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Don Jail Toronto | Boyd Gang & Resident Ghost

This was the worst jail in Canada!  Time served increased because it was “Hell on Earth”!  As proven by the Boyd Gang’s escape, and a guy killed over a bag of chips. Along with its resident ghost, the “Lady of the Don”.

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Cursed History | Boyd Gang | Lady of the Don

Toronto 's Don Jail - Escape of Boyd Gang and the ghost, Lady of the Don

by Ghost Guide Daniel – – Infamous for its ghosts and darker history.  Including the last hanging in Canadian history, where one of the condemned was almost decapitated. 

The Don Jail was also a “Hell Hole”! 

Cursed from the start.  The original structure almost ended when the head architect, William Thomas died in Toronto at only 60 years old in 1860, before the structure was completed. 

Followed 2 years later by a massive fire claiming most of the non-stone parts of the building, causing a major reconstruction.  No source ever found for the fire.  Was thought to be arson or careless workers.  But maybe it was God not wanting the Don Jail to exist… guess what, God was right!

Don Jail Horror Begins

It was made to hold 276 prisoners, but soon had over 600 shoved into the same space.  They justified it, calling the facility, “Short Term”.  Prisoners were only supposed to be subjected to this horror for a few days.  Another broken promise, as many stayed 3 months or more.

Toronto 's Don Jail - Over the Don Postcard
Over the Don Postcard of Toronto

“It’s inhumane!” Reported activists, politicians and even prison guards who worked in the Don.  Conditions so bad, a single day in the Don Jail was considered three days against the inmate’s sentence.

In the 1930’s, the then mayor received a tour of the facility.  The officials thinking the mayor would be impressed by the level of punishment against the criminals of society.  Instead, he was disgusted, quoted,

“You can’t back up a fat horse into these (tiny) cells!”

Then the original structure was closed in 1977.  Ending the horror… until a newer structure was opened on the same site.  Called the East Wing… which proves history repeats itself, sometimes right after the original horror!

The New East Wing

The same excuse, “The Don isn’t a prison for convicted criminals. It’s where prisoners wait before being sent home or shipped out to serve a longer sentence at another facility.  Or while awaiting bail hearings or trials for every level of crime, from breach-of-probation to murder.”

Toronto 's Don Jail - East Wing
“New and Improved” East Wing of Don Jail

Just like the original structure, the East Wing was a dismal place.  Floors, walls, and steel bars painted neutral white.  And also, noisy.  Each of the cells filled with men shouting, banging on the bars, and fighting each other.

Even the toilets took part in the chaos.  Loud flushing led prisoners to follow a no-flush rule throughout the night.  And in the morning the stench of waste was unbearable.  The jail was also overrun with cockroaches, mice and diseases.

Killed over Potato Chips

Then there’s the tragic story of Jeff.  An inmate with schizophrenia who was arrested during an episode.  While exposing himself on Toronto streets.  

Arrested for indecency.  Not his first.  Police knew Jeff, but previously they sent him to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.  Not this time!  He was taken to the Don Jail’s East Wing. 

During another episode, Jeff had an encounter with three prisoners who saw him steal a small bag of potato chips.  The punishment, they ganged up, punching and kicking until he stopped moving.  When found bloody on the floor, the guards were unable to do anything.  Jeff was dead.

At his funeral, Jeff’s mom was shocked at the strange sight.  The man that was her son was unrecognizable.  So much so, his sister Melanie was convinced they had the wrong man.

“Mom, he still alive!” 

But then they checked his hand.  Finding a unique mole.  Only then did Melanie accept her brother was truly gone.

Shut it Down!

Things were allowed to continue for years under the shadow of disgrace from the original Don Jail.  More atrocity, leading to The Toronto Star newspaper doing an article in 2003. 

Reporter Linda Diebel forced her way into the East Wing for a tour.  Main takeaway,

“… was like walking into a madhouse from another century”.

Thankfully the East Wing was closed in 2013.  No new facility was put on the cursed site.  Both structures have been worked into the newer hospital built on the land. 

The Boyd Gang Escapes

What better criminal in the 1950’s than a “brash bank robber”?  Edwin Boyd met fellow inmate Lennie Jackson when locked together in the same cell at the Don Jail. 

Lennie was tough.  Made sure to mention it to everyone, all the time.  Telling people how he’d come face-to-face with a train.  Sadly, the train won, and he lost a leg.  Which is why he wore a prosthetic.

Toronto 's Don Jail - Boyd Gang wanted dead or alive
“Wanted Dead or Alive” The Boyd Gang, Toronto enemy #1

Lennie trusted Edwin.   So much so, during a conversation he looked around for guards before pointing down to his fake leg.  Edwin looked as Lennie opened it to reveal hidden inside was a hacksaw.

Soon Edwin and Lennie were joined by Willie Jackson (no relation to Lennie) and Steve Suchan.  Together they became the Boyd Gang.

In 1951, they used the hacksaw to cut through the weak jail cell bars.  Escaping the infamous Don Jail.  This being a testament to the surroundings.  Think about it.  How’d they do it!  Noise of the steel hacksaw against iron bars.  Dust and damage in plain sight while other inmates and guards were around. 

Either this bit of history is incorrect, or it’s proof how lawless and unsupervised was Toronto’s Don Jail.

The Boyd Gang escaped.  Edwin as their leader and the three men followed him into numerous bank robberies over a few months.

Catch & Escape

In the early part of 1952, Edwin Boyd and Willie Jackson were caught and returned to the Don Jail. 

Soon after Steve and Lennie were driving down a road.  Pulled over by Toronto Police Officer Edmund Tong during a routine stop. Steve shot the officer who got away but later died.

Both men were found and arrested with a new charge added on for murder.

All four men reunited in the Don Jail.  And then the second testament to the craziness of this place… they put them in the same cell!  Can you imagine the reasoning behind that decision. 

Shockingly (that’s sarcasm), only a couple months later they escaped again.  Prompting Toronto’s then mayor, Allan Lamport, also known as “Lampy” and the father of the city’s two airports.  He publicly stated to many reporters,

“The Don Jail is being run by a bunch of morons”.

Toronto 's Don Jail - Edwin Boyd and Willie Jackson returning to jail
Edwin Boyd (left) & Willie Jackson (right) returning to the Don Jail

The police were smarter.  Just a few days after the escape, the Boyd Gang were cornered inside an old barn in the nearby Don Valley.  Captured and placed back at the Don, this time, in separate cells.

End of the Boyd Gang

Later that same year in 1952, Steve Suchan and Lennie Jackson were hanged at the jail.  It’s said they stood back-to-back as the trapdoors opened.

Toronto 's Don Jail - Finding skeletons of hanged men in parking lot
Suchan & Jackson among skeletons found in Don Jail’s parking lot

Willie Jackson got 30 years.  And the gang’s namesake and mastermind, Edwin Boyd, received eight life sentences.

All just words, as both Willie and Edwin were released only 14 years after the escapes, in 1966.  In the same year.

Boyd lived on to the old age of 88 years old.  Dying in 2002 while living in British Columbia. 

Oddly, not long before his death, Boyd confessed something to CBC News.  Revealing the bank robber was also a cold-blooded killer. 

He had killed an innocent young couple, shoving their bodies into the trunk of a car.  Driving into Toronto’s largest park, High Park, and parking it.

It’s believed to be true, as the timing matches the unsolved 1947 murders of Iris Scott and George Vigus.  Evidence showing the couple was murdered in North York and driven into High Park to hide the car. 

Toronto 's Don Jail - Iris Scott, murdered by Edwin Alonzo Boyd
Iris Scott (along with George Vigus) murder solved by Boyd’s death-bed confession

Many newspaper articles of the day show the fearful mystery surrounding the brutal deaths of this couple.  Remaining unsolved until a dying Boyd finally decided to come clean.

But why escape in the first place?  Not for fun or excitement.  Before returning to the Don in 1952, he told a reporter,

“I’ll saw my way out again, if I’m in there another month”. 

Edwin Alonzo Boyd

Proving the Don Jail was even too much for a murderous bank robber.

Lady of the Don

“The Don Jail was said to be haunted by a blonde-haired ghost. It was there, in one of the tiny cells reserved for women in the west wing, that a prisoner hung herself in the 1890s. The report is that guards on the graveyard shift saw her spirit floating through the air in the main rotunda.”

What the Guards Saw

Walking the Don Jail can be stressful for any guard.  Mostly it’s the fear of inmates causing violence.  However, at the Don Jail you can add ghosts to the list.

The “Lady of the Don” has been the jail’s resident ghost.  Odd, considering the place being known for the violence of male inmates.  For a female prisoner to cause the most fear.  It’s wonderfully strange. 

Legend states in the 1890’s, a female inmate fashioned a noose from her bed sheets inside of a tiny west wing cell.  She hanged herself.  Died in the cell and never left the area.

Guards walking the second level at the entrance to the west wing will see her.  

She appears to them.  Seemingly disturbed.  Angry and pacing side to side.  A white gown swaying in a ghostly fog around her.

Journalist Tracey Tyler of The Toronto Star’s legal affairs section, put it well, “… apparently she’s violent due to being trapped in time”.

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