Monday, June 23, 2008

The Last To Die

Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada
by Robert J. Hoshowsky
Dundurn Press, 2007

Written by one of my former high school classmates, this book was nominated for the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award in the Best True Crime category this year. It lost out to Julian Sher's book, One Child at a Time: The Global Fight to Rescue Children from Online Predators, but there is no shame in that - Sher is a well-known Canadian writer, with several true crime titles under his belt. Though widely published in magazines and newspapers, this is Hoshowsky's first book, but undoubtedly not his last.

Accused of killing a Toronto police officer, Ronald Turpin was a small time hood not given to violence or the use of guns. There is no doubt cast on his guilt - he was caught trying to escape the scene of the crime - but there are questions about what exactly transpired between the two men and whether Turpin might have been convicted of a lesser crime that spared him the noose.

The conviction of Arthur Lucas, for the murder of a pimp and his prostitute, is even more questionable. All of the evidence against him was circumstantial, and while he was found to have a very low IQ, the crime had all the marks of a professional assassination, performed by someone more capable than he of carrying out a methodical, planned execution.

Hoshowsky has done an admirable job of scouring primary and secondary materials, interviewing along the way a number of people connected with the two cases. He paints a vivid picture of both men and the crimes they are alleged to have committed. We never really know where Hoshowsky stands on the issue of capital punishment, but even the reader most compelled towards the death penalty must find some sympathy for Turpin and Lucas, who had the worst of beginnings in life and then made the worst of choices.

Occasionally repetitive, I was nonetheless impressed with the work, which taught me much that I hadn't previously known about capital punishment in Canada - particularly with respect to the last two hangings, which took place on December 11, 1962. I was also impressed by the fact that the foreword was written by Peter C. Newman. Way to go, Robert!

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