Looking at Windsor, Ontario, today from Detroit, few would guess our neighbor was a city of rough edges in the mid-1940s, as World War ll was winding down.
It was also a convenient stop-off where Detroiters crossed by bridge or tunnel for anonymous partying in after hours joints, where liquor flowed, loose women helped defense workers forget they had wives and kids at home. Windsor cops usually looked the other way.
Canadian gays scored the opposite. They came to Detroit by tunnel bus (safer than personal car) to visit downtown bars, where they might relax, let their Maple Leaf hair curlers down, away from censorious friends, busybody neighbors who knew beyond a doubt that queers were perverts.
(As late as the 1960s, any bar-hopping lesbian who looked too butch ran the risk of being turned back at either the Windsor or Detroit tunnel borders.)
Cruising was dangerous business. Get picked up twice in Ontario, even for consensual adult sex, and you could wind up behind bars for 20 years. (There was no Club Happy Tap, no Montreal go-go dancers, and – in spite of the American v. Canadian dollar advantages – no legalization of prostitution.)
In the 1940s, what’s now thriving Dieppe Park was called Government Park. It was filled with a number of eyesore makeshift shanties for hardworking factory workers involved in the war effort.
Government Park was also after-dark turf for pickups – a risky and sordid endeavor for any gay man willing to chance possible arrest and public exposure. Police entrapment, though rare – the homosexual world was a secret subculture – did happen through anonymous calls, tip offs, or drunken, careless risk taking.
No one in Windsor really gave much thought to queers. (“Have you ever seen one?”) In May, 1945 the war was over. Everyone was in a mood of celebration, of getting life back in order. But by July, things changed alarmingly for gay men. The Windsor Daily Star began to report in its back pages incidents of slasher crimes. In August it became a front page topic.
“The body of Hugh Blackwood Price, 44, was found about 1:30 a.m., again by a citizen walking home. The gruesome discovery was made in a field at Riverside Drive and Crawford. Price was a war veteran and was wearing an Essex Scottish uniform when he was killed.
“An examination of the scene by detectives showed his body had been dragged about 23 feet and left only 23 feet from Sandwich Street. Contrary to rumors, Price still had his clothes on. He suffered 12 stab wounds to his body. And his throat had been slashed. Nine of the stab wounds were in his chest, two in his back with one of being just to the right of the spine and one on top of his shoulder.”
For several months following the front-page slashing, the Windsor police had no clues, no leads. It was a second murder, with three other violent but not fatal assaults. Police were frustrated. The public alarmed. Gays frantically terrorized.
Then in March, 1946, a mysterious envelope was received by police. It carried a postmark date of the 20th and contained two pages of almost illegible handwritten notes in red pencil. It was signed The Slasher, with a crude drawing of a knife dripping blood.
“I will strike again soon. Only a knife will be used. Please forgive me, but these people have destroyed my whole life.” And, as something of a patriotic apology he added, “The slasher isn’t a soldier who has returned from the war.”
A blame-the-victim panic was happening in Windsor – with outside help from the Detroit police.