OPINION: Where is the body of Elizabeth Workman?

N1605P62007C

Randy Evans and Gary Shrumm

The old Sarnia Jail was the site of three executions, namely Thomas Cleary (1862), Elizabeth Workman (1873) and Stephen Kiyoshk (1941).

The fate of each was determined by a Sarnia jury finding them guilty on a murder charge, and the resulting mandatory sentence of death.

Any commutation of sentence or clemency would have had to come from the Governor General in Council in Ottawa. No such reprieve was received for any of them.

By law, only those executed could be buried within the confines of the Jail. Accordingly, at most, the historic Sarnia jail yard would have housed only three bodies.

Research shows, however, that in the cases of Cleary and Kiyoshk their post-hanging bodies were claimed by loved ones and interred in a cemetery. Cleary is buried at Our Lady of Mercy in Sarnia and Kiyoshk at Highbanks Cemetery on Walpole Island.

That leaves Workman, who beat her husband to death with a mop handle, as the only burial on the grounds of the former Jail. The historical reports are consistent — Workman’s coffined body was lowered into a pit dug under the gallows in the old Jail yard, which was locating at what today is the eastern end of a parking lot north of London Road and east of Christina Street.

The issue is whether Workman’s corpse has ever been removed.

Much indignation and speculation has been expressed to the effect that her remains are still at the original burial site. However such expressions have been made with little or no expressed actual foundation of research.

So where does the investigation take us?

The records show Ms. Workman does not have a grave in the Sarnia cemeteries, nor is she buried in her previous communities of Mooretown and St. Marys, Ont.,

When, in 1961, the Sarnia Jail and property was sold, torn down and re-developed, there was extensive news coverage of the related events. It is reasonable to think that any exhumation of Workman’s body would have been newsworthy.

But nary a word was expressed in regard to the convicted.

Perhaps the lapse of 88 years since her burial on the site caused no one to think of her.

Accordingly, unless her remains were disturbed and removed by the extensive 1961 excavation at the site, it is a reasonable inference, based upon the evidence, that the location of the old Sarnia Jail yard still houses the remains of Elizabeth Workman.

Randy Evans and Gary Shrumm are historical researchers in Sarnia