On Whalen's Corners
Donnelly, the second oldest of the seven Donnelly brothers, lived at
Corners not far from the homestead. He was called, "Clubfoot Will"
by some, because he was born with a deformed foot, and many of his
believed that he was Satan's ally. Considered he smartest of the
it was his blood the Biddulph Peace Society wanted most of all.
the night of his family's murder, William was at home with his wife,
and two visitors, his brother, John, and their friend, Martin Hogan.
had showed up at about dusk to secure a cutter for the trip to Granton
the next day. As they sat around the kitchen table that evening
the "Society", little did the brothers realize that
a few short hours, their parents, brother and cousin, would lay dead in
the smouldering ashes of the beloved family home, and the perpetrators
of that unforgivable crime would be paying them an unexpected visit.
inviting Hogan to stay for the night, and showing him and John to their
room, William retired to his bed at twelve-thirty; his wife having
in at about nine o'clock. He had only been asleep a couple of hours
he was awakened by John leaving his room in a hurry. The time was
twenty-seven minutes after two," William said later during the murder
John was sleeping "in the room off mine, (and) had to pass through mine
to get into the kitchen".
he scurried through William's bedroom, John said, "I want to see who is
rapping at the door and calling fire". He didn't stop and wait for his
older brother to join him in his investigation, but went straight to
kitchen door and opened it. Somewhere out in the shadows of the night,
he had heard voices yelling; voices that William recognized as
to "Martin McLaughlin and young Patrick Ryder". They were hollering,
Fire! Open the door, Will!"
William never opened the door on that fateful night. John did. "I heard
two shots fired in rapid succession, almost together" Will testified.
gun was almost in the house, because the smell of gunpowder rushed into
my bedroom; I was lying in bed next (to) a door, the top part of which
was glass; my wife was in bed on the front side; John fell back against
the door of my bedroom, leading off the kitchen. I knew he fell that
because his head came back against the door; He said, 'Will, Will, I'm
shot; may the Lord have mercy on my soul!'"
quiet (or) we will all be killed," warned their friend, Martin Hogan,
the next room. He had jumped out of bed at the sound of the gunfire,
was standing near the bedroom door that opened into William's room. "It
is you that they want," he added quickly. "If they find out that it was
not you they shot, they will come back and kill you and me, too."
Is Easy At Last
was right, of course. The shots that William had heard had been
for him, but they hit another target instead... his 32 year-old
John, who lay clinging to life on the kitchen floor. As soon as he
the gunfire, Will lifted the blind and peeked out recognizing
three men who were positioned near the house. "I saw John Kennedy,
Carroll and James Ryder, Jr.," he said at the trial. "Kennedy was
within two or three feet of the door; Carroll was standing with Ryder
nine feet from me."
also testified that although he couldn't swear to the identities of
other men that he saw standing outside the fence that night, he was
of the three that he had seen, because he had known them well. "I have
known two of them as long as I can remember; I have known Ryder since
was born, and Kennedy is my brother-in-law." James Carroll, he had
"too well" for "two or three years".
William stared out the window, Nora threw back the covers stating that
she was getting up even if it meant getting shot in the process. John
blood coming out of his mouth and he could be heard choking on it.
a candle, she took the light into the kitchen where John lay in a pool
of blood. He was in a sorry state; well beyond saving. William said
he counted "twenty-nine holes" in his brother's chest, "well up towards
the collar-bone, and several nearer the lungs." Another bullet had hit
John in the groin, and passing through it, had lodged itself in the
on the other side of the room.
John's body was examined later at the post mortem, William
witnessed it, discovering for the first time the full extent of John's
injuries. "I saw the doctor open his breast and take out some shot; his
ribs were broken, and his lungs perforated with holes; the grains of
were smaller than buckshot; I saw the doctor probe the wound on both
of the body where the bullet had passed through; the hole was not
but alittle on a slant... I saw where the bullet went through the wall
on the inside; it went through the wainscoting, but not through the
Nora in the kitchen tending to her brother-in-law, William tried to
to the conversation that was taking place not far from his bedroom
Although he couldn't make much of what was being said on the other side
of the fence, he did hear James Carroll say something to the effect of
"What next", or "What's best". "There were some words by parties
the fence," he testified, "but I could not hear what they were. Kennedy
said, 'Brother-in-law is easy at last'. Whenever he was making fun of
in a crowd he called me brother-in-law; I was satisfied then that
words were right; that it was me they wanted, and that they thought I
the one shot."
now, John was on the threshold of death; mere minutes from meeting his
maker. Realizing this, Nora cried, "Oh Lord, he's dying!" and began
him towards the bedroom door while William gazed on, most likely in
of what had just taken place in his home. Hogan came to her aide and
drag John's body into the room after which Nora dashed off to retrieve
a piece of blessed candle. And, while the other two looked on, Hogan
the sacred candle in John's hand until he expired just five minutes
being gunned down in cold blood. William then whispered for his wife to
take a look at the clock and note the time of John's passing, and when
she returned from the kitchen, she embarked that it was "a minute to
remained in that room of death until dawn crept through the window,
to venture outside for fear the murderers were still in the vicinity.
all the night my brother John was lying dead in the room," William
"his head at the foot of my bed and his feet against his bedroom door;
Hogan had drawn him there and he was quite dead; I got up a little
daylight; my wife and Hogan were there with John in the same room; we
all there together... all this time I never looked at John at all."
soon as William ascertained that it was safe to go outside, he opened
kitchen door, and immediately noticed footprints in the snow. "At five
o'clock when I looked out it was just as light as at half-past two; I
the kitchen door first and looked at the tracks; there was about six
of a roof projected over the door, and the snow did not blow in there;
outside this door there were the tracks of a pair of boots and a pair
added in his testimony that he saw footprints leading to all the
in the house, except for the kitchen, and he believed "the parties had
trampled the snow so as to hide up any clue to their identity", because
"there was about twenty feet (of snow) packed and trampled around the
that day, the Coroner was sent for, and William telegraphed his
and sister telling them of the horrible tragedy that had befallen the
He would state later in the courtroom that he had a foreboding feeling
after being told that there had been a fire on the Roman Line the night
before. "I was satisfied it was father's place," he said. "I was afraid
the worst was not heard yet."
he was right. "The old folks' house had been burned down and all the
were lying there burned up." That afternoon, at around 5 p.m., John's
was taken to Lucan in a casket accompanied by William who had survived
the Biddulph massacre, and would live on to seek justice for his slain
family; a justice that he would never procure.
of Murder Scene
Published in The London
February 5, 1880.
following is a re-creation of a diagram of William Donnelly's house
in The London Advertiser, February 5, 1880. It was probably drawn
William's description of his home, and the scene he witnessed the night
brother died. This is a copy of the original as it appeared in the
where John was shot
porch where assassin stood.
where bullet was found imbedded in wall.