History & Museum Historical Stories
THE MURDER OF CONSTABLE JOHN MCDONALD
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Researched & written by Staff Sergeant Jack Templeman (retired)
February 1940 was to mark the next time the
City of Winnipeg mourned the loss of another policeman.
This tragedy also lead to the establishment
of a Royal Commission to enquire into the "Widespread criticism of the manner in which the City
Police Department handled the attempted robbery
of the Manitoba Motor League" and "The
widespread dissatisfaction among members of the City
Police Force over conditions of employment and
promotion, allegedly without regard to seniority
and efficiency." This
Royal Commission will be the subject of a separate article in the
Information had been received of a possible
break-in to the Radio Building at 120 Fort Street that housed the
offices of the Manitoba Motor League as well as the Clean Towel
Supply Company on the main floor and the Canada Glassware Company
on the second floor. The
object of the B & E was to be the Motor League as they sold
license plates at that time so it would be reasonable to assume
their safe would contain a considerable amount of money over the
weekends, especially at the beginning of the year.
It is important to note that at this time
the Winnipeg Police Department was much smaller. There were a lot of beat patrols and very few cruisers, five
to be exact. Car #8
for the Fort Rouge area, car #9 for the North End, cars # 23, 35,
and 46 for the downtown area.
Only 3 cars were 2-way radio equipped, 8, 9 and 46.
The others, as well as detectives, had 1-way systems.
While the 2-way cars could acknowledge messages or call the
station, their messages could not be picked up by the other units,
so the messages had to be repeated by the O.D.
The first two 2-way radios were installed in May 1939 and
the last one in the fall of 1939, shortly before this occurrence.
The Detective Department arranged to stake
out the building on weekends and used constables for this tedious
instructions were to allow the criminals entry and to notify the
O.D. at the Rupert Street Station by phone so help could be sent
before any attempt was made to arrest the culprits.
The stakeouts began in January and were
continued into February. On
February 4th, an attempt was made on the building by prying the
north side window but the culprits were spooked by a neighbour
before they entered. This
occurred around 8:30 p.m. and the stakeouts began at 10:00 p.m. up
to this time.
The officers going into the building that
night were Consts. John McDonald #181A and Norman Stewart #27A
(later Chief Constable). These
same officers were in the building the next weekend, Saturday,
February 10th at 8:00 p.m. McDonald
had been involved in the stakeout seven times and this was the
third night for Stewart.
The criminals involved in this bungled safe
job were Mike 'The Horse' Attamanchuk, John Ashton Barnett and
John Andrusiak. All
three were well known to the police and had records relating to
property thefts. They
had specialized in stealing autos and stripping them for parts,
and B & E's in which tools were generally taken for their own
use. They had
graduated to safe jobs and were not expected to be armed since
this was night work that did not involve holding anyone up.
Attamanchuk had other ideas and had no intention of being
arrested and sent back to jail.
He was carrying a Webley .455 cal.
On the fateful night, Stewart and McDonald
saw a suspicious car drive around the building several times.
About 8:30 p.m., the window leading into the washroom on
the south side was smashed in, one male entered and then left
shortly after. The
officers waited to see what would happen and about a half hour
later, three men returned and entered through the window bringing
with them tools and a drill to attack the safe.
The officers let them get started and then entered the
office of the Motor League. They had not phoned the station in case the culprits might
Each officer switched on a light hanging
over the front counter. McDonald
ordered the men 'stay where you are or we will let you have
reply was 'like hell we will' and he and Andrusiak ducked
behind the office desks. Barnett raised his hands and stood still.
Then Attamanchuk stood up with a gun in his hand and fired
at McDonald first, then he turned towards Stewart.
McDonald fired one shot but missed.
Stewart fired two shots and missed.
Before Stewart could fire another, Attamanchuk fired at him
striking him in the right hand with the bullet entering between
the third and fourth fingers and travelling up into his forearm
where it lodged itself. Stewart's
gun was knocked from his hand and he was knocked down by the
impact. McDonald ran
over to Stewart and shook him saying 'Jesus, Jesus'.
Barnett ran out the side door of the office with McDonald
following into the hall towards the back of the building where
entry had been made.
As Stewart struggled to get up and recover
his gun he heard shooting from the hallway. As he got into the hallway, now holding the gun in his left
hand, he saw Attamanchuk by the fire door that divided the
fired twice more with one bullet striking the door and the other
hitting Attamanchuk the left shoulder, passing through and
knocking him backwards.
The events of the next few seconds were
confusing with conflicting testimony being heard at the Royal
stated that he then chased another suspect up to the second floor
and into the office of the Canada Glassware Company.
The suspect smashed the glass out of the office door,
entered and for some reason smashed a large window overlooking
Fort Street. Stewart
was getting weak from shock and loss of blood and he lost sight of
the suspect but heard the metal fire door at the top of the stairs
slam. He then yelled
out the window that he had been shot and for someone to call the
police. He then
dialled the station at 105 and shouted for help before collapsing.
His bloodied gun was found on the desk.
When McDonald chased after Barnett it
appears that Attamanchuk also went in that direction, which would
place McDonald in the hall beyond the fire door and Attamanchuk
near the door. McDonald
was shot by Attamanchuk with one bullet piercing his hip and
lodging the bowels. The second and fatal shot struck him in the top of the head
passing down to the back of the neck indicating that he was
probably collapsing from the first wound when the second buffet
struck. He was killed instantly.
Andrusiak apparently managed to get out of
the building via the window that had been used for entry.
Barnett, along with the wounded Attamanchuk, smashed out
the plate glass front doors and fled south on Fort Street.
They crossed Broadway towards the Fort Garry Hotel.
Mary Gorin and Helen Kornak were walking east in the lane
of Broadway while John Thomson was on the west sidewalk of Fort
Street, just north of the building. Robert and Martha Ellis were walking south on the east side
of Fort Street. All
the witnesses described the taller of the two men as appearing
injured and running in an awkward manner.
Gorin, Kornak and Thomson all went to the service station
on Broadway at Fort to notify the police.
Robert and Martha Ellis stayed on the
sidewalk watching the building and saw the lights 'go on' on
the main floor and then on the second floor. Almost
immediately, a man on the second floor smashed out a window and
yelled at them to phone the police as he had been shot.
Bombardier Joseph Wall and an officer from
the army barracks across the street also heard the sound of the
front doors being shattered and after a quick check of the
barracks ran across the street to the Radio Building.
They were in front of the building as the window on the
second floor shattered and a man they identified as Stewart
stuck his head out and shouted for help indicating he had been
shot. As they started
to enter the broken doors, the cruiser arrived and they all went
The first call received at 9:42 p.m. was
from the service station reporting that 'two boys' had broken
a window in the Radio Building and were now running west on
Broadway. This was broadcast over V.Y.W. to car #23 Consts. R.M. Burns
#38A and T.B. Oxley #152A accompanied by P/Sgt. Adams. The cruiser car was northbound on Main Street between York
& St. Marys at this time.
They turned left at St. Marys and left again at Fort where
they got a second message to rush as there was now a report of a
arrived at 9:44 p.m. and met two soldiers by the front doors.
The officers were told the man on the second
floor had been shot so they entered through the broken doors and
rushed upstairs to find the metal fire door locked from the
inside. When they
identified themselves, Stewart opened the door and collapsed.
They carried him downstairs and Oxley ran across the street
to phone for the ambulance.
Burns did not wait for the ambulance, but
loaded Stewart into the cruiser and rushed him to St. Boniface
Oxley returned to the Radio Building and
awaited the arrival of detectives.
Det. T. Ormonde arrived about 9:46 p.m. and they began to
search the second floor. About
9:55 p.m., Acting Dets. W. Owens and J.E. Sims arrived and joined
them. Some nine or
ten minutes after the arrival of the first units, Sims returned to
the main floor and at that time discovered the body of Const.
McDonald in the dark hallway, face down and obviously dead.
Andrusiak had escaped and got back to the
stolen car they were using. A
similar car was identified by Street Railway employees working at
Fort and Assiniboine as having sped east on Assiniboine and turned
north on Fort that evening.
Attamanchuk and Barnett escaped through the
broken front doors and made their way to Broadway and headed west.
Barnett left the wounded Attamanchuk and went to the Ritz
Taxi office at the Mall (Colony) and St. Marys Avenue where he got
driver Evard Jensen to drive him back east on St. Marys to pick up
his 'drunk' friend. Attamanchuk
came out from between houses between Edmonton and Carlton. He was then ordered to drive them to Ellice Avenue and when
they got to Young Street he was told to stop.
Barnett gave him a dollar in silver for the thirty-five
cent ride. Jensen
later identified Barnett and the body of Attamanchuk as his
Barnett and Attamanchuk next turned up at
368 Langside Street but stayed only a few minutes.
It would appear that they then joined up
with Andrusiak somewhere and he had the stolen car, a maroon Ford
with a whip aerial. By
this time the police suspected Attamanchuk, and officers went and
staked out his mother's house at 273 McGregor.
Consts. Manning and Morris and Det. Dickie hid in the
upstairs kitchen. At 12:20 a.m., on the 11th, a person was heard coming up the
stairs. He knocked
and received no answer so turned and fled down the stairs, but not
before Dickie was able to shine his flashlight into the face of
fired one shot at him but missed. Attamanchuk got outside and ran down Alfred and jumped into a
maroon Ford. Dickie
fired another shot at the car as it sped off south on McGregor.
Manning and Morris both fired a few more shots at the
When the car turned west on Selkirk Ave., it
passed beat Const. J. Hansell #117E and he recorded the license
36-232 because he had heard the shooting.
He met Manning and gave him the license number that Manning
The car next turned up about 02:00 a.m. on
the 11th with plates 26-338 attached and Andrusiak driving alone.
Consts. N. Buhr #161A and R. Young #62A were patrolling on
Higgins and observed a suspicious car pull off Gomez St.
They were in cruiser #46 which was 2-way radio equipped.
They followed when the car turned onto Annabella and then
east on Sutherland. The
cruiser drew alongside at Stephens Street and the driver sped off.
A chase took place with the cars going to Higgins, over the
Louise Bridge, north on Stadacona and Watt, then east on Chalmers,
north on Grey, west on Harbison and finally north on Wolfe and
into Gateway in East Kildonan.
The chasing officers radioed their route and
this was relayed to the other cruisers.
Other officers took up the chase in commandeered taxis.
Detectives were aware that the second suspect, Andrusiak
lived in North Kildonan and a bush area near the end of Munroe and
Gateway was a dumping ground for stolen cars, so a number headed
there to intercept the car. Their
intuition proved correct very quickly as the car approached and
Det. Hull shot the radiator.
The billowing steam and the snowy road brought the car to a
stop a short distance down Gateway.
The rear of the car also showed eight holes in the trunk
and fender and one in the rear window from the pursuing police.
The sole occupant, John Andrusiak, was
arrested without a struggle, although a loaded Webley Scott .455
cal and a loaded 12 gauge sawed-off double barrel shotgun were
found in the car. Also
found in the car and of special interest was an overcoat,
windbreaker, vest and shirt with bullet holes in the back and
front and bloodstained and a bloodstained pillowcase.
These were later identified as Attamanchuk's.
Stolen license plates, including 36- 232, and a stolen
Philco car radio that was set to the police wavelength V.Y.W.,
were also seized.
Attamanchuk and Barnett left Andrusiak after
the near arrest on McGregor Avenue and they turned up at 9:50 p.m.
on the 11th purchasing a quantity of food at the Windsor Grocery
in St. Vital. The
shopkeeper was suspicious of them and recorded the license of the
car they were now using, 36-269.
Police were notified and the men were identified from
It appears that Attamanchuk and Barnett were
planning to head south to the border as a rough map later found on
Attamanchuk showed routes and places between Winnipeg and
Minnesota. The plan
fell apart when their car went into the ditch near St. Adolphe
Road on Pembina Highway. The license number was broadcast and shortly after midnight
the Fort Garry Police Chief located the car at the Watson Service
Station on Pembina. It
was learned that two men had been in the car and had come back
with it when it was towed in.
The car was later found to be stolen with
the serial number ground off.
The plates were registered to 'Mike Attamon' in
Transcona. The plates
had been purchased on Feb. 10th at the Manitoba Motor League,
which also provided Attamanchuk an opportunity to see the inside
of the office the day of the safe attack.
Attamanchuk and Barnett were traced back
into the city with the tow truck driver Clifford Mallet who let
them out at Broadway & Osborne.
They were seen getting into a Crescent Taxi and driver Gus
Candaele reported dropping them at Portage and Burnell at 12:30
a.m. on the 12th.
A short time later, at 01:15 a.m., they were
identified buying some cokes and chocolate bars in the store at
129 Hallet. At 05:00
a.m., they were found in 36 Hallet when the resident came home.
The resident knew Attamanchuk from jail days. About 06:00 a.m., Barnett and Attamanchuk went to 298 Selkirk
That afternoon, about 4:15 p.m., Barnett and
Attamanchuk were in the Wesley Pharmacy, at Ellice & Spence.
Barnett made a phone call while Attamanchuk bought some
gum. Apparently they
separated because Barnett was spotted at 4:25 p.m. at Ellice and
Furby by patrolling Detectives McPherson, Alexander, and Ormonde
as he got into a Moore's Taxi.
Barnett spotted the cruiser turning and jumped out and ran
towards Sherbrooke. He
threw his mitts which contained 13 rounds of .45 cal. ammo behind
Detectives fired two shots at Barnett as he
started to run, then one more shot in the first blocks as he cut
through yards going west and finally three more shots as he neared
Beverley. He was
nicked on the foot by one bullet but did not slow down.
He outran the officers and managed to get into the Thelmo
Mansions Block on Burnell at Ellice.
He dumped his hat and coat and exited the back door a short
time later, but as he walked by, Detectives Owens and Sims, who
had arrived to assist, recognized him. Owens dropped him with a hit on the head from his revolver.
Barnett appeared in court with a large head bandage.
Searching police officers failed to find the
coat and hat in the Thelmo Mansions but a reporter got the
caretaker to help and they located them in a laundry basket. Unlike events years later, the reporter turned them over to
police without any fuss.
Only Attamanchuk remained at large as the
manhunt went on. He
next turned up at 11:45 p.m., that date, at Ste 18, Brant Block,
281 Laura St. at Logan where he forced his way in, gun in hand.
Edith Sissons was alone there and was told to sit and be
quiet. Shortly after
midnight, Thomas Malin, boyfriend to Sissons arrived and joined
them. Sissons had to
dress his shoulder wound and made something to eat.
Malin was able to convince Attamanchuk to let Sissons leave
the suite, to keep her out of danger.
Attamanchuk agreed, under threat of harm to Malin.
Sissons went to a hotel and stayed there.
She obviously was not too concerned because she went
shopping in the morning and returned to the block at 11:00 a.m.,
long after it was over.
Malin was forced to undress so he would not
leave the room. Attamanchuk
told him about the police shooting and said he would shoot himself
before he ever gave up.
Det. James Mullholland got confidential
information about Attamanchuk and about 4:30 a.m., detectives
attended and called at Attamanchuk to surrender.
Malin answered that he could not come out, as there was a
gun in his back. Sgt.
of Det. Alexander sent Det. McDonald to call for tear gas and A/
Dets. Jim Ayers and Harvey were outside to prevent escape via the
Mullholland stayed in the hallway with Alexander. Suddenly a shot sounded from the suite and plaster fell in
the hall. Malin
yelled that Attamanchuk had shot himself so the officers had Malin
kick the gun out into the hall before they entered.
When the officers entered, they found
Attamanchuk sprawled across a bed with a self-inflicted wound in
his chest. The bullet
had passed through and into the wall.
He was taken to General Hospital but was D.O.A.
The gun seized was later proven to have fired the bullets
recovered from the body of McDonald and Stewart's arm.
Barnett and Andrusiak were tried for murder,
but Mr. Justice Robson ordered the jury to dismiss the charge as
the common purpose was only to rob the safe and Attamanchuk acted
on his own when he resisted arrest and shot the officers.
The Crown was allowed to lay new charges of 'accessories after the fact' of the murder, and on Oct
15th, 1940, each was sentenced to 20 years in penitentiary.
Only three years later, on Oct. 26th, 1943,
Barnett was to show his violent nature when he managed to obtain a
gun and slip out of his cell in Stony Mountain.
He was confronted by an armed guard and in an exchange of
gunfire was killed before he was able to get out of the dome. The jury at the inquest ruled it justifiable homicide in
McDonald lived at 513 Redwood and was
survived by his widow, Josephine 'Jessie' and a two-year old
son, Gordon. Mrs.
McDonald was provided with her husband's pay for the full month
of February and the Police Commission assumed the cost of the
funeral. She also got
his pension refund of some $140.00.
The Workman's Compensation Board provided a pension of
$40.00 for the widow and $14.66 for the child until 16 years of
age. The Commission
also asked for a $1,000.00 grant to Mrs. McDonald from the Police
Emergency Fund. The
Winnipeg Police Athletic Fund provided a $600.00 grant.
The funeral was held on Feb. 15th from the
Emanuel Lutheran Church at College and McKenzie, with burial in
Brookside Cemetery. Pallbearers
under Sgt. Robert Still were Constables George G. Smith, Bruce
McDonald, Fred Peters, George Walkinshaw, Waiter Hansen, Norman
McKenzie and John Gutray. The
Guard of Honour consisted of 30 officers of the W.P.D. under Sgt.
The next officer to give his life on duty was the same officer who discovered the body of Constable McDonald.
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