Mayhem to Murder: The History of the Markham Gang

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Mayhem to Murder: The History of the Markham Gang

Book:Mayhem to Murder: The History of the Markham Gang
Published: 2003 Publisher: Observer Publishing of Port Perry

In June 1845, the British Colonist, a popular Toronto newspaper, revealed that an organized gang of outlaws was in operation across the province. They came mainly from the regions surrounding Toronto, particularly to the east. The press named them the 'Markham Gang'.

The range of crimes was extensive - from petty theft, burglary, forgery and an elaborate system of horse stealing, to murder. Their crimes extended throughout the province and beyond.

Markham Gang members were not idle, unemployed ne'er-do-wells or vagrants; they were successful merchants and businessmen, and errant sons and daughters of respectable families. This was a homegrown, nineteenth century Canadian 'mafia', one of the earliest known cases of organized crime in British North America.

Four members of the gang were sentenced to be executed. Then, quietly, their sentences were reduced to life in prison. But within five years they were mysteriously released. Most court and prison records have disappeared. Indeed, many of those convicted went on to become prominent citizens; their criminal past somehow kept quiet.

Price: $21.95

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August 29, 2003

DURHAM- Durham historian and author Paul Arculus has turned to murder in his latest book.

Mayhem to Murder: The History of the Markham Gang traces the activities of the Markham Gang, which operated in southern Ontario in the 1840s.

"A few years ago, while searching through the Toronto newspapers of the 1840s, I came across accounts of a group that became known as the Markham Gang," said Arculus, of Port Perry. "Their exploits dominated the April to July 1846 pages of the British Colonist, a prominent Toronto newspaper."

They were given the name 'Markham Gang' because the final roundup of several gang members took place in Markham and some of the gang members originated from that community, Arculus said. However, many members came from the nearby townships of Pickering, Reach, Uxbridge and Whitby.

Three members were the sons of Reuben Crandell, the first white settler in Scugog Township, who was himself wanted for murder in 1855, he said. His sons all served time in Kingston Penitentiary for crimes they committed with the gang. The group of thugs include other familiar pioneer family names from the region, such as Badgerow, Buck, Case, Graham and Stoutenburg. Their activities, including petty theft, burglary, horse stealing, attempted murder and murder, spread into New York and Michigan. Many were successful merchants and businessmen or the sons and daughters of respectable families, related Arculus.

The trials of members revealed this was not an ordinary gang of hoodlums, but was highly organized with secrecy and loyalty oaths and a distribution system for selling the stolen goods, he said. The gang was also accused of bribery of police and court officials.

But the gang quickly disappeared from public view. One member was hanged and four others were imprisoned and released in 1853, the author said. Records of the trials and certain prison records have vanished.

Arculus' book is based on years of researching newspapers of the 1840's including "The British Colonist" which specialized in reporting on news from the courts and legislature. He found that information on the gang was limited. In many cases there was an absence of prison and court documents proving the incarceration of Markham Gang members.