Story reprinted with permission of Author Janet Kellough from her book “The Legendary Guide to Prince Edward County”.
Hops were at one time an important industry in the County and it was customary for buyers to travel from farm to farm, paying the hop-growers in cash. One such buyer was Peter Lazier from Belleville, who arrived at the farm of a Mr. and Mrs. Jones towards the end of an autumn afternoon. County hospitality dictated that he be invited to stay the night and continue with his rounds the next day. Lazier and Mr. Jones had retired, and Mrs. Jones was just finishing her household tasks when a knock was heard at the door. Two men, armed with shotguns and with handkerchiefs tied over their faces, demanded that Mrs. Jones hand over the hop money. Mrs. Jones yelled for help and ran through the kitchen, slamming the door behind her. One of the men fired, the bullet hitting the door panel and glancing off into the wall. Mr. Jones, hearing the commotion, grabbed an old shotgun and ran out to confront the robbers. At the same time, Lazier emerged from his room, sized up the situation and rushed the two robbers. They were completely taken by surprise as they had expected to deal only with an elderly couple. In a panic, one of the men fired his gun, and Lazier was killed instantly. Terrified, the men fled with a third man, who had driven a horse and cart. At some point, they left the main road and crossed the marsh to the Sandbanks road. A light snow had fallen that day, and authorities followed a set of distinctive boot tracks to a house on the Sandbanks Road. Joseph Tompsett and George Louder were arrested for the murder of Peter Lazier and sentenced to be hanged.
They both protested their innocence. The general public was of the opinion that George Louder probably had nothing to do with the murder, although sentiment was divided as to Tomsett. The County was wild with excitement on the day of the execution, and the sheriff was beseiged with requests to witness the hanging. Both Tompsett and Louder had written letters claiming that they knew nothing of the murder and were in no way responsible for the death of Lazier. The two men were hung back to back on the gallows in Picton Court House. The trap dropped at 7.56 a.m. Louder took five minutes to die, but the rope had slipped between Tompsett’s right ear and chin and he struggled for a full fourteen minutes, before finally strangling. Observers were sickened by the sight, and the hangman was severely criticized for his incompetence.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones, in whose house the murder had taken place were appalled at the tragic outcome of the trial. Ironically, they were Quakers and opposed to capital punishment, but their testimony in court played an important part in the conviction of the two men.
Last Statement of George Louder
To the Inhabitants of the County of Prince Edward: “I thought I would write you a few lines before I die. I do not suppose anything I might say will cause you to change your minds regarding my guilt or innocence; and even if I could it would be too late to rectify mistakes and bring me back to earth again. God is my witness, that I am innocent of having had anything to do with the murder of Mr. Peter Lazier, and when I am hung for that crime the innocent is punished for the guilty. I die, bearing neither spite nor malice against any one; and my wishes are, that all my enemies may be forgiven as truly as I hope to be forgiven for all my sins. Believe me, I do not die a murderer, nor with a murderer’s heart. If I knew who were guilty of the crime for which I am to suffer death, I would make it known. I have not owned a revolver for two years past, and I have not fired one off for upwards of one year. I did not have a gun in my hands for six weeks prior to my arrest, and I was not in Mr. Gilbert Jones’ house nor on his premises in my life, to my knowledge. These are my last and dying words.”
Signed June 9, 1884
There were wild rumours about the distinctive boot marks in the snow that led to the arrest of Tomsett and Louder. Many people claim the boots belonged to someone else and that everyone knew it, but remained silent and let the two men hang for a murder they did not commit. An individual in the West lake area was thought to have special knowledge of the case. He denied this and swore before God that he hoped he would lose every hair on his head if he was lying. Not long after he went as bald as a billiard ball, not only losing the hair on his head, but his eyebrows, eyelashes and whiskers as well!
This is not a “history” of Prince Edward County in the usual sense. Although many of the stories in this book are true, many others have obviously been embellished in the re-telling. They are, however, “real” stories – they have all been told, at one time or another, by people in the County. Stories have survived here where they have disappeared in other localities. Because of the County’s geographic isolation and because so many of the “old families” still live here, tales have often been passed from generation to generation.
Although I have not fabricated any details, I often found different versions of the same events. Every attempt was made to verify historical detail, but in cases where I found varying accounts, I simply chose to use the interpretation I liked best.
Thank you to all the people who told me stories …
Copyright ©1994 Janet Kellough, All rights reserved
Published by Kellough Productions, Picton, Ontario 1994