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Chapter XXIII


from Memoirs of a great detective:
incidents in the life of John Wilson Murray

compiled by Victor Speer

WHILE crimes were occurring in the counties round about Toronto, the capital city was not immune. On a bitter cold night, in March 1875, two men slipped noiselessly along in the darker shadow of the house walls in Yonge Street. One was on one side of the street, the other was on the other side of the street. They made their way swiftly and silently out to the corner of Bloor Street, where the city limits ended those days, and the district beyond was called York. They were rich drovers and butchers. Three brothers — Joseph Dain, James Dain, and Major Dain — lived there with their mother. They were good business men, and carried large sums of money on their person for cattle buying.

  Their house loomed silent and sombre in the night. The two men in the street met in its shadow, and slipped around to the rear. One of the two took his stand by the rear corner of the house, where he could see any one approaching. The other took off his overcoat, handed it to him, and approached the door. He fumbled in his pocket a moment and produced something that resembled a double-sized cigar. He pressed it close against the door. There was a moment's silence, then a rending sound, and the door swung open. He had jemmied it. Both men waited, but no noise from within followed the forcing of the door. The one man noiselessly entered the house, and the other moved in and stood by the doorway, concealed from any passer-by. Upstairs Joseph Dain was asleep in his room, his trousers on the chair beside his bed. He stirred, opened his eyes, and saw a tall figure standing by his bed, rifling the pockets of his trousers, in which he had considerable money. Joseph Dain was a powerful, fearless man, and he leaped out of bed and grabbed the burglar. The man broke away and fled downstairs, where his pal was waiting. As he bounded down the stairs his pal swung the door wide open, and as he sprang past, his pal slammed the door in the face of Joseph Dain, and the two burglars fled, separating as they ran.

  Dain jerked open the door, and although there was snow on the ground, and it was almost zero weather, and he was naked, save for a night-shirt, he gave chase to the man who was running down Bloor Street West. It was the one who had rifled his trousers. Block after block they ran, and Dain, his feet bare and bleeding, was gaining on his man when the burglar shouted over his shoulder:

  "Turn back or I'll shoot!"

  Dain leaped forward, and was closing on him when a shot rang out, and Dain fell with a bullet in the abdomen. The burglar pocketed a smoking revolver, ran on, and escaped.

  His pal meanwhile, as he ran across Yonge Street, tripped on the extra overcoat he was carrying, and fell. A baker going to work in the early morning hours, grabbed the fallen man, and held him until a policeman came and locked him up. Dain was carried indoors, surgeons were summoned, and he rallied after the operation for the bullet.

  "I did not take up the case until later, when I looked the captured burglar over, and recognised him at once as Charles Leavitt, a desperate American burglar and thief," says Murray. "His home was Buffalo, although the police there knew him so well that it was the last place he could hope to stay. I took the overcoat, and looked it over carefully, and found in it the mark of a Cleveland tailor. I started for Cleveland, and, in looking up Leavitt's record in the States, I found that one of his friends was Frank Meagher, of Cleveland, a dangerous man, a skilled burglar, a clever crook, and one of the ablest and worst rough-ones at large at that time. I knew his description well. It tallied in general outline with Dain's description of the burglar at his bedside. It tallied exactly with the tailor's description of the man for whom he made the coat. The escaped burglar, I was satisfied, was Frank Meagher. He and Leavitt, a bold and reckless pair, had crossed to Canada on a burglary tour, and had spotted the Dain house for their first job.

  "Meagher seemed to have vanished completely. I set out to trace him in Toronto after the shooting. I made the rounds of all the resorts, and finally found a young man named John Jake Ackermann. Jake was known in Toronto as Keno Billy, and was a bar-tender and faro dealer. He was at a place on King Street, known as the Senate saloon, kept by Mike Ganley, a United States refugee from justice in Indiana, when Meagher arrived on the day of the burglary. Jake had taken Meagher's valise and put it behind the bar. About an hour after Dain was shot, Meagher appeared at the back door of the Senate, and was admitted by Bill Frazer, one of Ganley's friends, and then the trail disappeared. Ganley's place was a great hang-out in those days for men of Meagher's stripe.

  "Leavitt was convicted, and was sentenced to Kingston Penitentiary for life. He took his medicine without a word, refused to betray his pal, and went, with sealed lips, to serve until death inside the prison walls. No trace could be found of Meagher.

  "Dain did not die immediately. He lived over one year and one day. Under the law in England and Canada, a man cannot be convicted of murder and hanged, if his victim lives for one year and one day after the crime is committed. Dain lived for a couple of months over the year and died. The wound inflicted by Meagher caused hernia of the bowels, and killed him. But he died too late to hang the murderer even if he could be found. I determined to find Meagher if it took twenty years.

  "'Two years passed. I searched on. Whenever I made a trip to any big police centre I made special enquiries. I examined every description I could obtain of every prisoner sentenced to any prison in Canada or the States. In 1877 I came across a description that fitted Meagher in almost every respect. It was of a man sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in the Northern Indiana Penitentiary for a burglary at Big Bend under the name of Louis Armstrong. I read it over and over, and the oftener I read it the surer I became that Louis Armstrong was none other than Frank Meagher. I prepared extradition papers, and on June 1st, 1877, I started for Indianapolis. Detective Lou Muncie, of Cleveland, who knew Meagher well by sight, went out to the prison and identified him, and thus I made doubly sure that Armstrong was Meagher, for the moment I saw him I was satisfied of it.

  "When I arrived in Indianapolis I called on my old friend, General McAuley, formerly of Buffalo, and then Mayor of Indianapolis. General McAuley had a twin brother, by the way, and they looked as much like one another as did the Needhams. The General said to me that the man for me to see was 'Dan Voorhees, of Terre Haute, one of the best criminal lawyers in this state.' I also called on my friend, Senator Joseph E. MacDonald, who corroborated General McAuley. I went to Terre Haute, and stated my case to Voorhees. I told him that the State of Indiana had a criminal serving a sentence for a crime committed subsequent to the commission of a far graver crime in Canada, and that I wanted to take him back at once to pay the penalty of his prior crime. Voorhees took the case, and accompanied me to Indianapolis, and there the fine point of law was raised.

  "Meagher was a man serving a term in a penitentiary in the State of Indiana, paying a penalty he owed the State for burglary. Could he be taken out of the State before he paid that penalty? Blue Jean Williams, the farmer who wore Kentucky blue jean, was Governor. Voorhees had stumped the State for him. We called on him, and also on former Governor Tom Hendricks, later nominated for Vice-President, and on former Governor Baker, who agreed with Voorhees that they would sanction Meagher's return to stand trial in the country where he committed the greatest offence. We called also on Judge Gresham, later Postmaster General, who suggested to Voorhees that he should see Chief Justice Perkins of the Indiana Courts. We called on Chief Justice Perkins, who heard the statement of the case from Voorhees. and said that if it was laid before him in due form he would call in his associate judges and consult them on the matter, He did so, and they suggested that the Governor should serve a writ of habeas corpus on the Warden of the Northern Indiana Penitentiary to produce Meagher before the Supreme Court of the State. This was done.

  "The Warden produced Meagher in Indianapolis. The prisoner was taken before the full bench of state judges. I went on the stand, and was sworn as the representative of the Canadian Government, and stated and proved the case of the Crown against Meagher. A Cleveland detective identified Armstrong as Meagher. Meagher had counsel, and a long argument followed. Voorhees made the claim that the country where the first and greatest crime was committed should have preference in the custody of the prisoner. Chief Justice Perkins suggested that the Governor might issue a conditional pardon. The court sent a transcript of the proceedings to the State Department in Washington, and on June 19th, 1877, a warrant of surrender was sent to me in Indianapolis. The Governor had granted a conditional pardon on June 8th, and Meagher was ordered into my custody.

  "Meagher was in gaol in Indianapolis, where he was kept pending the outcome of the case. He got wind of the conditional pardon and of the case going against him. He was a bad man, a clever and daring crook. Two or three times in his career he had escaped, and had shot and killed a deputy on one occasion. He had a brother, Charlie Meagher, of Cleveland, also a thief and burglar — a desperate, resourceful crook. He had friends; and Frank Meagher, then a fine-looking, well-educated fellow of twenty-eight, was highly respected and much liked among the abler crooks for his daring and cleverness. I knew that the chances were all in favour of complete plans having been made to rescue Frank. I had all my papers ready on the evening of June 19th. It was long after midnight when I had the last of them signed. I went direct to the gaol with Detective Lou Muncie. A train left at 4.35 o'clock in the morning, and I decided to get away on it with Meagher, and had notified the sheriff several hours before. We arrived at the gaol about three o'clock in the morning.

  "'Mr. Sheriff,' said I, 'I am here after Meagher. Here are my papers.'

  "'I'm afraid we're going to have trouble with Meagher,' said the sheriff, who was greatly perturbed.

  "'What's the trouble with Meagher?' said I.

  "'He's armed, and he's got up to the fourth floor, the top tier of cells, and threatens to kill any one who goes near him,' said the sheriff with the perspiration streaming down his face. 'He's a desperate man, Mr. Murray; a desperate man.'

  "'Sheriff,' said I, 'I want the prisoner. My papers call on you to produce the prisoner.'

  "'But how am I to produce him?' exclaimed the worried sheriff.

  "'That is for you to determine,' said I. 'Please produce the prisoner.'

  "'Well, then, come this way, please,' said the sheriff; and we went into the main part of the gaol, where the cells rose in four tiers, with iron stairways leading up from tier to tier.

  "The sheriff looked up to the top tier, and there, at the head of the stairway, sat Meagher. He had a baseball bat in one hand and a revolver in the other.

  "'Meagher, come down!' called the sheriff in nervous voice.

  "Meagher's answer was a volley of oaths.

  "'Come up and get me!' he yelled. 'I'll kill the first —— that sets foot on these stairs!'

  "'There, you see!' said the sheriff to me.

  "'Sheriff, I want him,' said I. 'Here are the documents. It's your duty to produce him.'

  "The sheriff was in a sad state of mind.

  "'I know! I know!' he exclaimed. 'But I don't want to be killed or to see anybody else get killed.'

  "I saw that the sheriff would not get Meagher. I saw also that Meagher was playing for time, and the purpose of it probably was an attempt to rescue him. From the fact that he had the revolver and club, I knew that some of his pals were at work. I decided that I must take him on the 4.35 train at all hazards.

  "'Open that gate,' I said to the sheriff. 'I want to speak to him.'

  "'Don't do it,' said the sheriff. 'He'll kill you!'

  "'John, I wouldn't do it,' said Muncie.

  "'I warn you not to go,' said the sheriff.

  "I had him open the gate. I stepped in and walked upstairs. When I reached the landing of the stairs, where Meagher was at the top, he said:

  "'Stop, Murray! Don't you come near me!'

  "I stopped. I saw the club and the revolver, and he had the gun pointed straight at me. I could see the gloom in the muzzle.

  "'I am not coming up, Frank,' I said, as I stood on the stairs. 'I want to talk to you so everybody won't hear.'

  "He had risen, and we stood, he at the top of the stairs, I just below him. All was quiet.

  "'Come down, or I'll shoot!' shrilly cried the sheriff below.

  "I heard Muncie sternly tell the sheriff to shut up.

  "'Shoot and be ——!" yelled Meagher to the sheriff. 'I'd rather be shot here than hung in Canada.'

  "'Shut up, sheriff,' I said, with my eyes still on Meagher, who, while he yelled defiance to the sheriff, had not swerved his glance for an instant from me. 'Frank,' I continued, 'you won't be hung. You know that. The man lived over a year. You know you've got to come. You could try to kill me, but you would go just the same.'

  "While I was speaking I mounted the stairs step by step until I stood within ten feet of him. He stood above me, with the revolver pointed full at me.

  "'Stop!' he said. 'Stand where you are! Not a step nearer!'

  "I stopped and looked him full in the eye, face to face; and I have a feeling to this day that I never was nearer death in my entire life. He looked me over slowly from head to foot and back again. His eye was cold and hard, yet, as he glared at me, I saw that something of curiosity mingled with its murderous, merciless, fine-pointed blaze. He eyed me thus for several minutes. Neither of us spoke. My hands were empty, my revolver was in my pocket.

  "'Murray,' he said suddenly, but without shifting his eyes, 'I have no fit clothes. I am not going like a pauper to Canada. I am a gentleman.'

  "The sheriff has a suit of clothes for you, Frank,' I said. 'It's a pretty good suit; but if it is not good enough, I will wait until you can get one.'

  "His eye lighted with satisfaction; and I was sure then that he was playing for delay, and I was doubly determined to take him on the 4.35 train. He began to curse Muncie, possibly hoping a row would break out then and there.

  "'I don't blame you, Murray,' he said. 'But don't you come near me.'

  "I thought it all over. He could kill me as easy one way as another, so I turned my back half to him and sat down on the stair. If he had glanced away I could have slipped out my gun. He watched me like a hawk. I yawned and turned my back full to him.

  "'I do not want to get hurt any more than you do, Frank; but I'm not afraid of anything any more than you are,' I remarked.

  "There was a long silence. I wondered once if he would reach down and smash me with the club, and I thought I heard a cat-like tread on the step. I kept my eyes front, however, although I have done easier things in my life. Finally he spoke — softly, and in almost a whisper.

  "'Murray,' he said, 'you're a game man. Get me a suit of clothes and I'll go with you, but not with Muncie.'

  "He handed me the club.

  "'Give me the gun, Frank,' said I.

  "He handed me the gun. We walked down the stairs into the office side by side. He spat at the sheriff and swore at Muncie, and his glance flew to the clock as we passed it. It was four o'clock, and a smile flitted over his face. He donned the suit of clothes, and he really looked a prosperous gentleman. I put the irons on him, and, with him swearing all the way at Muncie, we drove at a gallop in a closed carriage to the station. As we alighted the train was making ready to go. A second carriage galloped up, and out jumped Red Jim Carroll, Joe Dubuque, and two others of their crowd. I lifted Meagher aboard the train, Muncie beside me. As the train pulled out a third carriage came up, the horses on a gallop; but the carriage door evidently stuck, for the men inside missed the train. Red Jim and his three, however, caught it.

  "'See them?' I said to Muncie, as they entered another car.

  "He nodded.

  "'We're going to have some trouble,' said I.

  "Meagher was very nervous. I had leg-irons as well as hand-cuffs on him. I sent for the train conductor and brakeman, and told them I expected trouble.

  "'Well, I and my crew are not on this train to get shot, but I'll do what I can,' said the conductor.

  "We put Frank in the middle, Muncie facing one way and I the other, with our revolvers in our hands, well beyond Frank's reach.

  "'Frank,' I said, 'if there's any break here, some one will get killed before we do.'

  "I think he knew what I meant.

  "An hour passed. No one entered the car. We had scanned the faces of every one in it, and most of them had hastened into other cars after our talk with the conductor. Suddenly the front door of the car swung open and in stepped Red Jim Carroll. I had told Muncie if they started in, to jump to his feet and fight them standing, for a man is as good a target sitting as standing. We both jumped up as Red Jim entered, Muncie still facing the other way and I facing Red Jim. The others of his crowd were behind him.

  "'Stop there, Jim!' I ordered.

  "He stopped in the doorway, and it was a wise act.

  "'Good morning, Mr. Murray,' he said. 'Good morning, Mr. Muncie.'

  "'Are you looking for trouble, Jim?' said I.

  "'No, Mr. Murray, I am not looking for trouble,' he answered, with a grin. 'Will you allow me to speak to Frank?'

  "'Speak to him from right there, Jim,' said I.

  "Meagher had been watching the whole affair. I had reminded him that he must sit absolutely quiet in the seat. When Muncie and I rose up he had half risen, but remembered in time and sat back, watching all that occurred with eager, encouraging face turned toward Red Jim. But when Carroll halted Meagher's face grew sullen.

  "'Go to hell!' he shouted at Red Jim.

  "Jim was about to put a hand in his pocket when I stopped him, for I did not know what he might draw forth, and Meagher's rage could easily have been feigned.

  "'What did you want to get, Jim?' I said.

  "'I wanted to give Frank a couple, of hundred dollars,' said Red Jim.

  "'Go to hell with your money!' roared Meagher, who seemingly was in a terrible rage over the failure, thus far, of the plot for his rescue.

  "Still keeping Red Jim covered, I told him to go no lower than his breast pocket with his hands, and to count out the money where he stood, and I would take it and see Frank got it. Meagher shouted that he wanted none of the dirty money of a gang of cowards that would stand by and see a friend dragged away.

  "Red Jim answered with a touch of dignity.

  "'Sometimes the worst comes to the worst, Frank, and nothing can help it just at the time,' said Red Jim. 'This man, Murray, is a gentleman, Frank, and he will take no advantage of you, and he will give you a fair show.'

  "So saying, Red Jim tossed the money toward my feet, remarking I would have to pardon him for not handing it to me.

  "'Good-bye, Jim,' I said pointedly.

  He hesitated, glanced at me with a revolver in each hand, then nodded.

  "Good-bye, Mr. Murray,' he said. 'Good-bye, Frank. Good-bye, Mr. Muncie.'

  "He backed out of the doorway and closed the door Meagher was beside himself with wrath. I picked up the money Red Jim had left for him, and later I gave it to Frank, and he found it of real use in his defence by able counsel. The train stopped at a junction. I had the brakeman bring our breakfast aboard. As the train pulled out Red Jim stood on the platform and waved good-bye.

  "We went through to Buffalo, and thence to Lewiston on the Niagara River, and thence by boat to Toronto. As the steamer passed Old Fort Niagara at the mouth of the river and glided out into Lake Ontario, Meagher stood on deck. The American flag was flying over Fort Niagara. He raised his manacled hands and saluted the flag.

  "'God bless it!' he said. 'I suppose it's the last time I ever shall see it. Good-bye! I'd rather I was dying for it than for what I am!'

  "He gazed after it until it was a mere speck against the sky. He still believed he could be hanged for killing Dain.

  "'Don't talk like that,' I said to him. 'You won't be hung. English law will treat you fairly.'

  "He answered with a gloomy shake of the head. We arrived safely in Toronto, and he was locked up for trial. Dain was dead. We had to have the evidence of Leavitt to convict Meagher. Leavitt, however, was sentenced for life, and, being a life prisoner, he was not a competent witness. He was dead in the eyes of the law, and could not testify. I went to Kingston and saw Leavitt. He yearned for liberty, and I told him we had Meagher beyond doubt. So I returned to Toronto, and recommended to the Government that Leavitt's sentence should be commuted to imprisonment for ten years, to make him a competent witness. This was done. I took Leavitt from Kingston before the police magistrate, and also took the notorious Jimmy Pape, pick-pocket and sneak-thief. Pape had told a cock-and-bull story in Kingston about what he knew of the case, but his evidence simply was that he met Meagher in Chicago, and gave him some money to go to South America. I hustled Jimmy Pape back to Kingston Penitentiary.

  "'I got a breath of fresh air just the same,' said Jimmy on the way back. 'I had to get it or die. I'd lie for it any time.'

  "Leavitt told the story of the crime, and the evidence corroborated it. When Meagher heard Leavitt testify he stood up and swore a savage oath.

  "'You traitor!' he said. 'I will kill you in this world or the next.'

  When it came to the trial Keno Billy, otherwise Jake Ackermann, who had taken Meagher's valise for him at the Senate, was missing. He had gone to the States. I went to Buffalo, and there met Bill Carney, who kept the Little Tammany. With Carney I went to New York, and used every effort to get track of Keno Billy, dead or alive. If he was alive, I wanted him to testify. If they had killed him I wanted to know it. I turned out the Police Department in New York, and I got the gamblers and sports, Billy Tracy, Arthur Stanley, and others, and hunted all over, but could find no trace of Keno Billy. Some of Leavitt's friends joined in the hunt, for they felt that, if Meagher was convicted Leavitt would get out. They all failed to find him. Keno Billy was dead to the world in which he had lived.

  "I finally set out alone, and came across a man named Ackermann, caretaker and warden for a nice little church on 34th Street, not far from Broadway, in New York. The name was not in the City Directory, but it was on a name plate, and I read it as I passed. A drowning man will clutch at straws, and I walked into the basement of the church to look for Keno Billy, the faro dealer. I found a nice old lady, and I asked for the Ackermann family, and whether they had a son John Jake Ackermann. The old lady burst into tears.

  "'Dear me! dear me!' she sobbed. 'You are looking for my dear boy Billy!'

  "Even she called him Billy, thought I.

  "'Yes,' I answered her. 'But I mean him no harm. Is he here?'

  "'No,' said she, sobbing afresh.

  "'Where is he?' I asked.

  "'Dead and buried four weeks ago yesterday,' said she.

  "'Did he die a natural death?' I asked.

  "'He did,' said she. 'He just naturally died.'

  "I sat down and sympathised with her until she showed me the record of his death, and I then went to verify it. Keno Billy indeed was dead. I returned to Toronto without him.

  "Chief Justice Hagerty presided at Meagher's trial. Matthew Cruiks Cameron, an able lawyer, afterwards judge, defended him. The defence was an alibi. They swore Jimmy O'Neill from Detroit, Tom Daly, and some women, but it did not work. Meagher was convicted of robbery, and on January 9th, 1878, he was sentenced to eighteen years in Kingston Penitentiary. He served his time, and the last I heard of him he was near Cleveland. Leavitt was pardoned, after Meagher's conviction, on my suggestion that it would not be safe for him to stay in Kingston, as other convicts probably would kill him. Leavitt behaved for a time, and then showed up in Buffalo, and Chief of Detectives Cusack promptly drove him out. His father was respectable, but Charlie always was a bad one. Of course he worshipped me after regaining his liberty. But some time in this world, or the next, he and Meagher will meet. What a meeting it will be!

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