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Murder on Okanagan Lake, continued

Continued from March 16, 2018

“At 5:30 the sternwheeler’s engines commenced their rhythmic throb as she headed for her first stop at Peachland. As the vessel churned the chilly waters of Okanagan Lakes, James was formulating a plan to escape. One thing that was going to help was a little .22 revolver in a tiny leather holster under his armpit. The policemen had overlooked it in their search.

By the light of the small lantern in the cabin, James could see the Constable’s kit bag in one corner, his coat hanging on the door, and a water jug and glass. He quickly formed an escape plan, but its execution must wait until the ship stopped at Peachland.

An hour passed. As the vessel chugged along, Constable Aston sat on the settee smoking his pipe. The only sound in the cabin was the dull reverberation of the ship’s engines.

James broke the silence. “Can I have a drink of water?” He raised himself on his elbow and looked over the edge of his bunk.

Aston rose. Turning his back on the prisoner he filled the glass. When he turned, glass in hand, he found himself looking into the small but deadly muzzle of a .22 revolver.

“Stick up your hands,” came James’ low level command.

If Aston was startled, he didn’t show it. contemptuously he eyed the man with the gun and said: “Which one?”

“Both,” said James.

Glass in hand Aston ignored the order. Slowly he moved toward the bunk, extending the water to the prisoner. As if hypnotized by the policeman’s steady gaze, James stretched out his left hand. In slow motion the glass changed hands. All the time the two pairs of eyes never ceased their intense challenge. Each man waited for the move that would break the spell. Even as James slowly passed the glass to Wilson behind him in the bunk, his eyes never left Aston’s face.

Frank Wilson
Frank Wilson

Wilson, inwardly quaking at the potentially deadly confrontation, took the glass of water with trembling hand.

Suddenly James realized that Aston was taking another slow step nearer. The tension was broken by a sharp click as James pulled the trigger. The gun misfired!

Truly the gods had tipped the scales in Aston’s favour, almost as if in admiration of his courage. But as Geoff Aston courageously sprang at James he fired again. This time there was a report. The police officer, shot through the head, swung around and collapsed on the cabin floor with a deep groan.

James compelled his bunk mate to join him and the pair feverishly searched the unconscious police officer for the leg-iron keys. They couldn’t find them. Then James turned to the kit bag. Slitting it open with Aston’s pocket knife he found no keys but pocketed a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver and a handful of shells.

Might come in handy,” he remarked to his shackled companion.

They finally found the leg-iron keys in the pocket of the coat on the door. Quickly the leg-irons were removed and the pair sat down to plan their next move.

“We’ll be stopping in Peachland in just a few minutes,” said James hurriedly, “and nobody’s heard a thing. Only one man saw us come on the boat. That was the night clerk. He should be off duty now, and having a sleep.”

Wilson shuddered as he viewed the figure of Constable Aston on the floor, a thin stream of blood from his head staining the carpet.

“Come on, pull yourself together,” snapped James. “We’ll be miles away before anyone comes in here.”

Two doors led into the stateroom, one from the lounge inside the ship, the other from the deck outside. As the boat nosed into the Peachland dock, James left the inside door bolted, while he and Wilson left by the deck entrance. Armed and free, they slipped up the gangplank in the frosty chill of the mid-March morning.”1

…………… to be continued …………………..

1 Cecil Clark, “Murder on Okanagan Lake” in BC Provincial Police Stories, vol. 2, pp. 15-16.

This article was re-printed with the permission of Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd. The book is available through Amazon:

Clark, Cecil. B.C. Provincial Police Stories, Vol. 2. Surrey, BC: Heritage House Publishing, 2001.







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