Friday, April 14, 2017

Clubbed to Death! (Convict Interred at Boot Hill Cemetery)

Hello Friends,

This next instalment (our eleventh!) of our investigation into the convicts of Boot Hill Cemetery situated above the Glenbrooke Ravine trail in New Westminster, in an unmarked, overgrown acre surrounded by tall trees in which crows sit, carries harrowing details. The cemetery was used for convicts of the old B.C. Penitentiary (closed in 1980), known for it's riots and murders.

This true story is of a heinous and gruesome crime, one witnessed by a child.

Meet Convict #5603 - Stephen Poole
Photo by Kati - Convict #5603 (top section - northwest)

The news of murder was announced in the Prince George Citizen on March 04, 1943.
Courtesy Prince George Newspapers - Prince George Citizen (Mar.04, 1943)
It is interesting the murder took place several months previously. In January 1943, while stationed in Prince George, Sergeant George H. Clark received a wire about a murder in Fort Ware. In order to send the wire, a First Nations man snowshoed 80 miles to Finlay Forks (destroyed in 1967 due to a lake flood) where a Hudson's Bay Company (Fur and Trading post) man radioed the message to their Hazelton post. From there a HBC employee telephoned Prince George, B.C. Provincial Police dispatch to relay the message.
Courtesy Google Maps - showing the areas in which the message travelled
Fort Ware (situated on the Finlay River) is approximately 361 miles (581 kilometres) north of Prince George, BC. It was only accessible by bush plane and snow shoe at that time. The area was covered in snow and ice. It wasn't until 3 weeks later that the Sergeant and his crew were able to fly out in a Fairchild airplane towards the frozen wilderness. The little town consisted of a Hudson's Bay store, a warehouse and fur cache, a cabin for trappers who travelled through the area, and the cabin of the store manager and his family.

Courtesy BC Archives - Police party, Fort Ware (Accession No. 193501-001)
Courtesy BC Provincial Police Stories, Vol.3 - by Cecil Clark
Sergeant George H. Clark, along with Game Warden A. Jank, and Special Constable "Skook" Davidson flew in a small airplane piloted by Pat Carey to Fort St. James where they waited for 3 days due to weather concerns. Once the stormy weather cleared, they flew to Finlay River and landed on the frozen river to fuel up with the drums of gasoline anchored in deep snow. Then the pilot skimmed his plane up the river to Fort Ware, arriving on February 4th at 11 am, and greeted by Jack Copeland (the store manager) who warned them more bad weather was on its way. With this news in mind, Sergeant Clark hurriedly interviewed a number of people to gather facts.

Information gathered indicated Stephen Poole, in a drunken rage, clubbed his wife to death with the butt of his rifle near the frozen river in early January 1943. He left her body laying in the snow and staggered home to sleep. The following morning, he took his wife's body home and led people to believe she had fallen asleep on the ice and froze to death. Those who saw her body thought otherwise and decided to contact the police. It was also said that Poole's son Tommy, 10 years old, had witnessed the crime.

Sergeant Clark made a decision to leave Special Constable "Skook" Davidson in Fort Ware to arrest Stephen Poole, who was away in the wilderness on his trap line. He then gathered the evidence, a blood-stained rifle, and advised Davidson he'd be back to collect the witnesses and apprehend Poole (when he came back with his fur). The Sergeant flew out of Fort Ware just prior to the next storm.

Once back in Prince George, after a 10 day trip due to weather problems, the Sergeant called together a party to conduct an inquest. Magistrate Bill Harris doubled up duties and took on the extra role of coroner. A medical officer, Captain J. C. Dawson, came from a nearby army camp. The party also included an "Indian Agent", Bob Howe, and Constable J. M. Russell.

March 2, 1943, "Skook" Davidson radioed that he had detained Stephen Poole. The Sergeant's party flew out to Fort Ware, this time without any trouble. Upon arrival they exhumed Margaret Poole's frozen body. She was examined by Captain (Dr.) Dawson, while Stephen Poole sat on a fence a nearby, said to be observing everything calmly.

Courtesy BC Archives - Margaret Poole's Death Certificate
An inquest was held in one of the log cabins, with a small jury sworn in. After the evidence was heard, everyone but the jury stepped outside. Shortly after, the jury was ready with their decision. Poole was arrested. A preliminary hearing was held that evening, followed by Magistrate Harris' decision to bring Poole to trial.

That evening Poole mentioned to Constable Russell, "What about Margaret? Suppose she stop there all night ... mebbe wolves eat her!" The victim's body had been sitting in an open pine coffin on a hilltop clearing known as a cemetery. Harris, Dawson, Clark and Davidson went to the cemetery, put the lid on the coffin, and lowered it into a grave in the frozen earth. It wasn't until just after midnight that the task was completed. The men stood in silence, and Constable Davidson remarked to give her a soldier's farewell. He drew his gun, fired 6 shots into the air, and Sergeant Clark passed a mickey of rum around the group.

The flight back to Prince George, although difficult and with stops at McLeod Lake and Fort St. James, carried the Magistrate, the Doctor, 3 policemen, the Indian Agent, Stephen Poole and his two children.

Courtesy Prince George Newspapers - Prince George Citizen (May06, 1943)
On May 20, 1943 further news came about the Assizes.

Courtesy Prince George Newspapers - Prince George Citizen (May20, 1943) pg 1 & 5
The case was held over until the witnesses could be flown in; trappers who had returned to their trap lines because the plane had been delayed due to weather issues. It wasn't until October 1943 that the trial was able to commence.

Courtesy Prince George Newspapers - Prince George Citizen (Oct07, 1943) pg1
News of the trial came on October 07, 1943, via the Prince George Citizen. The headlines explain it clearly.
Courtesy Prince George Newspapers - Prince George Citizen (Oct07, 1943) pg1
The Prince George Citizen goes on to explain the Jury delivered its verdict in 90 minutes. Although Poole's counsel asked for lenience, Justice Bird stated there was only one sentence in accordance with the facts, and thus Stephen Poole was sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial took 2 days to complete, commencing on Friday 11 am and ending Saturday 2 pm. Find below the remainder of the article describing the details, witness testimony and reason for the sentencing.

Courtesy Prince George Newspapers - Prince George Citizen (Oct07, 1943) pg1

Courtesy Prince George Newspapers - Prince George Citizen (Oct07, 1943) pg6
The account of the child witness, explaining how his father had clubbed his mother over the head, then took off her dress and hid it in the ice, is disturbing. Tommy also explained that his father had clubbed him on the forehead and nose afterwards, told him his mother was dead and not to tell his grandmother. The child later went out and covered his mother with his sweater. For a child to witness such an aggressive act, and then to have to talk about it with a court full of strange people, could not have been easy. I can only imagine the emotions he felt, knowing he had lost his mother and would soon lose his father. It was suggested that Poole was angry (or even jealous) with his wife for drinking and dancing all day, and forgetting to come home as he had expected. No matter why it happened, it could not have been an easy statement to make for any child.

It's interesting to note there were several interpreters called upon to learn the facts fully. The history of indigenous people in the Fort Ware area is rich in culture and tradition. The Kwadacha First Nation (part of the Kaska Dena First Nation) speak a variety of Athabaskan languages. In British Columbia alone there are over 14 different languages, Beaver (or Dane-zaa, meaning "True People") being one of them.
Today, the Fort Ware area (located in the Rocky Mountain Trench), is only accessible by logging road leading north out of Prince George, and airplane. The Lejac Residential School was situated on Fraser Lake, west of Prince George, B.C. It was operated by the Catholic Church from 1922 to 1976. Charges of physical and sexual abuse did not escape this school. It was razed after the land was transferred to the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation, who's territory included the area.
The mention of the school and Rev. Father A. R. Simpson leads us to believe that it's possible the children of Stephen Poole may have been students.

What happened to Margaret Poole's children, Tommy and William, after the trial is unknown.

Another article is located in the Prince George Citizen on October 07, 1943 about one of the witnesses, Joe McCook, a trapper and guide.
Courtesy Prince George Newspapers - Prince George Citizen (Oct07, 1943) pg1
Research of Joe McCook presented a Death Certificate which indicated he passed away on September 24, 1979 due to an accident. Joe had been sleeping in "the bush" when his sleeping bag and clothing caught fire from the sparks of the camp fire. He died 5 days later due to severe thermal burns to 42% of his body, and Pulmonary Edema (fluid in the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing and lack of oxygen in the blood). He was laid to rest in the Fort Ware Cemetery on October 02, 1979. Joe was 69 years old (born June 25, 1910 at Lower Post, B.C. - near the B.C./Yukon border on the Liard River), single, a construction worker, and resident of Fort Ware.

Further documentation of the murder is provided in the below account found for the year ending in March 31, 1944 of the Provincial Police reports.
Courtesy Reports of Commissioner of Provincial Police - 1943-1944
Special Constable John Ogalvie Davidson, known as "Skook" or "Skookum" (a Chinook word meaning strong, monstrous, and brave), was born in Scotland on July 29, 1891, and immigrated to Canada when he was 13 years young. "Skook" was a legend in the Canadian West, given the rank of "Special Constable" in the B.C. Provincial Police in 1940 (acting as Coroner from time to time) due to his knowledge of the north; he was a horse packer, rancher and guide, unmarried, and lived alone on his remote Diamond J. Ranch in the Kechika Valley at the foot of Terminus Mountain (accessible only by pack trail or float plane). He owned a herd of horses, whom he cared deeply for, allowing them to be pensioned off rather than shot when they entered old age. Skook would not tolerate the mistreatment of animals, and always put his horses first. Stories would circulate around the north that not only bones of aging horses were scattered near the Kechika River, but also those of horse rustlers. He often packed supplies in from Fort Ware (120 miles to the south), and Lower Post (near the Yukon border). Skook's Landing at Liard River was named after Davidson, as it was the place he'd have his supplies dropped for pick up. Mount Skook Davidson, just west of his ranch, was also named after him. Davidson served in France during WW1 as scout, was wounded, made Sergeant 17 times (even though he managed to get demoted), and made Corporal by the end of the war. He received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar, the Military Medal and the French Croix de Guerre for his bravery. Skook was known to have helped discover the route for the Alaska Highway. Time, however, took a toll on this amazing man, and after a bad fire on his ranch (1972) and the loss of his dear friend Mabel Frank, with arthritis taking hold, Skook eventually was taken to a rest home in North Vancouver where he died on August 29, 1977, due to cardio arrest at the age of 86.
Please enjoy some photos (BC Archives Assession No. 198002-17) we found, as well as a map of the area courtesy of Google Maps.
Courtesy BC Archives - 1930, Skook & his pack dogs, Photo: Swannell, Frank Cyril
Courtesy BC Archives - 1931, Skook & pack horse, Photo: Swannell, Frank Cyril
Courtesy Google Maps - Northern B.C. where Skook was a legend
Stephen Poole was transferred to the B.C. Penitentiary to serve his life sentence. Two + one half years later he died, on June 28, 1946. His Death Certificate indicates he was born in 1909, was 37 years old, of the Fort Grahame Band (south of Finlay River. Some members of this band formed the Fort Ware Band, which later became known as Kwadacha Nation.) The manner of his death was due to Broncogenic Carcinoma of the Lungs (a lung cancer) and Diffuse Tuberculosis Pneumonia (lung infection) . Stephen had been attended by a physician for 6 months.

He was buried on July 02, 1946 in the Boot Hill Cemetery.
Courtesy - Stephen Poole's Death Certificate
The B.C. Archives contain several photographs of Fort Ware, B.C. which helps us to understand the remoteness of the area.
Courtesy BC Archives - 1939 Assec.No.198002-017, i-33507

Courtesy BC Archives - 1939 Photo by: Swannell, Frank Cyril, Ass.No. 198002-017, i-33503
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

We thank you for joining us on this journey of discovery into who the convicts buried at the Boot Hill Cemetery are. If you have any information to share with us, or are interested in more details, please join our conversation at our Facebook page, comment here, or contact us via our Website. We'd love to hear from you, exchange ideas and thoughts, and/or just chat.

Until next time,

Sources: BC Archives;;; Prince George Newspapers; Open Library UBC, British Columbia Legislative Assembly; BC Provincial Police Stories, Vol.3 - by Deputy Commissioner Cecil Clark; Google Maps; Kwadacha Nation; Wikipedia; Reports of Commissioner of Provincial Police 1943;; (Our People).

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