January 18th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 3
Looking Back - John Kinnear
The Mounties Always Get Their Man
Looking Back
John Kinnear & Internet
Bar room of the Imperial Hotel
As I indicated in my recent year end column sometimes stories create the need for follow-up. A column that ran in February 2015 (Usher, Bailey, Kyslik and Wynn- Fallen Heroes) spoke to the famous Bellevue Café story and I paralleled it with the loss of Constable David Wynn almost exactly two years ago at a St Albert casino.

Some points of interest were passed onto me via email about that café incident some time after and its author also reminded me of yet another constable loss (George Ernest Willmett) some 12 years earlier in Frank. The notes (from a researcher we will call Ian) included the fact that one of those nasty Russian robbers from the café shootout (an injured and on-the-run Bassoff) tried to get help from a Mrs. Holloway at the Blossomwood Ranch house (present day Koentges house above Frank), apparently because she was a nurse. She reportedly sent him away with some food, then telephoned the police while smothering the phone bells with her hand. The police arrived with their bloodhounds Lightning, Dynamite and Dan, but could not pick up the trail.

The story of the constable lost at Frank was written up briefly in the Frank Newspaper, a publication that ran for only two years (93 issues) from 1907 to 1909. It is always interesting to pan through early pioneer papers from Alberta like the Frank paper, as the reporting and editors comments were a lot more candid that what we find today. In the case of Constable Willmett the headline read: “Killed By An Assassin – No Clue to Murderer” and went on to say that a: “murder most foul was committed in Frank in the early hours of Saturday last.” So typical of reporting back then, they let everyone do the math on exactly when it happened and didn’t report the actual date. For a researcher one sometimes has to Google the papers publishing date and then calculate backwards to figure out the actual date and which day of the week it was.
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In the case of this report (April 16, 1908) one finds the murder occurred on a Saturday night of April 12th. At the time it seems the Frank Mine had been idle for some time and the level of criminal activity (i.e. break-ins and thefts) was beginning to become a serious concern for citizens and shop owners. Following yet another attempted burglary at the old Imperial Hotel on the Tuesday, the Royal North West Mounted Police Sergeant W. Haslett decided that the town needed coverage all through the night and set it up so he and Constable Willmett would cross shift, so to speak, in order to have a police presence all night.

Willmett was awakened by Haslett at about 2 a.m. to take over on Saturday night and while conducting his rounds that evening apparently surprised or confronted someone who shot him in the neck from close range with a shotgun. A Chinese worker on his way to start up the stoves in the Imperial Hotel discovered his body and Haslett was notified and rushed to the scene. It is revealed in the article that: “Constable Willmett, when killed, was dressed in citizen’s clothes, the better to work, as it was desired to work, on the quiet and a most singular circumstance was that while he carried a revolver, he had no ammunition with him and this fact, in all probability, accounts for his death as he met a man who was armed while he was unarmed himself.” Most editors back then fancied themselves as Perry Masons it seems!

The murder appeared at first to be a huge who-dunnit mystery with no witnesses and no on talking. On the RCMP Veteran’s Association Memorial website “K” Division Edmonton I found an overview of the Willmett story on their Wall of Honour. The summary included the following comments: “His mysterious, cold-blooded murder incensed the RNWMP Commissioner at the time, A. Bowen Perry, who had every possible resource brought to bear in an attempt to catch his killer. A $200.00 reward was posted.
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Bloodhounds were brought in. A legion of Mounties was organized to scour the town, door-to-door. They conducted house-to-house interviews in an attempt to find a clue to the killing or to locate the murder weapon. Unsuccessful in Frank, the search extended to neighbouring towns. When this still brought no results, Pinkerton Agents were brought in to follow leads that extended through British Columbia and down into the United States. Many were followed but none led to a solution of the mystery of Willmett's murder.”

The Frank Paper reported the appearance of a Sergeant Major Raven from Lethbridge on the Tuesday accompanied by a blood hound. It was felt that because Willmett’s vest had been torn in the murder as he grappled with the slayer, that the dog might be able to chase down the scent of the murderer from his vest but all he did was lead them to the murdered man’s shack!

It wasn’t until three years later that Staff Sgt. Piper of the RNWMP got a solid lead from a woman in Michel, BC. It led to the arrest of two German immigrants by the names of Mathias Jasbec and Fritz Eberts (alias Charlie Stephen). Jasbec immediately offered up a written confession naming Eberts as the murderer. The story went that they had gone out together to steal some provisions from a local store and after being unable to break into several Eberts spotted someone in the shadows and slid into the alley behind the hotel where he was suddenly confronted by Willmett. The constable (according to the Wall of Honour account) pointed his revolver at Eberts and said” What are you doing?” whereupon Eberts fired his shotgun at him from about 8 feet away. The shotgun purportedly belonged to Jasbec and it was Eberts who had suggested bringing it along for protection.
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Ebert’s trial took five days and he was sentenced to hang on June 1, 1912 but eventually had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment in Stony Mountain Penitentiary, a federal institution about 11 miles from Winnipeg. Then this story takes an interesting twist. Eberts somehow convinced a death-row convict named Sam Wilinsky, who was scheduled to be hanged on July 26, 1912 for another murder, to confess to the Willmett slaying also. This as you can imagine did not go down well with the authorities but the plan was unraveled by a death-watch guard who found notes that Eberts had written on toilet paper to Wilinsky giving the details of the Willmett killing. Unraveled indeed! Such is the way of toilet paper. Wilinsky confessed on the night before his execution to the murder he was accused of and recanted his statement about killing Cst. Willmett.

As an aside you should know that after Confederation 1,533 people were sentenced to death in Canada between 1867 and 1962 . Of those 691 men and 11 women were hanged, the last two being Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin on December 11th, 1962. The death penalty was officially abolished July 26, 1976 by the Trudeau government. The only woman ever hanged in Alberta was Philomena (Costanzo) Lassandro on May 2nd, 1923. In digging around the net for information on hanging history I came across the Wikipedia posting for Florence that lists her as an “Italian-Canadian mobster”. If you understand even a little bit about Philomena’s life story you would be as offended as I was by this egregious misstatement.

Constable George E. Willmett, Regimental #4584, was single and only 24 years old when he died. He came from Derbyshire, England and had only been with the RNWMP for a year and in Frank a little over a month. He is buried in the Fort Macleod Union Cemetery along with Usher, Bailey and Lawson.

Authors Note: The March 2011 issue of Crowsnest Heritage Initiative Heritage News (http://www.crowsnestheritage.ca/wp-ontent/uploads/ 2010/08/2011_March_screen.pdf .) contains a feature article by Karen Davidson and the story of Willmett taken from the research of his great grandson Rupert Lloyd Thomas. Thomas’ unpublished manuscript is entitled “Goodbye George.” According to Rupert, Eberts served only 15 years, was released in 1926 and died in 1950 in Nelson, B.C. Really? He was a thug and a murderer. No wonder Thomas is outraged at the system. Eberts eventually became a Canadian citizen and probably drew an old age pension.
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January 18th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 3
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