Monday, 26 March 2012

On This Day in Murder... March 26th, 1936

Mildred Susan Johnston was Raped & Strangled by Gordon Bliss

It appeared to be a very simple, yet strange case. The culprit not only confessed; he was actually the one to call police and report that the assault and murder had occurred. Catching a murderer is not usually that easy of a task. The only questions the police had: what exactly had happened that night, and why?

A portrait of the victim, 27 year old Mildred Susan Johnston

Mildred was born January 21st, 1909 in Cache Bay, Nipissing, Ontario to John Henry Johnston, a shoemaker, & Elizabeth Ann Wilkie. The family moved back to Quebec, where her parents were born, and lived there for a while before settling in the Thunder Bay area.

Mildred Susan Johnston was just 27 years old when she was murdered. She was working as a telephone operator with the Fort William Telephone Exchange, and living with her brothers Archie & at 421 S. Archibald St. in Fort William, Ontario (now Thunder Bay).

On the night of March 25th, 1936, Mildred went to a dance, and it was there that she met the man who would murder her, 27 year old Gordon Bliss. After the dance, she apparently decided to accompany Gordon back to the house he lived in with his parents, who were absent that evening. She was found dead early the next morning with Bliss' necktie still pulled tightly around her neck in the parlor of the Bliss family home, located at 222 Franklin Street North in Fort William. She had also been raped and had been struck multiple times on the head with a monkey wrench.

The house at 222 Franklin St. N in Thunder Bay in 2009; Mildred Johnston was murdered in the parlor by Gordon Bliss in March of 1936 (Google maps)

Strangely enough, it was a call from Gordon Bliss himself that brought the police to the house where Johnston's body was discovered lying dead. Bliss made no attempt to escape or evade police in any way, and never denied that he was had murdered Mildred Johnston in cold blood.

Bliss met Sergeant Palmer of the Fort William police at the door on the morning of March 26th. When Sergeant Palmer discovered the body, her clothes were covering her face, and newspapers had been placed over her body. When he was asked who she was, Bliss stated that he didn't know. Shortly afterward, Bliss confessed to another officer, Constable Sims, stating that "I did it".

Death Registration record for Mildred Susan Johnston, found murdered on March 26th, 1936 (Ontario Archives)

Constable Sims questioned him further, and Bliss then admitted to strangling Mildred because she had resisted his advances. He further confessed that he had struck her after she resisted, then after he sexually assaulted her, he put his tie around her neck and strangled her. He said that he was drunk at the time, and did not know what he was doing. He told the Constable that his mother had recently told him that he ought to settle down.
Gordon Melville Vaughan Bliss, of Scottish origin, was born November 22nd, 1908 to Alder Vaughan Bliss & Mary McLaughlin in Port Arthur, Ontario. At the time of the murder, he had been working as clerk in a timber camp for 7 years.

The murderer, 27 year old Gordon Melville Vaughan Bliss
Bliss never recanted his confession or denied the charges against him. He pleaded guilty to the capital murder of Mildred Susan Johnson on October 23rd, 1936. Bliss was questioned if he understood what he was pleading guilty to, and what the consequences of that plea would be, and he answered that yes, he understood. Court proceedings at the inquest took about 30 minutes, and his plea of guilty was accepted. He was immediately sentenced to death by hanging for the offense. This was the first time in Canada that a death sentence had been handed down after a guilty plea.

On January 5th, 1937, approximately 8 months after he committed the heinous crimes of rape and murder against Mildren Johnston, Gordon Bliss was hanged at the Port Arthur District Goal. He was 28 years old.

Death Registration record for Murderer Gordon Bliss, hanged in January of 1937 (Archives of Ontario)

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