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Truscott Case: Background
An history of the Truscott case, Truscott’s trial and conviction, his life in prison and on parole, as well as his appeals.
Events Prior to the Trial
Steven Truscott (14 years old) and Lynne Harper (12 years old) lived near the small town of Clinton, Ontario. Their fathers were both officers in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Both children lived with their families in the married quarters on the base, which was located just outside of Clinton. Truscott and Harper and attended the same school.
Harper was last seen alive early on the evening of June 9, 1959, when she was seen sharing a bicycle with Truscott. When she failed to return home that evening, however, her parents became concerned and her father contacted the police to report she was missing. Two days later, on June 11, Harper’s body was discovered in a wooded area known as Lawson’s Bush; ‘foul play’ was clearly involved as evidence showed she had been raped and died by strangulation.
On June 12, at 7:00 pm, the day after Harper’s body was discovered, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) took Steven Truscott into custody; after nearly eight hours of questioning, he was charged with Harper’s murder. On June 30, 1959, Truscott was ordered to be tried as an adult for the charge of capital murder. A subsequent appeal from this order was dismissed.
Trial and Sentencing
On September 19, 1959, Truscott’s trial began in the Supreme Court of Ontario in Goderich before a jury. On September 30, only two weeks after the trial began, the jury returned its verdict; it found Steven Truscott guilty of capital murder with a recommendation for mercy. As required by the law at the time, Truscott was then sentenced to death.
At trial, the Crown prosecutor alleged that Truscott had made a tentative date with another female classmate, Jocelyne Gaudet, on the evening of Harper’s murder. The Crown argued that Steven Truscott had made these plans as a pretext for having sexual relations with Jocelyn. When their plans did not work out, the Crown suggested that Truscott found a substitute in Lynne Harper. According to the Crown, Truscott met Harper on school grounds. Together, they then cycled to Lawson’s Bush – with Harper on the crossbar of Truscott’s bike. In the remote bush, the Crown alleged, Truscott raped and murdered Harper. He then cycled directly back to the school grounds.
It was subsequently proven the Crown’s case was entirely circumstantial, because it relied primarily on the following evidence:
- The fact that Truscott was the last known person to see Harper;
- Testimony that Truscott intended to have sexual intercourse that evening;
- Forensic evidence about the time of Harper’s death; and,
- Forensic evidence of two lesions on Truscott’s ***** (which the Crown interpreted as being caused by intercourse with a young girl)
By contrast, the Defence asserted that Truscott and Harper had not gone to Lawson’s Bush at all. Instead, the Defence argued that Truscott had given Harper a ride to a highway intersection, only to see her then get into a car that stopped at the intersection as he was pedaling away.
The Defence’s case relied heavily on testimony about the whereabouts of Steven and Lynne’s on that evening. Two Defence witnesses testified they saw the pair cycling across the bridge to Highway 8; a third witness testified to seeing Truscott returning across the bridge alone. The Crown’s reply to the testimony of these witnesses: that all three witnesses were lying.
On January 21, 1960, the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed Steven Truscott’s conviction appeal. The Court, however, did commute his death sentence to one of life imprisonment. An application to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada was also dismissed on February 24, 1960.
In the months and years following Truscott’s conviction, the case became a subject of considerable comment in the Canadian media and in Parliament. In 1966, Isabel LeBourdais wrote “The Trial of Steven Truscott
which renewed huge national interest in the case.
In April 1966, Truscott’s case was ultimately referred to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court was asked to consider the following question: if it had heard Truscott’s appeal in 1960, would it have overturned his conviction of capital murder? In 1967, the Court ruled (with one judge dissenting) that it would indeed have upheld the conviction on the basis that the conduct of the provincial trial was fair and legal.
Imprisonment and Parole
Steven Truscott was imprisoned for a period ten years, from 1959 to 1969.
Following his initial conviction, Truscott was placed in custody in Goderich, Ontario, awaiting execution. After his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, however, he was transferred to Kingston Penitentiary, and then to the Ontario Training School for Boys in Guelph, Ontario. In 1963, upon turning 18 years of age, Truscott was moved to the Collins Bay Penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario. After about six years he was released on parole, on October 21, 1969.
Steven Truscott remained on parole from 1969 until November 1974. At that time, the National Parole Board released him of all terms and conditions of parole placed on him. As an individual who had been convicted of capital murder, however, Truscott was warned that should he ever be convicted of an indictable offence, his parole would be revoked immediately and he would return to prison.
Life After Prison
Following his release from prison, Steven Truscott immediately began to live under the name Steven Bowers (his mother’s maiden name ). For the first six months of his release he lived with his parole officer, Mac Steinberg. In 1970, he moved briefly to Vancouver , and then back to Guelph, Ontario. In October 1970, Truscott married his wife Marlene; they are still married today, and have three adult children.
After moving to Guelph, Truscott found work as a millright (a trade he learnt while in prison) with Linread Manufacturing until 1987 when he joined Fiberglass Canada (now Owens Corning), also as a millwright.
Neither Steven – nor any members of his family – have had any contact with the criminal justice system since his release in 1969.