Del Fontaine was hanged October 29, 1935
at Wandsworth Prison in London, England, for the murder of 21-year
old waitress Hilda Meeks (also reported as being Hilda Weeks) on
July 10, 1935. Her mother had been shot and seriously wounded as
He had been convicted at Old Bailey the month
before for the girl's murder and attempted murder of the mother.
The incident occurred at the Meeks' home in South London. Fontaine
had been friendly with Miss Meeks during a two-year ring campaign
ne Raymond Henry Bousquet (22 February 1904 - 29 October 1935) was
a Canadian boxer who fought between 1925 and 1935. He is most
notable within boxing for winning the Canadian middleweight boxing
championship in 1926 and again in 1931.
In 1932 he travelled to Britain to continue his
boxing career, and began a relationship with Hilda Meeks of
Bristol. In 1935, Fontaine was arrested and convicted of the
murder of Miss Meeks and was executed at Wandsworth Prison.
Fontaine's boxing style was described as
aggressive and crowd-pleasing, but with a poor regard for defence.
French Canadian Fontaine was a resident of
Winnipeg, Manitoba, with his first recorded boxing match against
Sammy Hudson, a fellow Canadian from Moose Jaw. Fontaine won the
bout by knockout in the fifth. Fontaine was unbeaten in his next
six matches, including a draw with Jack Reddick, who was at the
time Canadian light heavyweight champion.
On 14 August 1925, Fontaine faced Harry Dillon
at Regina, Saskatchewan for the vacant Canadian middleweight
title. The fight went the distance of ten rounds, and Dillon won
the Championship on a points decision.
Despite his first professional defeat, Fontaine
returned quickly to his original form, finishing his next four
contests undefeated. On 8 May 1926, Fontaine had his second
attempt at the Canadian middleweight belt which had become vacant.
Fought in Ottawa against Henry Henning, Fontaine won the match and
the title in the second round with a technical knockout over his
From this point, Fontaine attracted a better class of
fighter, beginning with his first fight outside Canada, travelling
to Philedelphia in a win over experienced American Bobby Marriott.
His biggest fight to date came on 16 August 1926 when Welsh
fighter Frank Moody travelled from the U.S. to Canada to face
Fontaine. The contest went the distance, with Moody victorious.
Fontaine finished the year with two bouts in the U.S., a win over
Joe Anderson followed by a points loss to Rocky Smith.
The following year Fontaine travelled widely
around the U.S. and Canada fighting with mixed results. His most
notable fight that year was against Vincent Forgione, facing him
twice in two months. After losing to Forgione by points in their
first encounter, Fontaine was knocked out for the first time in
his professional career when he faced Forgione for their second
contest in July 1927. Fontaine continued fighting in North America
over the next four years, and at the end of 1931 he faced Ted
Moore, regaining the Canadian middleweight title.
In early 1931 Fontaine travelled from Canada to
the United Kingdom by cattle boat to further his boxing career.
Over the next three years Fontaine faced many of Britain's most
successful middleweight boxers, including Billy Bird, Jack Casey,
Gipsy Daniels, Tommy Farr, Jack Hyams and Harry Mason.
From his arrival in the U.K., Fontaine's fight
record was good with 23 wins, 4 losses and 3 draws, but from
November 1933 his form took a terrible reversal with 4 wins, 16
losses and 2 draws. This string of poor results would later be
used as Fontaine's defence during his murder trial, with his
defence counsel stating he was "punch drunk" and therefore of
Murder charge and execution
Murder of Hilda Meeks
Although Fontaine had a wife and children back
in Canada, he had begun a two-year relationship with 21 year-old
Hilda Meeks whilst living in Britain. Bristol-born Meeks was a
one-time West End waitress, with dreams of becoming a dancer.
Hilda was described by her friends as "flighty".
On 10 July 1935, she was caught by Fontaine
making a date with another man on the telephone. Fontaine, who was
known to drink, confronted Meeks, taking the phone from her and
challenged the man she was speaking to. Meeks' mother came into
the room to protect her daughter and Fontaine pulled a revolver.
As Meeks ran into the street, Fontaine fatally shot her, he then
fired a second shot into her mother.
When Sam Meeks, Hilda's father, returned home
he saw Fontaine carrying his daughter back into the house.
Fontaine stated "I've done for her and done for the old woman",
showing that he believed he had killed both women, though in fact
the mother had survived.
At the trial Fontaine's defence contended that
the boxer was suffering from acute depression and was probably
"punch drunk". The defence called upon Ted Lewis, a former
welterweight champion, who stated "Del shouldn't have been in the
ring at all for his last fight. He wasn't in a fit state. ... As a
boxer, he has received more punishment than anyone I have ever
seen." Sam Meeks countered the claim believing that Fontaine had
thrown his later fights. Fontaine was found guilty and sentenced
to death by hanging.
By the time the execution date had been
decided, protests had started pleading for a reprieve. A long
petition was delivered, but to no avail. On the morning of 29
October 1935 a crowd gathered outside Wandsworth Prison, hymns
were sung and politicians made anti-capital punishment speeches.
That morning Fontaine was executed.
Fontaine left a note "Hilda Meek broke my heart
I spent my last cent on her. She turned me against my own wife." A
warden at the prison is quoted as saying "He was the bravest
fellow we ever saw go to the scaffold."
1935: Del Fontaine, punch drunk boxer
On October 29, 1935, Canadian
pugilist Del Fontaine was hanged at Wandsworth Prison, “the
bravest fellow we ever saw go to the scaffold.”
Winnipeg-born as Raymond Henry Bousquet, Fontaine twice won the
Canadian middleweight belt.
But a grueling,
98-fight career took its toll on the man.
end — when he had crossed the pond for a couple years traversing
the English rings — Del Fontaine was visibly punch-drunk. The
onetime champion lost 12 of his last 14 fights.
Punch drunk — scientific name dementia pugilistica — is just the
classic diagnosis for “concussed all to hell,” afflicted by
traumatic brain injury and its mind-altering long-term effects:
Depression, violence, mood swings, loss of judgment and impulse
control. Those are the kinds of behavior patterns that tend to
brush up against the criminal justice system.
The syndrome’s popular name suggests its most visible injury, to
motor skills — a symptom Fontaine’s colleagues in the business
could readily diagnose.
“Del shouldn’t have been
in the ring at all for his last fight. He wasn’t in a fit state,”
fellow prizefighter Ted Lewis testified at Fontaine’s trial,
recalling a Newcastle bout that ended in a flash on three
first-round knockdowns. “As a boxer, he has received more
punishment than anyone I have ever seen.” The house doctor at a
Blackfriars venue Fontaine had appeared at earlier in 1935 said
the fighter complained of double vision and sleeplessness, and
couldn’t walk straight. (London Times, Sep. 17, 1935)
If 1935 was a few decades’ shy of our present-day understanding of
concussions, it was still well-enough known to those who had
experience of the punch-drunk that psychological changes
accompanied the physical impairments. Those who knew Del Fontaine
knew he wasn’t right in the head.
this tribunal had to sit for the humiliating public probe of
Fontaine’s mental crevasses was that Fontaine had left his wife
and kids behind when he crossed the Atlantic. Once he got to the
Isles, he took up with an English sweetheart in Bristol.
This Hilda Meek, a West End waitress a decade the junior of her
lover, became the object of an obsessional infatuation. In a fit
of jealous rage, Fontaine gunned her down (and her mother too,
although mom survived) when he caught Meek making a date with
Fontaine was captured, unresisting,
dolorously on the scene, and openly admitted his actions.
Acquittal on the facts would be a nonstarter; diminished
responsibility because of dementia pugilistica was the best
defense gambit available.
The highly restrictive
legal bar against an insanity defense aced out the legal maneuver:
however impulsive and moody a lifetime of concussions had left
him, they couldn’t be said to have prevented him “knowing right
from wrong.” Still, his case attracted a fair bit of public
sympathy, and when a petition for clemency went nowhere, hundreds
of people, including a number of other boxers, turned up at
Wandsworth to protest on the morning the punch-drunk Del Fontaine
hanged for murder.
Boxer sentenced to death
Paul Townsend - Flickr.com
Fontaine, was a
French Canadian boxer whose real name was Raymond Henry Bousquet.
He had a rather sad ending. He fell in love with 21-year-old Hilda
Meek, whose was murdered in what was described as a crime of
The good-looking Fontaine was found
guilty of the crime and sentenced to death. The execution in
London aroused great emotion. His friends and fellow boxers
pleaded for his life, saying a man suffering from depression – and
also possibly punch-drunk after 98 fights – was not responsible
for his actions. Their efforts failed.
the wars, with the fighters often climbing through the ropes for a
pittance, backstreet boxing brought a pretence of glamour to
working class Bristol.
In the 1920s and 30s,
pale, lean boxers, ever grateful for an extra fiver, frantically
took on as many boxing bouts as they could find. Medical
supervision was minimal. Little Tosh Parker once fought three
times a day during the miners' strike.
the better fights were at venues like the prestigious Colston
Hall. Others were in more modest boxing halls or transformed pub
sheds. Every fight night bulged with fans - and every supporter
had his favourite.
Del Fontaine was one - a
French Canadian who had come over in a cattle boat with the
intention of establishing himself as a fighter. His style in the
ring was all-action.
The trouble was that he had
little or no defence. He took a battering in almost every contest
but invariably grinned at the crowd as he stumbled back, bruised
and beaten, to an improvised dressing room.
Fontaine wasn't his real name - it was really Raymond Henry
Bousquet, a name too long to fit the billboards. But from the
bell, his fists flailing, he was marvellous value.
Sadly, even his most loyal fans came to realise that he was on the
slide. By 1934, he had lost 12 of his last 14 bouts. Those closest
to him suspected that he was becoming punch-drunk.
He was a colourful personality - his dashing looks made him
especially popular with Bristol girls. He also liked a drink. Back
in Canada, he had a wife and children.
fights here, however, he spent more and more time with a pretty
21-year-old waitress, Hilda Meek, born in the city's Winstanley
Street. The relationship became increasingly obsessional.
Hilda, described by her friends as flighty, had no wish to be tied
down - especial by a moody prizefighter whose face and body were
increasingly showing the bruises and effects of his last bout.
One day he heard her making a date with another man. The neurotic
Fontaine suddenly pulled out a gun and fired - she died on the
spot. Another shot injured her mother.
Country sporting public was shocked. At the trial, which as a
crime of passion fired the nation, the defence called on
welterweight champion Ted Lewis.
across the courtroom at the crumpled, demoralised Fontaine and
spluttered emotionally: 'Del shouldn't have been in the ring at
all for his last fight. He wasn't in a fit state.
'As a boxer, he has received more punishment than anyone I have
The verdict was inevitable. Not that
Hilda's distraught father helped the boxer's case. Sam Meek, of
Barton Hill, was questioned about Fontaine's state of mental
health. 'Do you realise that he was knocked out seven times
recently ?' The reply was bitterly cynical, devoid of any
affection: 'I don't know about knock-outs. The last one seemed to
me more like a lie-down.'
The implication was
that, by then, Del Fontaine, aware that any slender hopes of
progressing in the ring had disappeared, was prepared to take a
dive. It would have been the ultimate insult to a boxer so often
acclaimed by Bristol crowds for his crash-bang approach.
By the time the date for the execution had been decided, the
protests had started. They grew in volume as Fontaine's friends
pleaded for a reprieve.
There were long lists of
names on the petitions, asking for his life to be spared. How
could the judiciary send a punch-drunk, deeply depressed man of
unsound mind to the gallows?
But it did. Outside
the prison gates, on the morning of the execution, religious
figures led the hymns. Politicians made intense anti-capital
punishment speeches. It made no difference. The prison bell tolled
and the weeping crowds, including a few familiar faces from the
world of boxing, strolled away.
left a note. 'Hilda Meek broke my heart I spent my last cent on
her. She turned me against my own wife.'
Harding, of the well-known local boxing family of Redcliffe - he
had persuaded Del to come to the West Country, and another
brother, Percy, had been the promoter at the Gem Stadium - cycled
to London to see Fontaine in the condemned cell.
For two outwardly tough characters, it had been a tearful
Bristol, amid hoarse cheers and the Woodbine-foggy atmosphere, the
boxing shows went on - sluggers searching for unattainable glory.
At the Gem, that popular venue in Broad Weir, the fans continued
to argue over the fate of the swarthy French-Canadian they had all
taken to their hearts.
From the Gem to the gallows had been a short, poignant journey.
After the hanging, the wardens whispered to visitor Harding: 'He
was the bravest bloke we ever saw go to the scaffold.'
It was the human quality Del demonstrated with such unfulfilled
and misdirected zeal in the ring.
Del Fontaine with Hilda Meeks.