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Chapter LI


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

compiled by Victor Speer

THICK grow the briars in Blenheim Swamp. Fallen logs and tangled thickets mingle in a maze, impassable save where paths penetrate the dense underbrush. Desolation and loneliness pervade the place. The spirit of solitude broods over the marsh. Wild creatures are its only habitants. They flit to and fro, their weird cries echoing in the stillness. On an edge of it is a deep and silent pool, Pine Pond. Its inner fastnesses for many years were an undiscovered country, from whose bourne at least one traveller did not return. The bones of dead men had been found in the swamp; but not until February 1890 did it reveal a body lately dead — a body that lay like a bundle, half concealed. Two woodsmen passing came upon it and rolled it over. Two long arms flapped lifelessly, two glassy eyes stared vacantly, and a cold, white face turned skyward, with a purple blotch to tell where a bullet bored its fatal way.

   Only the wild creatures of the swamp had beheld the tragedy. From the treetops and the moss lands they saw a young man, a gentleman, come walking up an old narrow trail. Gaily he came. He was smoking, and gazed eagerly ahead as if the bush-grown road were a golden highway to a promised land. They saw him point forward and press on. They saw death walking at his elbow — a second figure, handsome and alert, swift of movement, stealthy, noiseless. They saw the glitter of steel, the flash of flame, the puff of smoke, and heard the explosion ring out through the forest. They saw the blithesome young gentleman lurch forward, sway and fall, as a second shot went echoing over the marsh. They saw the murderer coolly feel the pulse, quietly search the pockets, then deliberately produce a pair of scissors and clip from the dead man's clothes all tell-tale traces of his identity or of the place whence he came. Nothing was done hurriedly. The noise of the shots was the rudest part of it. All else was done softly, placidly. The murderer raised the body by the arms and started toward Pine Pond, but the way was choked with tangles, and the blood left a crimson trail. So he laid the body down in a lonely spot, hid it as best he could without too great exertion, washed his hands in a pool, and walked briskly out of the swamp, whistling softly a merry tune.

   The murderer neither hurried nor lagged. He cast no furtive glances around him. Perfect self-possession marked his mien. He seemed to have no fear. He skirted Pine Pond, whose unfathomed depths would have told no tale if the body had been buried there. All was silent, for picnic parties had not visited the pond since a fire and storm felled trees and blocked the way. He vanished down the picnic road, where the year before jolly parties journeyed on merry outings, and where Lord and Lady Somerset, spending some months at Woodstock, eight miles away, were fond of coming to explore the Blenheim Swamp before they returned to England.

   "The body was found," says Murray, "by the Elridge brothers, Joseph and George. They lived in that vicinity, and were out chopping on Friday, February 21st, and one of them, in the tangle of the bog, amid a snarl of logs, and vines, and briars, and brush, stepped on the body, slipped, and almost fell upon it. They bore it out of the swamp, and, in response to a telegram to the Department of Justice, I went immediately to the township of Blenheim, in the county of Oxford, and saw the body. It was the body of a young man, smooth shaven, of refined appearance, and clearly a gentleman. The clothing was English in style and cut, with a check caped mackintosh. The underclothing was of English make, for I had ordered some of the same kind and make in England some months before. There was no clue to his identity. The name of his tailor and the label on his clothes had been cut out carefully. The label of his brown Derby hat had been removed. Even a possible tell-tale button had been severed I sat down with the body, placing it in a sitting posture opposite me. I looked at it as if it were a man asleep. He was little more than a big boy, a gentle lad, a youth just out of his teens, a refined son of refined parents. In the back of his head was the purplish black hole of the bullet, and near the nape of the neck was another. He had been shot from behind; perhaps he never knew who shot him. Death crashed upon him from the rear, and he fell without a glimpse of his murderer.

   "What could have brought this young Englishman of gentle birth to this desolate spot, and what could have been the motive for his murder? Possibly he had been murdered elsewhere, and the body taken secretly to the swamp and hid, to shrivel and wither and crumble away until only a string of dead men's bones remained to tell of the tragedy.

   "'Who are you?' I asked the dead body as it sat facing me; but, in answer, it lurched forward and fell on its face.

   "I had it photographed. I gave copies of the photograph to the newspapers of Canada, and requested them to print the picture and to ask other papers throughout the United States and England to reproduce it. I hoped that some one somewhere in the world, seeing the face of the unknown dead, would recognise it, and thus solve the mystery of his identity. Even in death he was so typically English, so characteristically British, that I said at once he was not from Canada or the States, but was from England. But where had he been murdered?

   "I went to the snarl in the bog in Blenheim Swamp where the body had been found. I saw where it had lain, half hid, where only an accidental stumbling on it would have revealed its presence. I pondered on the mystery of Providence in guiding the Elridges to the precise spot where the body lay. A regiment of hunters might have tramped through the swamp and not come upon it, yet one of these two brothers, by favour of good fortune, had slipped and stepped on it, and so discovered it. I saw the crimson stain where the head had been. I crawled on hands and knees over the surrounding ground, and I found a crimson trail. I followed it back a few paces, and it stopped in a blotch of blood. Beyond the blotch there was no further trace of blood. Here the murder had been done, here the shot had been fired, here the victim had fallen. His murderer had borne him to the denser place and hid him there. I crawled about the scene of the crime. I went over the ground inch by inch. On three separate visits I did this, hoping that some clue, some bit of a label, some little button, some shred out of his past life, might be lying in the swampland. On my last search I came upon a cigar-holder with an amber mouthpiece marked 'F.W.B.' It was half buried, as if it had been stepped on. It was the first clue.

   "Five days had passed since the finding of the body. No identification came. The picture was in all the leading papers in Canada, and in a few days more it would be published in England. The body was buried at Princeton, a town a few miles from Blenheim Swamp. On the sixth day a man and woman arrived at Princeton, and asked to see the body of the young man who had been found in a swamp, and whose picture had been printed in the papers. They said they had crossed from England recently, and on the same ship was a young man who resembled strongly the picture of the dead man. The body was dug up on March 1st. The lady and gentleman looked at it, and both identified it as the body of their fellow-passenger, and both were shocked deeply.

   "'His name, we think, was Benwell,' they said. 'He was merely a casual acquaintance aboard ship, and we knew nothing of him.'

   "The lady and gentleman returned to Paris, about ten miles from Princeton. I had been to the swamp and out among the people living in that section, seeing them one by one, and I returned in time to join the lady and gentleman at Paris. We met in the hotel. I introduced myself, and the three of us were alone in the parlour upstairs.

   "'I am J.W. Murray, of the Department of Criminal Investigation,' I said. 'You are the gentleman who has been out looking at the body of the young man found in the swamp?'

   "The gentleman was dressed in perfect taste. He was handsome and easy in manner, with a certain grace of bearing that was quite attractive. He came toward me, and I saw he was about five feet nine inches tall, supple, clean cut, well built. His hair was dark and fashionably worn; his forehead was broad and low. He wore a light moustache. Two dark-brown eyes flashed at me in greeting. Clearly he was a man of the world, a gentleman, accustomed to the good things of life, a likeable chap, who had lived well and seen much and enjoyed it in his less than thirty years on earth. The lady stood by the window looking out. She was a slender, pleasant-faced blonde, a bit weary about the eyes, but evidently a woman of refinement. She half turned and watched us as the man advanced to meet me.

   "'Yes,' said he, in quiet, well-modulated voice; 'my wife and I were out at the grave and saw the body.'

   "The lady shuddered. The man continued that he was very glad to meet me.

   "'You knew the young man?' I asked.

   "'Yes, very slightly,' said he.

   "'Ah, I am very glad to hear it,' said I. 'At last we may know who he is. Where did you meet him?'

   "'In London,' said he.

   "'London, Ontario, or London, England?' said I.

   "'He came from London, England,' said he. 'A mere casual acquaintance. I met him, don't you know, on the ship — aboard ship, in fact.'

   "'His name?' I asked.

   "'I think it was Bentwell, or Benswell, or Benwell,' said he. 'I knew him very slightly.'

   "'What ship?' said I.

   "'The Britannic of the White Star Line,' said he. 'We arrived in New York on Friday, February 14th.'

   "'When did you last see the young man alive?' I asked.

   "'He was on his way to London, Ontario, and as we were travelling to the Falls our way was the same. I last saw him at the Falls. He had a great deal of luggage down there. He left some of it, in fact.'

   "'I'm very glad to know this,' said I gratefully. 'You will be able to point out his luggage?'

   "'Yes,' said he. 'I'll be very glad to aid you. I am returning to the Falls to-day. We came, you know, because we saw the picture in the paper.'

   "'Will you take charge of the luggage for me?' I asked.

   "'Gladly,' said he.

   "'Your name, so that I may find you at the Falls?' I asked.

   "'Birchall,' said he. 'Reginald Birchall, of London — London, England.'

   "'Very glad to know you, Mr. Birchall; very glad indeed,' said I.

   "During our conversation he became quite familiar and talkative. His wife was very nervous, as if the sight of a dead body had upset her. She began to pace up and down the room.

   "'How was the young man dressed when you last saw him?' I asked.

   "I had a navy-blue overcoat on at the time. Mr. Birchall put his hand on the coat sleeve. There was no tremor in it. I noted it was rather a dainty hand.

   "'Like that,' he said.

   "'A whole suit of that colour?' I asked.

   "'Yes,' said he.

   "'Would he take a glass, do you know?'

   "'Oh, yes, he used to get very jolly,' said he.

   "'That London, Ontario, is a bad place,' said I. 'They'd kill a man for a five-dollar note there. And this poor young man went to London, eh?'

   "I could see the wife's face clear with an expression of relief. The man reiterated his pity for the young man, and his desire to be of any service possible to me. We chatted quite cordially.

   "'Were you ever on the continent before?' I asked.

   "'Yes, New York and Niagara Falls, but never in Canada,' said he.

   "After further conversation I produced my note-book.

   "'I am greatly indebted to you, my dear sir, for your kindness,' said I. 'This information is most valuable. It tells us just what we wish to know. May I trouble you to repeat it, so that I may note it accurately?'

   "The lady began to pace the floor again. The man told once more the story he had told to me. He made occasional pauses to ask the lady a question, as if his own memory had failed to note certain desired details of a casual acquaintance. She answered in a weary, anxious voice.

   "'And I bade him good-bye at the Falls,' he concluded, 'and he went on to London, Ontario.'

   "'Did you hear from him?' I asked.

   "'Just a line,' he said.

   "'Have you got it?' I asked.

   "'Have I got Fred's note, my dear?' he asked his wife.

   "'No,' said the lady, 'but I remember seeing it.'

   "'It was just a note to get his luggage through,' said he.

   "'His first name was Fred?' I asked.

   "'I think so,' he said quietly, as we eyed each other. 'It was so signed in the note.'

   "His manner changed to even effusive cordiality.

   "'Mr. Murray, come down and spend Sunday with us at the Falls,' he said heartily.

   "'Delighted, but I must go to Toronto,' said I.

   "'Toronto!' said he. 'I'd like to see Toronto. My dear, will you go to Toronto on Sunday as Mr. Murray's guest?'

   "'Unfortunately I will not be home on Sunday,' said I. 'Will you meet me at nine o'clock on Monday morning at the Falls, and get all the luggage at the Customs House?'

   "'Delighted to aid you,' said he.

   "We shook hands and bowed. The tired lady bowed, and I withdrew. I walked straight to the telegraph office. On the way I thought it over. The man was lying; I was sure of it. Yet, if he knew aught of the crime, why should he come to Canada at least a week after the deed was done and identify the body? The autopsy had shown the young man had been dead a few days, but not over a week; so it was within eight or ten days after the murder that this suave, handsome Englishman and his gentle wife had come from the Falls to Paris and thence to Princeton to view the body. Why had they come? This story of seeing the picture in the paper was quite plausible. If he were telling the truth I could understand it, but I was satisfied he was lying. Yet the London, Ontario, part of it might be true. I wanted a few hours to investigate it and make sure. So I entered the telegraph office and sent a telegram to the Falls, describing Birchall and telling of his return to the Falls later that day.

   "'Shadow this man,' I telegraphed. 'Do not arrest him unless he tries to cross the river to the States. I will be there Sunday night.'

   "I jumped to London, Ontario, and called on acquaintances there for trace of this young Fred Benwell. Among those I saw was Edward Meredith, a lawyer, to whom I spoke of Benwell and the steamer Britannic, and he told me that Barrister Hellmuth, of London, Ontario, had returned from England on the Britannic. I made sure that Benwell, or whoever the young man was, had not been to see Attorney Hellmuth; in fact, I scoured London, and satisfied myself he had not been there at all. Birchall and his wife, meanwhile, had returned to Niagara Falls, Ontario; and on March 2nd Birchall was arrested, his wife being taken into custody two days later. They were remanded until March 12th.

   "I found that Birchall and Mrs. Birchall and a young man named Douglas Raymond Pelly were stopping at Baldwin's at Niagara Falls, and had arrived there the day after the murder. I saw Mr. Pelly. He was a handsome young fellow, about five feet nine inches tall, slight build, small light moustache, and a decided English accent. He told me he was the son of the Rev. R.P. Pelly, of Walton Place, Vicar of Saffron Walden, Essex, England. He was twenty-five years old, a graduate of Oxford, and a cousin of the beautiful Lady Pelly, who was one of the suite of Lord Lansdowne, formerly Governor-General of Canada. He told me he knew both the dead man, whose picture was in the papers, and Birchall.

   "'Benwell, Birchall, Mrs. Birchall, and I all came out from England in one party,' said Pelly. 'Birchall and Benwell left us for a day, and Benwell never came back. I saw the picture of the dead man in the paper a few days later, and I told Birchall it was Benwell, and that he ought to go and identify the body and make sure.'

   "I sat down with Pelly, and for several hours he talked telling me what he knew of Benwell and Birchall. Among Birchall's papers, found in searching his effects, were letters corroborative of what Pelly said. Pelly, with his Oxford course finished and the world before him, was looking for an opening in life when, in December 1889, he read an advertisement in London, England, newspapers as follows:


CANADA. — University man — having farm — wishes to meet gentleman's son to live with him and learn the business, with view to partnership; must invest five hundred pounds to extend stock; board, lodging, and 5 per cent. interest till partnership arranged. — Address, J.R. BURCHETT, Primrose Club, 4, Park Place, St. James', London.'

   "Pelly saw this advertisement, and wrote to J.R. Burchett about it, asking for particulars. He received in reply, on December 9th, a telegram from J.R. Burchell, stating that he would go down to Walden Place, Saffron Walden, on the following Thursday. Pelly answered with a note, which was found with other letters in Birchall's effects, hoping he would stay all night as it was a long way to come for such a short interview, and also as he desired to have his father meet J.R. Burchell. On the appointed day J.R. Burchell arrived at Walden Place, and later met Pelly in London, and won over both Pelly and his father. He pictured to them a large farm one and a half miles from Niagara Falls, Ontario; a farm with large brick houses and barns, the former heated by steam and lighted by gas and the latter by electric light, with lights placed around the farm. He told of the big and profitable business, and mentioned the fine fishing, shooting, and other sports to be enjoyed on the farm. He explained that the business carried on was buying horses in the rough and grooming them to sell for profit; that the farm was used to raise horse feed; that during J.R. Burchell's absence, his overseer, a Scotchman named McDonald, and several hired men looked after the farm and business; that he had a branch business at Woodstock, and had rooms there, where he and Mrs. Burchell lived at times. He said a number of Englishmen lived around Niagara Falls, and that a club had been created in which the members lived in English style and had English servants. J.R. Burchell said he organised the club. The country was an earthly paradise, with wealth to be had for simply sojourning in the land. This glowing description captivated Pelly, and on January 11th, 1890, he wrote from Hollington, St. Leonard's-on-Sea, to J.R. Burchell, saying: 'Please consider all settled. If you will have the agreement drawn up, I will sign it and forward you a cheque for one hundred and seventy pounds at the same time. I shall look to meeting you on February 1st. When you get my steamer tickets would you be so kind as to forward me some steamer labels at the same time?'

   "References had been exchanged. Pelly had referred J.R. Burchell to Edward Cutler, Esq., Q.C., 12, Old Square, Lincoln's Inn; Godfrey Lawford, Esq., 28, Austin Friars, E.C., and the Rev. Alfred Rose, Emmanuel College, Cambridge. J.R. Burchell referred to David Stevenson, Bainbridge, Maberley Road, Upper Norwood, master of transportation of the London and North-Western Railroad. J.R. Burchell drew up the following agreement:


'Memorandum of agreement, made this        day of        1890, between J.R. Burchell, of Niagara, Ontario, Canada, and Bainbridge, Maberley Road, Upper Norwood, England, on the one part, and D.R. Pelly, of Walden Place, Saffron Walden, in the county of Essex, on the other part, to the effect that the said J.R. Burchell agrees to provide the said D.R. Pelly with board, lodging, washing, and household extras for one year, also with travelling expenses in Canada and United States, use of horses, carriages, sleighs, and such things as he may require pertaining to his business; also for the space of one year: the said D.R. Pelly in consideration of the same, one hundred and seventy pounds, agrees to pay the sum of one hundred and seventy pounds sterling, the money to be invested in stock (horses); this sum to be repaid together with interest at five per cent. per annum in case the said D.R. Pelly does not stay beyond the year before mentioned. If the said D.R. Pelly should stay for a longer period, then the aforesaid sum to be repaid or applied as the said D.R. Pelly shall determine.

   'The year mentioned to date from the signing of this agreement.'

   "A copy of this agreement I found in Birchall's handwriting, and beneath it were scribbled various names, including A. Sloden Jones, 18, Talbot Road, Bayswater; J.R. Birtwistle, Fred Betcor, H.H. Foxby, J.B. Simons, Dear Miss Lovett, the Rev. J. Readon, and Alfred A. Atkinson.

   "Pelly continuing his story, told me that he met Mr. and Mrs. Birchall on February 5th, and boarded the Britannic at Liverpool. To his surprise he found a fourth member of the party, a young man whom Birchall introduced to him as Fred C. Benwell, son of Colonel Benwell, of Cheltenham, England. Birchall intimated to Pelly that Benwell was not much of a fellow, but that he was simply crossing with them to a farm, and that it would be just as well for Pelly to have nothing to do with him. So Pelly treated Benwell rather distantly, and devoted himself to Mrs. Birchall and Birchall on the voyage. Benwell seemed to reciprocate by treating Pelly coolly, so Birchall deftly kept the two young men from becoming familiar and confidential. Finally Benwell and Pelly chatted together and Benwell told Pelly he, too, was to join Birchall in the horse business. Pelly went to Birchall and threatened to withdraw. Birchall pacified him, saying: 'Never mind, I shall find some way to get rid of him.' Birchall enlivened the voyage with glowing pictures of the profits awaiting them.

   "The Britannic arrived in New York on February 14th. The Birchalls, Pelly, and Benwell went to the Metropolitan Hotel. While there they met a fellow from Woodstock, Neville H. Pickthall, who greeted Birchall and his wife.

   "'Why, Lord Somerset and Lady Somerset,' exclaimed Pickthall, the moment he saw them. 'Delighted! Are you on your way back to Woodstock?'

   "Birchall got free from Pickthall with little ceremony. Later some people supposed Pickthall had gone to New York to meet Birchall, but it turned out that green goods men had persuaded Pickthall to borrow $1,000, on his farm and go to New York to buy a lot of bogus money. Pickthall went, and happened to be there when the Birchall party appeared at the hotel. The same day the green goods men got Pickthall's $1,000, and sent him out to Denver, Colorado, on a wild-goose chase, and he turned up in Denver broke, and wrote to friends in Woodstock, and I had him back to testify at the trial.

   "Pelly said their party stayed overnight at the Metropolitan Hotel, and the next day, February 15th, they went to Buffalo, arriving there on the morning of February 16th, and registering at the Stafford House. Each young man was eager to see the mythical farm. It was only a couple of hours from Buffalo, said Birchall. Mrs. Birchall preferred to wait in Buffalo until sure everything was all right at the farm for her reception there. Pelly gallantly agreed to tarry with Mrs. Birchall while Birchall and Benwell went on to the farm to surprise the employees. If all was well at the farm, Benwell would remain there, and Birchall would return and take Mrs. Birchall and Pelly to the farm. Benwell and Birchall were to start at six o'clock the next morning. They did so, leaving the Stafford House bright and early on the morning of February 17th, to take a Grand Trunk train to the farm.

   "Birchall returned to the Stafford House in Buffalo alone at half-past eight that evening. He was in good humour, pleasant and laughing. Pelly asked where he had left Benwell. Birchall said he took Benwell to the farm and introduced him to McDonald, the overseer, and later in the day Benwell had told him he did not like the place, and did not care to associate with such people, and that Benwell had eaten nothing all day, but had stayed at the farm when Birchall left for Buffalo. Birchall said he gave Benwell some addresses before leaving, so he could visit folk in the country roundabout, including Attorney Hellmuth, of London, who had been a passenger on the ship. Pelly began to ask too many questions, and Birchall said he was tired and went to bed. The next day they went to Niagara Falls, taking their luggage with them. They crossed to the Canada side and stopped at Mrs. Baldwin's, Birchall arranging for rooms and board there.

   "'Soon after our arrival,' said Pelly to me, 'Birchall invited me to go for a walk. I went. We walked along the river road which goes from the village up to the Falls. I had told him about ten minutes before that he was failing to fulfil the representations he had made to me. He had replied with a shuffling explanation, and I mentally decided to give him another week, and if matters did not change I would leave him. On our walk we came to a place where Birchall said a religious body in past years had held camp meetings, and it was thought it would be nice to bathe in the river, so a stairway was built down over the cliffs with the idea that they could go down it to bathe, but it had been found impossible to bathe there because the current was too strong. Birchall said to me: "Oh, you have never been down here; you ought to go. It is the best way to see the Falls." I told him I should like to go down, and he stepped aside for me. I went down first and soon noticed it was a rotten, unsafe stairway. It led down close by the Falls. "Birchall," said I, "this is a horrid place." He was following and said: "Go on; it will pay you." I wondered afterwards that I did not slip or miss my footing. We landed at the bottom finally. To my great surprise, there stood a man gazing into the swirling water. This man turned and looked at me. I sprang past Birchall and started back up the stairs. The man turned and resumed his gazing into the water. Birchall seemed nonplussed when we came upon this stranger in this lonely, secluded spot, with the roaring waters ready to sweep a dead body away. Birchall followed me up the stairway, and all that day he was moody and silent.

   "'He invited me for another walk the next day,' continued Pelly. He led the way down to the cliffs close to the cantilever bridge. Underneath this bridge you cannot be seen. You get in between the brickwork of the span and the edge. Birchall took me in there so as to get a better view of the rapids. He tried to persuade me to stand close by him at the edge, but his manner seemed so coldly quiet, so repellent, that instinctively I drew back and made my excuses for not going near the edge and went away. This was the second time. A little push and all would have been over. We returned to our room's. I saw in the papers about a murder near Woodstock. On the next morning Birchall proposed I should go to Woodstock and look at the body and see if it was Benwell. That alarmed me, and I got a revolver and put it in my pocket. Birchall and I went to the station, but the train had gone. I wanted to telegraph to New York, thinking Benwell might be there. Birchall refused to do this, and persuaded me to go over to the American side to see about some supposed matter of baggage. It began to rain while we were there, and he wanted to stay on the American side, but I said that was absurd, because his wife was at the Baldwin's boarding house and would expect us back. We started to walk back to Canada across the lower suspension bridge. It was storming and blowing. When out near the centre of the bridge, Birchall walked over by the edge and looked down at the roaring rapids. "Come, see the view; it is superb," said Birchall, beckoning me close to the edge. I drew back. He grew white and walked on. I lagged behind, out of his reach. "Come, walk with me," he said, halting. "Your great coat will help keep off the rain." I shook my head. He repeated his invitation. I declined. He stopped, turned squarely and looked back. Then he advanced a step toward me. I stepped back and was about to run over the bridge when two men came walking across and Birchall turned and walked on to Canada. I see these things in a clearer light now that I know Benwell's fate.

   "'The next day,' continued Pelly, 'Birchall went to Buffalo to see about some message he said was from Benwell. When he returned he said Benwell had sent a message to forward all his heavy luggage to the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York. The next day I saw the awful picture of the dead man in the paper. I took it to Birchall. "That looks like Benwell," I said. Birchall said it was impossible, as Benwell was to be in New York. I told him he should go and see the body, and I would go to New York to see if Benwell was at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. I saw him leave for Paris with Mrs. Birchall to see the body. Then I went to New York on the next train. I could find no trace of Benwell, so I returned. Birchall and his wife had been to view the body and it was Benwell, and the arrest followed.'

   "Pelly was telling the truth from first to last," says Murray. "In going through Birchall's effects I found this note, written in a big, boyish hand:—


         'LONDON, W.
'December 3rd, 1899.
'My father thinks I had better see you as soon as possible. I will be at my club, "The National Conservative," Pall Mall, at the corner of Waterloo Place and opposite the "Athenaeum" at three o'clock on Thursday afternoon, and will wait there till five o'clock; or if you prefer it I will go down to Norwood or any place in London you like to name, soon, if you will drop me a line.
'I am, dear sir,
    'Yours faithfully,
         'F.C. BENWELL.

   "I found other letters from Benwell to Birchall, and in Benwell's luggage I found letters from Birchall to Benwell. Here is one:


         'UPPER NORWOOD, S.E.,
'February 2nd, 1890.


   'We sail Wednesday next, February 5th, in the White Star S.S. Britannic. I have got you a ten-guinea berth for the eight pounds and ten shillings you sent me. So that is pretty good, I think. The ship sails in the afternoon early. I am going up first thing in the morning to ascertain the exact time of sailing. If the ship doesn't sail till after three, we shan't go down overnight, as there will be lots of time in the morning, if we leave here by an early train. Your heavy baggage must be taken on board by the tender on Wednesday, or shipped in the dock on Tuesday. However, I fancy it will be best to have it consigned to c/o the White Star Company, per S.S. Britannic. I will wire you in the morning, how to act. Of course, if we haven't time we must leave on Tuesday night. This you shall hear further of. Your labels shall be posted to-morrow morning.

   'I fancy the storms are gone over now and we shall have a good voyage. You will be able to meet us on the voyage. Of this I will inform you to-morrow.

   Kind regards to Col. Benwell and yourself.

'Yours very sincerely,

   "The letters showed conclusively that Benwell, like Pelly, had been caught by Birchall's advertisement, and that he had arranged with each without notifying the other. Benwell and Birchall had met and talked over the farm business. Young Benwell talked to his father, who had travelled considerably and he advised his boy to go and see the farm and then draw on him for what he required. Birchall had taken Benwell with him to this side, Benwell paying the passage money to Birchall and having an ample amount of money with him for expenses and the authority to draw on his father.

   "I cabled and wrote at once to Scotland Yard for information about Birchall and his reference, David Stevenson, as well as Pelly and Benwell. I also advertised all over this continent for the stranger who stood at the foot of the old stairway by the Falls when Pelly and Birchall descended to the water's edge. The stranger never answered the advertisement. He may not have seen it or he may have seen it and desired to avoid notoriety. I doubt if he were an accomplice or acquaintance of Birchall. He probably was a sightseer enjoying the view.

   "The replies from my friends in England informed me that J.R. Birchall was none other than the younger son of the Rev. Joseph Birchall, late well-known Vicar of Church Kirk and Rural Dean of Whalley. The Birchalls had a sort of hereditary connection with Brasenose College, Oxford, where the father held a foundation scholarship or fellowship. Wherever the young Birchall had lived he achieved notoriety. In his younger days he was at Rossall School for some time when the Rev. H. James, late Dean of St. Asaph and then head of Cheltenham College, was head master. He left there suddenly and entered the Reading School, boarding with the Rev. Mr. Walker, head master. He earned a reputation in the schools that preceded him to Oxford where he went in the autumn of 1885. His name vanished from Oxford's calendar in the spring of 1888. His college was Lincoln, and the dons remembered him with sad headshakes. He was a rake and a wild one. He was an organiser of carousals, in and out of college, day and night. He had plenty of money, and kept a number of horses at college. No one was cleverer than he at evading punishment for his pranks. Often merciless in his pursuits of mischief, he would do his fellows a turn with good grace. He was hail-fellow-well-met with a number of men, who knew little of him except that he was full of humour and fun and had singular conversational gifts. His notoriety was due in no small part to his loud style of dress. He wore gaudy waistcoats, and his costume rarely lacked some adornment of flaming hue. He established at Oxford a club called The Black and Tan. It attained such a reputation for noisiness and boisterousness that it became extinct. At Oxford, Birchall showed, in his class work, great powers of mind, with an exceptional memory. He was being educated for the Church. His father's church at that time was in Lancashire, and his brother had a church near Lechlade. His father died while he was at Oxford, and the property was divided between the two sons and a daughter. Reginald's share was over $20,000, but by the provisions of the will he was not to come into possession of it until May 1891. In June 1889 he had been notified by Clement, Cheese, and Green, solicitors, of London, that his creditors proposed to throw him into bankruptcy. He replied that he had sold his interest in his father's estate for $15,000 to pay other creditors.

   "After leaving Oxford he went to London. There he eloped with Florence Stevenson, daughter of David Stevenson, for fifty years master of transportation of the London and North Western Railroad. This explained the reference to Mr. Stevenson when Birchall exchanged references with Pelly. Birchall's father-in-law knew nothing of the use of his name. He was a respectable, honest man, seventy-six years old. In his daughter's effects were found some pathetic letters from the old man to his son-in-law. On November 25th, 1888, when he heard of the marriage, he wrote saying: 'Let me at once recognise your perfect right to get married in the form you preferred; but we were a little grieved that we did not see our daughter take the most important step of her life.' Other letters were marked with tender solicitude. Birchall had dabbled in theatricals before his marriage and was well known to many stage-folk in London. His favourite club at this time was the Badminton Club, 100, Piccadilly, W. When he made ready to leave England after his marriage, he cashed cheques for £25, or $125, at the Badminton Club, and C. Stewart Sproat, secretary of the club, wrote him on January 7th, 1890, when he was back in England, to send the cash without further delay. He and his bride sailed for America in the fall of 1888, after their marriage. They wrote to David Stevenson from America, and early in 1889 Birchall wrote from Woodstock, Ontario, to creditors at Oxford, saying he was in the employ of Somerset & Co., Brock Street, Woodstock, and had a lucrative position and would pay his debts promptly. While he was in Woodstock, solicitors in England were advertising in the newspapers for his whereabouts. His father-in-law called on the solicitors and asked what such scandalous advertisements meant. When he was informed of his son-in-law's conduct the old man wept bitterly. In the summer of 1889 Birchall and his wife returned to England and lived with Mr. Stevenson. Then it was that Birchall began advertising, under the name of J.R. Burchett or Burchell, address the Primrose Club, for young men with money to go to Canada and learn farming.

   "My information from England proved Pelly and Benwell to be just what Pelly had said, two victims of Birchall. Pelly's father was vicar of Saffron Walden, Essex, and Benwell's father was Col. Benwell, of Cheltenham. The parents of both confirmed the stories told by the letters I found in the luggage.

   "At Woodstock I learned that Birchall and his wife had arrived there from England in the autumn of 1888 to look over farm lands and enjoy the country life of Canada. His name was not Birchall then. He was Lord Somerset, Frederick A. Somerset, some day to be one of the lofty lords of England. His wife was Lady Somerset. They boarded at Mrs. John McKay's in Woodstock, lived gaily, dressed loudly, and became familiar figures in the country round about. They seemed to have money like the lord and lady they were supposed to be. They were fond of driving and picnics, and one of the spots Lord Somerset visited on various occasions was Pine Pond, with the Blenheim Swamp around it. This was eight miles from Woodstock and Lord Somerset came to know it well. When they left Woodstock to return to England, Lord and Lady Somerset were called away suddenly and left numerous unpaid bills behind them. Lord Somerset, from across the sea, wrote to a Woodstock acquaintance as follows:



   'You must have been surprised to find me gone. I went down to New York for the wife's health and while there got a cable the governor was suddenly taken ill. I rushed off, caught the first steamer over, and got here just too late, the poor chap died. So I have been anyhow for some time. I am coming out to Woodstock shortly, I hope, as soon as I settle up all my governor's affairs. I owe you something I know. Please let me know, and tell Scott, the grocer, to make out his bill, and any one else if I owe anybody anything. I was in too much of a hurry to see after them. I have several men to send out to you in August. Tell me all news and how you are. Many thanks for all your kindnesses.


   "Lord Somerset did not return to Woodstock promptly. The next time he sailed for America was under his right name with Lady Somerset under her proper name, Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Birchall, and they had with them the two young men, Pelly and Benwell, and the four arrived in New York on the Britannic, on February 14th, and the first person they saw in New York, by the merest accident, was the farmer Pickthall of Woodstock on his way to meet the green goods men. He recognised Lord and Lady Somerset and went his way to be fleeced by others. I verified at the Metropolitan Hotel the date of their arrival and departure. I verified at the Stafford House in Buffalo the fact of the arrival of the party of four on February 16th. I verified also at the Stafford House the fact that, the next day Pelly and Mrs. Birchall stayed at the hotel, while Birchall and Benwell were called before six o'clock and went away. Birchall returned in the evening. Benwell never returned.

   "I took up the trail of Birchall and Benwell when they walked out of the Stafford House about six o'clock on the morning of February 17th. I saw Conductor William H. Poole, who had the run on the Grand Trunk Railroad between Niagara Falls and Windsor. He had two passengers who got off at Eastwood, a station four miles from Blenheim Swamp. Their description answered that of Birchall and Benwell. The train stopped at Eastwood at 11.24 that morning. Matthew Virtue, a bailiff of Woodstock, was on the train. As the train left Eastwood he saw two young Englishmen walking away from the station, one of them wearing a cape coat. Miss Lockhart, of Blandford, was on the train. A couple of seats ahead of her in the car sat two young Englishmen. As the train approached Eastwood her attention was drawn to them by the manner in which they were talking about the land. They were admiring fields which were in no way to be admired. One wore a big astrakhan cap. It was easy to identify him by it. She noticed the man in the cap was very quiet and twitched in his seat, yet always was attentive to his fellow-traveller, the younger man. She saw them alight at Eastwood and start off briskly to the north, the man with the fur cap in the lead. I found others who saw the pair on the train. Alfred Hayward and his wife saw them leave Eastwood station. John Crosby, a young farmer, living in Blenheim township, was driving in Governor's Road about noon when he saw the two young men walking toward Blenheim Swamp. Miss Allie Fallon, who lived with her mother a short distance from Blenheim Swamp, saw two young men pass the house on the road leading past the swamp. There was a ball at Princeton that night and she remarked: 'There go two dudes to the Princeton ball.' One, in a cape mackintosh, walked ahead. The other was walking behind. She had come to know Lord Somerset by sight the year before and she thought the man walking behind was Somerset. They were walking in the direction of the swamp. James Rapson, owner of a swamp adjoining Blenheim Swamp, was out with his men cutting timber about one o'clock in the afternoon, when he heard two pistol shots in quick succession in Blenheim Swamp. He was a little less than a mile away but heard the shots distinctly.

   "Thus I traced them, step by step, to the swamp and to the very hour of the murder. Then comes an interval when the murderer is alone in the swamp with his victim. The shots are fired about one o'clock, within about half-an-hour after Miss Fallon saw the two men going to the swamp. Birchall evidently had been pointing out land from the car window, as part of his farm, and had told Benwell they would take a short cut through the thick woods and surprise the men at the farmhouse. Benwell was a credulous young fellow and innocently entered the swamp and started up the abandoned winding trail, Birchall readily finding a pretext for dropping behind a moment and Benwell eagerly pressing on for a sight of the farm — the farm he never was to see.

   "An hour passes. At half-past two Charles Buck, a young farmer living on the road between Eastwood and Blenheim Swamp, about half a mile from the swamp, was driving home from Woodstock, when, at the cross-roads leading to Eastwood, a man turned the corner from the Blenheim Swamp road and started for Eastwood. The man wore a fur cap, and he stopped and asked Mr. Buck the way to Gobles Corners, as he wished to get to Woodstock. Buck told him he was within much less than two miles of Eastwood and he could get to Woodstock from there as easy as from Gobles Corners. The man thanked him and walked on toward Eastwood at a rapid pace. At three o'clock Miss Alice Smith arrived at the Eastwood station to post a letter. As she was going into the station gate she came face to face with Lord Somerset, who had been in Woodstock the year before and who had called at her grandfather's, John Hayward's, home at Eastwood. Somerset wore an astrakhan cap. He came up to Miss Smith and shook hands pleasantly, saying: 'How do you do? Don't you remember me?' and asked after her family and the 'old governor,' meaning her grandfather. He told Miss Smith he was coming back later and then bought a ticket for Hamilton. Miss Mary Swazie, another young lady of Eastwood, also was at the station for the three o'clock train. She saw the stranger. His trousers were turned up and his shoes were muddy. Miss Ida Cromwell, of Eastwood, also saw him at the station. James Hayward, an Eastwood storekeeper, saw him at the station and recognised him as the so-called Lord Somerset.

   "At 3.38 the train for Niagara Falls arrived at Eastwood. The stranger in the fur cap boarded the train. George Hay, a train brakesman, saw him and remembered him distinctly, and identified Birchall positively as the man. Other witnesses also identified Birchall, and I established a perfect chain of evidence showing his whereabouts from the time he left London and from the time he left the Stafford House on the morning of the murder until his return there at 8.30 that night. Witnesses identified the dead body of Benwell as that of the young man with Birchall on the train to Eastwood and on the road to the swamp. I traced them together to the swamp, where Benwell was found dead the next day, and I traced Birchall away from the swamp and back to Buffalo, after the pistol shots had been fired. He had four hours and twenty-four minutes in which to walk the four miles from Eastwood to the swamp, do the murder, and walk back to Eastwood. He arrived at 11.24 in the morning and departed at 4:38 in the afternoon. If he took three hours to walk the eight miles, he still had one hour and twenty-four minutes for the crime.

   "To clinch Birchall's guilt, I heard from London at this time that Colonel Benwell had just received from Birchall an undated letter, headed with the address of Niagara Falls. The postmark revealed its date was February 20th, three days after Birchall left Benwell dead in the swamp. In this letter Birchall asked that the agreement be set aside, and that $500 be sent him at once. 'I have been talking to your son to-day about arrangements, and he is so well satisfied with the prospects here that he is ready to go immediately into partnership, and he is writing to you to-day on the subject,' wrote Birchall. This was three days after he left Benwell dead in Blenheim Swamp. The $500 was to be the first payment on $2,500 which Colonel Benwell was to send to his son for Birchall if the farm and prospects pleased young Benwell. Pelly identified the body found on February 18th as Benwell's body, and thus Birchall could not have been talking to him on February 20th. Instead of writing to his father on February 20th, Benwell lay dead on a slab with none to know his name.

   "I brought creditors of Lord Somerset from Woodstock to see Birchall. They identified Birchall as the bogus Lord Somerset. One of them, William MacDonald, denounced Birchall as a dead-beat, a swindler, and a faker. Birchall haughtily declared that such language offended and insulted him. Later a lunatic in the gaol approached him and said: 'Tell me why you killed Benwell.' Birchall laughed merrily, and was neither offended nor insulted. I brought witnesses who said Birchall was the same man who, as Lord Somerset, had made frequent visits to Blenheim Swamp the year before, and had learned the path to Pine Pond, the lake in the swamp that is supposed to be bottomless. I studied all the data I had in hand, and worked out the theory on which I was certain we could convict this clever murderer.

   "Birchall had embarked in business as a murderer. He had adopted life-taking for revenue as a profession promising rich returns. He had become deliberately a professional murderer. For a year he had planned the crimes, and fitted himself for the practice of his profession. While masquerading as Lord Somerset he had selected the bottomless lake, known as Pine Pond, for the grave that would tell no tales. The Blenheim Swamp he selected as the place of slaughter, his chamber of death. He was familiar with the emigration business, through his father-in-law's knowledge of it. He conceived the idea of taking rich young men instead of poor emigrants. He created an imaginative farm, and he went back to England to select a victim. He made the mistake of taking two instead of one. Even then his plans were well laid. He would kill Benwell in the swamp and shove Pelly into the rapids at the Falls to be pounded to pieces. Neither body would be found, for he would bury Benwell in the bottomless lake and Pelly would vanish in the whirlpool. If one of the Elridges had not slipped in the Blenheim Swamp all would have been well. He stepped on Benwell's body, and the crime was known. Birchall had not intended to leave the body where any one could step on it or see it. He was heading for Pine Pond when he killed Benwell, and meant to drag the body thither; but since his last visit to the swamp, a fire and storm had swept it and choked the way to the bottomless lake. He was relying on water to hide both his victims. Neither body was to be found. The two young men were to vanish from the face of the earth. The professional murderer would have collected, by bogus letters to fond parents, the sum still due from the victims, and would have gone back to England for more victims.

   "He had no grudge against either Benwell or Pelly. They never had wronged him. No flame of fury leaped up within him inciting him to crush out their lives. It was purely and simply a matter of business. The life of each young man represented so much ready money, and Birchall was a murderer for the money there was in it. He went about it in a practical, quiet, methodical way. Eventually he might become rich. No bodies could be found, and lost dead men are as good as live men whom no one can find, he reasoned. As he increased his capital, he might buy a farm with a bottomless lake and a dismal swamp, and kill his victims without trespassing on other people's property. He could vary his name and address and keep the families of his victims far apart, and thus minimise the risk of detection while the bottomless lake swallowed the victims one by one and kept their bones icy cold through endless years.

   "Fate was against the murderer for revenue only. Fire and storm had blocked his way in the marsh. Providence guided a woodman's step to the very spot where the body otherwise would have lain undiscovered, and crumbled away. Fate placed the stranger at the foot of the rotten stairway at the Falls where Pelly was to die. Fate put the two strange men on the lower suspension bridge the night Pelly was to be hurled into the rapids. Pelly lived, and he compelled Birchall to go to Princeton and view the body. It may be that Birchall believed he would brave it through, and still kill Pelly at the Falls, and then throw the crime of Benwell's death on the missing Pelly. But it all failed. The hand of Fate reached out of the world of chance, and destroyed the whole fabric this professional murderer had constructed so carefully. He planned well, but Providence swept his plans aside.

   "The case had all the elements to make it a famous crime. It involved immigration, in which both England and Canada were interested vitally. The high connections of young Pelly, the refined associations of young Benwell, the notoriety of Birchall and his previously picturesque career, combined to give it prominence. Some folks declared the murder of Benwell was but a part of a plot of wholesale killing of rich young men of England by an organised band of red-handed villains, who enticed their victims to Canada. This I never have believed. Birchall had no male confederates, and he acted single-handed. I looked up his life thoroughly, year by year. John Emery, a London actor, wrote to me of Birchall's theatrical career. He was treasurer of one company, and appropriated some of its funds to his own use. Later he was assistant manager of a company playing A Child of the West in the provinces in England. Emery was in the company, and when a difference arose over failure to pay salaries, Birchall and the manager called Emery into a room and drew a pistol, and advised him to cease being dissatisfied. Other episodes showed Birchall a desperate man if occasion demanded. His crime at Blenheim Swamp aroused Canada. Great crowds attended the inquest at Princeton on March 8th. Pelly testified against Birchall. Mrs. Birchall was discharged. Public sympathy had been awakened for her. Birchall was committed for trial. Mrs. Birchall's father, David Stevenson, cabled $500 to me for his daughter the day after she was arrested. I gave it to Mrs. Birchall and her counsel, Hellmuth and Ivey, of London, Ontario.

   "The trial of Birchall stands out as one of the great criminal trials of Canada. It attracted world-wide attention. On September 20th the grand jury returned a true bill against Birchall. His trial began on Monday, September 22nd. It was held at Woodstock. Justice McMahon presided. B.B. Osler, a truly brilliant lawyer, prosecuted for the Crown, assisted by J.R. Cartwright, Deputy Attorney-General. George T. Blackstock ably defended Birchall, making a desperate effort to save his life. Cable connections led direct from the Court House to London, England. The English newspapers, as well as those of France, Germany, and Italy, printed columns upon columns of the trial, some of the English papers printing the full testimony, the lawyers' pleas, and judge's charge. The gist of the defence was that in the four hours and twenty-four minutes between his arrival at Eastwood and his departure on the day of the murder, Birchall could not have walked four miles to the Blenheim Swamp, shot a man, and walked four miles to the station. The verdict was inevitable — guilty. The evidence simply was overwhelming. Birchall was sentenced to be hanged on November 14th.

   "During his imprisonment in Woodstock gaol, Birchall was the recipient of much attention from some people. There were people in Woodstock who bared their flower gardens to send him nosegays every day. Silly girls wrote silly letters to him. He sent me word on various occasions that he wished to see me. Indeed he became quite offended if I went to Woodstock and did not call and take him for a walk in the gaol yard.

   "'I found you always a gentleman,' were his last words to me; 'and you did your duty, and I have no hard feelings against you.'

   "During his last months of life he wrote an autobiography, in which he omitted many salient facts of his career, and in which he did not confess the crime. However, I may say that, while Birchall went to his death without a public confession, the last possibility for doubt of his guilt was swept away before he was executed.

   "He was hanged on November 14th — a cold, grey morning. He went to his death ghastly white, but without a tremor. He walked out in the prison yard in his own funeral procession, unsupported, and mounted the scaffold with a steady step. "'Good-bye, Flo dear; be brave,' was his farewell to his wife. The Domine cum veneris judicare noli nos condemnare — 'O Lord, when Thou shalt come to judge, do not Thou condemn me' — was uttered by the Rev. W.H. Wade, of Old St. Paul's. The Lord's Prayer was said. And then — a crash, a creak, and a lifeless body dangled where a man had stood. It swayed gently to and fro in the chill November wind. So ended the Birchall case as it had begun — with a death.

   "Pelly returned to England after the trial. He had desired to go home after the preliminary hearing, but the Government decided he should remain, and he stayed with me until after the trial. He arrived at Saffron Walden at seven o'clock in the evening of October 27th. An English newspaper, telling of his home-coming said:

   "'The knowledge of the arrival had become known, and the result was that a crowd of some thousands had assembled in the vicinity of the railway station in order to give a welcome to the returned voyager. The arrival of the train was signalled by a feu de joie. Mrs. Pelly, with Miss Geraldine and Miss Daisy Pelly, were on the platform when the vicar stepped out with his son, and the greetings between mother and son, sisters and brother, were very warm. These over, a move was made for the carriage in waiting, and as soon as Mr. Douglas Pelly appeared on the outside of the station he was received with prolonged and deafening cheers. The horses were unharnessed, and the car was drawn to Walden Place by willing hands, preceded by the Excelsior Band, playing "Rolling Home to Dear Old England," and men carrying lighted torches. In addition to the large following, crowds had assembled all along the line of route, and as the carriages passed along, the occupants were repeatedly cheered. Flags were hung from various private houses, and the residence of Mrs. Bellingham was illuminated with coloured lights. At the entrance to Walden Place a triumphal arch had been erected, having on the front the words "Welcome Home."'

   "Pelly was drawn home by a rope in many willing hands; Birchall was drawn home by a rope in hands he did not know and never saw."

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