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Chapter XLVII


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

compiled by Victor Speer

IN the united counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, where Louis Kipp served a year for his part in the big circus fight, the county treasurer was Aeneas Macdonald. He held office as a nominee of the Government. He was one of the leading men of that part of the country, active in business and social affairs, and of a prominent and influential family.

   "Aeneas was married, and was about forty years old," says Murray. "He was popular, and knew everybody in the three counties. One evening he was rowing on the St. Lawrence River, opposite Cornwall. He was seen at sunset in the boat. When he did not return his wife became alarmed and a searching party was organised. The boat was found, capsized and floating aimlessly about in a little bay, and later his hat was found in the water. The river was dragged, and men dived for the body, but it could not be found. Mrs. Macdonald put on widow's weeds. Aeneas was mourned as lost. Several bodies, found at various points along the river, were held in the belief that one of them might be the missing man, but none was identified as Macdonald. He had been county treasurer for many years, and his death occasioned widespread sorrow. It was thought at first that a stranger had been with him in the boat, and that he might have met with foul play, and, as in the Long Point or Piggott case, the body would wash loose from the weights attached to it and rise to the surface. Those who last saw Aeneas in the boat were confident he was alone and beyond the reach of any one seeking his life. Suicide was scouted. Aeneas loved life too well for that.

   "A new county treasurer, Mr. Mathias, who died recently, was appointed, and Aeneas passed into the history of the three counties as an honest man and an upright official, who had come to an untimely end by accidental drowning. Months passed. The last hopes of finding the body were abandoned. Then the widow notified the insurance companies to pay to her the amount of her late husband's life insurance policies. It came to light then that Aeneas had taken out policies for thousands of dollars. The companies refused to pay until they had more positive proof of the death of Macdonald. They professed to believe he was alive and not dead. Mrs. Macdonald began an action against the insurance companies to get the money. In the meantime the new county treasurer had been verifying the accounts of the office, and he found that Macdonald had embezzled thousands of dollars from the county funds, and had committed forgery and other crimes.

   "In the spring of 1888 the Government instructed me to find Macdonald. This action was due to the requests of the county officials of the united counties, and the letters of the officers of the insurance companies. It was a hard case. I sent personal communications to my police friends throughout the continent. The search was conducted largely in a confidential way, for I did not wish to arouse the suspicions of his friends, and he had many of them. I explained the circumstances of his disappearance in detail, and cautioned them to make sure of their man as a mistaken arrest would be unpleasant. About this time a body was found far down the St. Lawrence, and some who saw it said it was the body of Macdonald. The people of the united counties were divided as to whether Aeneas was living or dead. As time passed there were folk who asserted positively they had seen him drown.

   "From police friends in California I heard of a man named Abner Holt, who, they thought, was Macdonald, if Macdonald were alive. Mr. Holt did not tarry long in California, but shortly thereafter, I heard of a James B. Carter, in Oregon, who was suspiciously similar to Abner Holt of California in appearance. Then I heard from police friends in Colorado of the arrival of a Walter Holder in Denver, and Mr. Holder was a counterpart of Mr. Carter of Oregon, and Mr. Holt of California, and all three bore more or less resemblance to the ghost of Aeneas Macdonald. Next I heard of a Thomas Collier in St. Louis, and he, too, joined the list of duplicates of the missing Aeneas. These mysterious strangers popped up at intervals that satisfied me one man was travelling through the western part of the United States, with a change of names between cities. I determined to shake hands with this gentleman, and give him greetings in the name of those solicitous of the whereabouts of Aeneas.

   "I prepared the necessary papers, properly authenticated, and at the next city where this travelling mystery appeared I hastened to take the trail. I fell in behind him in Omaha, from whence he had bought tickets to St. Paul, and with a glad heart I took the next train to see my old friends in Minnesota. Mr. Many Names was there ahead of me, and was running short of funds. In fact, the first trace of him I obtained was as an applicant for a job as a street car conductor. He was to return the next morning. When he appeared I was there.

   "'Good morning, Aeneas,' said I, shaking hands heartily. 'When did you get out of the river?'

   "'I never got in,' said he.

   "I took him before United States Commissioner Spencer on June 2nd. He was remanded until June 15th, and then until June 21st. In this interval a number of telegrams came to me from Cornwall and Toronto to drop the case. I refused to have Aeneas discharged, and I ignored the telegrams. Immediately after his arrest Aeneas had sent word to his friends in Canada. Finally I received a written communication from the then Deputy-Attorney-General to drop the proceedings. It was a matter of great surprise and disappointment to me and to the United States authorities that, with such a clear case against Macdonald, it should have been dropped. It is entirely unusual to drop such extradition proceedings. It was brought about no doubt by the refunding of some of the stolen money to the county officials and by the abandonment, of course, of the actions against the insurance companies. That is the only way I can account for such unprecedented instructions to drop extradition proceedings when the prisoner was before the United States Commissioner. I think it was a great miscarriage of justice.

   "Aeneas Macdonald was released in St. Paul and the proceedings for his extradition were abandoned. He still is absent from Canada, and he never has returned. There are a few folk who possibly still cling to the belief that Aeneas was drowned, and that the man arrested was his double or his reincarnated spirit. But there are not many who think this. All others in the united counties know that Aeneas Macdonald was not drowned, and that he was apprehended later in St. Paul, Minnesota, and he would have been brought back but for the action of the then Deputy-Attorney-General in directing that the extradition proceedings be discontinued.

   "Aeneas was inclined to piety at times. That may account for the happenings in which he was dead and was live again, was lost and was found.

   "A few weeks after my return from St. Paul and Aeneas, there was another disappearance. It occurred hundreds of miles from the old home of Aeneas. About five miles from Thessalon, on the shore of Georgian Bay in the district of Manitoulin, lived a family of farmers named Gillespie. There was a pretty thirteen-year-old daughter, Maud Gillespie. Early in August 1888 she went out to pick berries and did not return. She was seen last near a trout stream, and a bully good trout stream it is, as I happen to know. Searching parties went out and hunted for days, but could find no trace of the child. On August 11th I went up to Thessalon and began another search. I organised parties and apportioned the territory, and sent some on foot and others in boats, and for days and nights we scoured the islands and the shores of Georgian Bay. We visited scores of Indian camps, and pushed on into the wilds, but could not find her. I knew she had no life insurance, and was not a county treasurer, and that her disappearance therefore was not suspicious, so far as she was concerned. Her parents were well-nigh distracted, and I determined to make a final effort to find her. With a small party I went far up to remote Indian camps, and in one of them I found an old squaw, who nodded and grunted to me, and I went outside with her.

   "'White girl?' she asked.

   "I nodded. The old squaw held out her hand.

   "'Give,' she grunted. 'Give.'

   "I drew out some money. She sniffed. I felt in my pockets. I had a couple of trout flies in some tinfoil; I took them out. The old squaw seized the glittering tinfoil eagerly, taking my last trout flies with it. She tucked it in her jet black hair, coarse as a horse's tail.

   "'Me — see — white girl,' she muttered slowly. 'She go — so — so — so ——,' and she waved far north with her long arm.

   "'Alone?' I asked. 'She go alone? Indian take white girl?'

   "But the old squaw only grunted and played with the tinfoil and trout flies in her hair. We searched farther north, and twice we heard from Indians of a white girl who had passed that way. When further trailing was hopeless we turned back and made our way to Thessalon. It was a long, hard tramp. On the fourth day I came to the trout stream, where the little girl last was seen. I was tired, and I stretched full length on the ground and idly gazed at the blue sky through the trees, and then rolled over and stared at the water. It was a lovely stream. It glided beneath the over- growth into a broad, deep pool, on whose placid surface the reflection of the waving trees rose and fell amid patches of mirrored blue. Farther down the stream narrowed and rippled over rocks, splashing and gurgling as it went. But there must be no drifting aside into a fish story. I lolled by the stream until my men came up, and we moved on. No further trace of little Maud Gillespie was found, and I returned to Toronto. Fifteen years passed. In May 1903 a surveying party was exploring in New Ontario north of Lake Superior, over four hundred miles from the Gillespie home. They came upon a white woman living with the Indians in the wilderness. She was the wife of a big chief. She possessed a rare beauty of the wilds, yet was not wholly like her associates. She lived as an Indian, and exposure had tanned her a deep, dark brown. At first she was unable to talk with the white men, then gradually her power of speech in English returned until she could talk brokenly and remember a few English words. She finally recalled her name, Maud Gillespie, and her mother. They asked her if she wished to go back to her mother. She said she did, and they communicated with her people and she went back to them, a woman almost thirty years old. She had gone away a little girl of thirteen, fond of her mother, and constantly talking or singing in her childish way. She returned a silent, reserved woman, with the habits and manner and speech of an Indian. She had lost her language, she had become an Indian. Gradually her people are winning her back. It is like taming a wild creature, but eventually the inborn instincts will assert themselves, and much of the Indian life will fall away. They have been teaching her to speak her own language again, and she readily learned anew the songs she sang as a little child.

   "This loss of language is a singular thing. I met an Englishman in South America who had lost his language, and he was distressed almost to distraction because of it. I have seen other cases, too, passing strange."

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