Friday, July 24, 2015

A Murder in Welland
by Tom Falvo

The city of Welland lies in the Regional Municipality of Niagara, south of Toronto, Canada.

It is celebrated as the birthplace of many NHL players and has a large French-Canadian population.  The city has a rich railway history and is known for the Welland Canal.  It is also home to a Company of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment.  Back in 1952, however, Welland was the scene of a tragic murder case that may have ended in a miscarriage of justice.

Michael Gazo, 48, was an employee at the Electro Metallurgist Company and lived with his 46-year-old wife Antonia in a modest house at 28 Church Street in Welland. They had two adult daughters. When Gazo started feeling unwell in the spring of 1952, he consulted the plant physician and Dr. E.A. Speers.  Gazo was found to be in shockingly poor health with a number of different ailments—he had been weak, depressed, sleepless, nervous, and was largely unable to work.  If that wasn’t enough, he may have been mentally ill.

Shortly after 11:00 on the morning of May 29,  police and medical officials were called to the Gazo  cottage.  Authorities included Deputy Chief Tom Corless, Detective Fred Wilson, and Constable Hugh Bradden.  There they found Mrs. Gazo’s body lying in a small sitting room of the house, her face a bluish color and with marks of bruising evident on her throat. An autopsy would later reveal that she had been strangled and had only been dead for an hour or less at the time her body was found.

Michael Gazo was present at the scene of the crime and almost immediately confessed to his wife’s murder, claiming that he was ready to turn himself in.  Neighbors, shocked by the discovery of the crime, said that they had heard no commotion in the Gazo home and had been unaware of what had happened until the police arrived. Indeed, Mrs. Gazo had been working in her garden that morning as if there was nothing wrong.

Gazo was charged Antonia’s murder, and on June 5, 1952, a Toronto psychiatrist, Dr. Charles Tennant, examined Gazo in the county jail. Although Dr. Tennant found Gazo seemingly slow and slightly retarded in his movements, the accused answered the doctor’s questions as best as he could, was polite and co-operative, and spoke in a formal manner when speaking with Dr. Tennant.  Dr. Tennant concluded that Gazo’s condition was similar to that of a person experiencing a frightening dream or nightmare, but that Gazo had already shown enough improvement in the first few days he was in prison to stand trial, but that due to his mental condition, he was not responsible for his actions at the time he had killed his wife.  Dr. Tennant also recommended that Gazo be moved to a hospital for observation because there was a danger of a recurrence of his symptoms.

Four months after Antonia’s death, Gazo stood trial in Welland where Prosecutor T. F. Forrestell faced off against Defense Attorney Allan L. Brooks.  The court heard how Gazo, after he had begun feeling ill, had gone to the hospital for certain tests, but had shown no signs of improvement (although that testimony appears to be a contradiction of Dr. Tennant’s earlier testimony regarding the state of Gazo’s health.)  Another psychiatrist, Dr. John Senn of Hamilton, testified that he fully agreed with Dr. Tennant's conclusion.  Dr. Senn stated that Gazo had a reasonable chance for recovery, but seemed incapable of appreciating the “wrongness” of his act at the time of the murder.  However, when Dr. Speers testified, he said that he had repeatedly examined Gazo’s health and found no signs of improvement. The doctor also said that, by mistake, Gazo had been misdiagnosed as being a diabetic.  Dr. Speers testified that Gazo was a “manic depressive” with “psychosis,” two mental illnesses that could have easily led to “impulsive acts such as suicide.”

The case went to the jury on Sept. 12, 1952.  Justice R.W. Treleaven, in his summary, stated that no person could be convicted of a crime “when laboring under natural imbecility or disease of the mind to such an extent as to not appreciate the nature of the act.”  The jury acquitted Gazo on grounds of insanity, but he was not yet out of the woods.  After Gazo’s acquittal, Justice Treleaven said to him that he “had to be kept in strict custody until the pleasure of the Lieutenant-Governor is known” and that Gazo would not be a free man until proper treatment by psychiatrists could be effective.

Gazo was then committed to a mental institution for treatment. It is unknown what became of him after that.

NOTE: Tom Falvo is a true crime buff who lives in Canada.



Graham Clayton said...

It is a shame that no further details exist of Gazo after the trial - could he have made a recovery and returned to society after the appropriate treatment.

Unknown said...

Michael Gazo was my Grandfather. He died in that mental institution in 1963, a month before I was born. An autopsye revealed a brain tumor.