British Columbia Murders

Book Cover for BC Murders

My Murder Books In General

The writing of the first book I published happened very quickly. I made a proposal to a publisher that I write a book with five historical murders in it. They were intrigued and commissioned me to go ahead but to add a sixth murder. The sections may look short in the book but actually all six murders required a lot of research. In some ways it was like doing the work for six books and then condensing them into six chapters!

I chose my murders in a number of ways. First I wanted as many as possible to be historical, at least decades old. I then chose murders that had enough information in the capital files at the National Archives of Canada to give me a chance to put a story together that was historically accurate, but entertaining. Those files were invaluable because they contained all original documents and a complete original transcript of the trial. Lastly I picked murders that looked interesting or might explore a life and time I knew nothing about because I am forever a student wanting to learn something new.

I also feel compelled to add here that many so called true crime books, written hastily and badly, are not history by any stretch of the imagination. Nor are they “true.” I certainly do not brand all true crime writers with the same black brush. There are many notable exceptions, such as Anne Rule, who write well and have all their details correct. However, many others give this genre a bad name. A couple of murders I wrote about were written by someone else too. I read their accounts long after my own books had come out. Because I had the original capital file documents, I knew I had the correct story. The ones I read were at least 50% complete fiction. Not creative non-fiction which is entirely different and a wonderful form, but complete fiction. They were written to titillate and presumably to make the reader want to read more. What was astonishing to me is that the true stories were actually far more interesting and entertaining than the made up ones. The person was just lazy.

Now you know how I chose the murders, so here are a couple of excerpts from British Columbia Murders that I hope give you not only a sense of my writing style but also of how I tried to tie together the history part and the human part and make it, I hope, a compelling story.

Excerpt from Chapter Two, Dead Man, Centre Stage:

The Chicken Oath—A chicken was obtained. The witness was handed a piece of paper that said words to the effect, “Being a true witness, I shall enjoy happiness and my sons and grandsons will prosper forever. If I give false evidence, I shall die on the street, I shall forever suffer in adversity, and all my offspring will be exterminated. In burning this oath, I humbly submit myself to the will of heaven which has brilliant eyes to see.” The witness, court and jury would then retire to a convenient place outside the building where the oath could be administered. In addition to the poor chicken, a block of wood, an axe or knife, no fewer than three punk sticks (small pieces of rotting wood usually used as kindling), a pair of candles and Joss paper were also needed. The candles were stuck in the ground and lit. The oath was read aloud by the witness, who then wrapped it in the Joss paper. The witness would then place the chicken on the block of wood and chop its head off, set fire to the oath with the candles and hold the burning paper until it was consumed.

This time, Haw Fat Chung was satisfied and signed the oath. It seemed as though the hearing was at last moving forward—until an argument broke out between the prosecution and the defence over who was responsible for paying for the chicken, punk sticks and everything else needed for the oath.

The Prologue

It tells a piece of the story in Chapter 6, A Tragedy Within a Tragedy:

Wong Foon Sing had been kidnapped and beaten for 14 days by some of the people paid to uphold the law, not break it. After putting a chain around his body and tying it to his feet, they slapped him, punched him and rammed his head into the wall. Blood flowed from his nose and ear. His captives washed the blood off and the next day started the assault again.

The constant buzz inside his head would not go away. They thought he’d been lying and wanted the truth. He told them the same facts he had been stating all along about the murder of nursemaid Janet Smith. The truth made them angry. Now, it appeared, his suffering was going to come to a tragic end.

The men showed him a picture of his wife and told Wong he would never see her again. He was unchained and taken upstairs to an unfinished room with exposed wooden beams. There was a rough scaffold with a chair on it, and Wong saw a rope hanging over one of the beams. It had a noose at one end.

“They put me on chair and fix rope on my head,” Wong later testified. “Man says, ‘You tell everything or we kill you. You tell or you be dead.’ I say I no can tell anymore. I no know nothing more about poor nursie. Man say again they hang me.”

One of his captors pulled the chair out from under him. Wong Foon Sing lost consciousness.

What has been said about British Columbia Murders?

The stories are well researched and well told. McNicoll has a keen eye for lurid detail, and her narratives move along with compelling force. Describing the forensic experiments conducted in the investigation of Janet Smith’s death, she writes: “A gasp came from the crowd at Cruickshank’s next statement. He said that a decapitated human head had been used in the final experiment—the head of a dead mental patient at Essondale Hospital in New Westminster who had had no family or friends to claim his body.” 

- Canadian Book Review Annual

Great Reading for the Person on the Go
I loved this book! Each short story grabs the reader, and provides a window into not only the facts of the crime, but also the psyches of those involved, and historical details of the times. It is a great escape for those who can only read in bits and pieces.

- Catherine, reader on Chapters.ca website

British Columbia Murders can be purchased on line directly from the publisher, www.heritagehouse.ca or from Amazon, Chapters or other sites. It can also be found in many bookstores and libraries across British Columbia.