Ambrose Small

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Ambrose Small
Born January 11, 1863
Bradford, Ontario
Disappeared December 2, 1919(1919-12-02) (aged 56)
Grand Opera House, Toronto, Ontario
Status Deceased (Date and manner unknown)
Nationality Canadian
Occupation Theatre magnate

Ambrose Joseph Small (January 11, 1863 – vanished December 2, 1919) was a Canadian theatre magnate, who owned theatres in several Ontario cities including the Grand Opera House in Toronto, the Grand Opera House in Kingston, and the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario.

On 2 December 1919, Small disappeared and his body was never recovered. He was 56 years old. It was alleged at the time that Small's wife and her lover killed Small and cremated his body in the London Ontario Grand Opera theater furnace (one of Small's holdings). It was further alleged that a police inspector was involved in a "cover-up" of Small's disappearance.


The Grand Opera House in Toronto, where Small was last seen

On December 1, 1919, Ambrose Small sold all his theatrical holdings, at a profit of CA$1.7 million. On December 2, Small met with lawyer F. W. M. Flock in Small's office at the Grand Opera House. Flock left at 5:30 p.m. and was the last person to see Small.

That night, Small disappeared from his office. No one who testified for the police claims to have seen him leave his office, or in the Adelaide and Yonge Street area, outside the building. A newsstand operator, Ralph Savein claimed to have seen Small and had an altercation with him regarding the late shipment of that day's newspapers. At the time, however, this claim was repudiated by the police, who considered it to be an attempt by Savein to gain fame from the case.

Small had no motive to disappear: the millionaire did not take money with him, nor was there any ransom note, let alone evidence of kidnapping. At 56, Small owned theatres in seven Ontario cities and was the controller of 62 other buildings, a self-made millionaire at the height of his career. Because Ambrose Small was known to "disappear" occasionally to womanize and carouse, his disappearance was not reported nor was it really noticed for several weeks. In January 1920, Small's attorney, F. M. W. Flock, along with Teresa Small, now alarmed by Small's lengthy absence, notified the local police. Teresa Small offered a $50,000.00 reward for any information about her husband's disappearance and current whereabouts. The reward went unclaimed.

The investigation[edit]

Original leads[edit]

The police launched an extensive investigation in the disappearance of Ambrose Small. Small was officially declared dead in 1924. The case remained unsolved, until being officially closed in 1960.

The week of his disappearance, Small's Opera House was playing Revelations of a Wife, a show that reportedly attracted full houses. Police analyzed the plot and its themes, but found no leads; Small had not chosen this play to provide cryptic hints.

Theresa Small, his wife, suggested that Small had fallen into the hands of a "designing woman"; police found no candidates.

Along with his office, "Amby", as he was known locally, had a "private secret room", with its own entrance. The room is said to have had a dual purpose: first, and foremost for the settling of gambling debts and secondly, for Ambrose Small's many private liaisons with actresses and chorus girls employees at his Ontario theaters. The room was scoured for leads, albeit unsuccessfully.

Ambrose Small was not the only notable disappearance in December 1919. His former secretary, John (Jack) Doughty had not been seen since December 2, 1919. The last sighting of Doughty in Canada was at a bank where he was observed cashing in $100,000.00 in bonds. He was eventually located in the United States and extradited back to Canada to stand trial. He was convicted only of the theft of the bonds. No evidence was ever found he was responsible or had any knowledge of the disappearance of his boss, Ambrose Small.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle[edit]

Toronto reporters contacted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about the case, when the author was on a New York visit. Doyle showed interest in the case, bringing the headline "World's Greatest Detective to Solve Small Case". In the end, Doyle decided not to pursue the case.

Charles Fort[edit]

American writer and researcher into anomalous phenomena Charles Fort wrote about the unexplained disappearances of Ambrose Small and Ambrose Bierce, and asked "Was somebody collecting Ambroses?"[1]

In popular culture[edit]

Small appears as a major character in the Michael Ondaatje novel In the Skin of a Lion. The events concerning him in the novel after his disappearance are fictitious.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wild Talents, p. 847

External links[edit]