Who Killed Tom Thomson?
The Truth about the Murder of One of the 20th Century's Most Famous Artists
- 464 Pages
- August 21, 2018
- ISBN: 9781510733411
- Imprint: Skyhorse Publishing
Tom Thomson was Canada's Vincent van Gogh. He painted for a period of five years before meeting his untimely death in a remote wilderness lake in July 1917. He was buried in an unofficial grave close to the lake where his body was found. About eight hours after he was buried, the coroner arrived but never examined the body and ruled his death accidental due to drowning. A day and a half later, Thomson's family hired an undertaker to exhume the body and move it to the family plot about 100 miles away. This undertaker refused all help, and only worked at night.
In 1956, John Little's father and three other men, influenced by the story of an old park ranger who never believed Thomson's body was moved by the undertaker, dug up what was supposed to be the original, empty grave. To their surprise, the grave still contained a body, and the skull revealed a head wound that matched the same location noted by the men who pulled his corpse from the water in 1917. The finding sent shockwaves across the nation and began a mystery that continues to this day.
In Who Killed Tom Thomson? John Little continues the sixty-year relationship his family has had with Tom Thomson and his fate by teaming up with two high-ranking Ontario provincial police homicide detectives. For the first time, they provide a forensic scientific opinion as to how Thomson met his death, and where his body is buried. Little draws upon his father's research, plus recently released archival material, as well as his own thirty-year investigation. He and his colleagues prove that Thomson was murdered, and set forth two persons of interest who may have killed Tom Thomson.
“What…Little has done is take a novel approach to a mystery that seems, at times, to have been examined to death. First, he has done an admirable job of assembling the actual evidence, the hearsay evidence and all the various theories, from solid to ridiculous, concerning the death of Tom Thomson. His research he then turned over to the two former detectives whose professional careers were taken up solving difficult crimes…John Little’s key contribution to this ever-spinning tale was to bring in qualified investigators as ‘consultants.’”
—Roy MacGregor, The Globe and Mail
"Little has done a service in assembling and analyzing the collective research of earlier Thomson scholars such as David P. Silcox, Roy MacGregor, Joan Murray, and Harold Town. 'Anything that I might have added to the research and data of the Tom Thomson story is but a footnote compared to the work of all those who came before me,' Little writes. In its accumulation of research and analysis, Who Killed Tom Thomson is more than just a footnote. The police officers’ conclusions, which are solid so far as they go, remove some of the mystery surrounding Thomson’s death."
—Quill & Quire
"For 30 years, author John Little has pursued the fate of the great Tom Thomson in the footsteps of his father, who spent 30 years before that investigating the Ontario-born painter’s 1917 death. (Thomson’s body was found in Canoe Lake days after his upturned canoe was spotted.) …. The detectives concluded from the information given them that Thomson didn’t drown, as was initially suspected, and didn’t commit suicide. Thomson, they say, was murdered.... (One theory is he was shot, another that he was clubbed.) The sleuths explain their reasoning in detail—which itself is well worth reading."
—Winnipeg Free Press
“This is a fascinating read. The narrative is compelling, while John Little presents the facts and testimony surrounding the death of Tom Thomson. As a detective, the facts of this case strongly suggest to me that the original coroner’s conclusion got it wrong, and yet the way the story is presented did not in any way attempt to lead me to a particular conclusion. A crime was committed here and John has shone the brightest light to date on it.”
—Troy Martin, detective constable, Ontario Provincial Police
“John Little is uniquely qualified to write about the death of Tom Thomson. Not only did he grow up immersed in his father’s incredible quest to redefine the mystery, but he is also a talented writer who knows how to tell a great story. This book ripples with authority and passion carefully balanced on a foundation of meticulous research. The result is a crackling page-turner that has the reader peering over the shoulders of the author and the detectives as they dig through a century-old cold case, trying to determine once and for all who—or what—killed Tom Thomson. A superb read!”
—Andrew Wagner-Chazalon, editor of Dockside Magazine and author of The Hidden World of Huckleberry Rock, Muskoka Traditions, and Grace and Speed
“Confronting the enduring controversy one hundred years after Thomson’s death over whether he was a drunk who fell from his canoe or was murdered, John Little has done the painstaking research that’s long been most needed in this astonishingly elusive cold case. Now, Little has produced a grippingly detailed true-life thriller of intrigue, jealousies, and accusations pointing strongly to two “persons of interest” as the likely culprit. The book, Little says, is ‘the closest thing we’ll ever get’ to solving the mystery surrounding Tom Thomson’s tragic death. But I assure you, readers will come away with definite opinions on how Thomson’s promising, creative life was purposefully extinguished.”
—Ellie Tesher, syndicated advice columnist, author of The Dionnes, and former Toronto Star newspaper editor, columnist , and reporter
“John Little’s Who Killed Tom Thomson? is a useful addition to the ever-growing library of books that postulate answers to this compelling mystery…. Little has taken on Thomson’s case like a bloodhound, passionately probing every supposition, consulting professional detectives, even hiring a scuba-diver to scour the murky bottom of Canoe Lake in search of clues and evidence…. I suspect that Canadians’ fascination with the life and death of our beloved, brilliant landscape painter who died far too young, will keep journalists, filmmakers, writers, and readers forever curious.”
—Peter Raymont, co-director with Michele Hozer and co-producer with Nancy Lang, of the award-winning documentary film West Wind: The Vision of Tom Thomson (White Pine Pictures)
“Some say Thomson died accidentally. Others say it was suicide. Yet others say murder. Little wanted to solve the enduring mystery, so he gathered all the evidence he could find and gave it to two experienced detectives from the Ontario Provincial Police. It was the first time police had examined the case. The two detectives, Daniel Mulligan and Scott Thomson (possibly a distant relative), concluded the famed artist was murdered. But by whom? Let’s just say the question in the book’s title is answered, in a fashion. But before the end, you will encounter tales of a roller-coaster romance, excessive drinking, money problems, a suspicious undertaker—and a mystery that just won’t die.”
—Paul Gessell, Galleries West