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May 31, 2002

The Life and Times of Edwin Boyd

In the early 1920s a heavy handed police officer tried to get his son Eddie Boyd to play the violin, among other things, but Eddie would have none of it. Eddie became a drifter, riding the rails during the Depression and getting into trouble with the law. When WWII came he enlisted, went overseas, married there and had three children. After the war he came back to Toronto and got a job driving a streetcar. After all of his life experience, he got bored and one day took a German Luger pistol he had taken from a dead German soldier in France, put on a disguise and robbed a bank. This was the beginning of a career that made Eddie a notorious Canadian folk hero. 

Eddie joined up with another robber and carried out several other bold bank robberies. He had a reputation for jumping over counters, moving quickly, and carrying a gun. His partner got caught and told all. They both went to the Don Jail in Toronto. While Eddie and his partner were robbing banks, another more violent gang was also doing the same thing. Lennie Jackson, a member of this gang, was caught at the same time as Eddie, and they soon began to swap notes. Soon another experienced bank robber, Willie Jackson (no relation to Lennie) arrived at the Don awaiting transfer to Kingston for a seven year sentence. 

Lennie Jackson had lost a foot in a railway accident and had a wooden foot in which he had stored several hacksaw blades. 

Went over the wall

On Nov. 4, 1951 Eddie and the Jacksons hacksawed the bars and went over the wall and escaped. They met a friend, Valent Lesso from Cochrane, one of the violent members of Lennie Jackson’s original gang, and the four became a team. Lesso was a talented musician who couldn’t find work; he changed his name to Steve Suchan and became a bank robber. They soon pulled off a series of robberies, including the biggest one in Toronto history. The newspapers dubbed the new group “the Boyd Gang,” seeing Eddie as the brains behind the operation. Willie Jackson was arrested and sent to the Don Jail. Eddie went into hiding with his wife. 

On March 6, 1952 Detective Sergeant Ed Tong and his partner pulled over a suspicious car at a Toronto intersection. The car contained Steve Suchan and Lennie Jackson working on their own. A gun fight ensued, and Suchan killed Detective Tong. They were later wounded and captured in a gun fight and ended up again in the Don Jail, charged with murder. Eddie Boyd was tracked down and caught in bed beside an attaché case full of money, and five loaded pistols. In an incredibly illogical decision that had serious repercussions, Eddie was put in a jail cell with his three buddies. In short order, they fashioned a key for the cell door and slipped out briefly when the guards were not around and hack-sawed a window in preparation for escape. To be able to fit out the small opening, they all went on a diet. Just before Suchan and Jackson were to stand trial, on Sept 8, 1952 they escaped the Don for a second time. The biggest manhunt in Canadian history ensued, with a large reward offered for information leading to their capture. Several jail staff were fired and a Royal Commission was set up to review the circumstances of their escape. 

This was a period of newspaper wars fifty years ago this year, and every detail of the Boyd gang’s activity and attempts at their capture were reported in headlines across the country. While scanning the 1952 microfilm copies of the Nugget recently for information on another topic I saw numerous blaring Boyd Gang headlines. There were reports of sighting across Ontario and Quebec. Local police officers traveled in pairs and were well armed.

Headlines from the North Bay Nugget on the Boyd Gangs escape and the hanging of Steve Suchan and Lennie Jackson in 1952.

Numerous phone calls

They received numerous calls from residents in West Ferris and Powassan, and from a druggist in North Bay. None of them panned out. After ten days, men were seen at a barn in the Don Valley, only a mile from the jail, and the Boyd Gang was captured without incident. 

The Nugget reported the event by stating “Edward Alonzo Boyd, Canada’s Public Enemy Number One, surrendered meekly with his henchmen to two suburban detectives, ending the greatest criminal man hunt in the Dominion’s history.” One of these officers was Detective Sergeant Maurice Richardson who had a brother, Murray, living in North Bay. 

Eddie got eight life sentences and Willie Jackson got thirty years. Steve Suchan and Lennie Jackson were sentenced to death for killing Detective Tong. On Dec. 16, 1952 Steve Suchan, after a brief visit with his mother, and Lennie Jackson with his wife, received the last rights and waited for their 8 am execution. To their surprise, the executioner came at midnight, and by 12:14 am they were both dead, hung back to back. 

Willie Jackson and Eddie Boyd were both released in 1966. Eddie, under an assumed name, went to British Columbia, where he drove a bus for disabled people and married a disabled woman who he met on the bus. He took care of her for the next 35 years, until recently when they went into a home. Two books have been written on the Boyd Gang, and one was made into a successful movie. In 1998 Eddie was featured in a CBC Life and Times documentary, where he admitted that he had committed many more robberies than he had been charged with. Another movie about the Boyd Gang will be made this summer. 

Two weeks ago today, on May 17, 2002, after a visit from his wife and his son, and a phone call from his former war bride and the mother of his three children, Edwin Alonzo Boyd died at age 88, quietly ending the life of one of Canada’s most remarkable personalities. 

*A new CBC Life and Times show reveals shocking new information on Boyd's early criminal career. 

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