Murder in the Schoolhouse
Sudbury, Ontario's Last Hanging


William E. McLeod

Synopsis

During the summer of 1954, twenty-one year-old Steve Klapouschak of Timmins, Ontario, took a summer course in Toronto that qualified him to take a teaching job in Dalton, Ontario. Dalton was and is a hamlet on the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, 44 miles west of Chapleau, Ontario.

In 1954, Dalton had a population of about 75 people and there were between 20 and 25 children who attended the one-room schoolhouse. The teacher lived in quarters attached to the building itself.

In October of 1954, a C.P.R. Extra Gang was working on track maintenance near Dalton. One member of that Extra Gang was Robert Bruce Ducsharm. On October 25, Ducsharm was discharged from the Extra Gang and moved in with Steve Klapouschak. The two shared the same bed and, from all accounts, had a homosexual relationship. Late in November, the two had a quarrel and Klapouschak kicked Ducsharm out of his sleeping quarters.

Some time in the early morning of Saturday, December 4, Klapouschak was sitting at his desk in the schoolroom probably grading assignments or preparing lessons for the following week. Robert Bruce Ducsharm had entered the sleeping quarters some time earlier in the evening when Klapouschak was visiting with the school board chair and having his hair cut. During Klapouschak's absence, Ducsharm stole Klapouschak's .22 calibre rifle and used it to shoot Klapouschak - through one of the schoolhouse windows. Ducsharm hid the body under some boards beside the school building and then left by train for Chapleau and subsequently for his parents' home in Hamilton.

It wasn't until the next day (December 5) that the locals realized something was terribly amiss and called the police. In spite of a widespread search, Klapouschak's body was not discovered until December 11. When the body was uncovered, a number of children were playing nearby. One was so traumatized that he never went back to school and never did learn to read and write. No classes were ever held in the school building again and it was demolished.

Ducsharm was a suspect from the outset and he was arrested in Hamilton the same day the body was discovered - December 11.

In the middle of all this, another person entered the scene. One John "Red" Naegel who worked at nearby Renabie Mine apparently had also developed some sort of relationship with Klapouschak. Naegel traveled to Dalton to visit Klapouschak, arriving at about 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, December 5. He was the first person to alert locals and the police about Klapouschak's disappearance. Some people still think it was Naegel who killed Ducsharm but there is no evidence in the police files that he was even remotely considered to be a suspect. Unfortunately, on January 24, 1955 Naegel was killed in a mining accident at Renabie Mine.

On May 16, 1955, in Sudbury, Ontario, Robert Bruce Ducsharm went on trial for his life. Since the murder had been committed just inside the boundary of the District of Algoma, the trial normally would have taken place in Sault Ste. Marie. However it was moved to Sudbury to facilitate the travel of witnesses and police officers and to reduce the additional expense that a trial in Sault Ste. Marie would have incurred.

On Friday, May 20, 1955, after deliberating for four hours, the jury returned a verdict of guilty and Ducsharm was sentenced to hang on July 28. The execution was postponed until October 27 to allow for an appeal which was heard in Toronto on September 13. To the surprise of everyone, because of prosecutorial and judicial errors, the conviction was set aside by the Ontario Court of Appeal and a new trial was ordered.

Ducsharm's second trial got underway on February 21, 1956. Both a new judge and a new Crown Attorney were sent from Toronto to prosecute and preside. The case went to the jury on March 1, 1956 and, after five hours of deliberation, another guilty verdict was returned. This time Ducsharm's appeal was denied.

On June 15, 1956 Robert Bruce Ducsharm paid the ultimate penalty. He was the last person executed in the Sudbury jail.

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