Author’s passion uncovers serial killer
Groups of vigilantes, whipped into a frenzy by newspaper articles, roamed city parks the summer of 1945 searching for Windsor’s own Jack the Ripper.
“Essentially,” said author and Windsor lawyer Patrick Brode, “they were lynch mobs.”
Brode’s sixth book about Canadian crimes, and first about Windsor, The Slasher Killings, is a featured title at the 2010 BookFest Windsor, to be held Thursday through Saturday at the Art Gallery of Windsor.
Brode, 59, is a city solicitor who spends his days shuffling through documents about easements and rights-of-way. But his real passion is Canadian criminal history, and The Slasher Killings might be his magnum opus.
It’s the sordid-but-true story of a community gripped by fear over a series of knife attacks in 1945-46.
People who were euphoric over the end of the war in Europe were jolted back to reality by reports of vicious stabbings resulting in the deaths of two men and the serious injuries of three others.
Eventually, it came out that the killer, 18-year-old Ronald Sears, stalked his victims, who were all homosexuals. He later claimed to have been sexually assaulted himself as a child, and sought revenge against “perverts.”
Most Windsorites today are blissfully unaware of Sears and his postwar rampage against gays.
But at the time, the pages of The Star dripped with headlines about a blood-crazed lunatic. A columnist even compared him to Jack the Ripper.
The police, who had never dealt with anything so horrific, seemed in lockstep with the newspaper, and issued public appeals to catch the maniac.
Reports of suspicious persons poured in from a public which had been thrown into a state of panic, Brode said. The police started rounding up every layabout and homeless person they could find.
“The paper was telling people to run for their lives,” Brode said. “For a two-or three-week period there (in August 1945), Windsor just went into an absolute meltdown. People couldn’t believe this was happening just down the street.”
There were even reports of morbid curiosity-seekers taking soil as souvenirs from the crime scenes.
The police seemed utterly at odds about how to deal with the attacks. At the time, Brode said, no Canadian police force had specialized homicide squads. As well, there was no proper training in how to interrogate a murder suspect, a situation which eventually led to Sears’ murder conviction and death sentence being overturned.
While he admitted to the crimes, he would eventually spend just five months behind bars. He died of tuberculosis in a mental hospital in 1956.
The case had wide-ranging effects. Canadian criminal law was altered to include a new category for sex offenders.
For better or worse, some of the ripples of the case were felt in the Canadian criminal code. They created this whole category of offenders, and the odd thing was they didn’t base it on any particular person or crime, but on a personality type.
“It was the first time the Criminal Code singled out a particular personality, a sexual psychopath, and it was partly due to this case in Windsor.”
Within a decade, however, the case and trials of Ron Sears were all but forgotten.
“Once it became known in 1946 that there was a gay subculture in Windsor,” Brode said, “a lot of people just wanted it to go away. They didn’t want to hear about it, or even believe it existed.”