'I'm tired of playing house': Ontario garbage worker plans to retire to defunct N.B. jail
DORCHESTER, N.B. -- A retired Ontario garbage worker has decided to spend his retirement in jail.
Bill Steele of Oshawa, Ont., recently bought a defunct New Brunswick jail with a history of hangings.
The 50-year-old man plans to sell his house and take up residence at the old Dorchester gaol -- listed for $159,900 -- which was decommissioned more than 20 years ago and features 15 original jail cells.
Steele said he's always had a passion for collecting antiques and "morbid stuff," and wanted to retire somewhere unconventional, near where his father grew up in Pictou, N.S.
"Everybody lives in a house and I'm tired of playing house," said Steele in an interview.
"One person who lived in Toronto -- Billy Jamieson -- he had a collection of shrunken heads and he lived in a really cool loft, and that really inspired me to live somewhere unusual with my collections."
Steele said he may start a museum in part of the historic building, where two infamous convicted murderers -- 19-year-old Arthur Bannister and his 20-year-old brother Daniel -- were hanged. The brothers had killed a 30-year-old woodsman during the abduction of his infant daughter, who also died.
An article published in The New York Times at the time said on Sept. 24, 1936, the brothers walked silently to the gallows, "where they stood back-to-back as the nooses were placed over their heads."
"Both were pronounced dead at 2:27 a.m. Their bodies were cut down and placed together in a single pine coffin covered with black cloth. The same ropes used for the execution lowered the coffin into a grave in the prison yard," the article reported.
Steele said he's eager to research the history of his new home, and hopes to find the Bannister brothers' final resting place.
"I'm not going to disturb them, of course, but I'll look for a marker or something," said Steele. "I know they were bad guys but they're still human and I'd at least like to recognize where their grave is."
The 1,200 square metre building features a brick facade with many rectangular energy-efficient windows, which replaced the jail's original windows. It includes an apartment where the previous owner, Andrew Partridge, once lived.
Partridge bought the former jail "on a whim" about 17 years ago. He said initially he had no idea what he was going to do with the property, but eventually he started up a gym inside one section of the building.
He said he's held many parties and family gatherings there.
"I knew that it was time for me to move on and I've come to grips with that," said Partridge in a phone interview. "I don't have any regrets but certainly there are memories being left behind."
Steele said he's already been contacted by a family member of a former inmate. He said one woman whose son struggles with PTSD wanted them to visit the jail before he changed anything.
"I told them, absolutely. Do whatever you want to do, if it's going to help you," he said.
Steele said he also hopes the jail and his life in Dorchester will be somewhat of a fresh start, as he is grieving the loss of his 25-year-old son to heart failure.
"I sent him a message saying 'Hey, look what dad's got. I'm ready to buy this. Get better. Don't worry about anything and just get better for us.' He never read that message and passed away," said Steele.
"He would have loved it."
-- By Aly Thomson in Halifax.