Manslaughter Trial Opened at the Assize Court This Morning

All Four of the Accused Men Pleaded Not Guilty to the Charge                                                                               

Early this morning Thomas Battle, K.C., of Niagara Falls, Crown prosecutor in the MacRobbie case, was bustily engaged in setting the stage for the trial of J. J. McAuliffe, Walter Scott, H. L. Asselstine and Harry Smith, on a charge of manslaughter in connection with the death of Dr. Douglas G. MacRobbie, whose body was discovered in the upper room of the Crescent Oil Company’s building, Cannon street west, about the midnight of Sunday, Aug. 19th.

The public are well aware of the details of the tragedy which profoundly stirred the city. With the assistance of Harry Sayer, the detective who is responsible for the gathering of all the evidence to date, the court room was laid out as nearly as possible as the actual scene where the body was found. The iron bars were placed on the floor beside the old desk which served the employees of the Crescent Oil Company for clerical purposes in that upper room, the bars being the ones upon which the head of Dr. MacRobbie rested when the doctors were called to the scene about two hours after he was found by Asselstine, the hostler of the company.

The jury empaneled were: S. F. Mellan, Peter Murray, Harry J. Miller, Wm. Kidd, Georgge Kent, Thomas Lottridge, Victor Shaver, Ernest Ridder, Benjamin Lewis, John Lawry and Harvey.

The accused were brought into the prisoner’s dock, where they were charged with the crime of having been responsible for the death of Dr. Douglas G. MacRobbie, Col. Gwyn, clerk, reading the charge. All of the men answered firmly “Not guilty.”

Thomas Battle, the prosecuting attorney, addressed the jury, reminding them that a man meets his death under four distinct conditions: Naturally, suicide, accidentally or by the hand of another, which is called homicide. It was their duty to find how the victim came to his death.

A description of the movements of the men was given by the prosecuting attorney, after which the first witness, Wm. Perrie, a surveyor, was called. Mr. Perrie stated he had been called into the case by Crown Attorney Washington to make exact measurements of the pools of blood and supposed position of the body.

Early in the proceedings it was evident that a keen legal battle would rage. C. W. Bell, acting for Walter Scott, objected to a question of the possibility of the dead man’s head having struck on the iron bars, as they were laid out in the court room according to the blue prints drawn by witness. The question concerned the relation of blood spots in the inner office. It was stated by the witness that it was impossible for the blood to have spurted from the wound in the head of the victim to the inner room. As the statements were bases largely on supposition, C.W. Bell objected, and was sustained.

J. O’Relly, K. C. for McAuliffe, asked witness when he had made the drawings, and was told it was the Tuesday following the tragedy.

Witness also told the jury that he had only laid out the court room exhibit from the position he had found the materials, which might have been rearranged since the death of the doctor.

Fred Staunton, 173 York street, was the next witness called saying he had made an appointment with Scott on the Sunday morning of the death of Dr. MacRobbie, and met him in his shop on York street. They had taken a walk up York street to Caroline, thence to Cannon. They met Dr. MacRobbie during this walk, who accompanied them as far as the Crescent Oil Co office, when they were attracted by a new auto, Mr. Smith’s which was standing outside of the building. Dr. MacRobbie went inside, later calling the witness and Scott. All talked for a while then dispersed. Witness said that Dr. MacRobbie looked as if he had been drinking, judging from his flushed face. Scott and witness went into the Royal Oak Hotel, and had a few drinks of 2 ½ percent, ale.

G. Slaight, of Simcoe, who acted for Harry Smith, asked the witness if he thought Dr. MacRobbie was drunk, receiving the reply that the doctor was not what one might be called drunk, but was not sober, either.

Theobald, barber, on York street, also testified that he had met the doctor on that Sunday morning; had passed the time of day with him, and had not noticed that the doctor was under the influence of liquor.

Herbert Dornan of the Royal Oak Hotel, corner of Bay and Cannon streets, said that Smith, Scott and McAuliffe called at his hotel that morning about 11 o’clock, and that in his estimation they were all sober. They again came in about 0 o’clock and were all talkatively drunk at the 0 o’clock visit. Dr. MacRobbie joined the men in the hotel later. He was sober. Only 2 ½ percent beer or ale was drunk.

Harry Bell, an employee of the Crescent Oil Co., who resides with Harry Smith in the home of the later, was next called.

Bell stated that Mr. McAuliffe had called at the Smith residence at about 11am of the fatal Sunday. The three men, Bell, McAuliffe’s machine. Conversation centered around the Winona farm of Smith’s.

Bell left the office about 12:30 or 1 pm. He would not say either Smith or McAuliffe was drunk. The next thing Bell knew about the men was when he was called up by Asselstine at about twelve o’clock midnight. He had walked down to the office, finding Eddie Dornan and Asselstine outside. Dornan sad that someone was hurt upstairs, and thought it was Dr. MacRobbie. Together the three went up the stairs the first thing he (Bell) observed was the body of McAuliffe, who was lying asleep on the floor. He then saw Dr. MacRobbie, went over to him, felt his pulse, then was rather startled by the victim groaning and rolling from his original position on the right side to his back.

Dornan suggested getting the doctor, Bell going for Dr. Langs, according to witness, arrived at about one o’clock. The fingers of the right hand of Dr. MacRobbie held a half-smoked cigarette and the head was a short distance from the bars, not on them. The distance was not over an inch or an inch and a half from the bars. If the doctor’s body had been rolled back he thought the head would have rested on the bars. Witness stated that both Smith and McAuliffe were also lying there asleep.

Witness stated that Harry Smith had been drinking the Saturday night before the tragedy. He, Bell, had gone to Smith’s house, bringing him back to the scene at the instance of Detective Sayer. He had found Smith partially dresses in bed and very drunk.

Under cross-examination of C. W. Bell, the witness stated that they had entered the building by the side, back door. Mr. Bell pointed out that this entrance was accessible from two directions and that anyone could have entered the building from one street and left by another.

Dr. M. H. Langs swore that he had arrived on the scene at 12:45 or 1 o’clock on the night between Sunday and Monday. Bell had taken him to the oil company’s premises in an automobile. He found Dr. MacRobbie on his back of the floor, his right hand extended, his left on his chest. The head did not rest on the iron bars, and he could and did have occasion to place his fingers between the iron bars and the head of the victim, showing that the head was no on the bars.

In the opinion of Dr. Langs, the head had rested in but one pool of blood, the subsequent pools being the result of the flow of blood in pool. N° 1 signified that the first blood was spilled there. The blood in the second and third pools was more watery, indicating that the blood had trickled from pool N° 1 to the others.

A description of the wounds followed, being two in number, one 2 ½ inches on left side above the ear on the back of the scalp. The skull was fractured four inches above the ear and one inch behind it. The fracture extended two-thirds of the way around the skull, from the left side at the back, around the left side and across the eyes. This fracture was probably the cause of the discoloring of the eyes.

There was also a scratch on the neck on the right side, one-sixteenth of an inch wide, and three-eighths of an inch long. There was also a scratch on the left side, which might have been inflicted while shaving. The first mark, witness considered, might have been caused by a thumb of finger nail. The examination also showed a blood-clot of about 3-4 of an ounce. The wounds, in the opinion of Dr. Langs, could not have been caused by the fall on the iron bars, but were more of a nature caused by a heavy blow from some blunt instrument. Witness was persistent in the statement that the fracture could not have been caused by the fall. If the fall had been of such a nature to cause the wounds, the body would have been precipitated endways onto the bars, according to the position of the wounds in the back of the skull. As to the pulley grip, or half-round piece of wood which was exhibited, with the blood stains upon it, and which was thought to have been the instrument when the body was found. Dr. Langs stated that he did not think that it would be possible for the tile wound to have been caused by this instrument.

G. Slaight cross-examined the witness severely as to why the body had been exhumed after the first examination, and elicited the information that there had been so dispute as to the extent of the wounds. He also admitted that he had not been impressed by the extent of the wounds at the time that there was any suspicious circumstances surrounding the affair until afterwards. He accepted the statement of those who were present and had called him to the scene that the death of Dr. MacRobbie had been accidental, but when the talk of foul play was started, he took further notice of the extent of the wounds.

Although provision had been made in front of the jurors to demonstrate by a living person the actual position of the body when found, it was not permitted by the court, Justice Latchford considering it unnecessary much to the evident disappointment of Crown Prosecutor Battle.

The court adjourned for lunch at 1 o’clock, the jury being conducted to a hotel for dinner, after being strictly charged by the court as to that there had been some dispute as to their deportment in the matter of discussing the case in hand or separating one from another.

The attorneys interested in the case are: C.W. Bell for Walter Scott; M. J. O’Relly, K.C. for McAuliffe; A. G. Slaight, Simcoe, for Harry Smith and J. J. Hunt for H. L. Asselstine.


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