At the time of her death in the autumn of 1894, 13-year-old Jessie Keith’s murder was considered one of the most gruesome slayings in Canadian history.
“At the time, it was considered the most gruesome to play out in Canadian history just because of the innocence of the girl. It was at noon hour on a weekday in broad daylight … and also there was a mutilation involved – some very gory parts to this murder,” said author and researcher John Goddard, whose latest book, The Man with the Black Valise, details the Listowel-area murder, the subsequent manhunt and the public outcry across Perth County.
We apologize, but this video has failed to load.
Try refreshing your browser.
New book explores one of Perth County's most gruesome murdersBack to video
Having come across the story while researching historical monuments in Stratford and Perth County, Goddard said he felt compelled to continue digging.
Prior to her death, Keith lived on her family’s farm, just outside of Listowel. On Oct. 19, 1894, her mutilated body was discovered in a nearby swampy forest.
Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.
Article content continued
The crime sent a shock wave across the county and beyond, ultimately coming to the attention of Det. John Wilson Murray, the inspiration for fictional detective William Murdoch of the popular TV series Murdoch Mysteries. In his book, Goddard traces Murray’s efforts to catch the murderer, Almede Chattelle – described by witnesses as a thick-set drifter carrying a black valise or briefcase – across three counties before he was arrested and ultimately hung, the first of three public hangings in Perth County.
“But every town kind of has one of these murders by now. What really sort of brings this out of the ordinary is how the people of Perth County responded to it,” Goddard said. “All the authorities did their jobs very, very well, and people were angry about the murder. There were a couple of ugly scenes along the way, but in the end they all pulled together and they took up a collection and they sent away to buy a block of marble from northern Italy … from the same quarry that Michelangelo got his stone for David.”
Once it arrived, the marble was used to sculpt a statue of the Roman goddess Flora over Keith’s grave in Listowel’s Fairview Cemetery, a memorial Goddard is applying to have officially recognized as an Ontario Heritage Site.
To mark the 125th anniversary of Keith’s death, Goddard will be in Stratford to speak about his research into the murder, as well as a number of other high-profile Perth County murders. His first appearance will be at a meeting of the Stratford and District Historical Society at The Queen’s Inn on Oct. 18, beginning at 9 p.m. He will then be a guest of the Stratford Writers Festival on Oct. 19 at the Stratford Public Library starting at 2 p.m.