Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Cheque Forgery Man... (Convict Interred at Boot Hill Cemetery)

Hello Friends,

Our stories about the convicts buried at Boot Hill Cemetery (used between 1913-1967) in New Westminster, BC, now turns to a case of large proportions in Western Canada. The convict accused and sentenced, was interred at Boot Hill Cemetery, also known as the B.C. Penitentiary Cemetery. It has finally been recognized by the City of New Westminster with a small sign at the gate, the long grasses, weeds and brambles removed, and new stones laid (the old grave markers the prisoners had made were removed) in place, using a ground penetrating device. This is our nineteenth blog about the convicts at Boot Hill.

Meet Convict #9693 - W Black
Courtesy of Find A Grave - photo: Herbert Rickards
Location - northeast end of the cemetery - bottom of hill, last row

After lengthy research I believe we found the man buried in the cemetery. Clues were provided: his first initial was "W" and his death recorded in 1960. The investigation into this convict led to the following incredible story about a convict named "William Black"... or so I thought he was named.

Mr. Black was believed to have been born in Vancouver, BC; or at least all information led to him being "from" the city. Although we could not locate a death certificate, Ancestry did assist us in finding information concerning his death.:
Courtesy Ancestry.ca - William Black, deceased Aug.13, 1960
With this information at hand, a wild chase was on, leading me through archived newspaper reports, to find an incredible case that was deemed to be one of the largest forgery cases in Canada of it's time (the 1950s).
Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Jul.25, 1958) pg01

Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Aug.01, 1958) pg02
News came in the form of two short articles from Vancouver Island, implicating William Black as a cheque forger, and suspecting a second man (unnamed). He was accused of walking into the Bank of Montreal in Victoria, B.C., attempting to cash a "forged" Canadian Income Tax refund cheque for $263.15. This would be valued today(60 years later) at $2,280.06 in Canadian currency.

Further information provided in the article indicated that 16 banks lost approximately $4,228.00 (valued $36,663.39 today-Canadian currency) within 3 hours. It appeared to be a one-day spree of forged cheque cashing. William was released on $2500 bail, to appear in court August 28, 1958.
Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Aug.28, 1958) pg01
Once the news was out, I scrambled to find updates about the court case. I could not locate any B.C. Court documents, nor were they available through the Archives held in the Provincial Capital (Victoria, B.C.). However, the above article helped us to understand news reported at the time.

Uncashed cheques totalling approximately $112,209.00 (valued at nearly a Million Canadian dollars today) were held on exhibit at William Black's preliminary hearing. It was thought that a ring was going to operate across the country, with the headquarters being in Vancouver, B.C. Equipment to create forged Government cheques was discovered wrapped in a blanket, tossed in the Fraser River, along with partially completed driver's licenses and credit reference cards. 22 witnesses took the stand that first day, maps were produced covering the Provinces, and further evidence was found in an apartment that William Black had rented. After 2 1/2 hours, the court was adjourned to the following Thursday to hear the remainder of 47 witnesses. Bail was then withdrawn and raised to $5000.
Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Sep.05, 1958) pg 01
Charged with "attempting to deal with a forged document", Black was back in court on September 4th. Fourteen witnesses testified, and a further nine were scheduled for the following Thursday. For the first time, William's age is documented. Note, newspaper accounts are not always accurate, but it certainly tells us we are on the correct path. Born in 1926, would put William's age at 32 years.

James Proudfoot was representing William Black. He indicated his client could not come up with sureties to be released on the $5000 bail, and had been held in custody (jail) after his last appearance in court.

It had been suspected that William had not acted alone; however, the article does not name the other accused person involved in the scheme. In the August 28th article, we learned Black had been arrested driving a rental car to Nanaimo, B.C. In this report it states they had been on a 3.5 hour cheque cashing spree in the Greater Victoria area, which involved 18 bank branches, on Thursday July 24th. It is noted that several police forces and agencies worked together on the case: Victoria Police, Saanich Police, Vancouver Police, and Victoria and Richmond R.C.M.P. agencies.

What had me puzzled is the blanket found in the Fraser River. Taking a guess at why this piece of evidence was tossed into one of the biggest rivers in the province, I assume while Black was out on bail, he took a ferry home to Vancouver and tried to discard of this crucial evidence. Or, perhaps his partner in crime attempted to dispose of the evidence. Had he been caught? Or was he still out there?
Map of Greater Vancouver & Fraser River
With the different police agencies searching his home, it has me believing they found the evidence either by confession, something documented at his home, or because Black lived on the water front. Fraser River was used as a transport highway, and still is today. Mostly for logging. I would guess that by discarding the evidence in a wrapped up blanket, it wouldn't be long before it fell apart and scattered the documents and other evidence into the river. It is amazing that the police were able to pull it from the water. I have seen the river water become quite turbulent dependant on the weather and boat traffic.


Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Sep.12, 1958) pg 02
On September 12, 1958, it is announced William Black's case will be heard in court in the Fall Assizes. The article provides us with a clearer description of the evidence found at the river. It's reported that two cardboard boxes bundled in blankets, containing thousands of cheques, were found on the edge of Fraser River, not in it. The map provided above, shows the river flowing along the south edge of the city. What point along the river William had stored these boxes is not clear. I took at a look at the city directories. Available up to 1955 (later editions are held in Archives), I found a number of "William Black's" listed; however, none were listed in a home near the river. It certainly would require further digging.
Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Sep.18, 1958) pg 06
Finally there is news as to whom William Black's accomplice was:
Robert J. Wilson, 30 years old, arrested in Vancouver, B.C. by detectives of two different agencies. The hard work of the police paid off. They laid a charge on Wilson for the forged document (cheque) the pair attempted to cash in a Saanich Bank of Montreal branch.

Further explained in the Sep.18, 1958, article, was Black's automobile chase with the police. Previously we learned the vehicle he had been driving, and pulled over in, was a rental. Nothing was mentioned about a chase, although I wondered why he would have been stopped, unless under suspicion. It would be safe to make an assumption that the bank alerted the police immediately with a description of Black and his vehicle, which led to the chase.

According to the newspaper report, Black's bail was now set at $7500 and two property sureties. Mr. Proudfoot (Black's lawyer) also announced he would be released from Oakalla jail (Provincial jail in Burnaby, B.C.). It is also reported that Wilson's bail is set at $5000 and he's being represented by the same lawyer.
Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Sep.19, 1958) pg02
Robert J. Wilson's preliminary trial was set for the the following Thursday, Sep. 25, 1958.
Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Oct.02, 1958) pg14
It appears, in the above article, that Robert Wilson was not identified by any of the witnesses, as being part of the scheme.

Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Nov.04, 1958) pg 02
William Black's case was heard in the Assizes Court on Monday, November 3, 1958. He was identified as the man who fled in the vehicle, which led to a chase. The police lost him, but later the RCMP stopped him on the highway up to Nanaimo, B.C. Once in custody, the police contacted the Vancouver agency, who then searched his apartment and found evidence of forged driver's licenses, credit cards and more. A few days later other evidence was uncovered by the Fraser River. It is said the forgeries were very good ones.
Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Nov.13, 1958) pg02
Sentencing was swift. Guilty. William Black received five years in the B.C. Penitentiary (Federal prison) on five counts of forgery and cashing government cheques.


Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News (Feb.03, 1959) pg02
Black attempted to file an appeal in February 1959, but it was dismissed in court.


Made with Google.ca Maps - Greater Vancouver & Vancouver Island region
Above, find our map of the areas in which William Black (Krebs) worked, lived and was caught in.

I wasn't satisfied with the lack of information we found on Mr. Black, as all accounts advised us he was from Vancouver. Why I could not find more, had me stumped. So I put my "detective" hat on. The notice of a death certificate telling us William Black died on August 13, 1960, did not provide a reason of death. I contacted the B.C. Archives and asked for a copy of the record. At first, I thought they had sent me the incorrect document, for the name on the certificate read "William Krebs". Upon closer view, it contained the same date of death, same location (New Westminster); it also indicated he was 35 years old from Ohio, USA. So I dug in and became lucky!

William Black was an alias for William Krebs. With this information, everything began to fall into place.
Courtesy B.C. Archives - William Krebs - deceased August 13, 1960
William Krebs: born May 08, 1925.
Parents: Gus Krebs and Pearl Adams
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Married: Mary Lou
Deceased: August 13, 1960
Reason for death: Coronary Thrombosis (blockage of flow of blood to the heart caused by a blood clot.)

Length of time in this Country: 2 years 8 months

This was astounding, and my search to discover who William Black aka Krebs was, widened. The occupation listed on the certificate was "bookkeeper", but was this true?
With the help of Ancestry.ca I discovered William had been an interesting man.

In the Struthers, Ohio census of 1930 - William (then 6 years old) listed as living with his parents, his Grandmother (Florence Adams), his brother (Norman, 12 years old) and sister (Jean A, 13 years old).
His father, Augustus, was from Germany and worked as a cabinet maker; while his mother Pearl, was from Pennsylvania and was a stay at home mother.

His death certificate named Youngstown as his place of birth. I found that today it's only a 13 minute drive to Struthers. Certainly I had found the correct William Krebs.

Next, I learned that William had signed up for active duty in World War 2 in the US Navy:
Courtesy Ancestry.ca - Muster Roll, June 30, 1944

Courtesy Ancestry.ca - WW2 Draft Card - Krebs, William Ray (1944-1945)
With a description provided on the draft card, we learn that William may have been living in Nevada during 1944-1945 when he enlisted. Standing 5'11", 157 lbs, with brown hair and eyes, and a "ruddy" (meaning a healthy red colour) complexion; we get a sense of his appearance.

The USS Samuel B Roberts (DE-413) was a class destroyer escort ship, which was sunk during the Battle of Samar on October 25, 1944, near the Philippines. She had been protecting 3 small escort carriers, when at dawn the Japanese Center Force attacked. She charged towards a heavy cruiser, and once in torpedo range, was able to blast off it's stern. She continued to charge and shoot at several other Japanese ships, firing over 600 shells while maneuvering at close range. She was hit by three large shells which tore through the port side of her aft engine room, and lost one of her guns. At 9:35am the order was given to abandon ship. She sank 30 minutes later with 90 of her crew, while 120 survived on life boats for the next 50 hours before being rescued.

William Krebs was on the injured list.
Courtesy Ancestry.ca - Ohio Wounded List (1941-1944)
I next learned that Krebs had been married and divorced once (Georgia May Krebs, 1953), with a son (Thomas Ray Krebs); and his second marriage was to Mary Lou Bush (1955). He was living in Youngstown, listing his birth in Struthers, Ohio.

In a City Directory for Spokane, Washington of 1958, I found a listing for William Krebs and Mary Krebs, working as a maintenance man.
Courtesy Ancestry.ca - City Directories, Spokane Wash. - 1958
This directory would put William not far from Vancouver, B.C. Why William Krebs (alias Black) traveled to Vancouver, B.C. is unknown at this time. Was he fleeing from his second marriage, or had Mary gone along? Did his family have connections in Spokane area? Did he make promises to send money home? Were things not quite right with him after WW2? Or was there someone who suggested the idea of making fast money that enticed him? The reasons may never be clear, and we can only speculate at this time.

1958, the world was in the midst of what was called the "Eisenhower Recession". Many businesses were affected and shut down. It lasted approximately 8 months before recovery began, and by the end of the year, the economy was heading towards new high levels of employment and production.
Perhaps this was one reason for William's move to using illegal means to create income. Why he chose Vancouver, B.C. is questionable.

William passed away in the B.C. Penitentiary on August 13, 1960 due to a blood clot. He was buried in Boot Hill Cemetery (for inmates) as his body was not claimed by family or friends.
This may tell us that Mary (his wife) and his family in Ohio, either didn't know William had died, or decided not to claim his body.

This is the end of our fascinating story of Mr. William Krebs (alias: William Black). Thank you for coming along on this journey.


You can comment on our Facebook Page, or send an email using our Website to connect with us. Know anything to help support this effort in finding out who the Boot Hill Convicts were? Contact us! We'd love to hear from you.

If you have not read any of our previous accounts, please check them out. Each convicts' story is filled with interesting facts, incredible adventures and emotional effect.
01) Meet Convict 1548 - Thompson
02) Meet Convict 2370 - Walsh
03) Meet Convict 2304 - Chinley
04) Meet Convict 1774 - Hinds
05) Meet Convicts 1628 - Herman Wilson + Unknown# - Joseph Smith
06) Meet Convict 1659 - Y. Yoshie
07) Meet Convict 1884 - Moses Paul
08) Meet Convict 2516 - Daniel Henrick Urick
09) Meet Convict 1948 - Unknown Gim
10) Meet Convict 2938 - Reginald John Colpitts
11) Meet Convict 5603 - Stephen Poole
12) Meet Convict 3130 - Harry Davis
13) Meet Convict 2312 - Albert Hill
14) Meet Convict Unknown# - Phillip Hopkins
15) Meet Convict #9720 - Norman Donald Bottineau
16) Meet Convict #2225 - Louie Num
17) Meet Convict #3237 - Harold Gordon McMaster
18) Meet Convict #4234 - Herbert Ross


Sources: Ancestry.ca; Find A Grave; Newspapers.com; BC Archives; Google.ca; Inflationcalculator.ca; Wikipedia; UBC Library Open Collections; Canadiana Online 

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