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Episode 16: Canada – The Hamilton Torso Murder

  • 1:17:34
  • April 11, 2022
  • Explicit Content
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This week, we’re going back in time to cover an old-timey case that also stands as one of the most sensationalized and talked about murder cases in Canadian history. On March 16, 1946, in Hamilton, Ontario, a group of kids saw what they believed was a dead animal lying on the side of the escarpment north of Albion Falls. As they approached, they realized it was far more gruesome… What they had found was the torso of an adult man.

The Torso Murder

This week we are going back in time and doing an old-timey case… It’s one of the most sensationalized and talked about murder cases in Canadian history.

Introduction / Crime

It was Saturday, March 16, 1946, in Hamilton, ON. A group of 5 children was playing in the woods north of Albion Falls. Laying partway down the side of the escarpment, they believed they saw a dead animal. As they approached it, they realized it was far more gruesome. What they saw wasn’t a dead pig like they originally thought… It was the torso of an adult man and there were 2 gunshot wounds that pierced the shirt it was shrouded in. The head, arms, and legs were missing and they were nowhere in sight. A deep wound in the abdomen told investigators that someone had tried, and failed, to cut the torso in half.

The remains were quickly identified as belonging to John Dick, a Russian immigrant, and conductor for the Hamilton Street Railway. A Pathologist named Dr. William Deadman later confirmed the identity through blood analysis.

John Dick’s cousin, Alexander Kammerer, had reported John missing on March 6th, 10 days prior, and he became worried when he heard reports of the torso being found. John had been living with Alexander since John’s brief marriage to a woman named Evelyn had failed. Naturally, police wanted to speak with Evelyn, because they suspected she participated in or knew about the murder of her missing and estranged husband.

John Dick

John Dick was a Gemini, born May 25, 1906, in Halbstadt, Russia. A German-speaking Mennonite community in the Czech Republic.

He arrived in the Vineland-Beamsville area of Ontario in 1924 with his parents and they were one of many families fleeing the Russian Revolution.

In the 1940s, John moved to Hamilton for work and in June 1943, he landed a job with the HSR (Hamilton Street Railway) as a streetcar conductor.

In the summer of 1945, 39-year-old John met 24-year-old Evelyn MacLean. Evelyn told John that she was the widow of a Canadian naval officer whose last name was White, but he had died in the Second World War (never confirmed – examination of military records failed to prove the existence of such a person).

From John’s perspective, they seemed to hit it off and he really liked Evelyn, but Evelyn was most likely feelin’ John because she mistakenly believed he made good money and his income could support her extravagant lifestyle. After just a few weeks of casual dating, they were engaged, and then they married on October 4, 1945.

Evelyn Dick

Evelyn Dick was a Libra, born on October 13, 1920, in Beamsville, Ontario to Scottish immigrants Donald and Alexandra MacLean. A year after her birth, her family moved to 214 Rosslyn Avenue in Hamilton, ON. Donald worked for the HSR as a streetcar conductor (also where John worked) and was reportedly an abusive alcoholic.

As a child, Evelyn didn’t play outside or associate with other kids. Her parents preferred her to stay inside because they saw her as “fragile”.

Evelyn attended Memorial High School before her parents sent her to the Loretto Academy, a private Catholic school for girls. After high school, she attended the Canada Business College.

The MacLeans were focused on appearances and lived far beyond their means, so Donald supplemented his modest income by stealing money from the HSR vault. By this point, he had an office position that gave him access to company revenues.

Evelyn was a very beautiful woman and from a young age, as early as her mid-teens, her mother encouraged her to use her good looks to entice men into buying her expensive things. Evelyn took this advice, found she was good at getting what she wanted from men, and she had evolved into an escort. She rented an apartment on James Street South where she would “entertain” her wealthy clients.

She accumulated an impressive list of wealthy and prominent Hamiltonians for her black book. She had money, hosted and attended amazing parties with Hamilton’s finest, and was gifted lavish furs and jewelry.

In July 1942, when she was just 21, Evelyn gave birth to her daughter, Heather, but she gave Heather over to her mother’s care. A second pregnancy ended in stillbirth. On September 5, 1944, Evelyn gave birth to a boy, whom she named Peter. She returned home from the hospital without the baby, claiming her father didn’t want another child in the house, so she’d given him to the Children’s Aid Society for adoption.

In June of 1945, Evelyn’s parents separated, and Evelyn, Heather, and Alexandra moved into an apartment together in downtown Hamilton. About a month later, Evelyn told her mother she was engaged to John Dick. Alexandra was shocked because she had never heard of him. On October 4, 1945, Evelyn and John were married in a small wedding ceremony at the Church of the Ascension.

Evelyn moved in the upper-class circles of Hamilton society so her marriage to John Dick came as a surprise to her friends and family. Evelyn’s parents disapproved of John and didn’t attend their small wedding ceremony.

The couple fought constantly about money because Evelyn realized John wasn’t financially sound. They also fought about Evelyn’s affairs. Within days of being married, she was going out and sleeping with her boyfriend, Bill Bohozuk, “a heavyweight stroker for the Leander Rowing Club”. But John remained hopeful they could make their marriage work and they agreed to finally move in together.

John and Evelyn had been married for almost a month before they finally moved in together. Evelyn, having lots of money from her high-status clientele, bought the house, located at 32 Carrick Avenue in Hamilton. Her name was solely on the deed, and she made the down payment herself.

After only 3 months of marriage, John and Evelyn separated and John moved in with his cousin, Alexander Kammerer at 215 Gertrude Street, off Gage Avenue North.

John went to Evelyn’s father, Donald, asking for help in making her “behave like a respectable wife”. Her father refused and John threatened to reveal a family secret that Evelyn had revealed to him. John knew Donald had been stealing from the HSR, where they both worked, and John said he’d tell the company about the theft. Donald threatened to kill John, which John immediately reported to the Hamilton police.

John was last seen alive on the afternoon of March 6th, the day Alexander Kammerer reports him missing. He was seen in the restaurant at the Windsor Hotel, located on the corner of King William and John Street in Hamilton, where he ordered soup, a sandwich, some pie, and coffee.

10 days later, his torso was found on the escarpment, and police wanted to speak to his wife, Evelyn Dick. This brings us back to the beginning of our story.

Investigation

After the torso was identified, Detective-Sergeant Clarence Preston picked Evelyn up and brought her to police headquarters on King William Street for questioning. Evelyn responded to the news with “Don’t look at me. I don’t know anything about it.” But she told officers a story about a guy that showed up at her door looking for John. He looked like an Italian hitman, he said that he was going to “fix” John for messing around with his wife, and then he just left.

Days later, police had learned that Evelyn borrowed a large Packard car from a man named Bill Landeg.

Landeg received the car back with blood covering the front seat, the seat covers missing, and bloody clothing in the back. Among the bloody clothing was a necktie identified as John’s. Evelyn left a note explaining that her daughter, a toddler, had cut herself and made the mess. She stuck with this story when questioned by police.

The blood proved to be the same type as John’s, and when the police told this to Evelyn, she had a new story.

Apparently, a mysterious man had called her and said John had gotten a woman pregnant and he was getting what was coming to him. The mystery man asked Evelyn to meet the mystery woman, but first, the mystery name would need to borrow a car. Evelyn met the mystery man, who was caring a large mysterious sack. The mystery man told Evelyn the mysterious sack contained “part of John”. Evelyn then drove the mystery man and his mysterious sack to the dumping site near Albion Falls.

Evelyn took police on the route that she claimed to have taken with the mystery man. When police asked her how she felt when she heard that part of her husband’s body was in the sack, she said she “wasn’t happy about his demise, but that it was a pretty mean trick to break up a home”.

She signed her statement but vehemently denied conspiring to kill her husband.

Later, Evelyn changed her story again and signed a new statement. This time it was about Italian hitmen hired by her boyfriend, Bill Bohozuk, to kill John. She took police on another drive, this time to a dirt road near Glanford, south of Hamilton. Apparently, this road is where John was shot in the head by the hitmen.

As part of their investigation, police had searched 32 Carrick Avenue, the house Evelyn had bought, and John had briefly lived (3 months max).

In the backyard, police found bone fragments, teeth, and pieces of clothing from an HSR uniform mixed with ashes. They believe Evelyn burned her husband’s head and limbs in the furnace and dumped the cinders in the backyard.

Remember how John’s torso had 2 gunshot wounds and it looked like someone had tried to cut it in half? Well, Pathologist, Dr. William Deadman said John’s cause of death was likely a gunshot to the head and he and the police believe the plan was to burn the torso along with the head and limbs, but the torso wouldn’t fit in the furnace, and it was too difficult to cut through, which is why it was dumped in a secluded area instead.

Incriminating evidence doesn’t stop at Evelyn’s house, though. Investigators searched her parent’s house where Donald was still living, and in the basement, they found bullet holes in a pipe, a .32-calibre, five-shot revolver, .32 calibre cartridges, saws, and bloodstained shoes that matched a pair John wore.

Police questioned Evelyn about the evidence recovered from her house and her parent’s house and told her Bill Bohozuk was being questioned as well. With this news, she told the police a new story. Story number 3. Bill Bohozuk murdered John.

Investigators had heard and seen enough and charged Evelyn Dick, Bill Bohozuk, and Donald MacClean with John Dick’s murder.

1st Trial

Evelyn’s first trial began on October 7, 1946. Bill Bohozuk and Donald MacLean were still in jail because Evelyn’s lawyer had successfully petitioned the court to have her tried separately, hoping Evelyn would appear to the jury as an attractive, naïve, young woman incapable of committing murder.

It was the golden age of newspapers and people across the country were captivated by the trial. How could a young, attractive socialite be involved in such a heinous and grotesque crime? Hundreds of people were beyond curious, and they began gathering outside of the courthouse to try to catch a glimpse of the “black widow” for themselves.

Pathologist Dr. William Deadman testified Type O blood found in the Packard matched John’s blood type. He also testified bone fragments and teeth found in the ashes in Evelyn’s backyard likely belonged to John.

Alexandra MacLean, Evelyn’s mother, agreed to testify for the Crown against her daughter in return for immunity. She stated that Evelyn had been absent from the house for a prolonged period on March 6, the last day John Dick was seen. Alexandra testified that on March 8, she asked Evelyn if something had happened to him. According to Alexandra, Evelyn responded that he wouldn’t be coming around anymore. Alexandra testified that Donald owned a handgun and a large butcher’s knife.

On October 16, 1946, after 9 days of testimony, the jury took less than 2 hours to return a guilty verdict and sentenced Evelyn to be hanged. Although she probably didn’t kill John on her own or even with her own hands, she was definitely guilty of participating in the planning and carrying out of the crime. Most people suspect John was dismembered by Donald in Donald’s basement.

Upon sentencing, Justice F.H. Barlow said: “Evelyn Dick, the sentence of this court and upon you is you be taken from here to the place whence you came, and there be kept in close confinement until the seventh day of January in the year 1947, and upon that date that you be taken to the place of execution and that you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.”

The Toronto Star’s crime reporter Jocko Thomas wrote: “Mr. Justice Barlow pronounced the death sentence in somber tones as Mrs. Dick stood at attention, her dark eyes flashing. There was no wavering or holding of the dock rail which so often is seen when men hear those dreaded words ‘hanged by the neck.’”

The execution was to take place at Wentworth County Jail, known locally as the Barton Street Jail, “a grubby dungeon in the city’s East End between Ferguson Avenue North and Elgin Street.”

That would have made her the eighth prisoner — and the first woman — hanged at the site since 1876.

But Evelyn’s lawyer successfully appealed the case. When the case was heard on appeal, the verdict was overturned because it was ruled that Evelyn’s statements to police were improperly admitted into evidence and that the trial judge had not properly instructed the jury.

Evelyn’s case was taken over by John J. Robinette. During her new trial, Robinette impressed upon the jury the strong possibility that Donald MacLean had killed Dick. This time around, the jury found Evelyn not guilty.

Bill Bohozuk and Donald MacLean finally went before a judge in a joint trial. Bill was cleared of all charges because Evelyn, the only witness prosecutors had, refused to testify. Donald MacLean was found to be guilty as an accessory after the fact and sentenced to 5 years in prison. He received an additional 5 years for stealing from the HSR.

Evelyn wasn’t done in court though.

When investigators had searched Evelyn’s home and found John’s remains in the backyard… They found something else. When they were searching through the attic, they came across a trunk. Inside the truck was a beige suitcase. Inside the suitcase there was cement. Encased in the cement was the partially mummified body of a baby boy. The baby was identified as Evelyn’s son, Peter David White, the baby she claimed to have given up for adoption in September 1944.

2nd Trial

Evelyn was tried for Peter’s murder in 1947.

Evelyn told previously told investigators that her boyfriend, Bill Bohozuk, had murdered Peter, and she stuck with this story at trial.

Her lawyer, J. J. Robinette brought in a psychiatrist who testified that Evelyn had endured a traumatic childhood and had the emotional mentality of a 13-year-old. An attempt to explain Evelyn’s “inappropriate” responses and demeanor during the investigation and trials.

The jury found her guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, and the judge sentenced her to life imprisonment.

Prison/Aftermath

She served her time in Kingston’s Prison for Women and was reportedly well-behaved and even played the role of an angel in a Christmas pageant.

She was paroled on November 10, 1958, after serving only 11 years and making her only 38 years old.

Upon release, she was given a new identity and a job, and she disappeared from the public eye. In 1985, the government granted her a Royal Prerogative of Mercy which is a special pardon awarded in exceptional cases of “substantial injustice or undue hardship”. She no longer had to report to police, or the parole board, and her file was permanently sealed. Many people have speculated she had friends in high places who helped her receive this pardon. After all, she was a high-end escort with a black book of prominent Hamiltonians.

She’s never been seen or heard from again.

Brian Vallée wrote a book called The Torso Murder: The Untold Story of Evelyn Dick where he claims Evelyn married a wealthy man after her release from prison and moved to Canada’s west coast.

On Evelyn’s 100th birthday, October 13, 2020, reporters and biographers were hoping archives surrounding her and this case would become public record, but that doesn’t appear to have happened.

Closing

Employees of the Local History and Archives department in Hamilton say Evelyn Dick’s file is the most popular one in the collection. To this day, people are captivated by how a young, beautiful, promiscuous woman could be involved with her husband’s grisly murder, kill her own son, and be free by the time she’s only 38.

The murder of John Dick is officially unsolved.

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We’ll catch you on the dark side.

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