Napanee - Aug 28, 1921
In the summer of 1921, Rae T. Richmond was living in a house on Mill Street West in Napanee. He recalls that late on a Saturday night of August 27th he heard the town’s fire bell ringing and he started walking uptown. He was nearing the corner of Mill and Centre Streets when he met a man running south on Centre Street and turning the same corner to continue running west on Mill Street. They met and passed each other in silence and Richmond did not recognize him as anyone he knew.
When Richmond reached Dundas Street he saw a crowd gathered at the intersection of Dundas and John Streets; although the fire bell had rung repeatedly he saw no evidence of fire as he hurried down the to the corner.
As Richmond described his arrival on the scene: “There was quite a crowd in front of Wallace’s Drug Store when I got there – everybody seemed in a state of shock and people seemed to be going in and out of the laneway off John Street, behind Smith’s Jewellery Store. In the confusion, I heard someone say: ‘Well, anyway, he’s dead.’ I asked who was dead and someone replied that it was Constable Beard and that he had been shot. I went across the street and into the laneway; Beard was still there – I saw his body lying on the ground.”
The events that were to culminate in a senseless and brutal tragedy in Napanee that early Sunday morning of August 28th began as a series of homely domestic incidents completely unrelated to violence.
The late summer night was warm and pleasant, as was customary in such fine weather, several chairs stood on the sidewalk in front of the Royal Hotel (now the Richelieu Hotel) on Dundas Street. At one o’clock in the morning Ben Luffman, the hotel’s proprietor, was taking his ease there, accompanied by one Hugh Duncan, something of a local character and hanger-on.
As they sat talking, Constable Beard, the town’s night policeman, paused in a routine patrol of Dundas Street to take a chair for a while and join the conversation. During this pause he also went into the hotel to adjust the insoles of his boots, which were bothering him.
Directly across the street form the hotel was the ice-cream parlor and fruit store operated by Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Bova; their premise on the north side of Dundas Street was near Smith’s Jewellery Store that occupied the northeast corner of the intersection of John and Dundas Streets. The rear of their store abutted on a yard shared by the several properties close to that same corner.
Three alleys, or “laneways”, as they were usually called, gave access to the street from this yard. One beside Frank Perry’s Grocery (later Bernice’s Hat Shop) led to Dundas Street. This laneway has since been closed and built upon and is now the Yellow Sub. A second laneway led to Dundas Street between what were later the East-town Restaurant and the United Auto Parts; this laneway still exists. A third entrance at the west end of the yard emerged on John Street, behind Smith’s Jewellery Store, late the Toronto Dominion Bank and now the law office of Hogle and Dorleyers. This laneway, which was the scene of the action that night, is still in use.
Saturday night in Napanee in those years was a community social event and the big night of the week, especially in summer, and the Bova’s ice-cream parlor had no doubt been busy and closing had been late. As the small group talked in front of the Royal Hotel, Mr. Bova went to his back door to put some garbage in the yard. To his left the yard received some illumination through the laneway from the lights on John Street; looking in that direction he saw stealthy movement in the shadows behind Smith’s Jewellery Store. Returning with more garbage, he confirmed his suspicions.
Coming back inside, he told his wife that he had seen three men lurking behind Smith’s Store; apprehensive at what he had seen, he locked the back door and turned out the lights and went to the front of the store, pondering what he should do. Mrs. Bova went upstairs to their living quarters and going to a rear window she looked nervously out into the yard.
She couldn’t see anything clearly in the shadows but she could hear sounds of stealthy movement, and then a peculiar noise, as if someone was using a pry against wood. Going to the front of the apartment she saw her husband now on the street below and she called to him through an open window, telling him what she had heard and urging him to call the police. Probably, this only confirmed his intentions, for he had already seen Constable Beard in front of the hotel with Luffman and Duncan. Crossing the street, he informed the policeman of what he had seen.
In a small rural town of those uncomplicated years, Beard’s nighttime duties were more those of a watchman than a policeman and consisted mostly of persuading drunks to go home, quelling the odd fist-fight and checking storekeepers’ doors to see that all was secure. His was a quiet town and he was a conscientious policeman accustomed to hand his problems alone.
From the straightforward actions he now took he might have expected that this was only another nighttime incident – perhaps several young lads left over from the Saturday night crowd and making brave with a bottle of whiskey?
An indication of his slight opinion of the matter was the light-hearted summons to Duncan and Bova: “Come on boys…!”, an invitation no experienced police and responsible policeman would offer to bystanders if he had any thought of involving them in the least danger.
Duncan and Bova followed him as he crossed the street diagonally to the intersection, apparently choosing to enter the yard by the John Street laneway, which would put him directly at the rear of the jewellery store.
In his evidence given later at the inquest, Duncan said that Beard did not draw his revolver previous to the encounter. Beard entered the laneway, the darting rays of his flashlight probing the darkness of the passage, his figure outlined by the lighted street behind him and his town hesitant companions farther back at the mouth of the entrance. Duncan later attested that he had a momentary view of three men standing near the rear window of Smith’s store as the moving ray of the flashlight swept across their startled faces; questioned further, he said they looked like “mere boys”.
In the same moment he saw the constable suddenly jump back, as if he sensed danger, his right hand coming back to draw his weapon.
Duncan, suddenly afraid, retreated rapidly to the street and Bova had already preceded him. As both men ran back to the corner of John and Dundas Streets they heard the sound of a shot. Luffman met them at the corner and, under the impression that it was the constable’s weapon that had fired, Duncan told him: “Uncle’s got one of them!”
The evidence of Bova differed from that of Duncan on one point – Bova said he was under the impression that Beard drew his revolver as he entered the laneway. Bova’s evidence does not give an exact account of his movements immediately after the shot; it would be logical to assume that his first concern might be his wife in her anxiety. She testified that she had seen her husband depart with Beard and Duncan for the laneway; she heard the shot and one could imagine the state of her nerves as she waited.
Now that begins the confusion of things seen, half-seen, or only imagine that follows an act of sudden and unexpected violence, further complicated in this instance by the fact that the only witnesses had fled the scene before the action finished. There was only silence from the laneway now – what had happened or was happening? For a short time no one knew – and from their later accounts the uneasy feeling follows that the survivors were afraid of what they would find. An increase in their numbers would no doubt have added a brash crowd courage and determination, but all the town was abed and it was too soon for the sound of the shot to have drawn anyone to the scene.
However that may have been, from the evidence given by Ben Luffman at the inquest it emerges that he was one of the group of three who took the initiative; in the midst of uncertainty and fear he kept his head and acted with decision.
When Beard, Duncan and Bova left the hotel to investigate, acting on his own account Luffman had crossed the street directly in front of the hotel and entered the Perry’s laneway, which would bring him to the scene from the opposite end of the yard. He had gone only a short distance in the passage when he heard what he believed to be a scuffle over toward John Street. He turned and ran out into the street and over to Smith’s corner and as he ran he heard the report of the shot. From what was to happen in the wake of the shot it was fortunate for him that he had retreated to the laneway.
Arriving at the street corner he met Duncan running from the John Street laneway and it was then that Duncan told him: “Uncle got one of them”. Luffman asked him where Beard was and Duncan replied: “Around there,” with a gesture of his arm indicating the laneway.
Luffman continued around the corner to John Street, but once again he changed his intention and turned back to Dundas Street, a strong indication that he suddenly realized the significance of the laneway he had just left. Reaching the corner he looked to the left and saw three men running east along the sidewalk on Dundas Street. These men could only have emerged from Perry’s laneway.
As he watched, they turned right at the corner of Dundas and East Streets, going south past Elmer Miller’s livery stable and toward the river. There was no question that these were the men Beard had encountered. The game was afoot now and with only silence from the John Street laneway Luffman had to face the prospect that Beard could be down, or at least in serious trouble.
He crossed the street to the hotel and got his revolver and ran back to the corner where Duncan still hovered in agitated uncertainty. Luffman asked him if Beard had come out of the laneway and Duncan said “No”.
At this point occurs the one incident in the whole account that is unexplained: Luffman said that he returned to the hotel momentarily, but gives no reason; this is not consistent with his decisiveness throughout the whole affair.
The most probable explanation could be that it suddenly became clear that someone must phone for help. But acting on that impulse, on reaching the hotel he just as suddenly realized that he didn’t actually know what the situation was or what to report. Though it seemed improbable, Beard might still be grappling successfully with some remaining trouble in the depths of the laneway – perhaps by now he had emerged to organize the pursuit of the running men.
Whatever may have been Luffman’s reasoning or intention, he once again hurried across to the corner where Duncan still hovered in fear and indecision and asked him if he had seen Beard; again and for the final time Duncan said “no”.
Fearing the worst now but determined to end the uncertainty, Luffman immediately ran to the laneway and found Beard there, lying face down upon the ground and his arms outstretched, his flashlight still on and lying near his right hand. There was no evidence that he had been able to use his gun; later examination showed that it had not been fired.
Luffman said: “I reached down and turned his body over. Duncan came into the alley at this time and I said to him: “They got Dick.”
Returning to the hotel, Luffman phoned Dr. Vrooman and then summoned Police Chief Fred Barrett. He also requested the operator at the telephone office to give the fire alarm in order to get help to the scene.
With the arrival of the Chief of Police some confidence returned and as the crowd quickly gathered in response to the ringing of the fire bell the organization of a search for the criminals soon began. The Napanee Beaver’s report tells us: “In a short time the police had men on every street leading from the town.”
Ben Luffman apparently took a leading part in the ensuing search; he reasoned that the three men he had seen running, were heading toward the footbridge, which at that time crossed the river behind Gibbard Furniture Shops. He led a pursuit in that direction with his gun and accompanied by others, crossing the narrow bridge and beating the steep brushy slope leading up to William Street, but nothing was discovered. With angry and aroused citizens rushing off in all directions chasing armed men, it could be wondered that no more than one man was shot in Napanee that night.
In the meantime, a further avenue of escape was being explored: the railway line passing through Napanee assumes a long and difficult grade through the deep cutting of Robin’s Hill immediately south of the arched railway bridge over the river. This gradient greatly reduces the speed of a freight train, already perceptibly slower by the sharp curve in the line between the railway station and the river.
With a long freight train labouring on this grade, it was possible for an agile person to leap aboard a coupling between cars.
Shortly after the shooting and as the crown was gathered at the scene, a scheduled freight train was heard approaching the town from the west and the possibility was not overlooked. A carload of men set off for Mooney’s Crossing south of the town on the old Hamburg road to observe the train as it passed that point, to see if anyone was hidden between the cars. Nothing was discovered.
While the town seethed with search and pursuit, a careful investigation was made in the laneway for clues of the killers. Jimmy marks were discovered on the sill of the rear window of the jewellery store and two empty army haversacks were found; the burglars had been interrupted before they could make an entry.
Provincial Constable Ward found and expended rifle cartridge case on the ground and later a bullet was removed from the casing of a window in the rear of Bova’s store; the pane of this window had also been broken. The bullet was identified as from either a .30 or .32 calibre cartridge and it must have passed completely through Beard’s body to embed itself if the window casing.
A post mortem examination of Beard’s body at Ming and Hambly’s funeral parlor determined that the shot “penetrated his chest and caused a rupture of the heart.”
Whatever the expectations and anxieties of the night’s search, the birds had flown. However, the morning brought a strong hint of how they had made their escape when J.W. Robinson, a Napanee dry goods merchant living on the northeast corner of Union and Dundas Streets (Piety Hill), reported that his car had been stolen from his garage during the night. The Napanee Beaver described the car as being a “big Willys-Knight.” This was immediately taken as being the means of escape of the three criminals.
That much at least was ascertained, but it was all Napanee was to know of the matter until Sept. 4th, when the first break in the case cam with the discovery of Robinson’s stolen car, found abandoned in a swamp eight miles north of Kingston and near the Perth Road. The Napanee Beaver states: “It is said to have contained a couple of .32 cartridges similar to that which killed the Napanee constable.”
While this discovery looked promising, it could not be immediately connected with a know person and the case bogged down in routine investigation and a shuffling of information without progress.
Later in the year and during the months of November and December the police of the city of Kingston were plagued by a series of burglaries and armed hold-ups, including the wounding of a policeman and of a business man. Following the burglary of Best’s drug store on Princess Street on Dec. 4th, the Kingston police arrested three men, Sherwood Upton, Erwood Upton and Fred Bryant. The Uptons were twin brothers of twenty years of age and Bryant was twenty-one.
While the process of reasoning was not described in the press – undoubtedly a vital clue would be that of the rifle cartridges – the connection of the Uptons and Bryant with the murder of Constable Beard was quickly established. The Crown Attorney at Napanee promptly charged the Uptons and Bryant with the murder of Constable Beard, breaking into J.W. Robinson’s garage and stealing his automobile and attempting to break into Smith’s Jewellery Store
However, their appearance in Napanee on these charges would have to wait until the charges against them in Frontenac County were disposed of.
On Dec. 19th, 1921, Erwood and Sherwood Upton were convicted in Kingston of assorted charges and each of them was sentence to four years in Kingston Penitentiary. Bryant was held in jail awaiting trial for several robberies.
On Jan. 12th, 1922, the Upton brothers and Fred Bryant appeared in the county court house at Napanee for a preliminary hearing presided over by Magistrate Rankin, with Uriah M. Wilson, the Crown Attorney as prosecutor. Dr. T. W. Simpson, the County Coroner, gave the medical testimony. Four rifles, stolen from Dalton’s Hardware in Kingston, were identified; one of them, a .30 calibre Remington pump rifle, was the gun that had killed Constable Beard.
As the hearing progressed, two singular incidents occurred which were to radically change the whole aspect of the case and the legal procedure of its disposal. At this point a sudden strategy emerged on the part of the defence of the Uptons when written confessions by Erwood and Sherwood Upton were handed to Magistrate Rankin by Crown Attorney Wilson. Rankin read the confessions silently and returned them to the Crown Attorney without comment, which was proper and even mandatory under the circumstances.
However, the Crown Attorney compromised the case for all three accused by committing a grave and probably unprecedented error – he handed the confessions to the press with an implication that it could do as it wished with them.
Erwood Upton’s Confession
“On the Friday previous to the shooting of Constable R.A. Beard, Napanee, I went to Napanee by auto, leaving here about seven p.m. and arriving in Napanee in the neighbourhood of 11 p.m. I examined the laneway and the lay of the land in the rear of Smith’s Jewellery Store in Napanee. I then returned to Kingston, arriving about 2:00 a.m. next morning. On the next day, Saturday, I, Sherwood and Fred Bryant went to Napanee on the Grand Trunk train, leaving Kingston Junction about 5:55 p.m. Sherwood Upton carried a black club bag; Bryant carried a brown suitcase; I had a parcel containing one Remington pump rifle cal. 30, done up in white canvas. We had ammunition in the club bag. The suitcase contained two kit bags. On arrival at Napanee we went to a Chinese restaurant on Dundas Street, where we left the club bag, suitcase and parcel containing the rifle, telling the Chinaman we would call back later. During the evening I visited Smith’s Jewellery Store twice. At about eleven p.m. we went to the Chinese restaurant and got the grip, suitcase and rifle; we then went down the street that leads to the sawmill; we cached the suitcase, club bag and rifle at the mill; we then went uptown again. We watched until Mr. Smith closed his store and followed him and another man home. We then went back to the mill and took the rifle and two kit bags and returned to Dundas Street. We went to the lane in the rear of Smith’s Jewellery Store and hid the rifle and two kit bags. We hung around town until about midnight, when we went to the lane behind the store and got the rifle and two kit bags, which were hid there, and went to the window in the rear of Smith’s Jewellery Store.
At this time we saw a man with grey whiskers trying to open the doors on the far side of John Street and we waited to see if he would visit the laneway, but he turned along Dundas Street. At this time Fred Bryant was carrying the Remington pump rifle, he being the closest to John Street, Sherwood Upton was next, and I was the furthest in the lane at the window. In a minute or two after we arrived there, three men appeared on John Street and turned sharply into the laneway, one flashing his flashlight on Bryant, the man with the flashlight grabbing Bryan by the shoulder and saying, “Come on” or words to that effect. Bryant shoved and tripped this man, causing him to stagger back on the sidewalk. He then drew his gun, having a gun in one hand and flashlight in the other, and we three, myself, Sherwood Upton and Fred Bryant, ran back in the lane, Sherwood Upton in the lead, I was next, when I tripped and fell, Fred Bryant passing me.
The man with the flashlight was just about even with me and within easy reach when a shot was fired and this man dropped, making no outcry. On getting up I said: “What the hell did you do that for?” I then followed Bryant and my brother. We eventually got to the mill where we left our club bag and suitcase; we then took down the rifle. When we went to the mill the first time we changed our clothes for different ones; when we came back to the mill we re-changed. Taking the suitcase, club bag and parcel containing the rifle, we went west on the back streets down near the water, doubling back on Dundas Street to Robinson’s house, where, I , with a pen knife, removed the glass from one of the side windows of the garage, getting in through this window and opening the double doors.
Bryant and my brother came through the doors into the garage, where we three remained about an hour. I found that Willys-Knight car that was in there locked and I had to fix the switch to get it into running order. I backed the car out of the garage; in doing so I backed into a tree. We turned and headed towards Belleville. I got twisted in the roads and we finally landed back in the same street we started from, then continued east on Dundas Street, passing Smith’s Jewellery Store, and continuing direct on the York Road to Kingston.
Sherwood Upton’s confession was almost a repetition of this brother’s; both averred that Bryant was carrying the rifle when the shooting occurred.
If these proceedings were unconventional, with the disclosure of unexpected defence strategy and a bumbling Crown Attorney giving the game away by handing sensitive evidence to the press prematurely, it was all a piece with the incredible ineptness recounted in the confessions themselves. And incidentally, there was certainly no honour among thieves, with both the Uptons leaving Bryant to carry the can.
Their arrival in Napanee by train and their casual parade through the down-town streets carrying bags and a cased rifle might almost have been an advertisement of their mission; and they completed the stupidity when they checked their luggage and the rifle with the restaurant proprietor, pointedly putting themselves on record for later identification as the three strangers in town that night.
Certainly their abortive attempt on the jewellery store while the town’s citizens were still up and about, and without timing their break-in pattern with the night policeman’s patrol pattern, shows either an appalling carelessness or bold contempt for the nighttime surveillance of the town – probably the latter. In their conceit, they were smart city boys about to knock off an easy job in a hick town with a flat-footed night watchman; what did they need of caution or plan.
To cap it all, they obviously had made no provisions for a quick getaway from the town and were depending on chance – three would be desperadoes on the main and only highway but who couldn’t find their out of town on a straight road, “…we finally landed back on the same street we started from…”. In desperation, they reversed their direction, driving their stolen car – and a very conspicuous one at that – right through the middle of the aroused town, right through the milling and angry crowd gathered at the scene of their crime as they made a run for Kingston. This, too, when “…the police had men on every street leading from the town.” And they got away with it.
A comedy of errors – had the events of the night spared the life of gallant policeman the whole thing might have been the scenario of a farce: how not to commit a crime; or, if you do, how to make sure you’re caught.
No doubt in some shock and consternation, the preliminary hearing concluded with the three accused men committed to trial in the Lennox and Addington Court House at Napanee for the first degree murder of Richard Beard; the trial was to commence on Feb. 21st.
The Napanee Beaver and the Napanee Express both published the confessions that had been handed to them; The Kingston Whig-Standard, realizing the gravity of the circumstances, declined to publish the confessions.
However, the damage had been done. A.B. Cunningham, legal counsel for Fred Bryant who pleaded innocent of all charges, immediately sought a change of venue for the trial from Napanee; his contention was that it was no longer possible for his client to obtain a fair trial in Napanee – not only had the individual confessions of the two Uptons accused Bryant of the shooting, the confessions had also been published by the press. His complaint was, of course, justified, and Justice Riddell of the Ontario Supreme Court ordered the trial site to be moved to Kingston.
On Feb. 21st, 1922, the trial of the Upton brothers and Fred Bryant opened in Frontenac County Court House in Kingston. As the proceedings began, in a surprise move the counsel for the Upton brothers changed their pleas to “guilty of manslaughter”. This change of plea was accepted by the Crown Prosecutor, Walter S. Herrington of Napanee, and by the presiding Judge, Justice Riddell. A second minor shock occurred when the court was informed by the Warden of Portsmouth Penitentiary that Erwood Upton was ill with typhoid fever and would not be able to appear in court for several days. At this point the trial was laid over until the fall assize in September.
On Sept. 27th, in Frontenac County Court House and before Justice Orde, Erwood Upton, Sherwood Upton and Fred Bryant were sentenced to life imprisonment in Portsmouth Penitentiary.
Justice Orde observed: “The constable died in a courageous act, one the Canadian Constabulary is famous for. The officer went into a laneway to perform his duty and in the course of a few moments met death, killed by a bullet piercing his heart.
In retrospect, who was the running man whom Rae Richmond met as he hurried to the summons of the fire bell? At that hour in a sleeping residential section of town, in all probability it was either one the Uptons or Bryant.
Their escape was in that direction and in those early critical minutes after the deed they must have been hurrying to put as much distance as they could between them and possible pursuit while looking for a car to steal. Having been observed as a group of three by at least three witnesses at the scene of the shooting, it would be common sense to separate temporarily until they reached a relatively safe distance; all streets ran parallel and it would not be too difficult to keep contact and re-group when convenient in the west end of the town. In the interim, one man running alone would be less conspicuous than three men running together. Their escape was apparently as haphazard as was their bungling attempt at burglary, but this conjecture would accord with an instinctive precaution men would take, even if badly rattled by failure.
However, if this reasoning is not correct, then the running man must remain a minor mystery within the framework of a more sinister drama that night in Napanee.
About the Author: Mr. Wesley Alkenbrack is a Napanee resident and is a long-time Director of the Lennox and Addington Historical Society. The Murder of Constable Beard was first published in the Society’s Paper and Records Volume XV11, in 1987.
Editor’s Note: The name of Constable Richard Arnold Beard was not included when the Canadian Police Officers’ Memorial was dedicated on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Through the efforts of PAO Director Brenda Lawson, Constable Beard’s name will now be added to the long list of police officers that have given their lives serving the people of Canada. They must never be forgotten.