Toots Mondt charged after fatal car crash near Collingwood, 1932

Joe "Toots" Mondt is one of the all-time legends of pro wrestling -- to the point where some people give him credit for inventing the whole enterprise as it came to be known through the 20th century.

He was one of the main figures in the 1937 book FALL GUYS by Marcus Griffin where he was portrayed as a dangerous shooter and a genius promoter and schemer. Lou Thesz, who got to re-write history in more ways than one, later called Mondt "a thief and a liar" but conceded that he was "a powerful and skilled wrestler" -- compliments Thesz didn't toss out readily.

What isn't so widely known about Mondt is that he was a partner in Jack Corcoran's Toronto office, and was even for a time the majority owner. He also became a resident of Ontario in 1932-33, although not by choice.

In the summer of 1932, Mondt and his brother, Ralph Mondt, along with a woman described as a local dancer, were driving on Highway 24 just east of Collingwood, a resort town about 70 miles north of Toronto off Georgian Bay.

Toots, who was in his late 30s at the time, was behind the wheel of a 16-cylinder Cadillac sports car. Just after midnight on August 21, after coming around a curve, he collided with a car driven by J. Edward Burnie of Toronto. Burnie's passenger, 21-year-old Theresa Luccioni, was killed instantly. A coroner's inquest found that Mondt had been driving too quickly and on September 2, he was committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter.

Mondt -- who was injured in a second car accident in New York in September -- was represented by prominent Toronto lawyer D. Lally McCarthy, later the treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada and the son of one of the founders of the law firm that evolved into McCarthy Tétrault, now one of Canada's largest.

At the trial in November, held in Barrie, Collingwood constable Lorne Davidson testified that, while in the hospital, Mondt had offered him money from his pants pocket. In response, Mondt said he thought the constable wanted to buy some "cigarettes or sandwiches or something" and offered some money he had in a drawer.

Mondt testified that he was only driving at 35-40 miles an hour and that it was Burnie who swerved over the line and into his car.

The jury wasn't impressed. While the charge of manslaughter was dismissed, Mondt was found guilty of criminal negligence following a four-hour deliberation. Mr. Justice Patrick Kerwin sentenced Mondt to one year in the Ontario reformatory in Guelph. According to the Star, Kerwin had suggested an acquittal in his charge to the jury.

The Star boasted that this showed the difference between Canadian and American justice. Gus Sonnenberg had just been tried for manslaughter in the U.S. after killing a police officer in an auto accident, but he got off without serving any significant jail time. The Star's boast would turn out to be premature.

McCarthy immediately filed an appeal. Mondt spent a night in jail in Barrie but was then released on $20,000 bail (almost $300,000 in today's dollars), half of which he put up himself and the rest of which was deposited by Corcoran and stockbroker Percy Gardiner (who may also have been a partner in the wrestling office -- he was Corcoran's brother-in-law; Gardiner signed Jumping Joe Savoldi to a three-year management contract a few months after the Mondt trial; he was also a part-owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens and the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team; his son brought Kentucky Fried Chicken to Canada).

Mondt was not allowed to leave Ontario and he spent about three months in the area, during which time he was spotted at at least one of the shows at the Gardens.

The appeal was heard late in January and early in February, the court ruled in Mondt's favour. The conviction was overturned (Chief Justice Francis R. Latchford dissented from the decision of the majority) and he was free to leave.

That wasn't the end of Mondt's problems, however, as the mother of the woman killed in the accident filed a $10,000 (about $150,000 today) suit against him that was heard in December. A second action, heard at the same time, was brought by Ralph Mondt against his brother and Burnie, claiming $5,000 in damages for loss of earnings and suffering.

Supporting Mondt's version of events at the civil trial was his dancer passenger, who by an amazing coincidence had since moved from Collingwood to New York. Burnie testified that Mondt was driving across the centre line.

Judgment was reserved on December 15, and while I hate to leave a good story hanging, I haven't yet been able to find a report of the outcome.

In FALL GUYS, Griffin writes that Mondt spent about $300,000 defending himself in the criminal and civil proceedings. If true, that would be over $4 million in today's dollars.