Did Florence Kin­rade get away with mur­der­ing her sis­ter?

A new book takes an­other look at the leg­endary case

The Hamilton Spectator - - Front Page - MARK MCNEIL

Just off the wind­ing ac­cess road in Sec­tion N of Hamil­ton Ceme­tery, there’s a weath­ered foot­stone that is los­ing a 110-year bat­tle with the ground around it.

In­stead of “Ethel Caro­line,” the sink­ing slab is also miss­ing a cou­ple of let­ters, say­ing “thel Caro­line 18841909,” and the big Kin­rade fam­ily mon­u­ment be­hind it fea­tures an an­gel sculp­ture with a dis­lodged hand.

But the big­gest thing miss­ing is jus­tice in the shoot­ing of Ethel Caro­line Kin­rade, who died in Fe­bru­ary 1909 in the din­ing room of her up­scale home at 105 Herkimer St.

They say more than 1,000 on­look­ers sur­rounded the

grave as they low­ered the 25-year-old woman’s body in what be­came one of the city’s most sen­sa­tional homi­cide in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Ini­tially, the killing was blamed on sketchy “tramps” who would ride rail­way cars to the city in huge num­bers at the time. They’d go door to door bum­ming money and food.

But at­ten­tion even­tu­ally shifted to Ethel’s 23-year-old sis­ter, Florence. She was a church soloist at MacNab Street’s Cen­te­nary Church’s choir and en­gaged to a cler­gy­man’s son. By ap­pear­ances, she lived the grace­ful life of a wealthy hous­ing de­vel­oper’s daugh­ter.

But an in­quest into Ethel’s death re­vealed there was more to “Flossie’s” life. In trav­els to Vir­ginia, pur­port­edly to sing in churches, she ac­tu­ally worked as a vaude­ville show­girl and had an Amer­i­can boyfriend named James Baum.

She in­sisted a tramp with a mous­tache and a black hat came to the door ask­ing for food and money.

While she was get­ting $10 for the man, she claimed, he worked his way into the house and had a con­fronta­tion with Ethel, leav­ing her dead on the floor.

Florence led po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and the in­quest, through dif­fer­ing ver­sions of her story, giv­ing con­tra­dic­tory de­tails about where she was when the seven shots rang out. No weapon was ever found.

Po­lice could never as­sem­ble enough ev­i­dence to lay a charge against any­one, and it re­mains a cold case to­day.

“It’s an amaz­ing story, I have been on it for more than 30 years,” says Frank Jones, 81, the au­thor of the new book “Florence Kin­rade — the Lizzie Bor­den of the North.”

“Florence Kin­rade was Canada’s Lizzie Bor­den,” he says.

Bor­den was a New Eng­land spin­ster who was sus­pected but never con­victed of killing her fa­ther and step­mother with an axe in 1892.

“Like Lizzie,” Jones says, “Florence would never be able to shake off sus­pi­cion that she had com­mit­ted a mur­der so bru­tal.”

Jones first heard about the Kin­rade case in 1987 while work­ing as a re­porter for the Toronto Star.

He put to­gether a two-part se­ries of ar­ti­cles in 1988 say­ing, “I’ve trav­elled far and wide track­ing down mem­bers of the Kin­rade fam­ily, and un­cov­er­ing new ma­te­rial. Is it too late, 80 years af­ter the crime, to come up with a so­lu­tion?

“When you’ve read my find­ings this week and next in the Sun­day Star, you may not think so.”

That work de­vel­oped into a book project that even­tu­ally got shelved. But this year the man­u­script was dusted off, re­vised and pub­lished by Cal­gary-based pub­lisher Durvile Pub­li­ca­tions.

Jones con­tends the case is even more fas­ci­nat­ing than the in­fa­mous Eve­lyn Dick torso mur­der in 1946. In that homi­cide, Eve­lyn’s hus­band John’s body was found on the side of Hamil­ton Moun­tain with­out legs, arms or a head.

Eve­lyn was con­victed and sen­tenced to hang, but won an ap­peal. How­ever, po­lice, dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, found a baby’s body in con­crete in a suit­case.

She was con­victed of that killing, serv­ing 11 years in pen­i­ten­tiary. But the killing of hus­band John re­mains un­solved, with the com­mu­nity strongly sus­pect­ing Eve­lyn had some in­volve­ment in it.

“I have to say that Florence is more in­ter­est­ing be­cause her story un­cov­ers so much so­cial his­tory,” says Jones.

Eve­lyn Dick was aw­ful and bru­tal but, Jones writes that the Kin­rade story “tells us a lot about the ob­sta­cles an am­bi­tious young singer from a mid­dle-class fam­ily faced in

seek­ing a ca­reer in — hor­rors! — vaude­ville. It tells us about a for­got­ten un­der­class — the thou­sands of tramps who rode the rails of North Amer­ica in that era and who were of­ten the first to be sus­pected when a crime oc­curred. And it also tells the story of a for­mi­da­ble woman who was as re­silient as she was de­vi­ous and was, quite sim­ply, Canada’s Lizzie Bor­den.”

Jones tracked down a nephew and Florence’s daugh­ter and gained ac­cess to weeks of in­quest tes­ti­mony as well as psy­chi­atric re­ports.

But there was no chance for him to talk to Florence. She died in Au­gust 1977 and was buried in a ceme­tery in Hol­ly­wood close to the graves of show busi­ness he­roes such as Rudolph Valentino, Ed­ward G. Robin­son, Ty­rone Power, Mar­ion Davies and Eleanor Pow­ell.

“My big­gest stroke of luck was find­ing her daugh­ter (who has also since died). She was go­ing by the name of Geral­dine and also be­came a show girl.”

Geral­dine spent most of her life not know­ing about her aunt’s death, un­til one day the story came gush­ing out of her mother af­ter a fam­ily funeral.

Jones quotes “Gerry” as say­ing, “She told me Ethel was up­stairs and she was down­stairs, just the two of them were home, and some­body came in the front door and went half way up the stairs and then she heard a shot.”

And then out of the blue, Florence asked “Do you think I did it?”

“But Gerry didn’t fol­low up and ask ‘Well, did you?’ But I think the an­swer is there in the ques­tion. You don’t ask ‘Do you think I did it?’ If you didn’t do it.

“I think Florence saw Ethel as the main ob­sta­cle to her hav­ing a ca­reer in show­biz. Ethel was prim and proper and did not like what her sis­ter was do­ing.”

Ethel could have in­ter­cepted let­ters from the Florence’s Amer­i­can boyfriend, Jones said.

“It seems strange that Florence would do some­thing so strange and ter­ri­ble, and the only ex­pla­na­tion I have is that Florence might have thought that it would break the log­jam. Once the aw­ful thing was done, she could go back to Jimmy Baum,” Jones said.

“Florence didn’t give an inch at the in­quest. She de­nied ev­ery­thing and in the end, the jury found Ethel died of bul­let wounds from per­son un­known.”

Po­lice had faint hope that a clue would sur­face from the de­mo­li­tion of the house on Herkimer Street in 1967. The home was cleared to make way for a nine-storey apart­ment build­ing. But no gun or any other use­ful ev­i­dence was found.

So 110 years later, it re­mains the cold­est of cases with only a few re­minders in Hamil­ton that it ever hap­pened.

There are the weath­ered fam­ily mark­ers at Hamil­ton Ceme­tery and also a street that bears the name Kin­rade.

Kin­rade Av­enue, just west of Sher­man Av­enue North, is ac­tu­ally named af­ter the fa­ther, Thomas Kin­rade. He was seen to be an up­stand­ing cit­i­zen who built nu­mer­ous houses in the city as well as work­ing as a school prin­ci­pal.

But it’s also a re­minder of the so­cial sta­tus the fam­ily had and how pre­serv­ing that sta­tus might have been the rea­son be­hind a rift in the fam­ily and the death of his el­dest daugh­ter.

SCOTT GARD­NER THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Au­thor Frank Jones vis­its the Kin­rade fam­ily mon­u­ment in Hamil­ton Ceme­tery. He ini­tially learned of the 1909 mur­der of Ethel Kin­rade when he was a Toronto Star re­porter in the 1980s.

DURVILLE PUB­LI­CA­TIONS

Florence Kin­rade, sis­ter of 1909 mur­der vic­tim Ethel Kin­rade. Florence, who grew up in an up­per-mid­dle class home on Herkimer Street in Hamil­ton, lived a dou­ble life as a vaude­ville show girl. Many be­lieve she shot her sis­ter, but the po­lice were not able to gather enough ev­i­dence to lay a charge. More than a cen­tury later, the sen­sa­tional homi­cide re­mains un­solved and is the sub­ject of a new book by noted crime writer Frank Jones.

SCOTT GARD­NER THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

The worn grave marker of Ethel Kin­rade in Hamil­ton Ceme­tery.

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Florence Kin­rade con­tin­u­ally changed her story about how her sis­ter died.

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

The Kin­rade house on Herkimer Street, just west of Bay. That’s Ethel stand­ing at cen­tre.

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