HORWITZ, JACOB, jeweller, businessman, and homicide victim; b. 9 Dec. 1897 in Ottawa, son of Max Horwitz and Rebecca Rodkin; m. 20 Jan. 1924 Yetta Rosen in Montreal, and they had one daughter; d. 25 Nov. 1931 in Ottawa.
Jack Horwitz was one of eight children born to Russian Jewish immigrants. Following in his father’s footsteps, he became a jeweller, operating successful jewellery stores at 74 Bank Street and 168 Sparks Street in Ottawa and, for several years, a third shop in Hull (Gatineau), Que. As a businessman Horwitz was most admired for his understated charm, graciousness, and affability. He distinguished himself in the city’s Jewish community by participating in the life of his synagogue (Adath Jeshurun), quietly donating to Jewish causes, and joining organizations such as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association. In 1924 he married Yetta Rosen from Montreal, and two years later they had a daughter, Anita.
In 1931 Horwitz was fatally shot by Benjamin Simon Edelson, another prominent Jewish jeweller. Jack had been having a long-time affair with Edelson’s wife of 19 years, Alice. Ben and Yetta were aware of their spouses’ indiscretions, and according to Yetta’s later testimony, Alice had sworn in 1929 that she would never give up Jack, and claimed that he was the father of at least one of the Edelsons’ seven children. On the evening of 24 November Ben followed Jack and Alice to a deserted street and confronted them. The three argued and then agreed to discuss matters further at Edelson’s store at 24 Rideau Street, where, during a heated debate, Ben brandished a gun. A struggle ensued between the men and two shots were fired, the second of which hit Jack. He was taken by ambulance to the Ottawa General Hospital, accompanied by Alice, and after the hasty dictation of an amended will and a brief reunion with Yetta, he died of internal bleeding at 1:05 a.m. the following morning. The official cause of death was recorded as “Gun Shot wound in Abdomen – ‘Murder.’”
In keeping with Jewish law, Horwitz’s funeral took place the next day, on 26 November. The service and procession were attended by so many mourners and curious onlookers that police officers were required to provide crowd and traffic control en route to the United Jewish Community Cemetery (Jewish Memorial Gardens). Within days of the shooting Yetta became engaged in a nasty legal feud with her late husband’s brothers. To her shock and dismay, Jack’s deathbed will divided his estate equally among his wife, child, and eldest brother, Charles. Four years later, estranged from the Horwitzes (neither she nor Anita is mentioned on Jack’s gravestone), Yetta would remarry and settle with her family in Los Angeles.
Ben Edelson was charged with the murder of Jack Horwitz, and after almost two months of incarceration in the Carleton County jail at 75 Nicholas Street, he stood trial from 14 to 16 Jan. 1932 before the Supreme Court of Ontario at the Carleton County Courthouse. Justice John Millar McEvoy presided, Toronto lawyer Peter White served as prosecutor, and Ottawa lawyer Moses Doctor acted for the defence. Edelson garnered sympathy by taking the stand on his own behalf and giving credible and heart-rending testimony. Because Alice did not testify, he provided the only eyewitness account of the shooting. He claimed that after the first shot rang out,
I said, “Jack, leave go and I will put the gun away.” He said “Like hell I will. We’ll see who’s going to shoot who.” His eyes went red and bulged out of his head. He pushed Mrs. Edelson to one side and swung his right hand and punched me under the right eye. I think his ring slashed me. He then continued to twist my wrist and I removed my finger from the trigger because I was afraid the gun might go off again. While we were struggling I heard another shot and he grabbed his side, slumping against the counter and walked towards the rear of the store.
In a brilliant closing argument that evoked great compassion for the accused, Doctor contended that the shooting was an accident and, more importantly, depicted the betrayed defendant as a respectable man and devoted husband.
After this sensational trial, which had attracted extraordinary crowds, Ben Edelson was acquitted. Presumably, the all-male jury regarded him as an otherwise upstanding citizen who, even if guilty of murder, had understandably sought to defend his personal honour and the welfare of his family. White clearly knew that pity for Edelson would play a role in the verdict: he had warned the jury that “your judgment cannot be rendered in a true sense of duty if you are going to be swayed by prejudice or sympathy.” In the era of the emasculating Great Depression, however, when countless men had been stripped of their role as breadwinner and women were made scapegoats because men were perceived to have lost their authority, the jury admired the hard-working and self-made Edelson, who had sought to protect his family not only from a male interloper, but from an immoral wife. It seems that as far as the jurors were concerned, Alice was ultimately to blame for the shooting; the euphoric response in the courtroom to the acquittal suggests that spectators felt the same way. The prevalence of this powerful notion of manly honour had helped win Ben Edelson his freedom; he and Alice would remain married for the next 40 years, until her death in 1972.
The Edelson/Horwitz case is a largely forgotten chapter of Ottawa Jewish history, primarily because the city’s Jewish community, embarrassed by the scandal and fearful of promoting an excuse for anti-Semitism, generally did not discuss it in public. As a result, subsequent generations of both families know little, if anything, about the incident, and it has never received mention in the local histories and memoirs that document Jewish life in Ottawa during the 1930s.
The principal source for this biography is Monda Halpern, Alice in Shandehland: scandal and scorn in the Edelson/Horwitz murder case (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 2015), which is based largely on the accounts of the trial in the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Evening Journal, the Ottawa Jewish Arch., the City of Ottawa Arch., the private collection of Sharon Edelson, and interviews with members of the Edelson and Horwitz families.
AO, RG 80-2-0-453, no.10200; RG 80-8-0-1261, no.11975. FD, Jewish B’Nai Jacob, Montreal, 20 Jan. 1924. Ottawa Jewish Arch., O0062 (Young Men’s Hebrew Assoc. fonds), Booster, January 1921; Bull., 11 Nov., 2 Dec. 1921. Ottawa Citizen, 18 Jan. 1932. Lara Campbell, Respectable citizens: gender, family, and unemployment in Ontario’s Great Depression (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 2009). Ruth Kahane Goldberg, “The depression and war,” in A common thread: a history of the Jews of Ottawa, comp. Anna Bilsky (Renfrew, Ont., 2009), 47–115.