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Edwin Boyd: Danforth boy gone bad

Edwin Boyd died in 2002, but he would be smiling to see his name in headlines once again. Toronto's most infamous criminal always wanted to be the centre of attention, a Hollywood star like James Cagney. Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster is a beautifully shot period piece with terrific performances from Scott Speedman, Kevin Durand, Kelly Reilly, Charlotte Sullivan, Brian Cox and Beach resident Melanie Scrofano. A wintry Sault Ste. Marie stands in for post-war Toronto. The film won the Best First Canadian Feature prize at TIFF for director Nathan Morlando.

Scott Speedman as the titular criminal in Edwin Alonzo Boyd: the Story of the Notorious Boyd Gang.

Boyd helped Morlando write the script, which may explain the sympathetic portrayal of a charming ‘gentleman’ bank robber. The real Edwin Boyd was a much more disturbing character. Late in life he made the chilling confession, “I did a few things that could have got me hung.” For the full story read Brian Vallee's book, Edwin Alonzo Boyd: the Story of the Notorious Boyd Gang (1997).

In the summer of 1928, 14-year-old Ed decided to run off and join the French Foreign Legion. His parents would need to believe that he was dead. He rode an old bicycle down to the beach at the foot of Woodbine Avenue and piled some clothes and a pair of running shoes on the sand. In a shirt pocket Ed left a paper with his name on it. His plan was to walk east on Kingston Road to Oshawa the first day. He got as far as Whitby. Police dragged the lake for hours looking for his body. Glover Boyd couldn't have been pleased – Eddie's father was a Toronto constable, walking the beat for 25 years.

Ed had the bad luck to be born in 1914, not long before his dad went overseas to fight in World War One. When Glover Boyd returned home in 1919, the young boy was replaced in his mother's arms by a man he didn't know. His stern and religious father became a policeman at Number 10 Station on Main Street, now Community Centre 55. It was a short walk over the bridge from the family home on Harris Avenue near the Danforth.

The Boyds moved to Chisholm Avenue and Glebemount Avenue with Ed attending Gledhill, Secord and Earl Beatty Schools. He excelled at sports and music, but had no interest in the three ‘Rs’ and especially didn't like to follow rules. With a policeman for a father, Ed impressed his friends by getting into trouble. He never made it to high school.

His mom's death had a devastating effect on Ed at 15. He soon quit school and left home. By 1930 he was a drifter out west, riding the rails, surviving the Depression by conning women, odd jobs and petty theft. At 22, ‘Eddie’ Boyd robbed a gas station and spent two and a half years in a penitentiary.

When the Second World War came along in 1939, hobos became heroes. Eddie served in France, but didn't like army rules and became a military policeman of all things.

Citizen Gangster picks up the story with Eddie returning home from overseas, a British war bride and three kids in tow. He got a good job as a TTC streetcar motorman on the Yonge Street line (not a bus driver as in the movie). More rules! Boyd was soon bored with routine civilian life. (Maybe he got tired of waiting for the Yonge subway to be finished in 1954). Between 1949 and 1952, Boyd committed at least 11 bank robberies and escaped from the Don Jail twice, sparking a media frenzy and the largest manhunt in Canadian history. The very first CBC Toronto television newscast shows Lorne Greene (the ‘Voice of Canada’ and later the patriarch on Bonanza) reporting on the dramatic events. Ironically, Boyd wanted to attend Greene's Academy of Radio Arts under the delusion that a 35-year-old ex-con could become a Hollywood star by flashing his smile.

Two members of the Boyd Gang were hanged in 1952 for the murder of Sergeant of Detectives Edmund Tong. Boyd was paroled out of prison in 1966 and moved to B.C. Author Brian Vallee alleges that Boyd was responsible for the 1947 robbery/murder of a couple in High Park. Their strangled bodies were found in the trunk of a car. A CBC documentary Unmasking the Myth: The Life and Times of Edwin Alonzo Boyd (2002) concluded that “the new revelations unmask Boyd as an ego-driven psychopath whose own words connect him to unsolved crimes committed half a century ago.” Boyd figured, “if it's so easy to rob a bank, what the hell am I working for?…I just enjoyed the money.”

After conversations with Boyd, director Morlando “realized that he had suffered an immense amount of loss. He had lost his family. It was a tragic love story.” Also, “He had the courage to reach for an extraordinary life.” How much ‘courage’ and ‘charm’ does it take to put a gun in a female bank teller's face? Our city was terrorized by a ruthless gang. Bullets flew in bank holdups and shootouts with lawmen. Two policemen were shot in the line of duty.

Even from the grave, the con man is fooling people.

Some reviewers have fallen for the ‘decent family man’ myth, even writing about Boyd working as a film extra or actor. Film and TV production was non-existent in the 1940s in Toronto.

NOW magazine called Boyd “a failed actor” (he never even tried), “dismayed by public indifference towards war veterans” (an ex-con with a grade seven education given a good TTC job and throwing it away), and a “family man and impoverished war veteran” (between the war, on the run and in prison, he must have spent about five minutes with his kids. His own father helped him financially).

Boyd robbed the Bank of Toronto at 1436 Kingston Rd. near Warden of $10,000 in June 1952, one of what critic Rex Reed calls “friendly, nonviolent attempts to relieve banks of a few piles of small bills.” He engaged in shootouts with armed bank managers. Boyd was arrested with five guns by his bedside.

Do we glorify violence and glamorize criminals? The movies have always loved gangsters, making folk heroes of thugs like Bonnie and Clyde. It's exciting to see that rarest of films, one about a part of Toronto history. Just know that Edwin Boyd was no hero and anything but a ‘model citizen’.

There won't be any movies made about popular detective Eddie Tong. Now there was a hero.

33 Responses »

  1. Once again, I'm forced to read through opinion's based soley on feelings versus facts. It's annoying when trying to research anything on the net these days. There are way too many people who have to ram their personal opinion down your throat.
    I'm not five years old. I know the difference between movies and reality. Who is the author to say what kind of man Edwin Boyd was? Or what kind of father? There is always 3 sides to EVERY story, his, hers and THE TRUTH. I'm unaware of anyone calling him a hero, so get off your soap box. Unless you have walked in someone's shoes, you have no idea what his thought process was, his beliefs, loves and losses.

  2. I consider it incredible that after serving his prison sentence, Boyd relocated to British Columbia where he became a caretaker for a disabled woman. I recently learned this from a TV documentary about Boyd.

  3. To: Born 1964

    He was forced to move to BC by the powers that be, cops, politicians.
    And they gave him a new identity cause there was too much media
    frenzy about him at the time.
    In the recent movie he wanted his family to move our there with him
    but his wife, Doreen, had moved on and re-married someone else.

    Facts that aren't mentioned in the movie (not sure about the books).
    My Aunt, who is in her late 80's, was working in a small bank in a town
    north east of Toronto. During the late 40's the Boyd Gang robbed the
    bank. She fainted, and when she came to, I believe she said Edwin Boyd
    gave her a glass of water. They then robbed the bank and put the employees
    in the vault.

  4. To Michelle,
    You ask how can I say what kind of man Edwin Boyd was. From the CBC, "2002, Edwin Boyd tells a fifth estate producer he murdered a man and a woman and dumped their bodies in Toronto's High Park. The details of the crime fit the Sept. 11, 1947 murders of Iris Scott and George Vigus." My wife and I have been the injured victims of armed robbery. It is not polite or charming. Walk in the steps of the families of those murdered in cold-blood by the Boyd Gang, including policeman Eddie Tong who stopped their car. I researched this article and have a right to voice my opinion about a sympathetic movie which Boyd himself helped to write and makes him out to be a hero.
    Eddie started young, stealing from neighbours when he knew they were at Mass. At 14, he faked his death. In 1962, he called the police on his ex-wife after an altercation. He broke parole and went back to jail until 1966. He married a disabled woman in B.C. Nobody forced you to read my article, nobody put a gun to your head...that's more Edwin Boyd's style.

  5. the infamous boyd gang in the early fifties had other shady caracters ascoiatated with them such as gangster sammy stone my uncle who was married to my aunt who was murdered in Hamilton at the jockey club --- there s more to this story but i shall keep it ---

  6. I am the grandson of Sam Stone, brother to Leonard Jackson and member of the Leonard Jackson gang, as it was originally called. My grandfather was a career criminal. A fact I take no pride in. It was he that influenced Leonard to follow the path he did through excample. His first crime was robbery with violence, commited in Niagra Falls, Ontario when he was 18 years old. He was sentenced to 3 years and served at the Victoria reform school till his release at age 21. During the depression he became as so many others a hobo. He road the rails and finaly settled down somewhat in Hamilton, Ontario, where he met my grandmother Bertha Wright. Sam always kept a low profile and was never a braggert. He is the one member of the gang never to be identified. He knew Edward Boyd well and despised him. He always said of him that Boyd was a rat and a murderer. When Leonard brought him into the gang my grandfather pulled a robbery on his own so that he could get caught. He was sentenced to 12 years in Kingston Penn. He felt fortunate because he knew that no good would come of Boyd joining the gang. It was the newspaper wars in the late 40's and early 50's that elevated Boyd's status. Boyd'd ego could not be contained. He was always seeking headlines at the cost of the other members of the gang. He was no gentleman. My grandfather while in Kingston Penn would gather intellegence and sister Mary Mitchell would pass it on to Leonard allowing Leonard to stay one step ahead of Edmund Tong who had become obsessed with capturing the gang.

  7. Leonard Jackson was the leader of the gang. He along with Steve Suchan hung at the Don Jail in Toronto after Suchan shot and killed Edmund Tong and wounded Officer Roy Perry.

  8. I agree with you Mr. Fletcher. Like my grandfather Boyd was always a thief and a rounder. I have never heard of any acting aspirations where he was concerned but who know's? It was my grandfathers influence that cost Lenny Jackson his foot climbing on a moving freight train. It was his influence that led Lenny from Niagra Falls to Toronto and a life of crime. Sam came to live with us here in Hamilton after he got out of Kingston Penn, he turned his back on crime, worked hard and tried to live a good life. I spent a lot of time with him from 1967 till his death in 1976 from a stroke. He used to drive me out to Niagra Falls to see my great grandmother Lillian at her Hair Salon on Lundy's Lane. His brother Benjamin would never speak to him. Benjamin blamed him for Lenny's death and rightly so. I do not judge anyones feelings in this regard. The tragedy effects us all. My grandmother was murdered in 1950. My mother at 13 years old had to give testimony at the trial. Sam to my knowledge never killed anyone. He was many things. He was a smuggler for Rocco Perry in the 1930's here in Hamilton. He also lived with a lot of regret. Thank you for your article. Gerald S. Hayes

  9. whatever became of his children? are they still alive, have any of them ever spoke publically about their lives? (that is something I'd like to hear/read about)

  10. Hi Teri, thanks for your reply. Boyd's daughter, Carolyn, is alive and well, living in a small town just outside Toronto. The filmmaker used some of her childhood memories in the film and she considers it a "compassionate" look at her father and mother. "Most parents would not let their children play with us." (toronto.com/article/727126 from May 11, 2012). Maclean's also wrote about the Boyd family on May 16, 2012. Try to read Brian Vallee's book on Boyd or google "Edwin Boyd's daughter". I am not sure about Boyd's other children. He was estranged from them for most of his life. Boyd's ex-wife Doreen is now deceased. It is a sad story for Boyd's family who are certainly blameless of his crimes (the kids really did help dry out money in the oven and it caught fire...now that's burning money.)

  11. I judged Edwin too, Michelle, when was (I thought) learning about his life.

    It was a gut reaction, a state of temporary insanity, to think that I can truly judge another human being, never mind one I've never laid eyes one.

    How often have we all been wrong in judgments of our loved ones & ourselves, never mind a stranger?

    How many cherished scientific theories (the evidence based judgements of cool-headed Nobel Prize winners with brains the size of a small planet) have we had to discard or modify in the light of fuller knowledge?

    As human beings with limited facts at our disposal and limited understanding of what facts we may have, we should be truthful with ourselves and accept that judgement of others foolish.

    If you want your loved ones to be happy, show compassion. And if you want to be happy -show compassion.

    Too bad it's so habit-forming in our culture. Thank God that our culture continues to evolve.

  12. To Norm,
    Thank you for your philosophical letter. I agree compassion is a good emotion. I wonder how much compassion Boyd felt as he strangled the life out of a 22 year-old girl in High Park. How much terror did she feel watching her male friend murdered in front of her eyes knowing she was about to die, stuffed in the trunk of a car for Boyd's thrill? Even other career criminals described Boyd as a "rat and a murderer" (see above). How much compassion did the Boyd Gang show Constable Eddie Tong, shot dead before he even drew his gun? Every day we ask policemen to protect us from thugs and psychopaths like Boyd. If Boyd hadn't gone to jail, who knows how many of us he would have robbed and/or murdered in cold blood. Boyd got to live out his life. Sorry, I don't have much compassion for him and I will judge him based on the facts and his own confession of guilt. Evil should be judged by others. Save the violins for someone who deserves our sympathy.

  13. Interestingly enough, I know one of Constable Tong's relatives ... they have not forgotten that Boyd's gang was responsible for the taking of a loved one's life.

    Boyd had opportunities that he took away from Constable Tong's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was only 48 when he was fatally shot (and his partner wounded) by members of the Boyd Gang.

    I'm saddended by the glorification of this criminal and murderer, and I quite agree with the writer's sentiments.

  14. Most people play the hand they are dealt in life. As previously stated by Michelle, it appears he had some excruciating circumstances early on in his life that seemed to forge the path of life he was headed for. It's unfortunate lives were lost during that path of destruction (though it appeared that 2 of the other more rogue gang members made that decision on their own), but I can bare witness for people who have great hearts & are loving family members but were put in undesirable predicaments and teetered on the other side of the law to better their situation. As The Lord Himself stated, "He without sin can cast the first stone".

  15. To Soon Pat, Norm and Michelle,
    You are all entitled to your opinion that Edwin Boyd deserves our sympathy, but frankly I am baffled as to why we should excuse his criminal behaviour. Do you have any facts to back up your opinion? Are you seriously suggesting that a man who strangled a 22-year-old girl to death for kicks may have had a "great heart"? Where are the "excruciating circumstances early on in his life"? Boyd grew up in a nice, detached house in a middle-class neighbourhood with a policeman for a father. He stole from neighbours when he knew they were at church. How much did he care about his parents when he faked his suicide at 14 to run away? His rationale for becoming a career criminal was "if it's so easy to rob a bank, what the hell am I working for?" By 22, he was in prison. When he had a family and a good job, he threw it away. What "predicament" was he in? Working for a living?
    Murderers deserve to be judged and punished. Did you hear the one about the boy who ransacked his parents' home and asked for sympathy because he came from a "broken home". (If he killed his parents, would he merit sympathy as an "orphan"?) As for quoting Scripture, for the record, I am against stoning women to death for adultery.

  16. Fletcher should get off of the hysterical, axe-grinding grandstand.

    Boyd was obviously no choir boy, but he was never convicted, tried, charged, arrested, investigated or tied by evidence to the murder of anyone. Yet, Fletcher keeps harping on about him killing a 22-year-old girl for kicks. The only connection that Boyd had to the 1947 double homicide in question was that he said he killed a couple of people years before he started robbing banks.

    Nothing was ever proven in this regard, and his "confession" could have come from anyone who learned about this crime from reading the newspaper. In this, he could have been blowing smoke in an attempt to get a rise out of his listener, or wanted to add to the already well-established mystique of his reputation.

    Tong was not killed by Boyd, but rather by a couple of slobs affiliated with him while they were working on their own. To attempt to tie Boyd to this killing is totally disingenuous.

    Plenty of people follow lives of crime due to having low character, but that doesn't make them psychopaths. Thieves, even armed ones, aren't necessarily killers. And, I really have to question the opinion of a slimy career criminal when it comes to describing the lack of virtues in another career criminal.

    I don't know why Fletcher has such a hardon for Boyd, but, I find it unseemly to be engaging in slams that border on the libelous about someone who isn't alive anymore to defend themselves, even if that someone was a bank robber.

  17. I am the grand niece of Iris Scott, the woman that Boyd confessed to murdering in September 1947 along with her friend George Vigas. Their bodies were left in the trunk of a car in a secluded area in High Park, Toronto. My grandmother (Iris's sister) never recovered from the loss of her sister. To make matters worse, my Uncle Joe (Iris's brother) lived the rest of his life having been falsely accused of murdering his sister. It was thought not just by police at the time, but unfortunately by some family members, that Joe had killed his sister, however he could not be accused of the crime due to a lack of evidence and a pretty solid alibi. Just imagine having to live life with a false accusation such as this always over your head, knowing full well that you are totally innocent. This tragedy affected our family for generations - as a child we could not speak of this event because it would hurt my grandma. We could not visit High Park because of it's association with this event. Mr. Boyd caused a tremendous amount of grief and heartache to a lot of very good people. To idealize him in any way, shape or form is really quite disgusting. I am grateful that he did finally confess to this murder. Hopefully it has brought closure to a senseless act of violence. I do know that the remaining members of my mother's family (myself included) watched with keen interest the 5th Estate airing of Brian's interview. My mom, along with her siblings were interviewed for this taping. It gave each of them an opportunity to express their feelings about how this tragedy impacted their lives, but mostly the life of their mother. I know that Mr. Boyd is NOT resting peacefully - he is exactly where he belongs finally...

  18. Just saw the movie..thought it was an ok movie ...then checked google.... now as for everyone that has commented on here ....take a pill..!!!

  19. So I saw the movie today. Thought I'd read on Wikipedia what the guy was about (cause I never could believe what Hollywood dishes up, since it's all about getting the ratings)
    And I stumbled onto this website. I read all the comments and got so infuriated with some of you guys. I mean really! ! There is nothing "cool" about a robber especially an armed one. I think you guys romanticize this in your head (probably want to escape your meaningless lives) and play right into Hollywood 's hands. If you want to FEEL what a robbery is like, come stay in South Africa for a while. The feeling of being totally impotent, and scared to death for your life and that of your family, is not very romantic, I can promise you that. I would like to encourage all of you to think while you're watching a movie. Just think about the other guy. The victim (the real victim ) and what they went through. In life there aren't good guys and bad guys. All persons are good people (nice people) who sometimes do bad things. But there are people who do it on purpose for their own gain. And stop feeling sorry for someone(or yourself) who had a bad life. Everyone know what's right and what's wrong. That's what the law is all about. People choose to do bad things. Everyone had something bad happen to them some time or another. It does not exempt you from doing what is right. But seriously, stop living in a fantasy world. Make your own world better.

  20. Yooooo this movie was so freaking sad . I have mixed emotions right now. I wished Edwin was still alive I would have like to talk to him....

  21. Sad? Yes, it is sad for the victims of a psychopath who thought only of himself. If Boyd were alive, he could tell you what it is like to strangle a girl to death for kicks. Read the comment from Barbara Holm (above). The latest news is that child murderer Paul Bernardo is engaged. Now there is a catch. Maybe he is also just "misunderstood". Sorry for my sarcasm, but making sympathetic heroes of murderers is sick. The movie has little to do with the truth about Edwin Boyd. Even other criminals loathed him. He was the Lowest of the Low (now there is a Danforth reference for locals out there.)

  22. GO #TEAM BOYD! 99% of every word in this article is bias, lacking evidence, pointless and mainly opinion based. The man's dead. Who cares if he robbed a few banks, and /or killed someone. He got his in the end whether he killed anyone or not. People do bad things regularly. It's life. Deal with it. Oh, and Bernie, why didn't you respond to Karloff's very interesting opinion like you did to everyone else who had positive remarks about a man that they don't know? Are you speechless due to his/her rather fact filled opinion?

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