In 1918 the Reverend J O L Spracklin took up the pastoral charge of Sandwich Methodist Church, Windsor. He was noted for the eloquence of his rhetorical style.
Spracklin’s ministry occurred during a period when Prohibition – especially promoted by the United Farmers of Ontario’ Provincial Government – was regarded as a pressing issue by Spracklin and many of his parishioners and supporters.
These supporters included the brothers W H Hallam and S M Hallam, who, in the Windsor area, were known less for their religious observance than for their muscular activities in support of questionable causes. The Messrs. Hallam thus joined the Reverend J O L Spracklin in Ontario Attorney-General William Raney’s Prohibition enforcement team; this varied component was subsequently to cause Attorney-General Raney considerable embarrassment.
Geographical context of the Detroit River to Spracklin’s ministry
The proximity of the United States’ border to the Sandwich suburb of Windsor, Ontario, where Spracklin fulfilled his ministry, and the huge cross-border trade – legal and illicit – gave heightened focus to the concerns and activities of Spracklin and his zealous followers. This proximity undoubtedly bore relevance also to Spracklin’s eventual emigration.
Prohibition controversies and events of 1920
On August 26, 1920, the cruiser Eugenia, was stopped in the Detroit River after the speedboat Panther II, with the Reverend J O L Spracklin and his associate W H Hallam on board, fired on the cruiser; nine men were arrested and accused of attempting to smuggle whiskey into the US.
It was reported also on August 27, 1920 that Spracklin had accused the mayor of Amherstburg, Dr. W. Fred Park, of harbouring large quantities of alcohol; Mayor Park was subsequently fined $1000.00.
Ministerial benevolence doubted
It was claimed that the pastor was not distinguishing between his spiritual and alcohol inspection duties.
Complaints abounded. To sceptics, his enforcers seemed not to act with adequate restraint or oversight. A Windsor, Ontario lawyer alleged that the Reverend J O L Spracklin’s men would arbitrarily fill in blank search warrants at will.
Distrusts even his own parishoners
It was also claimed that Spracklin showed excessive zeal, and that this extended to his own parishioners. The attention of these the Reverend J O L Spracklin would engage while preaching in the interior of Sandwich Methodist Church; meanwhile, outside the building, his uninhibited associates would surreptitiously search his parishioners’ cars at random.
Pastor’s wife escapes spray of bullets
On Halloween night, 1920, Mrs. Spracklin narrowly escaped death when the Spracklins’ manse was sprayed with bullets. At the time it was assumed that this violent incident was perpetrated on the behalf of persons in the illicit liquor trade disadvantaged by the Reverend J O L Spracklin and his men; this assumption was never seriously questioned. It subsequently proved to be pivotal but somewhat obscure to establish whether this traumatic event led to later actions on the part of her husband.
Manslaughter charge and trial
On November 6, 1920, Spracklin, as part of Ontario Attorney-General Raney’s Prohibition enforcement team, shot and killed Beverly Trumble, proprietor of the Chappell House hotel, who was engaged in illicit trade in liquor, and in whose hand the Reverend J O L Spracklin later claimed to have seen a gun. However, any direct linkage between the occurrence of this violent death only a few days after Mrs. Spacklin’s alarming experience on Halloween Night remained unclear.
At his subsequent trial, Spracklin was acquitted of manslaughter.
The transparency of the process by which the Reverend J O L Spracklin’s acquittal emerged was evidently called into question by some, since this verdict was met with considerable surprise in some quarters.
Widespread comment evoked by the Reverend J O L Spracklin’s fate
Much discussion and comment ensued following the Reverend J O L Spracklin’s trial and acquittal. The fact that historical records of the Reverend J O L Spracklin’s actions on November 6, 1920 differ in emphasis underlines the controversy which arose from the series of events leading to his acquittal.
Varying opinions asserted
The tenor of one historical account is suggestive that Spracklin should have been charged with murder rather than of the manslaughter of which he was eventually acquitted.
Other descriptions seek to stress that the evidence should be interpreted as indicating that Spracklin acted in self-defence.
In 1921 the Reverend J O L Spracklin relinquished his pastoral charge at Sandwich Methodist Church. His resignation appears to have occurred without another parish charge having been made available to him. Following the Reverend J O L Spracklin’s resignation, the nature of his pastoral work underwent changes.
Development of itinerant ministry and emigration
The ministerial vocation of Spracklin thus evidenced significant development in its emphasis into itinerant activities in place of localized, parish ministry.
He later emigrated to the United States, and there he continued with his personal mission of campaigning for the anti-liquor cause.
Promotion of Anti-Saloon League in the US
In the US, the Reverend J O L Spracklin’s ministry involved significant travel. His efforts were considerably directed towards the promotion of the Anti-Saloon League.
Spracklin thus itinerated as a visiting speaker to local churches on the League’s behal
By general consent, the conjunction of events around the Canadian period of Spracklin’s ministry related to the particularly excessive zeal of the Prohibition era in Ontario, when the ideas and aims of the soon to be eclipsed United Farmers of Ontario were prominent.
The Reverend J O L Spracklin’s vigorously vocal ministry at least superficially resembles that of the Reverend J. Frank Norris, of Fort Worth, Tx, who also maintained an itinerant pastoral charge in Detroit, Michigan. Like Spracklin, Norris also widely employed his considerable, rhetorical gifts in anti-liquor campaigning in opposition to local civic leaders and was himself acquitted of murdering an associate of the local mayor in 1926 on grounds of self-defence, which were later widely challenged. Norris, whose vigorous political views exercised a deep influence upon his seminary student John Birch and others, later undertook a wide, public ministry; however, the reputation of the Reverend J O L Spracklin never eclipsed the events of 1920.
- Ernest Charles Drury
- Neighbourhoods of Windsor, Ontario#Sandwich
- William Raney
Lindsey Rivait, ‘Rumrunners book recalls the Detroit-Windsor Funnel’, in: ‘The Lance’, October 21, 2009 
- Chad Fraser, ‘Lake Erie stories: struggle and survival on a freshwater ocean’, p. 186
- Chad Fraser, ‘Lake Erie stories: struggle and survival on a freshwater ocean’, p. 187
- Keefe, Rose (2014). The Fighting Parson: The Life of Reverend Leslie Spracklin. United States: Absolute Crime. p. 71.
- Chad Fraser, ‘Lake Erie stories: struggle and survival on a freshwater ocean’, p. p. 187-188
- City Council Minutes, September 5, 2006, City of Windsor, p. 27
- Robert Bothwell, ‘A Short History of Ontario’, Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, Ltd., 1986, p. 126
- J. H. James, ‘Church Calendar’, in: ‘Cass City Chronicle’, January 16, 1931, p. 4