This Week in Peterborough: 1924


Fred McGaughey, accused of the murder of Beatrice Fee, is led into court in Lindsay on September 30th, 1924. (Peterborough Examiner, October 1st, 1924)

Leaving aside the dark days of the Great War, and the tragedies it inflicted on the people of Peterborough, it has been some time in this series since we encountered a really horrendous local story.  Our look at the early autumn of 1924, however, will take care of that — you have been warned — as we have a tragic crime in Lindsay to be dealt with.  However, it was not an entirely gloomy time; there were, once again, exciting things happening for Peterborough’s baseball fans!  So read on…

While there were definitely stories coming in for abroad at the beginning of October in 1923, there was seems to have been nothing that was particularly grabbing the interest of Peterborough residents.  On an ominous note, however, the September 30th Peterborough Examiner noted that the German government “fear[s] a demonstration and a possible attempt at a coup” in Bavaria.  The reason for the worry was the impending release from prison of “notorious agitator Wolf Hitler,” in jail since the “Beer Hall Putsch” the previous November.  This is the first encounter with Adolf Hitler in this series, but, as I’m sure you can imagine, it will not be the last (I do not know why the Examiner named him “Wolf” in its article — a simple error, presumably).


George Howard Ferguson, Premier of Ontario in 1924. (Image Source)

In Ontario, meanwhile, voters were set to cast their ballots in a provincial referendum over whether to maintain the Ontario Temperance Act, a piece of legislation passed in 1916 that prohibited the sale of alcohol in the province.  While Prohibition, in theory, was quite popular with residents of Ontario (the O.T.A. had survived two previous province-wide votes), there were some problems with it in reality.  Chief among these was that the Act had not stopped the liquor trade to any great degree, and in fact had simply made it ungovernable.  Even the Examiner, which campaigned firmly in favour of the O.T.A., noted this issue in a September 30th editorial:

“Yet the plain truth of the matter seems to be that to a considerable extent the bar is in operation again and under conditions far more serious than when its traffic was legalized.”

The referendum was held on October 23rd, 1924, and voters, including those in Peterborough, once again backed the Ontario Temperance Act.  However, it was very close, and the final results showed that the Act was much-disliked in the major centres of Toronto, Ottawa, and Hamilton.  Very quietly, the Conservative government of Premier G. Howard Ferguson set about searching for an alternative, and in 1927 the O.T.A. would be replaced by the Liquor License Act, which created the L.C.B.O. (and much later the L.L.B.O.) and set up the system that we have in the province today.


Beatrice Fee. (Peterborough Examiner, October 1st, 1924 — click to see larger image)

The big local news — it was dominating not only the front page but the rest of the daily newspaper as well — at this time in 1924 was actually taking place up the road in Lindsay, and I should warn you again that it was horrible.  In May of that year, a man by the name of Frederick W. McGaughey had shot his fiancée, Beatrice Fee, several times after taking her out for a drive one evening.  He had then dragged her back to his house, and left her bleeding to death on his bed.  The two were discovered by friends looking for them after they failed to arrive for a family dinner.  Although Beatrice Fee died soon after, she survived long enough to make a full statement, and left little doubt about what it was that McGaughey had been after: “If I had been a bad girl, Helen, I would never have been shot,” she said to one of the friends who found her.  McGaughey was quickly arrested, and his trial was set to commence on September 30th.

When McGaughey’s trial began, the prosecution immediately set out to portray him as a violently possessive drunk.  In this, they were convincing; according to friends of the victim, McGaughey had wanted an immediate marriage, had disliked the fact that his fiancée worked in a big city (Toronto), and had been furious when he discovered that she wanted to spend some time travelling.  “[I]f she was going to waste two years running around before she could decide,” he had reportedly said at one point, “he would stop her from going” (Peterborough Examiner, October 1st, 1924).  Beatrice Fee, for her part, had had concerns about McGaughey’s drinking, enough to put their relationship on six-month “probation period,” and the day before her murder had expressed fear of being left alone with him.

The facts of the crime were hardly in doubt, so McGaughey’s lawyers launched an insanity defense, claiming that their client suffered from catatonic dementia praecox — in layman’s terms, that he had been unaware of what he was doing.  This was reinforced by McGaughey himself, who maintained, in the courtroom, what the October 1st Examiner described as a “sphinx-like demeanour.”  However, a wooden chair may have undone the argument.  On the second day of the trial, the accused requested a cushion, claiming that his seat was uncomfortable.  According to the prosecution’s expert psychiatric witnesses (including Peterborough’s Dr. Robert Armour), such ability to experience discomfort proved that McGaughey’s catatonia was feigned (the Examiner called it “a pose”).  The experts were supported by the testimony of those who had observed him behaving normally while in jail.


Peterborough Examiner, October 3rd, 1924.

After a two-day trial, McGaughey was found guilty of murder.  At that point, as the October 3rd Examiner noted dramatically, “the court constable was despatched for a calendar, with its grim portent.”  McGaughey was sentenced to hang on December 5th, 1924, although the judge did note — contrary to the Examiner headline that you can see to the right — that his insanity defense would be a factor in any decision regarding clemency.  But there was to be no commutation of the sentence; Frederick McGaughey went to the gallows on the appointed day, one of only two people to be hanged at Lindsay post-Confederation (the first execution there had occurred in 1873).  The December 5th Examiner summed up the whole sad story:

“The State has settled its score with him, but in the eternal lists of those to whom pure love was given, McGaughey will be perhaps pitied, like the savage who in his ignorance destroyed a priceless jewel worth more than his whole tribe.”

Peterborians hunting for relief from the tragic events being laid out in the courthouse in Lindsay could look, once again, to the baseball diamond.  As we discussed in last week’s post, 1923 had been a banner year for the city’s baseballers, as they won provincial titles in four of the six competition categories of the Ontario Baseball Amateur Association.  A repeat of such triumph was always going to be unlikely, and indeed the fall of 1924 found but one Peteborough ballclub with championship aspirations.  It was the junior division entrants, the Lakeviews, who were still flying the flag, with their star pitcher, Frank Whitehouse, again at the fore.


Frank Whitehouse. (Image Source)

We first met Whitehouse in the 1923 story, when he threw a no-hitter against Niagara Falls as the Lakeviews became champions of Ontario.  And on September 27th, 1924, the 18-year-old was back in the local headlines as his team visited the Toronto McCormicks in the first game of the provincial junior finals.  Whitehouse’s pitching opponent on the day was James “Irish” Rasson, and the two put on a show, dueling each other for 17 innings before play was called with the score tied at three.  Whitehouse struck out 25 in the game (Rasson struck out 23).  The Lakeviews’ pitcher also went three-for-eight at the plate, and scored one of Peterborough’s runs.  On September 29th, the Examiner described the performance of the “crack southpaw” as follows:

“He had a world of stuff with plenty of hop on his fast one and a drop that had McCormick’s completely at sea.  When they tried to step out in front to meet his drop Frankie blew the fast one by them and when they were set for the fast one he’d cross them with a back-breaking hook.”

With nothing resolved after that opening tie, the two teams returned to Peterborough, where the Toronto side won game two by a score of 3-1.  But the Lakeviews evened the series back in Toronto, 6-0, as Whitehouse held the McCormicks to two hits over six innings in a darkness-shortened affair.  That meant a deciding game was needed; on October 15th, on the neutral ground of Oshawa, Whitehouse and the Lakeviews became junior champions for the second year in a row, winning by a score of 7-4.  As baseball seasons went, it may not have equalled the four titles of 1923, but it was a good season for Peterborough nonetheless.

Frank Whitehouse would go on to play professionally, earning a contract with the AAA Baltimore Orioles and wearing the uniforms of a number of other minor league clubs in the United States as well.  After retiring in the 1930s, he returned to Peterborough, where he lived until his death in 1961.  He was inducted in the Peterborough & District Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.

That will do for 1924, I think.  Next time out, of course, we will look at early October of 1925, but in the meantime you can read up on happenings in Peterborough at this time of year in 1872 (there was local criminality at work then, too, but fortunately not of the lethal kind)!


One of these things is not like the other things… (Peterborough Examiner, September 27th, 1924)

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One Response to This Week in Peterborough: 1924

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