(Posted 3:30 p.m., Oct. 2)
Play about McGonigle murders both powerful and poignant
By Fred Sherwin
Julia McGonigle, played by Sarah Benfield,
beseeches her husband James, played by Nick Dubus, to find their two missing daughters during the Vintage Stock Theatre production of ‘Outrage: The McGonigle Murders’. Fred Sherwin/Photo
While many people may think that abductions and child murderers are by and large phenomenons born out of the latter part of the 20th century, the sad truth of the matter is that they have been around since the dawn of time.
The McGonigle Murders”, being presented this month at
the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum by the Vintage
Stock Theatre company, tells the story of the 1890 abduction
and murder of Mary and Eliza McGonigle in the peaceful
rural community of Cumberland Village.
two girls, age 12 and 14, went missing while walking home
from school on a wet and dreary October evening. Their
father, thinking that they had stayed over at a friend’s
house to avoid the storm, didn’t notify the authorities
until late the next day.
same evening, they were found lying side by side not far
from the road home from school. Autopsies revealed that
the girls had been sexually assaulted and strangled to
the next day, a drifter named Narcisse Larocque had been
arrested and charged with the girls’ murder based on eye
witness accounts that put him in the same vicinity of
the crime at about the same time it occurred. The only
other evidence as a boot print that matched one of Larocque’s
a short trial in L’Orignal during which his lawyer presented
a token defence, he was hung in the L’Orignal jail and
buried in the jail yard.
The McGonigle Murders” tells the story of the events surrounding
the murders, the reaction of the community afterwards
and the subsequent trial and hanging through a series
of six vignettes acted out by lamplight on the museum
the first scene the audience is introduced to John Radclive,
Ontario’s only professional hang man at the time, who
was assigned the task of dispatching criminals like Larocque.
is played wonderfully by Scott Kristjanson who is making
his theatrical debut in the production.
is Kristjanson’s job to set the mood of the play which
he does extremely well. After the opening scene the audience
is lead to the church where a crowd has already assembled
and Julia McGonigle, played by Nick Dubus and Sarah Benfield,
are frantic to find their daughters. Nightfall has already
set in and a large search party has been formed.
long after the search party sets out, a large scream pierces
the night signaling that the girls’ bodies have been found.
the third scene, James and Julia McGonigle learn of their
daughters’ fate. Julia McGonigle is completely distraught
as one might imagine. The audience also finds out that
the McGonigles had lost four of their children to black
diptherea just two years before.
an exchange between the police constable and the village
doctor, Ben Bernard, who is described as a half-wit and
a simpleton comes forward saying that he saw a man walking
down the road shortly after the girls were killed.
man he describes is Larocque, who worked with James McGonigle
and ate in the McGonigle household.
next scene is outside the coroner’s inquest. Several of
the town’s people and other hangers on are demanding that
Larocque be handed over to them so they can kill him themselves
and spare the need for a trial.
fifth scene which takes place several months later, is
perhaps the most powerful. Julia McGonigle has had another
daughter and has named her Mary. She tells an astonished
neighbour that she plans to have yet another daughter
and call her Eliza.
the outset of the scene the neighbour, Margaret Cochrane,
questions how God could have taken the daughters after
he had already claimed the McGonigles’ other four children.
Julia McGonigle explains that her new baby was sent to
her by Mary and Eliza. “She’s a gift from my two angels,”
she tells her neighbour.
final scene is given a glimpse of what the trial was like
followed by the guilty verdict and Larocque’s denouement.
The McGonigle Murders” is powerful play that will have
you questioning the degree to which any of us are safe
in our own communities as well as how we might react if
we were caught up in the same set of circumstances either
as a parent, or a member of small community like Cumberland
what makes the play even more poignant is the fact that
the events are historically true, right down to much of
the dialogue which was taken from newspaper accounts of
play’s director and writer, Susan Flemming has once again
done a marvelous job in presenting a dramatically presentation
of a piece of local history which many residents who are
relatively new to the area have never heard of before.
But she couldn’t have pulled it off without a wonderful
and Benfield were superb as the distraught parents as
was Kristjanson, who I already mentioned earlier. Dan
Smythe, who has been in more Vintage Stock productions
than I can count, also did a great job as Benjamin Bernard,
as did Reid Delong who played Constable Lavergne.
rest of the cast is rounded out by Vintage Stock Theatre
veteran Richard Marquis as John Gamble, John Cook as Dr.
Ferguson, Micheline Mathon as Margaret Cochrane, Émilie
Perron-Clow as Cozey McCallum, Paul Sales as D.B. McLennan,
Hayden Smith as Albert Constantineau and André Dimitrijevic
as the judge. But my favourite performance of them all
was delivered by young Tyler Smith who played James Cochrane.
seen maybe three or four plays with Smith in the cast
and he has stood out in everyone of them. He’s talented,
incredibly self-assured for someone so young, and he has
a very bright future ahead of him.
The McGonigle Murders” is on this Friday and Saturday
night at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum starting
at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 each available at the door.
was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local
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