‘Voices from Lambton’s Past’: the Labatt kidnapping, part 2

Feature, Lambton County History — By on December 23, 2011 at 1:00 am

In part one of this story, four men kidnapped John Sackville Labatt as he drove alone in his REO motorcar, along the Egremont Road, heading for his office in London.

Now, let’s rejoin Francis McCardell, alias Three-fingered Abe, on that early August morning in 1934.

 

Kidnapping of John Labatt – Part Two

As Russ sped off in Labatt’s REO, heading toward London, Abe thought back on their planning for this heist.

A few weeks before, Russ and Abe had gone up to the Muskokas, where they had found a place on the lake for just twenty-five dollars a week. They had rented it for the whole month of August.

It was just what they needed, a remote clapboard cottage with two bedrooms. There was a double bed in one room. Bert and Abe would be staying to look after their guest, as they had taken to referring to Labatt. One of them would sleep while the other guarded him.

The other bedroom, the one for their guest, had a white enamel cot, a bureau and a wash basin.

As well, there was a tiny kitchen with a wood-burning stove and an ice-box and a small living-dining room with a round white table and four wooden chairs.

No electric wiring but there was an oil lamp.

Nothing fancy but it would do. It was remote, what they wanted, somewhere they wouldn’t expect kidnappers to go after they grabbed Labatt. They figured that the coppers would be looking for them to take him across the border or to stay somewhere in southern Ontario.

Once there, Abe had remarked, they could sit back and wait for the money to be paid and then release John Labatt and disappear, each one of them more than thirty-five thousand dollars richer.

“Hadn’t we better get going?”

As Bert spoke, Abe quickly returned his thoughts to what they had to do. They had to get Labatt to their hideaway up in the Muskokas.

Abe got out some pink court plaster and taped it over Labatt’s eyes, covering this with a pair of goggles to which he had applied some black court plaster on the inside of both lenses. He knew they would do the job.

As he put them on Labatt, he commented “Mister, you are going in style. These glasses set me back eight bucks.”

Then, with Melvin on the one side and Abe on the other, they led Labatt to their Hudson, making sure that he had his cane with him.

When they got to their motorcar, Melvin got in the front as Abe helped their guest into the back seat and then got in beside him.

“Now,” Abe told him as he shoved his gat in against Labatt’s ribs, “if you guarantee you won’t yell out or cause any trouble, I won’t have to gag you or tie you up.” As their guest nodded his head yes, Abe told Bert to start driving.  

 

 

They sped east along Egremont Road to the London-Sarnia highway, then motored along to Lambeth, where they left the main road and continued north along deserted roads through Orangeville, Tottenham and a lot of other small towns as they moved closer to their destination.

As they drove, Abe chatted with Labatt, finding him to be unafraid and quite amiable.

When their guest asked “Why me? What do you have against me?”, Abe answered “Not a thing, John. This ain’t personal. Your brewery is profiting now that the governments have repealed prohibition. We aint making any money from booze any more. But your company is pulling in millions.. There’s a recession on and we’re unemployed. It’s not about you. It’s about sharing all the money your company is making from selling hootch. By the way, have you got any money on you?”

When Labatt answered yes, Abe told him to hand it over. There was a total of ninety-seven dollars in bills. Abe took those. Labatt then asked “You want my silver too?” Abe told him no, to just keep it.

They had to stop three times on their trip north, twice for gas and the last stop for groceries. Each time they stopped, Abe held his gun to their guest’s ribs and told him not to say anything or cry out.

He said he wouldn’t because he thought if he did, he would be putting some innocent bystander in danger of being hurt.

Couldn’t help it, Abe thought, but he was beginning to really like this quiet but obviously caring man. He knew by then that they could never harm him even though he never told him so.

Soon they had arrived on the road near to the cottage they had rented. They couldn’t drive all the way in because of thick brush. But it was dark by now just as they had planned, expecting that everyone would be settled in to their cottages for the night.

While Melvin carried their groceries, Bert and Abe helped their guest out and holding him between the two of them led him the last hundred or so yards to the door on the lake side.

After they helped him up the steps and took him inside, they took away all of his clothes except for his underwear and the tape on his eyes. Then they used a dog leash to chain his right hand to the cot in what was to be his bedroom.

All four of them then had pork chops and beans for a late supper. When Abe looked in at Labatt after I had done the dishes and cleaned up, he was sound asleep. Likely the strain of what happened must have worn him out.

They were awakened early the next morning by the noise of children playing at one of the cottages nearby along the water’s edge. After waving goodbye to Bert as he went to get the motorcar and drive south to Toronto to pick up Russ and the ransom, Abe went back in to tend to their guest.

Melvin had stayed awake during the night and was by now sound asleep. He had hidden all of the guns in the hollow post of the cottage’s veranda as Abe had already ordered. They would be there if the police raided and they got into a firefight.

“Wake up, John” Abe said, deciding that it would be easier and more polite to call him by his first name if they were going to be together for a few days.

“John, my name is Charlie” Abe said, not wanting to use his real name. “How did you sleep?”

“Not too well. I have a slight bit of indigestion” was the reply.”

 No wonder, Abe thought after all the chops and beans he had the night before.

Then, being a friendly kind of fellow who wanted to be a good host, Abe offered to shave him. When Labatt accepted, he got a straight razor and shaving cream and began.

But when Abe offered to bathe him, he refused saying that he did not expect to be there very long, that he would be going home soon.             “I sure hope so, John. Meanwhile, if you promise not to take a peek at my face, I will take the tape off your eyes and bathe them.”            

After nodding yes, their guest never looked at Abe once while he had the tape off his eyes. A right honourable man who keeps his word, Abe thought, followed by the realization that maybe he didn’t have to. He likely saw all of their faces when they nabbed him from his car.

For the next three days, when John Labatt was awake, Abe was awake. When John slept, Abe slept and Melvin kept guard over him.

They treated him well. After all, he was their guest. He was a nice man. No reason not to treat him well. They ate the same meals, eggs and bacon every morning, sandwiches for lunch and always a hot meal for supper, prepared on the wood stove.

Abe even took the blindfold off him for a couple of hours each day after he promised he wouldn’t look at his face and even though voices could sometimes be heard outside from some of the neighbouring cottages, Labatt never once tried to call out for help.

The two of them would talk a lot during the day. John Labatt would talk about his family and the brewery and his many rich friends. Abe would ask him about ideas for capers that might let him earn a lot of money without having to work for it.

It was late Thursday night before Russ returned. Bert was not with him. “Francis, how’s our guest?” It was the first words Russ uttered as he came into the cottage.

Abe quickly answered “Just fine. I never saw anybody in my life sleep like him. Must be strong beer they make in his brewery. Where’s Bert?"

Before he could answer, Abe continued “Hurry up, man. Tell me what’s happened over the last two days. There are no radios or newspapers around here. So we haven’t heard anything.”

“Francis, first thing is I am tired. I just walked more than ten miles from the bus station in Muskoka. When Bert got to Toronto and found out how much publicity there was about the kidnapping, that dirty rotten rat just beat it out of town with our car heading for the States. I had to take a bus to Muskoka and then walk here.

“Francis, Melvin, I got bad news and I got worse news. What do you want to hear first?”

“Come on, Russ. Just tell us everything.” It was Melvin speaking. But Abe also wanted to hear everything too. So he quickly added “Just tell us everything that happened since we grabbed Labatt and you left with his car.”

 

HISTORICAL NOTES from the author: 

The story of the Labatt kidnapping will continue in the next “Voices from Lambton’s Past”.

 

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