October 16, 2019, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 42
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Murder Most Fowl
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
Rusted 16 gauge shotgun found in Elk River
Back in March of 2010 I shared a Fernie area story about the 1935 deliberately planned murder of Michael Hudock by Vince Macchione. (See on line: Murder on the Elk River). In that scenario Macchione drove Hudock west of town on a Sunday afternoon, murdered him with a 16-gauge shotgun, and then slipped quickly back into town so as not to arouse suspicion. The murder weapon was not recovered. Part of his conviction came, from all things, of finding candy wrappers in his car that matched those at the crime scene! His subsequent arrest and charging led to no less than five trials before he was sentenced to hang for that deliberate cold-blooded act.

Sometime after I first researched that story in 2004 a Fernieite by the name of Bill Salekin called to say that in 1982 he had found the remains of a very rusty old 16-gauge shotgun down along the edge of the Elk River. He donated it to the Fernie Museum where I got to study it closely. His conjecture was that it could very well be the missing murder weapon because he found it where the highway bridge used to cross the river back into Fernie in 1935.
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One could surmise that Macchione may have chucked it out his car window as he snuck back across the old bridge into town. I have no way to prove this but it kind of makes sense. Back then the penalty for his act was hanging which in fact is the fate he suffered. Curiously enough ten years earlier a just as deliberate murder occurred in the Upper Elk Valley that resulted in a totally different judgement.

On August 19th, 1925 a government road gang was pioneering an access road to the Upper Elk Valley. The gang headed by foreman George Whiting had reached the Mansfield ranch at Elk Prairie (north of Sparwood) where Whiting ordered his crew to tear down a fence built on the road’s surveyed right-of-way. Land owner Jesse Mansfield appeared then and ordered them to stop, which they didn’t, whereupon he left, returned with a rifle and opened fire on the gang.

Frank Norstrom suffered one bullet through his calf and another through his foot. Another shot “tore through Abel Norstrom’s clothing between his arm and body but only inflicted a slight wound.” That could very easily have killed Norstrom! Mansfield continued his attack, wounding George Whiting in the shoulder before the gang all fled for shelter. Mansfield went back to his house, grabbed a horse and proceeded to chase Whiting for a short time before taking off into the bush.
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One is hard pressed on learning these details to imagine the chaos of this scene and how terrifying it must have been for George Whiting and his crew. The Provincial Police were notified and a posse was organized to track Mansfield down that Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately they did not find any trace of him that day.

George Whiting went to Natal to have his shoulder dressed and while he was there District Engineer Hayne called and told him that Sgt. Greenwood said he was to remain in Natal until Mansfield had been arrested. George then took the fatal decision to go home first before returning to Natal. As his car climbed the hill near his place by Wilson Creek (south of Mansfield’s ranch) Mansfield jumped out into the roadway, forcing him to stop. He then fired two shots killing George instantly and once again fled into the bush.

Sgt. Greenwood, on receiving word of this second outrage, organized a large cordon of BC Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Alberta Provincial Police and some sworn in special constables. Constable Smith from Elko was given the dubious task of watching the Mansfield home. According to the August 21st issue of the Fernie Free Press at “about seven o’clock Wednesday afternoon he saw Mansfield in the bush and approached to within thirty yards of him when Mansfield spotted the constable and unslung his rifle and pointing it at Smith ordered him to stop”. Smith had a revolver in his pocket and made no move to get it but Mansfield said: “You can’t reach me with that but I have something that can reach you.”
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Constable Smith showing “remarkable coolness while looking down the barrel of a rifle” managed to talk Mansfield into ejecting the shells from his rifle. He then allowed him to change clothes at his home and brought him under serious escort to Fernie where he was remanded for eight days.

The August 28th issue of the Free Press carried two full columns of detail of the subsequent inquest. The most sobering testimony came at the end from Constable Smith who said Mansfield stated “I am glad I shot him. I have done my duty.”

The August 20th issue of the Blairmore Enterprise reported on the story and stated that: “Mansfield had been ranching in that district for a great number of years. In addition to ranching he entered into trapping and guiding.” The gun he used in his first attack on the gang was a 30-30 rifle.

Mansfield was eventually committed to trial and in November of 1925 charged with manslaughter and sentenced, incredibly, to 15 years in jail. My question to this outcome is this. What is the difference between the Macchione and Mansfield cases? Did not both clearly commit deliberate premeditated murder with intent? Is there a clue in the fact that Mansfield who was born in Church Gresley, South Derbyshire District, Derbyshire, England was described as a white haired war veteran long lived in the section while Macchione was just an Italian immigrant?
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George Whiting Sr. was 48 years old and had three children when he was shot down in cold blood. He was born in Tyldesley, Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, Greater Manchester, England. He married Alice Armson in 1896 and was widowed in 1916. Alice was listed as a candy stall keeper. He, along with his three sons and his first wife are buried in the Elk Valley Cemetery. His marker is a simple metal post with a small unreadable rectangular sign on top.

So too is Jesse Mansfield buried in that cemetery. The April 9,1943 issue of the Blairmore Enterprise reported the following:”The remains of Jessie Mansfield, age 68, were laid to rest in the veterans plot in the Natal Cemetery on Sunday afternoon last. Deceased had been a resident of Elk Prairie for the past thirty five years, and was a veteran of the Great War. He is survived by three daughters….” A check of his 84 page pdf war record in Library and Archives Canada reveals he signed up in March 1916 with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in Natal at age 40 and was discharged in August of 1918 in Vancouver as medically unfit because of lumbago and myalgia issues which his record shows apparently plagued him most of him time overseas. If he served all 15 years of his sentence he was 64 when he was released. If!

According to Blair Chatterson of Sparwood the truck that Whiting was driving sat for many years in a barn the eventually collapsed onto it. It was subsequently acquired by Blair’s father Stan who completely restored this 1923 one ton Model T truck. It had a bullet hole in one of the fenders that Stan left unrestored.
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October 16, 2019, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 42
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