Florence Kinrade

Lizzie Borden of the North

By (author) Frank Jones
Categories: Legal history, Jurisprudence and general issues, Law
Series: True Cases Series
Publisher: Durvile Publications
Paperback : 9781988824352, 288 pages, May 2019


Do You Think I Did It?
The Florence Kinrade case has been on my mind for a long time. Since January, 1987, in fact, when I picked up the phone to call her nephew, Ken Kinrade, who was wintering in Clearwater, Florida.
Ken Kinrade? “Yeh, that’s me,” came back a harsh, raspy voice. I half-expected Kinrade, then in his 70s, to rebuff me. People, I’ve found, are generally not eager to discuss a murder in the family, even a long-ago one. But the voice was deceptive. Kinrade, I found when I met him on his return to Hamilton, Ontario in the spring, was a kindly, even timid man, happy to share what he knew about that shocking 1909 crime that had made the family’s name notorious in this steel city at the western end of Lake Ontario.
And now it’s been 30 years since I made that phone call. Ken is long dead, as are several of the people who helped me reconstruct the lives of Florence, her sister, Ethel, and their well-to-do parents. The Rev. Graham Cotter, a Kinrade relative and long-retired Anglican clergyman whose letter to me led me to the most important revelations of all, has been unfailingly patient as he waited for the story to be finally told. My manuscript languished on a shelf at the University of Toronto Press for several years. And then, like so many neglected projects, it simply languished.
But the 1909 murder of Ethel Kinrade that snowy day in Hamilton, an Ontario steel town on the western end of Lake Ontario, deserves our attention because it uncovers a rich vein of North American social history. It tells us a lot about the obstacles an ambitious young singer from a middle-class family faced in seeking a career in – horrors! – vaudeville. It tells us about a forgotten underclass – the thousands of tramps who rode the continental rails in that era and who were often the first to be suspected when a crime occurred. It tells too of the sometimes odd practices of the psychiatric profession in that pre-Freudian time. And it also the story of a formidable woman who was as resilient as she was devious, who led a mysterious double life in Virginia and who was, quite simply, another Lizzie Borden.
The parallels with the notorious 1892 Fall River, Massachusetts, case in which Lizzie was suspected of the axe murder of her father and stepmother, are uncanny. In giving her testimony at the inquest into the death of her parents Lizzie has been described as, ‘circling, evading, contradicting, revising her story as she went along, scorning the badgering of District Attorney Hosea Knowlton. ’
The description could just as easily have applied to Florence who, from the first hours after she ran into the street crying that Ethel had been shot – six times – told different and contradictory versions of the murder of her sister. Ultimately the newspaper reading public followed with fascination her epic duel with one of the great counsel of the day, George T. Blackstock, at an inquest which was described by the coroner, Dr. James Anderson, as, ‘unparalleled in the history of Canada, not only for the interest it has aroused throughout the whole country, but by reason of the legal points raised. ’ Dr. C. K. Clarke ‘the father of Canadian psychiatry,’ who watched Florence throughout and interviewed her several times, said of her testimony, ‘a more startling and complex psychological study has rarely been offered. ’

Table of contents

Preface , Do You Think I Did It?
Part One
A Shooting on Herkimer Street
One He Shot Poor Ethel
Two Tramp Panic
Three The Kinrades
Part Two
The Inquest
Four Starting the Inquest All Over Again
Five Florence’s Triumph
Six A Chink in the Armour
Seven I Let Out An Awful Yell
Eight The Pet of the Town
Nine Escaping the Velvet Prison
Ten “King vs Kinrade”
Eleven Pretty Inconsequent Butterfly
Twelve Love Letters to Jimmy
Thirteen Tain’t That L’il Girl
Part Three
Finding Florence
Fourteen Hollywood Terminus
Fifteen Kinrade Family Mental Health Diagnosis
Sixteen Western Days
Seventeen No Lady Needs Algebra
Eighteen Of Scarlett and Madness
Nineteen A Murder For Ambition


This is a thrilling 1909 true crime story! Florence Kinrade, dutiful daughter of a wealthy, upper-crust Canadian family, lives a secret double life as a vaudeville showgirl in Virginia, USA. Then sister Ethel shows up dead, with Florence being, apparently, the only one at the scene at the time. Next up, a coroner’s inquest, a mental diagnosis, more vaudeville show business, and a good hard investigative look by journalist Frank Jones. Do you think she did it?


A real whodunit by a masterful crime writer who tells it like no other. — Mark McNeil, Hamilton Spectator

Frank Jones has given us a captivating and rich account of a long-forgotten murder. The combination of true crime drama, great investigative reporting and social history will grip readers. Whether he is writing about the popularity of vaudeville theatre, the evolution of forensic psychiatry or the Kinrade family’s deceits and delusions, Jones’s pace never flags. — CHARLOTTE GRAY

Frank Jones has always had a knack for finding the quirkiest and most interesting true crime tales, and relating them with the skill you’d expect from a lifelong, first rate journalist, and this latest is no exception. — LINWOOD BARCLAY