WHAT ABOUT THE ANCASTER TREASURER?
Here was one of the most cruel and senseless crimes of the times, the investigation of the murder by shooting of old Mr. Heslop, who though 80 years of age was still treasurer of the township of Ancaster in 1892. The trial packed the Hamilton court-room, so that men seemed to be crawling over each other's backs in an effort to reach a spot where they could see and hear. Three thugs crept into the house of old Mr. John Heslop, after midnight, evidently thinking that he had a lot of public money in his care. He was the sole defense of his house, though his tottering old wife followed to the head of the stair where he had taken his stand. When he denied that he had any money he was shot down and died immediately. All the robbers got was $45 from his private purse, though he had $23,000 of township funds in the bank.
The names of the perpetrators of this foul deed were, John Bartram, John Lottridge and an Indian named Goosey.
Much to the surprise of Judge Rose, who was on the bench, the jury brought in a verdict of Not Guilty.
Were some of the jury bribed? Whatever the reason the scoundrels went free and the trial ended in fruitless discussion, dissension and differences of opinion.
THE BARTON MURDER
Then there was that mysterious business called simply the Barton murder. On a warm afternoon a man and a woman took a walk to a pleasant grove about two miles south of the mountain brow. The jaunt ended on a farm not far from the Marshall lime kiln. In the woods the man shot the woman and buried her with leaves. Then he made a clean get-away. Not a single reliable clue turned up.
A neighbour who thought he had seen them vouched for the fact that the woman wore a red hat. The body was discovered by children out to inspect the hickory nut trees to see if their fruit was right for picking. Police were alerted: a doctor's inspection declared the woman to be pregnant. Neighbours followed police around and altogether the search was as thorough as human beings could be expected to make. No clues turned up. The excitement died down. So the mystery rests to this day. Justice proved herself stone blind.
HOW BLIND IS JUSTICE?
One of the most sensational murder mysteries ever enacted around Hamilton took place in the year 1830. It concerned two brothers, James and John Young, farmers in Barton township back over the mountain.
We have an old saying "Murder will out!" and another one that speaks of justice being blind. Hamiltonians would be inclined to going along with the second pronouncement, as about half of the murder cases in this district have been left with much evidence hanging in air, many doubts and suppositions, but no convictions.
The Young brothers had a hired man by name of Sheeler, a queer character with a criminal tendency. When Sheeler robbed their hen-roost the brothers brought action against him. Ever afterward the half-wit nursed a desire for revenge and planned it so effectively that it almost brought the brothers to the gallows.
The hired man disappeared from the Young farm suddenly and another chore-man was substituted. This second "help" disappeared suddenly after a quarrel with his bosses. Diligently Sheeler spread the rumour that he had been murdered. He pointed to a smouldering coal-pit, where, he declared, the charred remains of human bones had been found. The evidence seemed so satisfactory to the over-wrought neighbours that they were inclined to believe the story. An investigation was ordered but failed to clear up the mystery of the charred bones. Feeling ran so high that the Young brothers were placed under arrest. Sheeler, affecting fear of what they might do to him for telling, took refuge in the old jail for weeks, in order to have the protection of the authorities.
The public clamoured for the death sentence against the brothers, but Judge Hagerman, before whom the case was tried, determined to give the accused the benefit of the doubt. Doctors had disagreed about the bones and other evidence was circumstantial.
Finally he dismissed the case unsolved, but the brothers were so persecuted by gossip that they sold their farm and taking some money offered by friends, said they would go searching for the missing hired man, whom they believed to be alive. They gave up the fruitless search after a year and returned as near home as Buffalo, but feared to cross into Canada, for fear of what might happen if they were seen in their home town of Hamilton. One day as they walked in Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo, they came face to face with the supposedly murdered hired man. Their joy was great when he agreed to accompany them back to Hamilton. He was taken back to the Hon. John Wilson for identification.
Public reaction was instantaneous. They clamoured for the punishment of Sheeler. He was sentenced to the pillory and imprisonment. Because he was partially excused, as being "not all there" he escaped a more severe punishment. But he did know how it felt to have a halter about his neck and to endure the jibes of an over-wrought crowd.
This was probably the last use made of the pillory in Hamilton. This instrument of torture was destroyed with the old log jail. They stood at the corner of John
and Jackson streets.