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  1. #1
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    Canada - Ambrose Small, 56, Toronto, 2 Dec 1919

    http://www.doenetwork.org/cases/1891dmon.html

    Ambrose Small
    Missing since December 2, 1919 from Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    Classification: Missing





    Vital Statistics
    • Date Of Birth: 1863
    • Age at Time of Disappearance: 56 years old
    • Height & Weight: He was short.
    • Distinguishing Characteristics: His hair had started to gray and recede and he had a "walrus" mustache. His face was always reddened by broken blood vessels, the result of too much drinking. He was a daring gambler and a notorious womanizer who wore fancy clothes.





    Circumstances of Disappearance
    Ambrose Small, the Canadian entertainment figure, vanished on December 2, 1919 and his disappearance was sensational and mystifying that it made a permanent mark on North American history.
    Small went to work at the age of 13 in his father’s modest establishment, Toronto’s Warden Hotel. As he grew older, he began managing the hotel bar and booking entertainment for the customers. In addition to working for his father, Small also took a part-time job as an usher at the Grand Theater. He slowly worked up the ranks to assistant manager and then booking manager, arranging for florid and spicy melodramas for the venue. These programs met with much success and Small began to prosper. He also began to buy interests in small theaters in and around Toronto.
    Small also began to acquire a couple of different reputations. One of them was as a daring gambler. He was never afraid to bet huge sums on races and while he always paid off when he lost, he was not above being involved in fixed races either. He started to gain a number of enemies in racing circles and in his romantic life as well. He was also a notorious womanizer. He was often seen squiring young and beautiful women about town, especially the gorgeous showgirls who worked the local theaters. He left many a hopeful starlet feeling both used and disappointed when he moved on to another attractive lady.
    This is why it must have come as a great surprise when the rakish Small, just before his 40th birthday, suddenly married Teresa Small, the wealthy heiress to a brewing fortune. What did not come as a surprise though was when Small began to use Teresa’s money to purchase scores of small theaters and to book the biggest-named talent that he could find into them. Small finally had his fortune and he finally realized his dream of owning the Grand Opera House. Within a few years, Small began to grow tired of his marriage and secure business life and he began gambling and seeing women again.
    As his fortunes grew, Small continued to make enemies. He made his prejudices well known to anyone who would listen, even strangers. He disliked children, Catholics (which was interesting considering that hi wife was a devout Catholic) and the poor and felt that giving anything away to a charity was foolish. By the late 1910’s, the high life began to take its toll on Small.
    In 1919, Small and Teresa began negotiating the sale of the Small chain of theaters to a British-owned firm, Trans-Canada Theaters Limited. The deal was concluded on December 2, 1919 and the Small’s received a check for $1 million, with an additional $700,000 to be paid to them in installments over the next five years. The husband and wife endorsed the check and deposited it in their account at the Dominion Bank at 11:45 in the morning.
    That afternoon, Small told his lawyer, E.W.M. Flock that he planned to inform his secretary John Doughty that not only had Doughty been retained by the new firm as a secretary and booking manager, but he would see a substantial increase in salary. Attorney Flock saw Small again later that evening (around 5:30) at the Grand Opera House. Small was in a fine mood, laughing and smoking cigars to celebrate the sale of the chain. He spent a few minutes with Small but then left to catch a train. As he walked out of the front foyer of the opera house and into a driving snowstorm, he looked back and waved at the smiling Small. It was the last time that he would ever see his client.
    A short time later, Small also left the opera house. Bundled up against the biting wind, cold and snow, he made with way to the corner of Adelaide and Yonge, ducking into the shelter of a newsstand operated by Ralph Savein. The newsstand owner knew Small well as he habitually checked the racing results in the paper each day. Small always picked up the paper around 5:30 when it arrived by train, however on this day, the papers had not been delivered because the train had been delayed by a terrible snowstorm in New York. Savein said that Small cursed bitterly over the lack of the paper, which was something that he had never heard him do before. Small then trudged off into the snow and as he made his way down the block, Savein saw his form fade away into the blowing storm. He was the last person to report speaking with Ambrose Small.
    Several days passed before anyone realized that Small had disappeared. His wife and friends were so used to his dalliances and gambling that they guessed he had simply gone out of town for a few days. They wanted to ignore his shortcomings so badly that they never dreamed he could have met with foul play. Once his disappearance became official though, the authorities launched the biggest manhunt in Canadian history.
    As the hunt for Ambrose Small continued, many began to fear that the theater magnate had been murdered. A man named George Soucy, a publishing house employee, reported that he had seen Small being forced into a car on the evening of December 2. Also, on that same night, a caretaker named Albert Elson insisted that he had seen four men burying something in a ravine just a short distance from Small’s home. A cleaning woman, Mary Quigley, swore to police that she had seen a notice pinned to the wall in the Convent of Precious Blood, located on St. Anthony Street, which requested “prayers for the repose of the soul of Ambrose J. Small” several days before the public or the press knew that he had vanished! These turned out to be some of the best leads that the police had but they were among the hundreds that actually came in. The authorities conducted a painstaking search for the missing man. Every business in Toronto was searched and all six cities where Small had theaters were scoured for clues. Toronto Bay was dredged several times and the basement of the Small mansion on Glen Road was excavated. The search continued for years and even as late as 1944, investigators were still digging up the basement of the Grand Opera House, hoping to find Small’s bones. They also tore up the floor boards and pried off wall panels in the search. Years later, a second-hand story emerged that a local fruit vendor had witnessed a man stuffing something down the theatre's coal chute. The story was partially backed up by a stage hand who claimed some particularly pungent fumes belched out of the theatre's chimney on the evening of December 3, 1919 -- the night after Small disappeared. Police reportedly sifted the Grand's huge furnace for human remains, but without success.
    After 1919, Ambrose Small was “spotted” in hundreds of places from owning a hotel in South America to living it up in France with a girl on each arm and a champagne bottle gripped in each fist. A psychic envisioned him buried in the Toronto city dump. An old friend claimed to catch a glimpse of him on the street in London. The magician Harry Blackstone swore that he spotted Small gambling in a Mexican cantina. Regardless, the courts pronounced him officially dead in 1923.
    The Case of Ambrose Small was officially closed in 1960. But even then, the police were still receiving and investigating letters purporting to disclose Small's burial location. As late 1965, Toronto Police detectives inspected a possible grave site in Rosedale Valley.
    By 1970, the story was reaching mythical proportions: the ghost of Ambrose Small was reported haunting one of his former properties, the Grand Theater in London, Ontario and is credited to have saved the theatre's most prominent architectural feature from unintentional demolition. It's difficult to know how the Grand got its reputation for being haunted, but by the late 1940s part of its heritage included the legend that Small's spirit walked the stage after every opening night. Toronto-born comedian Beatrice Lillie supposedly saw the ghost beckon to her during a May 1927 performance.
    What really happened to the theater mogul remains anybody’s guess and the mystery of Ambrose Small will undoubtedly live on for many years to come.
    Last edited by SheWhoMustNotBeNamed; 04-29-2010 at 10:39 PM. Reason: updated doe network link

  2. #2
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  3. #3
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    Bump up

  4. #4
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    What an interesting case! I had never heard of it before.

    Apparently police had evidence that Small's wife was implicated in the (alleged) murder of her husband but there was a cover-up, at least according to a police detective's report dating from the 1930's, due to the fact that Small's widow was from a very wealthy family and part of the social elite. More info here:

    http://www.russianbooks.org/small.htm

    Unfortunately the whole thing was tainted with sectarian disinformation and the main "evidence" against Theresa Small was the fact that she was Catholic and wealthy which was viewed as a suspicious combination in a city largely populated by descendants of Irish Protestants at the time. It was no different here btw, remember what happened with NY Governor Al Smith's presidential campaign in 1928.

    I guess Theresa did have many reasons to want her less-than-exemplary husband dead but so did a few mobsters apparently, and by focusing the attention to her through titillating articles in the papers that went as far as publishing ridiculous claims that even the Prime Minister of Canada -who incidentally was Catholic- was implicated in a cover-up the local media derailed the investigation making it next-to-impossible to get to the bottom of the story. The fact is that all subsequent serious inquiries into the matter have cleared Small's wife.


  5. #5
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    Wonder if his gambling debts were bigger than anyone knew? It doesn't sound like he walked away with any money - the proceeds of the sale went into the bank. I wonder if the money was controlled by the wife - if she cut him off without a way to pay gambling debts? That certainly could have been fatal to her husband without getting involved in any kind of conspiracy.

    Or, perhaps he froze in that snowstorm and was unrecognizable by the time his body was found. If he froze in the snowstorm, could he have been buried by a snow pile and stayed there until spring?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluecat View Post
    Wonder if his gambling debts were bigger than anyone knew? It doesn't sound like he walked away with any money - the proceeds of the sale went into the bank. I wonder if the money was controlled by the wife - if she cut him off without a way to pay gambling debts? That certainly could have been fatal to her husband without getting involved in any kind of conspiracy.
    Small was already wealthy when he married, the sale appears to have concerned properties that he already owned, but perhaps it would have been useful to have accountants look things over after his vanishing.

    Or, perhaps he froze in that snowstorm and was unrecognizable by the time his body was found. If he froze in the snowstorm, could he have been buried by a snow pile and stayed there until spring?
    Toronto has the same climate as Chicago, there is snow but it often melts and doesn't pile up that much. Even then, with all the hype surrounding Small's disappearance any unknown body would have been scrutinized for identification purposes I guess. Unless he fell into the river or the lake. It's quite intriguing.

  7. #7
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    He is mentioned in this 1922 article.

    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive...8CD85F468285F9



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