Bad Ben Kennedy

Policing B. C. Series : No. 5


Bad Ben Kennedy

Policing B. C. Series : No. 5


Bad Ben Kennedy

Policing B. C. Series : No. 5


THIS is the story of Ben Kennedy alias Jack Myers, alias Bart McKenzie, a highwayman, forger, thief and murderer, who eluded the police of the

United States and Canada for years, and was finally captured by members of the Provincial Constabulary of British Columbia.

According to his own account, Kennedy was in his youth a member of Jesse James’s famous outlaw band and a close friend of the leader himself. He figured in most of the latter’s more daring holdups, in particular that of the Dead wood stage, when more than $50,000 was taken, of which he received a goodly share.

When the American Government offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of Jesse James dead or alive and one of his pals killed him, his followers disbanded and scattered to elude arrest. Kennedy lay low for a time, allowed his full beard to grow and crossed the line into Canada, taking the alias of Bart McKenzie.

What calling he followed during his sojourn in Ontario is not recorded. He was young then, good looking, with a swaggering jollity, of medium height, lithe and active. A remarkably fine shot, he could gamble and drink with anyone. His Ontario career terminated abruptly when he shot and killed a man in a holdup.

Later, in ’93 he made his way west to the State of Washington. There he went by the name of Jack Myers and acquired a large claim near Everett, with the idea of eventually settling down and becoming a farmer. Meanwhile he worked at anything that offered, chiefly cards, and was at length arrested for forgery. He jumped his bail and went to Snoqualamie Falls, where he managed to kill a man in a drunken brawl in a saloon. While the United States authorities searched for him in what seems to have been a half-hearted fashion, Kennedy shaved off part of his luxuriant beard, leaving a trim mustache and sideburns; changed back to his own name of Ben Kennedy and decided to try his luck once more in the Dominion.

Those were the days when they were still cutting the big timber on the site of Vancouver. Labor was scarce. He applied at Hastings Mill and was given a job.

Presently, tiring of legitimate enterprise, he gathered his gains from the mill, the gambling table and the pockets of the unwary, and bought himself a sloop, twenty-four foot, centreboard, covered in forward, with the intention of following the more exciting and lucrative profession of smuggling whisky.

Always with an eye to theatrical effect, he painted his boat white, with a wide black stripe around the gunwale and some sort of secret device of his own on the one sail. He himself wore, when on board, the proverbial pirate costume—trousers tucked in high boots, open neck shirt, wide hat or bandana handkerchief on his head. He had two Colt pistols in his belt as well as a hunting knife, and another knife in his boot-leg.

Just how long or successfully Kennedy carried on whisky smuggling is not clear, but as he stole nearly all of it he probably did not do badly. He had no home port and no wife; was answerable, as he was fond of saying, to nobody. Fie sailed where he liked, maybe north up Seymour Narrows way, maybe over toward San Juan and the American islands; or even, in clear and windless weather, out through Juan de Fuca to the Indian villages on the West Coast. He had given up all ideas now of settling down, and planned eventually to sail to China. He’d get a bigger boat or perhaps use his own. Chinese junks had crossed the Pacific Ocean, so why should not he?

With a full cargo of whisky and champagne and his sloop an arsenal of stolen arms and ammunition, he touched at Reid Island one June day, to ply the loggers there with

some of his wares. The boss of the camp met him just after he landed and hailed him. “Hello, Jack.”

It was an old acquaintance from Everett, Tom Hinckley, and for a moment Kennedy was nonplussed. He hadn’t expected to be recognized.

“Not Jack,” he whispered behind his hand. “I’ve changed my name. I am, now, Ben Kennedy. Don’t give me away.” He explained that he was wanted for forgery, but kept the graver matter to himself.

Hinckley, good-naturedly, promised discretion and invited him to stop for the weekend at his cabin.

For two days and nights there was a drinking party—Gaelic whisky and champagne. Kennedy sold a little but was more than generous, treating every man in sight. There were six of them bunking in the cabin, among them a giant of a fellow by the name of O’Connor, who swore he could drink more than all the rest of them put together. When they were not drinking they were playing “whist”—which seems a little incongruous, but the game was Kennedy’s strong suit. Such a good time was had that three of the men, according to evidence given by themselves, became “paralyzed” and went to bed on Saturday night dead to the world.

A Fatal Quarrel

HINCKLEY, who had not been drinking heavily, and Kennedy and O’Connor were still on their feet, when Kennedy began to boast of the intelligence and faithfulness of his dog, “Jake.” O’Connor laughed at him, and to prove what he had claimed Kennedy put $5 on top of his coat, on the floor, and told the dog to sit there, then dared O’Connor to try and get it away.

Instead of doing so, O’Connor threw some coffee dregs at the animal, which immediately ran off under one of the bunks. It was not a fair test, but Kennedy was enraged because the dog did not do what he expected. He shouted at him and, as he crawled into view, shot at him. Both Hinckley and O’Connor interfered, and the dog ran out of the cabin unhurt. A fight ensued. The lamp was knocked over, and in the dark Kennedy’s gun spoke twice. Then, expecting to have all the rest of the loggers attack him, he ran down to his sloop to get his double-barrelled Winchester.

The cabin was alight when he returned; the five men, all awake now, huddled back from a space in the middle of the floor on which lay O’Connor moaning.

“Keep up your hands, the rest of you,” ordered Kennedy, and bade Hinckley cut the man’s clothing away to see the extent of his injuries. It was a bad wound, too bad for O’Connor to be moved. Nothing could be done. Kennedy, still the principal actor, took a rosary from his own neck and, leaning above the dying man, placed it between his hands.

“You were a good big man, O’Connor,” he said, tears running down his face, “but I was a better little man. These are my sister’s beads. She is a nun. They’ll help you into heaven.”

He sent Hinckley for the coroner, and even gave him his Winchester to take along.

Then for several days, always armed to the teeth, Kennedy lorded it over the whole camp. He had everybody so intimidated that they were ready to swear the shooting was purely accidental. None of them had guns or weapons of any sort. But he did not trust them. He put blank cartridges into one of his own and left it leaning against the cabin while he started down to his sloop. The bait was taken.

One of the loggers seized it and ran after him, calling him to surrender or be shot. “Shoot!” shouted Kennedy, and as the caps exploded harmlessly he ran upon the other, wrenched the weapon from him, and gave him such a severe beating that he lay unconscious till his friends picked him up.

“That’s the way I’ll serve anybody who dares try to lay a hand on me,” he told them.

He met the tug when it arrived with the Justice of the Peace, ordered Hinckley to pass over his Winchester, and then marched up to the cabin with the officer and the latter’s companion, a deckhand. Both were unarmed, and the latter carelessly dangled a pair of handcuffs.

They thought it would be as easy as that.

The J.P. examined the body of O’Connor under the nose of Kennedy’s gun. The room was crowded with loggers, all of whom swore that the shooting was accidental. It was hopeless to effect an arrest under the circumstances, but the J.P. led Kennedy on to talk of himself, pretending to be greatly impressed.

Kennedy, puffed with importance, delivered himself of a rodomontade which has come down in the police annals. He told of his early life, of the daredevil exploits in which he had a hand, of some of the crimes he had committed without detection; and he wound up:

“I care nothing for soldiers or police, Yankees or British. I stole the liquor I brought up here from under the nose of Coleman and Evans. I stole my guns and stuff from Tisdale in Vancouver. That’s the kind of a guy I am. And say, when speculators tried to jump my claims over in Everett and cut ’em into town lots, d’you know what I did? I chased ’em off with my shotgun, as I’ll chase anybody who tries to monkey with me.” Then, laughing in the officer’s face, he called his dog and stalked down to the shore; where presently, aboard his sloop, he set sail and was soon lost to view.

Eluding the Police

HE FELT very sure of himself. For fifteen years and more he had given the police the slip, and he did not expect to be caught now, in spite of the bulldog reputation given to the Canadian force.

Then, the first time he stopped at a camp, Kennedy heard disquieting news. Superintendent Hussey of the Provincial Constabulary had boats out searching for him, and a reward of $500 posted for his arrest. Indians were on his trail, too, keen for the money.

Under cover of night he sailed north toward Bute Inlet. He knew an Englishman by the name of King who had a cabin on Ramsay Arm, to whom he had once been of service. It was an out-of-the-way place, and he could hide there until the hue and cry was over.

He sailed up the small inlet between the thickly wooded hills, reaching King’s place in the early morning. It was a mere clearing on the fringe of high water, with large timbers around it. King greeted him cheerily, accepted his story that he was afraid of being arrested for whisky smuggling, and together the two men brought liquor, provisions, and ammunition from the sloop. Then they managed to pull the heavy craft up

on rollers behind the cabin in the bush, where it was neatly hidden,

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Bad Ben Kennedy

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Again Kennedy shaved off his whiskers, this time all of them, leaving his face clean and completely altering his appearance.

For a few days he and King and his dog Jake thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They fished, hunted, had abundance to eat and drink. When he was not doing anything else, Kennedy practised shooting at a target.

They were awakened one morning early by the shrill whistle of a steamboat and, going to the cabin door, saw the Estelle anchored at the mouth of the inlet and a small boat making its way to shore. Kennedy, calling Jake, ran behind the cabin and hid, while King went to meet the new arrivals.

Police ! Kennedy could hear them asking King about him. At first King disclaimed all knowledge of him, but after a brief conversation he left them to come back behind the cabin.

“I didn’t know you’d killed a man, Kennedy,” he said brusquely. “Doctor Walker, the coroner, is down there, you’d better go peaceably.”

But Kennedy had no such intention. Doctor Walker could come ashore and talk with him if he wanted to, but he’d better come unarmed or there would be trouble.

The doctor came, and during the short parley which ensued he was under cover of Kennedy’s gun. The latter refused to give himself up and ordered the coroner off. He then took up a position behind a large cedar, and when two boatloads of constables left the steamer he kept up a constant fire, taking care not to hit anyone but making it thoroughly uncomfortable for them. They fired back, but were, of course, unable to touch him. He climbed higher up the slope, where, still hidden, he could watch what went on.

The police emptied the cabin of provisions and set fire to it. They burned his sloop. Then, taking King with them, they went away, leaving a small boat on the opposite side of the arm with two policemen in it. Slowly the Estelle puffed along the shore, corralling all craft by which a fugitive might make his escape.

Things had never looked quite so hope-

less before, but Kennedy did not give up. He planned a bold coup. Toward morning the men on the police boat would probably fall asleep. If he could make his way out to them, hold them up, take possession ... It might be done. There was a bare chance. The police had overlooked nearly half a case of whisky.

Cornered !

TZ" ING HAD a raft of squared timbers on the beach. Kennedy made up a fire near where the remains of the cabin smoldered, so that anyone might think he was camping there for the night. Then he crept down to the shore, worked one of the logs loose from the raft and pushed it into the water. He slung two canvas bags with his whisky in them across the log, called Jake, laid his extra firearms in front of him, and started to paddle noiselessly out into the arm with a short, fiat stick.

He had reached midstream. It was quite dark and everything was very still. Suddenly the quiet was shattered by shots across his bow and a light flared in the police boat. A voice called out to him to get back or take the consequences. He went back.

He made up his mind to cross the mountains and get to the other side, Bute Inlet. For three days he climbed through the almost impenetrable bush. He was very hungry and had sighted no game. Jake was hungry, too; at night he crept, whimpering, close to his master. On the fourth night Kennedy was all in. He camped about a mile and a half below the summit all of the next day, patiently waiting and watching for a shot. No luck. Early in the morning in desperation he shot Jake.

As he was roasting the animal over a small fire, he heard the unmistakable sound of someone in the bush below him. Stopping for nothing but his guns and ammunition, he struck off at right angles, heading west. If they were coming up, he would go down. He thought he had eluded them. Once from a bald spot on the mountain he caught a glimpse of the Estelle anchored at the Inlet. How long she had been there

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he could not tell. Probably days. They would, no doubt, have half a dozen parties scouring the mountains day and night patrols. By now they would have come upon his camp, seen poor Jake’s body roasting there, realize that he was at his last ditch. Almost he was on the point of giving himself up when he sighted a young buck and brought it down.

Half-starved now, no food for four days and nights, Kennedy worked feverishly to skin and spit it. He would have a good feed, dry some of it and go farther into the hills. Perhaps he would elude the police after all.

But they had seen his fire. Before he had a chance to touch the cooked meat he knew that, and instinctively he started to run away again, trying to give them a false clue. Half a mile from his fire he sent a shot into the air and then doubled back. He must eat.

He reached his camp. They were there, five of the police, sitting on the deerskin

and feasting on the venison. The sight was too much for him.

“I watched them for quite a while from behind a tree,” Kennedy’s story ends. "I could have shot them all, but I didn’t want to. I only wanted something to eat. I came within a hundred feet of them and showed myself. They all jumped up and pointed their rifles at me. They told me to throw down my Winchester, to throw off my side arms and throw up my hands. So I did. After they’d given me some of my venison, I walked with them down to the steamboat.”

This was Kennedy’s idea of the conclusion of the hunt, but as a matter of fact the police had had him surrounded for two days and were closing in on him so that it would have been impossible for him to escape alive. They wanted him alive and bided their time till they got him.

Kennedy was tried for the murder of O’Connor, found guilty with a recommendation for mercy, and was given a life sentence.