An obscure artifact that once belonged to one of Canada’s most notorious murderers convicted and sentenced to hang for his heinous crimes. William Greenwood was the gardener employed at the estate of the prominent politician Hillyard Cameron, former solicitor-general of Upper Canada. This small 4 x 6.25 booklet still retains several notations regarding his gardening plans and efforts on the estate. Discovered with his personal effects, a period notation later affixed to the cover reveals the nature of the man and his crimes. WILLIAM GREENWOOD GARDEN BOOK HUNG AT TORONTO C.W. (Canada West) MAY 16th 1863 AND WHO WAS CHARGED WITH SEVERAL MURDERS.
As one of Canada’s most notorious crimes, they came from miles around, farmers and their wives, children in tow, carts rattling long before daybreak, joining the thousands gathering near Toronto’s city jail. The hanging of William Greenwood, one of Canada’s most notorious criminals, convicted of killing the baby of one of his lovers, gripped the city of 50,000 souls. But the 26-year-old gardener would cheat the gathering hordes by tying a towel to the bars of his cell and strangling himself hours before his scheduled execution. When it was learned that Greenwood had cheated the public gallows by his suicide, officials were forced to put his body on display to appease the riotous crowds.
Lurid sex and political connections to the home and estate of prominent politician Hillyard Cameron, former solicitor-general of Upper Canada where Greenwood and the two dead women met and worked made for frenetic front-page newspaper coverage and standing-room-only trials. Greenwood was a married man who seduced at least two women, both of whom ended up murdered along with their babies whom he was suspected of fathering. He would stand trial on three separate occasions as his crimes were revealed. His first trial would be for the murder of his mistress Agnes Walsh, a nurse. A fire had broken out at her flat, after it was doused her strangled corpse was discovered as well as the body of a newborn discovered in a cupboard who had bled to death. The trial would last five days and end in acquittal after a witness testified the perpetrator had a peculiar tooth. Greenwood’s lawyer had simply pointed out that his client had no such tooth. The second trial began in 1864 for the arson charge. During this trial it was discovered that in fact Greenwood had a “peculiar” tooth extracted in jail while awaiting trial, too late to convict for the murder, he was convicted of arson and sent to prison for seven years.
During his first trial, much of the testimony revolved around the suspicious death of Catherine Marshall, a servant in the Cameron estate and another of Greenwood’s mistresses. It was suspected that she had died in the hospital from poisoning. Police searched the home and discovered the body of another baby boy, strangled with a string around it’s neck and a brick attached in the privy at the rear of the house. This third trial for the murder of Marshall’s baby would end with a guilty verdict and a sentence of death by hanging.
Perhaps no case in the annals of crime has attracted so much of public attention in Canada. The crimes he was convicted of were so horrible, their perpetration was so cunningly concealed, the guilt of the prisoner so difficult to prove that it excited the interest of thousands throughout the country.