Thursday, May 4, 2017

Corpse Hidden in Cellar! (Convict Interred at Boot Hill Cemetery)

Hello Friends,

This twelve instalment of the true crime stories of Convicts buried in the Boot Hill Cemetery, New Westminster, B.C., is unique. Not only were there no witnesses to the crime, but the suspect hid the body in his cellar! Want to know more? Join me on this journey of discovery.

Meet Convict #3130 - Harry Davis
Courtesy Find a Grave - photo: Herbert Richards (2007) - Middle Section, North edge of Ravine

We first learned about Harry Davis in the newspapers by accident. The news reported our convict's fate under the name of "Henry Davis". However, further research confirmed that this was our man.
Courtesy - Winnipeg Tribune (Mar09, 1926) pg 8.
Courtesy - Ottawa Journal (Mar09, 1926) pg 14
According to the newspaper articles, Harry lived on the Yukon River in Yukon Territory, Canada. His log cabin was situated south of Fort Selkirk, which in the 1920's was not a large town, and today is registered as a Historical Settlement. The Fort was named by Robert Campbell of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1852 when a trading post was established. It is the place where the Northern Tutchone First Nations people first encountered Europeans and Colonists in the central area of the Yukon. The Fort was built on the Yukon River at the confluence of the Pelly River, and became an important supply route until the mid-1950's when the Klondike Highway bypassed it, and traffic on the river decreased. There is no road access; however visitors can arrive by boat or small airplane.
Courtesy Yukon Register of Historic Places - Fort Selkirk today
Courtesy Google Maps - Yukon Territory, Canada
The newspaper articles indicate that a Charles Smith had been missing since February 12, 1926. In search of more information I found documents to assist in a better understanding.
Courtesy UBC Library Open Collections - RCMP Report 1926
Constable Arthur Blythe Thornthwaite was stationed in Carmacks when he received word from a wood camp owner at Seventeen Mile on February 26, 1926, stating Charles Smith had gone missing. His cabin was 27 miles below Fort Selkirk. The Constable hired Joe Menzies, a tracker, to assist in the investigation. They arrived at Harry Davis' cabin, 21 miles below Fort Selkirk, on March 3rd. Harry explained Charles last visited him on February 12th, and had given him some caribou meat before leaving. The two were known to one another, often visiting each others' cabins or walking into Selkirk together.

With this news, the Constable and Menzies continued down river to Charles' cabin on one of the many small islands. Charles had trap lines on the shoreline, so the men followed them over the next 3 days, covering approximately 50 square miles. They found one clue. Charles had a calendar hanging on the wall in his cabin with all the dates crossed off, up to and including February 12th, 1926. Thornthwaite knew Smith to cross the dates off each morning, so his belief was that the wood chopper had been there the morning of the 12th. With this information in mind, the Constable knew he must have gone missing directly after, and since Harry Davis had seen him on that same day, there was more to tell to his story. The men decided to go back to visit with Harry Davis and ask more questions.

On March 7th, 1926, Constable Thornthwaite and Mr. Menzies arrived back at Harry's log cabin with their dog teams. While Menzies took a poke around the forest and the outside of the cabin for tracks and signs of disturbance, the Constable went inside to talk with Davis. Thornthwaite decided to take it easy, but soon had their discussion back directed back on Davis' last sighting of Smith. Harry described the wood chopper had been wearing a dark flannel shirt, a leather belt with Colt Automatic attached, and wore a dark blue toque, Indian moccasins, with an US Army issued khaki rucksack. Thornthwaite then noticed Davis' calendar had all dates crossed off but February 12th. Something must have occurred on that date to upset Harry's routine. 

Thornthwaite stated his visit was a reason to file Davis' claim for welfare rations, and asked if he could search the cabin to ensure his claim was truthful. Harry provided permission and explained he'd not had meat all winter because he couldn't afford the cost of ammunition. This was different from what Davis explained during their prior visit. Davis remained in the centre of the cabin during the search; then Thornthwaite asked him to step back. He found what could have been a blood stain on the wooden floor, and questioned Harry further. Then he uncovered a crack in the dirt and sand on the floor. It was the trapdoor to the cellar. Davis became nervous, stated he'd not been in the cellar for months, but the Constable pried open the door. Harry Davis attempted to grab his rifle, but Menzies, who had come into the cabin with nothing to report, pointed his gun at Harry's chest. With this Harry admitted to killing Charles Smith. Thornthwaite spotted a pair of legs below and climbed down into the cellar to discover Charles' body. His head had been bashed in, with a bullet wound to the chest. His revolver was missing but there was over $400 dollars in his pocket.

Harry Davis was formally arrested that day.
Courtesy Yukon Archives-photo: Thornthwaite, Harry Davis, Assess.No. 297.YA.83-22.51
Apparently Charles asked Harry to put a mustard plaster on his back, but when he complained it was too hot, a fight ensued. Smith hit Davis twice, but Davis fought back and hit Smith over the head with a block of wood and then his rifle. When Charles Smith fell to the floor, Harry Davis shot him. He then lowered Charles' body into the cellar and washed the blood off the floor. Harry Davis stated that he could feel Charles Smith's eyes watching him from the cellar.

Harry Davis was taken to Fort Selkirk where he was kept at the back of the General Store to be monitored. The following day Joe Menzies and another man returned to the cabin to retrieve Charles Smith's body. A week later Constable Thornthwaite and Constable J. R. Purdue (from Whitehorse) delivered Harry Davis and Charles' corpse to the Dawson City jail via Royal Mail Stage Coach.

Courtesy Yukon Archives-photo: Myers, Dawson Court House, Assess No. 462.YA.93-142.12
Courtesy Yukon Archives-photo: Walmsley, Dawson Jail, Assess No. Assess No. 351.YA.10404
Courtesy Yukon Archives-photo: Claude Tidd, Dawson 1930's, Assess No.Assess No. 74.YA.8351
Courtesy Quesnel Museum - Cariboo Observer (Mar.27, 1926)
On June 21, 1926, Harry Davis was convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to "Life Imprisonment with Hard Labour". For unknown reasons, he was transferred to the B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster, B.C. on August 4, 1926 where he would serve his term until his death.

The story is not finished. On March 5th, 1927, Harry Davis died of "Acute Congestion of Lungs, Exposure (self-inflicted)".

On March 7th, 1927, a Coroner's Inquest was held. Warden Herbert Walters Cooper testified that Harry Davis was feigning insanity so he would be transferred to a Provincial Mental Hospital. On the evening of March 4th, Dr. Green and Warden Cooper agreed to have Davis transferred into an isolation cell (perhaps as punishment - this is not confirmed), both visiting with him over a 12 hour period. They noticed Davis had removed all his clothing; however, neither was concerned indicating the temperature of the cell was "unusually warm". The Warden's testimony stated the inmate was possibly suicidal; although the Doctor's testimony did not concur with this. Not quite 12 hours later, the Coroner received word from the Night Keeper indicating there was something wrong. When Dr. Green arrived at the penitentiary, Davis was laying under a heap of blankets, his body freezing, his breath shallow and his pulse unusually slow. Davis was removed from the cell, brought to the kitchen and laid next to the stove surrounded by hot water bottles. In spite of this, Harry Davis died a few hours later.

The Coroner's Jury ruled that Harry Davis died at 5 a.m. on March 5, 1927, in the Penitentiary Hospital as a result of acute congestion of the lungs brought on by him exposing himself.

At a post-mortem examination it was found that Harry Davis had been suffering from a small brain tumor which may have influenced his mental condition.
Courtesy - Harry Davis death certificate, Mar.05, 1927
At the age of 49 years 8 months and 25 days old, Harry Davis was laid to rest in Boot Hill Cemetery on March 9, 1927, in the Protestant section.

To understand a bit more about Harry Davis and why he ended up in the Yukon Territory, we turn to his death certificate and the information it provides:
Birth: June 10, 1877
Birthplace: Ontario
Status: Widowed

Occupation: Cook, Cooking
Racial Origin: English
No names are listed for Father and Mother.

A listing was found of a Harry Davis living in "Moosehide", and "Carcross" in the Yukon Archives Genealogy Database, but no date was given.
Moosehide is a Heritage Settlement of the Tro'ndek Hwech'in First Nation situated approximately 5 kms (3.1 mil) downriver from Dawson. Cabins were built around 1897, along with a church and house for the resident Anglican missionaries. The village was also used to house different First Nation bands of the Territory when they arrived at Dawson for trading purposes.
Carcross is 74 kms (46 mi) south-southeast from Whitehorse. It is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, and was once known as Caribou Crossing (renamed in 1904). It became a popular stop for prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Could Harry have spent some time in both places? Perhaps. There were many camps in both areas in the late 1800's to early 1900's where he may have been employed as a cook.

Records from B.C. Penitentiary indicate he was born in Peterborough, Ontario, and was a widower with two children. Harry was not located on any Canada Census that would match what we know about him; and without further information to assist us (i.e.: father's name), records are difficult to find or are just not available.
Courtesy Google Maps - Peterborough, Ontario and Fort Selkirk, Yukon Territory
Although a death certificate was not located for Charles Smith, the 1921 Canada Census confirmed a wood chopper named Charles Smith, born in U.S.A., age 38, had resided in the Yukon Territory.
Courtesy - 1921 Canada Census, Fort Selkirk & River Points 
Charles H Smith was buried in Hillside Old Public Cemetery in Dawson, Yukon.

The 1921 Canada Census also confirms a Joseph H Menzies, 40 years old, single, miner, Canadian of English origin, had lived in Fort Selkirk, Yukon. No further information was found.

Courtesy Yukon Archives-photo: Thornthwaite, 1920s, the Constable, Assess No.Assess No. 356.YA.83-22.44
Arthur Blythe Thornthwaite led a remarkable life, joining the North West Mounted Police in Vancouver, B.C. in 1919. He was born in Surrey, England to William Henry Emilien Thornthwaite and Ada Lucy White on August 03, 1901. Arthur emigrated to Clayburn, B.C. in 1911. After joining the police force and training, Arthur was sent to Prince Rupert, Hazelton, Prince George and Telkwa in B.C. before a transfer to Carmacks, Yukon in 1924. He was then promoted to Corporal and stationed at Rampart House. In 1928 he was relocated to Old Crow, Yukon.
Courtesy Yukon Archives-photo: Thornthwaite, Arrival in Yukon, WP&YR Rail, Assess No.Assess No. 289.YA.83-22.2
In 1933 Arthur left the Yukon for Vancouver, then Vanderhoof, Cranbrook and Victoria, B.C. Thornthwaite served for 28 years in Yukon and B.C., eventually retiring in Victoria, B.C. as Staff Sergeant in 1948. He had worked with local First Nations closely, and had a love for his dogs, his favourite being Allie.
Courtesy Yukon Archives-photo: Thornthwaite, with lead dog Allie, Assess No. 315.YA.83-22.237
Arthur Blythe Thornthwaite had married three times. First to Adda Sarah Helen Bellows in 1927, who passed away in 1957. He remarried in 1958 to Arlene Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, who passed away in 1981. His third wife was Violet Rita New. Arthur passed away on July 13, 1996, in Victoria, B.C.
Courtesy - Victoria Times Colonist 1996
This concludes our blog about another convict buried at the old cemetery, which sits silently in an abandoned acre of land in New Westminster, B.C. It overlooks the Fraser River to the south, a ravine to the east, and a new apartment complex to the west. The latest news is that the City has removed the inmate grave stones from the site. We are not clear on the plans for this plot of land, but hold our breath. Believed to be "haunted" with dark spirits, we can only imagine the convicts of this cemetery may be experiencing unrest at this newest development. We will keep you posted.

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

Thank you for joining us. If you have comments to share, questions to ask, or simply are curious, please join us at our Facebook Page, or contact us via our Website. We'd love to hear from you!

Until next time,

Sources: BC Archives; Yukon Archives; McBride Museum; Google Maps; "Nine Dog Winter: The Body Below" - Bruce T Batchelor;; Virtual Museum of Canada; Library and Archives Canada; B.C. Penitentiary Collection - blog; "Four Walls in the West" - Jack David Scott;;;;; Quesnel Museum; Vancouver Public Library; Wikipedia; the Canadian Encyclopedia; Explore North; UBC Library Open Collections; Find A Grave; Trondek Heritage; Ontario Genealogy.

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