History & Museum Historical Stories
THE MURDER OF CONSTABLE BERNARD SNOWDON
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Researched & written by Staff Sergeant Jack Templeman (retired)
Recently I wrote an
article on the first policeman killed on duty in Winnipeg,
Constable John Beattie, and now I would like to write an article
on the first policeman murdered on duty.
Other articles will cover each of the later police murders
in the Greater Winnipeg area including those of other departments.
Constable Bernard Snowdon
On April 6th, 1918,
Constable Snowdon was on beat patrol on the east side of Main
Street between Rupert and Higgins.
He was required to call in from a single box every
half-hour. When he
failed to report at 00:30 and again at 01:00 the signal operator
notified the duty sergeant who instructed a patrol sergeant to
check his beat.
At 01:30 Patrol Sgt.
Alexander Donald found the back door to Rosenblatt's Hardware
& Clothing Store open. He
entered and found Constable Snowdon face down on the floor, dead. It was first thought the officer had been struck on the head
and shot in the back but subsequent investigation determined the
head injury was probably caused as he fell.
Powder burns on his overcoat indicated he was shot in the
back at almost point blank range with the bullet striking his
heart causing instant death.
Donald Macpherson and numerous other officers including the entire
detective division were called in to work on the murder.
The method of entry
to the store was unique for that period of time in that the
culprits had cut a hole in the door under the lock to gain entry.
Advice of a similar m.o. had been received just weeks
earlier from Fort William and Port Arthur Police and only a week
before a shop at 485 Main Street had been entered by this method.
Items of clothing and articles such as knives were usually
stolen. A description
of suspects had also received from the Lakehead Police.
given a very valuable clue right away by the storeowner who
noticed a flashlight left for repairs was missing.
His description of the men who brought it in for repairs
was very similar to that of the suspects from the east and it was
possible they used it as an opportunity to 'case the joint'.
Even more interesting was the fact that the suspects were
staying in the Maple Leaf Hotel next door at 655 Main St. (now the
Manwin Hotel) which also happened to be owned by the Rosenblatt
the hotel but the suspects were not there so the room was staked
out. Warrants were
issued for the two men who were registered there.
At 12:35 hrs, on the
6th, detectives spotted the suspects at Higgins and Main and
arrested Frank Sullivan, 47 years and Philip Johnson, 32 years.
A third man with them at the time, George Ball from 394
Jarvis Ave. was also arrested but released on the 8th as a
material witness. Sullivan
and Johnson were from the east and had previous records.
Both gave their occupation as 'bushman' which was
probably a term for working in the lumber camps.
The arresting officers were Deputy Chief Chris Newton, Dets.
George Smith, Eli Stodgell, James Hoskins and Brent Kilcup.
At 18:35 hrs, John
Edward Stoike, 17 years, was arrested by Dets. James Thomson and
James Melville when he went to the suspects room at the Maple Leaf
Hotel. He identified
himself with the name Craig but it was established that he was an
escapee from Portage la Prairie and had met and joined up with
Sullivan and Johnson in Fort William.
Sullivan was held in
"A" Div. at Rupert Station while Johnson was held in the North
End "E" and Stoike was detained in "B" Div. in Fort Rouge.
On April 22nd they were all committed to stand trial and
were then transferred to the Provincial Goal.
News of the police
slaying shocked the city the next morning and Chief Macpherson had
waited until 07:00 to advise Mrs. Snowdon but when he got there
with Insp. Blair, they found her in a hysterical condition having
been given the news by some other person.
The funeral for
Constable Snowdon was held from Thomson Funeral Home on Main
Street with burial in Elmwood Cemetery beside the graves of
Constables Traynor and Ward of "A" Division and Sgt. Rice of
"E" Div. Pallbearers
were selected from each division with Consts. G. Headon and H.A.
Steeman from "A", Consts. H.C. Mills and J. Shields from
"B" and Consts. L.C. lngram and S.F Hull from "E".
Drill Inst. George Jamieson was in charge. A very large crowd of citizens along with almost all other
police officers from Winnipeg and surrounding municipalities
attended the funeral.
The three accused
were tried separately in July and each found 'Guilty' and
sentenced to death on September 27th, 1918.
Johnson was first
tried and he put the blame on Sullivan by claiming that he was
only the lookout while the others were inside.
When Constable Snowdon entered the shop and was about to
grab Stoike, Johnson had followed and said something, which
distracted the officer and caused him to turn.
Constable Snowdon had then grabbed Johnson but was
immediately shot in the back by Sullivan.
He struck his head as he fell.
Sullivan wanted Johnson to go back from the hotel and beat
the officer to death so he could not identify them but Johnson
refused stating he was already dead.
Johnson applied for clemency after his conviction but it
was turned down.
Stoike was next and
he also put the blame on Sullivan claiming he had been sent back
to the hotel while the other two intended to chop into the office
of the American Loan Company next door.
Sullivan had admitted shooting the policeman back at the
hotel and also ordered Stoike to hide the three revolvers and the
stolen goods. He put
the guns in an old blacksmith shop behind the Empress Hotel and
the stolen goods in the Nugget Hotel.
He dropped some bullets and an empty casing in a sewer
outlet. The police
recovered all the items.
Sullivan came last
on July 13th and he would only maintain that he was innocent and
the others were lying to save themselves.
The judge emphasized
their intent to resist arrest was a planned act when they carried
guns into a burglary and also that each had the same common
purpose. So it was
only necessary to find if each were guilty of the break-in and
therefore the murder regardless of who actually fired the shot.
The jury took approximately 30 minutes.
On September 25th
the Federal Cabinet commuted the death sentence of Stoike to life
imprisonment mainly because of his age at the time of the murder.
Sullivan and Johnson
got a slight reprieve also because of a mix-up with the federal
hangman ''Mr. Ellis' being otherwise engaged at another
hanging in Montreal on Sept. 27th.
The reprieve was brief, as 'Mr. Ellis' was available on
October 2nd, 1918, and at 07:04 hrs. the two men stood side by
side on the gallows. Sullivan
died instantly due to a miscalculation of the rope by Mr. Ellis
and Johnson was pronounced dead six minutes later. Some 60 witnesses saw justice carried out only a few days
short of six months from the time of the crime.
An inquest was held immediately at the gaol and the cause
of death was listed as 'death by legal execution'.
The Police Pension
Fund at that time was a by-law, which provided for payment of
$250.00 for first year of service and $60.00 for each additional
year. A subsection
also provided for an additional amount of half the payout in the
event the officer was killed on duty.
Commission approved leaving his name on the payroll to the end of
April making his service 5 1/2 years.
The payout came to $775.18.
In June, the
Commission also approved a pension effective in July for Mrs.
Snowdon at $30.00 a month until re-marriage, death or in any event
not beyond 7 years. A
$10.00 allowance was approved for the child for a period of 12
Snowdon's name was also to appear on the June payroll with full
salary being paid to Mrs. Snowdon which appears to make up for May
In October, the
Commission authorized payment of $250.00 for the funeral which
appears to have been a kind gesture as the cost of another funeral
for a constable who died of sickness was deducted from the payout
to his widow.
In Feb. 1925, Mrs. Snowdon requested an extension of the pension due to illness preventing her from working and the Commission granted five more years to June 1930. The pension was now $40.00 and $15.00. Shortly before the expiry, in Sept. 1929, she advised the Commission that she had remarried and was now living in B.C. Her pension was stopped but that of the child continued to the scheduled date in 1930.
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