the true stories
The following story is true. An interesting thing about it is the fact that this story illustrates the failings of our day to day perspectives. We are trained to take things in nice packages. An example would be a story with the requisite beginning, middle and end. Or a picture framed by four pieces of wood. The truth of things is very different indeed, but the bulk of humanity, particularly nowadays, prefers to think one ply deep, rather than the many that we are all capable of. From time to time we are treated to a chance to see farther than the frame. So, I will relate this ghost story as it happened to me and afterward, I will take you, dear reader beyond the limits of that story.
It was the seventies and disco was just starting to drown out some of the finest guitar solos ever recorded. The late seventies to be more precise. I was twenty years old and ready to get my slice of the pie. I married the blond, blue-eyed daughter of a retired USAF Colonel. I had seen her face in a dream a year before meeting her. Like a flash-card held up in front of my waking eyes. When chance brought me to her house in the desert, I recognized her from that dream. I'll call her B.
I had been summoned by a friend from Texas to play my guitar at his wedding in Nevada. I was invited to stay with his parents. His brother and girlfriend had also come in from Texas. These two took me one night to a huge casino before the wedding day. They wandered off to gamble and I wandered around gawking.
I came to a display and stood transfixed. It was a million dollars (a mythical sum in those days) all laid out between glass and hung by two thin wires. I stared and stared. I felt a small pain, like being hit in the head by a well-aimed spit ball and dropped to the floor like a bundle of rags. On the way down, my head connected with a small counting table before coming to rest. I remember falling and hitting the table edge.
I was next aware of being supported by a nice man and a nice young woman on either side of me. I had no sense that any time more than perhaps a few minutes had transpired since fainting away. The couple walked me out a side door into the underground parking lot. They asked if I remembered who I was, who I had come with and what the car looked like. I remembered all these things perfectly and they escorted me to wait by the car. I asked why they were being so kind and they replied that there were security personnel all over the gambling floor and that when they would have seen a long-hair such as myself drop, they would have suspected me as a drug user and I might have gotten into a big hassle.
Not long after my friend's brother and his girlfriend showed up. They asked me what had happened. I told them. On the drive back to where we were staying, the brother kept saying that I didn't look too well and asked if I was on drugs. I assured him that I was not. We got to the house and a few moments later, my friend came to tell me the news that I couldn't stay there anymore and that I shouldn't worry as he had another friend who was going to attend the wedding and I could stay there. I was baffled and more than a bit upset, as I had been invited by these people and had known them for many years.
I was taken straight away to a massive house out in the desert. It was the girl from my dream who ran out to greet us. She also played guitar and sang like an angel. I was captivated. I never saw her folks, I never even saw all the rooms in the house during the few days I stayed. The wedding came and B. and I got to know each other a bit at the party afterward. She took me to the airport when it was over and we swapped phone numbers.
When I returned to North Vancouver I racked up a long distance bill so large, I was forced to sell my 1957 Gibson Melody Maker Sunburst guitar and Fender Champ Amp to pay for it. B. invited me to return for a stay at her parents big house. I took up her offer. The house had lots of marble and many bathrooms. It was so large that a person could remain unseen for days on end. I kept asking to meet her parents and get their approval for my stay.
She had a horse in the backyard. Near to four days later, I was riding the horse through the desert chaparral when I spotted a green Cadillac speeding toward the house. It was forty Celsius outside and I wasn't wearing a hat or sunglasses. I cantered up to the house and the horse broke into a gallop. I soon saw the bales of hay protruding from the trunk. B.'s father, the Colonel had already gone into the house through a massive sliding door, which he left open. I felt a twinge to think of the wasted air-conditioning.
The horse had stopped responding to my commands some time before. It now slowed to a walk at the patio and proceeded in through the open door to stand next to the large bar, where the Colonel stood pouring two glasses of scotch. On the way in, amidst gales of laughter from B., I smashed my forehead against the door frame. This, coupled with the transition from light to dark and hot to cold left me disoriented and disarmed. "You must be Michael," said the Colonel, handing me a drink in a slightly bored manner. The next day, while sitting in the parking lot of a Taco Bell, B. suggested we get married. I reflected for a moment or two and drove to the big house to tell the Colonel and his wife.
After being grilled by B.'s family, I was given the final approval by the Colonel and by the next night I was back in North Vancouver. I got my old job at a local restaurant and supplemented this with delivering newspapers. I sent B. a plane ticket and we were united. All she brought was a Navajo blanket and her 12 string guitar. The customs people told us we had to be married within six months to make her a citizen. All this was accomplished on time and we set up house-keeping in a small apartment overlooking Burrard Inlet.
The wedding was performed on a lunch-break by a justice of the peace. It cost ten dollars. We owned two cups, plates, spoons, forks and glasses. B. couldn't cook anything but coffee. I didn't care a fig. We were happy. We got an Irish Setter and named him Strax. One night, returning from work, I put my key in the door to the lobby and felt a jerk on my wrist. My other keys tinkled on the wet pavement and I was holding the unbroken leather thong that they had all been tied to. I gathered them up and went next door to a Greek pizza joint and asked the guy to examine the keys and the thong. He concluded that they were all unbroken. I told him what had happened and he made the sign of the cross. One afternoon I took B. shopping at the grocery store. As we entered and walked along the produce aisle toward the dairy section, a three pound piece of cheddar flew off a shelf and landed near her feet. It had traveled nearly ten feet horizontally. I scooped it into the basket I carried and shook my head.
Soon after the wedding I went to the restaurant boss and told him I was married now and wanted a career, not just a cooking job. I pointed out that I had worked there for six years already and knew the place inside out. I requested to be made a food manager at the next opportunity. The man twined his fingers, twirled his thumbs, grinned and said that it might be an amusing experiment but one that he wasn't willing to take part in. I quit that day. I painted, hauled bricks, carpentered, landscaped, labored and finally found employment at a new gourmet seafood operation as a sous chef. In the first week I spotted my old boss amongst the diners The next night I received a call from this man asking for the recipe of the dish he had eaten. I told him to fly a carpet. A week or so later I received another call from the same man.
A deal was hammered out, wherein I was to work at a brand new branch being built in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. I was to design the kitchen and to order all the cookware and furnishings and supervise the installation of same. I was to hire and train all the kitchen staff. I would move to Nanaimo by a certain date in order to be there during kitchen's final construction. At opening there was to be a temporary Swiss chef who would finish my education before my taking over as the food manager.
In the third month of our marriage, my wife's eldest sister died after falling off the back of a motorcycle. We left immediately for the desert and attended the full military funeral. B. was inconsolable. When we got home a few days later, the phone rang and I received news that my father's body had been found in the forest north of Pemberton by a passing hiker. It appeared to be a suicide. It was a difficult summer.
One Friday in the Fall I loaded up my 67 Beaumont and went to find rental accommodations near the new restaurant. I was twenty-one, B. was nineteen and the date happened to be October 13, 1978. We signed a six month lease on a massive old house that day. It had a huge wrap-around porch and an expansive tangled yard. I reckoned it to be about three quarters of a century old. It appeared to be the “big house” of a neglected orchard operation from days of yore. There was a small shack on the grounds where a hermit-like welfare recipient dwelt. Up on top was a furnished small loft, where the owner and landlord resided. He had constructed wooden steps all the way up to a door that stood just under the peak of the roof. Most of the time he was away at his girlfriend's place, but left his cat inside.
The winter started early that year. The furnace oil tank was empty within a few days. The kitchen construction dragged on about three weeks behind schedule and we were left with no income as a result. B. and I lived on candy bars, coffee and wore coats inside the house. It snowed. We went to the library and loaded up on books to keep us busy. They were free and made us feel less destitute and idle. My browsing took me to the occult section and I found myself checking out a big stack of books to do with magic, the Cabala, witchcraft, etc.
Part of each day was spent at the restaurant and finally I began to choose and train the staff. On the brink of starvation, everything went from a standstill to seven fourteen hour days a week with some emergency call-backs. At night I would return home to B. and her spaghetti. She didn't know about draining the fat after frying the regular ground beef. In the exceptionally cold house, her Bolognese sauce became a spaghetti scented candle within minutes. Strax loved it and the extra calories probably kept him alive.
In the blur of activity, things get noticed but not processed. That is to say, no meaning is extracted from experiences when we are moving too fast. The first thing I noticed was that the house was uncommonly cold. Even after the oil tank was replenished and the furnace humming along, there were areas that never got warm. It seemed as if the bathroom light was always on even though I meticulously shut it off. One night I was awakened by the sound of the bathtub taps running. I simply got up and turned them off with out processing the fact that they couldn't have turned on by themselves. One night I had an attack of hyperventilation. I breathed into my pillow to quell it.
I went to a doctor and he said that I was stressing from lack of sleep, too much work and worry and a poor diet. I was otherwise fit as a fiddle. I calculated up the overtime I had racked up and presented the bill to the restaurant owner. I told him that I needed time off immediately and would take the several thousand dollars worth of overtime in cash or in time off or a combination of both at his discretion at a time of his choosing. I was emboldened by the fact that the Swiss chef had turned out to be an alcoholic fraud who had nothing to teach me. I was given three days rest and when I returned I learned that I was on a manager's salary and not entitled to any overtime. I checked the law and this was correct. The problem was that this hadn't been made clear to me when the deal was struck originally.
I sought advice and was directed to form a union. I needed two pairs of balls out of the thirty I had hired and was unsuccessful in my quest. From that time, my days were numbered. Just seconds before being fired, I quit. My landlord, who lived in the top story of the house, told me of a new pub a few miles up the road that needed a cook. I went for an interview and was working the following day. This was a great relief, as my lease had a penalty clause for early vacancy. My new employers were an elderly Irishman and his younger Belgian wife. I'll call them K. and H. I was to cook traditional Scottish and Irish pub food. I was also allowed to play guitar and sing between orders.
The place was called Piper's Inn Pub and it was on Hammond Bay Road. This is a beautiful winding road that runs north out of Nanaimo toward Lantzville. The sea is visible between the trees and in the Fall one sees red, yellow and green foliage punctuated by molten silver sparkles off the turquoise ocean. I looked forward to this drive twice a day. The third time or so I was driving B. up to the pub on such a wondrous day, a curious thing happened. For a second that will be frozen in my memory always, I felt a strong tug at the wheel of the car. The vehicle swerved sharply onto the narrow shoulder on the cliff side. I remember pulling hard with both fists to get out of the crash that surely would have resulted.
One night I received a phone call from B. while at work. She was completely distraught and incoherent save for communicating the necessity of my immediate return home. I could hear a horrible din as if a crew were wrecking the house. I told my boss there was an emergency and I sped home. Entering through the kitchen door, I noticed two things. My elbow length hair was standing up like I was in a static electricity storm and there were onions everywhere I looked. I heard B. sobbing in one of the bedrooms and Strax wailing like a coyote.
On the kitchen table was an empty onion bag, many onions and a pair of scissors. Next to the scissors was a strip that had been cut off the bottom of the fifty pound bag. I had purchased the onions several days before and hung the whole bag from a large peg on the old kitchen wall. I wondered why B. would have cut the bottom and scattered them everywhere. I next thought of the hermit who lived in the shack out front. Perhaps he had played a prank on B. to frighten her. I followed a trail of onions large and small down the hallway. All the doors were shut and onions littered the way.
I opened the bedroom door to find B. sitting on the floor on one side of the bed with her face in her hands and Strax cowering alongside. When I questioned B. it took her many minutes to compose herself. She said that she had been in the living room on the couch playing her guitar when she heard an awful rain of thuds from the kitchen. She went in to investigate and found that the onion bag had been cut along the bottom and that all fifty pounds had spilled onto the linoleum. There on the kitchen table were the scissors. She placed the vegetables in a heap on the table and went to check the doors and windows. All were found to be locked, as was usual when I was at work. She thought it might have been the two native Indian children who sometimes came to play with Strax, but a search of the house proved her wrong.
She went back to the living room once she felt secure in being alone in a locked house with Strax. After a few minutes more, Strax yelped. B. looked up to see the reason and was pelted on the shoulder with a large onion from the hallway. Then the missiles flew in earnest. A barrage of onions had followed her terrified flight from room to room and had continued while on the phone to me. She eventually went to cower where I had found her.
As I listened to her story, my mind searched for some kind of explanation. Anything convenient. Perhaps she had scattered them herself and had made the whole story up out of frustration of being isolated. I asked her to tell me the truth. She swore it was just as she had said. We went into the kitchen and sat at the table. Then I really felt it. A deep unnatural cold and my hair rose as if some invisible hand were lifting it straight up. In that moment, I had the distinct feeling of being an intruder in a stranger's house. It was like the feeling one would gets if one accidentally walked into a bathroom stall without knocking and found it occupied by three Hells Angels.
Then the bathroom light switched on. I was “scangry.” That is, I was scared stiff and filled with righteous indignation. B. nodded with wide eyes as if indicating the veracity of her story. Strax hid under the table and whimpered pitifully. I strode over to the bathroom, waving my hands through the air and trying to make jokes. I slapped off the light and returned to the kitchen. The light switched back on. I repeated my previous action. As soon as I sat down, the light switched on. This time the water taps all went on, full bore. I stomped into the bathroom, turned off all the taps and then the light. I stood there and watched it flip up to the on position. I turned it off and watched it again and again to be sure.
As I mentioned earlier, most of what we do see is not processed and our mind fills in the blanks with what we were expecting to see. This is how a city person can walk for hours in the woods and not see a single animal. Another person attuned to the environment can see an abundance where another will see only empty trees. When we are confronted with sights that we have no precedent for and no expectations of in a situation wherein we cannot gloss over them, our minds take a lot of coaxing to accept this new input. We can feel our computer trying to place the new input in an old comfy drawer. We can feel the mind wobble with the effort required to create a new folder, when none of the old ones will do.
I experienced this as I sat in disbelief. Strax got out from under the table and walked to the living room. He stopped halfway and began to growl menacingly at the dark window that looked out onto the porch. He was a friendly dog and I had never heard such sounds come from him. I went in and watched him. He was tracking something apparently pacing left and then right. I went onto the porch and could detect nothing. I gathered up B. and Strax and locked up. I walked up the stairs to the landlord's door and peered through the little pane of glass. I could see his phone was hanging off the hook and his cat was batting at it. I knocked and there was no answer. I drove back up Hammond Bay Road to the Piper's Inn Pub. I settled B. into the the bar with a pint and tied Strax up outside in the parking lot. I sought out my boss, K. and told him the tale.
H. and K. came and sat with B. and I returned to work. When my shift was over, we all sat together for a chat. K. intimated that he had been an employee of Scotland Yard back in Britain and had been attached to the paranormal investigations division. H. told us that she was a clairvoyant and well versed in this type of thing. K. assured me I wasn't crazy, nor was B. They told us that the dog, Strax, would be very sensitive to these disturbances and that we may have to consider giving him up, if he started to refuse his food. They suggested turning all the lights on and playing loud music as much as possible. Also to fill the house with guests as much as possible. They said we had obviously moved into a haunted house. K. and H. agreed to come over one evening and check out the place.
Feeling much better we reluctantly went home. It was like being told you have cancer, but there may be a cure. We were “scopeful”. Over the next weeks we set about to out-vibe the spooks. Now the lights switched off instead of on. The water taps I had to shut off under the sink and the bath taps I could do nothing about. I phoned every friend and acquaintance from the mainland to come over every week-end. I played records constantly. In time I got used to seeing flitting images out of my peripheral vision. It became common to see objects levitate. Strax became fixated on the porch at night and eventually quit eating. We gave him to the two children who used to come in the day time to play with him.
One weekend I had several guests from the mainland come to stay at the now notorious haunted house. They were three guys and they all slept in extra room. They were very skeptical and this lightened the atmosphere considerably. In the morning we found that the living room was awash in scattered record albums and their dust jackets. A total mess that they couldn't account for, nor could I. They left that day after breakfast. I hated to see their backs.
In a short time, things escalated. A new phenomenon began. It was so precise that one could literally set one's watch to it. Each night at about ten PM we were treated to the sound and the physical vibrations of two men fighting viciously up in the landlord's loft. The first time it happened, I went straight up the back stairs and pounded on the door. I could see through the window that there was no one home, as the loft was a single room, with a bed, a sink, a toilet and a phone. One glace through the window revealed the whole space. Only the cat was present. I stood transfixed listening to the invisible rumble, complete with drunken voices, yet saw nothing.
I returned to the living room down stairs where B. sat shivering. The light fixtures were swaying and rattling. They must be/ have been very large fellows to make such crashes when they fell. Bits of plaster rained down. After a ten minute struggle there was a softer tumbling sound that went for about thirty seconds. I was the sound of someone rolling down wooden stairs. It was so clear I ran back to the very stairs only to find them empty.
A few days of this was all I could take. I invited K. and H. to dinner. I told them to come at about eight PM. They came as promised and on her way in the door, H. looked at me and said, “This is a VERY busy place, Michael.” K. concurred and they set about walking the rooms and grounds. After this, they did a session with a Ouija board. I took notes. They asked about the house, it's builder and whom was present. They told me there was a child, a little girl who wanted to play with Strax before we gave him away. It was she who had thrown the onions in a frustrated attempt to get attention, not knowing she couldn't be seen. It was also she who flipped the light switches and turned the water taps. H. called her a poltergeist. It was the first time I had heard the term. H. said there was a man, an old man out on the porch. He had likely built the house originally. She said that there were two more and that one of these was a native Indian man who had been murdered in the house!
We had a nice Shepherd's Pie and red wine for dinner. After we all sat in the living room waiting for what we had come to call “the floor show.” Right on schedule, it began. First the slurred drunken voices, steadily raising in volume. A shuffling of feet and the sound of a man being shoved against a wall. The house shook. I watched the light fixture and waited as I knew the event by heart. The huge crash was followed by the tumbling on stairs and then nothing. H. said that this must be a psychic re-enactment of the murder.
K. became very silent and appeared upset. This threw me off, because I was looking to him for strength and guidance. I inquired as to his thoughts. He told me that he wasn't a particularly religious man, but that he had seen enough to know that evil existed and that what many call the devil in various languages was something real. He said that something was particularly wrong with the physical space where the house was situated and that we should definitely get out. H. added the news that in her opinion the child was no big problem and that we could try to talk to her and tell her to move on. The floor show was a different kettle of fish and much harder to deal with. What gave me the most concern was when she told me in a serious tone that the old man was very wicked indeed and not to be trifled with. She warned me to tell her if we noticed changes in our own behaviour or health. We thanked them and watched them leave.
I hadn't enough money to get out of the lease and hence was bound to stay for the six month duration. I tried to stay strong and got permission for B. to accompany me every night to work, where she entertained for free. She had been forbidden to work for a ridiculous period of time due to the customs and immigration laws of the day. It was the strangest six months of my life. One night I was having a pint at the bar and bemoaning my fate. A total stranger that sat next to me asked if I was talking about the house on Harewood Road. I asked which house specifically. He identified my house. I asked what he knew about it. He said that two native Indian brothers had rented the loft. They had fought in a drunken rage and one had stabbed the other at the top of the stairs. The victim had tumbled all the way down and was dead when the police came. He didn't know the fate of the murderer, but said it was in all the papers at the time.
I was mad. I confronted the landlord at the next opportunity and asked if he had known about the murder. He blinked and shifted his gaze and admitted that he did. I asked why the hell he hadn't told me. He answered that if he had I probably wouldn't have signed the lease. I concurred. He said that he didn't believe in ghosts and such and had never been bothered. I asked him if he had noticed that his phone, which was a wall phone near the back door was perpetually off the hook. It was something I had noticed every time I tried to bang on the door to see if he was home. He said it was his cat that kept pulling it off the cradle. It was a good five and a half feet off the floor. I asked him if he never heard any major noise. He replied that he never slept there, always at his girlfriend's house, so he wouldn't know about any noise.
I invited him for dinner and told him to come about eight PM. We had some of my spaghetti and some wine and salad. We retired into the living room about 9:30 PM to chat and smoke. Right on schedule, the floor show began in all its majesty. For the first few minutes, the landlord, a young mechanic in his mid-twenties, held his composure and literally acted as if he heard nothing. When the drunken swearing and plaster cracking crashes came followed by the tumble downstairs, he was visibly shaken. I challenged him to sleep this night in his own damned loft, since it was good enough for us tenants. Thus challenged, he reluctantly went up the empty wooden steps and put the phone back on its cradle. At about 6 AM I was awakened by a knock on the kitchen door. It was the landlord, asking if he could borrow Strax to “take him for a walk.” I told him we had given Strax away out of kindness to the poor sensitive creature. I asked if we were to be held to the lease. He said, that yes, unfortunately that was business.
The remaining time in the house was steadily worse. The aforementioned phenomena had become routine, if unsettling. But there was something other creeping in like a dry rot. Something subtle and powerful. I found myself going to a pawn shop one day and buying a $30.00 fiddle. I play guitar and could never even hold a violin. My hands are several sizes too big and my fingers are as thin and fine as Landjaeger sausages. Anyway, in a matter of days I was on the porch playing passable jigs, but only when I was drunk. I couldn't get a sound out of it sober. A friend came from Texas once to stay for a weekend. I came out to the car she arrived in and was telling her through the open window that she would love it here in Canada as there were no snakes to worry about stepping on like there was in Texas. She was a middle-aged woman at the time and was slowly climbing down from the car. I was looking at her face and I heard her say, “Damn, Mike, that's a load of BS.” I looked down and her foot was poised an inch above a two foot long black snake. It slithered off on its way and we had a nervous laugh.
During that visit, other family members came. I remember when I got the roll of film developed afterward, all the pictures that were taken on the porch had large black blotches or swatches of over exposure, rendering them next to useless. All the pictures taken away from the house were fine. Again, we watched our guests go and turned back reluctantly to the house. I began to hear a strange chirping sound out in the yard sometimes. Even in the blessed daylight, it would occur. It sounded like a bird call, but only inches away from my ear. First on one side and then the other.. Then above and then behind and below. I never saw the cause of this sound.
The crux came in the middle of the night just before the much anticipated day of lease freedom. B. had been coming down with a flu and I was not up to par either. We were asleep in the bedroom. I was awakened quite suddenly by a strong feeling that someone was staring at me. I opened my eyes and in the gloom I made out the shape of B. sitting upright and leaning over my face. I asked her what was wrong and got no response. I clicked on the bedside lamp and my blood froze. Inches from my face was hers. But her eyes were closed and the expression on her face was the ugliest, meanest, most malignant grin I have ever seen, even up to this day as I write. Her lips were stretched to an unnatural degree and her mouth was open showing her teeth. I grabbed her by both shoulders and shook her hard. She groggily responded and opened her eyes. She lost the expression and I told her what had happened. She denied knowing anything about it.
The final stages were focused on B. One evening she fell backwards on her chair in the kitchen at dinner. Out cold and unaware of what had happened when conscious again. Days before we left, a man came from the Nanaimo Free Press and interviewed us. We made the news! I wasn't excited at all. I was assured by H. and K. that we had come close to disaster as the nasty one was obviously trying to take possession of someone. If he'd had much longer to try, he may have succeeded. The final bit of lore they imparted to me was that ghosts cannot cross water. I knew not why, nor did they, yet insisted it was Celtic “fact.” I chose and still choose to believe it.
The day came when I caught the ferry for the mainland and went to find new accommodations in North Vancouver. I called at an ad for a house near the Squamish Band Reserve, just off Third Avenue on Keith Road. A native man met me there and the house was wonderful, the price was right and the location in my old stomping grounds. I asked the man if I could spend a night sleeping there before I signed the lease. I told him why. He looked very sympathetic and said by all means, adding that he would have done the same. I got a pizza to go and made a small fire in the fireplace and curled up on the wood floor. I awoke after a dreamless sleep and signed the paper later that morning.
I went back to Harewood Road to load up a few things B. had packed. I dropped off the accursed keys and that was that. I'll never forget the wonderful burst of life that accompanied our crossing the water on the return trip to the Mainland. B. was back to health in a few weeks and we were soon to go through many more adventures of a very different nature. I found out later that the landlord had placed an ad for the rental of a “haunted house” and had jacked the rent up significantly. Evidently it didn't take long to get a tenant.
In the decades that followed, I had occasions to go to Vancouver Island and sometimes to go to Nanaimo. I never could bring myself to go to the old house. The closest I got was about thirty years ago, late one rainy night on a holiday to the west coast. I stopped in Nanaimo to eat and I got curious. I tried to drive to the house from memory and wound up parked next to a small pizza or sandwich shop, that appeared to occupy the space where the house should have been according to the old address. At that point I got a feeling of real dread and high-tailed out of the area.
Maybe fifteen years later, on another vacation I stopped in Nanaimo for the night. It was rainy and foggy. I had been having trouble with my eyes for several days before the trip and by the time I got to Nanaimo, I was practically blind. I had intended to go and see once and for all if the house still stood or had been torn down. As it turned out, I could barely park the car and hobble into my motel. I got the same bad feeling as years before and wisely chose to leave.
I shall never forget those days, those experiences and those lessons learned. Sometimes I am reminded by the most unexpected turns of events. For example, my mother married a man many years after the events described in this writing. He was conversing with me once about Vancouver Island and Nanaimo in particular. It turns out that he had once entered into negotiations to purchase the Piper's Inn Pub long before meeting me or my mother. Small world, eh?
One afternoon about a year ago, I was surfing the internet and came upon an article that I will copy and paste here in its entirety. I must admit that it sent a few chills up my shirt-tails as I read it. I will place the URL afterward to verify the source of the article and to give credit to the author of that piece, whom I have never heard of or ever met. Here then is the article I found:
A Story of Bravery, Daring-do, Murder and Mayhem!
THE STATION AGENT'S RIFLE
In the spring of 1948, British Columbia was suffering its greatest flooding since 1894. Dykes were bursting in the Fraser Valley and rivers were overflowing their banks everywhere in the Interior.
On Sunday night, May 30, 1948, the engineer of Canadian National Railways' westbound passenger train felt a distinct bump as his steam locomotive passed over the Thompson River bridge west of Deadman's Creek. When he arrived half an hour later at Ashcroft, he reported the bump to the night operator who passed the report along to the engineer of an eastbound freight train waiting at the Ashcroft siding.
The engineer of the eastbound freight stopped his train when he reached the bridge and climbed down out of the cab. In the beam of his locomotive's headlight, he walked part way across the deck of the steel span and saw a distinct dip in the track over an undermined concrete pier. The swollen Thompson River had begun to erode the riverbed around a huge cement pier near the eastern end of the bridge. The engineer returned to his train, asked the other four crew members to get out and walk across the bridge, then climbed back into the engine's cab and slowly took his train across alone.
His was the last train to cross that bridge for a year. During the night, the pier continued to lean further over and it became apparent that the bridge was soon going to topple into the river. Section-man John McLeod vividly remembers what happened the following morning, May 31, 1948, when his four-man section crew arrived by a motorized track car from Savona: "By this time, the pier was leaning over so bad that the tracks were almost on edge. We disconnected the rails at the east end and when the last bolt was driven out of the fish plate, the track jumped two feet toward the bridge. Now the rails had to be undone at the west end. I took a track wrench and a spiking maul and a tool to drive out the last bolt and started across. The bridge was now on a 60 degree angle. I walked hanging on to one rail with my feet down on the bottom rail. When I drove the last bolt out on the west end, the track jumped three feet. Contrary to my foreman's warning, I decided to walk back across the bridge. When I got over to the other side, I rolled a smoke and took only two puffs on my cigarette when she went out. The pier tipped over and the steel rails - screaming like banshees - whipped from each end! Spikes rained down! And two ninety-foot steel spans crashed into the river! One was carried two hundred yards downstream.
In addition to the rails, the bridge also carried valuable telegraph and telephone wires that connected Vancouver with Eastern Canada. The taut wires had been dragged down to the surface of the river and were in danger of being snapped by logs and other debris swirling downstream. Each wire had been connected to a glass insulator mounted on a small, round, wooden bracket attached to a cross-arm that had been bolted to the bridge. All of the wires had broken free except one. That one wire, still attached to its insulator connected to the cross-arm, was holding the rest down. If this one wire could be freed, then all of the wires would spring up - well above the surface of the water - and communications across the country could be saved. However, there was no way anyone could get out to the middle of the river to free it. John had an idea. He suggested that someone take the motor car back to Savona and borrow a rifle and a box of bullets from the station agent. He would try and shoot in two the thin wooden peg that held the insulator.
Within half an hour, the foreman returned with a rifle and John lay down on the embankment and carefully took aim. The target was about an inch and a half in diameter. As each bullet hit the small round peg, the wood splintered and weakened. Suddenly, it broke in two, releasing all the wires into the air. The communication lines had been saved. The rifle John had used was a .22 caliber, Winchester semi-automatic - an expensive gun for its caliber and rather uncommon since it was fitted with a brass tube in the stock that could be pulled from the butt for reloading. At the end of the day, the gun was delivered back to Savona's CNR station agent, Robert Dillabough.
Fourteen years later, on October 16, 1962, at 6:45 P.M., a pretty, nineteen-year-old girl named Diane Phipps walked out the front door of her parents' house in Nanaimo and waved goodbye to her mother. "Don't be late", her mother called out as Diane walked toward the front gate. "Have a good time", shouted her father who was working in his garden at the side of the house. Diane had a date with Leslie Dixon, a young man she had been going steady with for about six months. She had recently started a new job as a practical nurse at St. Paul's Hospital over in Vancouver, working three days straight and two days off, and this was her third trip back home to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Wearing a new black sweater and skirt, Diane walked to a girlfriend's house where she spent the next couple of hours visiting before her boyfriend called around and picked her up.
Dixon was tall and good-looking and, like Diane, was also 19 years old. He had quit school in grade ten and was working as a service-station attendant in Nanaimo. His big interest were bowling and cars. The couple drove to a gas station where Dixon bought two dollars worth of gas, then drove through Nanaimo, tooting the horn to various friends. They stopped briefly to talk with a mechanic at the garage where Dixon worked. A little after ten o'clock, they were seen by two of Dixon's friends heading down Departure Bay Road toward Piper's Lagoon, five miles north of Nanaimo. Piper's Lagoon was a favourite parking spot for young people - a lovers' lane. They hadn't seen each other for a week and, as they sat in the car laughing and talking, they were unaware that a man was standing nearby in the shadows watching them.
He observed them for a while and listed to Diane laugh. Then, quietly, he slipped away and returned with a gun. The following morning, when Leslie Dixon didn't return home, his mother sent his two brothers, Vic and Ron, to search for him. At ten A.M. they found Leslie sitting in his car at Piper's Lagoon. His head was lying back and they thought he was asleep. When Vic shook him, he fell over. He had been shot twice in the back of the head at close range. There was no sign of Diane although her purse and coat were in the car beside her boyfriend's body. The police brought in tracking dogs and called in investigators from Victoria but they were unable to locate a murder weapon or determine the whereabouts of Diane Phipps.
Dixon's wallet was still in his pocket, its contents untouched. Robbery, obviously, was not a motive for the crime. At two o'clock that afternoon, Darrell Morgan, a Nanaimo resident, was in a rubbish dump four miles south of Nanaimo retrieving a hacksaw he had left there on the weekend while searching for scrap metal. As he walked by a stack of old car parts, he saw two feet sticking out from under a pile of rusty fenders. He lifted a fender and saw a body. It was Diane Phipps. He fled the scene and called police. Police believe the girl had been forced from Dixon's car, driven seven miles south by the killer, then murdered on a lonely bush road. She had been shot once between the eyes, then beaten with a boulder. She had not been sexually molested and the contents of her purse were still intact. Police ruled out the theory that the killer could have been a jealous lover since the couple had been going together for about half a year.
The killings would become known as the Lovers' Lane Murders and created headlines in the Vancouver newspapers for the next week. The RCMP had little to go on - no motive, no weapon, no suspects. They believed that they were looking for a criminal psychopath. The police received a call from a young woman living on Harewood Road, not far from where Diane's body was found. She told police that she had been watching a late night television show when a man knocked at her door about one A.M. on the night of the murder. He told her that his car was stuck in the ditch just up the road and asked for the use of her truck to pull him out. The man climbed into the box of the truck and she drove a couple of hundred yards down the road where the man hooked a chain from her truck to his car. She pulled it out of the ditch and, as the stranger unhooked the chain, he told her to go home.
The next day, she heard about the double murder and called the police. Officers examined the piece of gravel road and noted that tire tracks had swerved suddenly off the road and hit a rock. They theorized that the driver of the car was the murderer and that Diane Phipps was still alive at that time and had yanked at the steering wheel. With a description of the stranger and of his car, they felt certain it wouldn't be long before they made an arrest. The Nanaimo City Council offered a reward of $3,500.00 - later increasing it to $5,000.00 - for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murders of Diane Phipps and Leslie Dixon. The reward was equivalent to a year's wages. But, despite the most intensive murder investigation in the history of British Columbia, the reward went unclaimed and the police were completely baffled.
Three months following the murders, the weather turned bitterly cold. For the first two weeks of 1963, the temperature on Vancouver Island seldom rose above the freezing mark. Lakes everywhere were frozen over. On January 29, a young boy was playing on the ice on Long Lake, five miles north of Nanaimo, when he saw a gun lying in the mud beneath the clear ice not far from shore. He loosened a rock from the beach, smashed a hole in the ice and pulled out a .22 caliber rifle. Excitedly, he ran home with the gun and asked his father to clean it up and let him keep it. As he wiped the mud and water off the gun, the father noted that it was a Winchester semi-automatic rifle in excellent condition. Why would anybody throw away such an expensive gun?
He was suspicious. He took it down to the Nanaimo detachment of the RCMP which immediately sent it to Regina for ballistic tests. A short time later, a report came back that this was the gun that killed Leslie Dixon and Diane Phipps. The police were sure now that the case could be solved quickly. They had a description of the murder suspect, a description of his car and now the murder weapon. But, a year passed and the gun's owner could not be traced. The police remained baffled.
On Saturday, April 18, 1964 - almost a year and a half after the gun was found - the Vancouver Sun published an article in its Weekend Magazine describing the murders and appealing to people across Canada for information on the rifle used in the two slayings. The newspaper included, with its story, three photographs of the gun, including a close-up picture of the butt end of the stock showing where a brass tube could be pulled for loading. The gun was described as a Winchester .22 caliber, semi-automatic, rifle, Model 63, serial number 41649A, manufactured on October 5, 1940, and sold in 1942 - but the purchaser's name was unknown. The article added: "The rifle is expensive for a weapon of this caliber and is, consequently, rather uncommon. Anyone having knowledge of persons who have possessed rifles of this description is requested to inform the nearest police department or R.C.M.P. detachment immediately. Any information offered will be held in the strictest confidence."
The newspaper story resulted in a flood of tips. One of those tips led police to the original owner of the gun - Robert Ralph Dillabough, a former Canadian National Railways station agent at Savona, B.C. When police arrived at Savona, they learned that Mr. Dillabough had died ten years earlier on March 15, 1954. The disposition of his estate, including the rifle, had been handled by D.T. Rogers of a Kamloops law firm. Some assets of the estate were sold privately while other assets, including this rifle, were sold at a public auction. The auction had taken place in Kamloops on February 19, 1955.
The auctioneer was George Shelline, but when police went to interview him, they learned that he had been killed in an accident a year after the auction took place. They searched his records but were unsuccessful in finding the name of the gun's buyer. Once again, they had come to a dead end. The police checked 60,000 vehicle registrations seeking a car described by the witness. They screened every rental car in British Columbia. They interviewed thousands of people, took 200 written statements, examined 2,000 gun invoices and sought the help of the FBI in the United States and Interpol in Europe. They toted up more detective man hours on this murder than any murder probe in B.C. history. But they still did not have a suspect.
So, the Vancouver Sun ran another story about the case. This time, the newspaper asked for persons who had attended the Kamloops auction to come forward. The story was carried across Canada by the Canadian Press news service. Again, police received a flood of tips. This time, one of them led to the arrest of a suspect, at 35-year-old, North Vancouver baker named Ronald Eugene Ingram. Ingram had formerly lived in Nanaimo and, together with his brother, Wallace, owned Parklane Bakery on Harewood Street. In early 1965, he and his wife and three children left Nanaimo and moved to North Vancouver where he was taken into custody on August 7, 1965. He had never been a suspect in the case nor had he ever been interviewed by police.
Equipped with a chain saw, police went to the Parklane Bakery and cut out a section of retaining wall at the rear of the building where Ingram used to shoot at rats. Slugs retrieved from the wall matched those in the murder weapon. Ingram's car was also examined and, although two years had elapsed since the murders, human blood stains were found in the vehicle. Ingram was taken to Oakalla Prison in Burnaby. A few hours later, he attempted to commit suicide by plunging his head into a plugged, water-filled toilet bowl. When found by a guard, he had no apparent pulse but responded to inhalator treatment.
Six weeks later, on September 20, 1965, Ingram, through his lawyer, confessed that he had shot Diane Phipps between the eyes and then beat her head in with a rock. The admission was made to an all-male Assize Court jury minutes after a previous jury had found him fit to stand trial for capital murder. He was charged only with the girl's murder. Following his admission of guilt, three psychiatrists told the Court that in 1962, Ingram would have been suffering from a disease of the mind. The Crown Attorney suggested to the jury that they had no alternative but to find Ingram not guilty by reason of insanity, stating that "Ingram was in such a deranged state of mind at the time of the killings, he was not able to appreciate the nature and quality of his acts and could not have formed an intent."
The following day, a judge ordered Ingram to be held in close custody indefinitely - or as Section 545 of the Criminal Code put it - "until the pleasure of the Lieutenant Governor is known." Ingram was transferred to maximum security confinement at the Forensic Psychiatric Institute of Riverview mental hospital - then known as Essondale - at Coquitlam, B.C. and remained in close confinement for the next six years. In 1971, doctors considered that his mental condition had improved so dramatically that he was granted unsupervised ground privileges. In May, 1974, he escaped from the hospital but returned voluntarily after being free for four days. He escaped again in August, 1975. But this time, he was not recaptured for eight months.
In November, 1976, the Vancouver Sun reported that the doctors at Riverview Hospital ruled him sane and that a Provincial Review Board recommended he be released. Despite pleadings from his lawyer, the Provincial Cabinet refused to grant him his freedom. I have searched through subsequent newspaper archives without being able to learn whether Ingram was finally released and allowed to rejoin his wife and family who were now living in Edmonton. Nor did I learn who, if anyone, received the reward for his arrest. I do know, however, that the clue that solved this case was a rifle - the same rifle once owned by a station agent in Savona - the same rifle that saved the trans-Canada communication wires from being broken following the collapse of the Thompson River bridge in the flood of 1948.
Article Source: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~dimcl/rifle.html Article by: Edward Villiers for the Savona Historical Society
As an old boss of mine used to say, “Wouldn't that just tie your shit in a knot?”
B. and I divorced about a year later. I can tell the reader, that if they could perceive even a fraction more than their usual everyday “awareness” they would immediately see the wisdom of proceeding through their days as sober and fit as possible. The world is much more crowded than it appears. It is the vibration of the fly on the web that calls the spider's attention. I'll leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.