Dying for a Drink

How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder

Reviewed by Tanja Hütter

May 8, 2019

On November 6, 1920, Reverend J.O.L. Spracklin, a.k.a. “The Fighting Parson,” gunned down his old pal and local barkeeper Beverly “Babe” Trumble. Author and historian Patrick Brode delves into this shocking episode in Windsor, Ontario’s past and asks, “What led to a hotheaded reverend taking the law into his own hands, killing a man, and getting away with it?”

What makes this feat all the more incredible is that Spracklin was a spurious friend to law-enforcement officers, calling them out as corrupt or incompetent. A significant part of the local population was engaged in rumrunning in some form or another; veterans were earning money in a slow economy, and business owners were flourishing.

In spite of “his calling,” Spracklin, who worked as part of a special temperance-enforcement team that bypassed police, was lax when it came to the necessary paperwork to sustain the charges he brought. The people arrested were often released due to charges being misdated, and his special deputies were no more than thugs.

Dying for a Drink is a brisk read that aptly describes Canada’s temperance movement and the move towards prohibition, a time when religious zeal in a raunchy and unruly era created a plethora of legal and social contradictions. Index, bibliography, and endnotes are all provided, as are illustrations (although they are somewhat small).

I found the book quite enjoyable — despite all my head-shaking when I couldn’t help but think, how could they possibly get away with doing that?!

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This article originally appeared in the June-July 2019 issue of Canada’s History.

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