Sunday, June 30, 2013

On the lam?

Changes made since original post - see crossed-out section below (GB)...

We might be a little closer to filling in the gaps in the story of our family felon, grandfather Tom H Smith, who went to prison in the 1930s or 1940s for some kind of stock market jiggery-pokery. (See previous post.) 

Tom H Smith with Ollie & Bobby, July 1938

Toby and Caroline Yull both understood from their mother that Tom H was caught because of the sudden crash of the stock market in 1929. If he was a stock broker at the time, as we think he was – his second career; he started off as a journalist like his Dad – he may have been illegally borrowing clients’ money to speculate, and not been able to return it when the crash hit. It was and still is a common offence.

Caroline also reminded me of another episode. Tom H at some point high-tailed it across the border to Detroit, and sold vacuum cleaners there for awhile. He went, according to the story Caroline remembers, to evade arrest at home. Evidently, he later came back to face the music.

I did find this interesting immigration record some months ago while searching at, the commercial online genealogical information resource. It shows Tom H crossing the border to Detroit on October 22, 1933. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Immigration Services form, he was “accompanied by” a Frances Rochon. Curiouser and curiouser.  

So is this when he fled? With his girl friend? Or was she a co-conspirator?

If his offence was related to the stock market crash, it would make more sense if he’d fled years before. And we know, or are pretty sure, that he was living with the family in London, Ontario until at least 1932, probably into 1933. But it’s possible his crime was only detected long after it was committed.

To complicate things, I recently found a record at Ancestry, of a Tom Smith, about the right age, arriving by ship in Quebec from Liverpool in 1934. This may not be him, of course. Tom Smith is a very common name. And in almost all other confirmed records, our guy is ‘Tom H,’ ‘Tom Herbert’ or even ‘Thos H’ or ‘Thomas H.’ (These last two even though he was registered at birth as ‘Tom Herbert.’)

But the Tom Smith in the 1934 ship’s passenger list gives a forwarding address care of his son in Toronto – his son Jack. Our Jack at the time would have been 20. I’d never heard that he lived in Toronto on his own when he was young, but it’s possible.

So did Tom H also flee across the Atlantic to avoid prosecution? If so, it appears he didn’t remain there long.

On closer examination of the handwritten passenger list, it now appears the Tom Smith mentioned was born in Batley, in Yorkshire. Never mind! 

If he wasn’t back in Canada for good until 1934 or later, he might not have been charged or brought to trial until 1935, or even later. Note the date on the picture above of Tom H with Ollie and Bobby: July 1938. Could the wheels of justice have ground that slowly? Or had he already gone to jail and come out again?

In any case, it now begins to be clear why I didn’t find any court or prison records for him in the period from 1927 and 1934. Maybe it’s time I filed another Privacy and Information Access request with the Archives of Ontario.

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