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Donnelly History - Part Three

The following story was written using the information from William Donnelly's court testimony that was published by The London Free Press in 1880 following the massacre.

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Death On Whalen's Corners

William Donnelly, the second oldest of the seven Donnelly brothers, lived at Whalen's Corners not far from the homestead. He was called, "Clubfoot Will" by some, because he was born with a deformed foot, and many of his enemies believed that he was Satan's ally. Considered he smartest of the brothers, it was his blood the Biddulph Peace Society wanted most of all.

On the night of his family's murder, William was at home with his wife, Nora, and two visitors, his brother, John, and their friend, Martin Hogan. John had showed up at about dusk to secure a cutter for the trip to Granton the next day. As they sat around the kitchen table that evening discussing the "Society", little did the brothers realize that within a few short hours, their parents, brother and cousin, would lay dead in the smouldering ashes of the beloved family home, and the perpetrators of that unforgivable crime would be paying them an unexpected visit.

After inviting Hogan to stay for the night, and showing him and John to their room, William retired to his bed at twelve-thirty; his wife having turned in at about nine o'clock. He had only been asleep a couple of hours then he was awakened by John leaving his room in a hurry. The time was "about twenty-seven minutes after two," William said later during the murder trial. John was sleeping "in the room off mine, (and) had to pass through mine to get into the kitchen".

Will, Will, I'm Shot!

As he scurried through William's bedroom, John said, "I want to see who is rapping at the door and calling fire". He didn't stop and wait for his older brother to join him in his investigation, but went straight to the kitchen door and opened it. Somewhere out in the shadows of the night, he had heard voices yelling; voices that William recognized as belonging to "Martin McLaughlin and young Patrick Ryder". They were hollering, "Fire! Fire! Open the door, Will!"

But William never opened the door on that fateful night. John did. "I heard two shots fired in rapid succession, almost together" Will testified. "The gun was almost in the house, because the smell of gunpowder rushed into my bedroom; I was lying in bed next (to) a door, the top part of which was glass; my wife was in bed on the front side; John fell back against the door of my bedroom, leading off the kitchen. I knew he fell that way because his head came back against the door; He said, 'Will, Will, I'm shot; may the Lord have mercy on my soul!'"

"Lay quiet (or) we will all be killed," warned their friend, Martin Hogan, from the next room. He had jumped out of bed at the sound of the gunfire, and was standing near the bedroom door that opened into William's room. "It is you that they want," he added quickly. "If they find out that it was not you they shot, they will come back and kill you and me, too."

Brother-In-Law Is Easy At Last

He was right, of course. The shots that William had heard had been intended for him, but they hit another target instead... his 32 year-old brother, John, who lay clinging to life on the kitchen floor. As soon as he heard the gunfire, Will lifted the blind and peeked out recognizing immediately three men who were positioned near the house. "I saw John Kennedy, James Carroll and James Ryder, Jr.," he said at the trial. "Kennedy was standing within two or three feet of the door; Carroll was standing with Ryder about nine feet from me."

He also testified that although he couldn't swear to the identities of three other men that he saw standing outside the fence that night, he was sure of the three that he had seen, because he had known them well. "I have known two of them as long as I can remember; I have known Ryder since he was born, and Kennedy is my brother-in-law." James Carroll, he had known "too well" for "two or three years".

As William stared out the window, Nora threw back the covers stating that she was getting up even if it meant getting shot in the process. John had blood coming out of his mouth and he could be heard choking on it. Lighting a candle, she took the light into the kitchen where John lay in a pool of blood. He was in a sorry state; well beyond saving. William said that he counted "twenty-nine holes" in his brother's chest, "well up towards the collar-bone, and several nearer the lungs." Another bullet had hit John in the groin, and passing through it, had lodged itself in the wall on the other side of the room.

When John's body was examined later at the post mortem, William witnessed it, discovering for the first time the full extent of John's injuries. "I saw the doctor open his breast and take out some shot; his ribs were broken, and his lungs perforated with holes; the grains of shot were smaller than buckshot; I saw the doctor probe the wound on both sides of the body where the bullet had passed through; the hole was not straight, but alittle on a slant... I saw where the bullet went through the wall on the inside; it went through the wainscoting, but not through the siding."

With Nora in the kitchen tending to her brother-in-law, William tried to listen to the conversation that was taking place not far from his bedroom window. Although he couldn't make much of what was being said on the other side of the fence, he did hear James Carroll say something to the effect of "What next", or "What's best". "There were some words by parties outside the fence," he testified, "but I could not hear what they were. Kennedy said, 'Brother-in-law is easy at last'. Whenever he was making fun of me in a crowd he called me brother-in-law; I was satisfied then that Hogan's words were right; that it was me they wanted, and that they thought I was the one shot."

Oh Lord, He's Dying!

By now, John was on the threshold of death; mere minutes from meeting his maker. Realizing this, Nora cried, "Oh Lord, he's dying!" and began pulling him towards the bedroom door while William gazed on, most likely in shock of what had just taken place in his home. Hogan came to her aide and helped drag John's body into the room after which Nora dashed off to retrieve a piece of blessed candle. And, while the other two looked on, Hogan held the sacred candle in John's hand until he expired just five minutes after being gunned down in cold blood. William then whispered for his wife to take a look at the clock and note the time of John's passing, and when she returned from the kitchen, she embarked that it was "a minute to half-past two".

They remained in that room of death until dawn crept through the window, afraid to venture outside for fear the murderers were still in the vicinity. "During all the night my brother John was lying dead in the room," William said, "his head at the foot of my bed and his feet against his bedroom door; Hogan had drawn him there and he was quite dead; I got up a little before daylight; my wife and Hogan were there with John in the same room; we were all there together... all this time I never looked at John at all."

As soon as William ascertained that it was safe to go outside, he opened the kitchen door, and immediately noticed footprints in the snow. "At five o'clock when I looked out it was just as light as at half-past two; I opened the kitchen door first and looked at the tracks; there was about six feet of a roof projected over the door, and the snow did not blow in there; outside this door there were the tracks of a pair of boots and a pair of overshoes."

William added in his testimony that he saw footprints leading to all the windows in the house, except for the kitchen, and he believed "the parties had trampled the snow so as to hide up any clue to their identity", because "there was about twenty feet (of snow) packed and trampled around the house".

Later that day, the Coroner was sent for, and William telegraphed his brothers and sister telling them of the horrible tragedy that had befallen the family. He would state later in the courtroom that he had a foreboding feeling after being told that there had been a fire on the Roman Line the night before. "I was satisfied it was father's place," he said. "I was afraid the worst was not heard yet."

And he was right. "The old folks' house had been burned down and all the bodies were lying there burned up." That afternoon, at around 5 p.m., John's body was taken to Lucan in a casket accompanied by William who had survived the Biddulph massacre, and would live on to seek justice for his slain family; a justice that he would never procure.

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Diagram of Murder Scene
Published in The London Advertiser, February 5, 1880.

The following is a re-creation of a diagram of William Donnelly's house that was
published in The London Advertiser, February 5, 1880. It was probably drawn
using William's description of his home, and the scene he witnessed the night
his brother died. This is a copy of the original as it appeared in the paper the
day after the massacre.

Diagram of William Donnelly's HouseDiagram re-designed by Webmaster


Doorway where John was shot
William's bedroom
William's bed
John's bedroom
Covered porch where assassin stood.
John's bed
Spot where bullet was found imbedded in wall.

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HISTORICAL INFORMATION SOURCE: 1880 London Free Press article reprinted in
'The Donnelly Tragedy - 1880-1990', published by Phelps Publishing Company,
London, and 'The Donnellys Must Die' by Orlo Miller, published by Macmillan, Toronto.
Copyright © 1998-99 All rights reserved. Article written by Webmaster
Reproduction of this article in any form is prohibited.

NOTE TO STUDENTS: You may use the historical information on this web site
for your Donnelly school projects, but please do not copy the articles word for word.
These copyrighted articles are the sole property of The Official Donnelly Home Page.

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