Max Haines: Crime Flashback

Trials & tribulations

Sun, June 26, 2005


It is rare that an individual stands trial for the same murder five times, as Max Haines relates in Crime Flashback.


By Max Haines

Unfortunately, there are no statistics on the greatest number of times one man has stood trial for a single murder. Quite possibly John Paris of Truro, Nova Scotia, holds the record.

It happened on a pleasant summer day in 1921. Little Sadie McAuley was nine years old that August 2 when she and her friend, 11-year-old Hattie Levigne, left her Clarence St. home in Saint John, N.B., to pick raspberries. Hattie's dad had told here there were lots of plump berries near Riverside Park.

Away the two little friends went, carrying empty jars. They located the berry bushes, and were soon joined by a man who helped Sadie with her picking. The stranger claimed there were plenty of berries over a fence down the hill a bit. Sadie accompanied the man.

After she was out of Hattie's view, Hattie called to her friend, but received no reply. She saw some local men working on the road nearby and told one of them she couldn't find Sadie. Nobody paid much attention. Hattie went down the hill, called to her friend one last time, then went home and told her mother. A few of the Levigne kids searched for Sadie during the afternoon. When they couldn't find the missing child, Sadie's mother called the police.

Police officers and volunteers combed the area for Sadie. Next day, the search intensified without concrete results. Police questioned the men working on nearby Douglas Ave. They remembered seeing a rather suspicious-looking man hanging around. He was wearing khaki pants, but the men could add little more. A week passed.

On Aug. 9, James Kimball, 13, went picking berries at Riverside Park. He found he couldn't quite reach some choice berries high up on the tall canes. James climbed onto a large rock and reached out. Suddenly, the rock slipped over. James lost his balance and tumbled to the ground. He stared transfixed at what he had uncovered -- the body of Sadie McAuley.


Soon the hillside was swarming with Saint John's finest. It seemed impossible that they had walked through the area several times without discovering the body. Upon closer examination, it was revealed that someone had lifted a large rock out of the ground and placed the little girl's body in the resulting cavity. The killer had covered the body with small stones before placing the large rock on top of the heap. The body had been efficiently and completely concealed. An autopsy indicated that Sadie had been raped and choked to death.

The murder of the little girl, considered one of the most revolting in the history of New Brunswick, angered the populace. A $500 reward was offered by the city of Saint John for information leading to the conviction of the guilty party. This amount, not an inconsiderable sum in 1921, was later doubled to $1,000.

Hattie Levigne told police that the man who had helped them pick berries had worn khaki pants, a brown coat, had long black hair and a very dark complexion. She was certain she would know the man if she saw him again.

The hunt was on. Who was the extremely dark man who had raped and killed a 9-year-old child in broad daylight and disappeared? The search for the wanted man was the most extensive ever conducted in New Brunswick. Several men were arrested, only to be released later when their innocence was proved beyond a doubt.

A month after the murder, Ben Humphrey, an unsavoury character and well known vagrant around Saint John, went to the police with an amazing story. He knew who had killed Sadie. According to Humphrey, he had rowed John Paris, a native of Truro, N.S., across the Saint John River around 11 a.m. on Aug. 2. They landed near Riverside Park. The following morning, Humphrey declared that he had again met Paris, who once more asked to be rowed across the river to a point near Riverside Park. During this trip, Paris told Humphrey that he had murdered Sadie and wanted some help burying the body. Humphrey claimed that he would have no part of the proposition.

Because Humphrey's character left a lot to be desired, the police hesitated to act. However, when one John MacDonald came forward and told police that Humphrey had related the same story to him earlier, they had to take Humphrey's tale seriously. MacDonald added that he had also seen a very dark-skinned man hanging around Riverside Park on August 2.

Saint John police travelled to Truro, arrested Paris and brought him back to Saint John, where he was charged with murder. Who was this man police claimed was a rapist and killer? John Paris was a 28-year-old native of Truro and a member of the substantial black community residing in the Nova Scotia town at that time. Although he couldn't read or write, he was an intelligent, good looking man who made his living as a labourer. He often travelled to other Maritime towns to obtain work. At the time of the murder, he had an apartment in Saint John at 181 Water St.

John Paris was in big trouble. On Sept. 28, 1921, he stood trial for the murder of Sadie McAuley. Very quickly, the Crown established through witnesses that Paris had been in Saint John on the day of the murder.

Alfred Byers was visiting his sister, Bertha Croft, that day and claims he chatted with Paris. Mrs. Croft's apartment was in the same building as Paris'. She too claimed she saw the accused man. Bill Sweet stated that he talked to Paris in Saint John of Aug. 2. Ernest Campbell testified that he saw Paris on Aug. 3 in Saint John. Most important of all, Ben Humphrey vehemently stated that he was asked by Paris to assist in the covering up of the crime. If Humphrey and the rest were to be believed, Paris was definitely guilty.

There was one fly in the prosecution's case. Hattie Levigne said, "No, he wasn't the man in the park picking berries with Sadie and me."

Paris' defence was simple enough. He maintained he was not in Saint John at the time of the murder. Humphrey was lying in order to claim the $1,000 reward and the rest were mistaken about the dates. Defence counsel produced several witnesses from Truro, who swore that Paris was in Truro at the critical time and could not possibly be the murderer.

Stanley Nicholas stated that Paris was in his garage on Aug. 2. Several garage employees verified their boss' testimony. Other Truro natives claimed they either saw or had conversations with Paris on Aug. 2 in Truro. Still others gave strong evidence that Paris left Saint John on July 23 and returned on Aug. 4, two days after the murder. To solidify their case, the defence produced the chief of police of Truro, John W. Fraser. He testified that while investigating a theft on Aug. 2, he had stopped and chatted with John Paris.


There the evidence stood. One group of witnesses was wrong and the other correct. Swaying in the balance was the life of John Paris. The jury retired to deliberate, but reappeared, hopelessly deadlocked. The 12-member jury was in favour of conviction by a vote of seven to five. They were dismissed and a second trial was ordered.

On Nov. 22, 1921, Paris stood accused of murder once more. The same witnesses were paraded to the stand. If ever the adversary system was placed under a microscope, this was the time. The trial took on the aspect of an athletic event -- Saint John, N.B. versus Truro, N.S. The centre of attraction, John Paris, gave evidence for a full 10 hours without once losing his composure or giving conflicting evidence.

The Truro team had increased its roster to include several more cisterns who had spoken to Paris in Truro on the crucial day. One witness, James McNaught of the Eastern Hat and Cap Co., testified that Paris had signed a receipt with an X on Aug. 2. Evidently, on that day Paris had been paid 90c by the hat company and McNaught had Paris sign a receipt for the money.

Prosecution attorneys attempted to find holes in the defence's claims. For example, when one witness, Norman Green, swore he saw Paris walking on the streets of Truro by the light of the full moon, the prosecution attorney quickly produced an almanac which indicated the moon had not risen until the wee hours of the following morning.


In summing up, the Crown conceded that Paris left Saint John on July 23, but theorized that he returned to Saint John on Aug. 1, went back to Truro on the night of Aug. 3, and returned to Saint John on Aug. 4. To accept this theory, the jury had to dismiss all the witnesses who swore they saw Paris in the Nova Scotia town on Aug. 2.

The jury returned a guilty verdict. Paris was sentenced to hang on March 30, 1922. An appeal was launched on the technicality that for a few minutes during the trail Paris had not been in the courtroom. An appellate court felt this was enough to invalidate the trial.

On April 25, 1922, Paris stood trial for the third time. Still more witnesses were produced from Truro. Saint John countered with new witnesses as well. After close to 10 hours deliberation, the jury returned hopelessly deadlocked at seven to five for conviction.

Trial No. 4 commenced on July 4, 1922. All the same witnesses were called. All gave the same evidence, with one exception. Hattie Levigne now said she thought John Paris might be the man who helped her and Sadie pick berries. After 46 hours of deliberation, the jury returned deadlocked at 10 for conviction and two for acquittal.

Trial No. 5, which may very well be a record for one man standing trial for one murder, began on Sept. 26, 1922. Once more, Hattie Levigne states, "In my judgment and belief, that is the man." Her words seemed to fall on deaf ears. Indeed, all of the testimony, some of it repeated for the fifth time, had become too well known. The testimony had lost all semblance of the dramatic. The jury faced the same dilemma as the previous four juries -- who to believe. Like their predecessors, they simply didn't know. They returned from the jury room deadlocked nine for acquittal, three for conviction.

Two weeks after the fifth trial, Attorney General J.P. Byrne indicated that there would be no further action against Paris. In total, the five juries had voted 39 to 21 for conviction. The Crown insisted on the right to a sixth trial if it saw fit. Paris was made to post a $1,000 bond guaranteeing his appearance should the charge against him ever be revived. It never was.

After posting bond, John Paris walked out of the courtroom. The murder of Sadie McAuley has never been solved.

Reprinted from June 7, 1987.

Autographed copies of Max's latest book Instruments Of Murder are available from the Toronto Sun's News Research Department. For details, and to order, phone 416-947-2258 or toll free 1-877-624-1463.