Tag Archive for Canada

In Defense of the Death Penalty

Albert Westgate

In the debate over the efficacy and morality of the death penalty, there is at least one case which demonstrates that capital punishment can act as a deterrent to murder.
 
The case of Albert Victor Westgate also reveals the problem proponents of the death penalty have in showing that the ultimate punishment can prevent crime. In order to prove their presumption, they have to show a crime that was not committed against John Doremi because Jane Doesedo was executed, a form of logical fallacy called “argument from ignorance” or proving a negative. (The term ignorance does not reflect the intelligence of the proponent; the presumption stems from the unknown, of which we are ignorant).
 
Now let us move from the esoteric to the very real and sordid tale of Albert Victor Westgate, a Canadian from Manitoba who was convicted of murdering Lottie Adams and sentenced to death. However, before he was to be hanged Westgate’s punishment was commuted to life imprisonment. He served about 14 years of that sentence. Six months after he was released, Westgate strangled a 16-year-old Winnipeg girl, Edith Cook. For his second murder, Westgate was hanged in 1944.
 
It is impossible to deny that had Westgate been hanged in the spring of 1928 as planned, Edith Cook would not have been murdered by him in December 1943.
 
Of course, one example does not prove the rule, and so the debate rages on.
 
In 1928, Westgate was working as a chauffeur in St. Vital, a community not far from Winnipeg. He was apparently obsessed with a local married woman, Lottie Adams, with whom he had a platonic friendship. Because of his career — more of a cabbie than a private chauffeur — Westgate would often invite his friends to ride along with him as he worked. One of his frequent companions was Lottie.
 
Over time, however, Westgate’s interest in Lottie began to make her uncomfortable and she attempted to break off their friendship. On February 13, 1928, while at the home of a friend, Westgate phoned Lottie and told her that he was leaving Manitoba to go to Minneapolis. He asked to see her one last time before he left. She agreed to meet him on February 16, telling her husband that she wanted to do so to see for herself that Westgate really planned to leave town.
 
On the 16th Lottie’s husband sent a package home from work to his wife and when he returned from work was surprised — but not worried — when he saw that it was still sitting on the front porch. He knew that she often went to visit her elderly father some distance away, and he assumed that she was staying the night with him due to the foul weather.
 
When Lottie failed to show up the next day, Mr. Adams went to his father-in-law’s home and learned that Lottie had not visited him at all. Adams went to the police and the authorities began a 12-day search for the missing woman.
 
The search was made more difficult by the heavy snows of the Canadian winter. After Lottie was reported missing, a constant snowstorm dropped more than 12 inches of snow on the area, covering any tracks she might have left.
 
Boy Scouts, snowshoe enthusiasts, and other volunteers unsuccessfully combed the area around the Adams home on the assumption that Lottie had wandered away in the storm and become lost.
 
Almost two weeks after Lottie’s disappearance, a Fort Garry man on his daily walk spotted a hand and a bit of a coat’s fur collar protruding from a snow drift along a roadside. Investigating, he uncovered the bloody body of Lottie Adams.
 
She had been shot twice in the head and then had her skull bashed in with a hatchet. Both the gun and the hatchet were found not far from where her body lay.
 
Westgate was quickly arrested. He had been spotted in the area near where the body was found — two men had to help him pull his car from a ditch about 150 yards from where Lottie’s body would be found. His strained relationship with Lottie was also considered circumstantial evidence against him.
 
In the car Westgate borrowed for work, police found bloodstains, although they were determined to be of human origin, they were only assumed to be Lottie’s blood. Westgate also had blood on his coat, but his wife claimed he had suffered a bloody nose sometime in the days between the time that Lottie disappeared and Westgate was arrested.
 
Finally, a bullet hole was found in the roof of Westgate’s auto.
 
The trial was a pretty cursory affair. In the spring of 1928, less than two months after the murder, Westgate was convicted of murder and sentenced to die. Two days before his execution date, however, the appeals court found that one of the jurors on Westgate’s panel was mentally incompetent and ordered a new trial. The outcome was the same, and Westgate was once again condemned.
 
The Crown commuted his sentence to life. Westgate was a model prisoner and was eventually appointed to serve as the warden’s chauffeur, enjoying trips outside the prison walls on several occasions.
 
In 1943, Westgate was released from His Majesty’s prison system and moved to Winnipeg, where he made the acquaintance of Grace Edith Cook, a 16-year-old polio survivor who was working as a waitress in the hotel where Westgate was living.
 
Westgate reported as ordered to his parole officer, but the authorities were shocked to see a man who had once faced the gallows on the street.
 
“I was surprised to see Westgate at liberty last June, and had no idea that any movement had been started to obtain his release on parole,” Winnipeg Chief of Police George Smith told the press after Edith’s murder.
 
Edith, as she was known, was looking for excitement, and an older man like Albert Westgate fit the bill.
 
“Edith ran with the tide,” her mother said. “She could have been lifted to the very highest or dragged to the very lowest.”
 
Engaged to a New Zealand airman, Edith wanted to travel, and Westgate was willing to help pay for her to travel to Edmonton and Vancouver.
 
“I told her when she reached Vancouver to look up my wife,” Westgate told police. “She told me she would be only too pleased to do so.”
 
Westgate told police that in November 1943, he had helped pack some of Edith’s belongings with the understanding the girl was about to leave town.
 
“When I looked at her I could see she had tears in her eyes; she put her hands on my coat lapels and I could see that she was really worried over something,” his statement reads. “‘Promise me that you will come to Vancouver,’ she said. I told her that I could not.”
 
That was the last time he saw her, he claimed.
 
Edith’s mother went to the train station in an attempt to stop the girl from going to Vancouver (she did not have permission from the Selective Service to leave her Winnipeg job) on Saturday, but Edith did not appear. The next day, Mrs. Cook went to Edith’s hotel room where she discovered her daughter lying dead in her bed. Her body was covered except for her head, and oddly, a new pair of shoes was on the bed placed soles against the wall as if they were on her feet.
 
Edith had been strangled to death, and blood from her mouth and nose had coated the pillow and sheets.
 
Just as with the Lottie Adams case, the evidence against Westgate for the murder of Edith Cook was circumstantial.
 
Edith was seen to have a watch given to her by Westgate, but the watch was not found on her body or with her belongings when the crime was discovered. A day after the murder, Westgate gave an identical watch to a waitress at a cafe near his rooming house.
 
On the day of her murder, Westgate appeared at a shoe store with two pairs of shoes Edith had recently bought. He asked that they both be exchanged for smaller sizes — all the while portraying himself as Edith’s father.
 
The significance of this act is unclear.
 
Edith died sometime between late Friday night and Sunday when she was discovered. On the Sunday before the body was found, Westgate went to a local soda stand and attracted the attention of the clerk when he stated he “should have been shot a long time ago.” The clerk testified that Westgate was “fidgety.”
 
Hotel clerks also put Westgate in the mezzanine of Edith’s hotel on the Saturday of her death.
 
After a trial, for a third time, Canadian jurors condemned Albert Westgate to death.
 
This time he did not cheat the hangman. Westgate went to his death on July 24, 1944.
 
As a veteran who was discharged in good standing, Westgate was buried in a military cemetery. However, some time after he was interred, the Canadian government removed the headstone. His body remains in the unmarked grave.
Postscript
Visitors to the Marlborough Hotel where Edith was murdered have reported ghostly apparitions of a woman roaming the halls of the building near where the killing took place. That room on the fifth floor, however, is not available for guests, according to the Winnipeg Paranormal Group, which investigated the century-old hotel in 2014.
 
The Register takes a skeptical view of such claims, but fans of the paranormal may want to check out the strange history of the Marlborough.

Poetic Justice

There was a bit of poetic justice in how Gordon Stewart Northcott died on the gallows at San Quentin in 1930. It was certainly not the end he would have chosen, but it was the one that best fit his true persona.
 
A swaggering, pompous ass with delusions of grandeur and an over-inflated ego, the 24-year-old Canadian immigrant had been convicted of the torture-murders of three young boys on his Riverside, California, farm.
 
Like many killers, Northcott used the criminal justice process as a chance to relive his crimes and enjoyed being the center of attention during his 15 minutes of fame. He considered himself smarter than most people and was not shy with the press.
 
“The whole case is simply that of a dissatisfied husband seeking divorce grounds, a movie publicity-mad girl from whose mind all of these ideas came, and a lazy, stupid boy half cracked from reading too many wild west stories,” was how he dismissed his accusers.
 
When Northcott realized that he would not be the star of his capital murder trial, he fired his attorneys so that he could take center stage to defend himself.
 
“I told him that he might hang himself,” his attorney told the press after he was fired. “‘Well, it will be worth it. My name will become known all over the world,’” the man said Northcott replied.
 
Serving as his own attorney, he led one of his surviving victims through a blow-by-blow account of one murder and questioned whether the boy knew the difference between a groan and a death rattle.
 
“You made me put some mud over his head to stop the noise,” testified Sanford Clark, Northcott’s nephew and foil.
 
“What kind of noise?” Northcott asked the 16-year-old.
 
“A groaning noise,” was the response.
 
“I wonder if you know the difference between a groaning and a gasping noise,” Northcott countered. “What kind of noise was it?”
 
“It was an awful noise.”
 
At trial, he repeatedly referred to a large blow-up photograph of the headless remains of one of his victims, forcing courtroom observers to acknowledge his gruesome handiwork.
 
Northcott laughed as he led investigators on wild goose chases for the graves of his victims and shrugged when the suggestion was made that there were many more undiscovered victims of his cruelty.
 
The killer called his own father to the stand simply to belittle and badger the man who, by his own admission, could not control his son. Then, just for fun, he convinced his mother — who confessed to participating in at least one of Northcott’s murders — to perjure herself by claiming that she was not his mother but his grandmother. Her daughter, living in British Columbia, strongly denied that this was the case.
 
Northcott might have avoided detection if not for a visit from an 18-year-old cousin, Jessie Clark, who came from Kamloops, British Columbia, to visit her younger brother Sanford who was working for Northcott on his Southern California chicken ranch.
 
There she found Sanford living in decrepit conditions on the farm occupied by Northcott, his mother, Sarah Louisa, and his father, Cyrus.
 
Sanford told Jessie stories of abuse at the hands of Northcott, who was overindulged by his mother and feared by his father. Part of the abuse consisted of helping Northcott dispose of the bodies of boys he killed.
 
Jessie returned to Canada and told authorities about her brother’s plight, and they contacted Riverside County investigators, who took Sanford Clark into protective custody. That gave Northcott and his mother time to flee north. They escaped over the border and eluded capture for two months.
 
While the Canadians were looking for the mother and son fugitives, Riverside authorities were excavating the farm based on information provided by Sanford and Cyrus.
 
Sanford claimed Northcott killed three young boys and a Mexican teenager, and buried their remains in graves about three feet deep. Sifting through the dirt, investigators found a few bones that still contained flesh and hair. They also located a “toenail believed from the foot of a 10-year-old boy,” according to contemporary media reports. It appeared that the bodies had been moved before Northcott fled north, for no complete skeletons were found.
 
“I knew of the killings but never saw them,” Cyrus told police. “My wife would go to any extreme, not excepting murder, to please her son.”
 
Sanford told police that Northcott’s first victim was 9-year-old Walter Collins, who had been kidnapped in April 1928. After Walter was dead, Nelson and Louis Winslow were kidnapped, held captive, and then slain. He said Northcott killed the boys with an axe as his mother helped. Under threat of death, Sanford was forced to help dispose of their remains.
 
The last victim was the Mexican youth, whose decapitated corpse was found dumped along side a rural Riverside County road. His head was never found.
 
When Northcott was arrested in Canada, he denied his identity, but positive identification was a simple matter. During his trip back to Southern California, a bit of the old “third degree” helped secure a confession that Northcott was not successful in repudiating.
 
Shortly before Northcott and his mother were to stand trial, Sarah Louisa pleaded guilty to one count of murder in return for a promise by the state not to seek the death penalty. When Northcott learned of his mother’s deal, he threw a temper tantrum, jail guards told the press.
 
The trial was a perfunctory affair except for Northcott’s grandstanding and he was convicted of three counts of murder for the deaths of the Winslow boys and the unidentified Mexican youth. He was slated to stand trial later for Walter Collins’s murder.
 
Northcott squeezed every bit of notoriety out of his crimes as he could. He remained confident that the conviction would be overturned on appeal, and when that failed, he hinted that he could lead authorities to the final graves of his victims. The searches proved fruitless.
 
“Well, I just had to send you on another wild goose chase before I was through,” Northcott said to police, a smirk on his face.
 
On the day before he was to be hanged, Northcott agreed to see the mother of Walter Collins, who wanted to know if he killed her little boy. Northcott kept Christine Collins waiting for several hours before he denied murdering Walter.
 
In the end, Northcott’s bravado failed him. On October 2, 1930, he was led to the gibbet, whimpering and blindfolded because he said he could not stand to view the gallows. He collapsed as he was taken from the death cell and had to be supported by two guards.
 
His final words as the black hood and noose were put over his head were “don’t, don’t.”
 
The last bit of poetic justice came right before the executioner pulled the trap lever. Northcott’s legs gave way and he began to collapse just as the trap sprang. His collapse took the slack out of the rope, and as a result his fall was too short to snap his neck.
 
It took him 11 minutes to strangle to death.