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True Crime Historical

Clara at the Door with a Revolver

The Scandalous Black Suspect, the Exemplary White Son, and the Murder That Shocked Toronto

by (author) Carolyn Whitzman

UBC Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2023
Historical, Black Studies (Global), Women's Studies, Ontario (ON)
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2023
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2023
    List Price

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In the autumnal darkness of October 6, 1894, an unseen figure rang the doorbell at the Parkdale home of a well-to-do Toronto family and then shot Frank Westwood in his doorway, murdering him in cold blood.


Six weeks later, Clara Ford, a Black tailor and single mother, was arrested. Known for her impeccable work ethic and her resolute personality – and for her predilection for wearing men’s attire – she confessed to the murder. But as the details of her arrest and her complex connection to the Westwood family emerged, Clara recanted, testifying that she was coerced by police into a false confession. Carolyn Whitzman tells the compelling story of a courageous Black woman living in nineteenth-century Toronto and paints a portrait of a city and a society that have not changed enough in 125 years.

About the author

Carolyn Whitzman is a senior lecturer in Urban Planning at the University of Melbourne. She is also author of The Handbook of Community Safety, Gender, and Violence Prevention: Practical Planning Tools (Earthscan 2008), and previously worked for the City of Toronto on healthy-city initiatives.

Carolyn Whitzman's profile page


  • Short-listed, Toronto Book Award

Editorial Reviews

Whitzman’s book...brings to light a unique case in the annals of Canadian criminal history involving one Clara Ford.

Globe and Mail

Whitzman does a deep dive to put this three-act tragedy in historical context…the story has been told many times, but not in quite the same way.

Post Media

The city’s seven newspapers in the 1890s were in competition for readership and often exaggerated or even fabricated facts to sell papers – but Whitzman tells the story in shades of grey.

Quill & Quire

A fascinating exploration of a part of Toronto’s history that deserves a new telling.

The Toronto Star

Whitzman … brings to life a spectacular 1894 Toronto true crime case.

Zoomer Magazine

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