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Percy Pelch, Pt. 2: Thief, daredevil and escape artist (4 photos)

Barrie police and Mary Harris continue to chase down Percy Pelch in this week's Remember This?

Percy Pelch, now on the run from the Barrie Jail, took off to Midhurst where he caught a train.

He found himself in the hamlet of Lisle and it was there that he was nabbed on July 2, 1911 after a resident found the unfamiliar man lurking around his house.

Four men, Constable Sweeney, Deputy Sheriff Smith, Jailer Sissons’ son and theatre owner, R.F. Garrett, all were dispatched in Garrett’s car to collect the escapee.

Things took a turn for the odd during the return trip to Barrie. Young Mr. Sissons' watch became momentarily lost and, while the others were out of the car and searching for it, Pelch told Garrett that he wished to make a statement. Constable Sweeney advised him against it, but Pelch was eventually permitted to give Smith a statement which was dictated as they all sat on the side of the dirt road.

Percy Pelch had expressed to the others in the auto his fear that he might be looking at some serious jail time. His statement became a bit of a bombshell when he disclosed that W.J. Reid, the turnkey at the jail, had helped him escape! He repeated his accusation in front of the judge when he next appeared in court.

This shocking claim set in motion a larger investigation into the inner workings of the jailhouse, something that been the source of complaint by employees and members of the public for a while.

While Mr. Reid was eventually cleared, the spotlight was shone upon alcohol in the jail, use of prisoners for unsupervised chores at Sissons' Clapperton Street property and improper purchasing of goods supposedly for jail use.

Percy Pelch recanted his statement about W.J. Reid. For his trouble, Percy Pelch remained in the Barrie Jail while he awaited a trial on the additional charge of perjury.

Mr. W.A. Boys represented the accused and asked for a suspended sentence, stating that “Pelch was a young man and has a wife and children depending on him,” and added that “the ends of justice would be carried out if the prisoner was liberated and still had the charge over him which would cause him to walk more upright in future.”

Crown attorney Cotter replied: “This is one of the most deliberate cases of perjury I have ever heard of!”

Cotter asked for five months in jail. Police Court Magistrate Radenhurst gave Pelch four. In true small-town Barrie fashion, Mr. Radenhurst was an uncle of defense counsel Boys, but appears to have been a fair and impartial magistrate.

As for walking more upright in the future, Percy Pelch was too much of a trouble magnet for that. A little more than a year later, our Percy was back in town. The front-page headline in the Northern Advance of Nov. 28, 1912 read ‘Notorious Pelch Once Again Inmate of Castle Sissons’ with the subheading adding ‘Drunk And Disorderly And Took Entire Collingwood Force To Arrest Man Who Broke Out Of County Jail.’ Oh Percy!

In a well-crafted but short piece, the uncredited Northern Advance reporter described how Percy, through no fault of his own naturally, met up with a man who had just stolen an entire case of whisky from the Collingwood railway station. That man, feeling generous with his loot, gave Percy a bottle which “caused his latest fall from grace.”

“Percy’s bottle appears to have been too strong for him and becoming hilarious, the police invited him to the lock-up. As he did not care for the accommodations offered, he used such weapons as he had at his command, including his teeth, to resist the police and indeed it took the full posse to induce him to take up his lodgings in the town’s quarters.

“The next morning, he was taken to the police court and the magistrate, who had been dealing with him tenderly for some time past, thought it time to use stronger measures and accordingly sent Percy down to Barrie to endure sixty days hard labour.”

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.


Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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