Friday, June 17, 2022

Murder on Mount Royal: Montreal's Benson family was beset with relentless tragedy from 1944

Johnnie Benson, murdered
on Mt. Royal
The triplex built in 1925 at 4833 de Grandpre (now a housing co-op) once housed an incredibly unfortunate family beset by constant and unfathomable tragedy.
  The geography was not kind to Victor Benson (1900-1972) and his wife nor their children: Bernard, (1920-1944) Johnnie, (1936-1945), Janet, (b. 1935), Phoebe (b. 1939) and Barbara (b. c. 1922).
   Within a decade of moving to the home in 1939, three of the five kids died and father would be seriously burnt, in four separate calamities.
   Benson, who worked at the Montreal Locomotive Works in the power house, saw the first heartbreak when eldest son Bernard, 24, was killed in battle at the Invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The young soldier was cited for valor.
    Eight months later John, aged just nine years old, was murdered in one of the city's most shocking deaths, bleeding to death after being sexually molested and stabbed and buried in the snow on the Park Ave. side of Mount Royal on February 24, 1945.
   The boy loved the mountain and knew his way around it well. On that afternoon he left his home on De Grandpre at around 2 p.m. to ski on the mountain and visit the grave of his uncle who had died a week earlier.
   John Benson then came across Roland Charles Chassé, 43, an unemployed homeless man living at the Meurling Shelter. 
   Chassé had a habit of photographing children and then luring them back at a later date with prints of the photos he took. The killer took the young man's life, at about 3 p.m. and moved the body to a gully but failed to cover it fully with snow. 
    John was found dead, having bled to death from a wound near the groin caused by a small knife or nail file. He was sporting his Habs sweater. He had been bound, stabbed and buried in the snow. Guy Cardinal, another young skiier, spotted the blood on the snow and bright red sweater and discovered the gruesome murder scene a couple of hours later.
    Edward Collins, 38, confessed to the crime but he was not deemed credible and was transferred to an insane asylum.
  Police interviewed about 150 people before receiving a tip fingering Chassé on an anonymous postcard sent from the shelter.
   They could not find the potential witness who sent the card in spite of a $100 reward.
   Chassé - who had previously been arrested for loitering - was woken at the refuge and arrested by officers Allain and Fitzpatrick on April 18, 1945.
   They showed him photos of the event, then turned off the lights and one of the officers imitated the boy crying. He denied any involvement. This lasted about six hours.
   About 36 hours after being arrested Chassé was questioned anew, on a very empty stomach and he finally confessed to the crime after overhearing the officers threaten to bring him to a certain "Dr. Plouffe."
  According to his confession, Chassé – who had enlisted for the war effort but was released due to his physical condition – complimented the boy on his skis and then walked with him to the second gully on the mountainside, (about half a mile from Park Ave.) then tripped him, kicked him in the face, stabbed him in the groin with a pocketknife (the fatal wound) and then sexually assaulted the boy as he bled to death.  
 Chassé, 43, was one of a family of 21 children from the Beauce and was sent to New Hampshire at the age of 13 to be raised by relatives. He ended up in reform school and did time in Alcatraz for theft from 1923. 
Bernard Benson,
killed in battle
 He enlisted both in the Canadian and US armies and molested at least three boys in Boston in 1937 alone. 
 He confessed that the sight of blood aroused him and that he would probaby kill one day. U.S. authorities deported him to Canada. His psychologist urged that he only be released if Canadian authorities kept him locked up. He returned to Montreal in 1939 and was sent to the St. Jean de Dieu mental hospital but was released for reasons unknown. 
  After the murder Chassé wrote out a confession. 
 The sun was out. It was a nice day. I was watching the skiiers. I stayed about 15 minutes and then the boy came across. I shouted and stopped him. I asked how he enjoyed skiing and I was making conversation. Then I tripped him up and then I put my heel on his face and he started shouting and I put a knife into his stomach and held my hand on his mouth until he went limp and I didn't hear much noise. I carried him about 10 yards away. He was limp and I stabbed him. After that I seen he was fading fast and I buried his head in the snow and I sodomized him. I packed the body in a snowback and I left quick. Do you think I will hang?

    Chassé, a thin, greying and balding ex-con, later said that he only confessed because he feared that he would be beaten.
Child murderer Chassé

His confession was deemed legal and he was found guilty by jury in June, in spite of a dogged effort from his legal team that included Jean Drapeau. An appeal failed and Chassé was sentenced to hang. He was hanged by the neck until dead at Bordeaux prison on February 15, 1946.
   Barbara, 25, now living with her aunt Victoria Fiset at 2192 Center Street in the Point, died the next year, in early November 1946, at the Royal Victoria Hospital after suffering a botched abortion several weeks earlier. She told polie that she suffered the injury at the hands of "an old man on St. Denis Street" who police failed to identify. She had initially refused to see a doctor and her condition worsened.
   And finally on January 8, 1948 Victor, 51, suffered life-threatening wounds, including damaged eyes, a broken jaw and perforated chest at his workplace Locomotive Works at 5781 Notre Dame East. Eleven others were also injured. His wife, as well as his daughter Jeanette, 13 and Phoebe, 9, prayed for his recovery. 
 Victor survived until 1972, dying as a grandfather to eight, at the age of 72,  in Preston, Ontario. 

Phoebe Benson staffer at
the Mount Royal Hotel in 1958

Starlet Sandu Scott commuted from Montreal to NYC to host weeknight variety show

Montreal was once home to a show business star who commuted to New York City to host a weeknight network prime-time TV variety show and later fronted a band with members who ended up in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. 

Marianne  Bott was born in Detroit in 1934, in a family of nine kids. She won the Miss New York City beauty pageant in 1951 but was forced to surrender her title after it was revealed that she hadn't lived in the city long enough to qualify. 

Sandu Scott, as she now called herself, headed to Miami, took singing lessons and joined a chorus line and was linked romantically to Marlon Brando

Sandu Scott did some Broadway and by 1955 had visited Montreal to sing live in a variety of nightclubs like the Bellevue Casino, Hale Hakala, Copacabana and Down Beat. 

By this point she was familiar with Montreal nightclub owner Solomon Schnapp, known as Solly Silver, who frequently scouted acts for his Chez Paree nightclub on Stanley Street, which he purchased in 1954. 

Scott found herself busy performing on some ABC TV shows from 1955 but mostly she did her act in clubs like the Chez paree where she appeared in 1956 before touring the States and England leading a syndicated gossip columnist to romatnically link her to effeminate British actor George Sanders.

Sandu Scott instead married Solly Silver in October 1956. Silver had some mob ties but mostly stayed out of trouble, as his Montreal nightclubs included the Chez Paree,  Esquire Show bar and Peppermint Lounge.  

Sandu Scott got the call to host Anything Goes in late 1959, an ABC variety show that went up against the popular Jack Parr. She returned to Montreal on weekends.  

Meanwhile Silver's nightclub empire was undergoing some issues, as the Chez Parree was ransacked by thugs in 1960.  Silver minimized the damages and Mafia boss Frank Cotronti - who paid cops to look away -  was only forced to pay $200 in fines. 

Sandu Scott's marriage to Solly Silver did not last long as one newspaper reported in 1961 that shehgad been absent from Montreal for some time. 

 In 1962 Sandu Met Marco Von Nesselhauf former president of Caracas Hilton Hotels, who she married in early 1965

But Sandu Scott remained a Montreal stage staple nonetheless, as she'd regularly perform at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, doing such lounge numbers as "Mon beau chapeau," "Le petit gonzales" and the Denny Vaughan composition "Montreal is a wonderful town."

Silver apparently had no hard feelings about his wife and kept helping her with her career. In January 1964 Sandu shared a bill with a young rock band of Vermont in Glens Falls, New York and persuaded them to become her backing band. She changed from a lounge act to a rock act. 

Sandu and her Scotties put out a couple of songs. Silver put in a word to his New York friends and got them on the Ed Sullivan Christmas show of December 20, 1964. The band joined her to perform at the Queen Elizabeth in May 1964 but broke up soon after, as one said that he felt like a dog act. Singer Felix and drummer Dino went on to form the Young Rascals, who had a string of hits that got them inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

By 1967 Sandy Scott was out of show business, living with her husband Von Nesselhauf in Puerto Rico, where they raised horses. "I'm so wrapped up in horses I don't have time to be a frustrated actress."

She died in 1986, aged 52. Solly Silver died oct 1999, neither had kids. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Gangland slaying at Esplanade and Mount Royal - Charlie Feigenbaum felled in gangland slaying

Charles Feigenbaum became the victim of Montreal's first-ever gangland style gangster murder on 21 August 1934.

Feigenbaum was at the top of a gang of Eastern European Jewish criminals that included his brother Maxie and and New York millionaire Pincus Brecher that smuggled opium, heroin and cocaine into  the Montreal port hidden in textile shipments bound for the Montreal port and swiftly sent to New York City where murder Inc boss Louis Buchalter took possession. 

Feigenbaum became powerful by reinvesting his profits in other underworld pursuits, operating 300 slot machines in hotels north of Montreal, and controlling brothels, nightclubs and gambling dens, including the renowned White Horse Inn.  

Romanian-born, diminutive-but mean-Harry Davis, born Chaskel Lazarovitch, joined the crew and became a key participant. 

Authorities took down Feigenbaum's smuggling operation in 1930. A court convicted Feigenbaum of smuggling silk into Canada and sentenced him to five years in prison, henchmen Louis Miller, Julius Cohen and others were given shorter sentences.. 

In 1933 Feigenbaum, still behind bars, faced six months added prison time as he and  Davis and Pincus Brecher were hit with drug smuggling charges. 

 Feigenberg had soured on partner Harry Davis for failing to tend to his family while he was behind bars. Davis visited Feigenbaum in prison and worked things out but Feigenbaum soon had misgivings and concluded that Davis planned to blame him for everything and take over his businesses while he languished behind bars for a longtime. The RCMP had encouraged Feigenbaum to sour on Davis to help with the prosecution.

Feigenbaum told the RCMP everything. They nabbed Davis with 852 kilos of heroin.  

Feigenbaum testified against Davis in 1933, and a judge ordered Davis to 14 years in prison as well as 10 lashes and $10,000 in fines. 

Feigenberg, now 48, was a free man and quickly embarked on an attempt to expand his gambling dens. 

He made himself scarce, moving his family from his home at 397 St. Joseph Street W to a country house in Val David north of Montreal. He rarely traveled without a bodyguard and vowed to return to testify in a separate trial that October against Brecher, who had been extradited from the USA to face trial in Montreal. 

Both Davis, already in prison, and Brecher, awaiting trial, had motive to kill Feigenbaum. A team of hitmen visited Feigenbaum at his country home but were unable to disguish between Charlies and his brother Maxie so they waited a couple of weeks for him to return to montreal. 

On 21 August 1934 Feigenbaum drove into town to pick up packages that his sister in law gave to furnish his country place. He brought his son Jackie rather than his bodyguard. The two spent a couple of hours waiting for his car to get fixed at New Way Auto Parts on Clark Street and then at about 5 pm they parked out front of Maxie Feigebaum's place at 4510 Esplanade apartment 7. 

The Tuesday afternoon summer streetscape was lively with people from the nearby Fletchers field park and others on sidewalks and balconies as Feigenberg, nattily attired in a grey suit with knickerbockers, handed boxes to his son, who collected them from the back seat. 

One of three sinister men sitting in a Hudson automobile on the other side of the street exited the vehicle and strode directly towards Charlie Feigenbaum and raised a gun. 

Feigenbaum raised his hand as the killer fired six shots. Several bullets grazed his head and one hit him directly in his heart, killing him.  

The shooter turned and scrambled across the narrow street and hopped onto the getaway car sideboard as the driver peeled off northbound.  .Detectives Francoeur, Bond and Greenberg came to the scene and police recovered the abandoned car a few blocks away but found no fingerprints or other clues. 

The registration noted that the car had been recently purchased  by someone named L Bercovitz but with a non existent address.The car had been bourhg recently a Hudson sedan paid for ith $50 bills by a tall dark man. 

Someone called the police asking if they were aware of a shooting. "Is the victim dead?" Yes." the police receptionist replied. “Good!" said the caller before hanging up.

Police believed the killers to be americans, perhpas part of Louis Lepke Buchalter's legendary gun-fore hire squad known as murder inc. and that they might be from New york or chicago. police raided an east end hotel room and arrested five American men, mostly actors, who were high on opium but they proved unrelated to the crime. 

A huge crowd of about 4,000 people crowded around Feigenbaum's St. Joseph street home as his body was taken to Beth David Synagogue across the street. It was the  best-attended jewish funeral in the city's history at the time.  one newspaper wrly quipped that the large crowd included a couple of friends. 

Brecher's prosecution proceeded without Feigenbaum testimony but was clearly weakened without feigenbaum as a witness. The court found Brecher guilty nonetheless and guards brought him to Bordeaux Prison to await sentencing.  On 28 September 1934 Brecher reported feeling sick and asked to be taken to the prison infirmary. Guards accompanied  the 58-year-old but he leaped over a railing and landed on his head and was declared dead soon after.  

Harry Davis served his sentence and returned to become a criminal kingpin, while the mysterious name of L. Bercovitz - the name on the car registration - would re-emerge in an important way. 

Feigenbaum's fate would be duplicated in his family when his uncle, Leon aged 54, was shot to death in a robbery at his used goods store at 51 Craig Street W - now St. Antoine - in January 1947. A pair of French Quebecers were charged and convicted.