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Chapter XLI


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

compiled by Victor Speer

CATTLE poisoning in Canada is a crime certain to be punished severely. Some of the finest cattle in the world are bred in Ontario, and the province is watchful in its protection of them. Near Cortland village, in the county of Norfolk, in 1886, Dr. McKay, a breeder and raiser of fancy stock, had a choice herd on a large tract of land. There were beauties in the herd, and the doctor justly was proud

   "In the spring of that year a number of the doctor's fine cattle died suddenly," says Murray. "They had not been sick or off their feed, and their unexpected death immediately aroused the doctor's suspicions. A week later, more of the cattle died in the same manner. They dropped as if struck by invisible lightning. The doctor notified the department. I suspected poisoning, and went to investigate. I obtained the viscera of some of the cattle, and had an analysis made, and it revealed the presence of arsenic in large quantities. That proved positively the poisoning theory. The probable way for giving arsenic would be with the salt. Cattle love salt, and when it is sprinkled on the ground they will lick the earth to get it. The traces of salt were not easily found when I arrived, but I discovered one spot that still showed traces of it, and I carefully dug it up, and had the top of the earth analysed, and faint traces of arsenic were found. In some of the spots where the cattle had fallen dead the grass had been licked to the ground.

   "All that summer the cattle kept dying. They would go out in the morning healthy and strong, and suddenly drop dead in the field or by the roadside. I talked with Dr. McKay, and asked him if he ever had any quarrel or trouble with a neighbour. He recalled one man, Robert Morrow, who lived near, and who formerly had taken contracts from the doctor for draining or otherwise improving the doctor's land. On one occasion, a year or more before, Morrow became dissatisfied over a contract, and sued the doctor. Dr. McKay said he had offered to leave the matter to arbitration or to one or three of the neighbours, but Morrow wanted law, and told the doctor that if he did not pay him what he asked he would get even with him. Months passed, and suddenly the doctor's cattle began to die.

   "I met Morrow casually, and I did not like his looks. I placed two men to watch Morrow all that summer. The months went by, and they could not catch him. The cattle kept dying and finally in December of that year I went to Cortland, and took up the matter of Morrow's actions. There was no spot near his house convenient for hiding except a tree. So I sent a man, who slipped up in the twilight, and climbed the tree, and waited. For three nights I did this unknown to any one, and Morrow never so much as stuck his head out of the door. On the fourth night, after one o'clock in the morning, my watcher heard the door open softly, and a figure slipped out and started along in the shadow of the fence. My watcher waited until he was well started, and then slid down out of the tree. As he began to slide his coat caught and held him. It was a lucky catch, for, as he drew himself up, he saw the figure stealthily sneaking round the house. It was Morrow, and he was investigating his own premises to make sure he was not being watched. The watcher sat silent on his perch in the tree and saw him enter the house, then reappear, carrying a small bag. He glided away in the darkness, and my man followed. The pursuer fancied he heard him once, but was careful not to crowd upon him. The result was, he lost him.

   "Along a fence near McKay's he disappeared, and the watcher crawled to and fro, looking for him in vain. At length he gave him up, and crept out into McKay's field, and there came upon newly laid salt. In fact, he had his hands in it before he discovered it. He carefully brushed up enough to fill a cup. This he put in a bag, and tucked away in his pocket. Then he went to McKay's, and told them not to turn out any cattle in that particular field. It was daylight when he reported to me. I started at once to Morrow's.

   "Morrow was standing outside when I approached the house.

   "'Good morning,' said I.

   "'Morning to you,' said he. 'Nice day.'

   "'Fine,' said I. 'By the way, where did this salt in McKay's field come from?' and I produced the bag.

   "Morrow gasped, then paled — I almost pitied him. He stared, and shook like a man with the ague. I waited. He twitched, and shivered, and gasped.

   "'Are you ill?' I asked him.

   "'I don't feel well this morning,' said he. 'Bilious; bad stomach; indigestion.'

   "'Ah!' said I. 'Salt's just the thing. Nothing like salt to fix the stomach. Have some?' and I held up the bag.

   "Morrow shrank as if I had offered to shoot him through the heart. He clapped one hand to his mouth, and suddenly began to hiccup. He actually grew sick, gulping like a landlubber in a heavy sea. I pocketed the salt and went over to him.

   "'Some of this salt was on the food you ate for breakfast,' I said, for he was so flustered he did not know what was coming next. 'You must have eaten it.'

   "He writhed and moaned. He verily seemed to fear he had been poisoned. While he retched and groaned I searched his house and found arsenic. I arrested him, and told him to stop belching, as he was not going to die. He was as relieved as a man reprieved on the gallows. The black cap of death seemed lifted from his head when he learned he had not eaten of the salt he had poisoned.

   "I took Morrow to Simcoe gaol, and on December 22nd he was committed for trial. He was tried before Judge Matthew Cruiks Cameron at the Spring Assizes in 1887, and was sent to Kingston Penitentiary for seven years. I not only had the evidence of the arsenic in his house, but I learned also where he bought the arsenic. Dr. McKay lost over fifty head of cattle, but all of them combined did not suffer agonies equal to those endured by Morrow on the morning he retched and moaned in the belief that he had eaten of his own poisoned mess. It was drastic, but deserved. Morrow had an imaginary taste of his own mixing. It stirred him to the innermost parts of his being. He almost gave up the ghost."

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