Beardall’s client, a convicted murdered, was hanged

Major Bamwell Beardall. John Rhodes photo

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In Kent County’s history three men have been executed for the crime of murder, with the first of these being a man named Bird who robbed and murdered a drummer named Patrick Coyne in December 1834.

Bird had befriended Coyne and travelled with him into Dover Township as he called on pioneer families along the primitive path that ultimately became the Baldoon Road.

Coyne was later found face down in Little Bear Creek. He had been beaten and strangled.

Shortly thereafter Bird was seen in area pubs sporting a large sum of coins which, under ordinary circumstance, he was not known to possess.

Subsequently Bird, fearing that the locals were on to him, skidaddled to Sandwich (Windsor) where he got into trouble with the local constables and found himself behind bars.

Bird did not have much common sense as he told a fellow inmate what he had done. He had provided details that only the murderer would have known.

This man, seeking a more favourable sentence for his own crime, told the police what Bird had revealed to him.

Under normal procedure, such a crime would see trial in the jurisdiction where it took place, but Chatham would not have its own court facility until 1850.

Bird was tried, convicted and executed at the Sandwich Jail in August 1835.

There is evidence to indicate that his body, after being taken down from the gallows, was gibbeted.

This bizarre ritual involved placing the body inside an iron cage and hanging it from a pole in a public place as a warning to others.

It was against the law to remove the body for burial, but citizens could bury parts as they dropped from the cage and fell to the ground.

The second person hanged, this time in Chatham, was a Potawatomi aboriginal named Pah Mah Gay. Also known as Sam, he had murdered two men in separate incidents in the Kent Bridge area. One of his victims was his brother-in-law.

Sam was executed at the Kent County Jail on Dec. 22, 1860 and his body was then buried in the old Catholic burial ground just south of the present-day intersection of Cross and Jeffery streets. His body was later disinterred by medical students who took it to London, Ont. for dissection and study.

The last man to be executed in Chatham was Francis Van develd who had been convicted of the axe murder of Dover Township farmer Joe Kamoen. His defence counsel, Bram Beardall argued both at trial and appeal that Van develd could not have committed the murder as the body was found in a manure pile which had previously been searched by police. “Somebody else did the murder, put that body there, it was not my client”.

It was to no avail, Van develd went to the gallows as scheduled, Dec. 22, 1930, seventy years to the day after Pah Mah Gay.

Bramwell Beardall came to Canada with his parents in 1912, settling at Chatham in 1926 when he began his legal career, which he pursued until the outbreak of the Second World War. At that time he entered active duty with the Kent Regiment and obtained the rank of Major.

At the conclusion of the war he returned to his legal practice and was appointed to the bench in 1961.

He died at Chatham on Sept. 19, 1986.

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