Albert County ghost town site of the famous ax murder that saw Tom Collins tried 3 times

All that remains of what was once a vibrant New Brunswick forest community called New Ireland is a cemetery now overgrown with forest, several old stone foundations and a history of crime that has made headlines around the world. .

It may be a ghost town now, but New Ireland was the scene of a brutal ax murder that led to three separate trials of a young British man in the early 1900s and created a precedent in the Canadian legal system.

James Upham, a Moncton historian and educator, says visiting the area always gives him a « very strange » feeling.

New Ireland lies west of Riverside-Albert, near the northeast corner of what is now Fundy National Park. St. Agatha’s Catholic Cemetery, where Reverend EJ McAuley and his cousin and housekeeper Mary Ann McAuley are buried, is a part of the community that is still maintained.

This stone marks the graves of Reverend EJ McAuley and his cousin Mary Ann McAuley. St. Agatha’s Catholic Cemetery is the only place in New Ireland that is still mowed and maintained. (Khalil Akhtar/CBC)

« It was a major event, » Upham said of the crime that happened in 1906.

« It’s kind of like the Lindbergh baby. It was huge news when the first trial happened. It’s an ax murder – headline news. »

Catch fish and chop wood

The story begins when a young Irishman named Tom Collins arrived in Albert County sometime between 1905 and 1906 from England. He was hired by the Reverend McAuley to help at the parsonage and church in New Ireland.

« They had horses that needed to be taken care of. They had kindling that needed to be cut. They had physical labor to do, » Upham said. « Unfortunately, at some point in this process, there seems to have been a slight disagreement. »

This photo of Tom Collins appeared in the Daily Telegraph on September 11, 1906, with the caption ‘Thomas F. Collins, Albert County Murder Suspect’. (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick)

According to Upham’s research, Collins said the disagreement was about how many fish he caught one day, when Mary Ann sent him to a nearby lake to catch their supper. McAuley was absent and the two were alone at the property.

Mary Ann was upset that Collins had not caught enough and sent him to cut wood in the wood pit, where she continued to scold him.

Collins decided to leave New Ireland and the parsonage following the dispute.

“At that time, however, he also robbed the place,” Upham said. « We know because he says he did. And when he was apprehended he was caught carrying things he had stolen from the building we’re standing in front of right now. . »

Upham said there was no doubt that Collins stole items such as a gold watch from the parsonage. There is also no doubt that someone murdered Mary Anne with a razor and an axe.

A Daily Telegraph article from 4 July 1907 recounts the evidence presented at Collins’ second trial at Hopewell Cape.

« Whoever murdered him not only delivered a blow that crashed into the victim’s skull and brain, but his throat was also slit, as if to make doubly sure of the horrific act, » the story reads. bed.

Collins tried 3 times

Upham describes the community as having a kind of « Twin Peaks », pointing out that it was a remote Catholic community in a Protestant world.

James Upham still has a ‘strange feeling’ as he explores what remains of the New Ireland community. He says the records show that if you looked out the rectory window, you would see the cemetery. (Khalil Akhtar/CBC)

« There is mistrust, there is mistrust, there is misinformation. »

At Collins’ first murder trial in January 1907, the Reverend McAuley testified and the verdict was guilty. However, that decision was overturned as it was found that the judge erred in his instructions to the jury.

Mary Ann McAulay was brutally murdered in 1906 outside the New Ireland Catholic Rectory. (Albert County Museum)

He « will not walk to the gallows, » reads a Daily Gleaner article from February 23, 1907. He goes on to explain that the judge at the first trial ordered the jury that certain facts had been absolutely proven, whereas that should have been left to the jury to decide.

« It earned Tom a second trial and was the first time, as I understand it in Canadian history, that a court decision was overturned based on the judge’s discharge or the judge’s instructions to the jury. “, Upham said.

« And that was a moment in Canadian history where we said, ‘Yeah, actually, the law trumps what the guy on the bench thinks or assumes he can do. It’s a huge moment because you have a young Catholic boy who is friendless and familyless in this country being defended by a justice system that was not necessarily built to protect his ancestors. »

At this first trial, Collins did not take the witness stand, but many friends and family from England sent letters about his good character.

Between the first and second trials, the case made headlines again when on February 3, 1907, the Reverend McAuley died suddenly of « apoplexy » or what we would probably call a stroke today. today.

The Daily Telegraph reported the sudden death of Reverend McAuley, which occurred between Tom Collins’ first and second trial. His death was blamed on the murder of his cousin and governess, Mary Ann McAuley. (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick)

At the second trial, held six months later in the summer of 1907, Collins testified in his own defense. He admitted he robbed Reverend McAuley, but said he did not kill Mary Ann. Her lawyers argued that all of the prosecution’s evidence was circumstantial and that someone else had murdered Mary Ann.

The first jury found Collins guilty of murder, but that verdict was later overturned and two more trials were held. (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick)

The second trial ended in a hung jury. By the time the third trial took place, Upham said, the case was so famous that it was almost impossible to find an impartial jury. The third trial leads to the same conclusion as the first: death by hanging.

“And on the third trial, honestly, they seem to have given up and said to hell with it – hang him,” Upham said.

« So a young man who may have done no more than rob a place, was hanged to death down the hill from here. »

The Daily Telegraph reported Collins’ death on November 16, 1907. Collins was the only prisoner to be hanged in Albert County Jail and one of the last men hanged in New Brunswick. (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick)

On the morning of November 15, 1907, Collins became the only prisoner ever hanged in the Albert County Jail, and one of the last in New Brunswick.

He was buried in an unmarked grave outside Hopewell Cape Prison. According to the Albert County Museum, his body was reinterred in a nearby cemetery 60 years later.

The case of Tom Collins was cited in the Supreme Court to justify the amendment of double jeopardy to the Canadian Criminal Code.

Community disappeared, the controversy continues

More than 100 years ago, the community was divided as to the guilt or innocence of Tom Collins, and that division continues to this day in Albert County, Upham said.

« You can have a pretty heated discussion with some people in Albert County about what really happened here, » he said. « There are people who will swear to you that Tom was innocent, that Father McAuley did it. There are people who will tell you that there are people in the neighborhood who did it. »

Upham says there is still a debate in Albert County over Tom Collins’ guilt in the murder of Mary Ann McAuley. (Khalil Akhtar/CBC)

Upham said that two weeks before Collins even arrived in New Ireland, someone broke into the parsonage and stole liquor.

« It’s sometimes tempting to look at these little communities historically and say everything was perfect and rosy until, you know, something happened or something terrible happened. »

Upham said the remaining graveyard and ancient stone foundations are one of thousands of roadside monuments where you can « stop and look around and say, ‘OK, there’s more to it’. And this one is once again top notch. »

« We stand in the midst of a vital community that has existed for generations, » he said. « Where one of the most interesting legal events in Canadian history happened, where a horrific tragedy happened and the only thing that commemorates it is a moldy basement and a cemetery that is being salvaged by the trees. »

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History columnist James Upham visits the spot where Mary Ann McAuley was killed in 1906 and recounts the infamous trials that followed.


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