The killers pulled up on Osborne Bay beach in a canoe in the 1880s. (Citizen file)

T.W. Paterson column; ‘We are looking for the hangman, me dear’, part 3

Sally stayed with the canoe as lookout as Quomlet and Johnny disappeared into a copse of trees

Part 3

Not until a year and a-half later, with the murders of the three-man crew of the trading schooner Seabird, did the police make any headway in the Miller-Dring case

As we’ve seen, it was a strange course of events that set Quomlet, his brother Johnny Kla-quot-sie and their niece Sally Ah-hoo-mult on the road to murder, one cold, blustery night in mid-February 1886.

They were out to avenge the hanging of Sally’s father for having killed a man in a fight during a potlatch. Most of the damning evidence at Kaiwoos’s trial had been given by Quomlet, his own brother, and Sally had held him morally responsible for her father’s death. Quomlet, troubled by grief and guilt, had promised to set things straight — by killing the man who oversaw Kawoos’s hanging at Nanaimo.

Thus it was, armed with a Winchester rifle, an old muzzle-loading shotgun and a bowie knife, they landed their canoe on the beach at Osborne Bay after dark. Sally stayed with the canoe as lookout as Quomlet and Johnny disappeared into a copse of trees, only the sound of a barking dog announcing their approach. Minutes later, she heard two shots, followed by two more.

Then they were back on the beach, loaded down with sacks of flour, Quomlet’s calico shirt and white trousers stained with blood.

When Quomlet and Johnny were eventually charged with the murders of Osborne Bay settlers Charles Miller and William Henry Dring, Sally testified at Johnny’s trial in Victoria that they sailed away with a southeast breeze on a circuitous return trip to Nanaimo via Houston Passage, between Kuper (Penelakut) and Saltspring islands, to avoid being seen returning via the direct route by which they’d gone.

Late that night, as Johnny and Sally prepared supper in a secluded bay, Quomlet hid the stolen booty in the bush. Then they celebrated their day’s work by finishing off a bottle of whisky, Quomlet casually discarding the empty by tossing it over his shoulder. (Police later found it just where Sally told them they would.) Then, to be extra safe, they paddled a short distance into the bay, anchored and slept in the canoe.

With morning sunshine they completed their roundabout return to Nanaimo, Quomlet taking several potshots at seals with his rifle but missing each time. Upon landing near the Bastion, Quomlet told her, “My dear, don’t tell anyone you have been out with me, say you slept in town.” As Sally made her way to her mother’s house, Quomlet and Johnny paddled off.

Throughout the whole drama, Johnny had spoken only twice, immediately afterwards, when he told Sally that Quomlet had killed two white men, and the next morning when he’d murmured, “It’s too bad Quomlet led me into this.” The latter had acknowledged his part of the deed with a grunt and didn’t refer to it again until both were in jail — put there by Sally’s sworn testimony of their cold-blooded act of vengeance. By this time, of course, Jim Miller and Bill Dring had long been laid to rest in St. Peter’s, Quamichan cemetery beneath the famous headstone with its eye-catching legend, “Massacred.”

It wasn’t until a year and a-half later, with the murders of the three-man crew of the trading schooner Seabird, that the police, for all their inquiries the length of the east coast of the Island, made any headway in the Miller-Dring case. Although the crimes were unrelated, during the investigation, Sally Ah-hoo-mult chose to identify her uncles, Quomlet and Johnny Kla-quot-sie as the Osborne Bay killers.

Quomlet’s name came as no surprise to the police. The motive, she said, was revenge for the hanging of her father, Kaiwoos, because of Quomlet’s testimony. Urged on by Sally and accused of betrayal by others, he resolved to put closure to the whole damned business by killing the man who’d served as Kaiwoos’s executioner. That man, he told her, lived below Chemainus, in the area of Osborne Bay.

Based primarily on her statement, Quomlet was arrested, charged with the murder of Charles Miller and, in December 1887, took his place in the dock of a Nanaimo courtroom. Over the course of 38 days, 38 witnesses were examined by the Crown and defence counsels in what was believed to be the longest criminal trial in the young province’s history up to that time.

After an hour-long charge by the judge, the jury filed out to deliberate. In just 25 minutes they were back with their verdict — not guilty for want of sufficient evidence!

This thunderbolt was immediately followed by a plea by his counsel, Theodore Davie, Q.C., that Quomlet be discharged. The Crown successfully argued, however, that he yet faced the charge of having murdered Dring, and he was bound over. The defence then urged that the second trial begin quickly, “as the presence of so many witnesses on both sides affords a better opportunity of investigation than can be expected again”.

Nevertheless, it was at the Spring Assizes of June 1888 that Quomlet again stood in the prisoner’s dock. Hon. H.P.P. Crease presided, Deputy Attorney-General KPL.A. Irving prosecuted, and S.P. Mills defended. By this time new evidence had come to light with the arrest in Victoria of an unidentified man who said he’d accompanied Quomlet when he murdered Miller and Dring. He agreed to lead police to items stolen from the cabin, all of this very much to the satisfaction of B.C. Police Supt. H.B. Roycroft, who’d gone on public record as being convinced of Quomlet’s guilt.

But, as we’ve seen, Quomlet couldn’t wait; instead he went to “that Superior Court where all hearts are open and all secrets known”. Despite his having received “all possible attention from the medical attendant and jail officials,” he died in his Nanaimo cell of consumption.

To date, all the Crown had for two murder cases and five victims (the Seabird slayings and those of Miller and Dring) was a partial conviction, for manslaughter, in the Seabird case.

But they had Johnny Kla-quot-sie in custody. Thanks to a detailed description of his, Quomlet’s and Sally’s visit to the Miller cabin with murder in mind, police were confident that this time, their efforts would be rewarded in court. By Sally’s account (she’d originally portrayed herself as an innocent bystander) Johnny had been a reluctant accomplice. While she waited with their canoe, Quomlet and Johnny, armed with a Winchester and an old musket, had approached Miller’s cabin, just out of sight of the beach. She’d heard two shots fired in quick succession then two more, before Johnny reappeared with his gun in one hand, a sack of flour in the other.

Quomlet, his clothing bloodied, returned to the beach carrying his rifle and a sack of flour. Sally accompanied him as he returned for more booty but she didn’t go inside. Johnny said that Quomlet had killed two white men and expressed his regret for having been “led into this”.

After they split up in Nanaimo, Sally didn’t see him again until his arrest. For reasons unknown, she’d blown the whistle on both her uncles. For Johnny, at least, she’d originally lied to the police by changing his name and saying that he’d died.

Sally it was who’d harangued Quomlet into seeking revenge for her father, his brother. Sally it was whose evidence led to Quomlet’s arrest, trial and death in a prison cell. And Sally it was who now faced Uncle Johnny across a courtroom, she in the witness box, he in the prisoner’s dock.

(To Be Continued)

Part 1

Part 2

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