LETHBRIDGE, ALBERTA, CANADA — On December 18, 1946, Canadian army veteran Donald Sherman Staley, 29, took his place alongside four Nazi soldiers at the gallows of the Lethbridge Provincial Gaol.
Staley arrived on the platform after sexually assaulting and killing two young boys. The foreign troops had been convicted of committing murder while being held at Canada’s Medicine Hat POW camp.
Exactly one week before Christmas, then, the five condemned men stood in a line as prison staffers affixed them with nooses. The executioner got his signal, pulled the requisite lever, and the largest public execution in Canadian history ran its course.
After a World War II stint in the Royal Canadian Army, Donald Sherman Staley spent a sunny July weekend at Vancouver’s Stanley Park Beach when he met and befriended Bobby Sherman, age 8, and Gary Billings, age 11.
Staley treated the boys to snacks and ice cream and even gave them a couple of dollars if they’d promise to spend the following afternoon with him, too. Gary Billings took Staley up on the offer, and was never seen alive again.
While authorities and family members searched frantically for Gary, six-year-old Donnie Goss vanished from St. George Island in Calgary. Donnie, too, had fallen prey to Staley after the predator lured the boy away from playing with other children by promising him treats and money.
Donnie Goss’s body turned up first. On July 25, the day after he disappeared, police discovered Donnie’s remains abandoned under a thicket of bushes. He’d been savagely beaten with a blackjack, choked, and stabbed nine times with a paring knife. Most gruesomely, Staley sexually assaulted the child both before and after killing him.
Searchers unearthed Gary Billings’ body within the next 24 hours. Gary, too, suffered unmistakably similar violence and sexual violations before Staley buried the boy’s remains under a pile of logs.
Donald Sherman Staley, in the meantime, attempted to run from the law. His time on the lam didn’t last long.
On August 8, Staley, who was desperate for supplies, broke into the Diamond Café in Calgary, stuffing his pockets with loose change, cigarettes, and candy bars. Local cops pinched him for the burglary four days later.
Citing his previous arrests for public indecency, house-breaking, and mail theft, investigators gave Staley a year in jail while they worked to connect him to the two child slayings that had horrified the nation. Faced with a pile of evidence, Staley cracked fast and confessed to murdering both Gary Billings and Donnie Goss.
Staley’s defense team attempted to plead not guilty by reason of “sexual insanity,” with the killer himself telling the court:
“I must have been born this way and should not be held responsible for what I done, but should receive treatment of some kind instead of being condemned to die for something I can’t help.”
The jury didn’t buy it. Exactly one week before Christmas, Staley dangled from a rope alongside a quartet of dead Nazis while members of the public watched.
The brutalization of children always haunts a community, and Staley’s crimes have long chilled residents in the areas where he committed them. Still, some observers claim that six-year-old victim Donnie Goss, in particular, spooks the Zoo Bridge in Calgary. According to the supernatural website The Curious Fortean:
“Local police receive reports several times a year from people claiming that there is a child screaming in danger near the bridge. Even more disturbing … a mother claimed her child told her that an unseen boy named Donnie kept trying to play with him.”
If nothing else, such stories help keep alive the memories of two tragically murdered boys.
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Main photo: Donald Sherman Staley [Calgary Police Service]