Couple fined $10 each for assault while seizing a child

In February of 1942 a farm family in Eramosa Township endured what today might be called a home invasion as they ate their noontime dinner. Tom Hayward and his wife operated a farm near Mimosa, about nine miles from Fergus, with the help of a son and two daughters, Betty, aged 19 and Florence, who was three years younger.

Also in the household was a four year old boy, who was a nephew of Mrs. Hayward. Her brother, Hedley Harrington of Toronto, had married in the late 1930s. He and his wife, Muriel, had split up in the first days of 1942. Hedley, unable to care for the boy, took him to the Hayward farm about January 20, and his sister and brother-in-law agreed to look after the child. The arrangement was a purely informal one, and it was arranged without the knowledge or approval of the boy’s mother.

Mrs. Hayward and her two daughters were finishing their noon meal when  a young couple threw open the door to the house. Her husband and son were not home. They had taken jobs that winter working on the nearly-completed Shand Dam. It was an inauspicious day: Friday the Thirteenth.

The unannounced visitors that day were the young boy’s mother, Muriel Harrington, and her new romantic interest, a man named James Jordan. Muriel had discovered that the boy was no longer with her estranged husband, and she had deduced that he was probably with the Haywards. The pair stated that they intended to take the boy away with them.

Mrs. Hayward replied that they would do no such thing, and within a minute the discussion had escalated into a loud argument. Jim Jordan noticed that there was a loaded pistol sitting on the mantel. Tom Hayward later explained that he kept it there as protection for his family. Jordan grabbed the pistol, and began brandishing it at the Hayward women to reinforce his points.

Nineteen-year-old Betty Hayward, fearing that bloodshed might result from the actions of hot-blooded Jim Jordan, lunged at him, and seized the gun from the startled intruder. Betty Hayward and Jim Jordan were soon in a desperate struggle for possession of the gun. Jordan noticed a pair of pliers on top of the radio, kept their by the family for frequent adjustments to the set. As he was grabbing them, Muriel Harrington punched Betty forcefully in the stomach and followed up with a couple of kicks. Though in agony, Betty brought the butt of the gun down heavily on Jordan’s head. The blow was sufficiently heavy to split the butt of the gun, and to stun Jordan.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Harrington had grabbed the boy, but released the child when Muriel began pulling him away. She did not want to injure him. Muriel took him out to the their car, which they had left parked on the road. A moment later Jim Jordan stumbled out of the house, pursued by the younger daughter, Florence, and warding off blows from her.

The intruders drove away with the boy. Before the car was out of sight, Mrs. Hayward was on the telephone informing the police of the snatching. She then called her husband at the yard office at the Shand Dam construction site.

The scuffle with Jim Jordan left Betty Hayward scratched and sore. Fearing there might be internal injuries, Mrs. Hayward took her to the Fergus hospital later in the afternoon. They had to wait until a snowplow had opened the road. Betty stayed at the hospital for three days, but was bedridden for almost two weeks.

Meanwhile, Jim Jordan and Muriel Harrington had headed in the other direction with the boy. Police traced them to Toronto, where, it seems, they both lived. Constables took them into custody, on the basis of information supplied by the Haywards.

A couple of Toronto officers brought them to the Guelph jail and an appearance before Judge Chadwick on charges of assault casing bodily harm. There were no charges related to removing the boy from the Hayward household. Muriel was the boy’s mother, and the arrangement the boy’s father had made with the Haywards was an informal one, and not enforceable by the law.

Muriel Harrington and Jim Jordan were to return to court on February 23 for their trial, but snow kept the Haywards from leaving their farm to give testimony. Judge Chadwick adjourned the case for a week, until March 2. That winter was one of the most severe on record.

When the case came up, Jordan’s lawyer persuaded the Judge to reduce the charges to common assault from the more serious one of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, despite the fact that Betty Hayward was laid up for the best part of two weeks as a result of her altercation with Jordan. He argued that if his client was to be charged, Betty Hayward should also be charged, because she smashed the butt of the pistol over his head, nearly breaking the handle in two. The judge agreed with the argument. The two accused quickly entered pleas of not guilty to the reduced charges. The judge heard the testimony of the various witnesses. All told the same stories they had given police and newspaper reporters more than a week earlier.

The judge levied fines of $10 each against both Muriel Harrington and Jim Jordan, and bound them over to keep the peace. After the trial both Muriel and Jim had plenty to say to reporters. The case had created something of a sensation locally, and in the daily press across the province. Muriel confirmed that she and her husband were no longer living together. She denied doing anything violent or rough at the Hayward house, and specifically denied kicking and punching Betty Hayward.

For his part, Jim Jordan tried to distance himself from the Hayward and Harrington family affairs. He claimed that he and Muriel Harrington were not a couple. He had met her only a few days before the dust-up at the Hayward farm, he told reporters. She had hired him to take her to Fergus, secure a car, and visit the Hayward farm. His assertions seem to contradict his actions at the Hayward farm, when he was more argumentative than Muriel, and seemed more determined than she was to secure possession of the boy.

This case, though 70 years old, shows that the child welfare system was still in a primitive state  in the 1940s, offering no easy and reliable means for resolving matters of custody when a marriage broke down. An unpleasant physical confrontation was the result in this case. The welfare and fate of the boy, which should have been the most important aspects of the case, were never mentioned in the court case.

The penalties levied by the judge, fines of $10, were very modest considering the circumstances. The judge no doubt realized that justice would not be served by jailing the mother of a four-year-old child, whose custody was her legal responsibility.


Stephen Thorning