A tragic love triangle

Ottawa is a safe city. However, in 1931, one of the city’s three homicides that year became a public sensation that dominated newspaper headlines for several weeks. It involved two families, the Horwitzes who lived at 80 Stewart St. and the Edelsons who lived at 203 Friel St. at the corner of Rideau St. (where the Bell Canada building now stands).


At about 9 pm on 24 November 1931, Jack Horwitz picked up Alice Edelson in his car on Chapel St. just north of Rideau St. Jack was 34, married, and the father of a five-year old daughter. Alice, 35, also married was the mother of seven children. Jack and Alice had been lovers for eight years. They drove to a deserted block on Myrand St. where they were confronted by Ben Edelson, Alice’s husband, who had been following them in a friend’s car. After a testy argument in the street, they agreed to meet at the Edelsons’ jewelry store at 24 Rideau St[1]. to settle matters in private.


This was not the first time that had the two families were discussing the affair between Jack and Alice. Three years earlier, when confronted, Jack and Alice had vigorously denied having an affair in spite of strong evidence to the contrary.


Jack, Ben and Alice went to the store and argued. Eventually, Ben pulled out a gun and the two men scuffled, with Jack pushing Alice aside. The gun went off. Jack fell mortally wounded and died a few hours later in hospital before he could be questioned by police. He was buried two days later, his funeral attracting several hundred people outside his home on Stewart St.


Ben was arrested and spent two months in the Nicholas St. jail awaiting trial. The newspapers, which were giving extensive coverage to this love triangle, noted that Alice, suffering from shock and grief, did not visit her husband in jail.  The trial which started on January 14, 1932 lasted three days and drew large crowds, many spectators waiting for hours to gain admission only to have to stand in the courtroom. Ben was tried for murder, an offense which at the time carried the death penalty, but was acquitted by the jury because it was unclear that he had meant to kill Jack. While we will never know fully the reasons that led to Ben’s acquittal, a historian who studied the case[2] speculates that his status as the wronged party, a father of seven, a successful businessman and a respected member of the middle class, all played in his favour.


Remarkably, Ben and Alice went back together and celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary before Alice died in 1972 (Ben died in 1988), but their lives were forever altered. Ottawa’s small and tight-knit Jewish community was scandalized both by the long adulterous affair, for which they blamed Alice, and Jack’s death, which they blamed on Ben, in spite of his acquittal. Everything about this story attacked long-held values about morality, the sanctity of the family and community responsibility. At a time when anti-semitism was still common, they also feared that the affair’s many sordid details would only fuel further prejudice against them. They shunned the couple, the rebellious, unfaithful Alice in particular (although her volunteer activities would be recognized later in life), and imposed a collective silence on the incident which was gradually forgotten. This amnesia was helped by the fact that Jack’s wife, Yetta, moved to Montreal after the trial, re-married and eventually settled in California.


[1] The Edelson store was on the ground floor of a tall building right beside Union Station that no longer stands.

[2] Halpern (2015)