In my new novel, Shirts and Skins, there is a lot of talk among characters about a notorious woman named Evelyn Dick. And since its publication, the question that I am asked most often is: “was that Evelyn Dick woman real?”
First of all, let me say that I will explain the title of this blog, How Could You, Mrs. Dick, a little later.
I will start the story on a Saturday morning in March, 1946 in Hamilton, Ontario. A group of children found what they thought was the body of a pig on the side of the Hamilton escarpment. Upon further investigation they discovered that it was actually a man – well, part of a man.
Its head, arms and legs were missing.
The torso looked as if someone had attempted to further cut in through the middle but ultimately gave up. The children ran up the escarpment and stopped a passing car. The police took the torso for examination and finally determined it was the body of a man who had been reported missing ten days earlier, John Dick, a conductor on one of the streetcars in Hamilton.
Eventually the police would show up on the doorstep of the house that John shared with his wife (of only a few months), Evelyn, on Carrick Avenue. After being told that the torso found was indeed her missing husband, Evelyn responded, “Don’t look at me. I don’t know anything about it.”
Never a good response.
Eventually she told the police that an “Italian hitman kinda guy” had come looking for John before he disappeared. The man, Evelyn said, had told her he was going to “fix” him for messing around with his wife.
A few days later, police discovered that Evelyn borrowed a Packard car from a man named Bill Landeg. When Landeg received the car back, the front seat was covered in blood, the seat covers were missing and, somehow, bloody clothing had found its way into the backseat. Being ever the courteous lady, Evelyn left a note for Landeg explaining the mess. She said that her daughter had cut herself and made the mess. Investigation proved the blood to be the same type as John Dick’s. Evelyn’s story became more convoluted as time passed. At one point she said she was forced to drive the car with the remains of John to the dumping site by a man whose wife John had impregnated. Later, Evelyn changed her story again and signed a second statement fingering the involvement of Italian killers, hired by Bill Bohozuk.
Now, if you can believe it, the story gets even more gruesome.
When the police finally got around to searching the Dick’s home on Carrick Avenue they made a terrible discovery. They opened a beige suitcase in an attic trunk and found it filled with concrete. Hanging out of the cement was a bit of blue cloth – it was a piece of baby clothes. When the cement was chipped away they found the remains of a baby boy.
At this point Evelyn Dick told yet another story.
Now she said that Bill Bohozuk had murdered the baby boy and John Dick as well. Incriminating evidence such as bullet holes in a pipe, a revolver and cartridges, saws and bloodstained shoes that were almost certainly John Dick’s were found in Donald MacLean’s (Evelyn’s father) basement -not to mention the human bones discovered in the furnace. Evelyn Dick, Bill Bohozuk and Donald MacClean were charged with the murder of John Dick.
In her first trial, Evelyn Dick was found guilty of John Dick’s murder and sentenced to death by hanging.
When the case was heard on appeal, Evelyn was defended by one of the best defense lawyers in Canada, J.J. Robinette and the the verdict was overturned because, the Judge ruled, Evelyn’s statements to police were improperly admitted into evidence. Bohozuk would go free because Evelyn Dick, the only witness prosecutors had, refused to testify. Evelyn’s father, Donald MacClean, was found to be guilty as an accessory after the fact and sentenced to five years in prison.
But Evelyn did not go free. She was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of her infant son and was sentenced to life in Kingston Penitentiary. In 1958 Evelyn Dick was paroled.
She changed her name and was never seen again.
Ah yes, now back to the title of this blog, How Could You, Mrs Dick. Well, at the time, a well-known school yard song around Hamilton went as follows:
You cut off his legs…
You cut off his arms…
You cut off his head…
How could you Mrs Dick?
Jeffrey, The Gay Groom