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MEANDERINGS: Murder Most Foul

photograph: Courtesy of The Toronto Star Archives

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Belleville, 1934

HAROLD VERMILYEA WAS A VICTIM OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION. He lost his job as a manager of a California fruit packing operation and needed money. Sadly, his request for financial help from the family estate fell on his wealthy mother’s deaf ears. A desperate man indeed! On the evening of October 4th, 1934, Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea was brutally axed to death at her daughter’s elegant Victoria home on Bridge St. in Belleville. Thirty-six hours later and 5,000 kilometres away, her son, Harold W. Vermilyea, was charged with matricide at his home in Ontario, San Bernardino, California. His sensational arrest was splashed across front pages of newspapers in Canada and the United States. How could someone who lived in California commit murder in Belleville, Ontario and be back home in California a day and a half later when, at the time, air travel was rarely an option? But Canadian law enforcers had followed a string of eye witness accounts and were hot on his heels.

Two days after the murder, Harold was arrested and by October 17th, he was escorted back across the border to a Hastings County jail where he awaited trial. Harold’s lawyers pleaded his insanity, but the dogged work of the Belleville police force and the O.P.P. proved too much for the defence. In February, 1935, jurors deliberated just 4-1/2 hours before finding Harold Vermilyea guilty. He was hanged in Belleville, Ontario, on May 2, 1935.

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