When Mr. Ellis came to town, one thing was certain. Someone was going to die. Ellis, not his real name, was the name given to Canada's hangman. On December 10, 1962, Arthur Lucas and Robert Turpin felt the bite of his rope and made a macabre sort of history. They were the last two Canadians to hang.
The death penalty was abolished in Canada on July 14, 1976. But between 1867 and 1962, there were 710 executions. Eleven of those were carried out in the Yukon ... ten in Dawson City and one in Whitehorse.
In 1899, two prospectors, Christian Fox and William Meehan, were attacked by a group of native men on the McClintock River near Marsh Lake. Meehan was shot and killed, and Fox was severely wounded.
Fox hid in his canoe until it floated out of sight of his attackers and then travelled seven miles until he reached the Marsh Lake camp of William McIntosh, who reported the incident to the police at Tagish Post. He said the shootings were the work of the Nantuck brothers.
The Mounties found Jim Nantuck at his family's camp at Marsh Lake. With him he had some of the miners' belongings. He was arrested and taken to Tagish Post.
A police search failed to find Joe, Dawson and Frank Nantuck. Eventually, the chief at Lake Laberge persuaded the three to give themselves up to police.
The four Nantuck brothers were charged with murder and sent to Dawson City where Judge McGuire presided at their trial. In the first murder trial in the Yukon, the four were convicted and sentenced to hang. Frank and Joe Nantuck would however evade the Ellis noose. They died in jail of tuberculosis.
Dawson and Jim Nantuck were hanged in Dawson City in August, 1899, but they did not stand alone on the gallows. An Englishman, Ed Henderson was also hanged on that dismal day.
Back in November 1898, Henderson was involved in a fight with his partner, Thorburg Peterson, at Lake Laberge. Peterson, known to have a violent temper, grabbed Henderson by the throat and began to strangle him. Henderson shot Peterson in the stomach.
He then travelled to Tagish Post and reported his version of the incident to the police. At trial in Dawson in 1899, Henderson was convicted of murder and hanged with the Nantuck brothers. The first three of the Yukon's eleven state-sanctioned executions had been carried out.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin