Pretty Town of Perth not without violent crime

A front page headline from the Perth Courier
A front page headline from the Perth Courier of July 18, 1968. Image courtesy Paper of Record online.
Posted on: March 6, 2020

Perth, like most other small communities, has two faces it would seem. One face is the “Prettiest Town in Ontario”, with heritage building galore, and beautiful parks. The other – the dark face – speaks of a past with no shortage of violent crimes against citizens of Perth and the neighbouring townships.

Here are just few instances from the more recent past:

A Nov. 22, 1951 Perth Courier headlined a story: “Perth Detachment Capture Bank Robber.”  The story begins: “Radio co-operation between the Perth Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police and the Police Departments of Perth and Smiths Falls resulted in the capture of Garnet William Burke yesterday morning, one and a half hours after he had robbed.” The suspect in the robbery walked into the Bank of Montreal in Smiths Falls at 10:15 a.m. and asked for the manager, who was busy. The suspect then went to the teller’s cage and pulled a .22 repeater rifle, while warning everyone in the bank not to move. An amount of $959.00 in cash was handed over and the suspect fled on foot to the nearby CPR station and hopped a freight train. Chief Carson Smith of Perth Police, and Inspector T.W. Cousans of the Ontario Provincial Police sped to the Glen Tay crossing, where the Smiths Falls freight was stopped. A search of the train revealed that the bank robber had jumped the train before that location, however a capture was made at the intersection of old and new Hwy. 15. When arrested, the culprit was in possession of a rifle with a loaded magazine and a shell in the chamber, concealed under his full-length coat. After some resistance, he was arrested at gunpoint. All the money was recovered plus 61 cents. Garnet William Burke, age 38, was a former merchant seaman from Nova Scotia and Toronto. He pled guilty to the charge of armed robbery, but his sentence is unknown. 

A May 28, 1953 story was headlined: “Bank Hold-Up.”  It went on to say that “At press time, Ontario Provincial Police were still tracking down the unidentified masked man who forced his way at gunpoint into the Portland Branch of The Royal Bank of Canada Monday afternoon and escaped with an estimated $5,000. The armed bandit, in the daring daylight robbery, entered the bank a few minutes before closing time at 3 p.m.” The culprit walked up to the manager and demanded he fill a large paper bag. “The bandit forced the bank staff and a local lumber mill owner to lie on the floor while he helped himself to the money in the teller’s wicket …”  Soon after the robbery, two Portland residents chased the masked suspect, but were threatened with a gun. The robber then escaped into the nearby woods.

For that crime, Leo Cahill of Smiths Falls entered a guilty plea on Aug. 13, to a charge of armed robbery, after turning himself in to police. “After considering the evidence given during the preliminary hearing and character witness evidence, Judge Donald E. Lewis adjourned the court …”  Cahill appeared again on Aug. 27 for sentencing, and was given one year in the Ontario Reformatory.

“Drover’s Life Threatened In $1,700 Local Barn Robbery” blared a headline in the Feb. 15, 1968 edition of the Courier. “If you’re quiet, you won’t get hurt. If you give us trouble, we’ll kill you.’ With these words, robbers threatened a Perth drover. Long-time Perth resident Ross Rathwell, 68, left home at 18 Cockburn Street at 6:40 p.m. last Friday night. Within an hour he had been attacked, bound hand and foot, and robbed of $1,700. This being money he had withdrawn from the bank the previous day to pay for cattle.” 

Rathwell had been in his barn on the Scotch Line, and when he climbed down from the hay mow to greet a visitor, he was thrown down and bound with baler twine. The robbers fled in a vehicle parked nearby.

Then in the same year the July 18 newspaper carried a story about a grisly murder: “Search Continues for Murder Suspect.” said the headline. “Perth Provincial Police, under the direction of Inspector Lidstone and Detective Sergeant Norman Hogarth, are still checking a number of leads in connection with the death of Herbert Moulton, an 85-year-old bachelor farmer who lived near Ferguson’s Falls.” Moulton was found dead in his old stone farmhouse by a neighbour. The victim was found to have been savagely beaten about the head, and the home ransacked. He died alone on the cold floor of the old house his father had built in the 1820s. 

To this day, there have been no arrests in the Moulton murder case. It is not known if the file was ever brought forward as a cold case, however a tip several years after the crime resulted in some further investigation which came to a dead end. I believe at least one of the suspects is still alive, and will probably take his terrible secret to the grave.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at:

Column by Terry O’Hearn

Hometown News
Author: Hometown News