Alice in Shandehland: Scandal and Scorn in the Edelson/Horwitz Murder Case
By Monda Halpern
McGill-Queen’s University Press
From all accounts, it was an extramarital affair and a killing that shocked the small, close-knit Jewish community centred in the Lowertown and Sandy Hill neighbourhoods of Ottawa 84 years ago.
In 1931, jewelry store owner Ben Edelson and his wife, Alice, had been married for two decades – she was just 15 when they wed – and they had seven children. But, for eight years, Alice had been having an affair with Jack Horwitz, also a jewelry store owner. There were suspicions that one or two of the Edelson children had been fathered by Horwitz.
On the night of November 24, 1931, Edelson followed his wife to Myrand Avenue in Lowertown and confronted her and Horwitz there. After a brief argument, the three agreed to adjourn to Edelson’s jewelry store at 24 Rideau Street to discuss the affair and what to do about it.
At the store, an argument ensued when Edelson wanted to call Horwitz’s wife, Yetta, to the meeting. Horwitz was shot and killed with the gun Edelson kept in the store (apparently, a common practice at Ottawa jewelry stores at the time).
In the thoroughly researched Alice in Shandehland: Scandal and Scorn in the Edelson/Horwitz Murder Case, Monda Halpern, an associate professor of history at Western University, uses newspaper accounts from the time, court records, material from the Ottawa Jewish Archives, and interviews with community members – including helpful members of the Edelson and Horwitz families – to recreate the circumstances of the case and examine its consequences.
Halpern effectively sets the scene with detailed biographical sketches of the principal players in this tragic drama, vivid descriptions of the events that unfolded, analysis of the court case that ensued, and of how the scandal affected the Jewish community and the standings of the principals, and of their families, in the community.
Readers will find themselves gripped by the unfolding events of that cold November night in 1931 when the shooting occurred and of the events that followed, from Edelson’s arrest, to the court case and his ultimate acquittal on the murder charge.
Although Edelson’s lawyer argued that Horwitz was killed when the gun went off accidentally during a scuffle, Halpern, as she notes very early in the book (so this is not a spoiler), attributes Edelson’s acquittal to the all-male jury’s embrace of the “unwritten law – according to which betrayed men are entitled to avenge their wife’s seducer.”
Ultimately, the Edelson marriage endured despite Alice’s long affair, the killing of her lover and the criminal trial of her husband. They remained married another 40 years until Alice’s death at age 76 in 1972. By the 1960s, the couple revelled in their roles as grandparents, and Alice was an active volunteer for several community organizations rising to the presidency of her Hadassah-WIZO chapter.
Ben Edelson continued to run his store well into his senior years before passing it on to his daughter Dina. He died at age 98 in 1988, spending his final eight years as a resident of Hillel Lodge on Wurtemburg Street in Lowertown. Edelson Jewellers remained a family business until finally closing in 2005.
Soon after the trial, Horwitz’s widow, Yetta, moved away from Ottawa with their daughter. She soon remarried and lived, first in Montreal,then in Los Angeles, until her own death at age 98 in 1998.
The main events discussed in Alice in Shandehland took place five and six years before the founding of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin in 1937. In the ensuing decades, it seems the case was only discussed in whispers in Ottawa’s Jewish community – so this book review is probably the first time the Edelson/Horwitz case has been discussed in this newspaper. I wonder how my predecessors would have covered this case had it happened just a few short years later, or how I might approach a case like this if it happened today. I hope we never have to find out.