Tuesday 24 December 2019

Book ~ "The Missing Millionaire: The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed With Finding Him" (2019) Katie Daubs

From Goodreads ~ In December 1919, Ambrose Small, the mercurial owner of the Grand Opera House in Toronto, closed a deal to sell his network of Ontario theatres, deposited a million-dollar cheque in his bank account, and was never seen again. As weeks turned to years, the disappearance became the most "extraordinary unsolved mystery" of its time. Everything about the sensational case would be called into question in the decades to come, including the motivations of his inner circle, his enemies, and the police who followed the trail across the continent, looking for answers in asylums, theatres and the Pacific Northwest. 

In "The Missing Millionaire", Katie Daubs tells the story of the Small mystery, weaving together a gripping narrative with the social and cultural history of a city undergoing immense change. Daubs examines the characters who were connected to the case as the century carried on: Ambrose's religious wife, Theresa; his long-time secretary, Jack Doughty; his two unmarried sisters, Florence and Gertrude; Patrick Sullivan, a lawless ex-policeman; and Austin Mitchell, an overwhelmed detective. A series of trials exposed Small’s tumultuous business and personal relationships, while allegations and confessions swirled. But as the main players in the Small mystery died, they took their secrets to the grave, and Ambrose Small would be forever missing. 

Drawing on extensive research, newly discovered archival material, and her own interviews with the descendants of key figures, Katie Daubs offers a rich portrait of life in an evolving city in the early twentieth century. Delving into a crime story about the power of the elite, she vividly recounts the page-turning tale of a cold case that is truly stranger than fiction. 

At age 53, Ambrose Small was a self-made millionaire who lived in Toronto and owned several Ontario-based theatres including the Grand Opera House in Toronto (where the Scotia Plaza now is).  On December 1, 1919, he sold his theatre holdings for $1.7 million and deposited a million dollar cheque in the bank.  The next day he met with his lawyer in his office at the Grand Opera House.  His lawyer left at 5:30 p.m. and was the last person to see Small ... no one has seen him or heard from him since.  Because he would take off, Theresa, his wife, wasn't overly concerned when he didn't arrive home for supper and didn't report him missing until a few weeks later.

This book is about the disappearance of Small and the investigation.  No one knows what happened to him.  Was he murdered?  If so, there were many suspects.  Theresa, who was very religious, might have gotten tired of his womanizing.  Jack, his assistant, wasn't a fan of Small's because he felt Small didn't treat him well.  Maybe Small took off to start a new life ... but it's weird that he didn't take any of the money with him.  Maybe he had amnesia ... but he was easily recognizable, especially with all the posters advertising a reward for his return.

It's an interesting story and the author did a thorough job in researching, even speaking with descendants of the Small and Jack.  The editing could have been a bit tighter, though, as there were some typos.

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