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Volume VI Number 6 . . . . November 12, 1999
"I'm not totally opposed to capital punishment. The problem is where do you draw the line? And where do you say, so much if it's over the line, it's execution, and if it's not, it's life imprisonment. I don't know, I don't know." ... Defence lawyer for Herbert McAuliffe.This video documents an episode which remains etched in the memories of the residents of Langton, a small town in Ontario's tobacco belt. On a June day in 1950, Herbert McAuliffe walked into the local bank armed with two guns. Taking as much money as he could manage, he drove away. Two townsmen who happened to be in the bank at that time followed him by car, one carrying a 22 caliber rifle. They chased him out of town on to country roads. As they drew near, one man fired two shots from the rifle at the fleeing robber before the rifle jammed so that it could not be fired again. When the robber lost control of his car and crashed into the ditch, the pursuing car pulled up. McAuliffe got out of his car, walked back and shot the other two men, pumping seven shots into them before running into the woods. The ensuing manhunt lasted three days before McAuliffe was caught and arrested. His subsequent trial ended in a conviction, and he was sentenced to hang. The sentence was carried out at the Simcoe jail later that year.
The documentary uses reenactments of McAuliffe's actions, with Ken McAuliffe (no relation), playing Herbert. Numerous witnesses are interviewed, including McAuliffe's niece and sister, his lawyer, his priest, and policemen who were involved. Relatives of the two victims are also interviewed. What emerges is a complicated and intriguing story as McAuliffe's life and character are examined, and the feelings and opinions of the police and townspeople are expressed. Some think McAuliffe had a reasonable motive to shoot as he turned and defended himself when he felt cornered by his two pursuers. Understandably, others, including the victims' families, felt he committed cold blooded murder and deserved to hang.
McAuliffe, who had served in the Canadian Army during WWII, said that the army had not only taught him to kill, but, in fact, encouraged him to kill. His sister recounted details of his childhood, of their mother's death, and their father's mistreatment of Herbert. These facts made the priest feel that McAuliffe was not fairly treated by the justice system and that he could perhaps have been rehabilitated. McAuliffe's defence lawyer said that, had he known about the accused's childhood, he would have asked for a psychiatric assessment. The police interviewed felt no such sympathy for McAuliffe, saying instead that he had committed horrific crimes and had simply been required to pay the penalty.
A gripping account of a crime whose effects are still being felt today, Murder Remembered makes a forceful and though-provoking contribution to the ongoing debate on capital punishment.
Luella Sumner is a librarian at the Red Rock Public Library, Red Rock, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.