On today’s date in 1934, millionaire brewer John Sackville Labatt was abducted at gunpoint by three men who initially demanded a ransom of $150,000.
John Sackville (1880-1952) was one of nine children of John Labatt (1838-1915) and a great-grandson to John Kinder Labatt (1803-1866), who emigrated from Ireland and founded the Labatt Brewing Company.
After his father died in 1866, John Labatt watched the company grow to become the largest brewing operation in Canada.
Following John Labatt’s death in 1915, the brewery was controlled by a trust that included his nine children, although it was John Sackville (J. S.) and his brother, Hugh, who assumed management positions. J. S. eventually became president of the company and would hold that position for several decades.
On Aug. 14, 1934, as J. S. was returning to his London, Ont. office from a cottage on Lake Rosseau, near Bracebridge, the young brewmaster’s life was forever changed. Shortly after leaving his cottage, his car was forced to stop by another vehicle. Labatt was abducted at gunpoint and forced to write a letter to his brother, telling him to go to Toronto’s Royal York Hotel and await further instructions.
Labatt was then taken back in the other direction, to a cottage on Lake Muskoka, where he was blindfolded and chained to a bed.
The kidnappers were Michael Francis McCardell—known as “three-fingered Abe”—as well as Jack Bannon, Albert Pegram and Russell Knowles, who drove Labatt’s car back to London. After placing a note inside, Knowles sent word of its location to Labatt’s brother.
Before Hugh could make the exchange, rumour of his brother’s kidnapping generated a media furor. Reporters gathered at the Royal York as well as in London, causing the kidnappers to panic and release J. S., who they unchained from a bed post after three days of captivity. His kidnappers drove him back to Toronto and released him on St. Clair Avenue before giving him money for a cab and fleeing.
Shortly after, Labatt made his way to the Royal York to meet his brother; chaos ensued upon his arrival.
Eventually, three of the kidnappers were arrested and sentenced to 15 years in jail while the fourth was killed in the U.S. following the incident. While escaping relatively unharmed, Labatt was forever changed and became a recluse for the remainder of his life.
The event is the first recorded ransom kidnapping in Canada.
THEIR FATHER’S HONOUR
In happier times, John Sackville’s father—John Labatt—was awarded a gold medal for best ale and porter at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, which was held in Buffalo, N.Y. The honour helped to promote the brewery across the U.S. and Canada.