A Matter of Principle: Part 1

Written by Harold McNeill on June 24th, 2013. Posted in MacLeish Chronicles


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Part 1 The Night Stalker
A Matter of Principle

Chapter 1 A Professional at Work

Shortly after 1:00 am Sunday, Larry Doncaster parked his rented Toyota Corolla just off Uplands Road north of Lansdowne, stepped from the car and scanned the street. Barely discernable among the hundreds of Garry Oaks, blooming Azaleas and Rhododendrons, were sprawling homes holding the promise of another easy payday.

The silence was occasionally broken by the hum of a distant car and when clouds obscured the moon, only a soft glow from the globed, ornamental street lamps penetrated the darkness – ideal conditions for a night stalker. A master burglar, Doncaster could disappear in a split second, his expertise honed to perfection while fighting in the war torn jungles of Viet Nam.

On returning to the US and mustering out of service, there were few job prospects for a 25 year-old high school dropout, accomplished only in the art of war. Spending the final few dollars of his separation package, Doncaster fell in with another vet who introduced him to the art of burglary, an art that when practiced under the cloak of darkness in upscale residential areas of southern Florida, provided easy access to an endless supply of saleable items.

It was a welcome relief to generate a substantial income using only skills that became second nature after three years of service to a country that preferred to have remembrance of that service buried in the jungle. After a number of profitable years in the United States, a few too many scrapes with the law suggested it would be wise to return to the home of his birth, Canada. After a short stint in the Kingston Penitentiary for burglary gone awry, he decided to move west to Victoria where he picked up where he left off.

Standing quietly in the shadows, he rolled on latex gloves, closed his eyes, and breathed the cool night air. Focus – sharp. Fear – none. Jungle fighting, often in life or death situations, made breaking into a home, even a home in which someone was sleeping in the next room seem routine.

Walking slowly, he cased the houses – it would not take long to select a target. Although not concerned if the residents were home, an unoccupied house removed the possibility of confrontation. Signs suggesting residents were absent were plentiful – a stuffed mail box, drapes open with a single light on in the living room or kitchen and newspapers by the front door. Within five Burglar 2minutes he made his selection.

Twenty minutes later he was back at his car carrying a suitcase filled with silverware and jewelry. As no one was home, this allowed more time to select only the most expensive items. An added benefit – the burglary may not be discovered for several days giving more time to move the property before any reports could be circulated by police.

The trip back to his apartment, the first in several days, would take a further twenty minutes. In the morning, he would make a decision about continuing to work in Victoria. While the homes provided easy pickings, his challenge was finding a fair minded fence, a search he would explore over the next couple of days.

Perhaps he would just wrap things up and head out to Calgary, a city he had yet to visit. Word on the street suggested there were dozens of millionaires in exclusive communities such as Bear Paw, just itching to part with some of their new-found wealth, much of which was likely gained through luck with oil patch stocks rather than hard work.

He dropped the bag in the trunk, pulled from under the Oak and headed to his apartment. As he drove he could not shake the feeling, an intuition perhaps, that something was not quite right.

Across the city, two Oak Bay Detectives had decided to bite the bullet in order to close the distance between themselves and their only viable suspect. If this meant skirting the law – so be it.

Chapter 2 Oak Bay PD: The Paper Trail

Detective MacLeish leafed through the papers covering the desks he and Detective Bard shared in their small office. “How in hell could police work generate this much paper?” he muttered, “If we could do away with half the paperwork, we could double the amount of time officers spent catching bad guys.” He chuckled to himself for it was he who was largely responsible for many of these changes made during a recent twelve month assignment to update the Department’s antiquated reporting system.

This morning, the paper before him represented six weeks of hard work before he and his partner had snapped handcuffs on one burglar plaguing the Uplands area of Oak Bay as well as the exclusive Saxe Point area of Esquimalt. While it was only one of the several cases assigned to the two officers, it became a high priority when the Chief began to receive complaints from well-healed home owners in the Uplands area.

After fifteen home entries in Oak Bay and a further twelve in Esquimalt, in which tens of thousands of dollars worth of silverware, jewelry and priceless heirlooms went missing, the daring thief had left barely a clue. With their prime suspect now in custody facing a raft of charges, it was a matter of sorting through the paper in order to finalize identification of the remaining stolen property and adding additional charges.

Little did Sergeant MacLeish realize a case that stretched from Dade County in Florida, to New York, Kingston, Ontario, and across Canada to Vancouver and Victoria, was about to take a turn for the worst.

It was just after 11:30 Tuesday morning when the phone rang.

“Oak Bay Police, Sergeant MacLeish.”

“Morning Mac”

It was his partner, Detective Keith Bard, who was on four well deserved days off after the weeks of steady slogging that lead to their most recent arrest. The Bard, as he was known within the Department, was first lured to Canada by the Nepean Police Department. His interest in law enforcement began in England, where he provided security for a popular wrestling group, but after a few years, travel around England and the Continent was beginning to wear thin. Then, a policing opportunity arose in Canada.

After completing recruit training and hitting the streets in Nepean, it only took a couple of years for Bard to realize that French language skills were essential if he hoped to ascend the chain of command. With his strong English heritage, learning French had never been on his list of priorities. When an opportunity arose to join Oak Bay, he made the jump and was soon a part of the West Coast culture and British tradition that had come to define the Municipality.

MacLeish and Bard recently rejoined forces after spending three years of kicking around on patrol where they had come to know and respect each other’s abilities at sniffing out the bad guys as well as causing the Chief a few extra aches and pains with their less than conventional approach to police work and shift ‘esprit de corps’.

At one point Sergeant MacLeish earned a rebuke from the Chief for having hosted a 7:00 am Sunday morning Mothers Day breakfast in the office, a team building exercise of the sort commonplace within Municipal Forces around Greater Victoria. Not to be deterred, the following year the tradition continued, but this time shift members and their wives wore paper bags over their heads in what became popularly known as the Unknown Shift Breakfast, a spoof based on a popular routine by a comedian of the day.

A meticulous investigator, Bard retained his Derbyshire accent which, when combined with his dry British sense of humour and positive attitude, made him popular among the men and women of the force. His “Young Albert” monologues at shift and private house parties would long be remembered, as would his roles as a British character actor in a number of local theatrical productions where he and his English born wife, Rosemary, also a character actor, were well known and respected.

In his work, Bard was adept at cultivating informants whose tips concerning the comings and goings within the criminal community made Bard a valuable resource. In addition, dozens of personal contacts he meticulously nurtured within law enforcement and government ensured he could secure access to information when needed.

While MacLeish and Bard shared the same work ethic, MacLeish was far more out-spoken when it came to challenging a system that revered the status quo and a strict adherence to a military chain of command. His motto ‘better to ask forgiveness than to seek permission’, which helped to solve several difficult cases in Oak Bay and elsewhere within the Capital Region, often left the Chief Constable quietly fuming.

Policy, procedure, likes and dislikes aside, at this moment his partner had a pressing concern:

“I was just driving along Rockland Avenue and could swear I saw Larry Doncaster walking along carrying a sports bag. By the time I turned around to check, he had disappeared. Wasn’t he supposed to be in court this morning?”

Doncaster was currently a guest at the Wilkinson Road Remand Centre while working his way through a series of scheduled court appearances.

MacLeish: “Yes, ten o’clock. Don’t tell me the asshole got out? Not possible! They know he’s a flight risk and with his dual citizenship, he’ll be gone in the blink of an eye. Listen, I’ll head down to the court and check with the Sheriff. Can you meet me?”

“Sure, why not pick me up, I just got home.”

Keith lived on a quiet street in south Oak Bay on which the flowering Japanese plums were bursting forth as a prelude to the millions of blooms that would soon fill the city for the annual flower count. The tranquil beauty of the city belied a gritty underside and that included upscale areas such as Oak Bay.

“Sound’s good, be there in ten.”

MacLeish grabbed the keys and on his way out asked the Duty Sergeant to provide patrol units in Oak Bay and Victoria with a description of Doncaster.

Chapter 3 Frustration Mounts

Driving along Monterey Avenue, MacLeish let his mind wander over the six weeks he and Bard chased an elusive burglar whose modus operandi suggested they were dealing with someone well beyond amateur status.

Capable of silencing alarms, picking locks and never leaving behind a single fingerprint, shoe impression or any other form of direct physical evidence, suggested it was going to take some extraordinary hard work and a measure of good luck to catch the man. Granted, it might have been a woman, but men were more likely to take up burglary as a career path. While most burglars were little shit-heads who never held a regular job, an occasional professional would appear on the scene.

Smudges the Identification Section found suggested the suspect wore latex gloves of the sort used in hospitals and, more than likely, had slipped covers over his shoes. Entry points suggested the burglar was of small stature and in one case attending officers speculated he may have accessed the home through a doggy door. The officers didn’t venture a guess as to how the burglar may have mollified the resident poodle!

Recent burglary files within the Capital Region were checked and it was only in the Saxe Point area of Esquimalt that a similar MO was found. The fact the burglar only picked homes in Oak Bay and Esquimalt Municipalities also seemed unusual. That the burglaries often occurred after midnight when residents were sleeping, was of added concern. If ever confronted by a resident, it was possible the burglar might respond with violence, something that had happened.

During a particularly violent incident a few months back, an elderly couple living in the Uplands had been hospitalized after being brutally beaten with a baseball bat in a burglary gone awry. In another case in south Oak Bay, an elderly woman was viciously attacked, beaten and raped.

The young offenders in the home invasion were apprehended in short order, but no suspect was found in the rape case even though the department expended hundreds of hours of investigative time. The effects of those brazen crimes were still being felt and while the Chief understood the difficulty of apprehending burglary suspects, he made it abundantly clear he wanted this matter cleared ‘one way or another’. Uttering those ‘dead or alive’ comments certainly provided a degree of investigative latitude to the two Detectives.

Each week McLeish and Bard spent a few hours circulating through Pawn Shops in Victoria and Esquimalt as well as shaking down known fences. It was tedious, frustrating work that had not produced a single trace of the stolen property. While the majority of secondhand dealers played by the rules, a few of the more unscrupulous types were willing to slip stolen property under the counter at cut rates.

It was one thing to pawn a VCR, TV, camera or other items that were difficult to identify, but entirely another to leave a name, address and identification number such as a driver’s licence on really hot items like those missing from Oak Bay and Esquimalt. That would have the same effect as walking into the police office and saying, “Hey look guys, I did it.” Even down and out petty criminals were seldom that stupid. But the Oak Bay partners had other options to pursue.

Previously both worked a few cases with Buster Briarson, a Saanich PD Detective, whose skill at snapping the cuffs on burglars was legendary within the Capital Region. Briarson knew most burglars worth their salt and through a string of informants cultivated over three decades, the man could generate more leads than any ten regular cops. Besides knowing the when, where, why and how of a case, Briarson often knew the ‘whom’ of a burglary within hours of it having been committed. Since his retirement a few years back, the burglary rate across the city had risen at a steady pace as no one was yet able to step in and fill his shoes.

MacLeish and Bard worked hard to reach the bar, but, as yet, both fell short. It took practise, it took resourcefulness and it took determination. In these areas the Oak Bay Detectives were not lacking and no doubt their efforts would eventually pay dividends.

Chapter 4 Cultivating an Informant

One day Bard observed a small time drug dealer driving a car Bard recognized as belonging to the man’s sister. Running the plates, no wants or warrants popped up, but after pulling the vehicle over and approaching, he smelled a strong odor of marihuana and observed the driver to be extremely nervous. Given the man’s history, Bard administered the Narcotic Control Act Warning, made a quick search and in less time than it took to smoke a roach, he hit pay dirt:

“Well look at this John? Looks to me like about a quarter pound of BC Bud, what do you think?”

“Honest to God Keith it’s not my shit! I just picked it up for a friend.” Well, that was totally the wrong answer if the man thought he could lay off a possession or possible trafficking charge on another person. But that was to be expected from a street level dealer like John.

Bard: “Give me a break, I can easily do you for PPT and you know it. With your record you will certainly do a year. But I forgot this is your sister’s car, maybe she just left the bag under the seat? How about I call her and ask her?”

Milligan froze. He was shacked up with his girlfriend in the basement suite of his sister’s home in the Hillside area and was certainly more fearful of his sister than of spending a few days in jail. At twenty-eight John never moved much beyond the carefree, pot filled fog that defined his teen years. He was the very essence of a ‘pot head’.

Bard: “OK John, I know you spend a lot of time hanging around the downtown bars selling a few joints and moving a bit of stolen property. Right now I need information on a guy doing a number of burglaries in our area. I can make this PPT go away, but need your help. How about we work together?

“Honest to God, Keith, I’m only holding this shit for a friend and he will be so pissed that I lost it. Also, you know my sister. She’s the original fucking dragon lady. If she doesn’t kill me, for sure she’ll kick me and Jenna out.”

Like most small time drug dealers, many living at home with mommy, daddy or another family member, the profit and loss column seldom provided for much beyond an occasional coffee and Big Mac, perhaps a beer at one of the downtown bars. The rest of their time was spent committing petty crime or sponging off others while waiting for the government cheque that came like clockwork on the last Wednesday of each month.

Bard continued: “Well, you have a choice. We can make this go away – we’ll keep it between you, me and MacLeish – or we can talk to your sister.”

Informants became enjoined to a case for a number of reasons. Many, like John, were caught with their fingers in the cookie jar. Others were recruited on a ‘fee for service’ basis, while still others jumped on board simply for the thrill of becoming involved in a police investigation. Granted, it could be dangerous work at higher levels of criminality, but for street crimes, such as that being investigated here, the risk was minimal and the rewards reasonably good. Like it or not, Milligan was locked in.

Bard told him to get busy, keep his eyes and ears open, then give a call if he heard anything on the street. He also warned him that if he hadn’t heard anything within a couple of days, Bard would call John’s sister and then process the PPT. With that he kicked him loose, returned to the office, processed the drugs and brought MacLeish up to speed.

Chapter 5 Catching a Break

Two days later Bard received a call from John stating he had information, but wanted to pass it along in person. They agreed to meet in the northwest parking lot of the Sears Shopping Centre, not more than three or four blocks from John’s sister’s Hillside area home. MacLeish and Bard grabbed a car and headed out. Ten minutes later John was in the back seat looking hung over and downcast as was his usual early morning state of affairs.

“I was at the Colony last night having a beer with the guys including one I met a few weeks back – name’s Larry, from Vancouver. Well, Larry and I tagged a couple of women that we took up to his room for a beer and a little fun.

John told them that after the women left, Larry pulled out a sports bag full of silverware and jewelry – said he picked it up from a friend in Vancouver.

John continued: “Larry told me he was taking the stuff to the guy on Fort Street because the other shops wouldn’t touch it. I know the guy on Fort and he takes a lot of hot stuff under counter, but Larry was really pissed with the guy because he always ripped him off. He wanted to find another fence so that’s why he showed me the stuff.”

Bard: “Do you know any fences capable of taking expensive items?”

“No, but I told him I might be able to come up with a name.”

Bard: “Have you ever pawned any of his silverware?”

“No, but last week I took in my VCR and some other small shit to Fort Street. The owner, Ricardo is his name, would only give me fifty bucks. Can you believe it? Fifty bucks! That cheap son-of-a-bitch! I told him it was my own shit, but still he screwed me on the deal and he didn’t even log it in – even asked me to write him a bill of sale.”

Bard: “Have you ever been with Larry when he took in any items to be pawned?”

“Sure, a few days back he took in some small items – no silverware though. This time the guy actually logged in the items and Larry had to produce identification of some kind for the pawn sheet. I don’t know what he used as I think he lived in the States for a number of years. I honestly don’t know a lot about him.”

MacLeish: “Does this Larry live in the Colony on a regular basis?”

“No! No! He only grabs a room when he’s flush and wants to pick up some women. He said he also has a small apartment somewhere in Esquimalt, but I’ve never been there.”

“What does this guy look like?” asked Bard.

“I dunno know, a small guy, about 5’7”, maybe 160 pounds and dark hair. Oh, he also walks with a slight limp, said he was shot by some fucking nervous cop in Florida who had no sense of humour. He also had some scars on one of his arms after being tackled by a police dog another cop let loose. Said the dog had no sense of humour. I think that happened somewhere in New York. Anyway, they were pretty funny stories, but I think it was all bull shit and that he was just trying to impress the girls.”

Bard: “How old?”

“Ooh, early-mid thirties. Kind of a sharp dresser and when he was flashing a bank roll he never had much trouble attracting the girls. That’s why I like to hang around. It’s nice to have a little change from Jenna.”

Bard: “Does he still have the stuff from last night in his room now?”

“No. When I left he said he was moving the stuff early this morning. Didn’t say where it was heading, probably the dealer on Fort Street.”

MacLeish, listening silently to this point, came back hard:

“You stupid little shithead, why in fuck didn’t you call last night when you knew he had the shit. We could be finished with this by now. Fuck him Keith, let’s just lock the son-of-a bitch up on the PPT, get a search warrant and toss his sister’s house. He knows we’ll find more shit in his suite, maybe even some silverware he is keeping to give away as Christmas presents. Then we go shake down this Larry guy and tell him he has been ratted out by this little fuckhead.”

Some of the fog that shrouded John’s brain suddenly cleared. He was shaking like a leaf and had turned a ghastly white as MacLeish threw the door open, than slammed it behind him.

Milligan continued to whine to Bard: “Listen man, I’m telling you, I couldn’t do it last night, he would have known for sure and I didn’t leave the room until this morning when he was getting ready to go. What else could I do? I called you as soon as I could.”

“Ok, ok, I understand John. I know you tried.” Bard responded in a calming manner. “We can still clear this. MacLeish will settle down. Let’s just keep things moving OK? No doubt this guy will have more silverware or jewelry soon. Keep in touch. Tell him you are looking for a fence. Do yourself a favour and get the job finished. You have my pager. Now get moving before I change my mind.”

John jumped from the car and was almost running as he headed home. When he was out of sight, MacLeish jumped back in the car and chuckled:

“Well, I hope that keeps the little bastard motivated. It’s good to know we’re on the right track and given this Larry is rather small, explains how he is able to enter some of the homes. He still has to be pretty agile if he has a bum leg.”

MacLeish and Bard had worked out these little routines to keep informants and suspects off balance during discussions and interrogations. MacLeish, the older and more hardened of the two, could easily come across as the asshole (some said it was natural) when necessary. Bard had a softer style and was the better character actor. He could easily finesse an informant or suspect after MacLeish blew his top. Together the two made a terrific team.

Bard: “Sure, now let’s get busy and see if we can identify this guy.”

MacLeish gave a nod and the men headed down to the Fort Street dealer hoping they could pull together some information from the pawn sheets. With a bit of luck a few pieces of silverware might even appear.

Chapter 6 The Kingston Penitentiary Connection

The shop owner, as on earlier visits, was only marginally cooperative, so MacLeish and Bard took a dozen of the most recent sheets to scan at the side of the room. The man’s dislike of cops oozed from every pore and as far as the Detectives were concerned men like Ricardo, who set themselves up with a legitimate business front then ripped off many who were less fortunate, were worse than many of the criminals they pursued.

As they scanned the sheets, nothing popped up until a few days back when Bard spotted an entry for Larry Doncaster along with several interesting details. He nudged MacLeish and pointed to the entry.

The items pawned were non-descript and of little value, but the identification used was interesting — a Kingston Penitentiary Card complete with the man’s FPS number. The entry also listed an apartment address in Esquimalt. The Detectives returned the sheets and thanked the owner telling him they couldn’t find anything. They left the shop and walked back to their car without comment.

In the car MacLeish shook his head and laughed: “How many times has some asshole used a Penitentiary Card with his FPS number for ID? Has to be a first for me!”

“Likewise,” replied Bard, “if he brought in any expensive stuff this morning, it would have gone right under the counter. It is interesting that he lists an apartment address on Suffolk Street in Esquimalt. That probably accounts for him doing burglaries in the area. Too bad he didn’t stay closer to home, it would have saved us a lot of work. Let’s drive over and have a look.”

The building was an older, non-descript type in which unit #2 was on the south side just to the right of the main entrance. A single window overlooked Suffolk Street. It was by no means a flop house, but had seen better days. There were no name plates at the entrance and little else of interest so, not wanting to create any suspicion, the men returned to their car and headed over to the Esquimalt PD for a 970433_10153103518745604_979133128_nvisit to Doc Sprock.

The NOC i/c of the Esquimalt Detective Office was well known in police circles, both for his humorous approach to life as well as for his distinct lack of concern for the political niceties of police work. His irreverence toward management decisions that negatively impacted his work was not something he kept to himself.

Photo: Compliments of John James, a retired Esquimalt Police Officer.  This photo of Doc Sprock was taken sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s.  Manual typewriter, rotary dial phone, Serpico hair and beard. A career police officer who was always ready, will and able to assist another Police Department member.

While the Esquimalt records didn’t produce anything on Doncaster or the Suffolk Street address, Doc was more than willing to throw a few resources toward catching the guy who had become a royal pain in the ass to both departments. After a quick cup of coffee, the two Detectives made a stop at the Colony Inn to have a chat with the manager who Bard knew from a previous case.

They learned Doncaster only stayed occasionally, paid his bill promptly and never caused any problems. He was popular among the bar staff, strippers and housekeepers as he was a generous tipper and word soon spread when he was staying in the hotel.

Doncaster registered perhaps three or four times a month for two or three days at a time and appeared for the first time about four months back. He didn’t provide an address telling the clerks he mainly stayed in hotels as his business interests frequently took him around the country and at present was spending his time traveling between Victoria and Vancouver.

They thanked the manager and headed back to their office to do a work-up on their new and only suspect.

Chapter 7    Zeroing in on the Target

MacLeish worked up the National and International history on CPIC with just a few key strokes that, in the past, might have taken weeks. Computer indexing of criminal and a variety of other records had opened a whole new world to police across the nation. The marvels of this new age were well beyond anything MacLeish could have imagined when he first joined the force. With CPIC linked to the giant NCIC system in the United States, it was possible to track Doncaster’s run-ins with the law across much of North America.

Locally, Bard was sorting through Motor Vehicle Branch and local police agency files. In less than thirty minutes they had collected a great deal of background.

MacLeish: “We certainly have an experienced burglar on our hands, although it’s clear from his having landed in jail a few times, he does make the occasional mistake. Most recently he served time in the Kingston Pen after a string of burglaries back east and it appears he completed his parole without incident.”

Among other details, MacLeish confirmed Doncaster was previously convicted in New York and Florida with property crimes for which he had been a guest of the US prison system for a few years. Background later confirmed Doncaster was shot while fleeing a burglary in Florida, and in New York, was taken down by a police dog under similar circumstances.

Bard: “Good to know he doesn’t have any violent crimes on his record, but no telling how that might change over time. I guess they weren’t taking any chances in the States.”

Bard didn’t have much luck other than finding Doncaster held a valid Ontario Drivers licence. The only mention in local police records was one entry with Victoria PD where he reported the theft of some personal property. Now that was a touch of irony considering his occupation. It was clear the guy was keeping a low profile since his release from Kingston as there was no record of any Location and Movement Cards being filled out since his arrival in Victoria.

MacLeish: “Oh, I also found an interesting entry stating he was deported ‘by consent’ from the US to Canada. Seems the guy has dual citizenship and, I bet, good at gaming the system. The CPIC description matched that given by John.”

Even with this new information, McLeish and Bard had not a shred of evidence to arrest and hold Doncaster.

MacLeish: “Well, at least we have a viable suspect so let’s see what we can do about catching him with some stolen property. That’ll be the key to this case and for that we’ll need some surveillance.”

One of the many challenges in a small department was finding the manpower to tackle cases that required above normal levels of manpower. Although senior administrators would jump in and help, it was not possible to use them on longer criminal investigations or where it required several hours sitting in an OP.

Bard: “I hope to hear from John in the next day or two, but if I don’t I’ll be paying him a visit. Seeing as Doncaster was willing to confide in him about the stolen property in the room, he should be able to set up something.”

MacLeish: “Ok, let’s get busy and see if we can set up on his apartment. I’ll talk to the Chief to get his approval for more overtime, and then arrange for a surveillance van. Why don’t you talk to Doc and see if he can spring a couple of guys to assist.”

When MacLeish left work that night he knew it was going to take more than a little good luck to catch this guy. To find the key he was willing to bend the investigation to the limits of the law.

Chapter 8 Approaching Danger

On Tuesday, MacLeish and Bard picked up a surveillance van complete with periscope and photographic equipment from the Coordinated Law Enforcement Unit offices on Cadboro Bay Road. They had already confirmed enough bodies to sit on the Suffolk apartment from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am, Wednesday through Saturday, the days during which the majority of the burglaries occurred.

On Wednesday the informant checked in with Bard stating he hadn’t seen Doncaster around the Colony, so felt the man must have either hunkered down at his apartment or travelled to Vancouver.

After drawing blanks at the OP on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, MacLeish spoke to Bard: “I’m taking the shift tonight. If the guy doesn’t make an appearance by 1:00 am, I’m going to take a peek inside his apartment. We need something more definite as we can’t sit around and speculate with no end in sight. Monday morning I need to discuss this with the Chief and he’s going to want to hear something is moving.”

They had previously spoken about making surreptitious entries as a means to confirm suspicions in a case where the potential for an injury during one of the burglaries exceeded present danger of the men being caught. Both men had sparingly used this investigative technique to good advantage.

MacLeish had previously satisfied himself that he and his partner were not doing anything illegal. Granted, it could be defined as ‘breaking’ and ‘entering’ but that was not sufficient to complete the offence. Those two elements must be accompanied by ‘intent to commit an indictable offence” and that intent would not be present. The greater danger came from the second guessing that would arise if the entry became a subject of discussion.

The Chief would certainly be displeased with the publicity, Defence Counsel would scream bloody murder, the courts would closely consider whether the ‘administration of justice was being brought into disrepute’ and, of course, the press, looking for an angle, would have a field day. Given these sensitivities, the Detectives agreed they would not broadcast their actions, but neither would they lie if word of their action bubbled to the surface.

MacLeish called Bard Saturday afternoon to confirm his plans and to let him know Frances, MacLeish’s wife, would tag along to act as a second pair of eyes. Frances and MacLeish had married a few years earlier and occasionally worked surveillance using the same van now parked on Suffolk Street. Prior to their marriage, Frances had spent several years with the RCMP on Vancouver Island and more recently was employed with the Colwood Detachment before moving to Oak Bay PD as the Chief’s administrative assistant.

Bard: “If you want, I don’t mind dropping by for a few hours after midnight. This bloody case keeps me awake anyway and my tossing and turning just disturbs Rosemary. ”

MacLeish: “Thanks Keith, but why not try to spend the night at home, you have been hitting it pretty steady? I’m good friends with the Esquimalt Sergeant and will have him stand-by for cover if needed. Frances and I have radios.”

By 8:00 pm the MacLeish’s were comfortably set up in the OP with fresh coffee and a great lunch they had packed before leaving home. It was always nice having two people on these stakeouts as the time could drag if nothing was happening.

And drag it did, but at just before 12:30 am the radio crackled and Bard came on line:

“Can I pop over? I’m just down the street?”

MacLeish (surprised): “Sure, nothing much happening at this end.”

A couple of minutes later Bard approached the Van, slide back the door and jumped in.

MacLeish: “Why the hell are you wandering around at this hour?

“Couldn’t sleep, so thought I would drop by and help Frances cover off your backside if you were still intent on taking a peek inside the apartment.”

Frances: “I’m glad you did Keith, I’m not sure if this is a good idea, but you know David as well as me. I know you guys have been frustrated, but ….”

MacLeish: “I know you’re worried Frances, but I’m certain this can be done without any problems. My greater concern is having these burglaries continue. Something serious is bound to go wrong and sooner or later someone is going to get hurt. If we can get closer to catching this guy without doing anything illegal, then let’s get it done.”

Years with the RCMP and their tight chain of command control over matters such as this, left Frances feeling less convinced it could be done without serious repercussions. Bard was cautious, but had no reservations about the need to get things moving.

MacLeish: “Ok, let’s get the show on the road. The Esquimalt Sergeant is aware and will be on standby in case things go sideways. I told him we would alert him when it was a going down.”

With that MacLeish checked his flashlight, inserted the earplug into his portable radio and jumped out of the Van while Bard gave a quick call to alert the Sergeant. MacLeish gave thumbs up and was off.

Frances and Bard could see MacLeish walking down the darkened street in the dead of night and onto the south side of the property. A few lights were on in other apartments, but there was no movement in or out of the building. As MacLeish crossed the lawn to the side of the building, he listened for cars then scanned the street for any late night wanderers. All being quiet, he jumped on a barrel beside a shed, then onto the roof leading to the small window of apartment #2.

He glanced around and all was quiet. He knew Bard and Frances would alert him if they observed or heard anything unusual. The last thing they wanted was a confrontation.

Given the age of the apartment, MacLeish wasn’t certain the painted wood frame window would open, but luck was with him and he was able to force it up about eight or nine inches before it jammed. It was a good thing MacLeish had cut back on the beer since he and Frances had married or there would have been no hope in hell he could have squeezed through.

Once inside, he stuck out his hand, waved back, then pulled down the aging shade and slid off the counter onto the floor. While there was little chance of being caught, his heart rate was still elevated as he scanned an apartment which was furnished with only the bare essentials.

Slipping in like this in the dead of the night, MacLeish could understand why some burglars chose their trade – it provided a rush even when it was certain no one else was present. With someone sleeping in the next room, the endorphins would really be popping.

The room was surprisingly neat for an itinerant type who spent much of his life jumping from city to city, but just as MacLeish began his search he heard voices through the paper thin wall. He could not discern what they were saying, but it was clearly a male and female chatting.

While it was unlikely he had disturbed anyone, he put out his light, stood still and listened. A few seconds later a door opened, then closed after which MacLeish could hear light footsteps in the hallway. They came by the door of #2, hesitated momentarily then continued toward the front entrance.

Bard radioed a female had just left the apartment and entered a car. After a few more seconds Bard reported the woman was driving from the area. When MacLeish’s heart beat settled back, he continued the search.

At that very moment, across the City, a Toyota Corolla made its way along Hillside Avenue heading for the Bay Street Bridge and Esquimalt. The driver, Larry Doncaster, smiled to himself as he thought about the lifestyle he had chosen after leaving the military. Granted, it had cost him a few years in prison and that was a drag, but it still left a number of years to travel and meet interesting people.

Even prison life, if a person was willing to go with the flow could provide interesting opportunities. With his easy-going manner and positive attitude, Doncaster made friends with inmates and prison guards alike. It seldom took him more than a few weeks to snag some easy time in the kitchen or library, two of his favourite places. He became a relatively good cook and the library afforded plenty of opportunity to read and research to his heart’s content.

He thought that one day he might even complete High School then head to University as he was an “A” student until dropping out to join the service. But, for the time being he had no plans of making a career change. What he had vowed to do upon his release from the Kingston, was to exercise more caution as he continued in a profession he had now practiced for over a decade. Tonight though, he had a nagging feeling that something was not quite right.

Back at the apartment, it only took MacLeish a few minutes to locate several items that were clearly stolen. Expensive silverware and antique tea service were dumped unceremoniously in a sport bag that lay in a corner by the bed. On spec, MacLeish flipped the bag over and penned his initials under a flap, a habit he found most valuable whenever he wanted to know if a certain item might again cross his path, just as some police officers would carve an identifying mark in the sole of a running shoe belonging to some asshole. It was surprising how often a little thing like that had provided a clue in a case.

Around the apartment he noted other expensive items pushed into regular service – a silver tea pot, sugar bowl and cream pitcher sat on the table. Several pieces of expensive cutlery lay on a drain board. None could be easily identified and it would leave MacLeish on tenuous legal grounds if he took something out for later identification. Pictures would have to suffice.

When he was finished, MacLeish scanned the room to make sure everything was as he found it, raised the shade, checked to make sure the window was closed and quietly left by way of the self locking front door. After less than fifteen minutes he was back at the OP talking to Bard and Frances.

MacLeish: “Assuming it is our guy, there is little doubt about him being in possession of stolen property. The trouble is, we have nothing to connect him to this stuff and it would be useless to try for a search warrant at this stage. I don’t think any Justice of the Peace would consider my casual entry as providing reasonable and probable grounds.”

Bard: “Our best bet is to have John set the guy up. Who knows, the guy may have other property stashed off-site. How about first thing in the morning I rattle his cage and see if we can get things moving?”

MacLeish nodded agreement and took the surveillance Van home while Bard took the unmarked police car and Francis drove Bard’s car. They would sort out the vehicles in the morning.

As the three departed the area, the Toyota Corolla turned onto Esquimalt Road for the final few blocks to Suffolk Street. At two in the morning, the vehicles passed within touching distance of each other. It would not be their last meeting.

End of Part 1 Link here for Part 2 

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Comments

  • Harold McNeill

    August 16, 2019 |

    Many thanks for reviewing the article Elizabeth. There are so many areas of our society in which populism carries the day, although I think what is happening with the ICBC is that groups having a vested interest in private insurance would dearly love to dislodge ICBC from their preferred position. That being said, I think was a good move to have only portions of the insurance coverage in BC being held by ICBC and other portions being made available through private enterprise.

  • Elizabeth Mary McInnes, CAIB

    August 15, 2019 |

    It’s a breath of fresh air to see a resident of British Columbia look to review all the facts over believing what is reported in the news or just following along with the negative stigma of the masses. Your article truly showcases that with a little reform to ICBC’s provincial system – British Columbia could be a true leader for other provinces in Canada. Very well written article!

  • Harold McNeill

    August 13, 2019 |

    August 13, 2019. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), a private enterprise group not unlike the Fraser Institute, is again on the campaign trail. They state ICBC rates are the highest in Canada, but, thankfully, Global BC inserted a section indicating the Insurance Bureau cherry-picked the highest number in BC and the lowest numbers in AB, ON and other Eastern Provinces. If you take a few minutes to check reliable sources you will find BC rates, are the lowest in Canada.

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.