard about, and subsequent Googling/searching found no traces of it on the internet anywhere. An incredible story from 90 years ago? That took place largely within Kitchissippi? And had a ton of details? How could I not bring this back to life. 

So my article today is a long one. But it's a good story. 

In the early 1930s, automobiles were still a bit of a novelty. And they were easy to steal. For the most part, however, they weren't stolen to be stripped for valuable parts or sent internationally in a sea can for resale. They were largely stolen by bored teenagers for a joyride. In this story, two Lisgar kids, who had done their share of reading about true crime and idolized John Dillinger, decided to take a joyride a step further, and rob a store. However, when the police moved in on them, they ran - and an incredible chase took the youths all through Hintonburg and down Island Park Drive, with gunfire, commandeered taxis and a chase through the Champlain Park woods. There are many crazy pieces to this story, and some sad endings as well. 

So set aside some time, and enjoy the story!

* * *

By all accounts, Daniel Nigra and Maynard Richardson were two normal teenagers who were enjoying their summer break off school in the summer of 1934. They both attended Lisgar Collegiate during the 1933-34 school year and had plans to go back in the fall. 

Daniel was 16 years old, and he and his family lived at 376 Frank Street, between Bank and O'Connor. He was the son of immigrant parents, his father Dominique was born in Italy, and married Daniel's mother Mary in England in 1907, before the couple came to Canada in 1909. He had two older brothers, Dominique Jr and Peter. Dominique held various jobs during the depression, working occasionally as a clothing store clerk, and as a hotel keeper.

Daniel Nigra had been a cadet at Lisgar, and was also a member of the local No. 4 Machine Gun Battalion, and was considered an excellent marksman.

Maynard Richardson meanwhile was 15, and lived at 370 Chapel Street, the middle child of Gordon and Agnes Richardson. Gordon was employed as a grocer, and the family certainly had its challenges, appearing in newspapers throughout the years for various reasons (hosting an illegal gambling game, running a nursing home without a permit, assisting in an alleged abortion, and eventually, the divorce requested by Gordon, which, in 1945 was a rarity, requiring application to the Supreme Court). 

Maynard and his Mom had actually avoided near death just four years prior in the fall of 1930 when they were the only survivors in their car of four people that crashed in Smiths Falls during a pleasure trip. The two had been unconscious and in critical condition following the single-vehicle crash, but recovered fully.  

Their lives would forever change on a warm Saturday afternoon in August of 1934.

* * *

The Honourable Charles Murphy was a long-time Liberal MP, holding the post representing the electoral district of Russell from 1908 to 1925. During that time, he held several cabinet roles under Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Mackenzie King such as Secretary of State for External Affairs, Secretary of State for Canada, and Postmaster General of Canada. Upon stepping down in 1925, he was appointed to the Senate by King, a role he filled until his death. He was a local boy, born in Ottawa during the city's infancy, in 1862. He became a lawyer, and soon emerged quickly through the ranks as a politician. He was the "anti-thesis of a yes man", a great organizer and intellectual, who preferred not to discuss politics when amongst friends and family. 

Hon. Charles Murphy

By August of 1934, Murphy was 71 years old, and in failing health (he would pass away a year later). He needed assistance in his day-to-day life, and that included the services of a chauffeur, William Orr, who would drive him about town in Murphy's impressive, high-powered Packard Straight Eight, which was valued at $4,600 (almost $93,000 in present-day money).

Example of a 1934 Packard Standard Eight car

Saturday August 11th, 1934. 2:15 p.m.

William Orr parked Senator Murphy's outside his own home on Lewis Street near Elgin. He left the keys in the ignition (which was commonly done back in the early days of cars), and went inside for only a short time. When he came back outside, the car was gone.

The police were informed and a bulletin sent out to all policemen to watch out for the stolen Packard.

Saturday evening, 9:15 p.m.

Daniel and Maynard parked the Packard on Findlay Avenue by the corner of Bronson Avenue in the Glebe, and walked around the corner to a small drug store. 

The drug store was a small, nondescript little spot, in an old brick building on the south-east corner of Bronson and Findlay, which featured the Lakeside Grocery on one end, and William Blair's Drug Store at 1011 Bronson Avenue on the far end. It also had a handful of small apartments upstairs. 

August 2022 Google Streetview of where 1011 Bronson
Avenue was once located - the treed lot on the southeast
corner of Findlay. The building was demolished in 1959.

August 2022 Google Streetview looking west up Findlay
Avenue towards Bronson Avenue. The boys parked
Senator Murphy's Packard on this visible block.

1948 fire insurance plan showing the building fronting
Bronson Avenue, at the corner of Findlay. (I could not
find a vintage photo of the building to include)

At this time of night, the grocery store was likely closed, and the drug store was nearing closing time.

One of the teenagers, Richardson, wearing a brown suit walked in through the front door. He approached a customer at the front cash and asked where Sidney Street was. The customer told him that it's just around the corner. The teen thanked him, and quickly left the shop.  

Saturday evening, 9:25 p.m.

A few minutes later, Richardson returned to the drug store, accompanied by Nigra, who was also dressed exceptionally well, and inside they immediately meet the owner William Morrow Blair, and his 14-year old delivery boy Norman Smith.

"I happened to be in the store on Saturday night" explained Blair later, "because my manager Albert Barnes was taking the evening off. With me was young Norman Smith, our delivery boy, whom we usually refer to as 'Smitty' and who is known to most of his friends by that name. I had just finished telephoning and was reaching up for a bottle of medicine when in came the two men walking abreast of each other. At first I did not notice that they had guns in their hands.

Half-turning his head, Blair said to the boys "Well, what can I do for you?"

"Put up your hands! Put up your hands!" one of the two commanded.

"I thought it was a joke at first" Blair later said. Blair took a closer look and saw that they were standing side by side, with revolvers in their hands. "One of them had his gun resting in the crook of his left arm, which he had folded over his right arm."

"They were mighty ugly looking weapons too", noted Blair.

Druggist William Blair
undated photo (source: Ancestry)

Blair was still reaching for the bottle on the shelf, and was told "Don't reach for that bottle or I'll plug you!" by one of the boys, living their gangster dream.

Daniel and Maynard ordered Blair to stay just where he was, which was tricky as he still had his back to them. Young Smitty was facing the hold-up men, and surely nervous at the escalating situation. "Don't mind, Smitty, it will be all over in a few minutes", said Blair to comfort Smith.

"The two men then backed us into the dispensary to the rear of the store proper and started to look around. One of them picked up about $10 worth of cigarettes. One of the men appeared to be about 24 years of age and had a sallow complexion, dark hair and was of slim build. He wore a brown suit and a light grey hat or a cap. The other fellow appeared to be about the same age, perhaps a little older, was dark-complexioned and had dark hair, and wore a blue coat. He was also a slimly built man. Both of them spoke English without a trace of any foreign accent", reported Blair.

It was at this point, that the robbery takes an interesting twist.

While all this was going on, Stewart H. McKay of Carleton Motor Sales was walking along Bronson Avenue. He stopped suddenly as he recognized the parked Packard. He recognized it since he was the one who had sold it to Senator Murphy! McKay had a hunch something was wrong, as he knew Murphy lived uptown on MacLaren Street and was not likely to be in the Glebe, especially at that late hour.

Carleton Motor Sales - at the northeast corner of Bank
and Glebe (now La Strada restaurant). There was a showroom
in the lower corner, and a large garage adjoining at back.
1934 photo (Source: City of Ottawa Archives CA-018249)

McKay looked inside the car and was astounded to see a heavy, leather-covered billy club or blackjack sitting on the front seat. "I knew at once the car had been stolen and I reached in and pulled out the ignition key, put it into my pocket and walked around the corner to Mr. Blair's drug store to telephone the police" said McKay stated.

He didn't think anything was amiss when he first entered, as he saw the four people standing at the back, seemingly just talking.

"I've just found a stolen car. I want to phone the police station. Can I use your phone?" asked McKay, still ignorant of the fact that a hold-up was in progress. One of the robbers answered "yes", and McKay picked up a telephone directory to look for the police number (this was of course the days before 911, when a local police station had to be called directly). 

After McKay had entered the store, one of the robbers told Blair in a low voice to lower his hands, but kept his gun on him all the while.

McKay somehow struggled with finding the number, then dropped the book, and turned to the silent group and asked one of the group if they knew the police department number. With that, Richardson, who had been concealing the weapon, turned it on McKay and ordered him to be quiet and waved Blair and Smith to the back door.

"Don't try to touch any bottles" one of the boys warned Smith on the way, "because my fingers are a little nervous."

"The one in the light brown suit then motioned me to go out the rear door where there is a narrow step and then he pushed Smitty out after me keeping us covered all the while and cautioning us not to make any suspicious move", recounted Blair. "From his position in the back of the store he could thus keep all three of us covered with his gun. The man in the blue suit now opened the cash register and took out the money which amounted to about $40."

With the money and cigarettes in hand, the two thieves told the group to stay where they were, and took off out the store and ran around to their car, dropping packages of cigarettes along the way. Of course when they got back to the Packard, the keys were no longer inside! 

In brazen fashion, they ran back into the Blair Drug Store, and caught McKay with the phone in hand trying to get the police station once again. 

They asked where the keys were and McKay responded that he had them. One of the boys came over, thrust a revolver in McKay's face and said "That's fine, Buddy. You can just hand 'em over again.". 

McKay later commented to police that he'd had $200 in cash on him, but the thugs did not go through his pockets, focused only on getting the keys back.

"As soon as they snatched the keys from Mr. McKay's hand they dashed out of the store and very soon we heard their car start up. They turned the corner at a fair speed and went south along Bronson Avenue crossing Bronson Avenue bridge and heading into Ottawa South", said Blair.

The car was last seen turning east from Bronson on to Sunnyside Avenue. 

Saturday evening, 10 p.m.

With the robbers gone, the trio left behind in the store attempted to call the police again. I can't understand how they had such trouble finding the number for the police station (could they not have dialed the operator direct?), especially as a quick search through newspapers prior to 1934 show Blair had been the target of robberies of the past and should have at least had the number handy. Whatever the case, Stewart McKay eventually had to drive to the police station to report the robbery. This delay gave the thieves a huge head start. A squad of detectives: Robert Hobbs, Leonard Green, Roy O'Neil and Michael McKinnirey rushed to the Bronson Avenue drug store to take statements and look for evidence.

"When the detectives came, said Smith "one of them picked up a bottle which one of the hold-up men had handled, and said that he would get finger-prints taken from it."

Meanwhile police squads led by Detective Green and Acting Detective Hobbs searched Ottawa South for the car and the wanted men without success.

The local newspapers, the Journal and Citizen, would also have been tipped off somehow, and descended in to the drug store as well to get interviews with McKay, Blair and Smith. 

The drug store owner William Blair appeared calm through the whole thing. "I was expecting something like this," explained Blair late that night, "and quite recently cautioned my manager, Albert Barnes, not to carry too much money in the till. The district around here is very poorly policed and we seldom see an officer. A rather amusing thing happened some weeks ago. I had been asking our delivery boy, Smitty, what he would do if somebody attempted to hold-up the store. I had previously told him that he should make no attempt to offer any resistance."

""I would sock them with a bottle" Smitty had declared to me on this occasion, "Just like this!". And with that Smitty had jumped up on the counter, picked up a ginger-ale bottle and raised it over his head as if going to throw it at some hypothetical gangster. But as he raised it over his shoulder, it crashed into the electric light shade smashing it into a thousand pieces."

The Journal also reported that "Mr. Blair paid a tribute to his 14-year-old employee Norman Smith, for his pluck during the nerve-racking period when they stood at the menacing point of the two revolvers".

"As soon as they were out of the place I jumped over the fence that runs around the back yard and looked up and down the street, but they had disappeared. I don't know which way they went", reported Smitty. 

He described the boys as "very decently dressed and did not appear tough".

Saturday evening, 11 p.m. onwards

Evidence later showed that the boys drove out of the city and went to the notorious Avalon Hotel on the Chelsea Road north of Hull, where they "squandered" a large amount of their stolen money. 

At some point during that day or overnight, the thieves partially painted the tail lights of the car, such that no light would show up on the license plate. However they left enough uncovered so that the red glow could still be seen from behind, so they wouldn't have been pulled over for not having lights. 

After their visit to the tavern, they returned to the city, and parked the car in a vacant lot behind 88 and 90 Queen Street, an old wood-frame house just east of the intersection of Metcalfe towards Elgin. (Now the site of the big glass office building 55 Metcalfe). It was the home of a friend of theirs, James Crawford Jr., who lived with his parents. The yard behind the house was an ideal hiding spot, as it was accessed by a lane leading off Albert Street, and when the car was parked inside it could not be seen from the street.

Looking east down Queen Street at Metcalfe.
88-90 Queen is the short, 2-storey building on the
right side. (Source: LAC, e010934937)

The boys slept at Nigra's home on Frank Street overnight Saturday and into Sunday.

Sunday morning, 9 a.m.

The city was abuzz with the news of the stolen car and the robbery at Blair's Drug Store. 

Early that morning, a description of the pair, as supplied by Blair, was circulated to all police in the Ottawa area, as well as the license plate number for the car (JF174). 

Meanwhile, Senator Murphy's chauffeur William Orr had three different people tell him that the Senator's well-known car was spotted on the city streets Saturday night. But it remained missing throughout the day.

Sunday afternoon, 4:30 p.m.

Edgar "Joe" Kedey was 36 years old, and a six-year veteran of the Ottawa Police force in 1934. He was from Fitzroy Harbor and had been one of Carleton County's top athletes in his youth. He had been a well-known hockey player, a hard-hitting defenceman with a blazing shot, and also won many awards in track and field events in the Ottawa area. He joined the force in 1928 and immediately carved a reputation for himself as a dedicated and alert officer on the beat. He was known and respected as an officer who never drew his gun, not even when under fire. Two years into his police career he became the first cop to work in a "prowler car", driving around town looking for trouble, a role he loved and excelled at, and maintained for most of his career. 

"We didn't have radios in those days", Joe later recalled "We had to phone the station to see if there were any calls for us." 

He saw a lot of car theft cases. "We didn't have a night when there weren't a half dozen cars stolen...there weren't 200 men on the force then", he said years later.

Joe had just recently been promoted from Constable to Detective, and surely was seen as the best cop to handle a high-profile car theft and drug store robbery case. This was his first case in his new branch, and it was one he would never forget. 

On his way back to the station after dinner, he met a man at the corner of Metcalfe and Albert Street.

"The fellow asked me how we were getting along on the hold-up. Somehow from the way he asked, I knew he knew something about it. I said 'what do you know about it?'. He pointed to a white house nearby and a car behind it."

Kedey went to the house, and discovered that the car in behind indeed was the stolen car. He knocked on the door and questioned the occupant, James Crawford Sr. Crawford initially denied any knowledge of the car or its occupants.

Kedey left the house, but knew he was hot on the trail of the perpetrators.

Sunday afternoon, 5:00 p.m.

Kedey left 90 Queen Street and walked to a nearby telephone to call his police station and asked for additional officers to patrol the immediate vicinity. Sergt. Robert Fox was the first to come back up Kedey, driving from police HQ on Elgin Street (now the site of the NAC), down Albert and Metcalfe to Queen where he met Kedey and the pair returned to 90 Queen Street.

Ottawa Police HQ (now the site of the NAC)
Queen at Elgin Street (photo from 1938) (LAC a046849)

Crawford answered the door once again, but at the same time Kedey and Fox were coming in the front door, Daniel and Maynard were racing out the back door and jumping in the car. Crawford shouted to the police that two men were getting in the car and driving away. 

Kedey ran to the yard, saw it was empty and dashed around the corner towards a taxi office. He was then told by attendants at a nearby gas station, and by employees at a taxi stand that the Senator's big car had travelled slowly north on Metcalfe and then west on Wellington. 

With no time to waste, Kedey commandeered cab driver William Short and his taxi (from what I believe was the Checker Taxi stand at 64 Metcalfe, corner of Albert), and started in pursuit. 

"When I reached Albert Street", explained Kedey, "they were already speeding in a westerly direction. William Short just happened to be passing and not taking any time to go back to Queen Street to get my own car I jumped in with him and we took after the fleeing automobile." 

Edgar "Joe" Kedey
(source: rlougheed, Ancestry)

Travelling at high speed, they drove west along Wellington Street until near Preston, when they finally spotted the stolen car ahead, also headed west. 

"We drove fairly easily hoping the pair would not suspect that they were being followed as I had telephoned to No. 2 station the West End for offices to head them off there."

Kedey decided his best strategy was to attempt to pass the car, and get to No. 2 station on Fairmont Avenue in Hintonburg to get help. He hoped to get by the big sedan without attracting attention. 

At the crest of the Wellington Street viaduct (the old bridge that travelled overtop the rail yards in over what today would be between the City Centre building and the bridge at Bayview station), Short drove next to the stolen car. Kedey later wondered how the boys knew that Kedey was a policeman, but surely they must have assumed the taxi after them was in pursuit. 

The Wellington Street Viaduct looking
west towards Hintonburg

"Apparently they recognized me, as the trail led out Albert Street to Wellington and over the viaduct to the West End. On the Wellington street viaduct one of them apparently riding in the rear seat lowered a rear side window and fired three shots at us from a heavy caliber revolver. He did not show himself and was apparently not taking particular aim at us. None of the slugs struck our car but they sure did scream past our heads. I was afraid to take a chance at firing at them on account of there being so many people about on the street."

Nigra had slipped from the passenger seat to the back seat, and just as the cars came down the bridge toward Somerset (on what is today the east end of Wellington Street, just before Somerset Square), Nigra coolly leaned out from the rear seat and opened fire on the cab.

"He aimed directly at me. He wasn't trying for the tires" said Kedey.

The speeds of the vehicles picked up and while the gunman fired three shots at the taxi, while both cars were travelling at 60-70 mph entering Hintonburg. One bullet struck the upright post supporting the windshield at the right side of the taxi.

Then, as the taxi dropped behind, Nigra nonchalantly fired point-blank through the plate glass of the rear window of the car, shattering the rear window. (Glass sprayed in all directions, and was later found throughout the interior of the car, indicating it flew inwards after the shot was fired. Incredibly, Nigra escaped any facial injury.) 

The first bullet Nigra fired through the now open rare window struck the right front tire of the pursuing cab, putting it out of action. The taxi skidded, but was kept in control by Short, who brought it to a safe halt on Wellington between Garland and Irving. 

"We kept up the chase, and then almost out on Wellington street, almost in front of St. Francis church, the one in the back of the car framed himself in the rear window, took steady aim and fired two shots through the glass which found a mark in one of the front tires of our car. There we had to give up the chase. With Constable Earl Connolly from No. 2 station located almost opposite where we had to stop" reported Kedey.

While Kedey quickly conferred with Connolly, William Short, obtained another car from a Hintonburg taxi stand, likely the Capital Taxi at 1005 Wellington Street West (now an empty lot in between Ministry of Coffee and TacoLot), and the group headed west to try to catch up to the stolen car.

"I secured another car and started on again but the fugitives' car had disappeared. We drove as far west as Britannia where we met two provincial traffic officers who had not seen the car pass there", stated Kedey later that afternoon.

The trail was cold for Kedey and Connolly, who checked in a garage in Britannia where police headquarters had already called ahead to let him know that the chase had taken a different direction...

Sunday afternoon, 5:40 p.m.

Constable Edwin "Ted" Tutin was no ordinary member of the RCMP in 1934. He was just 34 years old at the time, but had lived an incredible life to that point. He enlisted as a teenager for WWI and won the Military Medal for gallantry at Passchendaele while serving with the 2nd Battalion. He joined the RCMP upon returning to Canada as an 18-year old, and spent his twenties working for the RCMP all over Canada, including in the Eastern Arctic. In 1928, he nearly qualified for the Olympics, losing to Canadian boxing legend Honore Chevrier in the semi-finals of the welterweight championships.

On that summer day in 1934, Tutin was a traffic officer with the RCMP "A" division, and on duty on his motorcycle that afternoon.

He was riding south on Island Park Drive towards Richmond Road when he noticed a speeding car.

"I first noticed the car as it swung off the Richmond Road onto the Island Park Driveway and while I was going the opposite way. I cut over to the middle of the road and signalled them in to the curb but the driver swung away from me and stepped hard on the gas. He put on speed and passed me like the wind", detailed Tutin to the press.

"As soon as I could turn my machine I took after the car and owing to the turns in the road caught up to them just at the CPR tracks (today's Transitway). It was here that the one in the back seat fired the first two shots at me and it was probably due to the fact that the car was going over the tracks that his shots missed."

"I was trying to cut the men off and had not even thought of using my revolver but that showed that they meant business and after that I had no hesitation in using my gun. I was travelling alongside the left rear wheel of their car and the one in the back had calmly lowered the left back window, aimed the revolver on top of the glass and fired."

"He fired three shots, at least. One bullet passed through my tunic, as you can see", said Tutin.

Nigra was firing bullets at Tutin just as he had Kedey. All while travelling down Island Park Drive at 60 to 70 miles per hour.

"Before I could get my gun in action he fired twice more at me but both shots evidently went wide as I did not even hear them. We were travelling about 60 to 70 miles per hour and as the gasoline control is on the right handlebar I was forced to let go of this to get my revolver. My only thought was to stop the car and I could not do this by firing back at the man in the rear seat so I fired one shot at the left tire which all this time was just a few feet in front of me and to my right. My shot hit the (left rear) mudguard and I slowed down to be out of the road in case the car swerved into a skid."

"The car kept on going and as I started to draw up with it again the driver then turned at high speed to the east into Pontiac Street where it kicked up such a cloud of dust I could not see it", described Tutin.

In desperation, Maynard Richardson had made a desperate turn off Island Park onto Pontiac Street, which at the time was not a paved street but just a thin dusty lane into the sparse cottage community of Champlain Park (then known as Riverside Park). 

"I could not slow up in time and went past them and cut up over the curb and grass to get to this road. They stopped the car and took to the bush fringing the road and as I skidded in behind them they disappeared. I stayed with the car only long enough to get the keys so that they couldn't double back and take it again and then plunged in to the bush after them but they had about 300 yards start and I couldn't see them through the foliage" said Tutin.

"In the dust the men made their getaway. I found the car abandoned near Cowley Avenue, Ottawa West. I thought the men had fled into the bush there, and I went to a house nearby and telephoned to city police to send out a posse."

The police station had already begun to receive a flood of phone calls from excited Island Park Drive and Champlain Park residents relaying information about the chase and shooting.

Sergeant Fox (the same officer who had backed up Kedey when he returned to the house on Queen Street that kicked off the whole chase) arrived in Champlain Park and led a massive search through the trees and bush of Champlain Park and Tunney's Pasture from the CPR tracks (Transitway) north to the River, and as far east as Parkdale Avenue. 

"Spreading out in a line, the police covered the section thoroughly, keeping up the search until they were satisfied no one was in hiding", reported the Citizen.

The culprits had gotten away once again.

"After I had called the police station for additional men to search the bush I drove the car down to the police station and then went back out with some of the prowler men but the men had not been found and it was decided that they had made good their escape for the time being", reported Tutin at the time.

Tutin then spent quite some time that evening recounting the chase and his miraculous escape.

"Well, you know the old saying: 'A miss is as good as mile'", was the "smiling way" that Constable Tutin described his escape. "One of the three shots that they fired at me cut across my left tunic pocked and through the sleeve of my coat just burning the skin of my upper arm."

In fact the Constable was saved by his pocket-book. Tutin carried a small book in the left breast pocket of his tunic, which was believed to have saved his life. 

"One bullet fired through the glass of the rear window of the car struck the Constable's pocket-book and grazed between his side and his arm as it was directed away from his heart by the pocket-book", reported the Journal.

Photograph of Tutin
Ottawa Citizen, August 13, 1934.
Making the story all the more incredible, Tutin also told the Journal that he will forever believe in the luck of the four-leaf clover. Just before his chase of the boys, a woman in a car with U.S. plates had stopped and given him a four-leaf clover which she had picked a short time earlier. Tutin accepted the clover, thanked her, and placed it inside the notebook in his breast pocket. 

Ottawa Journal. August 16, 1934

Tutin was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal shortly after the Island Park Drive shootout. He would later go on to fight for Canada in WWII as well, attaining the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major of the Provost Company of the RCMP. He was on duty in Great Britain from December 1939 until September 1942, helping police the suburbs of London. He later lived in California in the 1950s, and died in Ottawa in 1976.

Sunday evening

After the chase, Detective Kedey returned to 90 Queen Street, the rooming house where the race with the teens began, and took James Crawford Jr. into custody as a material witness.  

Overnight, city, county, provincial and RCMP forces united in the massive local manhunt to find the two teens on the run.

The Packard was thoroughly investigated at the city police station. Inspector Culver called in the RCMP finger print bureau to pull prints from the car doors. Sergt. H.R. Butchers and Cpl. R.L. Giroulx of the RCMP came and took photographs of the finger prints on the car in several places. These were to be compared to the thousands the RCMP had on file to show whether they had ever been fingerprinted before. One of the empty shells from the revolver was also found in the car and was looked at for clues.

Detectives also looked at prints taken from the drug store - from a bottle, and from porcelain slabs used by chemists, on which one of the men may have left a print.

The police also spoke again with William Orr, Senator Murphy's chauffeur, who had a look at the Packard following the chase, and stated that whoever was driving the car knew something about it, as the ride control, which when pushed in keeps the car from swaying on the turns at high speeds was pushed in all the way. Orr claimed that when he left it outside his house Saturday afternoon, it was half out, as he did not use that feature within the City. Orr also added that Saturday was the first time he ever remembered leaving the keys in the car. 

Monday morning, August 14, 4 a.m.

After being held all night for questioning, James A. Crawford Jr. was released at 4 a.m., as police were apparently satisfied he did not know how the car had been parked in his yard. His wife Jeannette was questioned at some point also, though it is unclear if she was brought to the station as well, or just questioned at home. It seems unlikely that the Crawfords had no involvement in helping the boys, or at least weren't covering for them in some small way, but no charges were ever brought up against them.

Monday morning, August 14, 6 a.m.

Just before dawn on Monday morning, Daniel Nigra and Maynard Richardson were arrested and taken into custody from their homes. 

None of the press stories unfortunately reveal how the police discovered the identities of the culprits. Perhaps Crawford gave them up in return for his release? That's one possible explanation at least. Whatever the case, officers Leonard S. Green, Jean Tissot and Borden Hobbs made the arrests at the youth's homes.

They arrived on Frank Street and arrested Nigra first. But it was not without incident.

When the police entered the bedroom of Daniel Nigra, they found him holding a fully loaded .38 Ivor Johnson revolver in his hand, underneath his chin, apparently ready to commit suicide. One of the officers shouted at him "Don't do that!", urging him not to pull the trigger. While Nigra was temporarily distracted, the other officers rushed to the side of the bed, disarmed him and overpowered him. 

They searched his room and found additional ammunition for the revolver. They also found a "considerable number of magazines and papers dealing with crime." In particular, they found a series of magazines and books glorifying John Dillinger.

Magazine of the era immortalizing the
exploits of John Dillinger

The police then headed to Chapel Street to Richardson's family home, and when they arrested Richardson, they discovered that he too had been sleeping with a pistol under his pillow.

They found him in possession of a long-barreled .455 Smith and Wesson revolver and a .303 magazine Lee Enfield rifle, the property of the Department of National Defence, also fully loaded. 

Richardson claimed the rifle belonged to Nigra, who had obtained it on loan from No. 4 Machine Gun Battalion of which he was a member. The .Smith and Wesson revolver was believed to the gun that was fired at police and RCMP. In the gun were three cartridges and in the boy's possession was another three.

Police also found a total of $10.30 in coins on the two kids (believed to be part of the money stolen from the cash register at Blair's Drug Store). 

Upon being taken into custody, both kids admitted to their roles in the stolen car, robbery and shooting spree. 

Since everything occurred starting Saturday afternoon, it was not until Monday morning that the news could break across the city, as there were no Sunday newspapers at the time. Naturally it was front page, lead headline news, and remained so for several days, and remained as a top news story as the case went through the court.

Ottawa Citizen, August 13, 1934

Monday afternoon, August 14

The evening editions of the newspaper of course were able to run all the updates from Monday morning, and included details about the boys, and brief interview bits with their families and other witnesses.

The parents of both boys stated they were unaware of any of their actions and were stunned when the boys were arrested. 

Dominique Nigra, Daniel's father, in an interview with the Citizen blamed the supplier of the guns. He said the "whole trouble was that his son had got in with a tough crowd."

"The man who supplies guns to young buys like that ought to be in jail", said Dominique. "We have a fairly good idea who supplied the guns to the boys but we cannot say anything definite just now. Naturally we didn't expect our boy to get into any trouble like this." 

Only a few paragraphs of interview was published (perhaps it was only a short interview that was allowed), and the only other point covered was that Mr. Nigra explained that his son had been going to school regularly.

The Richardson family did not provide any specific quotes, or at least none were published.

The Crawford family meanwhile had a lot more to say to the media, and gave them plenty to write about. 

James Crawford Jr. loudly criticized the police to the press. He alleged that tactics were used to try to gather information from his pregnant wife Jeannette, which caused her great stress. She then apparently spent Monday confined to bed in a highly nervous condition, due to the "severe cross-examination of the police". Crawford said that even though the officers knew of her condition, they "nevertheless insisted on questioning her at length, one officer in particular showing no attempt to make allowances for his wife's state of health." 

James Jr. admitted he knew one of the boys, but claimed he knew nothing of their activities prior to or following the hold-up. Completely contradicting his previous statements to police, he in fact told the media he had seen a car in their possession but had told them he wanted nothing to do with them or their car and had told them that they had better take it out of the yard. Otherwise, he admitted he had gone to school with one of them, but was not able to give police any more information.

Rose Crawford, James Jr.'s mom who also resided at 90 Queen Street, told the press it was "not an unusual thing" for her to wake up in the morning and find a strange car parked at the rear of the house. 

"My boy has always been a good boy", declared Mrs. Crawford, "giving her son a proud glance" (wrote the Citizen) as she spoke to the reporter, "and has never been connected with anything like this. He is the baby of the family and has never given us the least bit of trouble."

Meanwhile, Inspector Culver of the police had spent the day closely looking at the evidence of the case, and told the newspaper that when Nigra took the initial shots so close to the glass of the rear window of the car that when it was discharged it became bulged. "It is a wonder that the gun did not explode in his hand", said Culver.

Tuesday morning, August 15, 10 a.m.

The two teens, described as appearing "nervous, pale and shaky" rose in court on Tuesday morning, hearing charges normally reserved for career criminals, not Lisgar Collegiate students.

Richardson's hearing was first up, and was conducted in private by Judge McKinley in the juvenile branch of family court. Richardson was charged only with the theft of the car and the robbery from the drug store, as he was only driving the car, not doing any of the shooting. Of course they could have charged him with speeding, dangerous driving, evading police, etc. but oddly they did not! 

His case was remanded until the following Monday afternoon (Aug 20) without a plea, and without representation by counsel. The Judge was to consult with the crown attorney J.A. Ritchie, KC, whether to transfer him to magistrate's court. The holdup was over apparent uncertainty about his age. Richardson claimed he was 15 years old (and he was), but there was a lot of doubt over that at the time. Court officials wanted time to investigate, and thus it would have affected whether he would be considered as a juvenile under 16, or tried in adult court. If it was true he was 15, publication of his name would ordinarily be banned, but the Judge allowed it, not only because there was (incorrect) belief he was older than that, but since his name had already been well publicized, they might as well let it go.

Richardson was ordered to be held in Carleton County jail with Nigra, rather than the Detention Home where a youth normally would be held, owing to the seriousness of his charges.

Nigra's hearing came a little later that morning, in City Magistrate's (adult) Court, before Magistrate Glenn E. Strike. Nigra was charged with the theft of the car, the armed robbery, and firing at police with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Carleton County courthouse - view from 1946
(though it likely hadn't changed much from 1934)
(City of Ottawa Archives - CA-026103)

Nigra was represented by his lawyer Clarence Gibson, and wore the same blue suit he wore during the robbery of the drug store, with a green sweater. 

The courtroom was packed with the general public, with great interest in the case. Long before 10 a.m., all the benches were filled and no one else was admitted. Many stood in the corridors outside in the hope of catching a glimpse of the boys. Even afterwards, groups of curious onlookers stood near police headquarters in Confederation Park for over an hour. 

"He (Nigra) shifted uneasily, fingered the front railing of the prisoners' dock, and glanced nervously at Mr. Gibson when he was asked to elect on the first charge, that of theft of the automobile", reported the Citizen.

At first, Nigra pleaded guilty and asked for trial by judge on the theft of the car. 

When the second charge of robbery was read, his lawyer interrupted his response and stated "We would like to defer our plea on this charge, and we would like to withdraw that plea of guilty to the first charge, with your permission, and not offer any pleas today."  Judge Strike allowed it. 

Nigra had a fourth charge against him in Carleton County court, as shooting at the RCMP officer took place outside the city limits (at the time Island Park Drive was in Nepean Township, as the City of Ottawa ended at Western Avenue). Nigra was charged with "shooting with intent to prevent lawful apprehension". His first appearance was scheduled in county court on Thursday afternoon (August 16th), but just like for his first three charges, there would be multiple delays and postponements.

Monday August 27th

By August 20th, court officials were still looking for proof of Maynard Richardson's age, and his case was put off another week. 

Finally on Monday August 27, the 15-year old Richardson quietly pleaded guilty at Juvenile court and was sentenced to attend the Industrial School at Mimico, Quebec by Judge McKinley, where he would be required to stay until he was 21 years old. 

Wednesday August 29th

On August 29th, two other Ottawa youths were sentenced for car thefts, bringing the total number of cars stolen by teens in Ottawa in 1934 to well over 200 already. The police told the press that the cars were being stole largely taken joyrides, "taking girl companions with them in many instances", wrote the Journal. 

The Judge in the case of the two youths sentenced this day stated that many warnings have been given about leaving keys in the ignition, but the warnings have been largely ignored. The subject was enough to be one of the top front page headlines of the Journal that day.

Front page headline about the problem of youths stealing
cars. Ottawa Journal, August 29, 1934

Thursday August 30th, afternoon

Daniel Nigra finally had his first day in court, after nearly a dozen delays and postponements. The case nearly went ahead the day prior, but at the last minute, the prosecution requested another day's delay owing to the absence of a key witness. Nigra's mother was in the courtroom, along with a large number of witnesses ready for the case to go ahead, but it was pushed the extra day.

On Thursday afternoon, Nigra sat in front of  Magistrate Strike, as many witnesses such as William Blair, Norman Smith, Stewart McKay, Detective Joe Kedey, Constable Tutin, and arresting officer Leonard Green gave their testimony.

Following this, Magistrate Strike formally committed Nigra for trial. Nigra's lawyer requested a change to their original choice to have a judge trial, and instead to have a trial by jury, but the request must not have been accepted.  

Nigra had no comment when asked by the magistrate for comment. "He made an attempt to appear unconcerned when the formal committal was being read to him", wrote the Citizen, "but his hands twitched nervously and he shifted from one foot to the other."

By this time, it was also revealed that investigators had discovered that the two revolvers used by the boys were stolen from the house of a friend, Alexis Pearson, whom the boys visited. Pearson had a large collection of revolvers and pistols, and the guns weren't missed until the police made an enquiry. At the time, permits were not required to keep the revolver in a home, but it was illegal to sell, receive or give away a revolver without a permit. They believed Nigra had obtained the ammunition from his Battalion. The police decided they would not lay charges for the theft of the weapons, in light of the more serious charges facing the kids.

Friday September 21st, 1934

Daniel Nigra appeared before Judge E. J. Daly in County Judges' Criminal Court. 

Nigra's lawyer Clarence Gibson spoke on behalf of Nigra, and stated his client was but a mere youth, but he did not intend to present the usual plea for leniency. He mentioned that Nigra had attended Lisgar Collegiate Institute until last June, when he had joined a machine gun unit of the Canadian militia. 

He made summary explanations of how it all happened. "The escapade was the result of a lot of loose talk", said Gibson, "and had most likely been caused by reading 'trash' literature." 

He stated that on the night of the robbery, Nigra had no definite plan of action. It had been a wild adventure and now his client found himself in a serious predicament. It had been too easy to gain access to firearms and this, together with the bad literature, had caused his downfall. He added that Nigra wanted to express his appreciation of the fine treatment accorded him by authorities since his arrest. 

The session was brief. Nigra pled guilty to all four of his charges, and was remanded until September 27th for sentencing.

"This is the most important case I have had to deal with in the past six years and I will have to give the matter very serious consideration. I am not prepared to impose sentence today", the Judge declared. He also noted that he had no power to change the minimum sentence for auto theft, which was one year, and that the maximum penalties for the other three charges were life imprisonment. His was a serious responsibility and he wanted time to consider the case.

The Judge also commented that it was altogether too easy for people to obtain firearms, and it was also unfortunate that drivers left keys in motorcars even for short periods. 

It was also surprising to him to learn that literature such as the life story of the desperado John Dillinger should be printed in Canadian magazines. 

Thursday September 27th, 1934, afternoon

A crowd gathered in Judge Daly's courtroom to hear Daniel Nigra's sentencing. 

Nigra was given a one-year sentence for the theft of Senator Murphy's car, and then 10 years each for the other three charges (the robbery, and firing at city police and the RCMP to avoid apprehension). The sentences were all to be served concurrently, meaning Nigra was to spend ten years in jail, at Kingston Penitentiary. 

Judge Daly's full statement was as follows:

"For stealing an automobile the minimum penalty is one year's imprisonment. For each of the other offences you are liable to imprisonment for life. If you were an older man it is quite possible that you would receive the latter penalty. You are very lucky that you are not being tried for murder, in which case the penalty would be hanging. Had you shot and killed either of the officers named, you would have had no defence to a murder charge and you would have ended your career on the gallows. You came within an ace of killing Officer Tutin. The bullet which you fired passed through the left breast of his tunic and his coat sleeve, indicating that if this bullet had passed an inch or two to the right, it would very likely have pierced his heart."

"You are a dangerous criminal, too dangerous to be at large. People's lives are not safe while you have your freedom, and consequently as a punishment for yourself, as a warning to others who may think of entering on a life of crime as you have done, and as a protection to citizens generally, you must receive a severe sentence. You have a good education, having up to June last been a student at the Collegiate Institute here, and some time ago having been a student at a high school in Montreal. But you evidently intended to embark on a life of crime. You devoted a great deal of your time to reading and studying the lives of desperate criminals. Among the latest books you have been reading is a magazine describing the life and many crimes committed by the American desperado John Dillinger, who recently in the United States was shot to death by officers, after a life during which he committed a great many crimes including murders."

"You evidently thought this man a hero, and started out to mould your career after his. Well, I may tell you, and all others who may be similarly inclined, that this country has no room for desperadoes of the type of Dillinger and the courts here must, and will, deal most severely with criminals of his type, in order that the lives of its citizens will not be in danger."

"I am going to impose a severe sentence on you in the hope that during your incarceration you will see the error of your ways and change your method of living, that you may learn a trade which may be useful to you in after life, and that when you are liberated you will return to society and endeavour to lead an honest and upright life. If your conduct is exemplary during your confinement it is quite possible that on representations to the proper authorities, the length of your sentence may be reduced, but that depends entirely on yourself."

"My hope is that you will show by your conduct that you seriously desire to change your life and that when you do get your freedom you will be a real man and a good member of society." The judge also noted if he were an adult, he would likely have imposed the full penalty, which was life imprisonment. 

Crown Attorney J.A. Ritchie made a statement as well: "His acts were extremely foolish and we know that at this moment he might easily be on trial for murder. If later on the authorities are satisfied, and he gives some evidence that he may be safely set at large, the clemency of the crown may be extended at any time. I can only say that unpleasant as it is, your Honour is only doing his unpleasant duty and I have had to do mine."

Nigra showed little emotion while listening to the words of the court, and when asked if he had anything to say simply stated "No, thank you, Your Honour". After sentencing, Nigra was taken from the courtroom handcuffed to a guard. He stopped briefly to shake hands with his lawyer, remaining unemotional except for a constant biting of his lips. 

The Citizen reported that it appeared the public was unaware that sentencing would be occurring that day, as the usual crowd of spectators was small, and the few that were in attendance apparently expressed surprise at the severity of the sentence.

Front page lead headline of the Ottawa Journal
September 27, 1934

Thursday September 27th, 1934, 7 p.m.

Later that evening, at 7:00 p.m. 20-year old Alexis Pearson of 185 Bell Street was arrested based on the statements made by Nigra and Richardson in court about Pearson's involvement. 

Pearson was a platoon-mate of Nigra in No. 2 Company, 4th Machine Gun Battalion of the Non-Permanent Active Militia in the Ottawa Garrison, where he held the rank of Corporal.

Apparently Pearson was to be a third party in the robbery of the drug store, but after the other two had stolen Senator Murphy's car, he got cold feet and backed out of the robbery.

Federal police at the time of arrest also conducted a raid on his home at 185 Bell Street, which led to the charges of Pearson unlawfully possessing 270 rounds of cartridge small arms ball, .303 mark V11, 96 chargers and 7 cotton bandoliers to a total value of $22.20. 

Friday September 28th

Pearson appeared in court, charged with providing the revolvers used by Richardson and Nigra in the robbery and car chase. Pearson asked for a week's adjournment, which was granted, with bail set at $25. 

Meanwhile, that same morning, the Nigra family was reeling, apparently shocked at the sentence handed down to their son. Mrs. Mary Nigra, Daniel's mother, made a short statement, asking the public if it considered the sentence a fair one to pass on a boy 16 years of age and if it thinks it will make a man of the boy. She said she was afraid her boy will come out of the penitentiary on the completion of his sentence with vengeance in his heart.

Wednesday October 24th

Finally, the final piece of the case came to an end when Alexis Pearson was fined $10 plus $2 costs for possessing ammunition, all taken from his platoon, and thus the property of the federal government. "Some people have a curious conception that it is not stealing to take goods belonging to the government, either the municipal or federal" said Judge Strike.

Pearson explained that the cartridges were taken for extra practice at the ranges as target shooting was his hobby.

Capt. Eric Marsden of the 4th Machine Gun Battalion spoke on Pearson's behalf, and called Pearson the "best shot that ever was in the battalion and one of the best boys in the company". The judge also acknowledged that Pearson's clear record and good character were to his credit. 

Pearson certainly made one of the best decisions in his life when he stayed out of Nigra and Richardson's plan. Later that year, Pearson was awarded a silver spoon for shooting at the Machine Gunner's annual dinner. 


On August 3rd, 1940, there was a knock at the door of 376 Frank Street, the home of Dominique and Mary Nigra. Every parent's worst nightmare, particularly during war time, came true. Their son Daniel was dead at the age of 20. His parents were given no cause of death at the time, only that he had passed a week earlier, on July 27th. A copy of that sad letter can be found as part of the WWII archives held at LAC.

Letter to Daniel Nigra's parents (source: LAC)

Though the media had not covered it at the time, Daniel Nigra had been released from his ten year prison term significantly early, having served less than half of his sentence. He may have been released in order to enter WWII, which he did, enlisting with the Royal Canadian Engineers on September 8th, 1939. He became a member of the 3rd Field Company. His enlistment papers listed him as being 5' 6 1/2", 131 1/2 pounds, with a ruddy complexion, a tattoo on his wrist and a few teeth missing. 

Nigra went to England from Halifax in December of 1939, and was in training in Surrey when he died. Sadly, the Court of Inquiry report in Nigra's war file indicate his death was likely suicide, though some uncertainty as to whether the self-inflicted wound was intentional or not, left open the possibility that it may have been an accident. Thus National Defence officially would call his death "accidental". Daniel's parents finally obtained this information three weeks after receiving the initial word of his death.

A tragic ending to a promising life that went sideways fast.

A photograph of Nigra's fresh grave at a Cemetery in England can be found in his war file:

Source: LAC

Oddly, the only photo of Nigra that I could find in any newspaper, either through the 1934 crime spree, or regarding his death in 1940, was published in the Toronto Star. He is shown in the middle below:

Toronto Star - August 1940

Sadly, Alexis Pearson lost his life during WWII as well, killed on active service fighting for the RCAF in August of 1942. He had attained the rank of Sgt. Air Gunner when he died shot down over the London area while engaging the enemy. 

Maynard Richardson meanwhile fought in WWII also, as a member of the RCAF, but returned home and lived a full life here in Ottawa. He married in November of 1940, and went on to have four children, and a long career with the Department of Public Works. He passed away in 1988 at the age of 69. 

William Blair the druggist passed away in 1950, and the building at the corner of Bronson and Findlay which housed his drug store in the 1930s was torn down in 1959 to make way for the expansion of Bronson Avenue south, and the construction of the new $1.9M bridge over the Canal. I could not find any photo of the building during its existence for this story.


  1. That is a great story, thanks for the research and posting it. As a Packard owner I found it fascinating. That car would have really stood out, brand new and during the depression.

  2. Thank you Mr.Alliston for an engaging story of how life unfolded in Ottawa . My father would have lived in lowertown at that time as a young boy ( DOB 1928 )and would have heard of the escapades of such young men . Great work of writing , enjoyed every word .

  3. Very interesting story!

  4. I found it interesting that from the day of the crime to sentencing there was only a period of weeks. Today the courts would require months, if not a year, to sentence persons committing a similar crime

  5. Thanks for a great story.

  6. As always, extremely thorough investigation Dave. Ottawa residents are fortunate to have you sharing some very interesting history. - jenh