Who killed Janet Smith? part 2

The Janet Smith affair did indeed get worse, largely because of a journalist called John Sedgewick Cowper who was the editor of the Saturday Tribune. His initial interest was the kidnapping of the Chinese houseboy, Sing. I would guess because he saw the opportunity to investigate the role of the Attorney General of the province, a man called Alex Manson. He began to publish articles about the disappearance of Sing. Not surprisingly, the Chinese government in the form of the Consul General requested the Foreign Office in London to provide information as to his whereabouts; the British Government were unable to help.janet-smith-cover

Sing was then ‘rescued’ by the local police force and charged with the murder of Janet Smith, even though it was accepted he had not committed the offence. The prosecuting authorities wanted a trail in the hope that the real culprit would be identified. Today it would be described as a gross abuse of the legal process and hopefully a judge would refuse to allow the Crown to continue with the prosecution. At the preliminary hearing of the case against Sing, Janet Smith’s employer, F L Baker was cross examined about his companies involvement in the handling of drugs and he admitted that they dealt with heroin, cocaine and morphine.

Cowper’s other line of enquiry involved the medium Barbara Orford. She told him that she and Janet Smith had an interest in the occult.  She purported to give an account of the murder which she said had been revealed to her in dreams. She described a party taking place at the Baker home. After some time, there was a fight between two of the male party goers. Janet Smith became involved in that fight and was being held by one of the men when his lover emerged from a bedroom and misinterpreting the scene, she struck out. The fight continued now with the woman taking part, and it was in the course of this altercation that Janet Smith was killed. Not long after Orford changed her story and said she actually been at the party. Cowper published this story although he must have known that it would result in legal action for libel as the article alleged that drugs had been consumed at the house and  Baker had committed perjury at the inquests. Baker decided to take both civil and criminal proceedings against Cowper.

Criminal charges were also brought against the private detectives who had been responsible for the abduction of Sing, Willie and Oscar Robinson. They, of course, said they were acting on the instructions of the local police force and eventually the chief of the Point Gray police force along with others, was also indicted for the kidnapping of Sing. One of the witnesses subpoenaed to attend court was Attorney General Manson.  Rumours continued to circulate over the summer as the newspapers reported the various twists and turns over the allegations of kidnap. The trials were held in the autumn and the Robinson’s were convicted, but the trial had pointed the finger at the Attorney General and his reputation was in tatters

Cowper’s trial for criminal libel took place at about the same time. The allegations that Leffy Baker was involved in the narcotics trade and that he had committed perjury at the inquests continued to be denied by him. Cowper was convicted of the criminal libel.

Applications to have the trial of Wong Fong Sing stopped were unsuccessful and he was committed for trial on 16th May. A month later against the back drop of allegations and counter allegations about his kidnap,  an application of habeas corpus was made to the Chief Justice who decided the trial should take place, but granted Sing bail.He stayed to stand trial and in October 1925 he was finally acquitted of the murder.

The local newspaper. the Vancouver Sun. thought that was the end of the matter, but no one was any nearer knowing who killed Janet Smith. and as we shall see further matters came to light many years later.

To be continued.

About scribblingadvocate

Born in Lancashire, Law degree from Sheffield University and MA in Creative Writing from Exeter. A barrister for twenty five years, who appeared in the Crown Courts in and around London. When I retired we moved to live in Devon, first on Dartmoor, more recently overlooking the Exe Estuary. After twenty years I still feel an exile from London. Married, no children but own an affable Springer Spaniel. I love reading, walking and travel. I completed an MA in Creative Writing at Exeter University and have written three books, Crucial Evidence, Reluctant Consent and Legal Privilege, all set in London. You can email me contact@scribblingadvocate.com

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