Local History: A tragic day in August 1964

Downtown Halifax in the 1960s. Photo: HRM Archives

Dorothy Grant recalls the senseless double murder that shocked Halifax

I was a young woman on Aug. 8, 1964, and I’ll never forget the day: something terrible was going on in Halifax.

Turning on our radio, we immediately heard an announcer warning everyone to stay inside. 

Shocking details slowly emerged. A mysterious youth had, in a 40-minute span, shot three boys while biking along the South End rail cut, killing 11-year-old Gordon Hartling and 12-year-old James Squire. Michael Smith, also 12, was badly hurt.

The breathless radio report told us that the attacker shot his first victim near the railroad bridge on Jubilee Road, the second in front of the Stairs Drug Store on Tower Road, and the third while he was picking blueberries with his mother.

Police chief Verdun Mitchell and several of his officers set up a post at the United Church College (now the Atlantic School of Theology) near the corner of Franklyn Street.

Security officers from CN Rail and the RCMP joined them for a sweep through wooded park and buildings in the area. Armed with revolvers, shotguns, and even submachine guns, they crossed and recrossed their own trails in a fruitless search. 

Meanwhile, a gardener working on a nearby street had a “strange looking” young man ask him matches so he could smoke. He gave the youth a few matches, but remained suspicious. “I smelled a rat,” the man told reporters. “And there were sirens everywhere, so I called the police!’

A few minutes later, two detectives arrived and he described the boy: “just another punk” — 16 or 17, average height, with mousey coloured hair, wearing dark brown trousers, and a zippered jacket.

The police description said the attacher was a short, 15-year-old redhead, so the detectives dismissed the tip. 

Two days later, the attacker turned himself in near the Halifax International Airport. He was Edward Thomas Boutilier from Jollimore: 18 years old, 5’10”, with brown hair.

Years later and article about Boutilier in the Fourth Estate newspaper described the impoverished and terrible childhood he had endured.

He never revealed why he shot those boys. Newspapers said that as a teenager, he was violent and threatening, and his frightened mother somehow convinced the army to enlist him. Thirty days before the attacks, the army discharged him.

The courts ruled Boutilier “insane,” admitting him to the Nova Scotia Hospital. He escaped, was recaptured, and died by suicide there in 1974.

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