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This Day in History: Murder on Okanagan Lake

“Shackled together in the sternwheeler’s cabin the prisoners were apparently secure. Unfortunately, one hadn’t been thoroughly searched.

About nine o’clock on the frosty night of March 16, 1912, the door of Chater and Taylor’s General Store and Post Office at South Kelowna slowly opened to admit a customer. He was roughly dressed in heavy work trousers tucked into the tops of muddy, high-laced boots, a mackinaw that bore traces of hard wear, and a cloth cap pulled low over his eyes.

Among those in the store were part owner Fred Taylor and a boy named Roy Randall. All stared incredulously at the stranger, but not because of the way he was dressed. Around his face was draped a dirty handkerchief, in his right hand he gripped a menacing revolver.

“Stick up your hands!” he snapped. Slowly, Taylor and his customers obeyed.

“That’s right. Keep ’em up that way,” came the ominous injunction. The bandit stepped to one side and quickly looked around. As his eyes momentarily left the store’s occupants, young Randall bravely slipped out and fled down the road.

With a curse the gunman bounded after him. The night silence was shattered by the crashing report of the .44 as he fired at the boy’s retreating figure.

Coolly re-entering the store, the robber made for the till. It was empty. “Come on,” he barked, “you have got some money around here. Where is it?”

He caught sight of an old safe.

“Open that up,” he commanded. Taylor complied. The bandit scooped up its meagre contents. Then with a final snarled threat he backed out of the door. Thus began the brief career of one of the most quick-witted and cold-blooded criminals ever to challenge the B.C. Police.

In the meantime, young Roy Randall had burst into the crowded barroom of the nearby Bellevue Hotel. It was the aftermath of a Saturday rugby game and some 30 or 40 football fans crowded the bar. At first the boy had a hard time making someone understand what had happened. But after he attracted attention someone got hold of Constable John Tooth, veteran B.C. Police officer stationed in Kelowna. He flashed word to nearby Provincial Police Detachments then made a thorough search of the locality.

Although the search failed to find a trace of the gunman, he was identified as Walter Boyd, alias Walter Boy James. He was a 24-year-old labourer who had worked for a local company, reputed to be a crack shot with a pistol or rifle.

At Penticton, 40 miles away, Provincial Constable Geoffrey Aston noted the bulletin about the Kelowna robbery and Boyd’s description. He immediately passed the information on to Penticton’s municipal Police Chief Mike Roche.

Two days later, the wanted man and a companion entered Penticton’s B.C. Hotel about 11 p.m. and asked for a room. One of the proprietors, Thomson, recognized James by the description circulated by the police.

“Sorry, we haven’t got a room left,” he said. Then he suggested, as if an afterthought: “There’s a rooming house at the end of the block. Why don’t you try there? If they’re full, come back here and maybe I can think of something.”

When the two left, Thomson slipped round to the police station. Constable Aston immediately contacted Chief Mike Roche and Constable Bill Pope and they headed back to the B.C. Hotel.

They were in luck. James and his companion had returned and were sitting quietly in the lounge, their backs to the street door. Drawing their guns, Roche and Aston stepped into the lounge. Before the surprised strangers could move they were overpowered and handcuffed. James’ companion, who gave his name as Frank Wilson, said he had nothing to do with the Kelowna holdup.

“We’ll hold him for a while anyway,” said Aston. As he handcuffed the pair Chief Roche pulled a .44 revolver out of James’ inside holster. Unfortunately, all three officers overlooked doing a thorough search of him.

Sternwheeler Okanagan
The sternwheeler Okanagan

To take the prisoners back to Kelowna meant a trip on the lake steamer Okanagan, which left Penticton northbound about 5:30 in the morning. About 1 a.m. the three police officers took their prisoners to the Okanagan.

Aston and his prisoners were assigned to cabin 34. After seeing Aston remove the handcuffs, then leg-iron his prisoners in a upper berth, Chief Roche and his assistant left the ship. Twice before daylight a patrolling municipal policeman passed the ferry and noted that all was in order in cabin 34.”1

…………… to be continued …………………..

1 Cecil Clark, “Murder on Okanagan Lake” in BC Provincial Police Stories, vol. 2, pp. 12-15.

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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