Enraged Garafraxa man stabbed girl at barn raising

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.
Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

Patrick Haley grew up on the family farm in the north part of West Garafraxa Township, not too far from Arthur village.

As a young man he stayed on the farm, helping his father John with farm work. In 1888, at the age of 26, he started to date Margaret Ellis, the daughter of a neighbour who lived nearby.

Everyone in the neighbourhood expected the couple to marry. Patrick offered her gifts from time to time, and they were seen together at every social function in the area. But in the spring of 1889 Margaret broke off the relationship and planned marriage. She detected a violent and extremely jealous streak in Patrick that made her uncomfortable. Sometimes it frightened her.

Margaret’s rejection of him aggravated Pat’s sense of jealousy and possessiveness. He refused to accept that they would not marry. The matter came to a head on July 30, 1889, at a barn raising on the farm of Robert Russell.

As the men worked through the day several continually taunted and ridiculed Patrick over his failure to hold on to Margaret. He fumed. It was all the worse because Margaret was there, helping with the food.

At the dance held that evening, Patrick was determined to patch things up in front of everyone. He asked Margaret to dance. She agreed reluctantly, but the two were quarrelling before the first dance was finished, and she fled the building. He caught up with her, and a couple of minutes later he had dragged her to the back of the barn, and stabbed her. He escaped the grasp of a pursuer, and fled into the night.

No one believed that Patrick had gone very far. On Aug. 1, a traveller found a basket containing some bread and a blanket at the corner of the family farm.

The next day, Friday, Aug. 2, his mother and father went to Fergus to shop. Constable Alpaugh spotted them. He suspected they were harboring Patrick, strongly advised them that it would be best if he gave himself up.

That evening Haley returned to Fergus, and told the constable that Patrick was ready to surrender. Alpaugh borrowed a carriage from undertaker John Thomson, and proceeded at once to the farm. Patrick was resting in the back corner of the hay mow, where he had taken refuge, hoping that the spot would be overlooked by anyone searching the farm for him.

He was not in good shape. After stabbing Margaret he had used the knife on himself, attempting to slash his throat. The wounds were not life threatening, but he had bled profusely from them. The self-inflicted wounds had received no attention, and presented a grizzly sight after three days. One cut, a deep one, extended horizontally across his throat. Another shallower cut crossed it, and there was a stab wound on the side of his neck that barely missed the main artery. Dirt and dried blood covered his face and neck in clotted clumps.

Dizzy and off-balance, he required Alpaugh’s help to stand on his feet and get into the carriage. No doubt his father had told him that at least 20 neighbours, most of them armed, had stationed themselves around the farm, ready to intercept anyone trying to leave. In Patrick’s weakened condition, escape would have been impossible. A reward of $50, offered by Harry Ellis, another of Margaret’s brothers, no doubt had attracted the men.

They watched silently as Thomson drove Constable Alpaugh and his prisoner down the lane and onto the road. After they passed, the men fired their guns into the air – at least 50 rounds – to mark the arrest of Patrick, perhaps in triumph, perhaps as a gesture of threat and intimidation.

Alpaugh at once advised crown attorney Henry Peterson in Guelph that he had the prisoner in custody. Peterson arrived on the next morning’s train for a hearing at 3pm on Aug. 3. Haley pled guilty to a charge of felonious stabbing. Peterson asked that proceedings be adjourned until Aug. 9 so that he could line up witnesses and pull his case together. Haley explained that he had acted in desperation after Margaret had backed away from her promise to marry him. She had acted under the influence of others, he believed, and he had no wish to live without her. Until the resumption of the case six days later, he would be a guest at the Guelph jail.

The hearing resumed in front of four Justices of the Peace from Fergus and West Garafraxa: Andrew Taylor, T.W. Thomson, Frank Cassidy and William Gibson. Spectators filled the room to overflowing, but the crowd was orderly.

Though Margaret Ellis was still too weak to attend, crown attorney Peterson decided to proceed based on the confession and the strength of the evidence. They gasped when Haley entered. His young face was drawn and haggard, and bandages encircled his neck. Peterson’s first witness was Bertha Hayes of Kent County, who was visiting the Ellis family. She testified that late in the evening of the barn raising, about 11:30, she had been standing outside the barn with her aunt, the victim of the stabbing. Patrick Haley, seemingly the worse for liquor, approached them, and asked to be introduced to her.

Sensing trouble was imminent, Margaret sent Bertha inside to fetch Margaret’s brother, Will Ellis.

When she returned to the barnyard, she told the court, her aunt was covered in blood, and Patrick Haley was nowhere in sight.

Will Ellis was next to testify. He said that he had seen Haley during the day at the barn raising, and that evening he watched Haley follow his sister and niece out of the barn. Suspecting trouble, he strolled after them.

Outside, he saw Haley twisting his sister’s arm as he dragged her around the corner of the barn. He decided to head them off by running through the barn.

In the dim light, he testified, he saw Haley strike her twice, as she cried, “Oh my Lord, I’m killed.” Haley jumped up and started to run, but Will Ellis soon overtook him. He tried to hold Haley against a fence, but quickly released him when he realized his hands were covered with blood. Haley tried to slash him with the knife, then squirmed away, jumped the fence, and was soon out of sight. Will did not then realize that Haley had slashed his own throat.

By then, Will said, others had taken his wounded and bleeding sister to the house. “Get a doctor, I am dying,” she said to him. At once he rushed to Arthur and roused Dr. Robinson from bed. He and Ellis arrived at the Russell farm at about 2 am.

The doctor was next on the stand. He told the court that he found Margaret on a couch, drenched in blood. He noted a stab wound on her breast about an inch deep under the collar bone, another on her neck, and four more on her back and shoulder.

As well, there were several scrapes and scratches, all, he believed, administered with a very sharp knife. One cut, he noted, almost grazed a major artery; it could very easily have been fatal. Margaret Ellis would require a further two or three weeks before she was strong enough to attend court, he said. Though progress would be slow, he expected a full recovery.

Peterson’s last witness was Constable Alpaugh, who related the details of the arrest of Patrick Haley.

The four Fergus justices confirmed the soundness of the case against Patrick Haley, and sent it to court for trial.

*This column was originally published in the Wellington Advertiser on Jan. 26, 2007.

Thorning Revisited