Articles

IS THERE A KILLER IN THE CROWD?

The man who brushes by you on the busy street — is he a murderer? Canada has at least 300 who’ve never been caught

GERALD ANGLIN November 15 1949
Articles

IS THERE A KILLER IN THE CROWD?

The man who brushes by you on the busy street — is he a murderer? Canada has at least 300 who’ve never been caught

GERALD ANGLIN November 15 1949

IS THERE A KILLER IN THE CROWD?

The man who brushes by you on the busy street — is he a murderer? Canada has at least 300 who’ve never been caught

GERALD ANGLIN

WITHIN three weeks during the fall of 1945, while most Canadians were still agog at the simultaneous arrival of peace and the atomic age, four citizens living at widely scattered points suddenly lost all interest in these worldshaking developments:

Percy Doak, ageing general store merchant of McGivney, N.B., because upon opening his shop door at the summons of a late customer he was shot twice at point-blank range . . .

Reginald Claude Price, part-time Vancouver taxi driver, because a customer whom he drove to a suburban address [raid him off in lead instead of silver ...

Theressa Decourcy, 18-year-old Sault Ste. Marie schoolgirl, because a man she met when going to a school dance dragged her into some bushes and there strangled her with a length of cord . . .

Michael Chobzey, Calgary railroad worker, because a drunk whom he ordered from his own doorway kicked him so hard in the stomach that he died soon after being admitted to hospital.

It is mere coincidence that these four strangers met violent death within 18 days, but it is a coincidence heightened by the fact that none of the four murderers have ever been apprehended. And this in turn highlights the disturbing fact that despite the best efforts of scientifically trained police, incorruptible courts and conscientious citizens sworn in for jury duty, Canadians can and do kill other Canadians almost every month of every year and go free.

There are at least 317 killers at large in Canada at this moment—and this accounts only for crimes committed in the years 1938-48, inclusive.

No reason to bar the door, look under the bed and pull your head down under the covers. Yet in our midst, undetected by pollsters and census takers, is an interesting minority group possessing

a chameleonlike ability to blend with the rest of the population while set far apart by the unique experience of having taken human life.

You live in Montreal perhaps? Do you, in your daily rounds, ever rub shoulders with the slayer of Marcelle 'Fessier? Montreal police found the nude body of the former artist’s model flung across her bed in the little apartment on the Rue Closse, one night three years ago. Her ill-chosen companion that evening had taken her peignoir and knotted it so expertly about her neck that a doctor had difficulty in freeing the corpse of its silken shroud.

Police recall today that at first the Tessier case looked like “just another one of those things—a devoted lover, a sudden jealous quarrel . . .” But around the walls and in albums found in the apartment were pictures of not one but many men whom Mlle. Tessier had numbered among lier admirers over a period of years—for, even though she was 40 when murdered in 1946, Marcelle still retained much of the attractiveness and charm which had won her the title of Miss Montreal 20 years before.

The murderer might be any one of these normalappearing if more than normally handsome men. Doggedly detectives tracked down every known Tessier fan, but if any one of the men they interviewed was the killer there was certainly nothing to set him apart from other men. Is there any-

thing different about him now as, say, he drops into his favorite bar for a drink after work, then swings aboard a green Montreal trolley and buries his nose in the Star or La Presse?

You don’t live in Montreal? How about Edmonton, then, where nine years ago two men set upon farmer Merman McGlone and cold-bloodedly beat him to death? They probably still roam the same streets today. Ever run into this two-fisted pair?

If you live in the northwestern Ontario country near Minaki you will not in three years have forgotten how three-year-old Joan Smith was found, her skull crushed, just, a few hundred yards from her home. There was a wild theory that a bear might have made off with the child, but. police take no refuge in this. They are convinced that Joan’s death left another killer on the loose.

Arriving at a reliable figure for the number of such killers is a fair detection assignment in itself. One of the most disconcerting facts encountered early in the case is that nobody in all Canada knows how many murders are committed in this country each year. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics can tell you all about murder charges and their disposal, but nowhere in all those Ottawa buildings does anyone attempt to record killings which are not followed by arrests. Few police squads will readily provide complete lists of “unsolved” cases (the word itself is frowned upon) for fear of “unfair comparisons” and there are literally hundreds of separate provincial and municipal police offices across the country, each of which records only crimes committed in its own bailiwick.

The DBS murder tables do tell us that of 477 murder charges laid in Canada from 1938-48, 225 resulted in acquittals. Newfoundland figures add 14 murder charges and seven acquittals to the Dominion total. Yet because 232 persons were found not guilty 232 killings cannot be wiped from the record, so for a start we know’ that at least the persons who really did commit the crimes are still at large. This figure does not take into account cases in which murder charges have been reduced to manslaughter and the convicted killers, having served short prison terms, are once again free. And what of the killings in which no arrests are ever made?

Checking carefully with municipal and provincial police forces and combing the files of local newspapers Maclean’s correspondents have found record of at least 35 “manslaughter killers” and of at least 50 unsolved slayings. Together these figures produce that previously mentioned total of 317 killers at large.

Checking carefully with municipal and provincial police forces and combing the files of local newspapers Maclean’s correspondents have found record of at least 35 “manslaughter killers” and of at least 50 unsolved slayings. Together these figures produce that previously mentioned total of 317 killers at large.

No one can know how many other murders have never been detected.

A Body in the Bush

Some years ago a body was found hanging from a tree just off the highway in the Sir Harry Oakes estate at Niagara Falls. It seemed an obvious suicide and would have stayed that way on police books except that a few months later a vengeance-seeking woman came to police with the story that in reality the “suicide” had been killed in a drunken fight with “her man” who had hanged the victim by his own belt in an attempt to conceal the crime. It would have been a 100% successful try

had he not jilted the one woman who knew. This killer served his time for manslaughter—but how many other “suicides” only seem that way?

Equally disturbing is a case which received only brief notice when it appeared in Western Ontario papers in the spring of 1938. A man’s body was found lying in the bush, near Guelph, a pair of trousers knotted around the neck. Not only was no clue ever found to the killer, the dead man was never identified. Murder will out, they say— yet men can vanish and never be missed.

The sex killing has been called the easiest kind of murder to solve for this killer does stand out from normal men —although not in physical appearance. The sex killer has psychologically abnormal characteristics and often reveals himself in advance to police by exhibitionism or molesting young children. Every efficiently organized police force keeps a file of known sex deviates who are quickly rounded up in the event of such a murder and their whereabouts at the time of the crime established.

Left Shoe on a Lawn

Such tactics have stood Toronto police in good stead in several notorious slayings, but they don’t always work. Recall the horrible murder of 13-yearold Arlene Anderson, two years ago. The child was a cerebral palsy cripple who couldn’t even cry out for help when her unknown attacker raped and strangled her in a field near her home. And Torontonians were shocked again when detectives, explaining the difficulty of checking on all known perverts in a hurry, revealed that police files listed no fewer than 915 such men in the district. Two of Montreal’s six unsolved slayings since 1941 have also been in this category.

Even more difficult to solve are the violent killings which suggest an unbalanced mind yet in which no sexual attack occurs. Such was the only murder ever to occur in the peaceful residential suburb of West Vancouver.

Twenty-five, tall and pretty, Jenny Conroy was bound for a belated Christmas party at her brother’s home on Dec. 27, 1944, when she missed her bus by one minute. Police believed this single minute was ’all fate needed to push the Conroy girl into the brutal hands of her killer. They theorize that she accepted a lift from a man in an old green coupe which several residents later reported seeing in the vicinity; that this motorist drove her to an uninhabited section, hauled her from the car and dragged her up a lane near the Capilano View cemetery. Jenny Conroy was cruelly beaten about the head and face by an instrument that evidently had one sharp, one dull edge—probably a claw hammer—until both her nose and jaw were broken, her skull shattered.

How could such a bloody killing be accomplished without the murderer leaving clues behind? The weapon was never found, but two other pieces of evidence were: a bundle of bloodstained excelsior was discovered two blocks away (wisps of excelsior clung to the girl’s clothes), and Jenny’s missing left, shoe was found next day, miles away on a lawn in downtown Vancouver.

One puzzling item was an empty liquor bottle bearing a single fingerprint, never identified.

That a girl like Jenny Conroy could have been lured away for a hillside drinking party while en route to a family dinner seemed ridiculous.

Excelsior, shoe, bottle—neither these nor an exhaustive check of every car of the suspected make and model eveiled police to the killer of Jenny Conroy. And that man may live in West Vancouver today.

That so many killers are free to share restaurant tables, bus and train seats with their unsuspecting fellow citizens is certainly due to no lack of effort on the part of municipal and provincial homicide squads.

Quebec police, for instance, undoubtedly had plenty of current crime to keep them busy in 1943 when they were suddenly presented with an unidentified skeleton, obviously that of a corpse of long standing.

The skeleton was dug up by a startled farmhand in the cellar of a farmhouse near St. Hubert, across the river from Montreal.

Police called in Quebec medico-legal expert Dr. Rosario Fontaine who did an amazing bit of scientific sleuthing and soon knew nearly everything that mattered about the corpse except its name. The skeleton, he announced, was of a man 38 to 40 years old who had been dead about 27 years. Dr. Fontaine rattled off a lot of other vital statistics about the man’s height, weight, etc., and then as a clincher added that he had two front teeth missing and must have had an ugly scar on his forehead (there was an indentation in the frontal bone of the skull).

But Was It a Murder?

Soon other investigators who had been talking to the neighbors around the St. Hubert farmhouse produced some corroborative facts: The house

of the skeleton had many years before been occupied by an Italian immigrant named Luigi Stabile who had a brotherin-law named Carmino Festa. Festa vas remembered as a man who had an lgly scar on his forehead, was minus two front teeth and who would have been about 40 years of age in 1916. And, come to think of it, he seemed to have disappeared about that time.

A daughter of Carmino Festa was located in Montreal and she provided a few other interesting details: The

Festa family had migrated to Canada in 1915 and had lived for a time with brother-in-law Luigi and Mrs. Stabile

before obtaining a home of their own just across the railway tracks. From among the vivid memories of her girlhood in a new country the daughter recalled in 1916 seeing her father and her aunt, Mrs. Stabile, alone together in a bedroom.

And even more clearly she remembered seeing her father enter the Stabile home one day about a month later, after which, she swore, she had never seen him again.

Police found and arrested Luigi Stabile, now a 60-year-old farmer living peacefully among his neighbors in Ville la Salle, just west of Montreal, and charged him with murder. A jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to be hanged, but 15 days before the scheduled execution the Court of Appeals acquitted him. The appeal judges upheld the defense contention that the police were unable to offer any convincing evidence on how Carmino Festa met death. They could show no murder at all, let alone implicate any particular person.

Luigi Stabile went free and the bones of his brother-in-law were quietly placed in a cemetery.

Loose use of the word “unsolved” has been a touchy point with Ontario Provincial Police ever since two years ago when its Queen’s Park headquarters handed the newspapers a list of 102 killings and their disposition. Left to do its own scoring, one paper toted up 45 “unsolved” cases. Police considered this unfair since 17 of the 45 were cases in which alleged murderers had been tried and acquitted—and, generally speaking, every police force writes off such cases unless some new and striking piece of evidence turns up.

Hot Tips Which Hinder

Since that time the Ontario provincial squad has declined to issue further lists, but in recently checking its files came up with a total of 180 murders investigated between January, 1938, and June, 1949, only 31 of which are “unaccounted for” in the pure, or police, sense.

Ontario has had a good many more than 180 killings in this time, however, for provincial police figures do not include cases investigated by municipal authorities. A careful check of Toronto newspaper files reveals a total of 285 killings recorded from 1938-48 inclusive. From these crimes 112 killers are on the loose. Twenty-five of them have served prison sentences for manslaughter but have since been released; in 47 other cases charges were laid but ended in acquittals; while in 40 cases no arrests have ever been made—the kind even police call “unsolved.”

Police are sometimes helped, but too often hindered, in their hunt for a killer by the hot tips brought them by private citizens. The robber or robbers who slugged Fred Oliver, night watchman in an Edmonton garage, then hacked at his face with an ice chopper and finally hurled his lifeless body down the basement stairs, must still be chuckling at the unexpected aid they received from nitwitted citizens who sent police on so many wild-goose chases that their own trail was never uncovered.

Bulging files on the Oliver case testify that Edmonton police have interviewed 500 people in the 11 years since the brutal killing (committed for a cash return of $42). Some of the more frustrating samples:

Interview with an Edmonton woman who said her husband had committed the murder and fled. Police finally located him in Eastern Canada (possibly her chief aim in turning informer), found that he had also been far from Edmonton the night of the murder. Interview with a Lethbridge girl who boasted that she knew plenty about the Oliver case. City police returned the 500 miles to Edmonton, tapping their foreheads significantly.

More than two years after the killing another hot tip that seemed to stand up led police to issue warrants for the arrest of two men, one of whom was trailed fiir into the States before it was decided these weren’t the right “wanteds” either.

Another suspect, questioned at length but without definite result, joined the Army and met death in the war. Police would like to he sure that he was the right man, that one killer is out of the way, but . . .

As if killings didn’t already offer police sufficient headaches, higher courts in Ontario have in recent years voiced criticism of the standard police technique of holding suspects on “nominal” charges, such as vagrancy, before laying a more serious charge. Quebec police get around this difficulty with the aid of a clause in the provincial coroner’s act which enables them to have anyone connected with a case held as a material witness for an inquest. Thus a murder suspect often finds himself declared criminally responsible for a death by a coroner’s jury before he’s even charged with the crime.

The Lovers at the Lake

While lacking this device Ontario authorities seem to have developed a technique of their own for using the coroner’s inquest to put headlinemaking cases before the court of publicopinion when they are unable to lay charges before a more formal judicial body.

Thus the sensational Kettle well case of 1947, in which a bride mysteriously drowned in a few inches of water on a honeymoon which was chaperoned by her husband’s pal. This case was so well and truly aired at a coroner’s inquest in the Northern Ontario town of Bracebridge that railroads equipped dining cars as extra telegraph offices to handle all the newspaper copy. More than 100,000 words were filed to Toronto papers (considerably greater than the coverage given to President Truman on a state visit to Canada just previously), but the case was never clearly established as murder rather than suicide. And if it was murder, the slayer still walks the streets.

Toronto police adopted the inquest gambit with sensational effect later the same year in the Vigus-Scott double murder, the highlight of which came when one witness was asked point blank if he did or did not kill the slain lovers.

Thirty-nine-year-old George Vigus was a Sunday school superintendent and a family man who telephoned his wife at 5.20 p.rn. on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 1947, to say that he would be working late. Mrs. Vigus later told the coroner’s jury that on the evenings her husband worked he was usually home soon after 11 and she always waited up for him. But this time she waited until 5 a.m. before waking her 19-year-old son, George Vigus, Jr. Young George, whom his mother swore had been in bed since an early hour the previous evening, reported his father’s disappearance to police. Also missing was an oldmodel coupe, which George Vigus had been driving the day before.

Late that afternoon a friend of the Vigus boy happened to drive through High Park and recognized the Vigus car; it was parked overlooking a little lake known as Grenadier Pond. The friend drove George to the park to retrieve the car and when the missing man’s son first saw it he commented that the trunk shouldn’t be locked.

Then jumping onto the back bumper he remarked that the usual rattle of chains was missing.

“There’s someone or something in there,” declared George Vigus, Jr.

A policeman was called and the trunk forced open. Jammed inside in a tangle of arms and legs were the bodies of George Vigus, Sr., and a young and attractive blonde, subsequently identified as 21-year-old Iris Scott. Vigus had been strangled, apparently with a cord, the girl had been choked by a powerful pair of hands.

Working back, police discovered that:

Iris Scott had been going out with George Vigus, Sr., several times a week for the previous two years.

The girl had at one time worked with Vigus and had once vacationed with the Vigus family; but Mrs. Vigus swore she had no knowledge of any more intimate relationship between the pair.

On the night George Vigus failed to come home the pair had been seen eating in a restaurant.

At 2.30 a.m. a couple sitting on a bench in High Park saw the Vigus car pull off the roadway and stop, and vaguely remembered that a man got out and walked away.

Where had the car been between suppertime and 2.30 a.m.? Several citizens came forward to fill in much, but not quite all, of the missing chapter.

Vigus had apparently driven the old coupe to a north-end spot where a quiet residential neighborhood on the city’s outskirts peters out into vacant fields.

A brickyard worker told the coroner he had driven past the spot between 11 and 12 p.m., had seen the Vigus car parked and four people arguing in the roadway.

Two young fellows who had been gathering dew worms some distance away related that at about 1 a.m. they heard a woman cry for help, followed by the slam of a car door and the racing of a motor as a car drove off in a hurry.

But perhaps the star witness at the inquest was Joseph Scott, brother of the murdered girl, who in response to long questioning admitted that once when Vigus had driven Iris home he had run out to the car and said he’d like to punch the married man in the nose.

Finally he was asked directly: “Did you kill Iris Scott?”

When he answered with an emphatic “No!” he was asked: “Did you kill

George Vigus?”

“No, 1 did not,” he declared.

In Seven Days, Five Die

That’s where the enquiry left the case of Iris Scott and George Vigus— four people arguing beside a car parked on a lonely road, the bodies of two of them found stuffed and locked in that same trunk, miles away and hours later. The killer, or killers, may pass you on the street tomorrow.

Last summer Toronto burst into the national headlines again with a startling run of five murders in seven days. So far, arrests have followed in only two cases.

In August young Mr. and Mrs. Robert McKay were murdered in the same general area which seems to have been the venue of the Scott-Vigus killings. Could both pairs of victims have met the same brutal roadside prowlers?

And what would distinguish such a killer from the man who brushed your shoulder in the streetcar last night? The man who courteously held open the department store door for you? Or those fellows you noticed in the car next to yours as you waited for the light to go green? if