Murder at Belly Butte
Here it is: The record of the most tenaciously contested unsuccessful case in Mounted Police history—the case in which the Force had its man and didn’t get him
T. MORRIS LONGSTRETH
SUPERINTENDENT PRIMROSE surveyed his basket of unfinished cases with both satisfaction and regret; with satisfaction because no serious crime lay unsolved; with regret since there remained no problem on which to concentrate. Macleod, in the North West Territories of Canada, had never been so lawabiding. Primrose, with steel-trap wits sharpened by twenty years in the Force and with the energy of a great executive, contemplated boredom.
He was not unhappy long. A telephone call from the detachment at Stand Off, Sergeant Robertson in charge, notified him that two squaws, Small Face and Singing Before, had found a white man’s leg in a coulee on the Blood Reserve about twenty-five miles from Macleod. The leg, they said, was all alone, but they knew it was a man’s by the shape. Primrose, instructing Robertson to investigate at once, began enquiries nearer home.
The Sergeant knew that no one in the district was reported missing, yet a hacked leg was certainly evidence of a tragedy. The trouble was it might have come from anywhere, since the region had just been swept by floods unusual for August. Dry creeks had become raging torrents, and Robertson noticed that the coulee in which the leg had been found had been gouged and deeply cut by the rushing waters. It was possible, he s^-mised, for the leg to have been unearthed by the providential flood as a sort of advance notice of the body which remained behind. With police scout Tail Feathers he searched the coulee painstakingly.
A jagged scar in the high bank caught the searchers’ attention. Closer scrutiny explained the phenomenon. The rains had by seepage undermined and released an immense block of the bank, which in its fall had uncovered the object of their search.
There it lay wrapped in a sheet, the legs severed to facilitate concealment in a large hole which had been dug in the soft earth of the side of the bank, the upper earth pulled down to cover the hasty burial. It was as if Nature had exerted her utmost to assist justice, earth refusing the rôle of accomplice.
The large wound depressing the skull explained the cause of death even before the arrival of the coroner and doctor who were hurried to the scene by Primrose. The wound had been inflicted from behind, and death had occurred about a week before.
The victim seemed to be a Swede, about sixty, short and muscular, with fair complexion, high cheek bones, greyish hair tinged with red, reddish mustache, blue eyes; his third finger was tied up in a cloth. Primrose attending the inquest was in his element. Many things would have to be done at once, the facts squeezed for their implications, the identities of the murdered and the murderer established, their antecedents learned, the future of the fleeing criminal anticipated. Within a few hours all the agencies at his command were sending in returns.
No one knew the dead man, but some of the Blood Indians were more helpful. “Kills Herself,” a squaw, had come on a tent, not far from the grave in the coulee, while out picking berries. Curiosity had drawn her inside. It had contained two shovels, a map which she was sure she could identify, grey blankets, a suit of blue clothes; outside had stood a blue-painted wagon. The same day John Day Chief had seen one of the men wearing a black hat. The next day the outfit was gone. Ten days earlier others had seen two men with a team of bays and two trunks in the wagon at another place on the Reserve. Settlers recalled the outfit, some having
the wagon blue, some red, but the more observant agreed that one of the men was short and dark, speaking English with a German or Swedish accent. They had not been close enough to his companion to say whether or not he was the murdered man. Everything pointed to the two men being landseekers. Where had they come from? Where were they going? Were they the people of the tent? If so, was the short, dark man the murderer?
Hot on the Trail
THE search swung to the tent and its vicinity, and the findings were extraordinary. First, a camp-fire in whose ashes remained bits of burnt clothing, but an insufficient amount to account for an outfit. In the brush near the back bench a pair of boots, scraps of a German newspaper, small pieces of onions, a card advertising a Vancouver baggage transfer firm, a bakingpowder advertisement, elastic side gaiters, and a crumpled piece of paper inscribed in pencil: “George Bednar, Anamoose, N. D.”
Primrose knew his territory intimately, and his instructions sent men to work along all possible routes of travel, checking the stores for recent purchases of onions and baking powder, and exhibiting the dead man’s photograph in hopes of identification; others hunted for buried clothing and other clues about the camp and coulee. The German newspaper scraps proving to be parts of a Seattle periodical, the police there were asked to check up, while their confrères at Vancouver and Anamoose were asked about the transfer address and the name “George Bednar.” Anticipating developments to the southward, Primrose asked the Commissioner at Regina for authority to pursue the murderer into the United States if necessary, and was told “to spare no expense.’ Meanwhile Robertson had traced the movements ol the landseeking outfit after leaving the Blood Reserve “Two Guns,” an Indian, admitted having been hirec to draw a stranger and his wagon into Lethbridge,O team of horses having strayed. Another Indian, “Steal; his Wood at Night,” had found the missing team am surrendered them to the police.
At Lethbridge the customs, immigration and land offices, hotels and railway stations furnished other clues. The stranger had sold the wagon and camp utensils to a settler living some distance away, the harness and tent to a Saskatchewan homesteader. Leaving others to search freight records for the Saskatchewan address, Robertson went to Woodpecker where the settler who had bought the wagon was locating. It was the wagon seen on the Blood Reserve, and identification was clinched by finding in it pieces of the same German newspaper, onion skins, tent pegs and duck feathers that fitted those picked up in the murder coulee.
Best of all was the settler’s description of the seller: a man five feet six inches in height, about fifty, with grey mustache and hair, a nose slightly flattened across the bridge and turned up at the end, and a mouth with two upper teeth missing, one from each side. This unprepossessing individual retained a trunk whose weight was so great as to excite comment at the time, and had receipted the bill of sale with the name W. Seigler. He had plenty of money, the settler said.
Yes, said the immigration office, the man described had enquired about reduced fares to the Coast. The railway had sold him a ticket to Shelby Junction, Montana, on August 29, the day the body had been discovered. A constable, with the name of W. Seigler in mind, again searched the hotel registers and found that such a man had stayed at one of them from August 25 to 29. He was apparently not nervously in haste. Primrose smiled grimly at this news. Three days’ start was bad but not too bad. North America would not be big enough to hide a man with a nose like that and two teeth out. First he would check the train crew of the 29th.
Here chance, that irritating flirt, smiled sweetly.
Not only did the conductor recall Seigler, but a Mounted Policeman had been on the train, Constable Goodwin, a new man, and he remembered Seigler perfectly.
Primrose hesitated, however. Should he send this inexperienced man immediately or lose time until the experienced Hetherington could come? He decided that Goodwin’s ability to identify the murderer compensated for his inexperience, but he armed him, before sending him out, with minute instructions:
“He is supposed to have got off the train at Shelby Junction and that will be your starting place from which to follow this man which you will do until you locate him, then ask the police authorities to arrest him on the charge of murder. You will keep me fully informed as to your movements every day or so, and be sure always to let me know where I am going to be able to send information to you ... If you run out of money draw on me at sight ... If in doubt, send in for instructions giving the chances on both sides, but you will be on the spot and in the best position to judge and I do not expect you will get stuck. A great deal depends on you and I know you will do your very best to try and bring this case to a successful conclusion. It may not be necessary for you to be always telling who you are; the facts will tell you when to talk. Get all you can out of the other man and say as little yourself as you can.”
Here was Primrose, the cold disciplinarian, in a more intimate light, talking to his constable almost as to a son, heartening him with the knowledge of perfect co-operation at headquarters. Goodwin set out, and Primrose turned again to the terra incognita at hand.
The First Setback
V\7'HILE the fugitive had been definitely identified with the team and wagon and the camp on the Blood Reserve, the murdered man had not. Unless the two men’s association could be established the evidence would have little value, and Primrose set to work to tie them together. At Pincher Creek the pair had been seen camping together with their bell tent, wagon, and
ill-matched team of bays. A Mounted Police constable had spoken to them, a storekeeper, the land agent who had given them a map showing available land. A replica of the map was identified by “Kills Herself,” the berry picker. Curiously enough, in each instance it was Seigler who had done the talking; as to the murdered man’s identity there was not the slightest clue until the register at the Immigration Hall, Calgary, revealed these entries: July 24, 1903, W. Seigler, German, single, Washington, U. S. A.; John Bush, German, Washington, U. S. A. Both men had left on July 29.
To Primrose a step forward like this made a red-letter day. A married couple who had been at the Hall during this period recalled the two men and recognized the face in the photograph. Seigler and Bush, they said, had told of coming from Seattle, and they had been in Alaska. At the same time the discovery of a pair of bloodstained quilts sold by Seigler to the Saskatchewan homesteader added their bit of evidence. But despite Primrose’s best efforts through the police of Seattle and Vancouver, nothing could be learned of these men’s antecedents or previous residence, and, worse, a most undesirable publicity in the western press was beginning to appear.
Suddenly this flared up disastrously. Goodwin had got on the track of his man at Shelby, Montana, and had begun a pressing and intelligent pursuit, gaining daily, keeping in touch with Primrose by wire, receiving helps from his commanding officer. But he was young and not sufficiently suspicious of the malice of the press. He had reached Great Falls and found a W. Seigle— not Seigler now—registered in a hotel. The description fitted, but Mr. Seigle was gone, and his heavy trunk—seventy pounds overweight— had been checked ahead to Butte. Next day, to Goodwin’s horror, this clipping from the Great Falls Daily Leader was copied in the Butte papers and other sheets of the West:
“George Goodwin, a member of the North West Mounted Police from Calgary was among the visitors to the city yesterday looking for W. Seigler, charged with the murder of . . . ” etc.
Simultaneously with the appearance of this assistance to the murderer, W. Seigler dropped out of sight.
To Primrose it seemed a mortal stab at the success of the case. Clearly Goodwin had outrun his experience; if Seigler had gone to cover, it was a job for Hetherington whose brilliant work had become part of the fame of the Force. So Hetherington was sent on the trail.
With Seigler vanished into thin air Goodwin had been following his trunk. It was suspected to hold gold dust. Sometimes the baggage men remembered a nervous, fidgety German, sometimes merely the trunk, at times confusing the description of it, but never erring about the overweight. At Butte it had come into one station and disappeared. There was a second station, a trunk of the same weight had been shipped from it the same day to Missoula. Seigler, it seemed, was doubling on his trail. From Missoula the trunk had
gone to Seattle. Goodwin followed. The trunk continued to San Francisco; so did Goodwin. Here the bulk of baggage baffled records. The trunk disappeared from sight. Goodwin was relieved to be joined by veteran Hetherington.
Armed with a description, the murdered man’s photograph and two names, Hetherington and Goodwin scoured San Francisco and Seattle in turn. The German consul, German societies and newspapers, the assay offices and police were among those approached. These last were none too obliging, in fact, hardly civil, and after a further survey of the lodging houses, hotels and railroads, the two men started north again, Goodwin to report to Macleod, Hetherington to look up George Bednar at Anamoose, the police there having failed to reply to Primrose’s query.
Bednar was found and remembered the two men. He had met them on the train from Calgary to Edmonton, when, hearing them speak Polish, he had joined in conversation. The older man’s family lived in the old country; the younger was single. Bednar and the two men had kept together the night they reached Edmonton, and all three, together with another Pole who had joined them on arrival, had stayed at the Immigration Hall. Bednar had left for Anamoose in the morning and knew nothing further about the two men except that the older—Bush—had money. Bush, unable to speak English, seemed to be employing Seigler, who was without funds, as interpreter.
The Edmonton Immigration register confirmed Bednar’s statements. It gave the two names, John Bush and William Seigel—not Seigler this time, and a third, Frank Pekowsky, this last from Idaho. Evidently Pekowsky was the Pole who had met the others on arrival. He introduced a new aspect. Was he friend or accomplice? And where was he? Bush and Seigler had been seeking a homestead, Bednar said. That was the reason he had given the old man his address, so that he might communicate if a desirable location was obtained. Perhaps Pekowsky was a land-seeker, too, but nothing was known of him at Edmonton.
The one point clear was that both men had come from Sèattle. It occurred to Primrose, digesting Hetherington’s report, that the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was offering inducements to prospective settlers, might have a record of one or all of the three men’s movements. The reasoning was sound and an entry jumped to meet the eye. J. Bush and W. Seigler had bought tickets in Vancouver on June 29 and the applicants’ signatures were obtained from the original certificates at Ottawa.
With the certificates before him Primrose became very thoughtful. Was the strain of suspense distorting his eyesight? For the signature Wielhelm Siegel (not Seigler) was written in a wavering hand, totally unlike the signatures of the various hotel registers, while perversely enough, the signature J. Bush had obviously been written by the man who had signed himself W. Seigler and W. Seigle. There was only one deduction to be made: it was William Siegel who had been murdered and John Bush was his murderer. Seigler, Siegel, Seigle. These mistakes, which had been laid to illiteracy, were really due to the indecision of a poor speller as to how the man he had murdered had actually spelled his name.
But why had Bush taken the name of his victim? Because he feared recognition by some who had met him with his partner and who might have forgotten his name but would remark an alias? Or because the assumption of Siegel’s identity promised some future advantage? The first was too subtle a reason for a man of Bush’s type. The second seemed more reasonable, especially in view of the mysteriously weighty trunk.
The Last Hope
TT WAS now October and the keen brain at Macleod
directing the investigation and following each move of the detectives, dissecting each fact and associating it with what was known, surveyed the mounting costs and the fleeting calendar with a more pertinacious set to his lantern jaw. If the department would stand by Tontinued on page 52
Tontinued on page 52
Continued from page 13
him, he would get this murderer yet. But the search must now be gone into more systematically and on a grander scale. “Spare no expense” was again Regina’s reply.
At once Primrose outlined for himself details of a search which was to eclipse for thoroughness and extent anything in the records of the Force. The case became Primrose’s ruling passion on which he expended his most brilliant thought.
Bush and Siegel! Two fairly common German-American names. Surely there must be enquiries from friends, forwarding addresses, bills. Somewhere they were known. They may even have come from the same city or town. As a preliminary he caused every post-office in the Canadian territory, known to have been traversed by the two men, to be interviewed. The banks, too, were checked for money transactions. But all to no avail.
Even Primrose’s dauntless determination quailed before the immensity of the task looming at the back of his mind as a last resort. December had now ushered in the fourth month of the investigation, with its very often fruitless and exasperating examination of clues. The horses held as exhibits were eating their heads off at Government expense, the witnesses were kept in touch. Hetherington had not unearthed Pekowsky. The Yukon had supplied its bit of information to the efiect that William Siegel had prospected the Klondike in ’98, and had located a claim, but it had not been renewed and no one remembered him. One small clue remained: a silver spoon inscribed “N. D. Lloyd, Bremen,” had been found at the murder camp. Primrose asked the British Consul at Bremen to have the passenger lists of the North German Lloyd Steamship Company searched, and for good measure the Immigration authorities at New York to check their records.
The ordinary police officer of the average police force would now have folded his hands and said: “I can do no more.” The brutal crime in the remote coulee had taken the men of the Force, or its money, on fruitless errands throughout Alberta, to California, as far north as the Arctic, and over the Atlantic to Germany. The file of the “Belly Butte Murder” was already of mammoth proportions, dwarfing the files of all other unfinished cases. To a routine man it would seem that every clue had been exhausted, every conceivable point checked. But Primrose had not built up an international reputation by merely reasonable measures. So long as the Government would back his infinite capacity for .taking pains he would take the pains, and his big card was yet to play.
Somewhere in the Western United States Bush was hiding. Everything about the two men pointed to their having come from the same part of the continent. Some place they would be known. The stage was reached for Primrose’s final
effort. Instructions were issued, instructions which virtually meant taking the census of every William Siegel and John Bush in the western states. For good measure Frank Pekowsky was included.
The labor was to be twofold. A lettei requesting any news of these men was dispatched to every postmaster in the huge territory, and while the replies were awaited, Hetherington was sent to thirtysix mining towns of Idaho to enquire in person for Bush who had mentioned mining there.
The flood of replies from the postmasters was tremendous. It seemed as if there were a John Bush, a William Siegel, or a Frank Pekowsky, or variations of the three, in every district served by the United States postal service. Ovei 200 were received in response to the firsl call, but invariably the postmaster stated that whichever of the trio had been in his district was no longer there, but was supposed to be in such and such a place.
Some replies were more inviting tc investigation without delay than others, and Hetherington left his hateful assignment among the snows of Idaho to check up on the long list received from Macleod Even to plan such an itinerary was s task. “The postmaster at Leland, Idaho, reports that Wm. Siegler has been living there.” “The postmaster at McKay. Idaho, says that John Bush had mail addressed there but never called for it.” How to visit hundreds of communities, some of them even off stagecoach routes, and at the same time save costs was the problem. It grew to be a routine and a nightmare. From the post-office where the local or recently local Bushes, Siegels, and Pekowskys would be accounted for, the lean sergeant would go to the Mining Recorder’s, and finally to the bureau ol application for citizenship. Some of the post-office replies were belated and caused him to retrace his footsteps. Side issues crept in: a promising confession at Sar Francisco turned out to be another crime. The activities of the Mounted Police throughout the whole of western America had by this time brought such publicity to the Belly Butte case, however, that there was no lack of rumors. Almost every native knew enough about it tc pose as an authority. A continual inflow of hearsay was the result, most of it sc obviously false that it could be disregarded. But occasionally an investigation would have to be made, and a culminating one—regarding two foreigners leaving for Canada and only one returning —occupied Hetherington for weeks before he could prove there was nothing in it. The spring of 1904 became summer, summer—fall, and Primrose was forced to report to Ottawa that the net result of his efforts had been to “prove things wrong.”
Judge then how startling, how immensely gratifying, was the unexpected news from South Omaha that John Bush had been arrested !
Primrose read of it first in the paper. He read it again. The man’s alias was Charles Schultz, and he was being
detained in South Omaha by the police. Primrose sent an urgent wire to Hetherington; it crossed one from Hetherington who had seen the item and was hastening to Omaha. Photographs were rushed to Primrose, who was pervaded by the spirit of satisfaction; there was no mistake here. Witness after witness was called in to identify the prisoner’s likeness and the superintendent’s hopes were strengthened as person after person identified the portrait without hesitation. The station employees at Lethbridge were sure; the hotel man was sure.
But thoroughness had been Primrose’s life habit. In anticipation he saw the great case closed and his basket of unfinished problems restored to its normal proportions. Being human, he possibly heard the congratulations on the lips of the thousands who had been interested. If this was the real John Bush he knew there would be no trouble as to extradition. And he had reserved one final proof of sureness up his sleeve, the Indians. They, who could trail antelope over apparently trackless plains and who could read the difficult face of Nature, would not let eagerness of his own professional hopes deceive them if this face were not the face of John Bush. He called them in and, one imagines, with some inward trepidation produced his photograph. Both of the Indians had been hired by Bush and knew him.
They studied the face and one said: “Dat de man, boss, dat de man.” The other concurred with: “Yes, boss, dat him.”
The case was as good as sewn up. South Omaha was communicated with and only one man there raised any doubts as to the identification; that was the prisoner himself. On learning that his identity was known and that he was suspected of murder, he became hysterical. He seemed to protest his innocence too much, and yet his very earnestness disturbed Hetherington who questioned him as to his movements during July and August, 1903. At this the man’s, babble broke into glad explanation. During those months he had been in Toronto jail, he was happy to say. The prison authorities would remember him. Hetherington was nonplussed. Here was a man identified by dozens, including Indians, yet daring to advance an alibi so easily disproved. He wired Toronto. Schultz’s story was true. Toronto’s records and reply left no room for doubt.
Agáin Primrose’s confidence was subjected to a body blow. If the bulk of witnesses could be so wrong, what chance would the prosecution have with the real John Bush should he deny connection with Siegel, if the defense counsel knew of the witnesses’ earlier mistaken identification? But again the Primrose jaw set. Let him get his hands on Bush and the rest would be up to the Court. Hetherington resumed his weary round in Idaho mining circles, though Primrose’s latest “I have a presentiment that our man is working in some of these places” must have strained his subordinate’s faith.
For the thousandth time the detective interviewed the postmaster, checked up the applicants for naturalization, and consulted the Mining Recorder’s lists. Name after name. Every imaginable arrangement of vowel and consonant except those stamped on the back of his brain; Siegel, Bush, Pekowsky. His eye stopped. Frank Pahaski. Frank Pekowsky, Frank Pahaski. Even a similarity was a straw to clutch at. No one knew
IS YOUR SUBSCRIPTION DUE?
Subscribers receiving: notice of the approaching expiration of their subscriptions are reminded of the necessity of sending in their renewal orders promptly.
The demand for copies to fill new orders is so great that we cannot guarantee the mailing of even a single issue beyond the period covered by your subscription. To avoid disappointment, your renewal order should be mailed to us promptly when you receive the “expiration” notice.
Pahaski, but in 1896 he had been part owner of the Free Silver mine, now owned by a man living at Coeur d’Alene.
So Hetherington went there. The owner recalled Pahaski, in fact had had a letter from him recently. He was farming somewhere in Canada. Perhaps, the owner continued, he still had the letter. He had. Pahaski wrote from Lac Ste. Anne, northwest of Edmonton. This time it was Hetherington who had the presentiment.
Primrose concurred and Hetherington visited Ste. Anne. Pahaski was Pekowsky. He had been with Bednar at the Immigration Hall and remembered Siegel the wagonmaker. He remembered Bush, too, the man who did the talking for Siegel. He hadn’t liked Bush’s looks, said Pahaski, still ignorant of Hetherington’s mission, and had warned Siegel. Lac Ste. Anne appealed to Siegel, but Bush persuaded him to look through southern Alberta before locating. Bush was a good cook. Siegel had come from Texas by way of San Francisco. It was on the boat that Pahaski had met him.
' I 'HESE disclosures were oxygen to the flagging trailers, and Primrose sent Hetherington to Vancouver and San Francisco to see if they were facts, at the same time circularizing the postmasters of Texas—the ninth state. Pahaski had not lied. At Vancouver the Customs House files showed the arrival of J. Bush and V. M. Zigley—the customs officer’s version of Siegel’s pronunciation of his name—on June 23. San Francisco sailing lists gave W. Siegel as a second class passenger with trunk, but no signature resembled Bush’s. Meanwhile replies were swarming into Macleod from Texas, those from Moulton and Schulenberg bearing unmistakable signs of referring to the right Siegel. The postmaster at Moulton said that Siegel had lived there with Anton Walzel, who spoke of Siegel as coming from Austria, where his wife and family still were. One of the daughters was a school teacher. SiegeJ had taken some tools with him and some money from the bank. Walzel could not describe the tools.
The bank at Moulton had a record of Siegel’s purchase of two drafts totalling $550 before setting out. The New York Clearing House turned up the draft, and the endorsement showed a San Francisco bank and endorser, the editor of a German newspaper. He remembered Siegel well, had even written letters for him to a “dear friend” at Moulton, he told Hetherington. He, as well as Walzel, identified the photograph without hesitation.
Primrose, carrying on at Macleod, was now able to fill in the story which had once been all gap so that even a jury would be satisfied. The only thing lacking was the murderer. Was Bush, Primrose wondered, his real name? The exhaustive census had revealed nothing else. One fact was sure, however: Bush and Siegel had boarded the same boat at Seattle, and so Hetherington returned there to jog the memories of the steamship employees, to burrow again into the cheaper world of second-rate hotels, Bohemian societies, and bars. The detective recalled that Pahaski had praised Bush’s cooking. So he questioned restaurant keepers and had searched for a month when his doggedness was rewarded by a clue. A café owner remembered one of his cooks, a German, fifty years of age, who suddenly shaved his mustache and disappeared in January 1904 on overhearing that one of the patrons was from Alberta. Here was a thread to follow, though his informant knew nothing further. Two months passed before the cook was run to earth. He was totally unlike Bush and had chosen to disappear in order to be away from his wife. Hetherington returned to Seattle. Nothing. Then to Butte, in a last effort to see if Bush had disposed of Siegel’s tools.
Primrose, meanwhile, had followed up the information about Siegel’s family, and learned that a daughter had just come to New York. He started an investigation in the metropolis, when his letter to her last known address was returned.
The fate which had dangled hope before the pursuers for two years suddenly wearied of the game and dealt Primrose the heaviest blow yet. Through balk and despite expense the Commissioner, and behind him the Government, had given the superintendent a whole-hearted support. Half the Force’s efficacy lay in their pride of never stopping until success was reached. But in 1905 the North West Territories had been reduced by the formation of two new provinces, Alberta and Sackatchewan. With the new autonomy came new policies and a sweeping change in the status of the Mounted Police. They were to continue their work in consideration of an annual subsidy, but unusual expenses were subject to the approval of the AttorneyGeneral, who now had the final say in the enforcement of law and order. This gentleman decided that a murder of 1903 was too expensive a heritage to assume in 1906, and gave instructions to withdraw Hetherington from the case.
This, it seemed, was the end. The black-covered file was pushed a little to one side on Primrose’s desk. Its bulk
made it a clumsy nuisance. But it had become a part of his life. There was always the possibility . . .
A N D then it came. Helen Siegel was located in New York through correspondence. For. the first time she learned that her father’s death had not been a natural one. She had not received word from him for years, but enclosed a letter sent from him to his family in 1901.
It was the richest clue of all. Primrose, comparing its signature with his various scripts, saw that it was the writing of the Lethbridge hotel register, the hand of John Bush.
His theory was proved to the hilt. Not only had Bush assumed Siegel’s identity after the murder with the idea of impersonating his victim, but he had known Siegel in 1901, in Texas, and so well as to be trusted to write the old Austrian’s personal letters. Siegel had money and the source of some more in a grown-up family in Austria; Siegel was easily led; his ignorance of English providing the opening. What would be easier than to follow him to some lonely spot, put him away, and then return, still utilizing his name for what it would bring? It was a cold-blooded premeditation, but a simple plot when seen in its entirety. The letter had been written
from Schulenberg, that other place of Siegel’s residence in Texas. At Schulenberg Bush would surely be known; there would be clues. At last, at the very end of the chapter, fortune had turned his way. This murderer need not escape them yet. Primrose, hardly restraining his enthusiasm, penned a letter to the Commissioner asking for authority to reopen the case and, because of the hazards in trusting to correspondence, to send Hetherington to Texas.
The reply was a shock. The Commissioner said that the Attorney-General must be consulted first and suggested correspondence. ’
Three months later the superintendent seized another opportunity to remind Regina of the important clue awaiting investigation at Schulenberg. Silence was his reply.
The file on the Belly Butte murder was pushed farther to one side, and the man who had initiated every action, directed every move, had to content himself, rather bitterly, with tabulating the evidence, keeping in touch with the witnesses, seeing to it that the exhibit team of bay horses was looked after. Once storm signals flew in the O. C.’s office; the horses had wandered away. Nor did the storm subside until they were recovered some months later.
From 1906 to 1913 the file remained
in its position. At times reports would be received from individuals or other police forces stating that John Bush was identical with Mr. So-and-so. One such rumor, identifying Bush with a notorious holdup man, took three years to dissipate.
It was 1913. Ten years had passed since that August day when Small Face and Singing Before had come upon the leg. The witnesses still living were ten years older. Bush, if living, would be ten years older. Was it likely that a single witness would venture an identification now? Grudgingly Primrose had to admit the impossibility.
In 1919 the file was packed away. Perhaps it had been hoped that the registration of aliens during the war years would reveal a final clue. If so it was but one more disappointment.
And there the file remains today. It stands as a monument to the most minute, thorough, and indefatigable investigation of its kind. Perhaps John Bush is living still. He may even read this. If he does he can feel that the angels were on his side in his flight, and that he was the central figure of the best contested unsuccessful case on record.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth of a series of articles on famous Mounted Police cases. The fifth and concluding article will appear in an early issue.