Blue Line

BOOK REVIEW – What ever happened to Mickey?

July 11, 2013  By Morley Lymburner

781 words – MR BOOK REVIEW

What happened to Mickey?
The life and death of Donald “Mickey” McDonald – Public Enemy No.1

Author: Peter McSherry

Reviewed by: Morley Lymburner


As a bit of a Canadian history buff I got a real kick out of reading “What Happened to Mickey?” – a walk through contemporary Cabbage Town Toronto in the 1930s and 40s. The focus is Donald MacDonald, a little hood who hung around “The Corner,” as depression era Jarvis and Dundas was once called. Donald acquired or otherwise adopted the name Mickey and then changed his last name from MacDonald to McDonald.

You meet a constant parade of colourful characters on a journey through what was the underbelly of “Toronto the Good.” Some, like Mickey, are suave, smooth talking and others are a little dim witted and impressionable. Hookers, thieves, drunks, con men, bookies and pimps – all hustling for a fast buck that’s always just a little beyond their grasp, at least in any great quantity.

The cornerstone of this book is the home invasion of prominent restaurateur and bookie Jimmy Windsor. He made a habit of taking his sizable winnings home and it didn’t take Mickey long to come up with a plan to relieve him of this cash. The group of misfits and drunks he took along botched the job, resulting in no money changing hands and Windsor laying dead on the floor of his house.

The rest of the story involves Mickey eventually being acquitted and his rise up the criminal food chain as the guy who got away with murder. He used the untouchable mantle to his own advantage and his capers grew large enough to eventually send him to Kingston Pen with a long sentence. KP was well known as an institution of criminal higher learning and for Mickey, it was a great way to socialize with the elite of Canada’s wartime hoods and freaks.

The relationships eventually evolved into the greatest escape ever from Kingston Pen by Mickey and two other conspirators, one with an even more notorious reputation that he had. Two of the three would never return to KP. The third made it on the lam for almost a year before his capture by a sharp eyed cop in California.

The book supplies colourful backgrounders on all the characters, good or bad. The reader is introduced to the Toronto Police Force movers and shakers and the attorneys who both defended and prosecuted during the period. The police and government corruption the book chronicles eventually came to light, leading to changes in laws and procedures which still guide us today.

In the category of “there is nothing new under the sun” I supply you with the following paraphrased excerpt:

Hardened career bank robber Albert Dorland and police agent William Toohey entered the Royal Bank at Church and Wellesley in Toronto April 7, 1930 with the intention of armed robbery. Dorland spotted a detective in an upper window over a Wellesley Street drug store at the last second and changed his mind. With Toohey in tow, he tried to flee in a waiting automobile. The detectives followed, police fired shots and both Dorland and Toohey were arrested.

With no lawyer and imagining he had an agreement for a one-year sentence, Dorland plead guilty to carrying a concealed weapon – but the charge was carrying an offensive weapon and Magistrate Emerson Coatsworth sentenced him to five years. Dorland’s grandmother hired well known defense lawyer Frank Regan, who somehow got William Toohey to sign an affidavit admitting to the facts as he knew them – after which Regan, statement in hand, took the matter to the attorney general. The whole affair was a huge issue in the Toronto press and an inquiry was ordered.

Eventually, after 57 witnesses, Mr. Justice Kingstone produced a report censuring the police, labeling their testimony as untruthful and recommending that several Toronto policemen be charged. Dorland, now “Canada’s most famous wronged man,” was released from prison, Inspector of Detectives Alex R. Murray was forced into retirement and Det/Sgt. Alex McCathie was charged with “shooting with intent to maim” but later acquitted.

Dorland, who Toronto police rightly regarded as a hardened criminal, was arrested for another bank robbery soon after his release and legitimately sent to Kingston for a long stretch. The Dorland Affair intimidated the police and set up Frank Regan’s reputation as a guilty persons best defense attorney.

takes the reader back to the roots of both the criminal and police style of the 1930s and 40s. Well researched and written by author Peter McSherry, who penned a previous book about the infamous Red Ryan, it is both informative and entertaining.

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