I have just read a book sent to me by a lawyer relative who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia; the book by Ed Starkins relates the story of an unsolved murder. The book makes compelling reading and is worth describing in these times when human rights are under threat. The book describes how in 1924 a twenty-two year old nursemaid of Scottish descent was found dead in the home of a wealthy family in Vancouver, British Columbia. What followed was an unbelievable catalogue of mistakes and led to numerous conspiracy theories, involving, amongst others, the attorney-general of the provincial state.
The local police force was informed of the death by a telephone call from F.L. Baker, a member of a prominent Vancouver family who told the officer, James Green, Janet Smith had shot herself. The officer appears to have accepted she had died by her own hand, as did Dr Blackwood who also attended the scene. The young woman’s body was removed by undertakers and, embalmed without an autopsy taking place, although nobody accepted responsibility for that decision.
A coroner’s jury found Janet Smith had committed suicide but a friend of hers, Jennifer Haddowe was adamant that the young woman would not have taken her own life. She persisted in that belief and was able to get the Council of Scottish Societies to take up the fight. At a second hearing the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of murder. Of course advances in forensic science have made the investigation of crimes less dependent on the oral evidence of witnesses, but the assumption by the police that she had shot herself would have been cast into doubt if the simplest of examinations had been carried out. The lack of a proper post mortem and the delay was a serious blow to the investigation.
Why did the police not conduct a more thorough investigation in the beginning? Were they inhibited by the wealth and status of the Baker family? Today that seems improbable, but it was only 1974 when Lord Lucan was assisted by his friends to escape trial for the murder of his children’s nanny. Did the Vancouver police anticipate the locally prominent and wealthy families closing ranks, and was the victim too unimportant?
As pressure increased on the police to find Janet Smith’s killer, someone in authority decided to take the unusual step of paying a private investigator to kidnap the Baker’s Chinese Houseboy, Wong Foon Sing. He had been the one to discover the body and had, he said, telephoned his employer who had gone to his office, to tell him. Whilst Sing was held he was threatened and tortured to try and force him to make a statement about what had happened to the nursemaid, but he always maintained he knew no more than he had already said at the two inquests. It’s right to say he was never accused of the crime and there was never any suggestion that he had been responsible throughout the inquiry.
Matters got worse, but I’m going to save that for another time. To be continued.