MURDER AND OTHER CRIMES IN THE 20TH CENTURY
LECTURE 6: OCTOBER 12TH, 2012
TOPIC: THE CLARAFORD MURDER TRIAL
➔ The house that Lizzie Borden committed the murders in is still standing and is now a bed and
◦ Lizzie-wealthy, upper class → inconceivable to say she would commit a murder.
◦ Bad publicity brought to the town. The crime was dealt with in an informal manner →
community crime control (important).
➔ Vigilenteism and Lynching
◦ The Donnelly Family- Lucan, Ontario, 1880
▪ Ontario family of 5 (all murdered).
▪ Perpetrators never formally convicted.
▪ Complicated case – no convictions or confessions.
▪ Murders took place on the family farm.
▪ Alot of setters moved in years before 1880. Landlords would purchase the land as an
investment. Most of the settlers were Irish immigrants. Economic conditions in Ireland
at the time were terrible.
▪ The Irish Donnelly family moved because they wanted to improve the conditions in
which they lived in.
▪ Groups that moved Irish people to better situations in Ontario. Ireland → predominantly
Roman Catholic and was a colony of England. England → imported protestant families.
The two groups did not get along (Catholics versus Protestants) → open violence.
▪ Hostile social environment.
▪ Crops kept failing → disaster.
• 8 million people starved to death, two million fled the country.
• When they came to Ontario they brought their old world prejudices and
implemented them here through influence.
• No marriage between Catholics and Protestants and they did not hire each other to
work on their farms.
▪ Donnelly Family
• James and Joanna.
• Children: James Jr., William, John, Patrick, Michael, Robert, Thomas, Jenny.
▪ They were squatters → dishonourable but very common for those settling. Squatting on
someone else's land (status). The owner sold this land to a man name Pat Ferral who
was made they were squatting there so he fought against them. The Donnelly's argued
they had made improvements on the land (crops, fenced the land, trees) and the court
agreed and allowed them to have part of the land. The owner Pat Ferral was very angry.
▪ Identity → ethnic and religious based at this time.
• If you needed a barn built everyone would gather to help. Payment → return favor
when needed, lots of food and drinks.
• Ferral and Donnelly fought a lot. Donnelly swung at Ferral with a hand spike (like
an iron hook). • Donnelly in jail for manslaughter. NO parole at this time.
• Family continued farming but their reputation was bad.
• Family raised tension in the community when it came to politics and voting because
they always wanted the opposite of everyone else.
• To vote you had to stand on a platform in front of the entire community and say out
loud who you voted for → could be dangerous because everyone knew your opinion.
• Community against the Donnelly's → arson (barn burned in the night). Retaliation
→ protestant barn burned as well. Donnelly's did not want to leave.
• Catholic Church tried to help → priest retired and made sure his replacement was
Irish hoping it would do some good.
▪ Vigilance Committee
• Secret society that swore an oath to defend the neighborhood, be good to
each other → Donnelly's not invited.
• Used to keep order in the community (main focus was really the
• They harassed them.
▪ February 4 1880th
• Night → 40 men on horseback came up to the Donnelly farm at
midnight, woke up the family members and beat to death the parents
James and Joanna. They also killed the son Thomas. He had escaped
from the house so they chased after him and beat him with a shovel. Then
they beat to death the cousin Bridget who was also present.
• They set the farmhouse on fire.
• Rode back on horseback and set fire to John Donnelly's (child) farm. He
looked outside and saw.
• They murdered 5 members of the same family.
• Level of violence was shocking.
• Johnny O'Connor → witness (hid under a bed in the house). Heard and
saw it all and escaped just before the house was set on fire. He spoke and
identified the perpetrators.
• The community denied him. Denied the vigilance committee. If they
agreed it existed they exempted was they truly said.
• Murder Trial in London.
• No one would testify → silence, even though everyone knew.
• Jury was unable to reach a verdict. Jury called a mistrial and disagreed.
• This case was abandoned. The town knew who actively participated in
• More arson occurred after all this → therefore the Donnelly's were not
responsible for all the bad in the community.
• Murders → clear message.
• Touchy subject → people who live there now and who's ancestors were
involved will not speak of it.
• Shocking aspect of this case was ultimately the level of violence. The
idea of the community disciplining who they thought caused trouble or
who did not fit in → situation where the inhabitants approved of the actions (lawful behaviour).
• Strand of lawlessness of socially acceptable crime is evident.
▪ Social Crime → crimes and the criminals who commit them which may be
formally illegal but which the population sees as not so clear as to whether or
not it is normal.
• Example: pouching was illegal (capital crime). The rich were allowed to
hunt though. So it is a crime but there are exceptions in certain cases.
• Class differences affected this issue. The rich held onto their rights.
• Crime which everyone does but which is seen as just → social crime.
• Food riots → looting, greedy, exploitation (mobs did this). They would
pay for what they took and would leave a just price.
• Theft and arson is against the law and yet it was used against the
Donnelly's (legally wrong but not morally).
• Richard Maxwell Brown → social crime and social violence
▪ Vigilenteism Justice th
• Law is suppose to reflect the will of the people. 19 century
→ this is no longer the case.
• Reasons: too many criminals were receiving sentences that
were not reflective of the severity of the crime.
• Challenged the jury. These processes prolong the length of
time between committing the crime and punishment. Very
• Community felt that they should be allowed to be directly
▪ Vigilenteism → guardian of moral order.
• Their groups were a wide range of classes, located in small
communities and more predominately in the West (lots of
crime, weak orders of law).
• Hierarchy of dominant members.
• Became more aggressive and violent.
• Brown → identified 326 different vigilante movements (this is
a low count)
• How do they justify their actions?
• 1. Killers are to be killed.
• 2. Defending us from lawlessness.
• 3. People exercising their sovereignty.
• Elite in the community → people who pay taxes. Vigilenteism
• The movements were socially constructive. Support of the
majority of the population. Wanted to create a more stable
environment through their actions.
• Sees this in a positive manner.
▪ Richard White → social bandits → commit crime for a higher purpose.
• What separates these bandits from criminals