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Grandfathers Story: A Summery Of Two Canadian Gangsters

In the late 1800's in the town of Galatz, Romania a pogram against the Jews of that town took place. In the dark of night on a fall evening a 10 year old Lillian Rosenberg was secreted away from the burning and killing of the ghetto. After witnessing the killing of her parents a group of gypsies rescued her from certain death and smuggled her away never to see Rumania again.

I cannot to this day imagine the utter horror and sorrow she must have experienced. The anguish she must have suffered and guilt she must have endured later for having survived.

Her journey took over a year. Passed from caravan to caravan through a network of gypsy camps she finally came to be in England where she was met by her eldest brother Aaron Rosenberg who was head conservative Rabbi of Montreal, Canada. Rabbi Rosenberg brought his young sister back to Montreal where she would live until she came of marrying age.

Lillian's wedding was arranged in the manner of the Jewish comunity of those times. She would be wed to Benjamin Stone a Front street speculator from Toronto Ontario. A man of wealth and position. Benjamin was an English Jew and much older than Lillian. Lillian was unhappy with the match but would do her duty for her brother. She would have 3 children to Benjamin: first came Samuel next came Benjamin, and finally Leonard. There marriage however was filled with strife and it wasn't long after the birth of Leonard that Lillian left Benjamin and with the three boys moved on to Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Lillian was a strong woman with 3 large strong boys she would marry several times. She would have Two daughters. She would marry a man named Mitchel and a man named Jackson. I won't identify them further for family reasons. Her daughter with Mitchel she would name Mary. He daughter with Jackson she would name Faye. Both of these names would become famous in time in Ontario.

To make ends meet Lillian used some of the money from her divorce from Benjamin to open a Beauty shop on Lundy's Lane in Niagara Falls. In time she would have all of the boys trained and working in the shop with her. Samuel (my grandfather) went to school and worked in the shop. Born at the turn of the 20th century it did not take Sammy Stone long to get bored with school and blue rinsing the hair of the little old ladies of Niagara Falls. At the age of 18 Sam was charged with his first crime. Robbery with violence. He was sent to Victoria School of Correction for 2 years.

Upon release Sam was done with the Falls. He moved to Hamilton, Ontario and found work. He continued to do petty crime as a young man. He was good at smuggling. Never seemed to get caught at it. Kept a low profile and was carefull how he spent his money so as not to attract attention. He would go to Niagara Falls occasionaly to visit the family aways dressed imaculately in a flashey suit with a matching fedora.Sam liked to show off.

It was about 1929 when he first became involved with Rocco Perri in Hamilton and started to crew up with his outfit. Occasional smuggling jobs. Sometimes muscle. Sam got a reputation as being reliable, tough and silent.

When the Great Depression hit Sam found himself out of work as did so many others. He became a Hobo. Jumped freight trains and traveled across Canada looking for work. Camped out in hobo jungles. He told me that folks in those days could be very kind. You could knock on a strangers door and ask for a glass of water. You would usually get one and if you were lucky the lady would give you a sandwich.

It was during this period when Sam came into the company of a group of fellows who were smuglling Seagram's Whiskey from Montreal to the States. Sam made a call Rocco in Hamilton. Again he was in business. A deal made with Sam Bronfman and Rocco Perri. Sam is making a deal at Cornwall and Seagrams is flowing into Massena, New York.

Tough Sammy the Jew is again Living and working in Hamilton, Ontario. He has taken an apartment in Toronto and established himself there but his real home is in Hamilton. In 1931 he meets and starts dating a woman named Bertha Wright. She is greatly impressed with him. He is 6'4" and 240 lbs. slim and muclular. Handsome man, blonde hair, Blue eyes. Not what you would expect in a Jewish man. She was pettit at 4'10 inches and under 100 lbs. and like all of the Wrights she was swarthy in complexion and had black hair and dark eyes. She was a very pretty woman from Marmara, Ontario, who had left her parents farm as did her siblings to work in the factories of Hamilton.

They say opposites attract and that is certainly the case here. They were almost a cliche. He the bad boy and she the lost innocent. Believe it when I say that the ladies in my grandmother family were not happy about there union. However the men in the family all liked Sam. If nothing else my Grandfather was always a Gentlemen. He treated people well. He was never boastful. He new a lot of people disaproved of the things he did. The crime. The gangs. The violence. He treated them well never the less.

The operation continued smoothly for quite some time. Sam continued his work in Toronto with trips to Cornwall. His front there was well established. He occasionaly got into trouble but for unrelated incedences. Minor offences and such that were more distractions from what was really going on. Work on the job in Hamilton didn't pay any real money but it was a great front. He was not home much but still managed to date Bertha. He liked big flashy cars. He liked to dress up and take her out to the best places in Toronto and Hamilton.

My mother came along in 1936. Sam and Bertha had married. It was thought that mother should keep the name Wright because of the Stigma attached to the name Stone. I suspect it was because they weren't really married yet, but this is what I was told so I relate it here. But it is possible as the rest of Sam's family changed there names to Jackson when Lillian married Mr. Jackson and Sam went to reform school. Sam was the only Stone left. That is until my mothers sister Patricia was born. She was given the name Stone.

Benjamin Stone had disowned Lillian and the boys out of bitterness. Sam told me they never saw him again. I have never been able to find any information on him other than his nick name was Stonewall.

Prohibition in the United States ended in 1933 and so did bootlegging for the most part. Alcohol was replaced for the most part by Heroin and my grandfather tried his hand at it for a few trips but he said he stopped because he realized it was a much dirtier trade than alcohol and he didn't want any part in it.

As a career criminal Sam went to jail quite often. Miner offences such as theft and assault. An occasional 3 month stay at the Don Jail, or the Barton St. Jail in Hamilton but nothing serious. Although authorities were aware of serious things going on. Sam stayed out of trouble in Hamilton but did business in Toronto. Hamilton was his safe place. Toronto police could not arrest him in Hamilton. Hamilton Police would not arrest him for charges in Toronto. Things were different in those day from now.

In 1938 Sam and youngest brother Leonard joined the war effort. Both were soldiers and sailors. Both came home trained warriors.

Leonard Stone became Leonard Jackson. Unlike brother Benjamin he idolized his eldest brother. When Sam came to visit he looked every bit the successful mobster that Leonard saw in the movies. Emaculate suit, Fedora, Cashmere coat when necessary, and Leonard was bored with blue rinsing the little old ladies of Niagara Falls.

Leonard was bored and wanted out. So like his brother he hit the rails. It was the Great Depression and he was a teenager. One day of misadventure would change his life for ever. While running to catch a car on a freight train he caught the ladder of the car. While mounting it he fell and caught his foot in the ladder. The foot was torn clean off at the ankle. He recovered enough that he was able to go to war with a wooden foot. It did not impede him one bit. Afterward he would follow in his older brothers footsteps.

Leonard would leave Niagara Falls and move to Toronto. He found work at the Horseshoe Tavern at the corner of Queen and Spadina. He would on occasion serve a rounder there named Edwin Alonzo Boyd. Another patron at that tavern was a police detective who would figure prominently in Leonards life and death. Police Detective Edmund Tong.

My Grandfather had joined a Toronto gang called the Numbers gang. He brought Leonard into the gang as well.

The gang engaged in gambling, prostitution, drug dealing, loan sharking, and of course the numbers racket. Sam and Leonard weren't getting a very big cut and Sam was no long working in Hamilton and had a wife and two girls to support and this would not do.

Sam and Leonard started robbing banks.

They left the Numbers gang and Leonard started the Leonard Jackson gang. They take on two friends of Leonards that he trusts. William Russell Jackson (aka Willie the clown)who is no relation, and Valent Lesso (aka Steve Suchan).


Now I must leave the story at this place for a moment to let you know a few other things. It is now about 1948. My grandmother is at home in Hamilton with my mother and aunt. Sam is a commuting gangster. Uncle Leonard is also a commuting gangster because like Sam he has rented a house in Toronto but lives in Montreal. It is his safe place. He has married my aunt Ann. Ann Warburton emigrated from England and is a model in Toronto. My Grandmother was lost and unsettled. She had become alcoholic. She was to often alone for long periods and only saw Sam while he hiding out. He would come home with large amounts of cash but it was sporadic. There were times when the rent was not paid and she and the girls were homeless or taken in by family members. It was a sad time in the late 40's but things were to get much worse.

There is one other thing taking place in Toronto at the time that would effect not only Toronto but also the rest of Canada. The Newpaper Wars. With several large daily's like: The Toronto Star, The Telegram, and the Globe and Mail, competing for readership there were other poplular outlets for news as well such as the New York Times, the Montreal Gazette, and the Hamilton Spectator. The Toronto Daily's headlines were becoming more competitive all the time so it was a bad time for Lenny and the boys to be taking on the likes of Edwin Boyd. A man who craved attention. The papers were looking to sensationalise there every exploit.

Grandfather is very careful in these robberies. The police have identified 3 of four of the robers. They know of Willie the clown, and Steve Suchan, and Tough Lenny the Jew, and this is how they know them and there description. But the fourth remains unidentified. Grandfather always made sure his face was covered and his hat remained on during a bank heist.

Edmund Tong had become obsessed with finding the the gang. My grandfather's half sister Mary Mitchel left Niagara Falls and went to Toronto to start working as a model. She found some success but ended up supplementing her income through prostitution. After being arrested for this Edmund Tong used this charge as leverage to get information on Leonard Jackson. Mitchel started to feed him false information fed to her by my grandfather and Leonard. Mary never betrayed them. This allowed them to stay one step ahead of the police

Then the fly flew into the ointment. Lenny Jackson was pulled into jail on a minor charge and who does he run into. The one person my grandfather despised most in life. Edwin Alonzo Boyd. Leonard did not really know him but remembered him from the "Shoe." My grandfather new him as a braggart and and attention seeker, a rat and a loudmouth. He told me he heard him braging about a couple of kids he killed in a car once. He said this while drunk. My grandfather told me this in 1967. Sam told me the moment Boyd started to hang around his brother that was the end. Sam told me then he knew it was time to get out. He told me there was only one way to do it and save face. Get caught and hope it wasn't to bad.

Grandfather had warned his brother not to bring Boyd into the gang. Leonard would not listen. Sam picked up a gun and walked into a jewelry store one day soon after and held it up. Of course he was caught. He was sentenced to 12 years in Kingston Penitentiary. This was early 1948. Leonard did not bring Boyd into the gang right away but would eventually.

Later in 1948 Sam recieved a weekend furlow to visit his family in Hamilton. He brought with him a Native fellow he had met in prison to meet my Grandmother. I don't know what he was thinking, but he did. His name was Thomas Burnham and he was from the 6 Nations Reservation. I think grandfather just thought of him as a friend.

Sam went back to prison but Thomas became obsessed with my grandmother. They began a relationship but he was an abusive person. Unsure the reason but he went back to prison for two years. Meanwhile my grandmother gave birth to his son whom she named Thomas.

She had divorced my Grandfather with his blessing. She was finished with Thomas of course and had entered into a healthy relationship with a normal man whome she was truly in love with and who loved her in return. James Sanford was kind and gentle and good to her and the girls. He took care of them and moved them into his home on Huxley Avenue in Hamilton's East End.

When Thomas Burnham was released from Kingston he settled at Grimsby,Ontario. He would come to Hamilton to demand to see his son. My grandmother would refuse. He stalked her and finaly on one overcast afternoon at 4:00 pm. He lunged at her at the corner of Barton and Ottawa where she had been shopping with my mother.

She ran. She ran for her life. He chased her like a maniac; knife in hand, thrusting at her. She ran through the Jockey Club screaming for aid. None came. People merely watched. She got around to the taxi stand at the corner where he caught her. 4'10" less than 100 lbs 33 years old, where he sat on her and stabbed her over and over in front of my mother. She died from her wounds several days later. She fought that hard to live. It is October 1950

Grandfather is in the pen and Thomas Burnham is sentenced to life. Strange that of all the places they could send him to they would send him to Kingston Penitentiary. He lasted 6 months. The official record says that he killed himself by hanging himself in the shower. That raises a lot of questions in itself. I met a lot of old cons over the that came out of Kingston Penn who had done time with my grandfather. Most of them said my grandfather executed him. I don't believe that. I believe he did kill himself. My grandfather said the only crime he would not commit to make money was murder. He certainly would not do it for free or even for revenge. I knew him. He was a scrapper but not a killer. Another thing they say about him was that he was the Real Deal. I don't know what the real deal is or means. If it means he was a real deal gangster I have to ask so what. He was also a real deal who abandoned his wife and children and destroyed there lives. I have news! He would say the same. He had a great deal of regret and shame later in life. That's the Real Deal.

With grandfather tucked safley away in Kingston Penitentiary it was time to start robbing banks. It was a new gang. Now Lenny had a wooden foot. When he had it made it was with his own unique design. The boot and wooden foot came together loaded with springs. When Lenny walked you could not tell he had a wooden foot. The leather boot laced in from but had secret compartments in the back of the boot where he kept hacksaw blades. It makes quite an impression when you are being held up when a member of the gang can leap of as if off a spring board effortlessly onto the countertop. Any road the first rule of the old gang was no violence that changes somewhat once Boyd came into the mix.

Boyd would later claim that things like jumping on counters and desks was his thing but that's Boyd. Lie when the truth will due. Any road Boyd was present for only 4 bank robberies with the gang. That was enough. In November of 1951 the gang held up a Bank in Pickering Ontario.Then Boyd, Willie Jackson, and Uncle Lennie were picked up with incriminating evidence. With the hacksaw blades in Lenny's wooden foot he mannaged to saw away the bars on the window of their cell on November 4, 1951, the three slid through the opening and dropped to the prisoner's exercise yard below. Using some bedsheets that they had tied together, they then lassoed the top of the surrounding wall and climbed to freedom.

Steve Suchan had arranged a safe house in Cabbagetowwn that they could get to quickly and organize themselves. Later, Lennie Jackson and his girlfriend, Ann Roberts took off for Montreal with Suchan close behind. Boyd and Willie landed at Steve Suchan's parent's house in the west end.

Realizing they would need money to keep in hiding for a while, they robbed a nearby bank. A couple of weeks later they pulled off the biggest hold up in Toronto's history. After splitting up the money, Lennie and Suchan headed back to Montreal to lay low. Boyd and Willie hid out at Suchan's parent's home.

Steve Suchan's father came up with a great idea. He had a little hiding spot in the wall where the boy's could safely stash their money. The next morning the old man was gone and so was most of the loot. The whole gang then headed down to Montreal to hide out with wives and girlfriends in tow. Willie Jackson got busted for carrying a gun and was soon returned to Toronto where he received an additional two years for escaping custody. The rest of the gang also came back to Toronto, but under their own steam.

On March 6, 1952, Detectives Edmund Tong and Roy Perry pulled over a black Mercury Monarch automobile. It's unlikely that Tong knew the car contained Suchan and Lennie Jackson or he may have had his revolver at the ready. As Tong approached the suspect vehicle, he was gunned down and fell to the ground in a heap.The weapons were then aimed at the police car, which still held Perry, and they peppered the cruiser with bullets. Although Perry was wounded in the arm, he was very lucky to escape with his life. Tong was to die several days later, but not before naming his killer, Suchan.

The manhunt was on, and this time it would be relentless. Suchan and Jackson made it back to Montreal unscathed. Even though he had nothing to do with the shooting, Boyd felt the heat. His picture was once again plastered all over every Toronto newspaper. Up until this time, Boyd and his wife could at least leave their house and attend a movie after dark, but now they had to stay completely out of sight.

Meanwhile, the next day in Montreal, the Police were in Suchan's apartment waiting for him return home. As he entered his place, he was told by police to freeze, he reached for his gun and was shot down before he could unholster it. A few days later, due to a neighbours tip, the police moved in on Lennie's apartment. The second arrest didn't go as easily and a lengthy shootout ensued. Finally, with dozens of tear gas bombs burning his eyes and lungs, Lennie came out with eight gunshot wounds in him.
The two survived their wounds and would soon be returned to Toronto.

A problem I have with one of the books relating this event was that it describes Leonard Jackson as a coward who hid behind aunt Ann as he came to the door shooting. Police gave a very differant description of these events. Jackson held Ann Roberts(maiden name Warburton) behind him at the door as he fired over the heads of police. Jackson was shot eight times. Hardly sounds cowardly to me. Another fact was that Uncle Leonard never shot at the police but fired over there heads.

Now Boyd was the only gang member left to be captured. Detective Dolph Payne had kept Boyd's brother under surveillance and discovered that he had rented a flat on Heath Street, but hadn't moved in yet. He secured a key to the back door from the owner. Payne then watched Boyd move into the flat from a neighbors house. Wanting to avoid a shootout, he waited until he was sure everyone was asleep. At the crack of dawn the police crept inside the house and captured Boyd and his wife while they were still in bed. Boyd's brother, who was sleeping in another room, was also apprehended. No shootouts, no struggle, not even a whimper.

Boyd was once again a resident of the Don Jail and, much to his delight, the other three gang members soon showed up. Incredibly, the powers that be at the Don herded the four of them together into the otherwise empty deathrow cellblock.

Soon they had a piece of metal, a file and more hacksaw blades smuggled in to them. By eyeballing the guard's keys, they were able to file the metal piece down to something that resembled a key, but it actually worked. Now they could let themselves out of their cells for half an hour or so while all the guards were supervising the transfer of prisoners to Toronto's City Hall courthouse. It took several days to saw through the bars, but finally they were ready.

Just before dawn on September 8, 1952, the four slipped out through the bars onto a wall that was conveniently located just outside the window. But to their horror, there was a cop stationed at the base of the wall. They lay on the top of the wall for a few minutes watching the cop and wondering what to do next. Suddenly, the officer walked across the laneway and knocked on a back door at the Riverdale hospital, as the door opened, he entered. It didn't take them long to drop to the ground and disappear down the hill into the wilds of the Don Valley which ran next to the jail.

Once again a huge manhunt ensued. The reward for information leading to the gang's capture hit twenty six thousand dollars causing hundreds of phone calls and letters to the police. Most of these leads proved false.

They holed up in an old barn near Yonge and Sheppard. One at a time they'd leave the barn to scrounge up clothes and food. Rumor has it that Boyd actually spent a night with his wife on one of his excursions. But they tended to be a bit lax while hiding out here and were spotted many times. Most people thought they were just hobo's seeking shelter, but some became suspicious and called police.
On september 16, 1952 police closed in on the barn and surprised the gang. They were apprehended without incident and finally returned to the familiar old Don Jail. They would never escape jail again.

Now it was time for the gang to go to trial. There was absolutely nothing exciting about the court cases, so I won't bore you with the details, just the outcome.
Edwin Alonzo Boyd was found guilty of bank robbery and various other crimes, he received several concurrent life sentences. He was released on parole in 1966. He assumed a new legal identity and moved to western Canada.

Upon arrival to Kingston Penitentiary Edwin Alonzo Boyd began to pass the rumor that my grandfather slept well while his brother was being hung. My grandfather passed along the message to him that he would be taken care of. Edwin Boyd requested to be segregated from my grandfather for the remainder of his sentence.

Willie Jackson received a total of 31 years, which included the time that he had already been given in his previous convictions. He was also paroled in 1966.
Both Lennie Jackson and Steve Suchan were sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of Detective Edmund Tong.

Several days before uncle Leonard was to hang Aunt Ann gave birth to my cousin Michael. Authorities would not let Lennie see his newborn son as they thought it too cruel given that he would be executed in a few days.

 On December 16, 1952, Lennie Jackson and Steve Suchan were led from their cells to the gallows at the Don Jail. At 12:14 AM, the hangman released the trap door and the duo fell through on the end of a hangman's rope. They were officially pronounced dead at 1:00 AM.

This concludes their story but not the story as the rest of us have to live witht he aftermath. The ripple effects last for generations. All we can do is pick up the pieces and keep marching forward and do better for the next generation. God Bless!

Sam Stone was released from Kingston Pen in 1965. He remaried and in 1967 he returned to Hamilton to come to live with us. My mother and father had seperated in 1966. Sam and his wife stayed with us for several years. He went straight. He took work with the John E. Shipton Company, on Kenilworth Avenue and worked weekends as a caretaker at the Jewish Community Center at Maplewood and Sanford Avendue in Hamilton's East End. He gave himself to Judaism, and he taught me much about his religion and beliefs although I am a Roman Catholic.

Sam had many regrets in life. However I don't think he ever let go his love of mischief. One day when I was about 12 years of age Sam had purchased a new trench coat. It was summer but I could see him in the room he shared with his wife in front of a ful length mirror with his fedora on practicing going into the top of the coat as if going for a shoulder pistol. I admit it looked cool, but I could not help but laugh. He saw me and looked stern. Then he smiled and said,"some habits are hard to break.'

Sam had a stroke in 1975. He was left without the ability to speak and had no motor abilities at all. He spent the last 8 months of his life in a continueing care centre on Emerald Avenue in Hamilton and I visited as often as I could. He passed just short of my 20th birthday. I miss him.

It is a funny thing and folks would not understand and I am not sure I do. I know Sam and Lenny were bad men. At least they did bad things. People suffered because of the things they did. People died because of the things they did. Sam was never bad to me. Sam was always good to me. I miss him.

Gerald S. Hayes

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Comment by Perileen Smith on March 31, 2017 at 9:23am

Many thanks - I think you are correct.

Comment by Gerald Sanford Hayes on March 31, 2017 at 2:13am

No Perileen. My granduncle and Valant Lesso hung in 1952. I believe the last hangings in Canada were in the early 1960's.

Comment by Perileen Smith on March 29, 2017 at 2:57pm

I remember this happening.  I lived in Ontario then and now live in the west and worked with a man whose "partner" was one of the last two men hung.  Would it have been these two?  He was released from Kingston and had a degree in Psychology. Nice guy.

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