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BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL: THE LAST HANGINGS IN ESSEX COUNTY

The lives of Stefan Ogrodowski and Bruno Kisielewski were, with one notable exception, quite ordinary. Certainly their exits were most memorable: hanged at the gallows August 24, 1943, at Windsor, Ontario, having been found guilty of murder.

The unfortunate end to the life of Joseph Borg, 42, was sudden and tragic. Stumbling in the street outside his Wyandotte Street restaurant at 3:20 a.m. on Oct. 2, 1942, he told a passing police constable: “I’ve been shot, call me a taxi.” Despite being rushed to Hotel Dieu hospital, he died from two bullet wounds within the hour, never able to identify his murderer.

The crime scene-–Borg’s White Spot Restaurant at 714 Wyandotte Street East-–revealed one .32 calibre slug, a broken vinegar bottle, five dollars in the restaurant till, and $162.25 hidden. Blood spatterings marked the diner floor. Two neighbours reported having heard Borg order someone out of his restaurant followed by the smashing of glass and two gunshots.

The following day, three young boys found a .32 calibre revolver in a nearby field, and the police theory soon became that Borg was shot defending his property from a burglar. Despite dogged police work, the first and only lead in the case would not come unit four months later.

A few days before Borg’s murder, a burglary had been committed at Leslie’s Tavern on East Jefferson Avenue in Detroit.

In February 1943, Detroit police questioned 25-year-old Stefan Ogrodowski regarding the incident. Little did authorities know that he would confess to having been a party to the murder of Joseph Bog, and that three days later his 21-year-old companion, Bruno Kisielewski, would admit to having pulled the trigger.

In a criminal trial no evidence is as compelling as a confession. But a confession is only admissible once it has been determined it was given voluntarily. As the trial of Ogrodowski and Kisielewski reached its third day, it was evidence of a confession from each accused that was led by Inspector John Burns of the Windsor police. The task of Justice McFarland would be to determine whether the jury could hear the confessions.

According to police, the two admitted to having burglarized Leslie’s Tavern on Sept. 28, 1942, taking liquor, money and a .32 calibre revolver, the property of Leslie Torok, the tavern owner.

Torok had employed the two accused on an occasional basis. A ballistics expert would later testify the two bullets that had killed Borg were from Torok’s stolen gun, the gun found by the three youths near the White Spot Restaurant.

Both reputedly told police they went to the White Spot in the early morning hours for food, and returned later to commit a burglary. Kisielewski was confronted by Borg and told him, “This is a stickup.” He told police they “grabbed money from the counter and fired, then we ran.” He admitted to having tossed the gun on to a property at Pitt Street. Ogrodowski stated he was “willing to take part in the robbery, but I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

Both accused swore the confessions had been beaten out of them. “Accused slayers charge police with third degree” blared one headline in The Windsor Daily Star. According to Ogrodowski, a Detroit police detective named Gardiner struck him in the face and told him he would be “behind the eight ball” if he did not confess.

Kisielewski testified a Sgt. Turner of the Detroit police force “threatened to knock my teeth down my throat and pull out my whiskers if I did not agree to what he said.” Turner allegedly punched Kisielewski – who stood six-foot-three and weighted over 200 lbs – repeatedly on the back of the neck.

The Crown witnesses, despite vigorous cross-examination by Windsor lawyer Norman J. Riordan, denied any abuse of the two.

After three days of evidence and argument, Justice McFarland ruled the statements were voluntary. He rejected the evidence of the accused and declined to believe that Detroit police would be “guilty of such a conduct.” Having ruled the statements admissible, the accused were all but forced to take the stand.

Ogrodowski denied any involvement in the murder and maintained his innocence throughout the Crown’s cross-examination. “Shooting dice and drinking” were his worst crimes, he said. He claimed to have spent the night of Borg’s murder at the Howard Street Mission in Detroit, although this could not be confirmed through the mission’s records. He labeled his confession “bunk” and maintained it was fabricated by Detroit police.

“Are you suggesting they are out to frame you?” asked Crown attorney A. Douglas Bell. “Could be,” he replied, “some poor sucker has to pay for this crime.”

Kisielewski, who likewise denied any culpability, did, under Bell’s persistent questioning in cross-examination, admit that some of the events related in his confession were true. He agreed he had been drinking with Ogrodowski the night of the offence and that they visited a restaurant similar to the one in which Borg was killed.

He further admitted, as he had in his statement, to having seen a man counting money as Borg was said to have done in the White Spot. He agreed he remarked to Ogrodowski that they needed funds. However, Kisielewski testified all of this took place in Detroit, not Windsor, and that he had never been to Canada before.

By this point, even the most unsophisticated juror would have thought that one of the two, if not both, were lying. If Ogrodowski had an alibi, as he claimed, then how was it that Kisielewski could testify the two had gone drinking the same evening?

Riordan’s job was not to prove the pair innocent, but only to demonstrate the case had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. He invited the jury to consider that there was another suspect, Leslie Torok, owner of the gun. He told the jury it ought to disregard the confession. The fact the two had waived extradition was, he suggested, a telltale sign of innocence. Finally, the jury had before it the accused’s denial, under oath, or any wrongdoing.

For Bell, it was clear the trial has shown the two to be nothing more than desperate felons. “It is a serious thing when an honest upright businessman has his life taken from him,” he noted. “I have no more sympathy with beating people into confession than you do,” he told the jury. Alluding to the war playing itself out across both oceans, he added: “We don’t want Gestapo methods here. I ask you to base your conclusions on the evidence.”

Justice McFarland explained there were but two possible verdicts: guilty or not guilty of murder. At 11:07 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, after having heard 40 Crown witnesses, the two accused, counsel, and the judge, the jury retired to consider its verdict.

It has been said that more men are hung by the tongue than by the rope, and perhaps in this case the adage was once again proven true. Less than seven hours later, the jury had a verdict for each accused: Guilty.

Kisielewski sighed as the verdict was handed down, while Ogrodowski remained expressionless. The sentence of execution was mandatory. Ogrodowski declined to make any comment before the passing of sentence, while Kisielewski’s voice quavered as he said, “I have never been in Canada before.”

Although it is popular to think of hangings taking place at the break of dawn, both Kisielewski and Ogrodowski were hanged shortly after midnight, August 24.

“I’m innocent and ready to go,” Kisielewski said as he was led out of his cell. At 12:20, he shook hands with his jailers. He went up the 15 stairs to the gallows, reports indicated, with “unfaltering steps” and “without the aid of stimulant.” Atop the stairs was located Ogrodowski’s cell, where the two shared a quiet moment.

At the gallows, the executioner bound Kisielewski’s hands behind his back with leather straps and turned the youth, smiling, away from witnesses. His legs were bound and a black mask was slid over his face.

“Pull it over my nose,” he said as the noose was placed over his head. With a quick movement the hangman stepped back and hit a lever attached to the railing of the stairway.

A trap door sprung open and Kisielewski dropped eight feet before the rope jerked to a stop. Last rites were provided and at 12:48 a.m. Kisielewski was pronounced dead.
Six minutes later, the group attended upon Stefan Ogrodowski, who was quietly singing the song Red River Valley. “Has Bruno gone?” he asked. “OK, I’ll see him later. I’m content to go.”

Like his companion, Ogrodowski thanked his keepers. He was smoking as the hangman strapped his hands together. He asked Sheriff Marentette to remove his cigarette and to place his prayer beads around his neck.

“Take it easy, I’m not used to this business,” were his last words. He was pronounced dead at 1:20 a.m.

Moments later, official notices of execution were posted outside the jail doors. Although a few hundred people had assembled outside, they would see nothing of the execution. No disturbances were reported outside or in the cell block.

Today a visitor to the Essex County Jail can still see on the ceiling the iron ring through which the hangman’s rope would have passed. It is an object frequently pointed out by jail staff, perhaps as a way of making conversation through dark humor. The trap door, through which Ogrodowski and Kisielewski dropped on their way to meet their maker, has long since been welded shut.

These are the sole physical reminders of the last two persons to be executed in Essex County.

Postscript: A longer version of this article originally appeared in the March 1995 version of The Law Society of Upper Canada Gazette. The last Windsor resident to be sentenced to hang was Bill Rosik, who was convicted of the August 23, 1969 killing of a police officer in a shootout at his home. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. The last execution in Canada was the double hanging of Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas, both convicted of killing police officers in separate offences, on December 11, 1962, at the Don Jail, Toronto. Parliament abolished hanging in 1978.

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