Book investigates century-old mystery of Toronto millionaire's disappearance
TORONTO -- A new book examines the century-old disappearance of a Toronto millionaire which remains shrouded in mystery.
Theatre impresario Ambrose Small landed a $1.75-million windfall from the sale of his network of playhouses on Dec. 1, 1919. It was an enormous sum of money at the time. He vanished the next day.
A body has never been found, his money never touched and no one has ever been charged with his murder.
“He is a powerbroker in the theatre world in turn-of-the-century Toronto,” author and journalist Katie Daubs told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.
Daubs, a Toronto Star reporter, has written a new book on Small’s disappearance called “The Missing Millionaire.”
“If you want to bring a touring show here, he’s the guy you have to go through and because he has this power he welds it in many ways,” Daubs said of Small.
“He’s not a very well-liked guy, he’s vindictive. If you ever wrong him, he won’t only be offended, he’ll go out of his way to seek vengeance on you, make sure you never work in this town again.”
Small also had the reputation of being quite the lothario.
“He was married to this very charitable woman named Teresa (Kormann). They never had any kids, but they would travel all around the world on these great trips to Japan on steamships.
“Around the First World War, that’s when we know that he started to have many mistresses that became known to Teresa also.”
Small, of Irish Catholic descent, was 53 years old when he sold his theatre business to Trans Canada Theatres from Montreal. The deal saw Small get $1 million in cash up front and the remaining $750,000 in annual installments.
“The last day of his life that we know of, he puts the cheque in the bank, he meets with his wife for lunch and meets with his lawyer,” Daubs said.
“His lawyer (Edward Flock) comes into the office around five-thirty that night, picks up a cheque from him for payment and says, ‘See you later’ -- and that’s the last known sighting we have of Ambrose Small.”
Teresa was expecting her husband home for dinner that night at their mansion in Toronto’s Rosedale neighbourhood. She became a suspect when she didn’t immediately report her husband missing.
“In the aftermath of this when he doesn’t show up, she doesn’t report him missing which seems very suspicious,” Daubs said.
“But she says later to police, ‘Well he has this mistress, he has affairs, he might just come back any day now.’
“She becomes a suspect later on in many people’s minds because she has so much to gain. That money that’s sitting in the bank is directly going to go to her if her husband doesn’t show up.”
Small’s right-hand man Jack Doughty, who worked for him for 18 years, also came under suspicion.
“While Small has become a millionaire, Jack Doughty has had stagnant wealth,” Daubs said.
“He’s not getting any bonuses and as the lead-up to the sale happens Jack is heard talking to other people in the theatre world saying, ‘I hope we get lots of money, I hope we get a bonus out of this, is there any way to get money out of Ambrose.’’
Doughty slipped away to Oregon after Small’s disappearance, but was eventually convicted of theft -- he had taken some victory bonds from Small’s vault. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
Daubs dedicates a chapter to theories surrounding Small’s disappearance. At the time, spiritualists and psychics weighed in, along with others who try to fill the void of evidence and police failures.
The author believes the most likely outcome was murder.
“It’s out of character with the man I found in the archives that his money wasn’t touched,” Daubs said.