unnecessary wiles and villainies

Janet Smith was 21 when she took a position as the nanny of wealthy Frederick and Doreen Baker’s baby daughter.

image found here

The Bakers were among the social elite in Vancouver. They lived on the fashionable West Side, then moved in May 1924 to the exclusive Shaughnessy Heights neighborhood.

Their Chinese houseboy, Wong Foon Sing, became infatuated with Janet Smith, giving her presents such as a silk nightdress. Although her friends would later testify that she feared him, her diary would reveal that she enjoyed attracting men.

image found here

On 26 July 1924, Point Grey Police Constable James Green was called to the house. Wong claimed he had heard what sounded like a car backfire; in the basement he found Smith’s body. There was a bullet wound through her temple and a .45 caliber revolver near her right hand.

ivory handled colt 45 found here

Green picked up the weapon, making it impossible to obtain fingerprints from it. Despite there being no bullet, blood or brain tissue on the walls, no powder burns on her face (suggesting she had been shot from a distance), and the fact that the back of her head had been smashed in, Green concluded that she had committed suicide. 

image found here

Undertakers were summoned, and instructed by both the coroner and the police to embalm the body, likely eradicating any clues that it might have yielded, for instance whether Smith had been sexually assaulted. It was the first time the undertaker had embalmed the victim of a violent death without a postmortem. He found unexplained burns on Smith’s right side but a jury bought the scenario that had Janet interrupting her ironing in the basement to walk upstairs to the attic where the gun was kept, carrying it back down to the basement and, holding the pistol at arm’s length, somehow shooting herself in the head.

Steve Martin ironing a kitten found here

Friends pressured the provincial government and Attorney General Alexander Malcolm Manson to reopen the case. The Vancouver Star, a scandal sheet published by Victor Odlum, was quick to pounce on the affair.

The body was exhumed on 28 August and a second inquest held. This time the jury concluded that Smith had been murdered. Manson appointed a special prosecutor, Malcolm Bruce Jackson.

Suspicion immediately fell on Wong, the only other person in the house when the crime was supposedly committed. In the 1920s, persons of Chinese descent could not become Canadian citizens, which meant they could not join professions such as medicine, architecture or law. They were barred from public swimming pools and restricted to the balconies of movie theatres. The Star published several articles in late July and early August in which it portrayed Wong as the likely killer.

read about this Chinese swimmer here

Victor Odlum was an “exclusionist”; he believed that Asians could not assimilate with whites and had run on an anti-Asian platform in the 1921 federal election. In August, he published an editorial called “Should Chinese Work with White Girls? He called for legislation to “preserve white girls of impressionable youth from the unnecessary wiles and villainies of low caste yellow men”

Bruce and Bolo found here

Interest gradually died down, until on 20 March 1925, Wong was kidnapped by a group of men dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes. They proceeded to torture their captive for six weeks, trying to elicit a confession, but Wong refused to cooperate. On 1 May, he was released.

image found here

A scandal later developed when it was discovered that the kidnappers included “two Point Grey police commissioners, the chief of police, a detective sergeant and three prominent officials of the city’s Scottish societies.” One man pleaded guilty to kidnapping. A detective and his son were also convicted, but the jury gave a “strong recommendation of mercy”. The Point Grey policemen were acquitted, the government controversially barring prosecution of the others.

Meanwhile, Wong was put on trial for murder. In October, the case was thrown out of court due to lack of evidence. Wong went back to work for the Bakers. In 1926, he left the country for Hong Kong.

image found here

Other theories gained popularity. According to one rumor, Smith had been raped and murdered at a wild party at the Baker house by wealthy playboys, who then bribed the authorities to cover it up. Writer Ed Starkins proposed Frederick Baker as the killer, portraying him as a drug smuggler. Some even claimed the killer was the Prince of Wales, who had recently popped into Victoria incognito, using the title Earl of Renfrew.

Prince of Wales and Mountbatten found here

A few years ago, a history student going through former attorney-general Manson’s private papers found a copy of a letter that was sent to Janet Smith’s parents in London.

It said their daughter’s killer had committed suicide in 1925 in a private New Westminster sanatorium known as Hollywood Hospital. Police had not arrested the killer, Manson wrote, because the publicity would have shamed the family of the lieutenant-governor.

Hollywood Hospital found here

That points to Jack Nichol, the playboy son of Lieutenant-Governor Walter Nichol, who was also the publisher of The Province. The only problem is that Jack Nichol did not die in Hollywood Hospital. He died in Victoria in 1941, more than 15 years after Manson wrote to Janet’s parents.

Gloria Steinem as a Playboy bunny found here

Constable Green left the Point Grey police force in 1926 and bought a half interest in a downtown hotel. The gossips always claimed, with no proof, that the money he used to buy his share was hush money from Frederick Baker, Janet Smith’s employer.

By April, 1956, Baker had moved to Qualicum, on Vancouver Island. On a visit to Vancouver to see his doctor, Baker checked into the St. Regis Hotel. He was in the room with a Doris MacAuly when, as MacAuly would tell police, he suddenly said, “I’m suffocating,’’ opened the window and climbed out on the fire escape.

Despite MacAuly’s attempts to hold him back, the 65-year old Baker then tumbled 15 metres to the sidewalk. Baker had checked into the hotel under the name L.L. Smith.

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34 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Love the Steve Martin pic!
    (I’m sure you’ll get complaints though :))

    • I know really. He should be using an ironing board. He could burn his leg doing it like that.

  2. Not from me … all kitties need to be smartened up … [fab post Nursey – don’t you just love the KKK]

  3. Not to mention Dickie and the PoW in the hot tub together! That Mountbatten was always up for it, apparently. Didn’t matter with whom.

    And the story was intriguing, Nursie. Shall send it to a Canadian friend who may enjoy it.

    • I had no idea Mountbatten was so handsome

  4. I had no idea the Chinese were treated so horribly in Canada. Sometimes I’m ashamed to be a human.

    • I know that feeling 😦

  5. I had no idea that the Klan had a presence in Canada. That’s amazing. I always thought it was a Southern thing.

    I can’t tell you how many accidents I’ve had with irons. Not shooting irons, though.

    It’s pointless to iron a cat – the hair just springs back to its former shape within an hour or so. A more permanent solution is lamination.

  6. So that’s it! Nobody went to jail?! I wonder how many times this has happened? How many people have, literally, gotten away with murder?

  7. This was better than Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace”, another Canadian murder mystery.

    The kitten photo is hilarious! Well received in these parts.

  8. Oh dear, I read that as unnecessary willies and villains. Something quite different. I blame the butler. It’s always the butler

  9. My money’s on the theory she was “raped and murdered at a wild party at the Baker house by wealthy playboys, who then bribed the authorities to cover it up.” The wealthy like a bit of debauchery. They also throw bribes about like confetti. QED.

  10. History, it seems, is rife with “suicides” that turn out to be murders. Seems to me that Police Constable James Green was either an absolute moron, or he was covering up for someone. But, not knowing the guy, I suppose it’s possible that he was an absolute moron.

  11. money can buy a verdict. no doubt in my mind. there are many classes of justice… with price tags on each.

  12. I love that photo of the D.I.Y. diving bells – I want to put one together now.
    Well, after my chores, anyway. I haven’t ironed my kitten since last week.

    • I like that photo too

  13. Hmm PC Gren wasn’t going to be the basis for a 20s super sleuth…

  14. You do have to wonder how many murders were never solved, and how often the wrong person was convicted.

  15. From now on, when Princewilly miaows for second breakfast, I will iron him (I think there’s an iron somewhere in the castle…).

    • I’ll be over to see that…..

  16. That was pretty darn convoluted. Baker did seem like the likeliest guy. Maybe it was like that Agatha Christie novel on the train where everyone participated in the murder. Who did it? They all did!

  17. We’ve mated a girl with a basketball… next, we mate a boy and a rugby ball!

  18. If the wild party theory is true, then Wong lied to protect his employers, which I imagine he came to regret when he was put on trial for murder, kidnapped, and tortured.

  19. Vancouver along the rest of Canada have a long history of racism against Asians. Read this account of the sad occupants of a ship full of South Asians refused entry to the port of Vancouver:

    Don’t forget that Canada rounded up thousands of Japanese, many of whom had been born in Canada, and sent them to internment camps in WW2.

    • Excellent linkage Ian, thanks for that

  20. Another edifying tale that raises more questions than it answers. . . Love the kitten being ironed picture. Wonder how his leg looked a few seconds later. I still have track marks on my wrist from where Mike exited my hold once upon a time when I had trespassed upon his personage.

  21. Poor Wong. I’m sure it was not uncommon to try and pin the blame on the staff for the crimes of the employers. Twas ever thus.

    Qualicum? Sounds like the name of a high class sperm bank.

    • Haha… excellent spotting

  22. Those damn wealthy playboys and their shenanigans.

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