Part one- "Unanswered questions"
In March of 1963, Canada was in the midst of a federal election. Incumbent John Diefenbaker was running the race against Lester Pearson for the country's top political seat. Pearson, campaigning on a platform of creating a new Canadian flag, reforming healthcare, and creating what would become the Canada Pension Plan, would go on to win the April election.
On the big screen, the year's top grossing films would include Cleopatra, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Bye Bye Birdie and The Great Escape. Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller The Birds and the iconic western McLintock, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, also drew audiences into theatres across the country. On the television screen, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Petticoat Junction, The Andy Griffith Show, The Lucy Show, Candid Camera and The Ed Sullivan Show were at the top of the ratings. Canadian television was preparing to launch a show entitled The Littlest Hobo; a weekly series chronicling the travels of a stray dog that roamed the country and helped out the folks he met along the way.
In sports, Gordie Howe surpassed Rocket Richard for the most goals by a single player in the National Hockey League but it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who would defeat the Detroit Red Wings, winning four of five games to claim the Stanley Cup. Jack Nicklaus would win the Master's and the PGA Championship in golf. Sandy Koufax would lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series over the New York Yankees. The Boston Celtics would win the NBA Championship. Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson would have reigns on top of the boxing world.
The Beatles would achieve their first No. 1 hit single, when Please Please Me topped the charts in the UK, on their way to becoming a household name around the planet. Country music fans would mourn the death of Patsy Cline who was killed in a small plane crash at the height of her career. Later in the year, Lee Harvey Oswald would be held responsible for the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the world would be forever changed.
Death and homicide where by no means limited to the outside world.
On March 28, 1963, murder would quietly come to the small rural community of Crystal Rock.
Geneva Parker was known to her neighbours as a woman who kept to herself. The 75-year-old widow lived alone on the north end of Brouseville Road, less than a mile from County Road 44 (then known as Highway 16 and a main link between South Grenville and Ottawa) in a home without hydro. She had done so for 25 years.
"Geneva was an active member of the Crystal Rock Women's Institute and a great volunteer," recalls long-time resident Sheila Bush, who still lives nearby. "She was alone after her sister died".
On Friday, March 29, Gerald Shananhan, who habitually made random checks on his elderly neighbour, came across a gruesome sight. Newspaper reports from the time revealed that Shananhan, who resided just 400 yards away, entered the home to find the lifeless body of Parker lying on the kitchen floor.
"I knew something was wrong when I found the back door ajar," Shananhan was quoted as stating. "Then I lit a match to find a lamp. When I lit another match, I saw the body lying on the floor. I knew something was wrong and went to call police."
Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Norman Hogarth, one of the police officers to respond to the scene, confirmed that the victim had died of strangulation. The body had been beaten and stabbed with a sharp object, believed to be a dinner fork. Parker also showed signs of being sexually assaulted. OPP investigators said there was some evidence of struggle, "but it was pretty one-sided".
Jim Burchell, who lived a few miles east at the time, recalls an extraordinary sight on Brouseville Road that evening.
"The wife and I were coming home from a dance in Spencerville," Burchell told The Journal. "When we turned the corner at Crystal Rock, the road was lined with police cars."
Burchell also remembers unease in the community immediately after the discovery of the homicide as residents came to terms with the fact that the crime had struck so close to home. For the next few days, his neighbours, and his own family, lived with the uncertainty of knowing there might be a killer among them.
Nerves were tight and sleep came at a premium as the police searched the scene for evidence.
One major concern was of the four-legged variety.
Those who knew Parker also knew that she would not let strangers through her door and that she owned an aggressive German Shepard dog. The canine was so cross that she would regularly need to put the dog in the stairwell prior to letting company enter her home. The dog was hostile enough, in fact, that investigating officers were unable to cope with it and euthanized the animal at the scene.
Had the killer been someone she knew well enough to open her doors to? Someone who the dog would accept into the house? Or was Geneva Parker's death the result of a random act of violence from a transient making his way through the area? If so, how had the perpetrator managed to find a way around the German Shepard? Was it an isolated crime or was there a chance that the murderer would repeat the horrific crime in a different location.
Doors were locked, tensions were high and questions were unanswered. The community remained on edge until late the next day.
On Saturday, March 30, at approximately 10:00 p.m., a local man was arrested in connection with the murder. Early the following week, a local labourer, 31-year-old Arnold Pruner, was charged with capital murder of Geneva Parker and set to stand trial.
To be continued....
Next week - Part two: "On trial for murder"