BIG SNOWS had come only that morning, Christmas Day. All along the
Yukon River snow was steadily falling. It humped on the shoulders of
the mountains. It shrouded the forest. It buried the tents along the
gold-rich creeks to the north in the Klondike and was trampled to
slush on the board walks of Dawson, that crowded, fevered center for
the world's last great gold rush. It was the closing week of the
In a low, log police post on the river trail
south of Dawson, three men sat down to Christmas dinner, two
wood-choppers and a corporal of the North-West Mounted Police. A
fourth place had been set but it was empty.
The Mountie, Paddy Ryan, was a gay host. The men
did not think of the missing guest again until nightfall, when a
woodchopper, leaving, said, "I wonder what happened to Ole?"
The Mountie felt a momentary disquiet. The
missing man, Lawrence "Ole" Olsen, was a close friend. Olsen was a
repairman for the government telegraph line, a single wire strung
from tree to tree along the river trail. He had stopped at Ryan's
post at Hutchiku two days before and had promised to be back for
Christmas dinner. Ryan shrugged away his apprehensions. "You know
how it is. He probably started drinking up the line."
Two days later Constable Frank Bacon stamped
into the post. He came from Five Fingers Rapids, eighteen miles
south. "Paddy," he said, "where the devil is Ole? The line's down
"I guess he's nursing a hangover down at Minto,"
Ryan said. Minto lay fourteen miles north. "You can tell the Five
Fingers operator I'm on my way to get him."
An hour out on* the trail, Corporal Ryan and his
dog driver stopped to swap news with two south-bound travelers. Ryan
described the missing lineman, a burly good-natured Norwegian. The
travelers had not seen him at Minto.
Ryan began to worry. A break in the line could
be dangerous. The great gold camp drew desperados from all over the
globe, and with the snow, miners and businessmen bound for outside
would be traveling south from Dawson to the ocean port of Skagway,
their pouches heavy with gold dust and cash. When the telegraph key
fell silent it isolated the Mounted Police posts strung thinly along
the six hundred miles of trail, left them in ignorance of passing
thieves and crimes committed downriver. It was not like Olsen, a
conscientious man, to neglect his job.
Ryan left his driver and the dogs on the river
ice and began to search along the telegraph line. He labored up the
steep bluffs, testing each snow-covered hummock. It was rough
country. Olsen might have broken a leg. He could be lying frozen,
drifted over with snow.
At dusk, six miles north of Hutchiku, they swung
onto the Pork Trail, a cutoff that skirted several bends in the
river. They wound through darkening forest, Ryan studying the trail.
"Hold it!" he said suddenly. He had caught an
almost imperceptible sagging in the snow, a faint furrow running off
at right angles into the woods.
With the darkness the cold had increased. The
dog driver spat; it crackled. "We'd better get on into Minto," he
Ryan hesitated. "Let's see where this goes
The snowed-over trail led through willow
thickets that gave way to tall spruce trees. Beyond them the silence
was absolute, lifeless. No bird, no creature stirred in the
underbrush. They broke into a clearing. Through the shadowless dusk
they could make out the silhouette of a tent.
Coming closer, they saw that this was no
overnight camp. The canvas roofed a rectangle of peeled logs. Frost
glittered dimly in the dark empty interior.
Ryan peered in the stove. "Looks like someone
was here a couple of days ago. I don't like it. Why would anyone
camp out here, half a mile back in the bush?"
"He didn't want to be seen, that's sure," the
dog driver said. "Maybe you can find out at Minto."
The roadhouse at Minto was run by a rawboned
river pilot, Captain John Fussell. His wife doubled as hostess and
cook. They were dismayed when Ryan announced that he was looking for
"Why, Mr. Olsen left here Christmas morning at
eight o'clock," Mrs. Fussell told him. "I asked him to stay and have
turkey dinner with us but he was bound he'd spend Christmas with
you. He had two nice American boys with him, Fred Clayson and Jim
Relfe. They were going outside to see their folks and were anxious
to get on. I do hope nothing's happened to them."
"They may have changed their minds and stayed at
some woodchopper's camp," Captain Fussell said reassuringly.
"Maybe," Ryan said without conviction. Three men
traveling together pretty well ruled out an accident. He knew Relfe,
a quiet-spoken lad from Washington state; his father, a prominent
judge, had recently died and young Relfe, who'd kept bar at Dawson's
Monte Carlo saloon, had gone out on the diggings to win a stake for
the family. Clayson was well known, a stout jolly balding man, head
of F. H. Clayson & Company, prosperous Skagway merchants. None of
the men were greenhorns; they wouldn't lose the trail. "Were they
carrying much money?" Ryan asked the Captain.
"Clayson's poke was heavy. He's been up in the
Klondike buying gold. Young Relfe was carrying cash, about twelve
hundred dollars. But good lord, Paddy broad daylight on Christmas
morning? I'd say it's more likely they went through the ice."
"There's only two places the river's open
between here and Hutchiku, and they're both off the trail," Ryan
said. The image of the deserted tent clung disturbingly to his mind.
"Sure you've seen no strangers hanging around, Captain?"
Captain Fussell was thoughtful. "Well . . . now
you mention it. You know how the sun came out day before yesterday,
first time in a long time? I came out front to watch it and I saw
smoke from a campfire. It looked to be coming from somewhere near
the Pork Trail."
Early in the morning, Ryan and the dog driver
went back down the Pork Trail through the woods to the clearing. No
one had been back to the tent in the night. In the somber grayness
of morning the tent seemed even more inexplicable, more real, more
They kindled a fire in the stove, made of two
oil tins, and looked around. There were blankets on the double bunk.
A rifle hung from the ridgepole. Cases of canned food were piled in
one corner. Beneath a sack of spilled pilot biscuits Ryan found a
pair of pliers. "My God!" he exclaimed. "Olsen had pliers like
He examined the food. It looked like goods from
McKay Brothers' cache, only a mile away. Several scows hauling
merchandise had been caught in the ice at freeze-up. The goods had
been cached, and although the Mounties had checked them regularly,
several caches had been rifled. At Fort Selkirk, the first post
north of Minto, Constable Alex Pennycuick was working on the case.
Ryan wired him to come down. By now, another lineman had repaired
the telegraph wire.
Pennycuick had been an Imperial Army officer and
his trim figure still carried a touch of swagger. He talked little,
seldom smiled, his gray eyes were cool and he held his head a little
forward as if he was seeking something continually beyond him. He
was only happy, he sometimes admitted, when working on a problem he
could not solve.
Pennycuick examined the tent with Ryan on
January 4. "I can swear to that stove," he told Ryan. "Never saw one
with two draught holes before. The first hole wasn't big enough
somebody's punched a second one overtop. See how they overlap, like
a figure eight? I saw that stove three weeks ago at a camp up my
way. Two men who call themselves Miller and Ross and a big yellow
St. Bernard dog. I caught them peddling supplies to the Beef Cache
road-house. I checked my cache list afterward. Their stuff was
stolen all right. When I got back with a warrant they were gone."
"You figure they moved up here?"
"Whoever lived here was certainly hiding out.
Did you notice the wire around that spruce at the back very handy
for fastening a dog chain, wouldn't you say?" He fingered the edge
of the canvas top. "Look, Paddy. This hasn't been cut it's torn!"
Next day the two policemen fitted the torn piece
of canvas to the edge of a bolt they dug from the ice at McKay
Brothers' cache. It matched.
"How do you size these two up?" Ryan asked.
"Ross is a cockney. Short. Long arms. Body thick
as an ape. Miller's the brains. Another Englishman, sorry to say.
One of those chaps that thinks the world owes them a living. Around
thirty, five-toot-ten, very sure of himself."
"Do you think he's a killer?"
"I wouldn't say no. There's a scar on his left
little finger I'll wager he got it in a knife fight. The mail
driver tells me in Dawson they think the boys went through the ice.
"What do they know about it in Dawson?" Ryan
"I think you're right," said Pennycuick. "I
think the tent ties in. We'd better wire in a description of Miller
and Ross. This is January 5. Could be near Tagish by now."
Tagish was the last police post before the
southbound trail crossed the border into Alaska, that strip of U.S.
sea-coast fringing northern British Columbia. Strolling through the
Tagish stables on January 6, Staff Sergeant George Graham stopped in
front of two strange horses. Water dripped from their gleaming black
flanks. Even under their blankets the horses were shivering.
A stranger passing through Tagish was police
business. Graham walked across to the dog drivers' bunk house to
make inquiries. Leaning against the wall near the door was an
ice-sheathed sled. A huge yellow St. Bernard lay beside it. The dog
growled as Graham took a close second look at the sled robe.
Inside the bunk house, beside the stove, a man
in a plaid mackinaw was drying his socks. He was a big man, well
built, very white-skinned. With a beard less shaggy he might have
seemed pedantic. He had a high pale forehead, a broad fleshy face.
"Are those your blacks in the stable?" Graham
The man regarded the staff sergeant with shrewd
dark gray eyes. He showed neither alarm nor surprise. "My name's
O'Brien," he said. His accent was English. "Those are my horses.
"Where'd you come from?"
"How'd you go through the ice?"
"Crossing the river." The confidence of his
manner verged on arrogance.
"At the Indian village." The man was growing
"Why?" The Yukon Trail by-passed the Indian
village half a mile north.
O'Brien said nothing.
"You wouldn't be trying to get around the police
post through the woods?"
"Go to hell," O'Brien said. "I bought those
blacks at ShofFs roadhouse. I got the receipt. Two hundred dollars."
"Where'd you buy that government robe on your
sled?" Graham asked sharply.
O'Brien laughed. His anger evaporated. "I don't
mind telling you," he said in a confidential manner. "I did time in
Dawson. I got out last September and your men couldn't find my sled
robe. They gave me a police robe instead."
"That's a good story," the staff sergeant said.
"You can wait in the guardroom. We'll check it."
In an hour Dawson wired that O'Brien was telling
the truth. The man was smug as Graham apologized. "I'll be pulling
out as soon as my horses are rested," he told the staff sergeant.
Late that afternoon Dawson sent a second wire:
description o'brien checks with man called
hold on charge of theft from cache near selkirk.
suspicion o'brien implicated in disappearance of
olsen clayson and relfe missing since xmas. query
on whereabouts of partner ross alus little tommy
Graham hurriedly checked the stables. The black
horses were still there. O'Brien, who could by now have been safe on
his way to Alaska, had met an Indian girl and decided not to depart
till morning. He was brought into the guardroom cursing.
"Search him," Graham said.
His pockets yielded less than a hundred dollars.
In his German socks, folded between the leather sole and the cloth,
were two $100 bills. A gunny sack on his sled held two revolvers,
.41-caliber Colts. He was carrying a .30-30 Winchester rifle and a
carbine with the serial number filed off. He had also a pair of
field glasses, a queer piece of trail equipment.
"What are they for?" Graham asked.
"Surveying," O'Brien said shortly. He laughed
off the charges of cache robbery. He would not admit knowing Graves.
He admitted nothing, then or afterward.
Five days later a brief thaw melted the ice on
O'Brien's sled. On a slat near the tow a sharp-eyed Mountie noticed
a stain like a grease spot. Analysis proved the stain to be human
blood. Like the arsenal, it carried suspicion, but it was not
evidence. There was no proof that murder had been committed.
A half-dozen Mounted Police under Inspector
Billy Scarth were now tracing O'Brien's movements from the time he
left Dawson Jail. He left Dawson with ten dollars in his pocket. He
moved southward slowly, accompanied by Graves. At the roadhouses the
two men cooked their own meals, slept on the floor, and told
conflicting tales of their destination. They were seen together last
on December 19 near Fussell's roadhouse.
Two days after Christmas, O'Brien reappeared. He
had no partner now. He was no longer traveling slowly. He had money
for meals and bed. On January 5, he stopped overnight at the
Nora, a river steamer frozen in the ice,
and offered to sell the caretaker some gold nuggets. Among the
stones was a twin, a double nugget, very rare. Relfe had owned a
similar piece of gold.
Inspector Scarth, collating this information at
Dawson, thought O'Brien had regretted showing the nuggets, that this
may have led him to try to slip around the police post at Tagish.
Scarth was worried. The nuggets had disappeared. He was holding
O'Brien on six charges of cache robbery, none of them easy to prove,
for O'Brien had had his partner Graves do the stealing and Graves,
too, had disappeared. O'Brien, with arrogant unconcern, was
demanding a trial or release and public opinion supported him.
The disappearance of four men had created a stir
in Dawson. Fred Clayson's brother, Will, had brought in a private
detective, Philip McGuire, from Minneapolis. He lost his job when
the mail driver came through with news that the missing men had been
seen at a rich new strike at Big Salmon.
Inspector Scarth had no faith in this
information. He was more than ever sure that this was a murder case
when Scotland Yard, in February, sent him his suspects' records.
Graves had once been employed by the Chinese Army to shoot
deserters. O'Brien had served six years for shooting a Birmingham
policeman who had caught him robbing a store.
Scarth put McGuire, a stout, stolid, methodical
man, on his payroll and sent him to Hutchiku, where Ryan was
shorthanded. The corporal put him out on the trail with
Pennycuick, still systematically searching a
tract of wilderness sixteen miles long and two and a half miles
wide, wherein all clues lay buried in hip-deep snow.
Late in February, Pennycuick strode up a long
rise in the Pork Trail. He was puzzling over the field glasses found
on O'Brien. He could not get them out of his mind. They were too
unusual; they had to be significant.
He paused for McGuire to catch up. From this
height he could glimpse the river. His eye was caught by a gap in
the cottonwood trees on the flats below.
McGuire, coming up, saw him frowning. "What's
"Can you figure why anyone would be cutting
cotton-woods down there?"
"The telegraph company, probably."
"Let's take a look," said Pennycuick. "I don't
think they're that far down."
They plunged into the bush and emerged
unexpectedly into a clearing. It was man-made. Pennycuick examined
the stumps, then pushed riverward to the flats. Here they counted
twenty-seven chopped-down cottonwoods.
"That's queer," said McGuire. "This isn't on the
Pennycuick scraped the weather stain from a
stump. "They've been cut the same time as those trees up in the
clearing. Not much more than a couple of months ago. And all cut by
the same ax devilish dull and three nicks in the blade. The same
man felled them all, that's plain. Damned poor axman. Can't hit
twice in the same place. Might as well chew a tree down."
They climbed back to the clearing. It was high
land. Through the gap left by the felled trees they could see far
along the river. The Yukon, a mile wide, lay entombed in four feet
of ice, wrapped in a winding sheet of snow flung between the
spruce-covered hills, pure white except for the dark and dwindling
thread of the trail. They could see where the river trail and the
Pork Trail forked. The fork moved out of view as Pennycuick stepped
to one side. He moved to the opposite side. Again the fork vanished.
It was suddenly clear why the cottonwoods below
had been felled; they had blocked the line of sight to the fork in
the trail. The role of the field glasses found on O'Brien was now
obvious. The clearing was a lookout post. From here a watcher with
field glasses could tell an hour in advance if a traveler intended
to stay on the river or cut off up the Pork Trail.
They searched and found a snowed-over trail from
the clearing. They traced it through a grove of leafless aspen till
it forked deep in a copse of gaunt green spruce. One spur ran down
to the river. The other led them parallel to the bank and came out
on a cliff. It angled sharply down to an incision in the ice.
The two men stared at the dark, swift-flowing
water. "That's got to be it," McGuire said. Pennycuick agreed. There
was no other place for miles where the river was open.
They came back to the fork in the spruce copse.
The trail running down to the river had been hacked with the same
dull ax through a dense dark jungle of willow. It ended in a thicket
on a low earth bank close to the river trail.
"A perfect point of ambush," Pennycuick said. "A
man can see in both directions and not be seen himself."
"There's no doubt about it, this is the murder
trail," McGuire said. "But how are we going to prove it?"
Proof came through one of those flukes called
"breaks" that come to those who persist. It came after three weeks
of crawling on hands and knees down the murder trail, probing the
snow with pointed sticks.
It was March 18. The sun was rising briefly at
midday now. Pennycuick was in Selkirk for the day. McGuire was
driving his dogs down the murder trail when a husky balked. The
detective marked the spot: about twenty feet from the riverbank.
As the huskies whimpered excitedly, he cleared
away the snow. The old snowcrust glistened red in the sunlight. He
uncovered another frozen pool of blood twenty feet farther on.
Pennycuick returned next day with Constable
Bacon, Inspector Scarth and O'Brien's big yellow St. Bernard. The
four men followed Pennycuick as he led the dog to the Pork Trail,
then stepped into the drifts to one side. "Go home!" Pennycuick
The big dog hesitated.
"Go home, Bruce!"
The dog trotted down the trail. Without a pause
he left the hard-packed Pork Trail and plunged up the faintly
visible, snowed-over trail to the tent. They found him lying on the
snow beside the wire-encircled spruce.
"We'll make it stronger," Pennycuick said. He
shoveled away the top snow. The crust beneath was littered with
yellow dog hairs.
"Good work," Scarth said. "I think we can link
O'Brien to the tent. But we haven't tied him to the murder trail. We
haven't even proved there
was a murder. We've got no bodies, no
witnesses. We need evidence. I want to know what happened Christmas
During the next six weeks Constable Alexander
Pennycuick and private detective Philip McGuire conducted one of the
most remarkable searches for evidence in the records of crime
detection. They burned the moss from the trees and found three
bullet marks. They charted distances with a surveyor's chain. They
examined every bush and from nicks on the branches plotted the
course of the bullets.
They were working in cold so intense that about
them the branches of trees would break with sounds like pistol
shots. Sometimes exposing their bare hands to feel for the old trail
surfaces, they shoveled from one to three feet of snow from half an
acre of forest. Along the ambush trail and around the tent in the
woods they rolled the winter back three months to Christmas.
Along the trail they found a garter, a comb, two
coat buttons, three cigars, a whiskey bottle, a medicine label, a
piece of copper ore, more blood, six revolver and rifle shells, a
slice of skull and a piece of tooth imbedded in a bullet. In the
ashes of the stove in the tentsome brass moccasin eyelets and
charred fragments of clothing. Strewn around the tent a dog chain,
keys, wads of chewed-up paper that pieced together into roadhouse
receipts, and a dull ax with three nicks in the blade. They tagged
each item and sent it to Dawson. Inspector Scarth dispatched
Mounties as far afield as California to find witnesses to identify
At April's end, with a thunderous roar, the
river burst from its tomb. Broken ice swept seaward in a steady
white discharge and between May 27 and June 30 the Yukon delivered
its dead. Three bodies were found cast up on a sandbar near Selkirk.
All were identified. One had a tooth stump that fitted exactly
even to two small decayed spots the piece of tooth imbedded in the
bullet found by Pennycuick. The evidence was now complete. The
silent testimony of trees, bushes, blood, bullets and bodies told a
clear, awful and indisputable story.
O'Brien and Graves had prepared their trap in
December. Then, in their hideout, they waited for the snow. Watching
from their lookout they saw that Olsen, Clayson and Relfe were
continuing up the river trail. They hurried down their secret
passageway to the ambush thicket.
In high good humor, the travelers came abreast
of the thicket. Graves stepped out with leveled rifle. Then, from
behind them, O'Brien appeared. With O'Brien backing up, keeping them
covered in front, and Graves menacing them from behind, they were
herded off the open river into the murder trail.
Clayson, in the lead, perhaps sensing something
abnormal, bolted for sheltering timber fifty feet to his right.
Before he had taken three steps O'Brien shot him through the body.
O'Brien reloaded, stepped close to Relfe and fired. He must have
been trembling with blood lust. He missed and fired again. Relfe
fell. Olsen, running in frantic terror, was ten paces into the woods
when O'Brien's bullet knocked him down.
O'Brien walked from one dying man to another and
put a revolver bullet through each man's head. Olsen rose in his
death throes and grappled with him. Graves had to smash the
lineman's skull with a rifle.
The assassins stripped the parkas from the
bodies, piled them on their sled and hauled them over their trail to
the riverbank. One by one they slid them down and through the hole
in the ice. Then though this last is conjecture O'Brien knocked
Graves on the head, pushed him in after the others and returned to
the tent to search his victims' clothing in comfort. Months
afterward, a fourth body was found in the river, badly decomposed
but bearing points of resemblance to Graves; and O'Brien, in jail,
told a fellow prisoner, ex-U.S. Marshal George Scott, "You bet I
fixed it so no one will give me away."
This enterprise had been conceived by O'Brien in
Dawson Jail. Little Tommy Graves had thought that the proposition
was sound, but two other prisoners had turned it down as too risky.
One, a raucous thief and faro dealer named George "Kid" West, was
located in Washington state penitentiary by S. H. Seeley, a Mounted
Police secret agent.
Seeley arranged an unprecedented deal with the
state government. West was taken secretly from the penitentiary at
night, smuggled aboard the Skagway-bound steamer
and Corporal Ryan escorted him manacled over the Yukon Trail to
testify in Dawson in June 1901.
Crowds packed the courtroom to see O'Brien. He
sat lis* tening attentively, clad in a new blue suit, carefully
manicured, cleanshaven, indifferent to the crowd, almost nonchalant
except when he glanced at Pennycuick, for whom he did not try to
conceal his hatred.
Never before in a frontier country had so much
care or money been lavished on a trial. Inspector Scarth had
mustered eighty witnesses. They identified some four hundred
exhibits. But not until the end, when the colorful Kid West,
reveling in his role as star witness, outlined the devilish scheme
in detail, did O'Brien's composure lapse. The jury took only two
hours to find him guilty.
In the death cell, awaiting the hangman, O'Brien
feigned insanity; he pretended he was the Virgin Mary. When this
failed to impress, he tried to kill himself. A Catholic, he would
not see a priest; he refused to confess. In a letter to his sister
in Birmingham, which the newspapers published, he proclaimed his
innocence. But to Mrs. Belle Dormer, matron of the jail, he
explained, "My people will feel better to know that I died
protesting my innocence. I must make it as easy for them as I can."
He died at eight in the morning, August 23,1901, cursing Pennycuick
of the North-West Mounted Police.
The Case of the Christmas Day Killer does not
resemble the classic whodunit. But it is typical of the real-life
crime. The killer was in plain sight from the start. What little
mystery there was how the murders had been committed was
revealed by thorough, hard, persistent work. The facts were sordid.
The killer, locked in his cell, filled with conventional concern for
his family, twisting and turning desperately to escape his
inevitable end, had dwindled into a rather pathetic figure. There
was no romance to stimulate the policemen's imaginations, no
mounting suspense to tighten their tired nerves. The drama is less
intense than fiction but more significant.
O'Brien's trial was reported all over the world.
In his matter-of-fact brutality, in the callousness that would kill
on that one day when men approach brotherhood, O'Brien seemed to
personify man's evil. And opposing him, refuting the evil as in a
morality play the police ideal. It could be seen in this case with
uncommon clarity. Here were policemen applying the laws of evidence
as they would be applied in London or New York. Here, at one of the
ends of the earth, in the heart of a sub-Arctic wilderness, at the
height of one of history's maddest scrambles for gold, men were
applying the finest police methods known, embodying the highest
standards of justice they knew.
This police ideal is perceptible in the image of
Constable Pennycuick crawling on his hands and knees down an aisle
in the snow-shrouded forest while he marshals his facts with all the
imperturbable patience of a Scotland Yard inspector working in
Piccadilly Circus. Patience is the policeman's cardinal virtue. Not
the patience of that modern crusader, the amateur fiction sleuth.
Not the patience of a longhaired Sherlock Holmes. It is not
sustained primarily by intellectual curiosity, much less by desire
to right a wrong. It is more akin to the patience of the hunter for
whom the hunt matters more than the kill.
last century, an Italian scientist, Dr. Cesare Lom-i broso, won wide
acceptance for his "theory of atavism." Criminals, he claimed, were
inferior biologically. A policeman could recognize them by their
features: close-set eyes, receding forehead, brutal jaw. The theory
is often tested today on law students. They are shown a number of
photographs and asked to pick out the criminals. Invariably they
select an assortment of brutal-jawed clergymen and shifty-eyed
Many criminals hold a somewhat similar theory
about policemen. You can always spot a dick, they claim, by his flat
feet, burly build, brusque manner and air of stolid nosi-ness. This
conviction, unlike Lombroso's, is based on experience, though it may
seem outdated experience to the large number of criminals taken in
by policemen posing as crooks.
In a big gray stone building on a bank of the
Rideau River in suburban Ottawa, a man called the DOCI studies
reports and dictates memos. There is nothing to distinguish his
plainly furnished office except a row of photographs on the wall
above his desk, portraits of RCMP commissioners. If the man at the
desk is wearing civilian clothes, as he fre-quentiy is, he looks
like any other bureaucrat. His reports, however, deal with murder,
rape, robbery, arson, fraud, smuggling, extortion and drugs. The
DOCI, an assistant commissioner, is the Mounties' top-ranking
detective, Director of Criminal Investigation, a branch called the
RCMP crime reports funnel into this central
bureau at the rate of 170,000 a year. Readers study them, tabulate
them, note trends in crime. They check to be sure the Mountie has
followed every lead, that his conduct has cast no discredit on the
force. They telephone or write any federal government department
concerned to let the department know how the case is developing.
They observe that a batch of counterfeit bills turned up in a dozen
cities, clearly the work of one gang. They supervise. They
coordinate. They act as liaison officers. In effect, the DOCI is the
Mounties' chief of staff in the ceaseless war against crime. Under
him, placed strategically in cities across Canada, are some four
hundred Mounties in plain clothes. On the street a few may reveal
themselves by their cataloguing glance and a certain stiffness of
bearing. But most of them look like any salesman, businessman,
scholar or journalist.
The criminals' theory, nevertheless, has more
substance than Lombroso's. Criminals far outnumber policemen: they
come in bewildering variety, they embrace many trades; detectives
have only one, and it has long been a common belief that a man's
trade leaves its mark.
Outwardly, this is no longer as true as it was.
Sherlock Holmes would find deduction tougher today. The bookkeeper
punching his adding machine no longer has ink-stained fingers. The
invention of the power saw is shrinking the lumberjack's chest.
Pushbutton production lines leave a man's contours unchanged.
Yet each profession is like no other in purpose.
The methods peculiar to it develop unique combinations of talents. A
postman and a plumber are guided by different codes of conduct. Each
has his own way of looking at things. And the trade of the detective
brands deeper than most, though the mark is seldom visible on the
The Mountie is unlike all other detectives. In
other forces, "detective" is a rank. The detective is of the elite,
an aristocrat. Though the man in uniform walking his beat is the
backbone of his force, the greatest known deterrent to crime, the
detective sets the tone of the organization. His failure or success
makes newspaper headlines. The publicity gives his job a romantic
aura. The uniformed man looks forward to the day when, in plain
clothes, he will step up from crime prevention to crime detection.
The uniformed Mountie is in a different
position. Every Mounted Policeman, from the accountant in the supply
branch to the man who plays the tuba in the band, has been trained
as an all-round investigator. His first posting, usually bottom man
in a large detachment, gives him a little experience in detection.
He picks up more as he moves from low man to top man in smaller
detachments. More than half his work is investigation: thefts,
assaults, accidents, occasionally even a major crime. If he feels
that a murder, for instance, needs a more experienced touch, or that
it will take more time than his other duties allow, he calls his
subdivision CIB officer, who details one of his plainclothes men to
the case. Or the uniformed man may show skill in solving the murder
himself, but his officers may be grooming him for command of a
larger detachment or a desk job at divisional headquarters. Or he
may be left where he is because he prefers to be his own boss,
though at any time the needs of the force may override his
preference and he will suddenly find himself in plain clothes. And
just as unexpectedly he may find his work in plain clothes rewarded
by a transfer back to uniform on detachment. The RCMP feels that
every Mountie, the specialist excepted, is interchangeable.
Every Mountie's crime reports channel through
the CIB. These reports never mention the word "detective." The force
looks askance at any word that implies a difference in kind between
the plainclothes and uniformed man. Crime detection takes so much of
every Mountie's time that the word "detective" applied to the
plainclothes man seems artificial and any remarks about the effect
and nature of crime detection will apply to the RCMP as a whole.
SURFACE of crime is mercurial. It mirrors the fluctuations in
national production. It shifts with the rise and fall of the market,
wavers with the weather, changes color with each advance in science
and alters form with each new law.
The most dramatic example is the Prohibition
Act, which forbade the making or selling of intoxicants in the U.S.,
thus flooding the country with contraband liquor from Canada. The
strongest, smartest U.S. smugglers knocked off their rivals and
merged. Their combined profits bought policemen, judges and
politicians. They spread their protection umbrella over gambling and
call houses. They branched into narcotics, sometimes car stealing
and holdups. The huge reserves of capital that the Prohibition Act
put into criminal hands gave birth to the modern crime syndicate
with its tentacles in political parties, big business and labor
With repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the flow of
whiskey reversed. The Legs Diamond gang gained control of the
Montreal market. Their fleet of power boats ran the lower St.
Lawrence on moonless nights and their souped-up Cadillacs, driven by
experts, crashed the Mounties' blockades on the border roads of
backwoods Quebec, ran on their rims when the Mounties spiked the
One night in 1936, through an undercover Mountie,
the RCMP seized seven boats, jailed sixty runners and crippled
smuggling on the St. Lawrence. The Legs Diamond gang followed the
pattern of most corporate giants who cannot get their goods across
the border profitably. They set up branch plants in Canada. They
supplied Canadian bootleggers with engineers and workmen to build
illegal whiskey factories. For 25 per cent of the net they leased
them to local management, under the watchful eye of a U.S. business
manager. Workers were paid scale rates with wages guaranteed while
in jail. When the Legs Diamond agent reneged on his jail benefits,
Montreal's bootleggers broke their contracts and signed with the
One afternoon in Montreal, in 1936, a
plainclothes Mountie spotted a man he knew to be a bootlegger
leaving a closed-down lumber mill. From the upper floor of a biscuit
factory across the street he watched the vine-covered building
through field glasses. He noted men in the lumberyard piling boards
as children stack matches, in triangles that blocked the view from
the street. Trucks came and went. A sixty-foot chimney was put up.
As soon as smoke was sighted fifteen Mounties surrounded the mill.
No machinery was running but seven men were inside. Each swore that
he was the janitor.
The Mounties searched the building from top to
bottom. There was no sign of a still. Then a Mountie, poking around
with a stick in a ground-floor closet, was startled by a shift in
what had seemed a solid cement floor. Inspecting it on hands and
knees he found a tiny hole. A nail shoved into it triggered a catch.
The raiding squad dropped into an underground chamber. It held a
gasoline pump and a hose. The hose smelled of whiskey. They smashed
through a cement wall and broke into a concrete sewer tunnel. It led
them down 150 feet to a big square room, where circular catwalks
banked a huge round vat. Fans drew the fumes from the bubbling mash
up the smokestack. A pipe led to the gasoline pump from which the
trucks were filled. The boiler was an abandoned railway engine. The
entire operation, a maze of vats, containers and pipes, was buried
beneath 620 tons of concrete and earth.
Two Americans were listed as "engineer" and
"manager"; a Canadian was "president." They drew a year in jail and
a fine of $2,000 less than their profits for one day. It was a
typical big-time operation. The Mounties seized similar stills in a
chocolate factory, an oil refinery, a cheese plant and a bakery.
They discovered liquor crossing the border by rail in drums marked
"Insecticide." They found it in trucks carrying crated earthenware.
They arrested peddlers in all guises: a milkman who asked his
customers if they wanted "white" or "dark" a bottle of milk or a
bottle of liquor; an old lady whose clients were served from a hot
water bottle; a couple who sold it out of a baby's crib.
On the eastern seaboard the traffic was in rum.
The price of fish in the thirties would scarcely pay for a boat's
gasoline and every second fisherman turned to rum running. Backed by
businessmen ashore, including prominent politicians, smuggling
became the popular sport of the day. Mother ships steamed up from
the Indies with thousands of gallons aboard and lay offshore while
small boats towed fish nets filled with rum kegs into deserted coves
for hiding. And the traffic was not confined to liquor. When the
government placed a prewar duty on raw sugar, smugglers ran it from
St. Pierre and Miquelon, a cluster of tiny islands off the south
coast of Newfoundland, last remnant of the once great French empire
in North America.
This new pattern in crime altered the structure
of the Mounties. In 1932 they took over all customs and excise
policing and formed their Marine Division. The rum runners switched
from sailing schooners to fast power boats, guided by illegal radio
stations ashore. The Mounties countered with radio-equipped aircraft
for spotting, and fast cars to speed to the point of landing.
Sometimes the smugglers would send out three fast ships, one
carrying rum, and the Mounties would have to guess which one to
follow the old shell game. The Mounties would occasionally catch
the smugglers off guard by appearing suddenly from behind the bulk
of an outgoing ship. When the chase became too hot, the smugglers
would lay down a smoke screen by injecting oil under pressure into
their engine exhaust, a synthetic fog that not only blinded but half
scalded their pursuers. There was only occasional shooting; it was
mainly a game of wits. When one well-known Mountie, disguised by a
wig, false eyebrows and mustache, posed as a buyer and picked off a
rum-running ship's captain and his shore agent, Bill the
Boat-Builder, the smugglers agreed that the joke was on them and the
captain swore that, by God, if he could be fooled that easy he had
better get out of the business, which he did.
One night in 1942, the smugglers' fastest ship,
the Henry Joe,
slipped lightless out of St. Pierre and headed across a calm sea,
heavy with contraband. A French sloop flashed a challenge. The
Henry Joe ignored it. The sloop opened
fire with pom-poms. Like a broken bottle the
Henry Joe went down. There were no
It was the end of an era, the romantic era of
crime. By now, most Maritime smugglers and Marine Division Mounties
had joined forces in the navy. "The only real seamen I've got," one
naval officer told another at a conference on ships' personnel, "are
the Mounties and the rummies they used to chase."
War brought new restrictive laws. Counterfeiters
switched to ration books. Traffic in illegal permits, coupons and
stamps became common. In Edmonton, the oil controller's staff would
take used coupons to the basement for burning in the incinerator.
The janitor would stand by, stoking the fire with sheets of paper.
The heavy paper, falling flat on the blaze, dampened it. Left alone,
the janitor would fish out the sheets of paper and retrieve the
unsinged coupons sandwiched between them. But he showed less finesse
in selecting his distributor, whose carelessness gave the game away.
In Ottawa, a flood of black market coupons led
the Mounties to a Hull paper plant where used coupons were sent to
be destroyed. Mounties disguised as workmen were placed in the
plant. They watched the coupons being fed to machines with whirling
knife blades that shredded waste paper for beating machines to mash
into pulp. Amazed, they watched the machine tenders wade between the
slashing blades, grope in the waist-high, pulpy, swirling mixture,
and emerge with an armful of coupons. Twenty-one craftsmen
papermakers, millwrights, beaters, repairmen had conspired to set
the machines so the coupons and the men would not be pulped.
As in a chess game each government move is
matched by racketeers. When the War Conservation Act banned the
buying of U.S. slot machines, smugglers did a flourishing
over-the-border trade. At war's end, when cloth was short and its
price fixed, the Mounties caught some wholesalers collecting a
"bonus" from tailors afraid they would not otherwise get enough
In 1946, when the United States lifted price
controls, racketeers bought grain at Canada's ceiling prices and ran
it across the Maine-Quebec border. In 1947, when Canada clamped down
on U.S. imports in a "dollar-saving program," cars became the
hottest item in smuggling circles and the Mounties and the FBI
collared one stolen-car ring in the middle of Ambassador Bridge
between Detroit and
Windsor. The following year, Canada raised her
tobacco tax, made American cigarettes the fashion in smuggling, and
the Mounties stopped a funeral procession enroute from Detroit to
Windsor, boarded a hearse and found that the coffin held nothing but
cigarettes. In 1953, when the tax was eased, smuggling dropped.
In 1954, the RCMP reported that "the decline in
beef prices discouraged cattle thefts to some extent, although there
has been a trend toward the theft of hogs, which are bringing higher
prices." The report also noted a drop in the number of prosecutions
for drunkenness among British Columbia's Indians when the B.C.
economy dipped slightly in 1954. At the same time the number of
prosecutions rose in Alberta, where Indians drew more income from
new oil wells on their land.
Crime follows national developments like a dark
misshapen shadow, a perverse reflection of human progress. A new
uranium strike will spark fevered activity in the bucket shops of
Toronto and Montreal, where phony stockbrokers yearly swindle
Canadians and Americans out of millions of dollars by mail and
telephone. Floods, fires and hurricanes draw con men in their wake,
to snatch at the victims' insurance.
Ancient con games are camouflaged with the
latest jargon of science. In the summer of 1953 a cultivated old
gentleman, Fred Hossell, opened a gadget shop on Winnipeg's Portage
Avenue. Over the next twelve months he turned out an array of
inventions: a radioactive flashlight that lasted twice as long as
the ordinary battery torch; a radioactive machine for making
gasoline from water; a mercury-pot for drawing gold from sand; and a
radioactive machine that made gold pellets. The working models were
so impressive that one factory owner retooled his entire second
floor to produce the flashlight. Another built a thirty-foot trailer
to house the gas-making machine. Other people invested their life's
savings to put the machines on the market. Before the Mounties
picked him up on a tip from one of his suckers, Hossell rooked
fourteen people of $31,000 in what is no more than a new twist on
the venerable greengoods game.
The changing shape of crime defines the
investigator's role. The government, which once winked at all but
flagrant tax evasions, now calls in the Mounties ten thousand times
a year. And several times every year they pile up the mountain of
evidence needed to prove conspiracy under the Combines Act.
Investigating bread making in 1947, they called at every bakery in
Alberta. When the evidence showed that big bakeries from Winnipeg to
Vancouver had put pressure on the small ones to keep prices high,
Mounted Policemen seized thousands of company papers, helped the
Combines Commission staff to sort them, held the papers in custody
and four years later, after twelve companies were found guilty of
conspiring to "unduly prevent or lessen competition," it was the
Mounties' job to return the papers.
As laws grow more complex so does crime and
crime detection. During the war, when beef was scarce, Canadian
farmers were not allowed to export beef cattle. Canadian drovers and
U.S. buyers teamed up to beat the law by shipping cows due to calf
across the border as dairy cattle.
They would milk them for a couple of months,
then sell fheir beef on the black market. A Belleville veterinarian
tipped off the Agriculture Department and a CIB corporal uncovered a
dangerous racket. He found that cows untested for TB or Bang's
disease were being smuggled into a tested area. A vet would draw
blood from one healthy cow, fill twenty-five bottles, and send them
to the government lab for analysis. Then, with a false certificate,
the cows would be shipped to the United States. The RCMP corporal,
CIB man Gordon Greaves, spent his first ten days on the case doing
nothing but study the export rules and his evenings thereafter with
MOUNTIE has only one piece of standard equipment: a notebook. It
signifies his approach to crime detection which breaks, roughly,
into two parts observation and information.
Murder and manslaughter, armed robbery, breaking
and entry, thefts of all kinds, are usually solved by observing
facts at the scene of the crime. The investigator's notebook
connotes accuracy. He writes down every detail. He tape-measures all
distances. Nothing is left to guesswork or memory. And though he
himself is no scientist he knows all that science can do for him.
One October afternoon a bus came wheeling out of
John. The driver glanced casually through his
side window, then jammed on his brakes. Sprawled in the ditch a
young woman was bleeding to death.
The bus driver called an ambulance and the
Mounties. Corporal Philip Hughes and a constable searched the
blood-soaked ditch. They found nothing. The highway shoulder showed
the skid of a swerving car but no tire marks that could be traced.
In the grass beyond the ditch Hughes picked up a rear-vision mirror,
the kind that clamps on a car door. Its bracket was sprung.
Hughes telephoned the hospital. The woman had
died. She had been able to say only that a "big shiny car" had hit
her. Hughes and his men checked every car, house and garage on the
highway. They worked all night. But a "big shiny car" wasn't much to
go on. It looked as if the hit-and-run driver had made a clean
Next day Hughes stopped on the street for a chat
with a friend, who remarked that a mutual acquaintance of theirs had
been hitting the bottle of late. Immediately alert, Hughes asked,
"What kind of a car does he drive?"
"I don't know. A big car of some kind."
This was the slimmest of leads. Nevertheless
Hughes sent a constable to the man's place of business on a side
road outside town. "He's got a Buick," the constable telephoned
back. "There's a dent in the front right-hand fender."
"Bring it in," Hughes said. "The owner too."
The owner admitted nothing. Inch by inch Hughes
went over the Buick. Under the chrome trim he found a few twisted
fibers; when he bunched them together they looked faintly brown, the
color of the dead woman's coat. The rear-vision mirror was missing
from the front door. And the door had a tiny dent that could have
been made by the mirror bracket being forced back against the metal.
Hughes took off the car door and crated it.
Separately, he packaged the rear-vision mirror, the fibers and the
coat, and sent them all to the crime lab in Ottawa. The chemist
could not say definitely that the fibers had come from the coat. But
another lab expert, Staff Sergeant William Sutherland, comparing the
dent on the car door with a dent that he made by striking the
bracket against a sheet of lead, showed that both dents were
identical and that the dent in the car door could only have been
made by the bracket found at the scene of the crime.
This was the first conviction for motor
manslaughter in New Brunswick and the Crown would not have had a
case if the Mountie had not been alert, lucky, and experienced
enough to know what a dent can mean. In another case, attempted
arson, a Mountie noticed a cat hair on a felt wick used by the
arsonist. The identification of this one hair led to the cat's
With experience, some policemen develop
perception into a knack. In the Niagara peninsula a couple of
Mounties on highway patrol were driving behind a truck loaded with
baled hay. One of them thought the truck was riding oddly. He
checked the license by radio with the Ontario Provincial Police and
found that the truck was registered in the name of a known smuggler.
The Mounties stopped the truck and found nine hundred thousand
smuggled cigarettes buried in the hay.
Minor crimes are usually the hardest to solve. A
Mountie ;annot muster all the resources of his force for an
unimportant breach of the law. He must cope with the petty :riminals
as best he can alone and this often results in some
of the neatest examples of detection.
There was, for instance, the unlucky thief who
drove into a farm in Saskatchewan, loaded fifty bushels of oats onto
his truck and drove off. No one saw him, the tire tracks weren't
clear and the farmer had no suspicions.
A Mountie looked over the granary and observed
that a swallow's nest had been dislodged from a rafter above the oat
bin. He asked about oat purchases at all nearby elevators. One
farmer's son, he discovered, had sold forty-eight bushels of oats
the day after the theft. Sifting this grain the Mountie recovered
some pieces of clay from the swallow's nest. Some of the pieces
still carried the impression of the rafter. When the Mountie
confronted the farmer's son with this evidence, he confessed.
And there was the prairie-town Mountie who was
1:20 a.m. by the local hotel manager. A
third-floor guest asleep in his room had been startled awake by
robbers. One had smashed a bottle over his head and held him under
the covers while the other located his money, a couple of hundred
dollars. They had left him stunned. He couldn't describe their faces
or their voices. He could only say that he thought there had been
The Mountie pieced together the broken glass in
the bed: a beer bottle. He checked the fire escape exits; they were
all locked from the inside. He searched the linen closets, the
lavatories, all the hiding places down to the basement. Since the
manager was positive that no one had left by the stairs, the Mountie
was reasonably sure that the robbers were guests in the hotel.
It was now 2:30. The manager did not want his
guests disturbed. The Mountie could only listen outside the closed
doors. A few doors down from the victim's room he heard two men's
muffled voices. The manager agreed to open their door. Two men were
in bed. Indignantly they protested this intrusion. They knew nothing
of any robbery, they said. If the Mountie thought they were lying he
was welcome to search their room.
Concealed in the wastebasket, the Mountie found
the money. The two men said it wasn't theirs and they didn't know
how it had got there. The Mountie had to prove they had put it there
or he had no case.
He checked his facts. The robbers had hit their
victim with a beer bottle. These men had been drinking the same
brand of beer. He counted their empty bottles: seven. He counted the
eight. It was enough to induce a
No two cases break the same but there is a
general pattern. The Mountie comes to a dead end. He lays out all
the facts. Something in the picture seems out of place. It doesn't
quite fit. He may deduce its meaning usually after a good deal of
work. But once in a while he seems to arrive at it almost
In September 1951, Constable Robert Morris, on
detachment in a small Alberta town, was called to the home of Mr.
and Mrs. James Roe.* While they had been away on a visit
* All names in this story, except that of the
Mountie, have been changed.
to Calgary, a thief had broken into their
bedroom and looted their piggy bank. Roe hadn't wanted to bother the
Mountie with it but his wife had insisted it was their duty.
Morris checked the window for tool marks but it
had not been locked. There was mud on the floor but no footprints
clear enough to be of use. The piggy bank had no fingerprints on it.
The robbery seemed to be the work of a tramp.
Morris questioned the neighbors but no one had seen any strangers.
He came back to the bedroom. As he looked about, baffled, he became
aware of the bed. It was slightly rumpled. A possibility suddenly
formed in his mind.
"Did you make the bed before you left?" he asked
"Certainly," she said.
"Has either of you lain down since you got
"It looks a bit mussed," the Mountie said.
"Maybe the thief slept in it." He did not want to alarm the couple
needlessly. "Would you mind stripping it, please?"
They found nothing.
"Now let's lift the mattress," Morris persisted.
There, under the mattress, in the center of the
bed-springs, wrapped in the pages of an illustrated weekly, were two
flat boards with some brown granular stuff between them.
"Keep back!" the Mountie warned. He leaned over
and sniffed it. "There's enough dynamite here to blow up this house.
Whoever planted it wanted you to think that he was a sneakthief."
James and Sara Roe were aghast. They couldn't
think of anyone who hated them enough to try to blow them up in bed.
Morris sent the deadly homemade bomb to the crime lab, which replied
in a deadpan report that it could have been detonated by "pressure,
friction, jarring or heat."
There are coal mines in that part of Alberta and
Morris knew that miners have access to dynamite. The Mountie made
the rounds of the local cafes and kept asking questions till he
learned that Sara Roe had once spurned advances from a
heavy-drinking miner named Alfred Kirwan who for days had brooded
The Mountie picked up a warrant and searched
Kirwan's house. He found part of an illustrated weekly. The missing
pages corresponded with those wrapped around the bomb. At the bottom
of a pile of boards Kirwan used for carpentry was a small piece of
freshly sawn board that fitted exactly to a board in the dynamite
Kirwan confessed. He also confessed he had
planted another bomb, a piece of drilled-out firewood filled with
dynamite, in the woodpile in James Roe's woodshed.
The Mountie rushed with the miner to the Roe
home. He evacuated the couple. Then, in the darkness of the shed, he
stood behind Kirwan, flashing a light on the woodpile, very much
aware that if the pile fell down they'd go up, while the miner
searched till he found his lethal weapon.
Morris's close attention to what at first seemed
a trifling matter probably saved two lives and got Kirwan four
years. His starting point was the bed, a detail that seemed
irrelevant. Some policemen would say he had broken the case on a
hunch. But a hunch is no more than the mind relating facts
unconsciously after being set in motion by hard thought.
The RCMP investigator has something in common
with the army infantryman: no matter how his weapons improve, his
techniques do not change. He depends first of all on his physical
equipment: wide-open eyes and ears and a mind to match.
Jerry Carroll is a chunky blue-eyed man with a fondness for mystery
stories. He is one of a trio of plainclothes men stationed at
Ottawa, a central squad of trouble-shooters who may be assigned to
difficult cases anywhere in Canada. The trio includes a lawyer, an
accountant and Carroll, who directs it. A quiet, diffident, almost
self-conscious bachelor in his forties, he is one of the most
experienced of RCMP investigators.
Carroll won his reputation in Saskatchewan. Two
of his cases there arson cases, the most difficult to solve since
most of the evidence is burned illustrate the second phase of
investigation. It involves questioning anyone who can throw any
light on the crime.
Carroll's questions are not the kind detectives
usually ask in the stories he reads. They would make the hero seem
far too simple, too unimaginative. But they show what policemen mean
when they say that an investigator begins to be good when he knows
what it is he is looking for.
On the prairie at the edge of Saskatoon one
summer's day a big deserted farmhouse was gutted by fire. The fire
chief could find no reason for the blaze. He called the Saskatoon
CIB and Carroll drove out.
He checked first with the power company. The
electricity, they told him, had been cut at the pole when the last
tenant moved (leaving some of his furniture). Neighbors had seen no
children playing about. There had been no electrical storms. An
accidental fire seemed unlikely.
The house was owned by the government, there was
no insurance angle, no arson for profit motive. The Mountie's next
question, self-directed: had someone tried to buy the farm and been
turned down arson for spite. He traced the former tenant and
questioned him closely, noticing that the hair on the back of the
man's hand had been singed (which later proved to be a coincidence).
The man had not been trying to buy the property. He lacked any arson
motive unless he was a pyromaniac, a person who gets satisfaction
from starting fires.
"What furniture did you leave in the house?"
Carroll asked him.
The man listed some articles, among them a small
radio. Carroll searched the ruins. The metal radio framework, which
never burns, could not be found. The Mountie asked the tenant where
he had bought the radio and got its serial number from the dealer.
He was now fairly sure that the motive was to cover up a theft.
Questioning the neighbors again he learned that
a naked man had been seen by day on the bank of the river about a
mile from the farmhouse. Carroll sent for a police dog to search
where the man had been seen. The dog unearthed a towel and a man's
undershirt. At the crime lab, infra-red rays revealed the laundry
mark. It was traced to a hospital night orderly. Carroll found the
missing radio in his room. It was one of the few arson cases where
the confession was superfluous.
The skillful investigator knows not only the
questions to ask, but how to ask them. There are times to make
people feel that whatever they say is already known, times to make
them feel that whatever they say is important, times to be tough
(within the law), times to be sympathetic.
One hot August afternoon when Carroll was
stationed at Yorkton, he took a telephone call from Corporal Patrick
Beach at Balcarres, a nearby prairie town. "Jerry?" said Beach.
"Frank Catlack's house has burned down. There's a body in the ruins.
I think it's Florence Brabant."
Catlack was a well-known farmer, thirty-seven
years old. Florence Brabant, twenty and strikingly pretty, was a
lively half-French, half-Indian girl. Catlack spent all his money on
her clothes and entertainment. Almost every night they went partying
in his new car.
At Balcarres, Carroll found that Beach had
picked up Catlack in town. He was a big, muscular, darkskinned man,
handsome in a faintly sinister fashion. His features were marred by
several fresh scratches.
"Where's Florence, Frank?" Carroll asked him.
"I left her at home, Corporal." Catlack lived
about ten miles out.
"When was that?"
"Did you have any insurance on the house?"
"It's covered all right."
"Where do you keep your policies?"
"In the bank."
"Is that where they are now?" It was an obvious
question, precisely the sort a more subtle man than Carroll might
not have asked.
Catlack hesitated. "Well, no."
"Where are they then?"
"In my pocket," said Catlack reluctantly.
Carroll's voice sharpened. "How did you get the
cuts on your face, Frank?"
"I don't know. I had a lot to drink last night.
I must have hurt myself. I spent the night in the hotel here. There
was blood on my pillow this morning when I woke up."
The hotel owner couldn't recall Catlack's face
being scratched when he checked in. The Mountie was certain Cat-lack
was lying. He wanted to keep him in town but he couldn't hold him
without evidence. "You know, Frank," he told Catlack, "if Florence
really died in that fire, people are liable to blame you. It might
be safer for you to bunk in with us till we clear this up." To
Carroll's relief, Catlack agreed.
The embers of the burned house were still
smoldering that evening as the two Mounties shoveled a curled
charred body into cartons. They shipped it by RCMP plane to a
Saskatoon pathologist. In the morning they sifted the ashes but
found no evidence.
Carroll spent the rest of the day asking
questions. Neighboring farmers had seen Florence in Catlack's yard
the morning of the fire. A section hand had seen Catlack walking
toward the train stop, glancing back repeatedly in the direction of
his house. Two hours later a farmer had sighted the first smoke. The
conductor of the train in which Catlack rode to town recalled that
Catlack's face was scratched when he got on.
The pathologist's report, on the third morning
after the fire, established the victim's sex, build, approximate age
and color of hair. The description fitted Florence and Florence was
missing. It was adding up but it was far from enough to place a
charge. Carroll needed a motive. He got it late that day in his
third talk with the owner of the hotel.
The Mountie went back to Catlack. "Frank," he
said, his manner no longer relaxed, "you've been lying. You're
covering up. You were seen leaving the farm all scratched up around
one forty-five. You were looking back. You were watching for smoke.
You had the insurance policies in your pocket. You'd had a fight
with Florence. Florence was going to leave you. She's a girl who
likes a good time and you've spent all your money, Frank. You can't
even keep up the payments on your car. She was going to work at the
hotel, starting the end of the month. She was going to to leave you
and you loved her. You loved her, didn't you, Frank?"
Tears began to roll down Catlack's face. "I may
have something to tell you tomorrow," he said. Again he slept in the
unlocked detachment cell. Carroll, in the next room, could hear him
tossing and turning. In the morning he said, "If I tell the truth,
will I get my wish, Corporal? Will you take me to Regina and hang me
"Sorry, Frank," said Carroll, "that's up to the
Catlack sat silent for a long time.
"Would you like me to write it for you, Frank?"
Carroll prompted softly. He needed a confession; the case was far
"I thought too much of her," Catlack blurted
suddenly. "We were too jealous of each other. She always said that
same thing. She said she was leaving me. After that I lost my head.
I told her, if I can't have you no one else will, and I told her, I
am going to kill you. She jumped up and scratched me." He stopped.
The Mountie said nothing. Presendy Catlack continued.
"This other part is hard. If I tell you, you're
not going to jump me?"
"No," Carroll said quietly.
"So she ran in the kitchen." Catlack's face was
working. "So I put my hands around her throat and choked her. I
might as well tell you, I set the house on fire. I got nothing to
Carroll had been writing this in his notebook.
The case seemed open-and-shut now. But he knew he could still lose
in court; confessions are almost always contested. At this point he
showed the touch of the seasoned policeman.
"Frank," he said, "we didn't find Florence's
watch or rings in the ruins. Do you want to tell us where they are?"
Catlack nodded mutely and led him to the spot
where he had buried the jewelry. The investigation had ended; the
double climax came later.
As Corporal Beach was escorting Catlack back
from the coroner's hearing to his cell in the RCMP detachment, the
big farmer suddenly went berserk with pent-up despair. Locked
together, the two men fought savagely through the cell room, through
the office and into the garden. The Mountie's wife, running
frantically down from their quarters upstairs, snatched up a
soft-drink bottle and struck Catlack on the head. It stopped the
maddened man only momentarily. He was killing Beach, throttling him,
banging his head on the ground, when two neighbors came running over
and pulled him away.
In his death cell Catlack was given pills to
enable him to sleep. He managed to save a handful, swallowed them
all at once and died on the night before he was to hang. Behind him
he left a note to Florence Brabant.
ACROSS the Mountie's desk flows a steady stream
of facts, borne on a turbulent tide of humanity. This is his second
source of information: the public. Troubled, anxious, fearful,
suspicious, demanding, dutiful, the public tells the Mountie what it
saw, heard, thinks and feels a car parked overlong in an alley, a
shot heard during the night, a feeling that the boy next door is the
rapist sought by police. It is vital information but the vital facts
must be winnowed from much that is trivial or meaningless.
In an incident typical of its kind a man came
into the RCMP's Vancouver office and asked for police protection.
the living legend
Someone had tried to gas him at his house in
Victoria, he said.
"When was this?" asked an RCMP inspector.
"Last night. They tried last night while I was
"How do you know it was gas?"
"It was hissing."
"Did you get up to see where it was coming
"Yes, but they're clever. I couldn't find it."
"Who do you think was trying to gas you?"
"That's your job to find out."
"But gas is very complicated," the Mounted
Policeman said patiently. "It takes a lot of pipes and equipment.
Wouldn't it be easier for them to push you off the ferry coming over
"No. It's a gas they're using."
"Don't you think, if you couldn't find the gas
pipe, it might have been the water faucet you heard?"
At this the man became highly indignant. He left
the divisional office convinced that the Mountie was in on the plot.
And the Mountie, from the first mention of "they," had been equally
sure that the man was mentally ill.
One common "they" is "the radio gang," who try
to kill their victim by transmitting a "voice" that tells him to
walk into moving traffic. At one time so many complaints came into
the Montreal office for action against the radio gang that a
sergeant assigned himself to the "case." He sawed a lead pipe into
three-inch lengths and placed them on his desk. Soon, a man came in
and said, half-belligerently: "Now, I know you won't believe me, but
the radio gang are out to get me."
"Of course, I believe you," the sergeant said.
"We know all about this gang. We've been after them for years. Now,
me, but our scientists have found a way
to fool this gang. Take this. It looks just like a length of pipe.
Put it under your pillow at night. Don't let it out of your sight.
It will ground the reception from their transmitter." In Montreal,
the radio gang is now under control.
People come into the Mountie's office with tales
of foreign spies, Martian invasions and buried bodies. There was the
veteran trapper, seventy-odd and eccentric, who mushed out of the
bush in the winter of 1950 into the RCMP detachment at Flin Flon, a
mining town in northern Manitoba. His name was Donald McLeod, he
said, better known as "Skipper." His partner, Paddy Allen, was
missing, drowned in a lake near their trap line. How did he know? He
had dreamed he saw him breaking through the lake ice.
It was scarcely a story to which a logical man
could give credence. Yet in the spring, after break-up, Allen's body
was found on the shore of the lake McLeod had seen in his dream.
The following June, McLeod trekked in to see the
Mounties again. He had had another dream, he explained. He had
dreamed of a canoe abandoned in the narrows of Lake Athapapuskow.
Four days later a prospector reported that while flying over the
narrows he had sighted a sunken canoe.
Searching the shore the Mounties found amongst a
litter of wreckage a scarf belonging to Bertha Johnson, part-Indian
wife of James Johnson, a young Flin Flon resident who had set out
with Bertha the fall before in search of a sawmill job. Again the
Mounties were visited by Skipper McLeod. He had been afraid to tell
them all his dream, he said, for fear they would laugh at him. He
had seen the canoe pulling up to shore, a couple getting out, the
woman walking away ahead of the man, the man firing a rifle bullet
through the woman's head, another through his own.
The Mounties organized a second search party. In
from the lake several hundred yards were two bodies, half-eaten by
wolves. Each skull had been bored by a bullet, one from the front,
one from the back, and beside them lay the rifle.
McLeod's dreams are reminiscent of the famous
Hayward case, wherein a sea captain went to bed at his home in Kent,
England, one night in mid-September 1904, and dreamed he was in, yet
not quite part of, a strange brooding land, a wilderness of rivers
and woods unlike any he had seen. He woke, unaccountably frightened,
laughed at himself and went back to sleep. Again the forbidding
landscape unfolded before him, shadowed but startlingly clear in the
light of a full moon. He saw a dying campfire and two men sleeping
beside it. The moonlight shone on their faces and he recognized
Edward, his brother, who was in the far Canadian Northwest. As he
watched in gathering horror, the other dream figure stirred, crept
from his blankets, lifted a rifle, and shot Edward twice through the
Next day, the captain jokingly described the
dream to some friends. One of them told a newspaperman, who
published a full account, dated a few days before a northern Cree
chief named Moos Toos, six thousand miles away, paddled into a
Mounted Police detachment on Lesser Slave
Lake, far north of Edmonton, with a story almost
Moos Toos was grateful to the Mountie, Staff
Sergeant Kristjan Anderson, for stopping two crooked white
contractors from cutting trees on his reserve. He told the Mountie
that two strange white men had camped three nights near his
settlement. One was tall with a black beard, the other was short and
brown-bearded. The tall man had said they were headed outside via
Athabaska Landing. But when the short man left he was alone. He was
leading four pack horses loaded with traps and a black collie dog.
The dog would not obey him, which was queer. Visiting their campsite
to salvage anything left behind, some squaws had found the ashes of
a huge fire. The poplar leaves above it were filmed with fat.
At the campsite Anderson found a heap of ashes
six feet long, three feet across and a foot high. Raking through
them with his bare hands he extracted some charred bits of bone,
some flesh, and what looked like a human heart. Anderson rode after
the man with the brown beard.
He found him in Athabaska Landing waiting for a
boat out, a mild, middle-aged ex-farmer from Utah named Charles
King. The black-bearded man, said King, was a stranger who spent
only one night with him, then passed on to Sturgeon Lake. A barge
arrived from Sturgeon Lake next morning. Its skipper said no white
man had arrived there. Anderson had no evidence, but King had sold
his outfit and was obviously on his way back to the States. The
Mountie took a long chance and arrested him for murder.
Back at the campsite, Moos Toos helped the
Mountie screen the ashes while his half-naked tribesmen waded around
in a nearby slough, waist-high in icy water, probing the slippery
bottom with bare feet. In the slough they found a broken needle, a
pair of boots, a gold pin, a watch and chain, and a gold sovereign
case. The other half of the needle was found in the ashes.
Mounties now traced King and the missing man
back to Edmonton, where the blackbeard was indentified as an E.
Hayward. They mustered eighty witnesses to prove that the two men
were partners, that Hayward had bought the outfit which King had
sold, that the articles in the slough had belonged to Hayward, that
the two men had quarreled repeatedly, that while camping on the
reserve a pretty sqaw had visited Hayward at 2
a.m. on the morning that King departed
alone, that King had been jealous, that two shots were heard that
night, and that Hayward had never again been seen. The needle linked
the slough to the fire and the flesh and bone in the ashes were
identified by an eastern doctor as human.
But the star witness was a sea captain who had
come all the way from England, Captain George Hayward, the victim's
brother. Anderson had located him through the maker's name on the
gold sovereign case. The captain said that the case had been a gift
from his father to Edward. Captain Hayward's dream was not
introduced as evidence. The chain of facts that began with the
information given by Moos Toos, that dutiful citizen of the north
woods, was enough to hang Charles King.
Every story brought in by the public must be
evaluated; a policeman cannot take anything for granted. He must
learn to distinguish between the mentally ill and the mentally
disturbed. At teatime one February afternoon in 1947 a dark
heavy-set stranger walked into Saskatchewan's Yorkton detachment.
"I'm Charles Martin," he said. "Give me a smoke
and get me a priest. What I got to say will knock the heads off you
guys." Then Martin recited a fantastic tale of murder.
In 1944, he said, at Mission, British Columbia,
he had shot a man, encased his body in concrete and dropped it into
the sea. Two years later, at a mine north of Lake Superior, he had
gone hunting with the mine owner, Joseph Grant, and a miner.
Carrying an ax and walking ahead, as he said they told him to, he
had caught the click of a rifle bolt, whirled and threw his ax,
cutting Grant down as the man was about to shoot him. Then,
snatching up Grant's rifle, Martin had shot the other man.
"I know I'm putting my head in a noose," Charles
Martin said. "You may think I'm nuts. But I wanted to get this all
off my chest."
Investigation proved Martin's murder in Mission
to be brain-spun. He was known there as a strange character, a
consummate actor who wanted people to be afraid of him. He had
drifted east to Montreal, then westward again, a sometime woods
worker, trucker and railway hand. He had called at three other RCMP
detachments in the past month telling of having been doped, waylaid,
of knifing a man in a fight. All the stories were fabrications.
Martin was interviewed again. He admitted that
he had spells of imagining things. He suffered from epilepsy, he
But a wire from police at Fort William showed
that one part of his story was true. The two men he said he had shot
were missing. The Ontario Provincial Police dynamited a road through
the bush to the mine, brought in bulldozers to clear the ground of
snow, and found the bodies of Grant and the miner, both shot twice.
The evidence showed that they had been hunting, as Martin said, and
gone ahead. He had ambushed the two men,
stolen their wallets, hidden his .303 rifle, and headed south for
the highway in Grant's jeep. Then he remembered that just before
they had set out on the hunt Grant had snapped his picture holding
the rifle. He snowshoed back but he could not locate the camera.
All winter long that snapshot had haunted
Martin. Did the police have it or not? Finally he could no longer
stand the uncertainty. He determined to find out how much the police
knew (nothing a hunter named Emil Pilon had picked up the camera).
But first Martin tried to establish a pattern of insanity, thinking
that if the snapshot had not been found if he was not wanted he
would be dismissed as a crackpot. It was a desperate scheme that
cost him his life on the gallows.
Mountie cultivates a circle of special informants, his third and
often his most important source of information. They might include a
bank manager, a mailman or a bookie. Even when he is not on a case a
Mountie spends much of his time just building up his contacts,
keeping in touch with what's going on.
One night in Port Alberni, B.C., a Mountie
dropped into a hotel for a chat with the new desk clerk. The new man
hadn't yet learned how his switchboard worked. The Mountie offered
to show him. He put the headphones on just in time to hear a voice
say, "We're out of rum, will whiskey do?" A few minutes later a
bootlegging taxi driver delivered a bottle of whiskey right into the
Mountie's waiting hands.
The most useful of these special informants are
criminals, small-time crooks who doublecross their fraternal
brothers for a drink, a loan, because the Mountie once gave them a
break, because they expect another, because of fear, hatred, envy,
or simply to earn some money. If their information leads to arrest
and conviction, the RCMP may pay them from ten to several hundred
dollars, depending on the importance of the case. The Mountie pays
the informant himself, keeps his identity secret from even his own
superior officer. In the crime report the informant's role is
camouflaged by the phrase "from information received."
It was an informant's tip that broke the most
sensational of all RCMP smuggling cases. In 1923, Montreal was a
smuggler's paradise. A half-dozen smuggling rings were flooding the
port with contraband. Black market sales were displacing legal sales
in Canadian stores at the rate of fifty to one hundred million
dollars a year.
None of the Mounties' regular informants knew
how the goods came in. Staff Sergeant Ernest Salt, head of
Montreal's plainclothes squad, met secretly with a prominent
racketeer named Delane, who agreed for a consideration to leak word
to the underworld that he was interested in buying drugs. At the
same time Salt put two undercover Mounties on the job.
In two months Delane had contacted one ring.
"They buy the stuff in Barcelona," he told Salt. "It's routed
through Liverpool packed in trunks and comes in here with phony
bills of lading."
"It's coming in here through customs?"
"That's the deal." Delane named a high customs
official who he said was in the pay of seven different operators.
"They wise him up when it's coming and his boys see it gets through
the warehouse. The fix is a thousand bucks a trunk, four dollars a
gallon for liquor."
This confirmed in detail what Salt had been told
by one undercover Mountie, Sergeant Charlie Brown. Salt asked Delane
who was behind the gang he was dickering with.
"I don't know," Delane said, "but I'll tell you
who their front man is." The racketeer smiled in malicious
anticipation of Salt's discomfort. "Don Miguel Maluquer y Salvador,
the Spanish consul."
Salt's confidential report, passed on to
headquarters, faced the commissioner with a delicate chore: breaking
the news to the disbelieving heads of the Customs Branch, under whom
came all customs and excise policing. At last, after hearing Brown
testify, they agreed to cooperate.
And now there booked into the swank Ritz Carlton
Hotel in Montreal a millionaire racketeer from Chicago. He gave his
name as Robino. He was six-foot-four and broad, with a bold, hard,
swarthy face. His manner was expansive. He had that unmistakable
to-hell-with-the-consequences air of a born adventurer. This was
Sergeant Charlie Brown.
Delane introduced "Mr. Robino" as his backer to
Don Miguel, the Spanish consul, and the three men lunched together
at the Ritz. The plump suave diplomat was impressed by Delane's
backer and the sums he seemed prepared to spend.
"It will be a pleasure to do business with you,
Mr. Robino," he said. "My friends in Barcelona can get you anything
you wish. The merchandise we refer to it as cognac will be
packed inside cases of olive oil."
"You mean that's supposed to get it through
customs?" Brown said scornfully.
"No, no," Don Miguel assured him. "A friend of
mine takes care of that. He is out of town at the moment. When he
returns I will try to arrange a meeting."
Days passed before Don Miguel again appeared.
With him was a man whom he introduced as Tey de Torrents, a small
assured man with prematurely gray hair. He was one of Montreal's
wealthiest importers. He questioned Brown so sharply, his bargaining
was so shrewd, that the Mountie was convinced this man was the
mastermind of the ring.
They reached an impasse when "Robino" refused to
pay in advance. "You ask us to take all the risk, Mr. Robino," de
Torrents said. "There is only one other way. You must yourself go to
Spain. Don Miguel will give you a letter of introduction to our
associate, Felix Martorell of Barcelona."
In Barcelona, Brown took a room at the Ritz.
Then he waited for Staff Sergeant Salt, who was also enroute to
Spain in the guise of an English army captain; he needed Salt's
testimony to support his own evidence. Salt arrived on the next ship
and Brown went to see Martorell.
Felix Martorell was a prosperous wine merchant
and landowner, a pudgy, popeyed little man whose appearance masked
an acute mind. His son, a youthful replica of his father,
interpreted for him.
"You have come at a bad time, Senor Robino. We
have just had a revolution, you know. We are under martial law. The
soldiers search everyone on the street. The goods you want, we
cannot get them at any price, not even to oblige our good friend Don
Miguel. My father wishes me to say how exceedingly sorry he is that
you have come so far for nothing."
Brown talked it over in private with Salt, then
went back to Martorell. "If I can't get drugs," he said, "how about
Martorell's shrewd popeyes studied his face. "I
can give you a good price on alcohol," he agreed at length. "How
many cases would you require?"
Brown had no authority to spend government money
on alcohol. He hesitated. "How about fifty?"
"Fifty!" Martorell exclaimed in astonishment.
"Fifty cases? It is nothing!" Brown could see that he had suddenly
grown wary. "My dear Mr. Robino, do you ask me to believe that you,
an American millionaire, would come all the way to Spain for only
fifty cases of alcohol?"
"Look," Brown said, "I might as well tell you
the truth. I didn't expect to make money on this trip. I came here
for two reasons to contact you and to see if your friend de
Torrents is telling the truth when he says he
can get the stuff through customs. If he can I'm prepared to spend
millions of dollars with you. But it's drugs I want, not alcohol.
This is a test case. I don't intend to risk any more than I need
Martorell and his son conferred in rapid
Spanish. A smile broke over the son's face. "Ah, Senor Robino, my
father agrees. You are indeed a wise man. We will send your fifty
cases in care of Senor Tey de Torrents. It will take us a month to
get the proper receptacles. There is no need that you wait. Leave
the money with our bank. They will pay us when we have made the
shipment." Later, Martorell suggested that if their big deals went
well he and Brown should form a world-wide drug syndicate. He had
contacts, he said, in Central Europe and North Africa. "Robino"
would head the North American branch.
Back in Montreal, Brown found de Torrents
suspicious. "Robino" had been shadowed by one of Martorell's men,
who had seen him in conversation with a certain Captain Parker
(Salt), who could be an English secret service agent. Brown passed
it off as two English-speaking people meeting by chance. But four
months passed and the shipment did not arrive. Salt and Brown were
worried. Not only was this their only hope of exposing the scandal
in customs and of smashing the biggest smuggling ring in the city,
but their very reputations were at stake, for an Ottawa customs
official, in a letter to the commissioner, insinuated that Salt and
Brown had fabricated the whole affair for a profitable holiday.
By December the conspirators were accusing each
other of treachery. Then de Torrents received a cable from
Martorell. The delay had been caused by a shortage of containers.
It was only the first of a comedy of errors. The
ship that was to carry the alcohol caught fire and burned. Martorell
canceled the next sailing, via New York, when he heard of a big drug
seizure in that port. With the shipment due to arrive any day, Brown
was called to Vancouver to testify in another case. He returned in
time to hear that part of the shipment had been lost. The missing
cans were found in Pittsburgh, damaged and leaking, as reported by
the United States customs, "a liquid curiously thin for olive oil."
It passed the Montreal customs nevertheless, and
"Robino" agreed to pay de Torrents $3500 to bribe the customs
officials. At this critical juncture, negotiations paused, suspended
precariously, while the Mounties talked Ottawa customs officials out
of their stubborn demand that Brown ask de Torrents for a receipt, a
course tantamount to Brown showing the smuggler his badge.
On the day of the payoff de Torrents walked into
a downtown bank. He gave his name to the teller who handed over "Robino's"
check. De Torrents cashed it at once, receiving $100 bills. He did
not know that the bills were marked or that Mounties were shadowing
Meanwhile, Salt and two other Mounties were
searching the Spanish consul's apartment while Don Miguel,
white-faced and shaking, blustered, threatened and pleaded by turns.
Salt was unperturbed. The consul had no diplomatic immunity.
"You can at least," Don Miguel said, "spare my
the embarrassment of escorting me through the
streets like a common criminal."
Salt agreed. He sent his two men ahead and he
and the consul walked alone down the street toward the RCMP office.
They met another Spaniard. Don Miguel stopped. Talking hurriedly in
Spanish, paying no attention to Salt, he tried to pass some letters
to his friend.
Salt took his arm. Don Miguel wrenched away. He
lifted his cane in a threatening gesture and shoved Salt toward his
friend. Salt sprang aside and the consul took a pratfall over a
The scuffle, protested in London by the Spanish
ambassador, had the makings of an international incident. But Salt
could prove that the consul had been treated courteously. Don Miguel
and de Torrents were jailed, the importer's license was canceled,
Martorell was banned from ever again exporting to Canada, and an
inquiry into the customs led to a royal commission report, a
shakeup, and complete reform of the system.
Most narcotics cases are broken by tips. It
seems a simple method but the Mountie must inspire confidence. He
must be a man whom even the faithless will trust to keep faith.
MOUNTIE at the scene of a crime leans heavily on routine. He turns
frequently to what he calls the Ident (Identification) Branch, to a
group of police methods
so astonishingly successful that their use has
become as automatic as using a cliche. And even as people who talk
in cliches are sometimes considered dull, so the investigator is
sometimes thought to be using routine as a substitute for judgment.
"Routine" is perhaps the weariest word in the
lexicon of police terms. Yet it is based on one of the most
mysterious facets of life: of the myriad creatures that burrow,
crawl and walk this earth no two are exactly alike. Beneath its
apparent solidity, all matter is constantly changing; in the very
act of creation the womb is altered, the mold is broken, never again
to create in precisely that form. Police routine, the methods of the
Identification Branch, are founded on this birthright of singularity
of mind, skin, features and odor.
An alert Mountie keeps tab on the crooks in his
district, including the itinerant professionals. He strolls down to
the railway station to meet the incoming train, spots a familiar
face and calls, "Hey, Joe! What are you doing in town?" Joe is a
safecracker. They have a coffee together. "Don't worry, pal," the
safecracker says, "I'm not stopping off this trip."
If Joe does stop off, the Mountie makes sure he
can find him if he wants him. He knows Joe's hangouts. He knows
Joe's friends. If Joe decides to pull a job, the Mountie knows his
Much of this intimate knowledge is lost when the
Mountie transfers or retires. But some by no means enough is
saved. From all over the country it trickles in to the
Identification Branch to be broken down and filed in the crime
index, a remarkable compilation of criminal folklore.
The index operates on the theory that criminals
are human, by which it is meant that they have their petty faults,
likes and dislikes. Like everyone else, they form habits, personal
and professional. One burglar drinks all the liquor in the house he
is robbing. Another always defiles it before he leaves. One forger
cashes all his checks accompanied by a Pomeranian. Another bites his
fingernails while he works.
In Winnipeg, in 1953, a city detective was
called to the scene of a safeblowing. He noted the details, filled
in a form, and mailed it to the RCMP crime index section, two big
file-lined rooms supervised by a cheerful round-faced staff
sergeant, D. H. "Cass" Cassidy. One of his staff of twenty-seven
typed out a small card headed "Breaks safe, outside shot," and filed
it in the MO (for method of operation) under "Unsolved crimes" in
the safeblowing category. He also made out another card headed
"Wears socks over shoes."
Over the next year a half-dozen cards were filed
with this wording. The forms came in from diverse points in
Manitoba. Several detectives suspected but could not prove that this
MO was the trade mark of Mike Tokar, a well-known safeblower.
One rainy night in August 1954, a man broke a
window at the back of the Co-op store in the little hamlet of
Percival, Saskatchewan. He unlatched the window, climbed in, knelt
beside the square box safe, rimmed the door with nitroglycerine,
blew it open and disappeared with $421. All this was apparent
immediately to the Mounties, who investigated. Outside in the mud
beneath the broken window they found footprints with a strange,
fine-textured tread. It looked as if the safeblower had tried to
disguise his shoe prints by pulling socks over his shoes.
They teletyped the MO to the crime index section
which sent back Mike Tokar's name and photograph. The photograph was
picked from a hundred others by a Co-op clerk, who had seen this man
casing the store the day of the robbery. It was picked out again by
a bus driver who had driven him east in the night. The man had paid
his fare with a five-dollar bill. The Mounties asked to see the
bill, noted a torn corner, examined all the floor sweepings in the
Co-op's rubbish bins and found a matching corner. Mike Tokar was
arrested three weeks later in Winnipeg and from the lead which his
MO supplied he was put out of business for six years.
"In a case like this," says the index
supervisor, Staff Sergeant Cassidy, "we forget about name some of
these guys have a dozen and look under method. Crooks are like
anyone else they can make more money by specializing. They do what
they can do best. Some have nerve. Some have wit. Others are smooth
talkers. They find out from experience that a certain method works
and they go on using it. A second-story man stays on the second
story. Even if he's caught on the tenth offense, he figures it's a
tough break and his specialty is still a good racket."
The method of operation, or
modus operandi, is first broken down into
types of crimes: Armed Robbery,
Bigamy, Baby Farming. Armed Robbery is then
broken down into Bank, Business place, etc. It's subdivided into the
time of day or night the crime was committed, and it's subdivided
again by the kind of weapon used, and so on for each crime.
The criminals themselves are filed by
appearance, age, height, habits, even by conversation. Under
deformities are such headings as Gait,
Hair, Teeth, Scars, Tattoos, Warts; and each of these headings is
subdivided. Under hair,
for example, is Dyed, Redheads and Bald (a huge file). Under
habits are such items as: Wears monocle,
Takes snuff, Scotchtapes fingerprints, Carries dynamite, Uses
hypnotism. Under speaks of
are Dieppe, Brother in U.S. Army, Girl friend, Operations.
Criminals, too, have their conversational staples.
Sometimes an investigator writes in and says his
only lead is a witness who heard one robber say to another: "Come
on, Dusty, let's get out of here." This may be enough to break the
case. The index holds hundreds of cards filed under such descriptive
monickers as Boxcar Tony, Boom-Boom, Bread-Eyes, Flannelcoat,
Flattop, Foxy, Georgie the Greek, Gentleman Jim and Howie the Rat.
Some of the queerest specimens in the human
galaxy have their eccentricities listed in the index. There is the
sadistic German with the three missing wives who, police are sure
but cannot prove, tossed them into a red-hot furnace. There is
Joseph Jacques of Hull, Quebec, greatest of lonely heart swindlers,
a short, fat, bald-headed craftsman who extracted $100,000 from four
to five hundred ladies without leaving the shabby boardinghouse room
wherein he composed his passionate letters.
The MO records the antics of such off-beat
characters as le Marquis Joseph Charles Gouin de Fontenailles. This,
at least, was the name he signed to the hotel register in Joliette,
Quebec, early in 1947. The marquis at once contacted the town's
officials and businessmen. He spread before them the blueprints for
a large industry and captivated his listeners with his story of the
benefits that the town would enjoy by the building of this factory.
The marquis was a scrawny man with a sallow bony
face. His shirt looked as if he had slept in it. His brown suit was
badly worn. His shoes were disreputable. Yet he had charm,
indefinable style, he held his liquor well, his high forehead,
beaked nose and keen eyes were aristocratic. He confided that he had
a secret process for waterproofing cement blocks, invented when he
was an engineer on France's Maginot Line. The Germans had
confiscated his estates but before he went underground he had
managed to transfer a few million dollars to a bank in Mexico City.
This money would be arriving in Joliette soon.
In a few days the marquis was the town's biggest
celebrity. Officials bustled in and out of his hotel room. He was
given his choice of thirty-three lots to build his factory on. Soon
his site was swarming with bulldozers, trucks and steamshovels. He
hired several hundred workmen, skilled and unskilled. All Joliette's
truck drivers left their jobs to work for the marquis and the town
had no one to clean its streets.
At the week's end the hotel manager brought
Gouin his bill, apologizing diffidently for troubling a busy man
with such a trifling matter. The marquis's sensibilities were
affronted. He demanded the hotel owner's name and began a forceful
discussion of the conditions under which he would buy the hotel. The
chastened manager took care not to again offend a man for whom he
might soon be working.
Payday came for the workers. Gouin gave them
postdated checks that Joliette merchants were only too happy to
honor. The marquis arranged to buy more land, he talked of a second
factory, he shopped for a luxurious summer home. His workmen felt
themselves lucky to be working for a nobleman who never stopped to
count the cost. One prominent Joliette citizen gave the marquis his
home to use as a temporary business headquarters, and he moved his
family to Montreal to spare the great lord inconvenience.
It was not until the merchants presented the
postdated checks at the bank that the truth broke like a thunderbolt
over the town. The marquis had no money. He was unknown to the bank,
though not, however, to the Mounties. The crime index file showed
that in 1940 the U.S. legation in Ottawa had asked if it was true
that Joseph Charles Gouin de Fontenailles would be Canada's next
ambassador to Peru. He had, it seems, created similar though tesser
commotions in New York and Washington, apparently for no motive
other than making himself feel important. The Mounties,
investigating, had found that he was a Montreal potwasher, a French
Canadian farmer's son who had picked up some engineer's lingo.
"Le marquis" departed from Joliette in haste but
not without style. He took a cab to Montreal, where he ditched the
unpaid driver. He was picked up shortly afterward at a hotel in
Quebec City. Characteristically, he was dickering to buy the hotel.
The endless gradations of personality listed in
the index, the countless gambits and gimmicks, cast across the
surface of crime a constantly changing pattern of ingenuity. But the
index also reveals with striking monotony the resistance of humans
to change. Here are the cards of men caught year after year by the
same idiosyncrasy, who find it more comfortable, more profitable, to
remain in a rut. The Mountie cannot allow his respect for criminal
cleverness to blind him to criminal folly.
The crime index, more commonly called the MO, is
the systemized experience of many policemen. It explains why the
Mountie leans on routine so heavily. He is not inclined to desert
proven tactics for the chimera of swift results by theory. He does
not lightly plunge into the unknown. While he sometimes uses
deduction, and occasionally intuition, he prefers to plod from fact
to fact. His deliberation conveys a deceitful impression of
stolidity. Actually, an open mind is so much a habit with him that
its openness seldom makes him uneasy. He does not feel impelled to
close it by leaping to conclusions.
The oldest method of tracing criminals is still
the most used: by the tented arches, whorls and loops of their
fingerprints. The first-century Chinese mystery writer, Shi-nain-gan,
mentions fingerprinting prisoners and by now almost everyone knows
that his skin has an individual design.
And yet, in the fingerprint bureau of the
Identification Branch, twenty-four searchers check six or seven
hundred prints a day. They come in from police forces all over
Canada and the world. A surprising number are left at the scene of
the crime by careless criminals. But the value in fingerprinting
today lies less in proving guilt than establishing identity.
In 1917, for example, a man convicted for rape
was sent to prison for fifteen years. In 1924 he got his
ticket-of-leave, or parole. In 1930 he broke his parole. A warrant
was issued for his arrest but he had disappeared. For twenty years
nothing was heard of the man. Then, in 1950, a Toronto city
policeman picked up a man for ringing a false fire alarm. Instead of
paying a $50 fine the man chose jail. In the usual manner his
fingerprints were sent to be filed in the RCMP bureau in Ottawa. The
Mounties, in their routine check, discovered that the prints were
those of the missing parole breaker, who went back to the
penitentiary for eight years, two months, and twenty-five days. A
crook can change his name but not his prints, though a few have
tried by plastic surgery, scarring their hands in a highly
distinctive and futile fashion; for even the pores of the palms will
produce an identifiable pattern.
In a less infallible sense than fingerprints
every human feature can be identified. A novel example occurred
during the 1954 trial of author Raymond Arthur Davies, accused of
obtaining a passport by fraud.
The Crown had to prove that Davies's name had
once been Rudolph Shohan, which Davies denied. RCMP investigators
dug up two photographs of the youthful Shohan and two fairly recent
portraits of Davies. A corporal in the Indentification Branch,
Reginald Abbott, took these four odd-sized pictures and enlarged
them to the same size on transparent film. Then he photographed each
feature separately and made transparent film cut-outs.
In court, Abbott placed on the judge's stand a
square boxlike viewer. He put a transparent picture of Rudolph
Shohan in front of it. Opal light illuminated the features through a
grid of numbered horizontal and vertical lines.
"You will notice the shape of the head," Abbott
said. "The hairline . . . where the waves break in the hair . . .
the angle at which the ears abut from the head . . ."
He superimposed the second picture of Rudolph
Shohan, a side view, and pointed out the similarities: "The rims of
the eyes have the same thickness ... the eyebrows in both pictures
suggest an abrupt break above the nose . . ." Then he did the same
thing with his cut-outs of each separate feature. He compared the
two pictures of the youth, the two pictures of the adult, and then
the conclusive comparison one from each set.
The defense counsel contested every point. When
Abbott dwelt on the individuality of ears, the lawyer protested, "Do
you mean to tell me that there are a million different ears?"
"There are many times that number," Abbott said.
"There's at least four parts of the ear that we can see at one time,
the angle, size, surface contour and perimeter contour. Each of
these have eight parts, the helix, anti-helix, fossa, and so forth.
The number of combinations possible for identification is
astronomical." Abbott's testimony, the first of its kind in Canadian
courts, played a large part in convicting Davies.
Abbott, before he enlisted, was a tombstone
cutter and a sculptor of store-window models. In 1949, he went to
the head of his branch, Inspector Ralph Wonnacott, and said, "I'd
like to sculpt a plaster likeness of you and the commissioner." The
commissioner then was Stuart Taylor Wood, whose jutting jaw and
gruff manner belied a forbearing nature.
When Wood saw the results he sent for Abbott.
"I'll send you anywhere you want to go to study sculpture," he said.
Abbott spent a year under Oronzio Malldarelli at Columbia
University, then began his unique system of sculpting criminals by
ear, that is, from verbal descriptions.
In 1950, when an unknown bank robber killed a
Mountie in Montreal, Abbott spent a day questioning witnesses: "Did
his cheekbones protrude? What shape were his lips? Did he seem like
a nervous type?" After getting more than a hundred comparison points
Abbott sculpted a plaster of Paris head in four hours.
He showed a photograph of it to the witnesses.
"Would you say his jaw was round enough?" he asked. "Was the face
longer?" He made changes, then photographed the finished bust for
the monthly RCMP
Gazette, which publishes pictures of
"most-wanted criminals." As it happened, the bust did not help catch
the robber, Thomas Rossler, but it might well have had he not been
picked up first from another lead. "As soon as I saw that picture in
the post office," Rossler said, "I knew that I was finished."
Artist-policemen have been capturing unknown
crooks for years by the "speaking likeness" sketch, or
portrait parle, but this is the first
development of the method into three dimensions. After seeing
Abbott's bust of bank robber Leo Cahill, the Ontario Provincial
Police wrote the RCMP: 'Wonderful work . . . we're all for this
system." It is very new yet, but Abbott, who carries around a photo
of his bust of a still uncaught hatchet murderer, pats his wallet
and says, "One of these days this will be in court."
It may seem paradoxical that in 1935, a year
well into the age of modern science, a crime detection agency would
return to a method used by police in ancient Rome. In 1935 the RCMP
recruited regimental number K470, the first dog to become an
official member of the force.
Since the turn of the century dogs have been
trained in criminology, notably in Germany and Austria. But
recognition has been slow. It was K470 himself, Dale of Caw-salta,
and his owner, Sergeant John Cawsey, who finally convinced the
Cawsey had trained Dale, a German shepherd, to
track down thieves, an experiment that his superiors had been
watching for several years. In the fall of 1935, while stationed at
Calgary, Alberta, the sergeant tuned in a midnight newscast and
heard an appeal for help. Two-year-old Eileen Simpson had strayed
from her farm home some forty miles north early that afternoon and
could not be found.
Cawsey and two constables drove north with Dale.
It was raining heavily. Eight miles out they stopped to check a
parked car. The man in the car could not explain the goods piled in
the back seat flashlights, purses, knives, pen and pencil sets
or why he was sitting there alone. Commanded to search, Dale led the
Mounties through a water-soaked field to a man hidden in chest-high
wheat. Near where the man was hidden the dog found more pens and
pencils. The Mounties took the two men back to Calgary under arrest,
set out again and arrived on the Simpson farm at dawn.
The farmyard had been trampled by more than a
hundred men, still searching sodden fields and patches of woods.
With all these conflicting scents, the smell of farm animals, the
blanketing odor of manure and the steady downpour of rain, Dale
seemed to have little chance of success. The parents, grateful for
any hope, gave Cawsey one of their little girl's sweaters. Taking
the scent, Dale sniffed the area, circling slowly for two hours.
Suddenly he straightened out, running fast across the fields, and
disappeared into four-foot grain. When Cawsey caught up with him,
Dale was licking the little girl's face as she lay concealed by the
tall wheat, mute with exhaustion. She recovered and the Humane
Society awarded Dale a certificate. A Chicago magazine made him a
member of the Legion of Honor of the Dog World of the United States,
and the RCMP decided to enlist dogs for permanent duty.
The force has about fifteen dogs, mostly German
shepherds, stationed from coast to coast. A half-dozen more are
usually in training at Sydney, Nova Scotia. Some are bought, some
are bred; in either case their pedigree matters much less than their
character, which is carefully checked for bad habits such as chasing
cars, and unsuitable traits such as nervousness. They must be big
but not clumsy, strong yet quick, fierce but gentle.
Training starts at an easy pace when a pup is
six months old. Each pup is assigned to a "dog-master" who feeds,
grooms and trains it. With a special training collar he checks the
pup's roughness, teaches it the meaning of "heel," "sit up,"
"fetch," "stop." When the dog has learned to instantly obey a word
or gesture, his serious training begins. He learns to track someone
he knows who has hidden, then to track a stranger, then to drop his
nose on command and track any given scent. By following a veteran
lead dog, or the lure of a tossed bone, he learns to scale a
ten-foot wall, jump through a blazing window, leap a barbed-wire
fence, creep along a narrow ledge and climb a ladder. He learns to
crawl on his belly under rifle fire, to disarm a gunman by leaping
at his gun arm, swinging the man's arm behind him with the force of
the leap the equivalent of a simple police hold. Most difficult,
he learns to refuse food from a stranger, which some day may save
him from poisoning by a criminal.
The "secret" of training an RCMP dog is patience
and kindness. A dog-master never strikes his charge. When a dog is
disobedient he makes it crawl a few yards on its belly pride's
antidote of humility. "When a dog does well he is patted and
praised," a dog-master says. "A dog likes appreciation. If a trainer
is kind a dog naturally wants to please him."
By the end of their twelve months' course the
dogs have learned eighty different lessons and are fully responsible
public servants. One dog, missing from his kennel in the evening,
was located alone on the training field voluntarily rehearsing his
lessons. And trainers like to recall the veteran police service dog
who was sent back to school to take a refresher course. He was
tracking in some bushes when a pup broke away from its handler and
went yelping after him. All at once the yelping ceased and the
veteran emerged from the bushes pulling the half-choked pup by its
leash. He returned him to the dog-master, then trotted back to his
The dogs are used most frequently in excise
cases, which has earned them the sobriquet of "booze hounds," They
have an uncanny talent for ferreting out illicit liquor. Police dog
Chief, given the order "Booze" on a farm in Saskatchewan, ran
straight for a bush half a mile away where a 45-gallon barrel of
mash had been buried in a pit. On another farm he dug into a
foul-smelling garbage heap to uncover the copper coils of a still.
Several times he discovered tightly corked bottles of moonshine
buried under several inches of earth. Another fine booze hound,
Egon, who worked in Nova Scotia, once located a hidden still, led
the Mounties to a farmhouse, slipped in when the door was answered,
circled a roomful of people, sniffing until he found his man, then
sat down and stared at him so accusingly that the disconcerted
moonshiner confessed. Egon had only one drawback. He acquired such a
taste for the mash that he had to be followed closely to preserve
The dogs have proved their worth in helping
solve every kind of crime m which the criminal leaves a scent. When
a British Columbia woodsman murdered a young girl and disappeared,
police dog Cliffe dug him out of the hay in
a barn the posse had just searched. When
George Chupiuk clubbed a sixteen-year-old Saskatchewan girl to
death, then denied being near the girl's home, dogs Tell and Ignatz
disproved his statement by digging from fresh-fallen snow
a blood-stained handkerchief and a box of
cartridges that Chupiuk had discarded in his flight. When a
housewife missed a gold watch just after a call by a fruit vendor
and a search of the vendor failed to locate the watch, police dogs
Sultan and Major turned it up in three minutes flat in
a snowdrift thirty feet from the road,
where the vendor had thrown it when he saw the Mounties closing in.
And there was the clerk of a Manitoba trucking firm who reported to
the Mounties that his cash box had been robbed. The investigators
found an office back window broken, tracks in the alley below, but
the dust on the inside window sill undisturbed. Police dog Sultan
followed the tracks from the window around to the front door.
Inside, he padded up to the clerk, bared his fangs and snarled. The
clerk confessed. He had hoped to cover his theft by faking a
In 1955, police dog Silver tracked three bank
robbbers and recovered $27,000, for which the bank presented him
with an engraved silver collar and an 18-inch shank bone. The dogs
have tracked down lunatics who tried to derail trains, safeblowers
who tried to foil them by rubbing their boots with oil of mustard,
escaped prisoners of war who sprinkled pepper along their trail. One
dog dug a single button out of ten inches of snow, evidence that
later convicted a man with a missing coat button. Another tracked a
man from the scent on a spent cartridge.
The dog-masters spend much time helping people
in trouble. After walking home from shopping in town, an Alberta
farmer's wife was dismayed to find that her purse was missing. It
contained her husband's insurance, bond receipts and their harvest
money, all they had to last them through the winter. For two days
they searched the straw-littered two-mile route to town. Finally, in
despair, the husband informed the RCMP. The Mounties sent for police
dog Smoky. Nosing through the wheat stubble he caught the
three-day-old scent and came trotting back to drop the purse in
front of his master and the overjoyed farmer's wife.
Most gratifying for the dog-master is the
finding of lost persons. And this is often a dog's hardest task, for
he is seldom brought in until the scent is cold and the trail is
fouled by searchers. In Peace River in mosquito season, Smoky found
a three-year-old girl in an area already covered by a search party
one hundred strong. In New Brunswick, Cliffe led a party through
dense bush and pouring rain to the still-living body of a doctor who
had wandered off while convalescing after a nervous breakdown. In
Bat-tleford, one black and bitter winter's night, Tell followed a
runaway mental patient to where the man lay in the snow unconscious.
In Nova Scotia, Perky tracked a woman lost several days to the edge
of a lake, jumped in and located her body beneath the surface. In
Halifax, Egon found and brought back a lost child whom he tracked
along paved streets through traffic. In Manitoba, Sultan followed
the trail of an 86-year-old woman lost for three days in the bush.
When the searchers arrived she was crying over and over "The dog is
my savior," and holding Sultan around the neck so tightly he could
not give voice, yet he had made no attempt to free himself.
No scientific device yet invented can match the
nose of a dog. Once a small girl, whose family was on relief, lost
the money her mother had given her to pay the family's relief bill
of $8.75. The little girl knew Dale, the original K470, better known
as the "Silent Partner." Sobbing, she went to the house where he was
boarded. Dale retraced her route, took the scent from the air,
bounded off and came back with the money. He found three dollar
bills that had blown out of an old lady's milk pail. He once darted
after a dollar bill blowing across a vacant lot and at Sergeant
Cawsey's command tracked its owner, a total stranger, and gave the
astonished man his dollar back.
Before Dale was struck off force by a board of
officers and retired with a small life pension, he had saved
Cawsey's life by leading the sergeant to shelter when his car
stalled in a storm on open prairie.1
He had tracked down the murderers of two Mounties near Canmore,
Alberta, and solved a difficult arson case: the burning of a
farmer's house when gasoline fumes exploded after someone had soaked
the cellar walls. From the swab left near the cellar door, some
gasoline-soaked underwear, Dale somehow picked up the scent and
followed it through a choking dust storm to the home of the guilty
The police service dog at the scene of a crime
is a model investigator. He is quiet unless he has something to say,
gentle unless force is needed. With uncomplaining patience he moves
along the trail in an unbroken line from fact to fact. He comes into
a case with his instincts sharp, his senses well developed, and his
mind uncluttered by any of the preconceived notions that blind both
inner and outer sight.
SIR Arthur Conan
Doyle was accurate in picturing the English police as laughing at
Sherlock Holmes's use of a microscope. Conan Doyle, a medical man,
was a first-rate prophet. Not only have the microscope and the newer
scientific devices transformed the machinery of criminal
investigation, but the very course of justice has been altered.
The impact of science can clearly be seen from
the vantage point of Malta, a British colony, early in the 1700's.
Judge Cambo, a prominent jurist, had risen early one morning.
Glancing out of his window he saw two men struggling. One man drew a
stiletto, stabbed the other and ran. The judge saw him plainly as he
came running back for his hat and as he ran off again he threw away
his stiletto sheath. Rooted to the window the judge saw a baker
approach, pick up the sheath and pocket it, then, on sighting the
body, take fright and run away.
The police on their rounds saw the baker running
and chased after him. On the grounds that the nsorder weapon fitted
the sheath in his pocket they committed him for trial before Judge
Cambo. The judge said nothing of what he had seen. He felt that his
ethics bound him to decide the baker's fate on the evidence
presented to his court and that he should not allow his personal
knowledge to influence his judgment
There was not enough evidence to convict the
baker. The judge accordingly ordered him tortured, a common legal
method of extracting evidence. The baker broke down under torture
and confessed. Judge Cambo now dutifully ordered him executed.
Judge Cambo's curious view of objectivity was
revealed when the real assassin confessed and mentioned seeing the
judge at the window. And since the judge was dismissed from his post
it is only fair to assume that his viewpoint was not typical. It
was, however, legal and it casts harsh light on legal methods and
theory of that time. Any modern crime case will show how far we have
come since then, but the contrast is especially sharp and the reason
is manifest in the work of the RCMP's crime laboratories.
The Mounties have always used scientists to help
solve crimes, but in 1937 the nearest thing they had to a lab was a
bedroom beside the officers' mess in Regina. Here Dr. Maurice
Powers, a medico-legal expert, made himself so indispensable with
his microscopes and his test tubes that he was given his own
laboratory, and four years later, in 1941, a second lab was set up
in Ottawa another reluctant concession to the age of the
By 1956, forty-six specialists nineteen with
science degrees were available to examine scenes of crime and
evidence for RCMP and other investigators. Under their smocks
twenty-eight of them wore a Mountie's brown work uniform; the others
were civilian members of the force and civil servants. Their
director, James Churchman, a strapping gray-haired superintendent
who served for years on detachment before he became a disciple of
Powers, speaks of their work with measured enthusiasm: "Last year we
handled 1300 cases. We traveled 280,000 miles, about eleven times
around the world, to present our evidence in court." Churchman holds
seminars on such subjects as "The Extraction and Purification of
Toxicologically Important Drugs with Emphasis on Alkaloids," and
encourages experiments to improve such techniques as lifting ink off
paper, collecting dust for evidence, and raising die impressions on
Most lab work is concerned with identifications:
linking or disassociating something found at the scene of a crime
with some particular suspect. An investigator sends in a murdered
woman's dress along with a single broken fiber and wants to know if
the fiber came from the dress. He sends in seeds, strands of hair,
samples of grain, paint scrapings from the bumper of a suspected
hit-and-run car. When an airman at Goose Bay, Labrador, suspected of
rape, said he hadn't been near the place the girl was assaulted, a
density comparison of the soil at the scene of the crime with the
soil in his pant cuffs proved he was lying. "When a man stole grain
in the old days," says a former head of the CIB, "we might go as far
as identifying it as No. 3 Northern. Now we can determine its water
content and trace it back."
In one case a farmer accused his next-door
neighbor of maliciously shooting his cattle. A Mountie checked,
found a cow with a hole in its leg, dug out the bullet and mailed it
to the lab. Examination under a microscope showed the bullet had
never been fired. It had been drawn from its case with pliers and
scored with a knife. The farmer had cut the hole in the cow's leg
himself and inserted the bullet to implicate his neighbor, whom he
The microscope is the criminologist's right
hand. Even dust is distinctive when highly magnified. It may contain
particles of metal, glass, microbes, skin, feathers, larvae or
vegetable matter. But the job takes skill. The expert must know how
to contrast the background to bring out the detail shape, marking
and color. Often he must stain, bleach or dehydrate the exhibit.
Sometimes he takes it down the hall to the chemist's bottle-lined
lab and has it chemically fixed to keep it from shrinking.
The chemist is traditionally an expert on
poisons. In an early lab case an Indian baby took ill and died.
Neighbors said that the mother, a Mrs. Coocoose, had poisoned the
child. The investigator found that just before the baby's death the
mother had induced it to drink some liquid from a sea shell, water
in which a powder had been dissolved. A pinch of the powder was sent
to the lab in Regina. Lab director Maurice Powers, B.A., M.D., C.M.,
Sc.D., was unable to identify the powder. But he had a friend, an
Indian medicine man, who gave him samples of Indian remedies,
including poisons. A comparative analysis showed that
Mrs. Coocoose had given her baby a powder made
from the root of the ratdesnake plant, a common Indian remedy for
lowering a high temperature. Dr. Powers thus concluded that Mrs.
Coocoose was telling the truth when she said that her baby had died
from a natural illness.
The poison business has long been in a slump. As
far back as the start of World War II the RCMP
Gazette observed: "Murders by poison are
becoming less frequent The administration of secret and deadly
poisons was a very elaborate science in ancient Egypt, Greece and
Rome, and poisoners and distillers of dangerous draughts were a
constant menace to human life in the Middle Ages . . . [but today]
pathologists and police experts have so perfected their methods that
the poison the criminal is able to obtain easily can infallibly be
traced even long after the death of the victim."
Synthetic drugs, however, are making poison
popular as a method of suicide, and with new drugs coming out every
year their identification is difficult. Unless the chemist starts
with a lead, he must run a long series of .tests. Each test reduces
the number of possibilities but it also destroys a bit of the
evidence, and the evidence is sometimes exhausted first. It is a
myth that the chemist can analyze anything in any quantity, but, as
the following examples show, his position has been improved by a
couple of recent innovations.
A man was found dead in the lavatory of a
Winnipeg restaurant. The cause of death could not be determined so
police sent the stomach and organs to the RCMP's Regina lab. The
chemist ran off the distillates first to see if the man had been
poisoned by drinking lemon extract, antifreeze or alcohol. Then he
put the solids through an ether wash and ended up with a puzzling
smear of crystals in his beaker. He ground them, mounted a sample on
a fiber, and placed it in the powder camera of what is called the
X-ray diffraction unit. As the sample slowly revolved it was struck
by X rays. The rays, reflecting off it onto a strip of sensitized
film, created a highly distinctive pattern. This pattern was
identified as one of the newer barbiturates.
In another typical case, a burglary, the
telephone wires had been cut. A detective picked up a suspect who
swore he hadn't been near the place. A knife was found in his pocket
and sent to the lab. Its blade was faintly stained with bronze. An
almost invisible speck of the substance was burned in the
spectrograph, a large, delicate, $15,000 machine. As it burned it
emitted a pattern of light that was automatically photographed, then
compared with the known light patterns of metals. It showed the
pattern for copper and tin, an alloy in telephone wire, which
completed the case against the burglar.
In both these examples the evidence was too
meager to test chemically. And in a profession where speed is all
important, the spectrograph can contract a two-day series of
chemical tests to half a day.
A large number of investigations revolve around
"documents," a loose term that includes forged checks, libelous
letters and holdup notes ("This is a holdup. Give me big bills.").
In 1953 a Mountie investigating fraud in the government sent the
document examiners seven looseleaf notebooks, 1547 worksheets and
249 typewritten pages.
Under a simple microscope they studied the
characteristic slant, skips, spacing, pressure and proportion of the
writing. They compared the distinctive defects of each typewriter
used, the uneven wear of the type, the breaks in alignment. It took
fourteen weeks of painstaking work to eliminate all the suspects
except the guilty clerk.
Every year much money is burned, or claimed to
be burned, in fires. Once fire broke out in a city treasurer's
office just after the taxes had been collected. There were rumors
that the treasurer had stolen the money, then started the fire to
cover his theft. An investigator carefully collected the charred
fragments of paper that remained in the treasurer's safe. The
document experts placed them between two sensitized plates and kept
them in darkness for two weeks. When the plates were developed they
showed the inking of Bank of Canada notes, and when pieced together,
accounted for the taxes that were missing. The treasurer was cleared
and the bank replaced the money.
The physicist is fast expanding his role in
criminology. In 1953, an army driver in the Maritimes crashed a
Plymouth service car. He had skidded 72 feet on the highway,
ploughed through a ditch, through 98 feet of swamp, smashed down a
tree, then sailed through the air for another 32 feet and he swore
he had only been doing 45. It looked as though he'd be
court-martialed till Ronald Rodgers, a young RCMP physicist,
testified that the soldier, strange though it seemed, was telling
Rodgers had used calculus to find the speed
required to throw the car 32 feet through the air. He'd reckoned the
energy it would take to uproot the tree. He'd locked the brakes on a
car of the same make and dragged it through swampy land back of the
Ottawa crime lab to find the force needed to cross the swamp. The
ditch was a problem of energy lost in falling. He had worked out the
road skid and ended up with a speed of 46.5 miles per hour. The case
against the soldier was dismissed.
The physicist is especially useful in cases that
hinge on a bullet's angle of fire. During the summer of 1953 on a
farm near Cobourg, a mother called her son, aged twenty, for tea. He
didn't answer. She went outside to call him again and found him dead
in the yard, shot through the chest. She called the Ontario
Provincial Police. They recovered the bullet, a .22, then brought in
all .22 rifles in the district for testing at the RCMP's Ottawa lab.
As the guns came in, Rodgers, the physicist,
took them to the basement and fired them into a bullet-recovery tank
designed by lab director Churchman. Back in his cubicle, Rodgers put
the bullets under a microscope. Through the high-powered magnifying
lens he could clearly see the tiny scratches and burrs left on the
lead by the gun barrel. No two gun barrels in the world make the
same marks. On his sixth test the markings were identical. Rodgers
photographed the bullets through a microscope.
The gun belonged to a sixteen-year-old lad from
a neighboring farm. The lad, frightened and grief-stricken, claimed
that the dead boy had been his friend, that he had shot at a
starling on a post in his own yard. Rodgers was asked to do a
calculation on this statement.
At the inquest in a courthouse near Cobourg,
Rodgers was called to the witness stand. "Did this bullet come from
this gun?" asked the crown attorney, holding up the lad's
"It did," Rodgers said. He showed his
photographs of the bullets, enlarged about fifty times their actual
"Could this bullet reach from the spot this boy
says he shot from to where the body was found?"
"Yes, sir. The bullet would reach that far if
the gun barrel were elevated forty minutes, or two thirds of a
degree above the line of sight. The elevation required to hit the
bird would also be two thirds of a degree."
"And would the bullet still be traveling fast
enough to cause death?"
"Yes, sir. When the bullet left the gun barrel
it was traveling at fourteen hundred feet a second. By the time it
traveled the entire distance, eight hundred feet, it was still
traveling at eight hundred feet a second." Rodgers displayed a large
chart illustrating the calculations he had used.
The jury foreman, an amateur ballistics student,
interrupted. "Here's a ballistics table from a recognized book. You
can see from this that the bullet wouldn't reach that far."
The hearing was moved to the scene of the
killing. Rodgers put a card on the post where the bird was supposed
to have been, and propped up a sheet of plywood where the dead boy
had stood. Staff Sergeant William Sutherland, a champion rifle shot,
fired the sixteen-year-old's rifle at the card. The bullet
penetrated the plywood. The jury decided that death was accidental.
It is interesting to compare the plight of this
lad, the soldier, the treasurer, the farmer's neighbor and Mrs.
Coocoose with that of the baker in Judge Cambo's court. The jurists
of Cambo's day placed great emphasis on the confession. They tended
to assume a suspect guilty till proved innocent, by which they
justified torture as a means of getting evidence. The advance of
science has given judges confidence in the experts. It has enabled
police to convict a criminal without a confession, which has led to
the gradual abandonment of torture in its last and illegal form, the
third degree. As scientific methods grow common in even minor cases,
judges are demanding more and stronger evidence, and while the
guilty may sometimes go free it becomes increasingly difficult to
convict an innocent person.
In this process the lab man contributes more to
his force than new techniques. The scientific method is more a way
of looking at things than the use of any particular instrument. The
scientists bring to their work a devotion to objectivity. They have
reinforced the police ideal with the scientific tradition. In the
scientific tradition truth is pursued disinterestedly, as a value in
itself, the manifestation of reality.
AT two o'clock in the morning the ringing of the
tele-XJL phone awakened Superintendent Donald McKinnon, head of the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Newfoundland. He recognized the
voice at once. It was Premier Joseph Smallwood, the pint-sized
political giant who ruled the island with irrepressible zeal.
"Could you come to my office right away? It's
urgent!" the premier said.
When McKinnon arrived the premier was pacing his
room. Smallwood was perturbed, subdued. His career was at a
crossroads. Four years before, in 1950, he had hired a brilliant
Latvian-born economist, Dr. Alfred Valdmanis, to direct an
industrial renaissance. Now he wanted the RCMP to investigate this
man whom he had made his closest confidant, the second most powerful
man in the province. Smallwood, the hard-headed ex-farmer, ex-labor
leader, ex-radio commentator, father of confederation with Canada,
the brash bustling prophet of industrial prosperity, idol and oracle
of the poor, was convinced that the fate of his government hung upon
Smallwood had come into power on a promise to
cure his people of their chronic poverty by bringing new industry to
the island. A year's effort had blunted the edge of his optimism. He
had spent a million dollars on a survey of resources but Canadian
and U.S. businessmen wouldn't give it more than a glance. He was
willing to gamble the cash in his treasury, forty-three million
dollars, and his own political future on some government-sponsored
industries, but he couldn't find an economist willing to risk
reputation on such an unorthodox escapade.
In May 1950, Smallwood paid a visit to Trade
Minister C. D. Howe in Ottawa. One of Mr. Howe's staff told him that
Dr. Alfred Valdmanis, a part-time government adviser on trade and
immigration, might be the man he was looking for.
Valdmanis at this time was forty-one. He had
been born in Riga, son of a high school principal, a serious man who
would not allow his son a toy but who taught him to read and write
before his fourth birthday. In World War I, when Alfred was seven,
the Germans overran Latvia and took his father away. Enfeebled by TB
and tension, Alfred, the oldest of five children, hustled to help
earn the family's food in his after-school hours.
His school work caught the eye of the
government. Faced with a shortage of leaders, they picked seven
hundred boys, the brightest in the land, for special training. Every
term they were reselected. By 1929 only a dozen were left. Alfred
Valdmanis was one. He won degrees in philosophy, law and economics.
He mastered five foreign languages. He sat in the Reichsbank, a
young apprentice, and watched the financial wizard, Dr. Hjalmar
Schacht, gear the Nazi economy for war. He studied industries in a
dozen European countries and set up similar industries in Latvia.
Valdmanis was the boy wonder of European finance and at twenty-nine,
his dress suit studded with decorations, he took over Latvia's
Ministry of Finance, Trade and Industry.
In 1940 the Russians marched in. They shot all
cabinet ministers except Valdmanis, who was jailed for two weeks,
then released. According to the author of
Dianas Baltas Nibaltos, they had found
him an "honest man" and a useful one, for they made him head of
planning for the Commissar of Light Industry. The following year,
when the Germans drove out the Russians, Valdmanis fled, but
returned he says to lead the Latvian underground, though papers
released by the Latvian Legation at Washington state that he served
in the Nazi regime as Director General of Justice. In any case, he
ended the war in Germany as one of the Nazis' senior economists. He
had survived and impressed both the Russians and the Germans; now he
won the confidence of the Allies, first on Montgomery's staff, then
Eisenhower's, then as director of planning for the International
Refugee Organization in Geneva. In July 1948 he brought his wife and
five children to Canada, where at Ottawa's Carleton College he
taught political economy to students awed by the crisp ring of
authority in his voice.
Smallwood, reading Valdmanis's personnel file,
was intrigued. He invited Valdmanis to dinner in his suite in the
Chateau Laurier. As Smallwood outlined the challenge he was sizing
up his guest, a boyishly handsome man with an athletic carriage. He
was charming, at his ease, deferential yet reserved in a manner that
implied strength of character. He had assurance. His small firm
mouth shaped his thoughts with incisive clarity. In Latvia, he said,
he had solved many problems similar to Newfoundland's. Smallwood
quickened to the latent power of the man. After dinner he hired him
at ten thousand dollars a year.
In remarkably little time Valdmanis laid on the
premier's desk a plan to build three government-owned plants
cement, plaster and plywood solidly based on Newfoundland's
natural resources. He knew German firms, he said, that would build
these plants cheaply and quickly.
He also knew German firms that might be
persuaded to move to Newfoundland. He had many contacts in Europe,
They flew to Europe that summer of 1950, the
premier, Valdmanis and Attorney General Leslie Curtis. Curtis had
been skeptical of Valdmanis's claims. His attitude changed as they
toured factories in Sweden and Germany. These big efficient plants
were clearly doing a world-wide business. Their directors, men of
large affairs, greeted Valdmanis respectfully. "Why, he knows
everybody!" Curtis marveled.
Valdmanis also knew how some of his German
friends were thinking. They headed potential war industries. Their
output was restricted. If Russia moved into West Germany, as many
feared it might, their firms would be taken over. In Newfoundland,
if war came, the risk would be less. Unfortunately, they were banned
from taking capital out of Germany.
Valdmanis worked out a scheme whereby Smallwood
would loan Canadian dollars to any companies that wished to
emigrate. The loans would match the value of the equipment they
landed in Newfoundland. Happily, Small-wood signed contracts that
would bring in a leather tannery, a leather goods factory, a cotton
mill and a heavy-machinery plant.
This machinery plant, ostensibly Swiss, in
reality was a branch of the huge German firm, Miag. It was Miag that
Valdmanis now selected to build his cement plant. As Smallwood was
later to understand, a plan had been shaping in Valdmanis's mind for
some time around this deal.
On this three-million-dollar contract he was
pinning his hopes for wealth.
Accompanied by Attorney General Curtis and the
premier, Valdmanis walked into the big Miag board room. He sat down
at the board table across from the Miag negotiator. As the only man
in the Newfoundland party who understood German, all authority for
this deal was vested in him. A few feet away, Smallwood and Curtis
were talking in English with several other Miag directors. The
negotiations went smoothly. Hearing his name mentioned, Smallwood
looked up and smiled.
Valdmanis at that moment was explaining to the
German that if this deal went through there would, of course, be a
commission, the customary ten per cent, payable to the treasurer of
Mr. Smallwood's party. The two men returned the premier's smile.
The Miag negotiator nodded. He had not expected
this from Canadians but he was not surprised. He had operated this
way for years in Latin America. "How do we pay the money?" he asked.
As Smallwood later understood it, Valdmanis
replied, "You will pay it to me in Newfoundland, in Canadian funds,
as you receive the payments on your loan. Mr. Smallwood's name must
not come into it, of course." Again the two men exchanged smiles
with the premier. "I wouldn't even mention it to him if I were you.
He likes to pretend that these things don't exist."
With equal aplomb a like transaction was carried
off in the board room of Benno Schilde, another big German machinery
firm. Valdmanis awarded them a two and a half million dollar
contract to build the gypsum plant. The commission was to be
Miag started construction on the cement plant
that fall, Benno Schilde a few months later. Smallwood was delighted
to see his dream taking shape in concrete. He gave Valdmanis
unstinted praise for his planning and bargaining. When a crown
corporation was set up to manage the cement plant, he named it the
North Star Cement Company in honor of this genius who wore on his
lapel Sweden's Order of the North Star.
Equally impressed, a U.S. steel corporation
offered Valdmanis fifty thousand dollars a year and a
vice-presidency. Smallwood raised Valdmanis's salary to $25,000 a
year, an extraordinary sum in this low-salaried island. The premier
countered criticism by vowing that Valdmanis was "worth his weight
in gold to Newfoundland."
The following year Valdmanis sold eight more
German industries on the move to Newfoundland. Critics charged that
he was "flooding Newfoundland with Nazis." He became the central
issue of 1951's bitter election. He was called the Quisling of
Latvia, a friend of Hitler, a mass murderer of Jews a repetition
of charges made in Europe by Communists in their usual attempt to
discredit potential enemies. For it was Valdmanis's constant
ambition, the great dream of his life, to return to a free Latvia as
Smallwood branded the charges as "foul,
malicious and utterly false." Valdmanis, he said, had been checked
by British Military Intelligence, the RCMP, and twice by U.S. Army
Intelligence. "Some day the people of Newfoundland will raise a
monument to him [Valdmanis]," Joey Smallwood proclaimed. "If I lost
him I would not want to be premier." And whatever Newfoundland
citizens might feel about losing Valdmanis, the thought of losing
Joey was unbearable. In every district except St. John's they voted
him back to power.
Now Smallwood began his big pitch to bring in
not only industry, but capital. He set up a development company, the
Newfoundland and Labrador Corporation, and gave it timber, mineral
and water rights over an empire of thirty-two thousand square miles.
Its chairman was the fabulous financier Sir William Stephenson, who
formulated policy in New York. But the real ruler was president
Valdmanis was now the industrial boss of
Newfoundland, one of the highest-paid men in Canadian public life.
Latvians throughout Canada looked up to him and he had the respect
of the island's growing community of Germans, who, when they wanted
something, called "the Doctor." He had even more power, more
latitude of action, than he had had as Latvia's finance minister.
People spoke of the "Smallwood-Valdmanis government."
Only his lack of popularity marred Valdmanis's
prospects. Behind his back, his colleagues called him "fiihrer,"
"dictator," "czar." It did not seem to help that he could trim them
at tennis or bridge and play the piano with style. They were,
perhaps, inclined to resent a foreigner anyway, and one whose salary
was larger than theirs was particularly suspect. They mistrusted the
sincerity of his modest, winning manner and noted that his
courtliness did not extend to his staff. Finance Minister Gregory
Power, a lean dark saturnine man, did not even attempt to disguise
his distrust; more than once he urged Smallwood to get rid of
But the busy premier saw only a man whose labors
from morning till midnight had wrought a miracle: a dozen new
industries paying out wages, bringing in money; a dozen mining
companies scouring the hinterland. Valdmanis, he felt, was a great
man. He would not brook criticism of him. He gave him unquestioning
loyalty, absolute authority. In 1952, when a U.S. correspondent
asked the premier how his industrial program was shaping up,
Small-wood replied, "Hell, I don't know. Ask Valdmanis!"
Yet even Smallwood noticed that Valdmanis seemed
troubled though the doctor passed it off as overwork. Sometimes,
in Smallwood's office, he would raise his hands to his head in a
gesture theatrical yet distraught. "I'm tired, my Premier," he would
blurt. "I cannot sleep. I think sometimes I am going mad." He was
subject to violent headaches. He used huge amounts of aspirin. He
regularly took sleeping pills. On one occasion he called up his
brother Osvald in Montreal and said he was going to shoot himself.
Whatever it was that distracted Valdmanis so
desperately, it was slowly destroying his judgment, that superb
capacity for clear cold analysis. He made his first grave error
early in 1953. Sir William Stephenson, for personal reasons,
resigned as chairman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Corporation
and Valdmanis accepted an invitation to take his place. He decided
also to quit as the government's economic director and to move the
corporation's head office from St. John's to Montreal. It seemed a
harmless decision but it had two fatal defects: it encouraged
Valdmanis to overestimate himself while weakening the source of his
importance: his value to the premier.
Smallwood had been disappointed that Valdmanis
had not brought his family to St. John's. Valdmanis explained that
one of his children had a spinal condition that needed the constant
care of a specialist. Smallwood felt that the explanation was less
than the whole truth and when Valdmanis told him he himself was
quitting St. John's, the premier was vexed and upset. Again he could
not dispute the reason; Montreal was the logical base for a big-time
promoter. But in his heart the premier felt that Valdmanis had
deserted him, that having begun these new industries he had run off,
leaving him, Smallwood, to struggle alone with their problems.
He told Valdmanis as much one day. "But, my
Premier!" Valdmanis protested, "You know I am at your beck and call
any hour of the day or night."
"Yes," Smallwood said drily, "on your infrequent
visits to Newfoundland."
Now Smallwood noted other flaws in his paragon.
When it came Valdmanis's turn to pick up a restaurant check he would
frequently contrive to be in the washroom. Often he would neglect to
leave a tip for the waitress and Small-wood would reach across the
table surreptitiously and place a couple of coins beside his plate.
He found it irritating. The honeymoon of the premier and the
economist was over.
III early February of 1954, Smallwood received
several visitors, officials of the Newfoundland and Labrador
Corporation. The secretary-treasurer, Ronald Turta, drew some papers
from his briefcase. He laid them on the desk in front of Smallwood.
The premier shuffled through them. They were expense accounts made
out by Alfred Valdmanis and charged to the government-controlled
corporation. There were bills receipted by Montreal's Mount Royal
Hotel that included costly C.O.D. trinkets from Morgan's and Birks.
There was a bill for a high-priced car, brand new, and two months
later, a bill for four new tires. Among the furniture bills for the
new Montreal office was one for a five-hundred-dollar antique clock.
Smallwood looked up aghast. "Why, he must have
furnished that place like an Indian maharajah!"
That's not all," said Turta. Valdmanis's pay
had been boosted at the time he moved up from corporation president
to chairman from $25,000 a year to $30,000. For some months,
through a bookkeeping error, he had received two checks, his old
salary as well as his new one. Incredibly, he had kept them both.
The disclosure roused a mixture of emotions in
the premier. He was hurt that Valdmanis had let him down, indignant
at his dishonesty, and saddened by the thought of what he must do.
Valdmanis was due in St. John's the following
day. As soon as he telephoned, Smallwood said curtly, "Come on over.
I want to talk to you." He replaced the phone and asked his
secretary to tell Finance Minister Gregory Power to come in right
Valdmanis burst into the premier's office
exuding purposeful energy. He greeted the two men jauntily, his hand
outstretched to the premier. Smallwood affected not to see it.
Valdmanis stepped across the room to shake hands with Gregory Power.
Power ignored him. Valdmanis's eyes became cautious, alert.
"Sit down," Smallwood said harshly, "I want to
tell you a few things." He ticked off on his fingers the items
Valdmanis had charged. "Now I want your resignation and I want it
right away, and I want that money repaid before you go."
Valdmanis stared at the premier. The blood
drained from his features. Then he buried his face in his hands.
Smallwood stared at the abject figure in the
chair. He could not help but pity him. "Why, man?" he burst out.
"Why did you do it?"
Valdmanis did not answer. For ten long minutes
he sat with his face hidden, silent. Not until later did Small-wood
realize that he was not grieving but thinking, wondering how much
the premier knew. Finally he raised his head and said dully, "All
right. I will do whatever you wish."
Only two or three people saw Valdmanis off at
the airport, though his name had been a household word in St.
John's. Reporters had taken his resignation at face value, knowing
that he had bought a large fish plant in New Brunswick and presuming
that he wished to enter private industry. Only Smallwood seemed
moved at the parting. As he gave the press Valdmanis's letter of
resignation he could not forbear one final compliment.
"Newfoundland," he said, "will not soon again see so remarkable a
man as Alfred Valdmanis." In a few weeks he would know just how
remarkable Valdmanis was. Offstage, another chain of events was fast
approaching a climax.
It had begun in Germany. Smallwood had admired
the plant of Benno Schilde, the firm with which Valdmanis had made
his deal on the gypsum mill contract. The premier wanted Benno
Schilde to open a branch plant in Newfoundland, and in late 1953,
Dr. Hubertus Herz, head of the firm, agreed to put up a plant at Bay
Roberts if Smallwood would help with a $150,000 loan.
The loan was made and Valdmanis, to whom Benno
Schilde still owed $20,000 "commission," saw that now, while the
firm was flush with Canadian dollars, was the opportune time to
collect. When the premier left after Christmas for a holiday in
Jamaica, Valdmanis, in Montreal, phoned Herz in Germany. Smallwood,
he told Herz, was pressing him for the $20,000. Herz had better fly
over with it right away.
Herz did not want Smallwood pressuring him just
then. His firm had not yet begun work on the branch plant. It looked
as if the plant would cost more than he'd thought. He needed time to
consider the whole thing carefully. He flew over and paid Valdmanis
Smallwood, knowing nothing of this, came
bustling back from vacation. He noted that Benno Schilde had made no
move to fulfill the bargain. "Write them a letter," he snapped to
his assistant. "Make it stiff. If they're not going to build that
plant they can give us our money back."
Dr. Herz must have read and reread this letter
with amazement. He had, he thought, just paid the premier off. He
flew back to Newfoundland for a chat with his resident manager, who
first made some discreet inquiries, then called on Smallwood.
"Mr. Premier," he said, "I think you should know
that over the past three years Dr. Alfred Valdmanis collected
$200,000 from our firm in your name!"
Smallwood stared at him. He could not believe
it. Later that night Herz told him the details and promised to put
them in writing. It was early morning when Herz left. Smallwood sat
in his office alone and faced what he has since called "one of the
hardest decisions I shall probably ever be called upon to make." As
he afterwards said, "I have six brothers and seven sisters, and I
never loved one of them as I loved that man."
It was not only a personal blow, he was facing
political death. The exposure of Valdmanis could ruin his career and
his party's future. He was sorely tempted to drop the whole affair.
Valdmanis had given Newfoundland much more than he had taken and in
all probability nothing more would ever be heard of it.
At 2 a.m.
Smallwood had made his decision. He telephoned Superintendent
McKinnon. When McKinnon had heard him out, Smallwood hesitated, then
said, "I'd like you to do me a favor."
"Anything in my power," the Mountie said.
"Find that money. For God's sake, find that
money! If you don't, not all the water in the ocean can wash me
clean. Valdmanis can say he was acting for me. Who would believe
that he wasn't?"
"We'll do our best," McKinnon said. The
investigation in St. John's, Montreal, New York and Germany was
conducted with the utmost secrecy. The police and the premier were
certain that if Valdmanis caught the least hint that he was under
suspicion, he and the money would vanish, and with it Smallwood's
reputation. Only the premier, Dr. Herz, his Newfoundland-based
manager, and Attorney General Curtis knew that the life of the
government might now rest upon the skill and caution of the
Mounties, and law enforcement agencies in Germany and the United
a.m. on the morning of April 24,
Smallwood routed Canadian Press reporter Stewart MacLeod out of bed
to give him this statement:
The RCMP arrested Dr. Alfred Valdmanis in New
Brunswick early today. ... He is being brought to St. John's by the
RCMP to stand trial on charges preferred against him by me that he
extorted very large sums of money from various firms with whom he
dealt in behalf of the Government of Newfoundland. These sums run
into many hundreds of thousands of dollars. . . . My decision to
bring about the arrest of Alfred Valdmanis was the most unpleasant
duty I have ever had to perform and it will always be for me a
matter of intense regret that one with his great talents should have
to face such charges.
This statement was at once augmented by Malcolm
Hol-lett, leader of the Progressive-Conservative opposition party,
who said that "the real defendant must undoubtedly be Premier
Smallwood and his entire cabinet." In the
House of Assembly the opposition clamored
happily for Joey Smallwood's resignation.
Smallwood met the issue squarely. "I, and I
alone," he reminded the legislators, "am responsible for the fact
that Dr. Valdmanis lies in jail. . . . When I had [him] arrested I
took my political life in my hands. . . ." Unless the money had been
recovered, he said, "I would live and die . . . and after me, my
children would live with the name Smallwood the grafter, Smallwood
the robber. . . ."
Outside the House the premier's nerves showed
the strain. "Frankly," he barked at a journalist, "I don't give a
tinker's curse what the papers say the St. John's papers or the
mainland papers it couldn't matter less to me. ... I certainly
have nothing to lose politically over Valdmanis." Mr. Smallwood was
not sleeping well. All the money was not yet accounted for.
Valdmanis, in jail, still held the winning
cards. He wept as he told Toronto
Telegram columnist Allan Kent that he
felt "a great hopelessness" about his chance to defend himself
adequately. His private papers, he claimed, had been seized by
police or had "disappeared." He called his arrest a
"misunderstanding." He pictured his disillusionment on discovering
that the charges against him were laid by Premier Smallwood, "the
one man I thought I could trust my friend that I thought would
help me out." Falling silent, then looking up with a sad bright
smile of apology, he said, "You know, when I first came to
Newfoundland, the premier told me that I'd do the work and he'd do
the talking. I've always tried to keep it that way but I just
don't know where I am now." He waxed ironic: "You know, I've had one
election fought over me in Newfoundland. Now I guess I'll have
With this veiled warning, Valdmanis, though a
weary, nerve-sick man, capped a skillful dress rehearsal of the role
he could play: the bewildered henchman taking the rap for a
double-crossing boss. Valdmanis did not believe that his friends in
Germany would prosecute and he did not think Smallwood would dare.
In the meantime, Inspector Cecil Bayfield had
traced the commissions Valdmanis received to a New York bank. He
found deposits totaling $470,000, the sum that the German police
said Miag and Benno Schilde had paid. Had the doctor left this cash
in the bank he still could have claimed that he had merely deposited
it for Smallwood. But Bayfield found no money in his safety deposit
box, only a sheaf of slips that recorded his purchases of stock. It
had been more than Valdmanis could bear to leave so much money idle.
A chartered accountant from headquarters,
Sergeant Edgar Murray, painstakingly tracked down every purchase of
stock, verifying the fact that Valdmanis had bought it. Murray did
not recover the shares, which may have been sent out of the country,
but he managed to account for all but a few hundred dollars of the
But Smallwood was still in danger. Anywhere but
St. John's, he felt, Valdmanis's conviction would have been certain.
But he could choose trial by jury and St. John's, a Conservative
stronghold, was chock-full of Smallwood enemies.
On the day of the hearing crowds surrounded the
old rock-walled courthouse for a glimpse of the celebrated "doctor."
Two red-coated Mounties ushered him in. Before Chief Justice Sir
Alfred Walsh, Valdmanis bowed his head and whispered hoarsely, "My
plea is guilty, your Honor." Sternly, Sir Alfred sentenced him to
four years in the penitentiary. Reporters were dumfounded. Why had
he changed his plea?
Valdmanis had once more tried for too much.
While in custody he had written to a friend in Germany. He had asked
this man to contact the heads of Miag and Benno Schilde. Valdmanis
wanted them to say that the money they had paid him the $470,000
was a legal commission. The letter was intercepted and came to
Attorney General Curtis, who saw at once that Smallwood at last was
safe. The letter was, in effect, an admission of guilt. Confronted
with this overwhelming piece of evidence, Valdmanis decided to try
for a lighter sentence by pleading guilty.
The important thing now was to get the money
back. Valdmanis had offered to make restitution as far as he was
able. But his assets were disappointing: $50,000 in stock, a draft
for $10,000, a $50,000 stake in the New Brunswick fish plant, about
$110,000 in all. Where was the rest of the money, some $360,000? The
question has never been answered.
The pressures on the investigators in this case
were exceptional. They might have begun their investigation from
either of two set points of view: disbelief in the guilt of a man so
highly respected as Valdmanis, or belief that he must be guilty
because the ^premier of Newfoundland said so.
Either opinion could have led them to disregard
those facts that did not support their preconceived view. The
success of their evidence was due, at least in part, to a certain
clarity of mind, a freedom that derives less from intelligence than
DECHEVERRY sauntered down the street that leads to Montreal's
Central Station. He could sense the eyes that were watching him from
the cover of the traffic. When he turned his head he could see from
the corner of his eye the black-robed figure of the priest.
Somewhere behind the priest, he knew, was a thick-set, round-faced
man whose gun scarcely bulged his elegant tailoring.
It had taken DeCheverry six months to lure this
man to the trap that was ready now, this bright September morning,
to spring. He would know in the next few minutes whether the time,
the risk and the many thousands of dollars had been wasted, or
whether he had captured the brains of the biggest wholesale drug
ring in the realm of the RCMP.
Constable Frank DeCheverry was one of the CIB
men whose job is to keep the drug traffic in check. Canada has only
three to five thousand addicts but they are a far graver problem
than their numbers indicate. With few exceptions they are criminals.
They cannot hold a job. Their entire existence becomes a search for
narcotics. The addict becomes a pickpocket, sneak thief, burglar,
shoplifter, forger or pimp. Women usually become prostitutes.
These are no ordinary criminals. Their habit,
requiring a larger and larger drug dosage, drives them. According to
one survey, only 2 per cent of the shoplifters in chain stores are
addicts, but those 2 per cent steal 96 per cent of the value of
goods stolen. The amount of money they siphon off from society is
staggering, for the drug they take costs them more than one hundred
times its weight in gold.
The drug is heroin, an opium derivative, less
bulky, more powerful than either opium or morphine. Legally, an
ounce of heroin sells for from $10 to $12. But an addict pays from
$3 to $10 for one grain. This grain is invariably adulterated by 50
per cent. There are 437 grains in one ounce. That means that an
ounce, pure, by the time it has passed along its intricate
underworld supply route, brings from $2500 to $8500!
This incredible profit is reaped by a network of
criminals equally incredible. The individual drug racketeer has gone
with the opium den. The traffic is controlled today by "syndicates"
headed by the kind of man that Frank DeCheverry was stalking:
clever, suave, quiet, but beneath the veneer of good manners, as
vicious and dangerous as any old-time gangster.
The name itself syndicatesuggests the new
approach. The syndicate bosses employ accountants and lawyers. They
pay their employees scaled salaries or commissions. They operate as
efficiently as any modern business except that their business is
Cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver
may have several syndicates. They compete by raising the quality of
their product or cutting the price, like any other business firm. No
one man controls them all, a common misappre^ hension. Neither are
they controlled from the United States, though the U.S. syndicates
often contribute capital.
The syndicates with the main retail outlets are
in Vancouver, which has nearly half the addicts in Canada. The
addicts buy from a street peddler, or "pusher," who is frequently an
addict himself. A pusher will service fifteen or twenty addicts. He,
in turn, gives his order to a "front-end" who tells his pushers
where to find the constantly changing street caches. Behind the
front-end is a "backend," who cuts the drug with sugar of milk to
help the profit along, "caps" it (puts a grain in a gelatine
capsule), and caches it in packages of twenty-five to fifty caps.
Only the back-end, as a rule, knows the big boss, the "connection."
The connection DeCheverry was hunting headed
what might be called the drug department of his particular
syndicate, a wholesale operation and therefore simpler in structure
than a retail organization. He had several associates in Montreal,
racketeers who backed him with money in return for a share of the
profits but whose main interest was gambling.
Montreal is Canada's main wholesale drug center.
The Montreal rings have contacts in New York, the continent's main
port of entry for heroin. The New York connections have agents in
southern Europe. They buy from illegal factories or overproducing
legal plants. These factories distill morphine and heroin from raw
opium. The illegal opium is smuggled in, usually by sea, from the
poppy-growing lands of the Near and Far East.
It is only once a year, occasionally twice, that
the RCMP can reach behind the addicts to the men who control the
traffic. These men know every trick of the federal police. They lurk
back in the shadows and let their front men take the risk. It had
taken DeCheverry four months to even learn that the Montreal
connection existed and even after the man was known, the Montreal
drug squad, for whom DeCheverry was only the spearhead, had still to
get evidence that would stand up in court against cross-examination
by the defense.
The investigation was a psychological drama with
overtones of danger, the dialogue mainly a clash of wits between
four members of the incongruous cast: DeCheverry, a secret agent
named Papillon, a canny sociable racketeer, and a priest. But this
dialogue was in large part prepared off* stage, on one side by the
two plainclothes men who directed DeCheverry, on the other by the
syndicate boss. These were the real protagonists, unknown strangers
probing in the dark for each other's weaknesses, working from
experience and reports. And, in the background, the inevitable minor
characters: the special informants, the strong-arm men, a shady
businessman from Quebec City and the pretty buxom mistress of a call
It had begun with an RCMP constable, Ross
Andrews. At 27, Andrews was an old hand in the drug squad, a big,
relaxed, clear-thinking plainclothes man. He had good contacts among
the addicts in Montreal. One day in January 1949 he picked up a tip
that Jean-Claude Lapres was wholesaling narcotics in a big way.
Andrews was well acquainted with "Johnny"
Lapres, a cagy racketeer on the fringe of the big time, a dealer in
high-grade gold and a former counterfeiter. In April, Andrews had
his chance. A Quebec City businessman came into the Montreal CIB
office. This man we will call him Andr6 Houle was involved in
several borderline business transactions and he wanted the Mounties'
goodwill. He knew an associate of Lapres and he offered to introduce
him to an RCMP undercover man.
The chance was too good to let go. Andrews's
boss, Inspector Wilson Brady, brought in a reserve constable. He met
Lapres's associate and confirmed the rumor that Lapres had a large
amount of heroin. But the strain of playing a double role before
such a hard-eyed audience was too much for his nerves. At the end of
two days his hands shook when he lit a cigarette. It was too tough a
job for an inexperienced man. Inspector Brady withdrew him before he
This effort, while abortive, uncovered a
fantastic fact. Lapres's front man was a priest, Abb6 Joseph Arthur
Tail-lefer. He was trafficking in stolen bonds, counterfeit money,
black market gasoline and alcohol, as well as drugs.
The bonds appeared to be the loot from some bank
holdups in Ontario. Brady approached the Royal Bank with this news.
A head-office official, Cleo Fee, offered to put up $3500 toward the
expense of what Brady warned RCMP headquarters might be "a long and
costly operation . . . having in mind the scale on which these
The investigation was put in charge of Raoul
Carriere, an intense, bright, hard-working corporal. Ross Andrews,
the drug squad veteran, was assigned to assist him. They were to be
the brain trust of the case.
As they waited for CIB headquarters to find them
a man who could work undercover, Frank DeCheverry, a hefty,
dark-haired, good-looking constable, was transferred to Montreal
from Quebec City. He was shrewd, quick-witted, self-assured and
single. Most of his adult life had been spent in the Air Force and
the RCMP. But he acted and looked like a man who had been around
with money in his pocket. And, most imperative, he was a Catholic.
Corporal Carriere asked Inspector Brady to let headquarters know
that they had found their man in their own division.
Carriere and Andrews spent days preparing
DeCheverry's fictitious background. He had to be a French-speaking
out-of-towner who knew Montreal. He had to have a reason for acting
mysterious and for having no permanent address the mob could check
on. Looking ahead to the give-and-take of negotiation, he had to
have a good job, something to lose by trusting the syndicate. They
decided to make him a secret inspector for a hotel chain, a man who
traveled from coast to coast sizing up the service in competing
Now they had to have someone to introduce him.
Andr6 Houle, the Quebec City businessman, had fallen out with
Lapres. Lapres's men had threatened to have Houle "beat up and left
in a ditch." Carriere and Andrews pressed Houle to name someone
else. He suggested another Quebec City man who did odd jobs for him,
Henri-Paul Papillon. Papil-lon had met the priest through Houle.
Corporal Carriere checked on Papillon. He had
six children and needed money badly. He was ex-Army Provost Corps
and had no criminal record, no trade, no regular employment. He
looked good. On April 11, Carriere called him long-distance. He
appealed to Papillon's sense of duty, adding that the Royal Bank
would guarantee his expenses and, if the bonds were recovered, he
could claim a reward. Papillon agreed to catch the Montreal train
Carriere at once booked two adjoining rooms in
the Mount Royal hotel. On the stationery of various first-class
hotels across the country, Andrews and his wife composed letters
hinting of shady deals and promiscuity. Andrews knew that the wily
Lapres would search DeCheverry's room and these letters would begin
to fill in DeCheverry's counterfeit character. DeCheverry, who had
never worked undercover before, went downtown and bought a light
blue suit to match his new personality, neither flashy nor
Papillon, their secret agent (an RCMP term), met
them in DeCheverry's room that night, a thin wiry man with a little
"This is Frank Martin," Carriere said,
indicating DeCheverry. "He's a fast-buck operator who talks of
Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, Toronto and the States. He's fixed you
up with black market coupons during the war. That's all you know
about him, except that he's flush and he's interested in B and H
[bonds and heroin]. Don't forget, we want notes on everything that's
said and done."
Carriere glanced around the room, at the
telegrams and the bottle of Scotch on the dresser, the barely
visible letters in DeCheverry's bathrobe pocket. "Are we all set?"
DeCheverry nodded. But, as he cleaned his teeth
that night, he was shocked to see stamped on his toothbrush the
initials "RCMP." A detail had almost tripped them up before they had
In the morning Papillon went to St. Madeleine
d'Outre-mont Parish to call on the Abbe Taillefer. The abbe, in his
late forties, was a sallow dark-haired man with a manner faintly
harassed. Even in his priest's robes he was thin, almost fragile. He
was reputed to be a dynamic preacher.
"I have stopped working for Andre Houle, I have
a new client," Papillon told him. The Quebec city businessman had
tried to cheat him, he said. He described DeCheverry. "A little
commission in B and H would suit me fine, Father."
The abbe promised to talk with "Johnny," the
shrewd and convivial Lapres, for whom he fronted. At 8:30 that night
Lapres came into the hotel lobby, a medium-sized man, sharply
dressed. He had sensual lips, a prominent nose, and heavy-lidded,
nearsighted eyes. He was a man who thought nothing of dropping five
thousand dollars in one night of gambling, or of borrowing five
dollars to eat on the next day. He was only 32 but he had been in
the rackets a long time. He was very cunning, very wary. But
Papillon was persuasive. "All right, I'll deal," Lapres said
finally, "as long as you don't introduce me to a horseman [meaning a
Up in the room, DeCheverry poured a couple of
rounds of drinks and Lapres began to relax. "What do you want?" he
asked DeCheverry. "I've got everything gold, diamonds . . ."
"How much H can you give me?" DeCheverry asked.
"Any amount. Up to 120 pounds, not ounces."
Lapres liked to impress people, he was a man who bought fifty-dollar
shirts. But if what he said was only one tenth true, he had an
"Is it pure?" asked DeCheveny.
"Everybody I do business with, they come back
for more, that's how pure it is." Lapres turned wary. "Who's it for?
"Hell, no," DeCheverry said. He knew what was
wrong. He was too keyed up, like an actor on opening night.
"I don't know how he figures he's going to tell
the stuff if he doesn't use it," Lapres said in a sneering aside to
"I got ways," DeCheverry said, forcing himself
to be offhand. "You sell me an ounce, I'll get it checked in an
hour. This is no deal for a chocolate bar."
"Okay. You've got identification? Driver's
"I don't carry that kind of stuff on a deal like
this," said DeCheverry. His instructions had been to let Lapres find
out who he was for himself.
They continued to spar. Lapres showed a scar on
his head which he said he had got by not being careful.
"You think you got something?" DeCheverry said.
He pointed to his jaw, broken by the kick of a horse during RCMP
training. "I been crossed too."
Finally the racketeer agreed to get the heroin.
Papillon left with him; DeCheverry was pretending not to trust the
secret agent. But Lapres didn't pick up the drugs. He took Papillon
into a tavern. He tried to get him drunk. He kept asking questions
about DeCheverry. "You see how he's dressed?" he said. "No flash. No
stones. You sure he's not one of those goddamned horsemen?" Papillon
told the Mounties about it when he got back to the room, half drunk,
in the early morning.
"It's time to show him some money," Corporal
Carriere decided. Cleo Fee, the Royal Bank official, had agreed to
deposit $35,000 in a safety-deposit box in DeCheverry's cover name
"Frank Martin" in the main branch of the Royal Bank.
Next day DeCheverry took the racketeer in a cab
to the bank. Fee himself ushered them into the vault. DeCheverry
unlocked the safety-deposit box. "I'm the kind of a guy who deals in
cash," he told Lapres. "You want to see money? Look at that. There.
You see what I got?"
Lapres's eyes were bulging. "Feel the stuff,"
DeCheverry said, carried away by his role. "You know counterfeit
money. What's this?" He picked up a packet, riffled it grandiosely,
and almost fainted away. Between a sandwich of real bills there was
nothing but blank paper. (Carriere had padded out the $35,000 and
neglected to mention it to DeCheverry.) Lapres had noticed nothing.
"Get your paws off," DeCheverry snapped- "Now you know how I do
Back in the hotel cocktail lounge, waiting for
Papillon, Lapres's caution struggled with his greed. "Let's get rid
of Papillon," DeCheverry suggested. "I know he's getting a cut. Give
him a little money and he'll just spend it on flash like all the
rest of the cheap punks."
Papillon joined them. Excusing himself to go to
the bathroom, DeCheverry called the two RCMP strategists, who were
waiting in the room next to his.
"You're fed up," Andrews instructed him. "That's
your line now."
In the lounge the racketeer was saying to
Papillon: "Martin's trying to cross you up. I think he's a
flic. Look at the steel on his heels.
Look at his belt. You think a guy with dough would wear a cheap belt
"I think you should have his room searched,"
Papillon said, feigning fright. The skinny secret agent was proving
exceptionally cool-headed. Lapres had no suspicions whatever about
DeCheverry came back to the lounge. "I figure
I'm getting the run-around," he told the racketeer. "I produce money
and what do you produce nothing but arguments."
"You produce a right guy that knows you," said
Lapres, "and I'll get you the stuff tonight."
"I'll see," DeCheverry said. Again he left the
lounge and called the room. "We can't set that up by phone,"
Carriere told him. DeCheverry came back to the table and said that
his friend had been out. Lapres refused to talk business. DeCheverry
stood up. "I'm cutting out," he said. "You're taking me for a
Next day DeCheverry checked out of the hotel and
Papillon told Abb6 Taillefer and Lapres that DeCheverry didn't like
the way they did business. The racketeer shrugged. "If he's a
horseman, it doesn't matter. If not, hell be back."
Carriere and Andrews, the backroom
psychologists, decided to feed the syndicate a little more
information. A week later, Papillon arranged for DeCheverry to call
On the telephone, the abb£ was nervous. He asked
for DeCheverry's solemn word that everything was all right. "You're
not a Mountie, my son?"
"Oh no, Father," DeCheverry said. "God forbid."
The abb6 promised to see him the following day.
The Mountie met the priest in the presbytery
parlor with its big, solid, old-fashioned furniture. "I respect your
position, Father," DeCheverry said. "You must also realize my
position. I'm out to make a buck like you, but I have a good job
too." He explained his hotel connection. "I'm not going to let some
two-bit punk like Lapres foul things up." The abbe's nervousness
vanished. He called Lapres and told him "Martin" was "all right."
Lapres now agreed to sell a sample ounce,
although he was still suspicious. "You could still be a Mountie," he
told DeCheverry. "You got the shoulders for one."
DeCheverry laughed. He had the feel of his role
now. He felt that Lapres knew nothing; his senses had simply been
sharpened by his years in the rackets to an almost intuitive
wariness. "If every guy my size is a dick there must be a lot
around," he kidded Lapres.
He met Lapres and Papillon next morning in the
lobby. In sight of the plainclothes Mounties who hovered nearby,
watching, DeCheverry handed Papillon $300. Cautiously,
Lapres refused to count the money or touch it.
"Meet me at the Club Tavern in ten minutes," he told Papillon.
With Lapres when he joined Papillon was a husky
man named Rosaire Delisle. They sat down and looked at Papillon in a
way that made him uneasy. "I tell you what I think," Lapres said
softly. "I think you're an RCMP sent to nail me."
The nerves in Papillon's stomach tensed. Unless
Lapres was bluffing, his life wasn't worth much. He laughed. "Let
Delisle search you," Lapres ordered.
Papillon stood up, seemingly bored. Delisle
slapped his pockets, searching for a gun. He looked under his lapels
for the pinpricks of a badge.
"All right," said Lapres. "Give Delisle the
money and you stay with me."
Papillon relaxed; Lapres had been bluffing.
"When I get the stuff," he said coolly, "I'll give you the money."
They met Delisle an hour later outside another
tavern. He showed Papillon where he had taped the one-ounce packet
of heroin underneath the step of an outside staircase. Papillon paid
him and left. Back in the hotel Corporal Carriere and Constable
Andrews tested the powder with nitric acid. It turned vivid
blue-green, a heroin reaction.
Papillon then telephoned the priest. He told him
"Martin" was annoyed at the time the deal had taken. "Rest easy, my
friend," said the priest, "the big deal will go through in the
morning. We will all make a lot of money."
But it was evening before Lapres and the abbe
knocked on DeCheverry's door, and Lapres was still hanging back. "We
must trust one another," said the priest.
"It's all right for you to trust him," Lapres
said. "I don't trust anybody. How much H do you want, Frankie?"
"Fifty pieces [ounces]," DeCheverry said. "How
"The big lot is out of town," Lapres said. "I'll
need a thousand bucks' deposit to get them."
"We must have faith in each other," said the
priest. "You can leave the money with me in perfect safety."
"Do you think I'm a bloody fool?" DeCheverry
said. "Forgive me, Father. It's not that I don't trust
you. But I'd be leaving myself wide
The abbe left and the argument adjourned to the
cocktail lounge. For DeCheverry this was the worst night of all.
With the pretense of showing him drugs Lapres dragged him from
nightclub to nightclub, holding him up to the deadpan inspection of
mobsters who had met a great many Mounties in their careers. Long
before morning they lost their plainclothes cover, and Andrews,
alone in their hotel headquarters room (Carriere had slipped out to
attend his father's funeral) was pacing restlessly, plagued by
thoughts of DeCheverry lying dead in some alley. Whenever possible,
DeCheverry went to the lavatory and put his finger down his throat
in a fairly successful but nerve-racking attempt to stay sober. By
dawn, dead on his feet, he realized Lapres had never intended
showing him drugs. "To hell with this," DeCheverry said, "I'm going
home to bed."
The next day, Saturday, the racketeer brought a
couple of girls around in a transparent move to get information.
"Look," DeCheverry told him. "You took me for a sucker last night.
But you're crazy if you think I'm paying the shot
for your girl friends today. I'm leaving town on
a big deal tonight, 111 see you Monday." Then DeCheverry took a
streetcar to the outskirts of Montreal and spent the week end with
Sunday night he came back for a late pow-wow
with Carriere and Andrews. "We can't do any more to convince him
you're okay," Carriere said. "Get tough. Tell him to make up his
mind. But even if he doesn't come through, don't close the door."
DeCheverry called Abb6 Taillefer in the morning.
"Fm tired of wasting time with Lapres, Father. I'm not going to take
my money from the bank. The way Lapres's muscle men have been
following me around, I think he's planning a hijack." He was taking
a shot in the dark about being followed but the priest did not
dispute him. "Either we put the deal through tomorrow," DeCheverry
concluded, "or we'll wash it out. I'm leaving on the 4:30 train."
Just before noon the following day Lapres and
the priest both came to the room. DeCheverry ignored their glances
at his Scotch and told them flatly: "The only way I'll deal is for
you to put the stuff in a railway station locker and give me the
key. That way I can get a look at it first. I'll give the money to
the abbe here, either in the bank or outside, whichever he wants."
Lapres wanted the money first and he wouldn't
touch a locker. The meeting broke up. At one o'clock Corporal
Carriere told Papillon to call Abb6 Taillefer. "Martin's gone out to
eat," the secret agent told the priest. "I just wanted to tell you
he's sure Lapres is a con man. He says, 'If they want to do
business, they'll have to do it my way.'"
"I don't blame him," the priest said. "Johnny
wants him to take all the chances."
"Don't tell him we were talking," Papillon
Twice during the afternoon Lapres called
DeCheverry to argue for his method of handling the sale. "Why
doesn't he make up his mind?" DeCheverry said irritably.
"I think he's willing to deal," Andrews said
thoughtfully. "I think there's someone behind him holding him back.
That's why they're changing plans so much."
At four o'clock DeCheverry said good-by to
Papillon and returned to the big downtown RCMP divisional building,
where he was confined to barracks to avoid recognition.
Papillon paid a visit to the presbytery next
morning. "Frank's pulled out," he said. "I've lost my commission.
You've lost yours. All because of Lapres."
"Johnny thinks Martin is a policeman," the abbe
said. "I think he is right. We do not want to trust him. Good-by, my
friend. I am sorry you have not made any money."
This was April 25. The curtain had fallen on the
first act, a long opening movement. These salient facts were
referred to Ottawa:
1. They knew Lapres had narcotics, probably a
2. They could more than likely link him to the
first test purchase by the testimony of Papillon, DeCheverry and the
cover men, who had sometimes been close enough to record
3. But a premature seizure might fail to net the
drugs or the bonds.
4. There was the delicate matter of the priest;
a case, one purchase
seemed scarcely sufficient evidence.
5. There was the vague mysterious figure behind
both Lapres and the priest. This man was undoubtedly big, for Lapres
was no minor criminal.
Headquarters decided to let two months go by to
give the syndicate a feeling of false security. But on June 3 the
case took a bad turn. They heard that their original informant,
Quebec City businessman Andre Houle, had gone to Mon-seigneur Joseph
Charbonneau, Archbishop of Montreal, with the tale of Abbe
Taillefer's activities. When Corporal Carriere questioned Houle he
denied it, but his manner was evasive and uneasy. Carriere asked
Papillon to visit the abbe and try to find out what actually had
The priest welcomed Papillon. "I have much to
tell you, my friend. You ex-boss, Andre Houle he has tried to
blackmail me." Houle had told the priest that Papillon and "Martin"
were Mounted Policemen, that all the syndicate's movements had been
watched, their telephones tapped, their conversations recorded. For
a thousand dollars, Houle had said, he would pay off a high-ranking
Mountie and stop the investigation. Otherwise, he would tell the
archbishop all about the abbe.
This threat had been discussed at a top-level
meeting of the syndicate, the priest told Papillon. "Suppose I go to
Quebec and knock him off?" one mobster suggested.
"No, no, no!" the priest had replied. "That
would be against my principles."
"We could pick him up and make him talk," said
"Let us wait," the priest advised. "If I do not
hear from the archbishop we can be sure he is lying to get money out
"I think he's lying," the top man had concluded.
"If Martin and Papillon were redcoats they'd have knocked us off
long ago. From what you say, Martin spent $400 in one week. The
Montes wouldn't spend that kind of money.
Besides, it takes more than a thousand dollars to fix them."
Their quarry was still on the hook and the drug
squad now knew what had been only suspicion before: someone big was
directing the moves of both Lapres and the priest. Carriere and
Andrews warned their double-crossing informant, Andre Houle, to keep
his mouth shut, but how long he would they didn't know. Once again
they extended the bait, a letter from Papillon to the priest. On
July 8 the priest replied:
Dear Mister & Friend:
I see that you are fine but if money was present
things would be better. ... If you communicate with Martin and I
think it would be a good idea if you did, tell him J. Lapres has
always his material H and that he would be willing to do business
I leave you now with my best regards,
J. A. Taillefer,
This was their opening. On July 12, DeCheverry
and Papillon and the two coordinators, Carriere and Andrews, once
again checked into adjoining rooms, this time in a different hotel.
Their strategy now was to cut out Lapres. They already had enough on
Lapres to convict him and as long as he remained active there was
little hope of involving the man behind him.
Papillon set it up by a visit to the abbe.
"Martin's in town," he told the priest. "He doesn't know I'm here. I
wanted to see you first. Here's our chance to make some money. He's
mad at Johnny Lapres. But he trusts you, Father. I think you could
swing a deal."
The next morning the priest came to the hotel.
DeCheverry, playing hard to get, tried to beat down the price ($300
"I didn't set it myself," explained the priest.
"That ounce I bought from Lapres was one-fifth
short," DeCheverry complained.
"I assure you I didn't know," the abbe told him.
"You will get full measure from me, my friend. You can have every
confidence. My man is a good solid man."
The abbe left and returned at noon. "Everything
is arranged," he said, "but my man will only sell ten ounces this
"The same old runaround," Martin said. "I'll
think it over." At eight o'clock he called the priest. "On a test
purchase, Father, I'm not going to risk more than fifteen hundred
dollars." Again the abb6 had to go back to his man. Again and again
DeCheverry haggled, each time drawing the unknown figure behind the
priest deeper into the deal. Finally, the terms were agreed.
The priest knocked on DeCheverry's door at
eleven the following morning, very pale, very agitated. "Where's the
H?" DeCheverry asked him.
"In a locker at Central Station. The key is
hidden near St. James Cathedral."
"Once I've seen it, is it okay to move it to
"No, no, do not move it! There are men watching
it. They might jump you. On my honor, no one will touch it."
"Okay, okay. Don't get excited, Father."
They walked out of the hotel, along the street,
and up the steps of the great cathedral. On the east side the abbe
pointed toward a diamond-shaped stone. DeCheverry found the locker
key in an envelope beneath it. "Wait for me at the station, the
south entrance," he told the priest.
The locker in the station held a brown paper
package. In it were six small cellophane envelopes. DeCheverry
slipped one under the band of his wristwatch. Outside, he found the
priest chainsmoking nervously.
"Relax, Father, everything looks okay,"
DeCheverry said. Making sure the tails had had time to get into
position, he flagged a cab. "Royal Bank, main branch," he said. In
the rear-view mirror he could recognize a police car, a blue sports
The priest sat in the cab while DeCheverry went
in. Carriere and another Mountie were waiting in the vault. They
tested the ounce of heroin, then gave DeCheverry $1500 in marked
bills. Riding back to the station in the cab, DeCheverry let the
priest count the money, then took it back. "We'll wait till I see if
the stuff is still there, Father." He didn't know if their plans
included a hijacking or not.
The brown paper package was still in the locker.
"Here's the money," DeCheverry said. He had no trouble pretending to
be nervous. "Now telephone your man and get him to call off his
hoods." He maneuvered the abbe into a telephone booth that had no
dial system and the priest was forced to repeat the number aloud to
the operator. DeCheverry memorized it, holding in his excitement.
This was the break.
"My man is satisfied," said the priest "I must
admit, I was afraid there would be some federal police." They shook
hands. That afternoon the priest called back. "I am leaving on my
holidays. When you come back to town we will make a good deal, eh?"
This might be termed the second movement, brief
but successful beyond their hopes* They had now enough evidence to
prosecute the priest, Lapres, and Lapres's henchman, Rosaire Delisle.
And they knew the man behind, the "connection." His phone number had
been traced. He called himself Michel Sisco. Little else was known
about him. He had no police record in Canada.
RCMP strategy now was to have DeCheverry meet
Sisco. The Mountie booked a hotel room on August 1 and invited Abbe
Taillefer up for a drink. They talked of the money the priest had
made during the war with black market gas and sugar coupons. "Who
would suspect me?" the abbS said. "I'm a perfect front They wouldn't
dare touch me." They talked of communism, blondes, automobiles. More
than anything else the priest wanted a car, a limousine. "If I make
enough on our deals to buy a car," he said hopefully, "you can
borrow it when you come to town."
"I've got to get a better price," said
DeCheverry. Always while dangling the lure he had to seem to be
"I'll ask my man," the abb6 promised.
"Maybe I should talk to him. Put things on a
solid basis. We're wasting a lot of time running back and forth."
The priest said he would try to arrange a
meeting but he did not mention it the following day. DeCheverry did
not press it. He checked out of the hotel, boarded the Halifax
train, got off at Montreal West and was picked up by a police car. A
few days later, through the hotel chain he was supposed to work for,
he received a card from the priest. "I will pray for you," the abbe
wrote, "and that our deal goes through."
On September 6, hotel chambermaids noticed that
the strange men who seldom went out were back in adjoining rooms.
This time the strategists, Corporal Carriere and Constable Andrews,
were determined to force Sisco into the open. They had primed
DeCheverry with logical questions the abbe would not be able to
answer. They had given him letters supposedly written by a backer in
Winnipeg suggesting he get the stuff in Toronto for fear of "a
double-cross by Lapres."
"Cancel the deal if you have to," Carriere said.
"For the kind of money he thinks you've got he'll come out." They
knew by now that Sisco owned a roadhouse north of the city. He was
listed as a commercial agent but customs records showed no
importations under his name. He paid no income tax. Dun & Bradstreet
didn't know him. He was suave, sophisticated, spoke five languages,
and made several phone calls a week to New York. The FBI had been
asked to check on the calls.
DeCheverry had expected that the priest would
greet him gladly. Instead, the abbe was standoffish. He said he was
very busy with the opening of the schools. "Don't hand me that,"
said DeCheverry testily. "You don't want to deal, okay. I know where
I can get the stuff and none of this run-around." Uneasily, the
priest promised to come to his room.
When he came, two days later, he talked
ambiguously of getting out of "the H business." Suddenly, he said:
"Did you hear that Johnny Lapres was arrested?"
"No!" DeCheverry said.
Monte named Carriere."
DeCheverry choked on his drink. Carriere had
wanted DeCheverry's surprise to be genuine. He had grilled Lapres on
a counterfeiting charge. He wanted Lapres to be too hot for Sisco to
"They questioned him all night," said the
priest. He met DeCheverry's eyes. "Johnny says when he went to the
toilet he met you face to face. Is that true? Are you a Mounted
DeCheverry jumped up angrily. "He's a
doublecrossing chiseling no-good. Get him to meet me in the
presbytery. I'll tell him to his face. We'll see who's lying." He
swore bitterly. "The deal's off. How do I know Lapres isn't behind
"I give you my solemn word," said the priest. He
left on a somewhat conciliatory note.
The next day he called back. "You do not have to
confront Johnny, my son. My man has forced him to tell the truth.
Johnny was lying. We know you are not a Mounted Policeman. My man
will meet you for fifteen minutes tomorrow night, here in the
presbytery." It was the word they'd been waiting for. Lapres's lie
had been an unexpected piece of luck.
The Mountie and the syndicate head shook hands
in the abbe's office. Michel Sisco had thin close-shut lips and a
prominent nose in a round olive-skinned face. His short heavy figure
was draped in expensive tailoring. His fluid French had a
continental flavor. "This is the boss," said the abbe. "He will
answer your questions."
"Where does Lapres come in?" demanded DeCheverry
"I no longer trust him," Sisco said. "He is not
in this transaction. Were you satisfied with our deals? Was the
quality good? Have I given you full measure?"
DeCheverry allowed himself to be mollified. "You
can guarantee a steady supply?"
"Even if war comes." Sisco allowed DeCheverry a
cut in price, referring to the heroin as "merchandise." "The
merchandise from America is not pure," he said. "The best is made in
Germany." He exuded authority and charm. "I have been in this
business for twenty years. I know how to handle these deals. If at
any time you cannot come yourself, write a letter to the abbe here,
tear it, mail half, and give half to a messenger. It is dangerous to
send merchandise through the mails. Do you want any now?"
"Yes, but I'll have to check with my clients on
the amount." DeCheverry invited Sisco out for a drink. Sisco
declined. "It would not be wise to be seen together," he said.
It had come to a head much faster than they had
expected. Corporal Carriere and Constable Andrews hastily assembled
their men. They couldn't risk shadowing Sisco but two constables and
their wives were sent to his roadhouse, ostensibly to dance,
actually to familiarize themselves with his appearance so that they
would be better able to shadow him during the deal. Six constables
were assigned to watch the presbytery in eight-hour shifts. When the
priest left they would join six others covering DeCheverry along the
route of the transaction.
DeCheverry telephoned Abbe Taillefer and set up
the sale: 32 ounces of heroin the same arrangement as last time. A
hurry-up request for $7200 went up the RCMP chain of command to the
Treasury Board and was granted. Until the last moment DeCheverry
pestered the priest with changes of plan in the hope of badgering
Sisco into personally taking part.
DeCheverry was on edge when the abbe arrived in
his room at eleven o'clock on the morning of the deal. Much of their
work would succeed or fail in the next hour. 'Everything's ready,"
the priest said nervously. "I am sure all will go well." On the
other side of the wall Constable Andrews was talking softly into the
mike of a two-way radio, coordinating the movements of a half-dozen
Once more the abbe led the Mountie to St. James
Cathedral, and they waited in the still, cool, vaulted entrance. "My
man would like the money when we get the key," the priest said.
"Nothing doing," DeCheverry said, "I've got to see the stuff first."
A thick-set round-faced man walked in: Sisco
He shook hands, leaving the locker key in
DeCheverry's palm. "My men will be watching every move you make," he
said evenly. "Please don't try anything or you've had it."
DeCheverry walked to Central Station, the abbe
following, Sisco trailing the abbe. The Mountie opened the locker
and felt the brown paper parcel. He threw it back in and slammed the
door. He had felt no drugs. The sensation of being watched crawled
up his spine.
The abb6 was loitering at the station's south
entrance. "What the hell are you pulling off?" said DeCheverry,
low-voiced and angry. "All I got there's a bunch of lousy paper,"
The priest laughed. Sisco came up. "I wanted to
see what would happen," he said. "We have to protect ourselves. Go
back to the church and wait for me."
This time Sisco gave him a key for a Windsor
Station locker. DeCheverry opened it, felt the waxy one-ounce packs
and knew that this was the big haul ($40,000 to $140,000 retail,
depending on the city where it was sold). He and the abbe and Sisco
got into a taxi.
A man in an idling car nearby spoke quietly into
a microphone: "He's heading for the bank." Andrews, in the hotel
room, relayed the message. A car pulled up beside the Royal Bank and
Carriere went in.
Corporal Carriere was standing like any customer
by the rows of safety-deposit boxes when an attendant ushered
DeCheverry and the priest to a private room. "Count the money," he
heard DeCheverry say, and then, "Take it, it's yours."
"Later," the priest said.
"It's yours," DeCheverry insisted and he turned
and left the room. As the priest followed uneasily, holding the
money, Carriere placed his hand on his shoulder. "You're under
arrest," he said.
Abbe Taillefer's mouth opened but no words came.
"We'll go to your place first and change your clothes," Carriere
said, thus carrying out the only request of Mon-seigneur
Charbonneau, Archbishop of Montreal, who, when warned what would
happen, refused to intercede in any way for his errant priest.
Outside on the street Sisco had been arrested.
Lapres's henchman, Rosaire Delisle, was being rounded up. Lapres,
cocky as ever, came in by himself. "I'm Johnny Lapres," he said. "I
hear you're looking for me."
A search of Sisco's flat yielded no new evidence
but in the abbe's office they found a scrap of paper on which the
priest had been figuring his profit. They did not recover the rest
of the huge drug cache which now they were certain existed. The
bonds had already been sold to racketeers in New York.
At first Sisco suavely tried to pass off his
arrest as an unfortunate misunderstanding. Said Carriere: "The man
you met in Abbe Taillefer's office, the man you sold thirty-two
ounces of heroin to, was not Frank Martin, but Constable Frank
DeCheverry of the RCMP."
"No name was mentioned when I met him," Sisco
said. He realized his slip at once. "If you think you can get me to
talk you've got the wrong man. If you think you have a case you have
only to charge me. I'll tell my story in court."
But Michel Sisco never came to court. And he
told his story a few days later. He was born in Michel, British
Columbia, he said. His mother had died very young and he had been
taken back to Italy. The Germans had interned him in Milan but he
had escaped to North Africa. A British cruiser had brought him from
Casablanca to Halifax. He had no proof for his story but it was very
hard to disprove; the records of birth in Michel, B.C. had been
destroyed by fire.
Some weeks later Sisco's fingerprints,
identified by the International Criminal Police Commission in Paris,
told his true story. He was Antoine (called Michel) D'Agos-tino,
born in Bone, Algeria, in 1919. He held controlling interests in
various illegal businesses in Italy and France. He was wanted for
counterfeiting in Italy. And in France, as an ex-Gestapo agent, he
was under sentence of death for murder. He is believed to have been
smuggled into Canada by the steward of an Italian liner.
A judge of the Court of King's Bench set bail at
$20,000, though the RCMP advised that allowing Sisco bail was
unwise. At first, Sisco wasn't able to raise it. Then he asked to
see Corporal Carriere and said: "If I'm not sprung I'll have
something to tell you." He said he could supply the lowdown on the
international drug traffic reaching back to illicit factories in
Europe. His threat found its way via the underworld grapevine to his
syndicate associates. Shortly afterward his bail was reduced to
$12,000. It was posted and Sisco promptly vanished.
He came briefly to view again in 1951 when a
very large narcotics ring was broken in New York. Sisco is described
by the U.S. Immigration Service as "a main ringleader of this
international smuggling organization . . . very clever, very
dangerous . . . usually armed," and his stature may be judged by the
fact that two of the gangsters arrested were top-level figures in
the nationwide Unione Siciliano, which succeeded the murderous
Mafia. Sisco escaped to Mexico, was picked up crossing the U.S.
border in 1956, and as this is written six lawyers were resisting
attempts to bring him back to New York.
As for the others, Johnny Lapres was sentenced
to three years, and his henchman Rosaire Delisle drew three months
for a first offense. The unfrocked but unrepentant Abb6 Taillefer
received two years and a thousand-dollar fine. None of the sentences
seemed designed to teach any sterner lesson than to never, never
sell narcotics to someone you do not know.
Many a costly, troublesome and risky
investigation ends with just such a muted climax. Any idealization
of justice dooms the Mountie to disillusion, leads to cynicism, so
often the prelude to corruption.
Cynicism is the abyss of the profession.
Fortunately, few Mounties sound its depths. They pass through a
cynical period and emerge into skepticism, an awareness of the gap
between reality and appearance.
The investigator is fated to doubt; doubt is the
price he pays for his freedom of mind. But in doubting he must have
faith, he must believe in more than results. He must believe that
justice is something more than an eye for an eye, that justice is
also the way he does his job. Says a former head of the CIB, "A
policeman shouldn't care what the result of a case is. He should
only feel he's done his best and gotten the best evidence possible."
MURDER had taken place on the island ahead. It looked very like the
island they had just left. It humped from the sea ice of Hudson Bay
like the back of a monstrous white whale, low, snow-covered, starkly
The policeman plodded up the bank behind the
dogs, the Eskimo guide, the missionary, the doctor and the witness
the native woman. At the top he turned and surveyed their back
trail. He could still see the Hudson's Bay post, six white buildings
small in the distance. After this, he guessed shrewdly, Ernest
Riddell, the post manager, would not remain in the Belcher Islands
alone. He wondered why the Eskimos remained. The caribou had left
fifty years before. As late as August pack ice surrounded these
islands. In all their length and breadth, 91 by 51 miles, there was
not a solitary stunted tree. Even moss and cranberry bushes grew in
only a few secluded areas. Soil blew away as fast as it formed.
There were only the seals, the fish, and the ducks and geese that
bred in the shallow lakes in multitudes to feed and clothe some
forty Eskimo families.
The policeman, "Nubby" Kerr, was a wiry little
man. His features under a broad bulging forehead were tough and
cheerful. He had spent years in isolated RCMP detachments much
closer than this to the pole but he had never known land as bleak as
He pushed on, shoulders hunched against the
stabbing April wind. Ahead of him the Eskimos in their fantastic
feathered clothing looked like Gargantuan birds walking upright. The
snow deepened. The domes of four igloos rose from the wastes of
white. They had been deserted perhaps two months, Kerr noted. They
looked forsaken as ancient ruins on a desert.
The Eskimo woman, Eva Naroomi, pointed to a
rocky ledge and spoke in dialect to the missionary, the Reverend
George Neilson, who had walked a hundred miles from Great Slave
River on the mainland to serve as interpreter.
"This is the Tukarak Island camp/' he told Kerr.
"She says you will find her husband under some rocks beneath that
Kerr uncovered the corpse, frozen solid, fully
clad in the feathered pants and parka that the islanders fashion
from skins of the eider duck. Obviously the rocks had been thrown on
the body, not built up into the customary monument to the dead.
The doctor, Thomas Orford, stripped away the
parka from what had been a young, fine-looking Eskimo man. The head
was sheathed in frozen blood.
"Two bullet holes," the doctor reported. "One
entered the back of the head, the other between the shoulder blades.
Either one could have caused death." The police plane on its flight
from Ottawa yesterday had picked up the doctor, who was also Indian
agent and coroner, at Moose Factory, 350 miles south.
The Mountie began to replace the rocks, piling
them in a proper burial mound. By nightfall, he reckoned, they ought
to reach Camsell Island. They would camp and in the morning they
could examine the six bodies there. Inspector Martin should have
found the first two by now. With luck they could round up the
witnesses, get their statements, finish the inquests and take off
before the ice broke and stranded the plane. He would send the guide
tomorrow to tell the killers to come to the post. By next week he
and Martin would be back in Ottawa with the facts all ready for
typing in quintuplicate. A queer case. The queerest he had ever come
The policeman thought of the man he was burying
and suddenly he was angry. These bloody islands, he thought, these
islands and the white man. Together they had been too much for even
these sane people. It was going to be a hard report to write. He was
going to find it hard to keep his opinions out of it. He could only
try to put down the facts so they would show why it happened.
It had begun with Charlie Ouyerack, a small man
with the sullen face of a disappointed child. In January, 1941,
Ouyerack convinced his neighbors that he was Jesus.
He was an unusual Eskimo. When he was a boy his
father had been murdered. He had never outgrown his sense of
helplessness, loss and resentment. Now, at twenty-seven, he had not
the self-sufficiency so characteristic of his people, who, finding
nature outside themselves uncontrollable, have evolved toward
control of their inward nature. He had some of the traits of the
white man, rare in an Eskimo; he sometimes struck his children,
envied other men's skills, coveted their women and spoke less than
the whole truth. Confronted by the cruelty or indifference of the
elements he gave way at times to panic or anger. And since he could
not respect himself, he practiced self-deceit and craved the respect
Charlie Ouyerack was clever and imaginative. He
claimed mastery of the trance by which medicine men project their
souls through the ether to locate caribou. He studied the New
Testament, a translation in Eskimo syl-labics given out two decades
before by a visiting missionary; and he envied the powers of Jesus,
medicine man of Ka-bloona the white man, who could walk on water and
raise the dead. It was written in the Book that Jesus would visit
the earth again. Sometimes Charlie imagined that he was Jesus,
filled with a power that would raise him above all evil, above all
The winter of 1940-1941 had been bad in the
islands. Seals were scarce and what skins the Eskimos took brought
only a few cents. Some families did not earn enough to replace their
ammunition. They could not afford their only luxuries, tea and
tobacco. They sat through the sunless days in their gloomy round
snowhuts, too discouraged to hunt, hungry, uncertain. At night
Keytowieack the catechist went from igloo to igloo bringing hope by
his reading of the Book.
Keytowieack was forty-seven, already old and
bent, dignified and a little stupid. Ouyerack found it unbearable
that people should listen to him. One night in an open-topped
snowhouse as the catechist read to a gathering, Ouyerack's patience
snapped. "What do you know of Jesus, old man?" he shouted.
Keytowieack stopped reading. Ouyerack stood up.
He was conscious that the flow of time had ceased, that destiny was
waiting on this moment. He raised his hands toward the sky. "Listen
to me," he cried, "I have seen Jesus brighter than the sun."
Across the great dark dome of the sky streamed
the blood-red polar lights. In the silence he could hear them, a
vast faraway rustling, like the banners of an unseen heavenly host.
Ouyerack felt certainty gathering in him. "Listen to me," he cried
again, "Jesus is coming. His spirit has entered into me. I am Jesus,
telling you of the One who is to come."
At that moment a meteor trailed fire across the
sky. A cry went up from the people in the snowhut. Kugveet leaped to
his feet. "It is a sign!" he shouted. "Jesus has spoken!"
Next morning Peter Sala returned from a two-day
hunt on the sea ice. Among the eight families camped on Flaherty
Island, Sala was the natural leader, intelligent, tall, handsome,
the man with the fastest dog team, the surest hunter. As he drove
into camp he could hear people shouting, "Jesus is coming tonight!"
and they clustered around him, shaking his hand, everyone talking at
once. Markusie took the rifle from his sled and shot several dogs.
Markusie was laughing. "We do not need bullets or dogs," Markusie
said. He smashed Sala's rifle against an ice bank. "Material things
are of no use now. Jesus is coming!" Some people started playing
ball with a cap. They seemed very happy. Only the children were
frightened and crying.
Lifting the walrus from his sled, Sala entered
the big igloo. It was crowded with people. Ouyerack, in a stained
white cotton surplice, a wooden cross hanging from his neck, sat
with a staff in his hand facing the others. Near him sat Keytowieack
Sala tried to hide his fright and offered them
walrus meat. Ouyerack refused. "How can we eat meat," he said, "when
we are waiting for God?" And all the people began to cry, "God! We
"Who is God?" Sala asked.
No one spoke. They looked at Ouyerack. He was
staring fixedly at Sala. Then Kugveet said to Sala, "You are not an
ordinary Eskimo. You are taller, stronger, better than the rest of
"No, no, do not think that," Sala said.
Kugveet did not seem to hear. "You must be God,"
he said. "You will teach us to be good."
"No," Sala said, frightened, "I cannot teach
you. I am not good."
Ouyerack rose and came close to Sala. "I am
Jesus," he said. "We have all been saved. Our sins are blotted out.
You are the best among us. You are God." He lowered his voice
hypnotically. "Say you are God. Tell them I am Jesus."
"Hear me," Sala shouted. "I am God!" He believed
It grew dark in the igloo. Singing happily, they
built a bonfire of all their hymnals and Bibles and the flames
leaped in the close steamy darkness. Apawkok the widower came
crowding in with his family. Everyone shook Apaw-kok's hands and the
hands of his eldest son Alec and kissed his thirteen-year-old
daughter Sarah. Then they joined in prayer to Peter Sala and Charlie
Sala saw that Sarah was not praying. "Come
here/' he said.
"I don't know what to say," Sarah said.
"Come here," Sala said. He took her by the arms.
"I am God. Do you not believe in God?"
"I believe in God," Sarah said, "but I do not
believe you are God. And I do not think Charlie Ouyerack is Jesus."
The people began to murmur. Ouyerack in a loud
voice said: "My body is Ouyerack but my thoughts are Jesus."
"You should believe and follow us," Sala said.
"You should believe as your father and brother believe."
Sarah hung her head. She was a willing girl who
had always done as her father told her. Her brother Alec, sitting
beside Ouyerack, reached over and pulled her roughly toward him.
"You do not want to say yes," he said angrily. "You are lying when
you say you believe in God."
"No" Sarah said, frightened now. "Do not hurt
me. Please. I am telling the truth."
"Is this girl any good?" Alec asked Sala.
"No," Sala said. "She does not believe."
Alec hit Sarah heavily in the face. He shifted
his grip to her hair and struck her again.
"I want to believe," Sarah cried, "I want to
believe what my father believes."
"You are lying," Alec shouted. He hit her until
she collapsed, then he pulled her up off the floor by her hair. Sala
looked away. He did not want to see Alec hurting his sister.
"Eyah," Sarah cried faintly, "please stop."
"What's the matter?" Alec shouted. "You look
Her eyes were swelling shut. "I will do worse.
Someone bring me a piece of wood."
"No, no," several people murmured.
Alec turned in fury to Ouyerack. "Am I doing
right or am I doing wrong?"
"You are doing right," Ouyerack said. "She has a
devil in her. The devil will not let her believe."
"I do believe, I do believe," Sarah was crying.
Someone put a board in Alec's hand. He beat
Sarah about the head and neck. Blood gushed from her mouth and she
fell on her side, pulling her parka hood over her head. Sala leaned
down in the dark and felt her heart.
"It does not matter if she is dead," Alec said.
Sarah moaned softly.
"What? You can cry yet?" Sala said, amazed.
"Should this girl live?" Alec asked Charlie
"It is just as well to kill her," Charlie said.
"God will not mind."
In the glare from the burning books Sala saw
that the people's faces were pale. "Take her outside," he commanded.
And the people murmured, "God does not want her in the igloo."
Four Eskimos dragged Sarah from the snowhouse.
Her shawl trailed across the blazing books and her clothing caught
fire. She made a sound like a sigh. Then the people in the igloo
heard her saying outside, "I will go to the house of my father."
Then they heard the sound of blows and the young girl Akeenik came
back in. She was holding the barrel of a broken rifle. The breech
was wet with blood. "My hands are frozen," Akeenik said plaintively.
holding the steel gun barrel while I hammered
Satan to death. Thaw them out for me, someone."
"We have killed a devil," Ouyerack said. "Now we
can all have a good time."
"Let us be thankful Satan is dead," said the
Keytowieack the catechist rose. "No!" he said
angrily. "No, it is all bad. At first I believed you. Now I know you
are wrong. Charlie and Peter are not God and Jesus. God is good.
Jesus was kind. He would not take life as you have taken Sarah's."
Peter Sala's mother screamed that Keytowieack
was Satan. Others began to shout "Devil" at him. Keytowieack started
out, trying to pull others with him. Charlie Ouyerack seized him.
Keytowieack tore away, thrusting past the clutching hands. At the
entrance he paused. "There is only one God," he said. "He is not
here. He is in Heaven."
For a long time the din in the igloo was
deafening. Everyone talked angrily of Keytowieack. Then they heard
the window break. Keytowieack had come back. He looked in the broken
pane and said loudly, "Those who believe in the true God come out.
Come on my side. Help me. Please. I need help."
Peter Sala picked up a slat from the sleeping
bench and hurled it through the window like a harpoon. "I hit Satan
in the mouth," he cried triumphantly.
"All right," Keytowieack mumbled, holding his
bleeding mouth. "I will go away. I will go to my own igloo. But I
will tell you first" he raised his voice "a lot of people will go
astray from listening to you." He backed away from Sala's menacing
"Satan is gone," someone said. "Now Jesus will
come." And they all sang happily, "Jesus is coming."
"No, no," Sala said angrily, "Jesus is here. God
is here. How can Jesus be coming when Jesus is here? Speak to them,
Jesus. What they say is not right."
But the people would not listen. All night they
prayed and sang that Jesus would come. There was no longer need to
work or hunt. Some families, though half-starved, had put away food
for Him, for He would surely be hungry after His trip.
In the morning Sala was still angry and more
than a little frightened, for the things Keytowieack said had found
an echo in his heart. He ordered several Eskimos to harness what
dogs were left and prepared to leave camp with his family. As he
walked past Keytowieack's igloo, a harpoon in each hand, he looked
in the window and saw the old man sitting bowed in a chair.
Bitterness welled up in him against Keytowieack, whose malice had
destroyed his happiness.
"Who are you praying to?" Sala shouted
Keytowieack did not answer.
Sala broke the window. "Look at me," he said. He
poked Keytowieack with his steel-tipped harpoon. "You are not
praying right," he mocked. "Your prayers will do you no good."
Keytowieack did not move or speak.
Some Eskimos, hearing voices, had left their
snowhouses to watch; others had remained in the all-night meeting.
Sala feinted with his harpoons but Keytowieack did not flinch. Sala
threw a harpoon; it pierced Keytowieack's
sleeve. Still the catechist sat with his head
"What can you do now?" Sala taunted. "Look at
me. I am God."
But Keytowieack's eyes remained on his lap and
still he did not speak. Infuriated, Sala said, "You are Satan. I
will kill you." Keytowieack gave no sign that he heard. Sala
gestured to Adlaykok. "Shoot him!"
Adlaykok was a tall, balding, middle-aged Eskimo
whose face had set in tired, half-humorous lines. "If that was God's
command," he said, "to kill all who do not believe, we would all
have been dead long ago."
"I am God," Sala raged. "Shoot him, I said!"
Adlaykok went to his house and came back with
his rifle. Deliberately he aimed through the window at Keytowieack.
"Shoot!" Sala said, as he hesitated. Adlaykok fired.
Keytowieack jerked slightly as the bullet
entered his shoulder, but no sound passed his lips.
"I have no more bullets," Adlaykok said.
"Jesus will give you one," Sala said. Adlaykok
went to the meeting, asked Ouyerack for a bullet, came back, and
shot Keytowieack through the head. The old man toppled sideways from
his chair. After carrying Christ's word for twenty years among the
Belcher igloos, he had died in the image of Satan.
Some people turned away in sudden doubt of the
new religion. But most of the watchers crowded into Keytowieack's
igloo and stared down in silence at the body.
"We should bury him in the right way, with
rocks," Markusie said.
"No," Sala said angrily. "It is no use. He
cannot freeze, he is in hell's fire." He rammed his harpoon down the
old man's mouth and left it quivering upright. "Pull the snow-house
down upon him!" he ordered. Then Sala left camp with his family,
Adlaykok and Ouyerack. Ouyerack had left his wife; he was sleeping
with Sala's sister, Mina. Her husband Moses did not object since
Ouyerack was Jesus.
Early in February, while Sala was hunting,
Ouyerack came to the Tukarak Island camp of Quarack, short, square,
erect, greatest hunter in all the islands. Quarack, too, was
convinced by the tongue of Charlie Ouyerack. But his son-in-law,
Alec Keytowieack, did not believe.
Keytowieack was the son of the murdered
catechist and he could not reconcile his knowledge of Jesus with a
man who had taken one man's wife and now wanted his Eva Naroomi,
daughter of Quarack. Seeing that Keytowieack was not to be
persuaded, Ouyerack said, "You are a devil. Obey me or you will
Now Keytowieack was frightened. "I believe a
little," he said. They were gathered, all except Quarack, in
"You he," Ouyerack said. "Kill him, Moses."
"I do not want to kill someone like myself,"
Ouyerack looked contemptuously at him and went
outside to find Quarack. The great hunter was feeding his dogs.
"Keytowieack is bad," Ouyerack told him, "Jesus
will be coming soon and he will not want to see bad people. Shoot
"Come out, Keytowieack," Ouyerack called.
Keytowieack came out. He had lost his fright. "I
believe in God," he said proudly. "I do not believe in Charlie
"Walk away from the igloo and do not turn
around," Ouyerack said. "Walk out to that black crack in the ice.
You will see something wonderful."
Keytowieack walked out under the rock ledge of
the shore, walking with his back very straight. "Go ahead," Ouyerack
said to Quarack. And Eva Naroomi turned her back as her father shot
her husband between the shoulder blades.
"He is still moving," Ouyerack said.
Quarack, walking closer, shot Keytowieack again.
"He is not dead yet," said Ouyerack. "We must
make sure he is dead." And Quarack walked close to Keytowieack where
he lay on the ice and sent a heavy bullet through his brain.
Ouyerack smiled. "Be happy," he said, "Satan is dead." Singing, they
threw rocks at the body until it was covered.
Late that month, Peter Sala received an
invitation to guide the Hudson's Bay post manager, Ernest Riddell,
to Great Whale River. Here Sala confided the story of the new cult
to interpreter Harold Udgarden, a Hudson's Bay Company pensioner
known to Eskimos as the White Brother. Udgarden told Riddell, who
wired the RCMP through the Hudson's Bay Company's headquarters in
The Mounties had given the Air Force all their
pilots and usable planes. It was April before they could recondition
a broken-down Norseman, borrow a Department of Transport pilot, and
fly in Inspector D. J. Martin and Corporal W. G. Kerr. But even
under the best of conditions the Mounties could not have prevented
the last act of the tragedy.
It took place at a Camsell Island camp while
Quarack was hunting and Sala was guiding Riddell. Ouyerack had gone
back to his wife. Sala's sister, Mina, had been brooding for several
days. She was a powerful hard-faced woman of thirty.
On March 29 at midday she became hysterical. She
ran from igloo to igloo calling, "Jesus is coming to earth. Come all
thou to meet him. We must meet him on the ice!" Shoving and shouting
"Hurry, hurry!" she emptied the camp and herded the children
seaward, the mothers following reluctantly for their children's
sake. It was a fine day, windless and cold.
Far out on the sea ice Mina lifted her hands to
the sky, calling, "Come, Jesus. Come, Jesus." She stopped and said,
"Take your clothes off. We cannot meet Jesus with our clothes on.
Hurry. He is coming!" She ran round the group in a circle, clawing
the clothes from Kumudluk her sister, from Moses her husband,
forcing these two to help her undress the children. As their bodies
grew numb the children cried out in pain and fright, but Mina would
not give them their clothes; she beat off Sala's wife, she ran round
the naked group calling, "Jesus is coming!"
Now Quarack's wife, frantic with fear, came and
snatched her children's clothes, dressed them, gave her baby to her
thirteen-year-old daughter, and carrying another child, hurried back
to camp. Sala's wife tried to dress her sons but they were too stiff
to move; her own feet were freezing; she could carry no more than
her baby. "Help me!" she cried to Mina. But Mina said, "Let them
freeze, it does not matter," and ran back to camp alone.
Those adults who could still move each carried a
child to safety. When Peter Sala returned he found that his two
boys, his mother, his sister Kumudluk, and two other children were
dead. Of his family, only his wife, his baby and Mina were left, and
Mina was insane. It was the end of the madness that had begun with
Ouyerack and long before, with the slaying of Ouyerack's father.
All this went into the crime report of Corporal
Nubby Kerr and Inspector Douglas Martin, the RCMP investigators.
Having put Adlaykok, Quarack and Mina in cells at Moose Factory,
they found that they had been caught in the spring break-up. They
abandoned their plane and returned to the capital by dog team,
canoe, railway handcar and train.
Martin flew back on July 25 with a slight
red-haired sergeant, Henry Kearney. In five days they had finished
the preliminary hearings, Martin, a justice of the peace, acting as
judge, Kearney as prosecutor. Sala, Ouyerack, Quarack, Adlaykok,
Apawkok, Akeenik and Mina were committed for trial in mid-August
when an Ontario Supreme Court judge and two Ottawa lawyers would
arrive on a Hudson's Bay schooner. Then Martin returned, leaving
Kearney in charge of seven prisoners, fifty-odd witnesses and the
In this situation Kearney, a precise,
conscientious man, needed all his knowledge of the north. Flu, often
fatal among Eskimos, struck every man, woman and child in his
charge. With the help of a corporal and two Hudson's Bay men,
Kearney nursed them back to health with only one death. When all
their food except rolled oats was gone he organized hunting
expeditions. He summonsed a prospecting party to act as jurymen, put
his prisoners to work making tables, chairs and benches, and by the
time Mr. Justice C. P. Plaxton arrived, his courtroom was ready for
It was one of the strangest trials ever held.
Kearney had set up a marquee as big as a carnival tent. At one end
hung a large photograph of the King and Queen. Beneath it was the
judge's bench, a wooden flag-draped table. The judge, bewigged and
begowned, faced the befeathered Eskimo witnesses who squatted on the
moss floor like a flock of manlike birds. Wooden benches on either
side held the jurymen, their feet swathed in bearskins; the two
black-garbed lawyers; two Mounties in scarlet tunics; and the
prisoners, arms akimbo, Ouyerack emotionless, Sala rocking back and
forth, faster and faster as the bizarre case progressed. As the
women testified, their children would peep from a cocoon of skins on
their backs and fix their dark unblinking eyes disconcertingly on
the lawyer. Rain drummed on the canvas roof. Eskimos sneezed and
snuffled and over all hung the ripe aroma of half-tanned sealskins.
Mina, who had to be carried into court strapped
on a stretcher, was declared insane. The jury found Apawkok and
Akeenik "Not guilty, on account of temporary insanity." Quarack,
Sala and Ouyerack were sentenced to two years with hard labor to be
served in the RCMP guardroom at Moose Factory.
Here Charlie Ouyerack, after only a year in
captivity, experienced the final mystic adventure. Officially he
died of tuberculosis. But strangely, his tests were negative. It
seems likely that the Eskimos were nearer the truth than the
doctors; Ouyerack, they said, willed himself to die. Perhaps the
murders lay on his conscience. Perhaps he merely mourned his lost
prestige. Or perhaps he missed the freedom of life on the Belchers,
which, unutterably bleak as they are, are home to the islanders.
No one feels this more deeply than Peter Sala.
Forbidden by the RCMP to return to his rocky reefs, he wanders the
mainland shores, a lonely memory-haunted exile.
The Belcher Island murders, for all their
strangeness of setting, for all their bizarre fanaticism, are in
essence typical. In an average year the Mounties will investigate
forty-five murders. Ten will be murder and suicide, without a
suggestion of mystery; a Mountie calls the coroner and the wagon.
Ten will be murder while insane; some harassed soul runs amuck with
a gun, knife or ax; his capture may be dangerous, but again, no
mystery to solve. In another ten cases the investigator arrives on
the scene to find the murderer sitting in a daze, possibly drunk,
not only willing but anxious to confess. Only in about half the
remainder is much reasoning required, and this, as a rule, not
clever deduction but a shrewd, careful plugging-up of those legal
loopholes through which a guilty defendant might wriggle free. The
fiction murder is nearly always a crime of the intellect. The
real-life murder, in Canada, is usually a crime of passion. The
investigators have little to do but ask questions. Their legs get a
harder workout than their wits.
Nevertheless there is mystery in every murder,
facts beneath the surface, secrets dimly perceived, to be drawn from
the depths like fish from a pool. The investigators may know what
has happened, they do not know why, and the law demands proof of
intent. Justice is based on religion, in which concern is divided
between what we do and what we are. It was not enough for the
Mounties to prove that Alec Keytowieack had died from a gun in
Quarack's hand. Who or what had compelled Quarack to shoot?
The mystery of the human heart confronts the
Mounted Policeman in the murders he investigates. When Inspector
Martin and Corporal Kerr flew to the Belcher Islands they knew in a
few hours who was dead and how they had died. But the truth was more
than that. The truth was the islands, the ice-bound reefs, the long
dark winter, the scarceness of game, the influence of the white man,
the way the Eskimo thinks. In the light of this truth, as the
Mounties presented it, the court had dispensed its justice.
This concept of police work is implied in the
"Maintiens le droit " which in practice
he translates as "Get the Facts," and "Be Fair." To be fair is to be
just and to be just one must know the facts, not some of the facts,
not the obvious facts, but all pertinent facts, the truth. Truth and
justice are aspects of the same thing. There is no place where one
leaves off and the other begins, no way the Mountie can separate
what he does from how he does it. Faith in this principle, this
police ideal, lies at the heart of his frontier tradition.