Article written by Brian Henley (originally released in the Hamilton Spectator)
In the late afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 10, 1905, three young lads from Hamilton’s north-end hiked up the Mountain to search the farmlands south of the brow for chestnuts.
For Mike Simms, Harry Capelle, and Eddie Dobbs who had followed a side road (Upper Wellington Street south to the Seventh Concession (Limeridge Road East), it was the opening chapter in a murder mystery that remains unsolved today.
At Limestone Ridge, a farm owned by Harry Marshall, which fronted onto the stone road to Caledonia (now Upper James Street), the boys discovered the body of a woman, her head lying in a pool of blood.
There was no question that woman had been murdered.
Running across the road to a cornfield where James Johnston and his two sons were working, the boys breathlessly broke the news. Mr. Johnston had a look himself, then called the police from Mr. Marshall’s house.
The body was taken to the morgue at the Blachard and Son Undertaking parlor on King Street West in downtown Hamilton. It was found the woman had been shot in the head, but there were no clues as to her identity.
After the body had been properly prepared, it was put on display in the hope someone would identify the unfortunate woman. More than 1.200 people passed through the funeral parlor on the first day, but no positive identification was made.
All three Hamilton daily newspapers, The Herald, The Times and The Spectator splashed news of the murder in bold type across their front pages. The Times featured a drawing of the unknown woman, done from a photograph of the murder victim after the embalmers had done their work.
The Spectator featured a large, hand-drawn map of the murder scene which was used by thousands who visited the scene of the crime from dawn until dusk the next day.
Souvenir hunters took home parts of the bush used to hide the body.
Before the woman was finally buried, an estimated 10,000 pep ole viewed the body, but none know who she was.
The case, which came to be known as the Barton Murder, was widely covered in newspapers throughout Canada and the United States. Several people confessed to the killing but none of their stories proved to be true.
A spiritualist and mind-reader, Miss Ann Eva Fay, declared with great flair, she would reveal the name of the murdered woman and her assailant on stage at one of her Hamilton performances. She was unable to match her boasts and the Barton Murder remained a mystery.
After an investigation lasting more than seven months, a coroner’s jury on May 1, 1906, ruled that nothing more was to be determined about the identity of the murdered woman or about the person responsible for her death.
Update – From Rose Keefe
“In 2008 I spoke to an elderly Burlington resident about local history. When our conversation progressed from society ladies to long-vanished landmarks to famous crimes, she spoke about the Barton murder.
“That poor girl who died on the mountain,” she said sadly, “I remember my mother and grandmother talking about that. People used to go up and see where it happened. But they were scared, mind you. No lady slept in the dark for a long time afterward. Grandmother was sure a fire would start with all those lamps burning.”