Eion MacGregor MacBrayne – #4777

Eion MacBrayne - ex-RNWMP member

 

 

 

 

Recently the “E” Sergeant Major, Dave Hall, was examining the contents of a storage room at the Green Timbers HQs that contained the leftovers from the move from the Heather and 34th site in Vancouver.

 

 

He discovered a banker’s box of items that once belonged to former RNWMP Sergeant Eion MacBrayne.   The contents were photographs, notes, personal letters and equipment that MacBrayne had served from his service during World War I.   Hard to believe that some his notes and letters are fast approaching 100 years old.  It appears that contents were donated by a family member with the intent that the box be donated to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) museum.   Unfortunately the box and its contents never made it passed storage at “E” Div. HQs.   Sergeant Major Hall has a vested interest in ensuring that the box its contents make their way to the PPCLI, his grandfather, who he never met, served in the PPCLI during WWI and himself being a graduate of the Royal Military College has many friends currently serving with the PPCLI.

PPCLI was founded for service in the First World War on August 10, 1914, and paraded for the first time at Lansdowne Park, Ottawa, Ontario, on August 23, 1914. Hamilton Gault, a prominent Montreal businessman, raised the regiment out of his own funds, making the PPCLI the last privately raised regiment in Canada.

The regiment was named after Princess Patricia of Connaught, the daughter of the Governor General at the time. Princess Patricia maintained close ties with the regiment throughout her life, and hand-sewed the original regimental colour, the Ric-a-Dam-Doo, which was carried into battle in every First World War battle in which the Patricia’s fought.

Hamilton Gault and Princess Patricia inspect the newly-formed regiment in Ottawa, prior to the PPCLI's voyage to Europe to fight in the First World War (Source of  photo - Ric Hall's Photo Collection).

Hamilton Gault and Princess Patricia inspect the newly-formed regiment in Ottawa, prior to the PPCLI’s voyage to Europe to fight in the First World War (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

Hamilton Gault and Princess Patricia inspect the newly-formed regiment in Ottawa, prior to the PPCLI's voyage to Europe to fight in the First World War (Source of photo - Ric Hall's Photo Collection).

Hamilton Gault and Princess Patricia inspect the newly-formed regiment in Ottawa, prior to the PPCLI’s voyage to Europe to fight in the First World War (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

Eion MacGregor MacBrayne, Reg # 4777, his story has been told briefly in this sites; RNWMP Veterans: Distinguished Themselves In World War 1He joined the RNWMP in October 1908 at Fort Saskatchewan.  He was born at Perth, Scotland on September 4, 1889.  He was stationed at Regina, Royal View (Victoria), Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Dawson, Yukon.

Spring 1918 - Photograph taken at St. Milaire France. Front row (L to R): Lieut. MacKay (Winnipeg Police - killed in action); Lieut Edward Duval (CPR - killed in action); Jimmy Edgar (Company Commander); Cpt. Eion MacBrayne; Lieut. J.H. MHusian (signaling officer). Backrow (L to R): Lieut W. Johnston (sent home in 1918 on compassionate grounds); Lieut.  Douglas Wright  (from Saskatoon - killed in action) and Capt. Arthur Chapam. (Source of photo - Ric Hall's Photo Collection).

Spring 1918 – Photograph taken at St. Milaire France. Front row (L to R): Lieut. MacKay (Winnipeg Police – killed in action); Lieut Edward Duval (CPR – killed in action); Jimmy Edgar (Company Commander); Cpt. Eion MacBrayne; Lieut. J.H. MHusian (signaling officer). Backrow (L to R): Lieut W. Johnston (sent home in 1918 on compassionate grounds); Lieut. Douglas Wright (from Saskatoon – killed in action) and Capt. Arthur Chapam. (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

On August 13, 1915, he purchased his discharge to marry Margaret Findlay on March 10, 1916.   Shortly thereafter, he applied for the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was given a commission in the 82nd Canadian Infantry Battalion.  While on the Western Front, he transferred to the PPCLI on April 29, 1918.   On Sept. 30, 1918, he was wounded and struck off strength on October 5, 1918.  As a member of the PPCLI, he was awarded the Military Cross on January 11, 1919 based on his actions on the Western Front – August 12, 1918:

 (World War 1 – PPCLI Military Diary): “At 12:00 August 12th., an Operation Order was received from the 42nd Battalion concerning an attack which they were going to carry out from Fouqescourt with the object of driving the Germans out of Parvillers.  It was decided to attempt an operation from the South, in conjunction with the attack of the 42nd Battalion. Information was received from the Brigade Major that the 9th Cdn. Inf. Bde. held certain Posts South of Parvillers (L.28.a.20.55 – L.28.c.80.20 – L.35.a.15.70 – L.34.d. 80.85)) which could be used for Jumping Off purposes. In consultation with the Brigade Major, it was decided to send a Company to make an attack from the first three of these positions and the old German Front Line at L.27.d.50.90.; at the same time asking the 116th Cdn. Battalion to co-operate in protecting our Right Flank. The plan of the Company was, to bomb down trenches of the Old German Front Line system and the trenches leading into Parvillers, from L.28.c.80.20. to L.35.a.15.70.

When the Company arrived in their Assembly position in the old German Front Line in the neighbourhood of L.27.d.50.50., it was discovered that the four Posts referred to above, had not been occupied by the 9th Brigade and were still in the hands of the Germans. It was decided however, to proceed with operations, capture these jumping off positions and carry on the attack. The Commanding Officer of the 116th Cdn. Battalion co-operated in every possible way and ordered a Company of his Battalion to move forward and protect the right flank of the attack.

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Photograph of the map case, map of trenches and slide rule for the use with the Vickers Machine Gun.  Property of Eion MacBrayne. (Source of photo - Ric Hall's Photo Collection).

Photograph of the map case, map of trenches and slide rule for the use with the Vickers Machine Gun. Property of Eion MacBrayne. (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

The attack was commenced at 8.00 p.m. and met with heavy resistance from the start, particularly on the left flank, where only small progress was made. On the right flank Captain MacBrayne personally led a Bombing Section down the Trench south and east of Middle Road and into position L.35.a.15.70. and from there made good the trench westwards towards L.28.c.80.20. During these operations the Company inflicted very heavy casualties on the Germans; at least thirty dead were counted in the trenches as a result of the bombing attacks. Twenty six German machine Guns were captured and dismantled. Had it not been for a shortage in the supply of bombs, Captain MacBrayne’s party would undoubtedly have made a further advance, but they had exhausted all their supply of bombs, including a number that they had borrowed from other Companies before the attack. They used in addition a considerable number of the enemy’s Stick Bombs, which they gathered from his trenches, until these also were exhausted.” 

Photograph of Captain Eion MacBrayne's World War 1 field book (Source of photo - Ric Hall's Photo Collection).

Photograph of Captain Eion MacBrayne’s World War 1 field book (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

Relating to the awarding of this medal, the British Gazette listed the details surrounding the Military Cross being awarded as follows:

 “This officer, throughout a night of intense fighting, commanded his company with the greatest courage and skill.  He, with a party of eight men, bombed-up half a mile of trench, captured sixteen enemy machine guns and eleven prisoners, and inflicted casualties on many more.   Subsequently, his company was counter-attacked by a greatly superior force from the flanks.  After intense fighting, he extricated them from a most awkward situation, and was able to maintain and hold part of the trench gained by his men.”

In one of the personal letters from a fellow officer and friend found in the banker’s box, the friend acknowledges Eion receiving the Military Cross, but stated he would not congratulate him on it, as he believed that Eion should have gotten thebig one!Meaning the Victoria Cross?

Photograph of a letter to Captain Eion MacBrayne advising him that he is being awarded the Military Cross (Source of photo - Ric Hall's Photo Collection).

Photograph of a letter to Captain Eion MacBrayne advising him that he is being awarded the Military Cross (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

Photograph of Special Order Of The Day for the action achieved by members of the Canadian Fourth Army. (Source of photo - Ric Hall's Photo Collection).

Photograph of Special Order Of The Day for the action achieved by members of the Canadian Fourth Army. (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

MacBrayne stayed with the military doing intelligence work in Canada and at the outset of World War II he was involved in training and obtained the rank of Major.  It appears he may have aged out as he did not go overseas.   He eventually ended up spearheading Bond drives in British Columbia.

Eion passed away on November 27, 1963 at Vancouver BC and is buried in the Royal Oak Burial Park in the Victoria, BC.

William Alexander MacBrayne, Reg # 4005, Eion MacBrayne’s brother, was born in Perth, Scotland and served in the RNWMP. William joined the Force on May 11, 1903 and left the Force in 1917 to join the Alberta Provincial Police.  Then in May 1918, he joined the “A” Squadron RNWMP (CEF#2684216).  On April 16, 1918, he re-engaged in the Force and was discharged to pension December 2, 1925 as a Staff Sergeant.  He had been stationed at Fort Saskatchewan, Camrose, Settler, Edmonton, Simpson (NWT).   Before joining the Force had served with the Royal Horse Artillery in India and in South Africa War.

The banker’s box and its contents are now headed to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regimental Museum and Archives, Calgary, AB.                                   

Sergeant Eion MacBrayne made a bit of name for himself in the Yukon while involved in a murder investigation.

YUKON MYSTERY – IN THE SPRING FLOOD THE RIVER GIVES UP ITS VICTIM – AND HELPS TO SOLVE A BRUTAL MURDER

The Yukon River, storehouse of gold and the central theme in historic and adventure tales, flows full in the month of June, and brings to the great ocean to the west the flotsam it grasps from its banks as it journeys endlessly through mountain gorges and level miles. As it flows beside the town of Whitehorse the cut bank on the opposite side appears like a natural plateau where, in earlier years, the coast Indian tribes held potlatch and with primitive methods took from its depths the winter’s store of fish.

The year 1914 was one that will long be remembered. The first of two terrible wars erupted during that fateful period, and the dead and dying that it garnered from every corner of the globe left a dark and sinister doubt as to man’s emergence from the dark pages of inhuman history.

But, all was well in June of that year in the Yukon Territory; gone for a period were the dark and dreary days of winter; gone were doubts that summer would be late and the spring cold; gone for many a year was the sound of blasting and the boom of explosions, as men sought to wrest from its hiding place the yellow metal that was GOLD.

Gone also were the raucous sounds of the un-tuned pianos in the dance halls, the shrill voices of the dancehall girls and the loose yet friendly banter of the mining fraternity, whose noisy yet wholesome behaviour lent a tone of reckless abandon to the scene.

In the barracks of the Royal North West Mounted Police, on June 11, 1914, the quiet moaning of a great river, The Yukon, now muddy and turbulent, was clearly heard, and the torrent, fed from the melted streams and snow-packed hills, was filled with sections of broken limbs and other shattered debris that bobbed and rolled in a never ending collection. The figure of the tall, lean and experienced Sergeant Lewis, McLaughlin gazed from the window at an all-too-familiar sight, and the view was not one to interest or excite. The sergeant was familiar with all this after ten years in the Yukon, whose wiles and ways he had learned only too well.

With his gaze on the slow-moving river with its impact of silent and relentless force, he reflected that the rigorous and turbulent days of the area were gone forever, and the history of the Force was completed in that part of the north; there remained, he felt sure, only the soul-destroying routine of barrack’s duty in a quiet and lonely land. Yet the river, the life-line of development and the reason for the town itself, was, in its inexorable way, bringing closer the substance for an experience that would add lustre and glamour to pages of Mounted Police history yet unwritten.

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A sudden burst of activity on the river’s shore interested the watcher and excited shouts from the gathering brought him suddenly alert. Putting on the badges of authority, his tunic and Stetson, he quickly joined the group and soon learned the cause of their excited interest.
Rising and falling in the rhythmic wash of the river was a shapeless bundle that had drifted close to shore, where it was held secure by one of the onlookers. As the bobbing of the water became less violent, the shape rolled and in its turning, a blackened hand rose up as though in supplication. It was the body of a man.

Carefully the body was lifted to dry land and it became clear at once that this man was an object not only gruesome, but mysterious. From shoulders to feet the body was lashed to poles held in place in the shape of a cigar, and bound securely. McLaughlin viewed the gruesome object before muttering, “MURDER“. Sgt. McLaughlin’s first reaction was one of satisfaction that the vagaries of the river currents had deposited the corpse at this spot – only a stone’s throw from the detachment. His alert mind posed the thought: When? How? What were the circumstances surrounding what was clearly a case of homicide.

Examination showed a man of middle age, dark complexion and average height and weight. One of the outstanding marks was a. scar across the right cheekbone; yet, despite the blackened hand that had appeared above the water as though to beckon, the remainder of the body was in an almost-perfect state of preservation. The clothing worn by the dead man was incongruous; the lower limbs were clad only in lightweight overalls, while the upper part of the body was well protected with a heavy undershirt and woollen windbreaker. Indian moccasins covered a pair of thin grey socks, and a search of the pockets revealed a heavy clasp-knife, a. pipe, some tobacco and several keys.

The medical officer’s preliminary report to Sgt. McLaughlin was terse: “Fractured skull and scalp wounds, probably caused by repeated blows on the head; time of death, from three to six weeks ago. His blackened hand, I cannot figure out, but I’ll have another doctor look him over before I make my official report. It’s homicide, without a doubt.” Sgt. McLaughlin ordered the body removed and carefully preserved until an autopsy could be held.

He reported to his O.C., Inspector Ackland: “Identity unknown, Sir, and the coroner’s jury is reserving verdict on the body.”  “What is your theory?” asked the Inspector.   “That he was killed sometime in the winter, the body kept frozen and later thrown into the river when spring came,” answered McLaughlin.

What about the sticks that the corpse was trussed with?” mused the Inspector. “Could it be that these were designed to prepare the body for moving by toboggan?” He voiced his thoughts to the sergeant, and concluded: “Well, I’ll leave the case entirely in your hands. The scar and the blackened hand should assist identification; but we want this case solved, so leave no stone unturned to locate the murderer, and keep me informed of your progress.”

Identity – that’s the first and basic need, thought Sgt. McLaughlin, and in a country full of Swedes, Russians, Italians, and other middle-Europeans, the task loomed difficult. There were many who had worked in the usual occupations of the untrained immigrant: railroading, ditch-digging, and sundry other unskilled jobs in the south, and who had come to the Yukon too late for the golden days of prosperity. There seemed no definite starting place to establish the identity of the dead man, but the orderly mind of the sergeant suggested that there might be reports of missing persons, but none had been made.

He next visited the trading stores, where the latest gossip and conjecture always found full play. His search was fruitless until he visited the trading post of “Cap” Martin, where he found the proprietor engaged in conversation with two Indians whose stolid faces gave little hint of emotion or understanding of McLaughlin’s description of the dead man. Martin’s reply to the question of whether he could recall anyone of that description was negative. As the sergeant turned away, he sensed in the attitude of one of the Indians an interest more than casual and he faced the Indian squarely and repeated, slowly and carefully the description, which he felt they had already partially understood. When he mentioned the scar across the face, the Indian became excited and said:

I know him – sure. I sell him rabbits last winter. He then live in shack with another man, the one with only one eye.”

Martin had listened to this outburst, and added: “He means Cesari, the one-eyed man who lived at the Bissler house last winter, with his partner, Dominico Melis. I last saw him in February!” At the undertaker’s, Martin studied the face of the dead man and asserted emphatically; “That’s Dominico all right! Partner of the one-eyed man, Cesari.

Sgt. McLaughlin now had a tangible clue to follow. Taking the keys found in the dead man’s pocket, he went to the Bissler house. It was a rough log building, now in a sorely dilapidated condition; windows were broken and what was once a verandah, was now sagged and rotted. Trying both keys, the sergeant finally gained entry and surveyed with enquiring eyes the contents of the various rooms.

A run-down kitchen with its rusted stove and a dirty home-made table and chair revealed little of interest. The bedroom held a bed on which spruce branches had been used as a mattress, and there seemed little to connect the contents of the Bissler house with murder. He was about to turn away when the rays of a declining sun streamed through a broken window and settled on a darkened stain that showed plainly on the papered wall. The stain was irregular and in blotches, as though dropped from above. There were three of these streaks showing on the once clean wallpaper, and McLaughlin examined them closely.

His years of experience told him these discolorations were blood stains. His interest quickened for a moment, then, he smiled as further investigation revealed the fact that at the top of each discoloration was a nail, from which had hung the cause of the blood stains. As he turned away, the officer commented: “Someone hunted rabbits or partridges.”

He next interviewed the owner of the hotel, and from him learned that the old building had been divided into two sections, one occupied by a George Ganley during the early part of the winter, and the adjoining rooms were rented to two Italians, Dominico Melia and Romolo Cesari. Ganley had moved at the end of December, and the Italians on February 21st.

Cesari was described as about 35 years of age, short and heavy-set, with a friendly disposition. His companion, Dominico, was tall, well-educated and had a keen interest in mechanical engineering. The latter had left Italy with plenty of money, but had travelled extensively and spent the most of it. The two men had seemed to be on the best of terms.

Ganley, according to reports was a much different type. He was a brawler and had a record of being abusive and objectionable when drinking. Among Ganley’s ports of call was the shack owned by Alfred Goss. This was a notorious hangout for the heavy-drinking fraternity and the scene of many fights and all-night drinking sessions. On February 8th Goss had been arrested for his lawless activities and bail had been posted by Ganley. Further investigation revealed that both Cesari and Dominico were also visitors at the Goss home on certain occasions.

A new element that promised some possible clue was the presence at the Goss home on these visits of the owner’s wife, an attractive native girl. McLaughlin thought of the possibility that Dominico may have been the victim of some sort of love triangle.

With patient care the sergeant proceeded to trace the movements of the three men and the woman from the time that the two Italians had left the Bissler house. He was convinced that somewhere in this train of events there would come a break in the mystery that surrounded the brutal murder.

Retracing their movements to a New Year’s celebration, Sgt. McLaughlin learned that Ganley and the two Italians had left on a moose hunt during the first week of January. On February lst Ganley and Cesari had returned to Whitehorse without Dominico. On February 5th Ganley had left on what was thought to be a search for a pair of blankets that had been left at some point in the bush land. His leaving at midnight from Whitehorse on his errand was unusual and his return at 3:00 a.m. on the 7th served to increase the sergeant’s suspicions that somewhere in this mysterious trip of Ganley’s lay the solution to the murder. Other facts of interest came to the surface at this time. One was that Goss’ wife had disappeared following a row with her husband, and that Ganley and Cesari had left for Dawson about the end of February.

Mounted Police investigations have always been methodical, and McLaughlin’s training and experience told him that tracing the movements of the two men, Ganley and Cesari, must be the next step. If they were not located without delay they would, if guilty, leave the territory and disappear. He well knew that his searching for clues had become public knowledge and word of his activities would soon become known throughout the Yukon. He contacted the detachment at Dawson and asked that their whereabouts be ascertained and a watch kept on their movements. The answer to his wire stated that Ganley was found to be working at Eldorado Creek, while Cesari was located in Dawson.

The body of the murdered Dominico had been preserved while awaiting the completion of the post mortem examination, which was to be concluded in a few days following the receipt of knowledge as to the whereabouts of the two suspects. In the official findings of the post mortem examination, the question of time of death might be more definite and the movements of the men become related in some way, so that an end to the process of investigation would appear. But this meant some delay and the sergeant felt sure that immediate action was called for, and again wired a request to Dawson.

Back came the answer signed by Detective Sgt. Eion, MacBrayne, which read: “Ganley and Cesari arrested on charge of murder. Bringing them to Whitehorse by first steamer.”

With some anxiety the verdict of the post mortem examination was awaited. On the result much depended. Would the time of death be established to coincide with the departure, in the dead of night, of Ganley, on a mysterious mission? Or, would the final report of the medical examiner throw his, by now, solid suspicion of Ganley or Cesari into a cocked hat? McLaughlin awaited the medical verdict; it came in the curt, clinical phraseology of the medical profession. “Skull fractured by blows from a heavy instrument before death. Body and organs in perfect condition. Death occurred at six-not more than eight-weeks ago.”

Sgt. McLaughlin’s mental processes quickly put the time of death at early April, and because of this, the confirmed absence of his two suspects from the area at that time meant that the carefully woven web of circumstantial evidence had come to a dead end. Both had an air-tight alibi. Yet, on his instructions, both men were on their way to Whitehorse under guard, on a charge of murder. It was a crestfallen officer who murmured to himself , “Where now?

The formalities of post mortem over and the results duly and officially recorded, Sgt. McLaughlin now had time to review the incidents that had prompted his deductions. Where had he left the path of logic and diverted his thinking to the narrow and perilous way of following hunches. His thoughts always came back to the verdict: “Six, not more than eight weeks.” Where and why had the murder been committed? Why had a man with a blackened hand been beaten to death? A blackened hand!

Could the answer be somewhere in the upraised arm, that raised itself as though in protest from the muddy waters of the Yukon? Somewhere in the puzzling case there was a flaw, and he posed this question to himself. Whether, in view of the medical findings, any grounds for holding the men could be found? How could he sustain before a jury the flimsy evidence that they were in any way connected with the crime? In reply to a question from McLaughlin, the doctor admitted that it was possible that the body could have been frozen during the winter and later deposited in the river, but the medical expert used the word “possible” and not the word “probable“. There was little to substantiate the idea that a body could be kept in a state of preservation once the warm days of spring came and the ice had broken up and disappeared. There was very little of comfort in this idea.

Time was now of the essence and passing swiftly before the arrival of the two suspects, and McLaughlin knew that he must look elsewhere for a break in the problem. With a thought of missing something of value, he retraced the various steps of his investigation. He went first to the trading store and talked to Capt. Martin, the man who had identified the murdered man, and in the course of the inquiry, learned that the proprietor had received a letter from Cesari from Dawson; asking that a sack be returned to him, which he had left in the store. The letter had been received in early April. When asked if he had sent the sack, Martin said it was still there as the cost of forwarding the item had not been received. Examination of the contents produced a Hudson’s Bay axe, a yellow slicker and a pair of high boots. On closer examination, one of the latter was marked by a dull red stain. With ill-concealed interest the police officer asked to look over the neatly-kept account book, and took careful note of the purchases made by Cesari and the murdered man. He found that their purchases had been on a joint agreement until a date early in February. There followed a purchase marked for Dominico personally, and this was followed a week later by an order from Cesari. Was there some particular reason for this?

He turned to the trader with the question: “Why this change in the usual procedure?” Martin’s reply was that he was not aware of anything at the time the separate orders were received, but that later, when making entries in the weekly ledger, he had wondered.

Then as an afterthought, he said: “Cesari acted in a funny way; he was always harping about Dominico’s gun. He wanted one like it, but he never had enough money to buy one from me.”

The word “gun” prompted further questions from Sgt. McLaughlin as to Martin’s impressions of both men on their last visits to the store. Martin told of their conversational topics and mentioned that they were collaborating on a machine that required neither electric power nor heat to make it run.

Was it something new?” enquired the officer. The reply was almost laughable.

Yes! They called it a perpetual motion machine, and they were deadly serious about it,” answered Martin. McLaughlin’s questions were opening up new leads in his search for clues as to motive, and he wanted to look at the gun which had been mentioned. Where was the weapon now? It had probably been taken to Dawson by one of the suspects now on his way to Whitehorse, under guard, and an urgent message was despatched by wire to the Dawson detachment asking that a search be made for a certain type of shotgun, using the description supplied by Martin. After an interval of two days, there came a reply to the wire.

Shotgun found owned by miner on Eldorado Creek which he claims was purchased from one-eyed man. Shoulder plate is broken, several dents on barrel which has been sawn off ten inches from muzzle.”

McLaughlin, accompanied by Sgt. Mapley, returned to the Bissler house. He felt there was something missing, something overlooked in the previous search that would associate this place with the murder. Mapley was a seasoned police officer, keen and tireless, whether on the trail or on town duty. McLaughlin let his associate roam through the rooms and hoped that the added scrutiny by a trained investigator would unearth something that had been missed.

The dirty walls and discoloured furniture offered nothing of interest, and when the unkempt and filthy condition of the interior was commented on, Mapley scanned from every angle the dusty floors and, without raising his voice, said:  “This is probably what we missed! This part of the floor has been washed! Why?” They drew a circle around the spot and found another spot under the accumulated dust, about three feet away, then another at a similar distance.

These could be footsteps that came from the direction of the kitchen,” mused McLaughlin. Let’s scrape some of the brown stains and send them to the laboratory for analysis. Why would anyone want to wash certain places when the whole joint is as dirty as a pigsty?

With Ganley and Cesari handcuffed together, Det. Sgt. MacBrayne of Dawson prepared to leave the steamer “Whitehorse” as it inched its way to a berth and tied up. The first to meet him was Sgt. McLaughlin and, after a quick word of greeting to his stalwart friend, he quickly turned to look at the prisoners, whose appearance had created a notable surge of excitement among the motley crowd of miners, loggers and Orientals who had crowded the narrow, wooden wharf to see the steamer tie up. McLaughlin blinked his eyes and gasped: “Oh, no!” Both of the handcuffed prisoners were one-eyed.

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With the suspects secure behind bars, the two police officers sat down to discuss the case, and MacBrayne had some details to give of the arrest made at Dawson. Ganley had given an account of his activities and what he knew of the two Italians during the period before his arrest. He claimed that he had roomed at the Bissler house with one, Mike Sennett, until the middle of the previous November. Following the latter’s departure, he had become friendly with the two Italians. They had gone to Goss’ house on occasions and participated in various drinking sessions. Following the usual New Year celebrations, the three had gone to Lake LaBarge on a hunting trip and on their return had worked for several weeks at a placer mine a few miles south of Whitehorse.

Ganley had told Sgt. MacBrayne that the two men were always arguing about a machine which they were constructing and that several times they almost came to blows. He blamed this dissention between them as his reason for quitting, and he headed for Whitehorse and was soon followed by Cesari, who caught up to him on the trail. On that occasion, which was February 1st, Ganley said that Cesari had stated his ideas as to the ownership of the perpetual motion machine and commented that, “if he killed Dominico the secret of the proposed mystery machine would belong to him alone, and the thought seemed to him a logical solution to the problem.”

Ganley claimed that on their arrival at the Bissler house, Cesari and he had slept in one room, while Dominico had slept on a chair in the kitchen. A few days later Dominico had left and headed back to the mine. His answers to MacBrayne’s question as to his subsequent movements were vague, but on one point he was certain and that was that on the 2lst of February he and Cesari had headed for Dawson. As to his movements that included the mysterious midnight trip he had made into the bush between his arrival from the mine and his departure with Cesari for Dawson, he refused to discuss.

The two officers felt that their suspicions as to Ganley’s participation in the death of the dead Dominico were justified; yet, there remained many incidents and movements of the two men behind bars that must fit into and complete the jigsaw puzzle that would provide motive for the brutal killing. Somewhere in the investigation was the missing link and it must be found. If the coroner’s report was correct and the murder was only six weeks old, then the two suspects were in the clear.

Mapping a course of action to be pursued, they questioned Ganley at length in respect to his midnight trip. He was uncommunicative, but he admitted that he had provided Mrs. Goss with the funds necessary for her trip to Skagway following a family quarrel with her husband.

In a separate cell, the prisoner Cesari was willing to talk. McLaughlin studied the stocky, dark-haired man closely. Except for the lack of one eye, he had few signs of the vicious criminal type that would murder a companion for money. The officer tried to rationalize the motives that would prompt an individual to end the life of an associate who had come from his own homeland and who had shared many hardships with him. There was something missing here and the officer knew that the advantage was with the smiling man who faced him. He realized now that the absence of an eye, because of the lack of the image that the normal face provided made an estimate of character incomplete and of little value.

There have been statements by some students of criminology that there are certain characteristics common to all perpetrators of violent crimes, and there are as many who have disagreed with this assumption. Yet there remains the indisputable fact that the eyes are the indicators of emotion and the trained investigation follows the line of questioning that disturbs or excites the subject being interrogated.  There was a look of quiet satisfaction in the eye of Cesari as he faced his two investigators across the table. He had no doubt heard of the coroner’s verdict as to the probable time of death of Dominico, and felt secure in the knowledge that if there were any facts that had prompted Sgt. McLaughlin to order his arrest, he was now on safe ground.

The two officers took turns in questioning the suspect. In reply to Sgt. McLaughlin’s query as to when he had last seen the dead man, Cesari replied:  “The last time I saw him was on February 4th when he left to go back to the Pueblo mine. I then bought my own food from the store and batched until I went to Dawson.”  “I understand you wrote to Martin of the trading post to send Dominico’s slicker, axe and boots which he had left with him. Were these not the property that belonged to someone else?

The answer came slowly, but emphatically: “I figured that he did not want them anymore and I might as well have them.” Now, the sergeant took a different tactic and questioned Cesari concerning the gun.  “I understand you sold the gun in Dawson. Was the gun the one that had belonged to Dominico?” The reply was quick in coming from Cesari. “He gave me the gun in part payment of money he owed me because most of the time we were together I had paid the store bill.”

McLaughlin came back with the question, “How did the gun get smashed in the first place?
The answer was: “Dominico got some snow down the barrel and the next time he fired it the barrel exploded and in the excitement he dropped it on some rocks and the butt broke.”  “Was that the time you filed the end of the barrel off?”   Answer: “Yes.”   The sergeant pressed the question: “What did you do with the piece that you had sawn off?” Answer: “I threw it in the snow up near the mine.

The sergeant pressed the question: “You had better think again about this, Cesari. Ganley claims you threw it away 20 miles downriver.”

In a somewhat crestfallen voice, the Italian answered: “Ganley is lying!” The two police officers left to consider the impact of the replies they had received. Both felt that either Ganley or Cesari was lying, but the key to the mystery was still missing. The question of the broken gun was still not answered.

In the back of the minds of both officers was the mystery of the lost blankets for which Ganley had supposedly made the mysterious trip to recover. MacBrayne came up with the answer:

Supposing these blankets did not belong to Ganley; that they had been stolen.” Further investigation proved false the suspicions concerning Ganley. Investigation also revealed the fact that Dominico had been seen in Whitehorse on February 6th, which would be during the time that Ganley had made the mysterious trip, and MacBrayne’s contention that the blankets had been stolen proved true. They had been taken from a cache belonging to an Indian who was afraid that the police would discover this at the time of the theft. Once again the weight of evidence seemed to swing towards Cesari.

The officers decided to question Mike Sennett, who had lived with Ganley for a short time following his association with the two Indians. He was a husky, tough, hardboiled miner, but the officers soon found a way to get him to talk. He admitted having batched at the Bissler house with Ganley, but the latter was such a troublesome, cantankerous character that he decided to leave. He stated that on the night of February 19th he had come in from the bush and dropped in to see Ganley at the Bissler house; but he was not there. After a few drinks the next day at Goss’ hideaway, Sennett returned to the Bissler house and found Ganley at home. In recounting his meeting with Ganley, he claimed he found Ganley in a state of exasperation and in an unusually bad frame of mind. After a few words together, Ganley became quarrelsome and ordered Sennett out of his house. When he asked about the two Italians, Ganley said, “One is in Whitehorse and the other was probably at the bottom of the sink hole,” and if I did not keep my trap shut I would wake up at the bottom of the place myself.

Later, after Ganley had calmed down, continued Sennett, “I said Dominico was nuts to go looking for pay-dirt and that I felt sorry for the poor guy.” This remark of mine seemed to sit badly with Ganley and he took a swing at me with an axe. It appeared to me that Ganley was annoyed about something that had happened and he was objecting to my being in his presence. The next day I heard that he had hit out for Dawson.

The evidence of guilt seemed to shift from one suspect to the other but nothing that had been revealed at the questioning of the three men was in line with the medical opinion at the inquest, and more definite and conclusive evidence was necessary before Sgt. McLaughlin could hope to prepare a strong case against either one or both suspects. Following an inspiration, he turned to the Indians who had first identified the dead man as Dominico.

McLaughlin produced a carefully folded envelope which contained a quantity of blue earth and presented this to the Indian with a request that he would determine from what part of the area this kind of earth could be found. The reply from the Indian stated that this had come from Miles Canyon: there was lots of soft blue earth there and it was the only place in the area where this could be found. The information led McLaughlin to follow the hazardous old trail to Miles Canyon. He was accompanied by Sgt. Mapley and they carried food as well as the sticks that had bound the body of the dead man when it was fished from the river a short time previously.

Later the officers returned, weary and satisfied. Sgt. McLaughlin reported to Inspector Ackland, his Officer Commanding that he was now prepared to proceed with the case. Nothing was told outside detachment headquarters of the plans that the tireless investigator had completed.

On September 24th., two and one-half months after the body with its out-stretched hand had been carefully taken from the muddy waters of the Yukon, Cesari was arraigned on a charge of murder and on questioning from the court to the charge, he emphatically replied: “Not guilty!” The case had attracted widespread interest because of the unusual circumstances which surrounded it. As usual, the murdered man had suddenly become a friend of all the residents – many remembered him now as a tolerant and mild-mannered man, who was charitable, friendly and of good disposition. It is a trait of human nature that death, particularly under violent conditions, has a way of leavening the feelings concerning the deceased.

The courtroom was crowded to hear the opening words of Prosecutor J. T. Smith who opened the case for the Crown. The prosecutor requested that the entire court journey a short distance so that a proper understanding of the evidence that was to be submitted would be understood. He spoke of the vagaries of the river during the period between freeze-up time, which usually came in October, and break-up time which usually came in April. He gave some interesting data concerning these periods when the fall of the river, because of winter conditions, might be determined, and he specifically mentioned the fact that the river level had actually risen 31.7 inches between April 21st and June 11th, the latter date was when the body had reached Whitehorse.

Wagons of all descriptions had been secured and the court proceeded towards the Whitehorse portage. Beyond this grass-grown section that had once seen the gold-seeking miners in years gone by, they left the wagons and followed Sgt. McLaughlin along a narrow trail, covered on both sides with the fast-growing alder and willow trees that are found along the river banks in the Northwest Yukon.

Stopping near a clearing in the trail, Sgt. McLaughlin pointed to some blackened stumps and held in his hand the sticks that had been used to bind the murdered man. He stated:  “These stumps bear the same marks as the sticks I carry in my hand. These sticks are the ones that bound the body of Dominico Melis, and you will observe that the sticks fit the stumps from which they were taken. Also, that the notches that are in the blade of the axe that was used to cut these yellow stumps are clearly shown in the cut portion of both the stick itself and the stumps from which they came.

With the court seated around him, Sgt. McLaughlin took up a position where he might carefully address them. He then produced from his haversack a packet containing the blue earth, about which he had discussed with the Indian. Passing this among his hearers, he said:  “Note that in this spot there was a peculiar type of blue mud found only along one spot of the entire Yukon. Much different and easily distinguished from the sand and rubble of the regular channel of the river, and some of this earth,” he continued, “was taken from the hair of the deceased man, and it is identical with the earth on which you now stand.” He continued, “Despite the medical evidence of the time of death, which seemed conclusive, I felt that the murder had been committed much earlier, probably in February, and that the body itself had been preserved by the frigid atmosphere that covered the territory at that time. The rise and fall of the river, the stumps and the blue earth, which we have now identified, make it clear that the body had rested here.

The audience was silent as Sgt. McLaughlin continued with his dramatic solution of the brutal murder.

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The ice froze two feet thick at the high-water level at freeze-up time. Later, as the water fell, there would occur a number of crevices as the ice dropped, breaking as it fell in at places, thus revealing holes where a body could be deposited and remain in its frozen state until the heat of the spring sun. As the snow in the lower mountain tops melted, the spring flood raised this ice again and carried it downstream, carrying with it whatever lay beneath!

Before the still court Sgt. McLaughlin emphatically stated: “Dominico Melis was killed by Cesari in the Bissler house on the evening of February 19th. His body was put on a toboggan and later hidden in an ice cavity in this location and it is our contention and belief that the body became well preserved in its hiding place until the river claimed its burden when the water rose!”   The stunned jurors consulted among themselves. They knew the painstaking care and relentless energy which had preceded the dramatic announcement by Sgt. McLaughlin. One wary juror had a question.  “What is your explanation of the fact that one hand had decomposed while the rest of the body was incorrupt?” Sgt. McLaughlin’s answer was immediate and equally emphatic, “This occurred because the hand was the only part of the body to come in contact with the heat of the spring sun. It is, in all probability, a fact that the hand itself was exposed in a crack between two sections of ice and thus would be the only part of the body that would come within the direct rays of the hot sun.”

From behind some trees on the riverbank, Sgt. McLaughlin produced a narrow birch toboggan, “and this,” he said. “Is the instrument on which the body was taken from Whitehorse. It was stolen from a miner named Joe Lapointe on February 19th, the night on which Mike Sennett called at the Bissler house and found nobody home. But in his evidence, he said that, although the door was closed, he noticed that the snow on the steps had been trampled as though by bodies in conflict!

Returning to the court house, the prosecuting attorney presented a damning mass of evidence, carefully documented, that had been covered by Sgt. McLaughlin. He traced a pattern of what had happened. The deceased had been struck a violent blow with his own shotgun, which had been broken at the time. The motive, he explained, was to still, forever, Dominico’s knowledge of the perpetual motion machine – the machine that had stirred the thoughts of men since the beginning of time. He explained that the term “perpetual motion” had so excited the temper of the violent Italian Cesari that he had resorted to murder. The attorney produced the stained back of the kitchen chair on which Dominico had slept the night that he and Ganley had stayed in the house.

With Sgt. McLaughlin on the witness stand, the prosecutor slowly and logically completed the web of circumstantial evidence. As the recital of his investigations in the case was unravelled by the witness, the prisoner in the dock sat nervously dejected. The arrogant gleam in his lone eye, that had been present when the trial commenced, had been replaced by a look of hatred for the man in uniform who represented the majesty and dignity of the law.

When questioned regarding an exhibit which the prosecutor asked to be placed in evidence, the witness identified it as a notebook which had been taken from among the possessions of the prisoner. On one of the pages was a crudely drawn up map of the place where the body had been deposited following the murder.

It was the defence’s turn to refute this damning evidence, and on cross-examination Cesari’s attorney said:   “I demand the production of the police analyst’s report on the so-called bloodstains.” Following this emphatic demand by Cesari’s attorney, Sgt. McLaughlin produced the medical report, which stated that the bloodstains were human blood.

The case for both the prosecution and the defence was over. The crowded courtroom waited with eagerness the jury’s return. In low voices they discussed the evidence and commented on the crestfallen appearance of the man in the prisoner’s box. Much of the defence’s case had rested on the medical report, which was the peg on which the entire defence hinged.

Finally, it was announced that the jury would return after two hours’ deliberation. The foreman of the jury, in response to the judge’s question: “Had they reached a verdict?” announced the fatal words: “GUILTY OF FIRST DEGREE MURDER!”   Then came the sonorous announcement by the judge: “Romano Cesari, stand up. Following the verdict of a duly selected jury, you shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead – and may God have mercy on your soul.”   Ganley was released from prison and was entirely exonerated from all connection with the death of Dominico Melis.

It was late in the year and the winter’s blasts were beginning to be heard in the mountains of the Yukon. The prisoner was behind bars awaiting the day on which his sentence would be duly carried out and the process of law properly served. There were the usual delays and it was expected that the execution would take place as soon as winter had passed and travel became convenient. The evening of February 15th was dark, as very little daylight appeared in the Yukon region at that time of year. Two constables were attending to the duties of feeding the prisoner and locking his cell door. As the leg irons were being removed, the condemned man jumped to his feet and knocked the nearest constable down, and tipping a table against the other constable, he sped down the corridor of the jail and out into the white blanket of snow that covered the area around the jail. He headed for the dark bush that loomed through the whiteness that was at ground level. The alarm in the cell began to utter its warning cry and police spilled out to see a figure disappearing in the darkness.

Ignoring an order to “stop” following several warning shots, the prisoner hastened his scrambling through the deep snow, heading for the bush. He had almost reached the temporary safety of the trees when one of the constables’ guns cracked and, in a crumpled, nondescript way, the body tumbled in the snow.

The one-eyed man had cheated the hangman’s noose only to fall victim to a policeman’s bullet. So ended the career and life of a murderer – a murderer who had broken the laws of the country that had adopted him, but had not tamed the wild spirit with which he was born, and had prompted him to commit brutal murder in order that he might inherit the brain-child of another who had once been his partner.

The secret of perpetual motion had claimed yet another life and added to the long list of men who had defied the laws of possibility and paid for their dreams with their lives.

Throughout the annals of Mounted Police Northern history the principal theme of their outstanding exploits has been their dedication to duty in the face of extreme cold and the rugged test of endurance on long patrols. One recalls the recorded deeds of men like Dempster, La Nauze, Caulkin and Nitchi Thorne, to mention only a few of those who have illuminated the pages of Yukon and Northern history. The case of the Whitehorse murder was less hazardous or arduous, yet the dedication to duty was the same. The tireless effort required to solve the mystery must mark it as an epic of investigation that has few equals in Canadian law-enforcement history.

The strength of the Force in the Yukon during the time of the Cesari case numbered approximately 24 at Dawson and 12 at Whitehorse, with smaller numbers at posts on the river and at several mine locations. The divisional headquarters was at Dawson under the command of Superintendent Moody and Inspector Telford. Associated with them were S/M Evans, Sergeants Joy, Mapley and MacBrayne. Also at the Division was Corporal B. J. Stangroom of Vancouver, Sergeants McLaughlin and Mapley were on plain-clothes detective work and were in Whitehorse at the time of the discovery of the murdered man’s body; they were assigned to investigate the case.

1915 - Photograph of "B" Division members.

1915 – Photograph of  RNWMP “B” Division members (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

The  YUKON MYSTERY – IN THE SPRING FLOOD THE RIVER GIVES UP ITS VICTIM – AND HELPS TO SOLVE A BRUTAL MURDER article was reproduced with grateful thanks to RCMPVA’s Scarlet and Gold Annual Magazine 47th issue in 1965 & 1967.

image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage

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