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POSTCARD MEMORIES: Returning to the scene of the crime

Trial for members of Boyd Gang who robbed Bradford bank drew a crowd

The robbery of the Bradford CIBC branch (located on the northwest corner of Simcoe Road and Holland Street) by the infamous Boyd Gang on July 26, 1951, is well known.

Less well known is the day when gang members Lennie Jackson and Frank Watson returned to the scene of the crime.

On Aug. 21, just a few days after being arrested by Toronto Det. Eddie Tong, Jackson and Watson returned to Bradford in handcuffs and escorted by heavily armed police officers for a preliminary hearing at the Bradford Courthouse. A large crowd of curious onlookers lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the larger-than-life bank robbers as they were quickly hustled up the steps and through the front doors. As many as possible then packed the courtroom to witness the proceedings ruled over by Judge G.R. Foster.

Crown attorney W.M. Thompson called a half-dozen witnesses, including bank teller June Catania and OPP Const. Reg Wilson, who exchanged gunfire with the robbers as they fled the bank.

He began the proceedings by putting an exhibit before Judge Foster: two bundles of bills totalling $1,500 recovered during the arrests of Jackson and Watson. Catania positively identified several bills from both bundles through pencilled numbers she had made on the day of the robbery. This physical evidence linked both men to the Bradford crime.

The star witness, of course, was Const. Wilson. He was one of the few people who had seen the men without masks in the moments leading up to the robbery, and positively identified the pair. Defence lawyer Norman Borins tried to discredit Wilson’s critical testimony. He asked the officer if any of his shots had hit the robbers during the shootout. “I don’t think so, but I sure tried to,” Wilson replied.

Borins already knew the wound over Jackson’s eye had occurred in the tussle with Tong, but he tried to bait Wilson by asking whether one of his shots could have caused the wound. If the officer replied in the affirmative, it might cast doubt on the entirety of the officer’s testimony.

“I don’t know if one of my shots could have caused the injury,” Wilson responded. “But I was sure aiming there.” There was a smattering of quiet laughter from the spectators.

Borins tried hard to discredit Wilson’s testimony, but Judge Foster was having none of it. The evidence against the accused was substantial and compelling. He ordered both men to stand trial and had little doubt both would be spending many years behind bars after being found guilty.

The rest is history: The breakout from the Don Jail with Edwin Alonzo Boyd, the crime spree and manhunt, a second escape and manhunt, and, ultimately, the hanging of Jackson and Steve Suchan for the murder of Tong.