A Matter of Principle: Part 2

Written by Harold McNeill on June 23rd, 2013. Posted in MacLeish Chronicles


night Surveillance

Photo (Web):  The surveillance van we used was equipped with all the latest equipment including Night Vision Binoculars.

Part 2, End Game, It’s Never Simple

Chapter 9 The Trap

Bard was up early Sunday, made contact with John, and then contacted MacLeish who by this time had taken the surveillance van back to the police office. They met at the office and drove to the Sears Mall to make the noon meet.

Again, John looked dreadfully hung over, so Bard came right to the point.

“Ok, we checked your information and it squares. We need to catch Larry in possession of stolen property, preferably silverware or something similar. You need to get to work and make it happen. As long as you hold up your end of the bargain – we keep you clean.”

“Listen, I’m really scared…”

MacLeish cut him off: “Enough bullshit Milligan, you know your options. Now fucking get it done or we exercise our options.”

The man was such a sniveling little bastard. He must have been a real embarrassment to his family.

“Ok, ok, what do I do?”

Bard: “Larry had stolen property in his room at the hotel and likely has more at his apartment. You know he’s unhappy with the Pawn Shop and is looking for another fence so tell him you found one. Tell him you will take him there and make the introductions. You don’t need to give a name, just a street. They picked one from the map at the far end of Gorge Road. All you have to do is put Larry with the property, let us know when and where and we look after the rest.”

“Ok, I’ll try, but you’ve got to keep me clean, I could really get hurt.”

Bard: “Face it John, you’ll get hurt a lot worse if you don’t work this out, now get busy.”

After John jumped from the car, Bard and MacLeish drove back to the office to finish the plan as best they could.

At 8:00 am Monday, MacLeish was in the office sorting more paper when his partner arrived. He then made a call to NCIS and ten minutes later had approval for the two extra bodies. By 10:00 the Chief was brought up-to-date and approval given for two additional men from the Department. This included the Deputy Chief, Barry Parkhurst, who had volunteered to assist.

Just before noon, Bard’s pager sounded. He called back and learned John had met Larry at the Colony Sunday night and Larry agreed to try the new fence. Larry said he had some silverware stashed and would meet John at the Colony at 7:00 pm. They would have to catch a cab as Larry had already returned the rental. After picking up the stuff they would head out to meet the fence.

At 5:00 pm, MacLeish and Bard briefed the team and passed around the suspect descriptions and photos. They expected the targets to catch the cab at some point between 6:30 and 7:30 pm at the Colony so they would set up in the area. Because the property was at an unknown location, it was not likely the informant would have a chance to view it and report in beforehand. McLeish would make the call as to when and where the take-down would happen. Just after 7:30 the cab arrived.

With the two-man cars, it was relatively easy to trail the cab as it was unlikely the suspects could do any heat checks. Ten minutes later the cab pulled into a large apartment complex on Gorge Road, so only one surveillance unit was able to enter to maintain contact. Doncaster jumped out, entered the building, but no one followed as the chance of being burned was just too great. As the minutes ticked by MacLeish began to worry.

Fifteen minutes later Doncaster came out of the building carrying a large brown suitcase and sports bag which he threw in the back seat between himself and John. The cab left the parking lot, turned onto Gorge and continued West.

While following two cars back, MacLeish and Bard decided to go for broke as it seemed certain Doncaster had picked up property. They noted the light at Harriet Road had just turned red so notified the closest unit the take-down would take place as soon as the cab pulled up behind the line of traffic.

“Shit,” MacLeish and Bard exclaimed at the same moment. The closest unit had put on his dash light even though the cab was stuck in the line of traffic. As soon as the light came on the rear doors flew open and the targets bolted. Milligan ran to the west, Doncaster to the East, along Gorge Road towards Harriet. The street was dark except for the car headlights and a single street illuminated the corner of Harriet and Gorge. Doncaster would disappear within seconds if he managed to get behind the houses.

As he ran, MacLeish hollered at two police members just getting out of their unit: “Take the guy on the right, we need him. “You,” pointing to one of the officers, “stay with the cab and secure everything in the back seat. Don’t let the cabby leave.”

Doncaster was fast for a man with a bum leg. As he approached Harriet Road he headed east into the darkness and it seemed the officers might lose him. Although Bard was on the heavy side, he picked up the pace leaving MacLeish several paces behind. The trailing surveillance unit pulled around traffic and headed toward Harriet Road.

Milligan ran like his life depended on it and disappeared down one of the small side roads that lead toward the Gorge waterway. His heart was pounding and he was scared out of his wits as he fully expected that at any moment someone would start shooting.

Doncaster was still heading east of Harriet and while there was no mention of violence in his history, the officers had to treat him as a dangerous, knowing full well suspects could react unpredictably when cornered. Perhaps the Dade County police had shot the man for good reason.

MacLeish was going to draw his gun, but that would have been useless as Bard was in the direct line of fire. Suddenly Doncaster cut right into a driveway just as Bard finally closed in. With one final burst Bard made a flying tackle that slammed the man down hard on the rough pavement. As soon as MacLeish caught up, he jumped in to assist.

Seconds later two officers in the unmarked unit arrived and helped to handcuff the man, then placed him in their unit while Bard and MacLeish caught their breath.

With things settled down, the men returned to the intersection and spoke to the officer at the cab. MacLeish, still pumping adrenalin from the chase, placed the suitcase and gym bag on the trunk of his car. He pressed the twin locks of the suitcase and pulled open the lid. Inside were thousands of dollars worth of expensive silverware and jewelry.

Next, he turned his attention to a familiar looking sports bag. He flipped it over and in one corner noted his initials under a small flap. “No shit,” he thought, “the asshole cleaned out his apartment.”

He turned to his partner and smiled: “Well, it looks like our case is about to come to an end.”

MacLeish asked if anyone caught sight of the other suspect. No one had. The officer at the cab stated: “Do you want me to see if we can get a dog down here?”

MacLeish: “Ah, don’t worry about it, he’s a local and we can track him down. Now, can someone bring the prisoner over?”

When the two officers returned, the prisoner was splattered with blood from a nosebleed following his crash to the pavement with Bard on top. It was good to finally be face to face with the man who had led them on such a merry chase over the past few weeks.

MacLeish: “Thanks guys, can you give Bard and me a few minutes alone to have a chat with this chap?”

Chapter 10 Dealing with a Professional

MacLeish: “OK young man, perhaps you could start by telling us your name?”

Doncaster was silent for a moment then replied with a touch of irony: “Oh, I think you know, officer. Was getting stopped here just a coincidence?”

MacLeish: “You could be right Mr. Doncaster, but as you know, we are cops and we are the ones asking the questions. Now, have a look at this,” MacLeish said as he opened the suitcase and gym bag. As he did, he recited the PSP warning: “I have reason to believe this property is stolen and I am asking you for an explanation of how it came into your possession.”

MacLeish knew from experience that this was one of the best warnings in the book of case law. No matter how hard a criminal might tap dance, answering that question, other than truthfully, was going to be very difficult.

Doncaster: “Well sir, it’s a long story and I’m not sure you want to stand around on the street while I tell the story. I’m pretty sure you already know it’s stolen, so let’s make a deal, OK?”

“Depends, but first I must advise that you are under arrest for possession of stolen property and anything you say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?”

“I expected no less sir. Yes, I understand”

MacLeish: “Now what do you have in mind?”

“Well first off, my nose is hurting like hell. I think it’s broken. It seems ever time I run into the cops something gets busted. How about running me by the hospital to have my nose checked, then we can head to your office and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

“Sound’s good.”

Before heading to the Jubilee Emergency, they dropped by the police office and placed the suitcase and gym bag in an exhibit locker. At the hospital, their prisoner was fast tracked through emergency and after an x-ray revealed no broken face parts, they were back in the office by 9:30 pm.

After turning on the recorder the three men began a heart to heart.

Over the next hour Doncaster outlined in considerable detail his break and enter spree in Oak Bay and Esquimalt. He was only interrupted occasionally by MacLeish or Bard to clarify certain aspects. They would eventually need to pull all the files for specifics, but tonight they would catch enough for the initial charges.

Doncaster explained the property in the suitcase was from a Sunday morning burglary in the Uplands, but guessed it was not yet reported as there was no one home at the time.

Doncaster occasionally became side tracked and spoke of other things including the differences between Canada and the US:

“It seems to me Canada is a far less fearful place to live than the States. I find many people here leave their doors unlocked, not that it makes much difference to me, and as for the police, they certainly treat criminals a lot better than down south. I bet every second person in Florida carries a gun and that may be one reason the police are so trigger happy.”

He gave the example of his arrest in Florida:

“Now, I didn’t do anything different in Florida than I did here, but when I started to run in Florida, those assholes never said a thing, they just started shooting and one of them got lucky – nailed me in the leg. Hurt like hell. Seems they like to shoot and ask questions later. The same thing happened in New York with that police dog. Funny, I’m usually very good with dogs, but that sucker didn’t come close to having a sense of humour.”

MacLeish and Bard pressure Doncaster as to how they might recover more of the stolen property:

“Don’t even get me on that. A lot of it went to that fucking pawn shop on Fort Street. The guy is a bigger thief than me. He’d only take my stuff under the counter and then pay me a fraction of the value. It was a total rip, but I had no choice as I didn’t know any other fences in Victoria. I’ll bet the guy moved the stuff along for fifty times what he paid me.”

MacLeish: Do you still have any of the property at your apartment in Esquimalt or is that everything in the gym bag?”

Doncaster laughed: “You guys have done your homework. I like that. Ya, there are a few odds and ends, but no stolen property, just personal things. I was planning on leaving town tomorrow and just grabbed the stuff that was worthwhile. After our little run-in, I guess I’ll put that on hold for awhile.”

As MacLeish had the gym bag, he knew the place had been cleaned out, but just to be on the safe side, would provide Esquimalt with sufficient information to obtain a warrant to search in the morning: “Thanks, we’ll work that out with Esquimalt tomorrow. If you have a key, we can pass that along so they can open the door. Is there any other stuff hidden away?”

Doncaster: “Nope, no use dragging this out.”

Doncaster then asked MacLeish point blank: “I think you guys are well aware of what was in my apartment. Was it one of you who entered?”

MacLeish paused for a moment, smiled, then held up his finger as he pointed to the tape recorder:

“You might say that Larry, but I never could. Let’s clean up this stuff first before we start speculating about who may have been hanging around your apartment. Now, about the other guy who bailed from the taxi – we lost him while chasing you – who was the guy? Was he involved in these burglaries?”

Doncaster: “Just to make things clear – I’ll tell you everything about what I did and for that will accept responsibility, but I have no intention of dropping any of my drinking buddies in shit.”

He then continued in a more serious tone: “I once heard a TV actor say: ‘If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime’. Well, that pretty much sums up my philosophy. I am a burglar, a damn good burglar I might add, but I have principles.”

MacLeish: “Fair enough. We’ll have patrol drop you off at the city jail so we can clean up some of our paperwork and then we’ll be in touch tomorrow after you’ve appeared in court.”

After stating the time and date, MacLeish shut off the tape recorder then asked: “Now why do you think someone was in your apartment?”

“Well Detective, you may not know it, but I spent years in the jungles, cities and towns of Viet Nam and one thing I learned was to make sure I knew if someone was messing around with my shit. Not knowing that sort of thing could get you shipped home in a flag draped coffin. At my apartment, I set a few traps to indicate if someone had been inside. Someone had.”

He continued: “Anyway, when I returned Sunday morning after the burglary, it only took a few seconds to discover I had a visitor. Someone climbed in through the window, then closed the blind. Before leaving by the front door, they opened the blind and closed the window. Nothing was missing, but a few things were disturbed, as if the person was looking around. That tells me the person had no intention of stealing anything. Now who do you think that might have been?”

MacLeish smiled: “Well Larry that is something we’ll probably never know.”

Larry smiled and nodded as the patrol unit arrived to transport him to the Victoria cells.

MacLeish and Bard began preparing charge sheets for morning court. At just after 4:00 am they headed home with that tired but satisfied feeling that came from successfully solving a rather difficult case. From this point the future of Doncaster would be left to the courts. In the back of his mind MacLeish had an uneasy feeling that this case was far from concluded.

Chapter 11 Out on Bail

The next two weeks flashed by as Bard and MacLeish put the finishing touches on the Doncaster burglaries while at the same time sinking their teeth into other pressing matters. Then the call from Bard telling McLeish he was certain Doncaster had been released as he was certain he had seen the man walking along Rockland Ave.

As soon as MacLeish had pulled into Bard’s driveway and his partner had jumped in, MacLeish stated:

“I can’t believe any judge in his right mind would have given him bail and I doubt he just escaped.”

Although MacLeish knew his partner was a keen observer, he marveled at the coincidence that Bard, on a day off, while driving from his volunteer work at Christ Church Cathedral to his home had observed Doncaster walking on Rockland Avenue. The odds of that happening were quite astounding, yet MacLeish knew Bard had not been mistaken.

At the Burdett Street Law Courts, it only took a few minutes to track down a Sheriff who was in the morning remand court where Doncaster appeared.

“Ya, well you didn’t make a mistake. Doncaster told the judge he intended to plead guilty to all charges, but wanted to get some personal stuff in order before being sentenced. He asked if he could get out for a couple of hours. Can you believe it the Judge fell for it, told him he would release him until the 2:00 pm session. I like this judge, but sometimes wonder what he’s smoking during his breaks. Unbelievable!”

MacLeish and Bard were stunned. After the hours spent with Doncaster they knew he was a likeable sort, but that he was able to pull this over on a judge who knew his ‘flight risk’ status, was beyond comprehension. The Detectives knew Doncaster would never appear at 2:00 pm and would be leaving the city as soon as possible.

They were also aware he had been legally released and in the normal process, nothing would happen until he failed to appear as directed, then the judge would order a warrant to be issued. By then Doncaster would have left the city and by late evening, all things being equal, he could be back in the good old US of A.

MacLeish confirmed the sighting with Bard: “You saw him about 11:30 and it would only take ten to fifteen minutes to walk to the Rockland area. There is only one reason he would be up there! Well, we can’t wait around for a warrant, we have to find the asshole and drag him back to court. The guy has more balls than Dick Tracey.”

The Rockland area of Victoria was much like the Uplands and Saxe Point areas of Oak Bay and Esquimalt. Expensive homes including Government House dotted the heavily treed area. As far as the Detectives were concerned Doncaster would do a quick burglary then sell some of the stuff for quick cash. Perhaps he would even find some cash.

There was no use going to Fort Street as the owner would never admit to having just taken something, but, just in case, they asked Victoria Police to put an unmarked unit on the shop for the next hour.

MacLeish: “Ok, the next Ferry to Vancouver is at 3:00 pm. We know he always takes the bus so let’s head to the station. The next one likely leaves around 1:30.

After alerting the Depot staff and arranging to board the bus if needed, the officers found a good observation point then settled in to wait. When Doncaster was a no show, they jumped on the bus for the trip down Douglas Street. Five minutes later they approached the first stop at the Colony.

MacLeish: “Well have a look at that!”

Directly in front of the Colony, Doncaster was standing near a group of five persons. Beside him was the sports bag similar to that Bard had observed him carrying on Rockland. As soon as the bus stopped and the doors opened, the Detectives bounded down the stairs and pounced on the unsuspecting Doncaster in front of the startled passengers.

After they handcuffed him and pulled him to his feet, Bard grabbed the sports bag, zipped it open and was presented with a quantity of expensive jewelry and miscellaneous knick knacks. It appeared he had not yet gone to the pawn shop so must have found some cash.

Doncaster quickly recovered from his surprise: “Jesus Christ, I hand it to you guys. I never expected this and I’m not even due in court until 2:00 pm. How in hell did you even know I was out?”

MacLeish: “Good police work Larry, just good police work, but first things first.” MacLeish again recited the stolen property warning.”

Doncaster: “Well, you know it’s stolen, but again it’s probably not yet reported. After the judge kindly released, I walked up to the Rockland area, found a nice looking older home and went through an open patio door. It only took me a few minutes to find a bag and fill it with this stuff. I got lucky and also found a little cash. There was a nice little dog inside so I gave him a biscuit and water. He wanted to follow me but I told him to stay. Anyway, what’s next?”

MacLeish: “Well, you still have a 2:00 pm date with a Judge at the Law Courts and I don’t think he’s going to be a happy camper. You were entering a guilty plea, I take it?”

“Ya, no use dragging this out. I really hate the remand centre and I want to move to some place more comfortable. Get my life back in order.”

Bard radioed Victoria PD asked them to pull the car from Fort Street and asked if a couple of cars could be dispatched to pick them up at the Colony and get them to the Bus Depot.

Ten minutes later they were back at their own car and asked one of the Vic PD units to follow them as Doncaster said he would point out the house he had entered.

At 2:30, they were back at the Law Courts and walked Doncaster to the foyer outside the court room where he was due to appear. Bard fetched the Sheriff they had spoken to earlier, explained what had happened and learned that Doncaster’s case hadn’t been called. They decided to wait until after the break so they could explain the circumstances to the prosecutor. They were not exactly sure how the Judge would handle the fact a warrant had not been issued, but felt that upon learning Doncaster had committed another burglary since being released, he would overlook that slight technicality.

When Doncaster was called, they took off his hand cuffs, escorted him in and placed him in the prisoner’s box. On hearing the circumstances the Judge, as expected, asked Doncaster if he still intended to plead guilty.

Doncaster replied: “Yes sir and I’m sorry about our little misunderstanding this morning. It seems these Detectives are pretty good at their job.”

While it was unusual for the Judge to pronounce sentence immediately upon receiving a guilty plea, he made an exception: “One year on each of the twelve counts of Break, Enter and Theft to be served “consecutively”.

There was a few seconds silence in the court as a Judge seldom issued a consecutive sentence on multiple counts. It was usually a longer sentence for each count, to be served “concurrently”.

Doncaster shrugged his shoulders then winked at Bard and MacLeish.

Early the following week the Detectives met Doncaster at Wilkinson Road, where he was awaiting transfer to a permanent facility. It appeared he would do time in a Provincial facility as his sentence was less than two years.

MacLeish: “Goes to show, Larry, you should never piss off the Judge on Judgment Day.”

Doncaster: “Not a big deal guys. I’ve been in the system long enough to know this is just a temporary set-back. Some hot shot young lawyer with legal aid will pick up the case and appeal the sentence ‘cause it’s way out of line. I might serve two or three years, but even that will be cut by good behaviour. I know the system and it won’t be more than a few months until I get special status as trustee of some sort. I’ll take the kitchen or the library and it will be easy time.”

Bard: “Listen, I don’t much agree with your career choice, but I do admire your attitude toward life. Lots of guys in your position would be screaming bloody murder. You really do practice a philosophy about “doing the time”.

Doncaster: “Ya, and I appreciate the respect the two of you have shown. It seems some cops take this shit personal, but as you know we each chose a path in life, you picked one side and I picked another. We both do our jobs as best we can.

MacLeish: “We have a few pieces of your property here and some stuff from your apartment, what do you want us to do with it?”

Doncaster: “Give it all to Goodwill. Let me see that box of gloves and give me a pen.”

On the box Doncaster wrote: “To Detectives MacLeish and Bard, good luck in your investigations,” then signed it ‘Larry’.

He then stated: “Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention something. You know the night I arrived back home from the burglary on Uplands Road and told you I noticed someone had been in my apartment?”

MacLeish: “Yes.”

“Well, that someone was in the apartment not long before I arrived.”

MacLeish: “Now how in hell could you know that? Did that someone trip an alarm?”

Doncaster: “Nope, it was the smell! You know how hospitals, churches, schools, prisons and other institutions have a certain smell?

MacLeish: “Yes.”

“Well, you can often tell where a person works by their smell – nurses, doctors, teachers, preachers, prison guards and many others pick up the smell of their institution. Well, police stations also have a distinct smell and cops pick up that smell, some combination of gun oil, show polish, finger print powder and a dozen other ‘police’ smells. That scent was still in my room when I arrived home. Learning to smell danger was something I learned in Viet Nam. It saved my life more than once.”

“No shit!” exclaimed MacLeish, “When you finish doing your time give me a call. I think we could use you to help solve our burglaries. You have some very unique skills.”

Doncaster just nodded and smiled as he stood to shake hands with MacLeish and Bard before returning to his living unit. The Detectives walked away.

The box of latex gloves remained in the top drawer of MacLeish’s desk until he retired from active service. He never again heard from Doncaster and often wondered what had become of that veteran of nearly 500 days of war, an experience that helped to mold the personality and career of an intelligent young man. Perhaps one day MacLeish would have an active member run the man’s name to find out what had transpired since he left Victoria.

Contact with criminals such as Doncaster and others like him, served as a reminder to MacLeish and Bard, that cops needed to treat suspects in an even-handed, dispassionate manner no matter what might have been their crime. You didn’t have to like them and you most certainly would have detested some of the crimes they committed, but it was not your job to ‘judge’ or to seek some form of retribution on the street. It was up to judges or juries to determine if an individual was guilty and if so, what might be a fitting punishment. The job of the police was to prevent crime if they could and if they couldn’t, to apprehend offenders and place them before the courts. It was just ‘a matter of principle’.

Oak Bay, BC

 

 

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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.