Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder by Patrick Brode

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

On November 6, 1920, in the midst of Ontario’s prohibition, Provincial liquor inspector, Reverend  J.O.L “Leslie” Spracklin walked into the Chappell House Hotel in Windsor, Ontario and shot Beverly “Babe” Trumble at close range, killing him. What happened that day and how did Spracklin get away with murder?

 

 

Given the part that Ontario played in the US prohibition, which started in 1920, one would not assume that Ontario was dry at that time. The Ontario Temperance Act was passed in 1916 and while liquor could be produced and exported, it was not legal to consume. Brode begins Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder outlining Ontario’s history with alcohol and its citizens lack of reverence for the newly established rules after prohibition passed. Windsor, which is across a river just south of Detroit, Michigan,  was a special concern for the officials in Toronto as liquor seemed to flow freely back and forth across the water. There were speakeasys everywhere and hotels and social clubs would serve both locally produced and homemade products.  There are stately homes now in the lovely Walkervile area of Windsor, built by people that got rich off of the illegal flow of alcohol.

The Ontario Attorney General of the day, William Rainey, opted to bypass the local police and engage private enforcement for the liquor laws. He appointed Spracklin, the Pastor of Sandwich Methodist Church, a liquor inspector and Spracklin brought on board his own force including a very dubious Hallam brothers. From the start, there was a massive overreaching on the part of the team and allegations that when “inspections” would happen, things would go missing. The team didn’t shy away from violence and didn’t seem to care about the optics of their raids or the positions of the subjects. Rather than seeming the law of the Wild West of Ontario, they were coming off as bullies. What caused Spracklin and his men to raid the Chappell House on that November night is unknown but stories of what happened varied wildly and seem to have been the last straw for those that employed Spracklin. It may seem a spoiler in the title to say that Spracklin got away with murder but, as in any true crime, the journey is key.

At 216 pages, a quarter of which is bibliography, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a quick read. Brode, a local historian, covers Prohibition and how it was passed before going into the lives of the participants and the difference in the ways they were raised and how they looked at life. Their mothers came from the same area of Ontario to Windsor and were friends. The retelling of the event itself it brief with more detail going into the subsequent trial. It was interesting, as someone who has lived in Essex County, for 21 years, to read the names that remain familiar in the city of Windsor. Trumble’s body was handled by Janisse Funeral Home which is still in operation 100 years later. Spracklin’s men stopped people leaving Our Lady of Assumption Church, a church that was a risk for a few years but is now being restored, to search vehicles for alcohol. The trial took place at Mackenzie Hall; now an event space and where Mr. Rabid Readers and I had our wedding reception. There is a historic courtroom preserved with original furnishings in the building that is now used for Landlord-Tenant Court and as an interpretive display piece.

If you are interested in the subject, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a great read. The start is a bit dry so one must bear with the work but once the author gets into the local events and his subjects; Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is utterly fascinating and a very quick read.

 

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