Monday, April 2, 2018

The Cigarette Thief (Convict Interred at Boot Hill Cemetery)

Hello Friends,

Today we bring you the story of a young man who became part of a theft ring during the Great Depression. This is our eighteenth story about the convicts buried at the once forgotten cemetery for the B.C. Penitentiary (razed in 1980), known as "Boot Hill" (used between 1913-1967). It has recently undergone a revamping. The city (New Westminster) cleaned up the acre, planted new grass seeds, replaced the old stones with new ones; and is now easily accessible on a path between townhouses and a highrise.

Meet Convict #4234 - Herbert Ross
Photo Herbert Rickards (Find a Grave) - middle section

Herbert Ross was born in Greater Winnipeg, Manitoba on June 23, 1910, and was of Scottish decent. Not much is known about Herbert's family for there were many Ross' families in the area, some of them notable in the history of the Province. I could not locate any that had a son born in 1910 bearing his name. 

Courtesy Univ.of Alberta Libraries - 1909, Dec05 postcard
Winnipeg, Manitoba: Incorporated as the city of Winnipeg (named after the nearby lake, and name comes from the Western Cree tribe meaning "muddy water", and become the Capital of the province) in 1873, it lies at the confluence of the Red River and Assiniboine River, approximately 100 kms north of the Minnesota - Manitoba border. Fur trading posts had been established in the area since 1738 (the French being the first to arrive), and in 1812, a permanent settlement rose when Scottish crofters (known as the Selkirk settlers) arrived. After it's incorporation, the railroad arrived in 1885, bringing with it a flood of immigrants. Agriculture became one of its main sources of income to the economy. Today it has grown to include aerospace, transportation, information technology, finance and insurance, furniture and apparel industries. It is known as "the Gateway to the West".
Manitoba is home to the Ojibway, Oji-Cree, Nakota, Dene and Cree First Nations, as well as the Metis Nation.

Courtesy Google Maps - Winnipeg to Vancouver
Herbert's story came into view in 1930's when an article in the Nanaimo Daily News announced the capture of several men involved in the largest tobacco theft ring in Vancouver, B.C.

Please note, the Great Depression of 1929 was felt worldwide and lasted a decade. Vancouver was a destination for many of the unemployed in Canada, due to its warmer climate. Vancouver not only experienced long bread lines, but shanty towns and hobo jungles had become common sights in the city. Looting, marches and riots popped up throughout the years, which kept the police busy, and led to anger and frustration in the population. Relief camps (work camps) were created just outside of the city, known as "slave camps", where men were forced to do road work.

We may assume that Herbert Ross went to Vancouver in hopes of finding work. His death certificate indicates his occupation was as store clerk. But was this correct? Did he find work, even temporarily? Being without a job may explain his story.
Courtesy - Nanaimo Daily News
(Feb.03/1933) pg01
Courtesy - Nanaimo Daily News
(Feb.03/1933) pg01
The men arrested with Herbert Ross were William Ferguson, E. Downey, Cecil MacDonald, and William Williams (Mission, BC). Herbert and Cecil listed their address as the same house at 561 Hornby Street, near Dunsmuir Street in the downtown core of Vancouver, BC. Below is a photograph from the Archives of Hornby Street, and the roominghouse would be on the left side. Also found are directory listings, confirming Cecil's residence and occupation (mechanic) as well as the address being a rooming house run by Margaret B MacDonald.
Courtesy - Photo of Hornby St, 500 block in foreground
561 would be on the left side, by Leonard Frank (Access.No.4397, circa 1930)
Courtesy - BC Directory / Cecil McDonald listed on Hornby (1931)
Courtesy - BC Directory / Margaret B MacDonald
rooming house keeper of 561 Hornby St (1932/1933)
Courtesy - Margaret MacDonald confirmed as
roominghouse keeper (1935, List of Electors)
The haul of the robbery was huge for the time, and detectives believed other robberies may have been caused by the same theft ring. As the newspapers reported, a squad of detectives had been investigating similar crimes for several weeks.
Courtesy Google Maps - Dowtown Vancouver (Ross' home to robbery site)
On June 3, 1933, just before Herbert's 23rd birthday, the court cases for the gang is announced in the newspapers.
Courtesy - Daily Colonist, appeals (Jun.03/1933)pg02
Courtesy - Daily Colonist - appeals (Jun.27/1933)
The court case resulted in a two year sentence. In June 1933, Ross sought an appeal on his conviction and was back in court, with A.H. Fleishman representing him. He lost the appeal. Some details of the heist are explained. While Ferguson and McDonald (MacDonald) were accused to be connected with the transportation of the tobacco products, Ross' and Williams' roles were not explained. However, $3000 worth of tobacco was stolen with the intent to deliver it to another cigar store, where the police were in wait.
$3000 Canadian dollars in 1933, is valued at $55,600 today. That certainly is a chunk of change!

The tobacco was stolen from the Morton Clarke & Co, in Gastown district of Vancouver, BC. The shop was owned by A J Morton and Richard Clarke, who founded it in 1923. A J retired in 1936, and as of today, the company is still a family business operated by the Clarke's. The business has expanded in distributing convenience products to retailers throughout the province (B.C.)
Courtesy - City Directories (1933)
A photo of Gastown, where Morton Clarke & Co was situated, shows Water Street and the warehouse district.
Courtesy - Water Street seen west from Powell St
(circa 1926) taken by Stuart Thomson. 144 Water St is on the right hand side
towards the top of the photo
Nothing further is heard about Herbert Ross until the following year, in 1934.
Courtesy - Daily Colonist (Sep.08/1934) pg06
On September 7, 1934, at the B.C. Penitentiary, three convicts were replacing a window in the cell block. Standing on scaffolding, which prisoners had constructed, the contraption gave way. It teatered back and forth, and then collapsed, bringing the convicts down with it. Herbert Ross, Jack Hyslop and J.D. McDonald were rushed to the prison hospital, and then on to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. Ross didn't make it, neither did McDonald. Both died of their injuries. An inquest was held.

John Duncan McDonald, the prisoner who died along side of Herbert Ross, was 34 years young. He was a native of Vancouver, born to Angus McDonald and Elizabeth Nechoim on October 6, 1899. He had been baptised in the Holy Rosary Church (Roman Catholic), which still stands today in the heart of the city centre. His reason for being in the penitentiary, is not known; however, the Vancouver newspapers report various incidences of assault and attempted murder by a John McDonald in the 1920's. Could this be the same man?

On September 21, 1934, the verdict from the inquest announced that the inmates were at fault for having constructed a shoddy scaffolding, thus resulting in the 2 deaths leaving the third badly injured.
Courtesy - Nanaimo Daily News (Sep.21/1934) pg06
Herbert Ross died of his injuries, internal hemorrhage, and shock due to his fall from the scaffolding. They labelled it an "accident". Herbert was at the age of 24 years, 2 months and 15 days young. He had been sentenced to two years at the B.C. Penitentiary and was just over a year into serving his time. Family names were not indicated on his death certificate, therefore it may be his family was not made aware of the incident (or could not be located), nor did they claim his body.

Herbert was laid to rest at the Boot Hill Cemetery on September 27, 1934.
Courtesy BC Archives - Herbert Ross Death Certificate (died Sep.07/1934)
For a young man during this time, it may have been that he truly could not find work. He is held solely responsible for his actions and decision to enter into criminal lifestyle, but certainly during the depression many innocent men and women chose the same route just to survive. Documentation has not been found to tell us what type of a prisoner he was.

However, it is known that during the 30's there was unrest at the prison, and around the time of his death, several inmates had refused to work. The convicts demanded more comfortable conditions, but the press announced they wanted wages for their work. Three days after the incident in which Herbert lost his life, a large number of convicts went on strike. (The number is debatable - around 70 inmates at least.) They caused a commotion, hurled items at those who chose to work, and broke glass, toilets, cell beds and chairs. This continued for three days. The ringleaders were paddled. By the new year, the Capital of Canada (Ottawa) made a decision to pay the prisoners $0.05 a day for work.
This move also led to separation of young prisoners from old. Two officers would spend their day with the younger inmates, from 6am to 9pm; while they ate and worked. The prisoners were under constant scrutiny. In 1934 a new warden was assigned to the Pen, and things changed.

If you visit Boot Hill, please pay respect to the inmates buried there. Although they were left behind to be forgotten, they were people of different circumstance. Herbert Ross chose the wrong path, which ultimately cost him his life.

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

Please join us on Facebook and/or send us your comments via our Website. We'd love to hear from you, and certainly share any information you have about this graveyard. We are happy to learn what you know.
If you are interested in listening to the EVPs we captured at the cemetery over the years, go here (bottom of the page).

Lastly, if you visit the cemetery, please remember to be respectful. It doesn't matter who these men were in life, as everyone deserves to rest in peace. Hopefully our convicts have found that in their afterlife. If not, perhaps our stories about them will help them to move on.

Till next time,


Sources:; Wikipedia; Find a Grave;;; BC Archives; Manitoba Historical Society; University of Alberta Libraries; Vancouver Public Library - BC Directories & Photo Archives;;;;; "Four Walls in the West" - Jack David Scott.

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