Evelyn Dick

Evelyn Dick, née MacLean, murderer (born 13 October 1920 in Beamsville, ON). Evelyn Dick was the central figure in one of the most grisly murder cases on record in Canada.

Evelyn Dick, née MacLean, murderer (born 13 October 1920 in Beamsville, ON). Evelyn Dick was the central figure in one of the most grisly murder cases on record in Canada.

Early Life

Evelyn was the only child of Scottish immigrants Donald and Alexandra MacLean. The year after her birth, the MacLean family moved to Hamilton, ON, where Donald worked for the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR). The MacLeans lived beyond their means, even sending Evelyn to the Loretto Academy, a private Catholic school for girls. Donald (an abusive alcoholic) supplemented his modest income by stealing money from the HSR vault.

As Evelyn grew into an attractive young woman, Alexandra encouraged her to use her good looks to entice men into buying her expensive gifts, such as jewellery and furs. Evelyn’s lovers included several wealthy and prominent Hamiltonians.

In July 1942, Evelyn gave birth to a daughter, whom she gave over to her mother’s care. A second pregnancy ended in stillbirth. In September 1944, Evelyn gave birth to a boy, whom she named Peter. She returned home from the hospital without the baby, claiming that she had given him up to the Children’s Aid Society for adoption because her father didn’t want another child in the house.

Marriage and Separation

In the summer of 1945, Evelyn met John Dick, a Russian immigrant employed as a streetcar driver. At age 39, he was 15 years her senior, but Evelyn mistakenly believed that he had a comfortable income that would support her extravagant lifestyle. Evelyn told Dick that she was the widow of a Canadian naval officer named White who had died in the Second World War. After just a few weeks, Evelyn and Dick were engaged. Evelyn’s parents disapproved of Dick and didn’t attend the small wedding ceremony that took place on 4 October 1945.

As soon as Evelyn realized that Dick was not financially well off, she deserted him and resumed an affair with a man named Bill Bohozuk. Nonetheless, Dick believed that he and Evelyn could make their marriage work, and he convinced her to move into a house with him. Their time together was stormy, especially because of Evelyn’s relationships with Bohozuk and other boyfriends. Dick soon moved out of the house (the deed being in Evelyn’s name) and lodged with a cousin.

Dick appealed to Evelyn’s father, Donald MacLean, for help in making her behave like a respectable wife. When MacLean refused, Dick threatened to inform on him for stealing from the HSR, a MacLean family secret that Evelyn had revealed to him. MacLean threatened to kill Dick, which Dick reported to the Hamilton police.

Dick disappeared in the first week of March 1946. He was last seen alive on 6 March in a Hamilton restaurant.

The Torso

On 16 March 1946, children hiking along a trail on Hamilton Mountain (part of the Niagara Escarpment) made a shocking discovery — a human torso with two gunshot wounds in the chest. The remains were soon identified as those of John Dick.

Police took Evelyn in for questioning, but she denied any knowledge of John Dick’s fate. While she was being questioned, investigators searched her house. In the attic, they found a suitcase that contained the concrete-encased body of an infant. It later proved to be that of Evelyn’s son, Peter.

Further searches of Evelyn’s house as well as her parents’ home turned up charred human bones and bits of clothing from a HSR uniform. Detectives also uncovered a car with bloodstained seats and a necktie that was identified as belonging to John Dick.

Evelyn, the MacLeans, and Bohozuk were charged with the murder of Dick. Evelyn and Bohozuk were charged with infanticide. Donald MacLean was charged with robbing the HSR of thousands of dollars. Evelyn made several wild, contradictory statements, including one in which she said an Italian gangster had killed Dick.

Trials and Prison

Evelyn’s attorneys moved to have her tried separately from Bohozuk and Donald MacLean, in the hope that this would allow Evelyn to appear before the jury as an attractive, guileless young woman seemingly incapable of committing murder. The long series of trials began on 7 October 1946, in Hamilton’s Wentworth County Courthouse.

Alexandra MacLean, Evelyn’s mother, agreed to testify for the Crown against her daughter in return for immunity. She stated that Evelyn had been absent from the house for a prolonged period on 6 March, the last day John Dick had been seen. Alexandra also said that on 8 March, she had asked Evelyn if something had happened to him. According to Alexandra, Evelyn responded that he wouldn’t be coming around anymore. Alexandra also testified that her husband owned a handgun and a large butcher’s knife.

Though the evidence against Evelyn was mostly circumstantial, the jury found her guilty of the murder of John Dick. The judge sentenced her to death, but her attorneys successfully appealed. Evelyn’s case was taken over by John J. Robinette, a skilled courtroom lawyer whose defensive strategies in the trials would make him famous. Robinette impressed upon the jury the strong possibility that Donald MacLean had killed Dick. This time, the jury found Evelyn not guilty.

In the trial for the murder of baby Peter, Robinette brought in a psychiatrist who testified that Evelyn had endured a traumatic childhood and had the emotional mentality of a 13-year-old. The jury found her guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, and the judge sentenced her to life imprisonment.

Donald MacLean was found guilty of being an accessory to murder and sentenced to five years in prison. He received an additional five years for theft. Bohozuk was cleared of all charges.

Parole and Public Interest

Evelyn Dick was paroled in 1958 after serving 11 years in the Kingston Penitentiary. She assumed a new identity and vanished into obscurity. The RCMP, to whom she had to report regularly, respected her privacy. Evelyn was pardoned in 1985, and her file permanently sealed.

The John Dick murder has never been officially solved. The case has inspired a play, How Could You, Mrs. Dick? (1989), a television drama, “Torso: The Evelyn Dick Story” (2002), and a film noir musical, Black Widow (2005), as well as several books.

The case has even inspired a controversial line of merchandise. In 2014, Chris Farias, a Hamilton artist and designer, developed a line of Evelyn-inspired items that were sold at the city’s annual Supercrawl festival. The series included T-shirts, tote bags and shot glasses with slogans such as, “The fastest way to a man’s heart is through his torso” and “Love you to pieces.” Public reaction was mixed; while the Canadian Association for Equality, a Toronto men’s rights group, stated that the merchandise glorified violence against men, others defended Farias.


Further Reading

  • Marjorie Freeman Campbell, Bloody Matrimony: Evelyn Dick and the Torso Murder Case (1992); George D. Finlayson, John T. Robinette: Peerless Mentor (2003); Mark Leslie, Haunted Hamilton: The Ghosts of Dundurn Castle and Other Steeltown Shivers (2012); Cheryl MacDonald, Lethal Ladies: Crimes of Passion, Tales of Deceit and Treachery! (2011); Susan McNicoll, Ontario Murders: Mysteries, Scandals and Dangerous Criminals (2011); Brian Vallée, The Torso Murder: The Untold Story of Evelyn Dick (2001).