the mystery of the girl in the corn stook

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Harvest time, corn CTA F1224 it8.50 "Harvest time, 
corn" CTA  F1244 S2119 it8.50

Death in its most pitiless form, from slow starvation and exposure to the inclemency of the weather, came to the young Finnish girl, Anna Jokinen, the domestic who disappeared from Annesley Hall, Victoria College, on the evening of December 4, and who was found yesterday morning at the point of death in a corn stook about 200 yards from the home of Mr. J. W. Dew, at the corner of Eglinton avenue and Forest Hill road.

How the girl came to be living in that hovel, with only a foot of dried cornstalks between her and the winds of winter, and only the withered blades of corn to protect her from the damp and cold of the soil, is a mystery which up to the present, the police have been unable to unravel. To complicate the mystery, indications found this morning show that she must have been there for many days, possibly a week or more.      The Toronto Daily Star December 22, 1913

Taking her secret to her grave, Anni died shortly after she was found. The six Toronto dailies ran news of the sensational mystery on their front pages. The Globe and The Toronto Daily Star  offered in-depth coverage, reporting investigation developments on those two days before Christmas of 1913.

Corn Stook Where Eglinton Farmer Found the Missing Anna Yokinen Just Before She Expired, The Star Dec. 22, 1913 p. 1-page-001 The Toronto Daily Star, Dec. 22, 1913

2119 it 26.53 Large bundle of cornstalks where  servant girl was found dead after having lived there for four days Eglinton Avenue-page-001  “Large bundle 
of cornstalks where servant girl was found dead after having lived there for four days Eglinton Avenue” CTA F1244 S2119 it26.53

While the tight-lipped police detectives refused to speculate on why the girl was found in such a state at the remote location, The Star supplemented the facts of the case with opinions and conjecture of those involved. The quoted voices express fears related to modern city life. Some of these are still with us.

In particular, the mystery of Anni Yokinen’s death brought a set of anxieties to the surface: the new power of criminals equipped with cars, the danger of dark city streets for women, and the vulnerability of child and teenage immigrants without the protection of parents or authorities.

The Edge of Town

As a form of psycho-geography, the story of the disappeared girl was especially compelling for its being associated with certain settings.

Localities and Incidents That Figure... The Star, Dec. 22, 1913 p.1-page-001 The Star, Dec. 22, 1913 p.1

Early in the morning of December 22  a farmer found the young girl in his field on Eglinton avenue and Forest Hill road. (Goad’s Map 1913) His property was less than a mile outside the city limit in a sparsely populated area, seemingly an ideal spot for shady activity. The Star reported that those who saw the body first were struck by its odor of stale beer. Mr. Dew linked this to late-night “auto parties”.

Dew Says She Was Enticed

Mr. J. W. Dew, the young farmer who found the body is inclined to believe that the young girl was enticed to the spot where her body was found. That she was deserted there and crawled into the stack for shelter is the theory which he has adopted.

“It is about time that either the city or the county should take some steps toward having this section policed. Night after night the automobiles from the city are lined up alongside the road and the carousing continues until far into the night. Each morning the road and the shrubbery and ground along the sides of the road are covered with beer bottles. It is quite probable that weak with cold, and faint from hunger, the poor girl was unable to crawl to my house or to summon some person from the road as they passed.”

John Dew, The Star, Dec. 22, 1913-page-001 The Star, Dec. 22, 1913 p.1

The farm was situated near an area of bush that surrounded  the abandoned track of the Toronto Belt Line. This infrastructure work aborted in the 1890’s before being completed is now, as it was when Anni wandered into it, an off-the-street-grid green corridor.

Girls and Dark Streets

The “victim” (the medical examination found no evidence of violence) was quickly identified as a missing teenage servant.  Press reports emphasized that she was a recently arrived immigrant who spoke no English and had come alone to Canada. The city’s “Finlanders’ Society” had launched a wide scale search for Anni shortly after her disappearance weeks before.

Missing Girl, Globe, Dec. 16, 1913 p. 9 The Globe, Dec. 16, 1913 p. 9

Society members vouched for her respectable family background and lack of romantic entanglements. In fact, the evening of her disappearance she had attended the weekly social night at the Finnish Hall on Adelaide street. It must have seemed, to the people who had seen her there, as though she had been swallowed by the city. The ability of police to ensure the safety of their women, reported The Globe, was a growing concern among the Finns.

“…a great deal of credence is given to the theory that she was intercepted by auto prowlers on Bloor street who probably enticed her into a car and drove off to a point near to where she was discovered. This practice of intercepting unaccompanied girls on the darker sections of Bloor and other streets in the neighborhood at night has been the cause of several complaints of late. …it is understood that private detectives have been employed by residents in the district to watch the streets and cause the arrest of any person attempting to molest their daughters or maids.” The Globe, Dec. 23

Anna Yokinen, The Star, Dec. 22, 1913 p. 1-page-001 Anna Yokinen, The Star, Dec. 22, 1913 p. 1

Dismissing the idea that Anni’s irrational behavior was rooted in some form of mental deficiency, Finnish community leader Mr. Lindala quoted the witnesses who had smelled beer in the vicinity. This, Mr. Lindala believed, confirmed the suspicion that the maid having been abducted for white slavery.

The Objects Left by Anni

Cryptic clues were found among the dry corn leaves that Anni had placed on the ground for bedding. Two women’s hats, a handkerchief initialed A.J., a purse containing a five dollar bill and a quarter, three packages of blank postcards, a letter from Portland, Oregon addressed to Anni, and some half-eaten Indian corn.

Along with the matted leaves the corn suggested that the girl had been hidden in the stook for some time and in her famished state been desperate enough to gnaw on the rock hard cobs. Why had she not sought help in the nearby farmhouse?

Much was made of the presence of a second hat. Had another woman been with the girl?  Was there a witness, perhaps a second victim, too frightened to come forward, who could answer the riddle of Anni’s actions?

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The day after the Anni’s death The Star printed a reconstruction of her final movements according to information provided by another Finnish girl, “Miss Martha Blumquist, 67 Howland avenue.”  On the night of her disappearance Anni, accompanied by Martha to act as interpreter, set out  to buy Christmas presents. The purchases included the postcards and two hats found in the corn stook.  No-one saw her alive, claimed the report, after the she left the Finnish Hall where she had gone after shopping.

However, four days later it emerged that Anni had been seen by a handful of teenage boys after her disappearance. Their story radically altered the prevailing view that Anni had been the victim of crime. The Star, with customary dramatic flare, reported the development on December 27.

BOYS DISCOVERED ANNA YOKINEN BUT DIDN’T TELL—Father Told Them to Report Weird Case to the Police, But They Forgot—WOMAN BURIED IN A LITTLE NEST—She Ran Away From Them When They Addressed Her—NO TRACE WAS LEFT—When They Tried to Find Her Later On It Was Too Late—

Almost two weeks before the woman was found dying in a corn stook at the Dew farm at the corner of Forest Hill road and Eglinton avenue, six young men, Alex Young of Vaughan road, Charles Smithson, 9 Shaw street, Alex Christie, 35 Helena street, Albert Lawrence, 104 Helena street, Edward Topping, 43 Bracondale avenue and Thomas Johnston, 85 Tyrrrell avenue, were out hunting rabbits. When about 150 yards north of the old Belt Line station and over a quarter of a mile from the Dew farm, the youths were attracted to a little culvert by the digging and scratching of one of their dogs.

Girl Hidden in Hole in Ground

Investigating they discovered a young woman, who the police feel certain was Anna Yokinen. She had scooped a hole in the ground just large enough to contain her body, and lay there, her knees drawn up under her, and with her hat pulled down over her face. This hole in which she was lying had been covered with grass, straw and bits of twigs, while leaves and branches had been strewn over her as if to protect her from the cold. The hole has about 18 inches deep and was screened from the roadside by a growth of shrubbery. If the men had not happened along, the body of Anna Yokinen might have lain there all winter, hidden under a covering of snow.

The first thought that the men entertained was that she was intoxicated. Then one of them spoke to her. She lay there for some time without answering them, but after she had been addressed several times sat up and spoke a few words in a foreign tongue.

Unable to understand what she said, the men saw from her actions that she did not want to be disturbed, as she motioned with her hands for them to go away. They stayed for a while watching her, and apparently realizing that her retreat had been discovered she staggered to her feet and walked south across the fields.

“The men thought that she was a gypsy,” said Detective William Wallace, who has had charge of the case and who questioned the men. “She did not appear to be distressed in any way and according to the boys was only anxious that she be not disturbed. The place where she was found is hidden from the railway tracks by a dense growth of small trees and underbrush but was close to a path leading directly opposite on the other side of the railway tracks.

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Anni Yokinen, in subsequent articles was typically described as “poor deranged girl”. Pity prevailed over horror. The inquest found that she had died of starvation. Without a villain and a victim the mystery quickly receded in local memory.

One wonders at the lack of debate on what may have triggered Anni to assume a feral existence at the edge of town. There was a notable lack of discussion on how powerless domestic workers are often targets of abuse and violence by those close to them. The maid’s death instead became an occasion to air the contemporary fear around young women being kidnapped by prostitution rings.

Was Anni Yokinen driven to cut herself off from all society by an objectively dangerous situation or was her sense of danger distorted by mental illness? Her inability to communicate her predicament and her grimly protracted demise so close to help are still poignant a century after her death.

the mystery... 2

Further Reading on Toronto’s Psycho-geography

Imagining Toronto  (Mansfield Press, 2010) by Amy Lavender Harris, explores the city as it is imagined in literature. Her blog features events and scholarly and popular works focusing on local history and culture, literature and place, cultural geography.

Stroll, Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto (Coach House Press, 2010) by Shawn Micallef, features thirty-two walks, a flâneur manifesto, a foreword by architecture critic John Bentley Mays, dozens of hand-drawn maps by Marlena Zuber and a full-colour fold-out orientation map of Toronto.  The book website includes further guided walks by well-known city interpreters.

See the location of the girl in the corn stook on Google Maps

women walking on Eglinton Avenue near Bathurst Street women walking on Eglinton 
avenue near Bathurst street 1912 CTA F1244 it380

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