24/08/1917 - LITTLE LIGHT THROWN UPON THE MACROBBIE TRAGEDY

Herbert Asselstine Proved an “Unsatisfactory” Witness, the Crown said.

Some Contradictions – Testimony of Medical Men Not Taken

Not in many moons has Hamilton been aroused to such a high pitch of interest as that displayed in connection with the MacRobbie tragedy, which occurred last Sunday night on the premises of the Crescent Oil Company. At the opening of the inquest, last night, at the Central Police Station, the crowd of spectators who turned out to satisfy their curiosity became so large and so boisterous that they threatened to break into the court room where the inquiry was being held. Chief Whatley had several men on guard at all entrances, but it was impossible to clear the crowd who gathered in greater numbers than ever. Some of the more excitable threatened to call out the Mayor, if they were not permitted to enter, but Chief Whatley firmly, ordered all doors locked.

Although very few facts of an enlightening nature were brought out at the inquest last night, the authorities made considerable progress. Altogether, four witnesses were examined by the Crown Mrs. MacRobbie, the late doctor’s widow, Herbert Asselstine, Mrs. Powis and Harry Bell.

Asselstine was a somewhat refractory witness, and was called to task several times by the coroner and Crown Attorney Washington. Some of the watchman’s answers were classed as “unreasonable” and “unsatisfactory.” The Crown thought he seemed plagued with a decidedly short memory, and stock answers. “I don’t know” or “I couldn’t say,” were very annoying. His misunderstanding of the queries put him seemed almost intentional at times and called forth several sharp rebukes from the Crown. Asselstine stuck pretty well to his original story, except in the matter of the time of the time he found the body. Although he had previously been reported to have stated to the newspapers that it was 11:30. The evidence of Harry Bell also differed from that of the watchman, in the matter of the location of the body of MacRobbie, when found. Asselstine stated that when he saw MacRobbie, he was lying on his back, with his head on some iron bars. In direct contradiction was Bell’s statement that MacRobbie was laying on his side, with his head several inches from the bars in question. Each witness when examined was positive on this particular point.

Mrs. Powis, the Indian woman, still adhered to her story of hearing the cries for help from the Oil Company’s building and her testimony in this regard was unshaken under the cross-examinations of the Crown Attorney and counsel for the three men now in custody.

Mrs. MacRobbie remained calm throughout the whole proceedings and answered the questions put to her lucidly. She watched the affair with steadied interest and hardly ever lifted her eyes from the witness under-examination.

The three men, Smith, McAuliffe and Scott, remained in the dock throughout the progress, and from their restlessness it was evident they were suffering under the ordeal. Scott was the most composed of the three, but Smith and McAuliffe were almost continuously mopping from their foreheads the big beads of perspiration. The three prisoners looked pale and wan, apparently as the result of their confinement. Their evidence was not taken.

“I DID NOT LIKE THEM”

Mrs. MacRobbie, the widow of the dead man, the first witness called, was very composed, as she took the stand and answered the questions put to her in a straightforward manner.

In reply to the first query of Crown Attorney S. F. Washington, Mrs. MacRobbie stated that the late Dr. MacRobbie left the house about 8 o’clock in the morning of the day of his death, and returned between 11 and 12 o’clock. He went right upstairs and laid down. During his absence the witness stated, three men called in an auto and asked for the doctor.

Asked if she could identify the man who got out of the car and came to the door, she said:

“The man I saw wore a rough-looking brown suit and cap and slouched. I did not like the look of him. The man at the wheel had sharp features. He had no hat or coat on.”

Pointing to the three men in the dock – Smith, McAuliffe and Scott – the Crown asked her if she could identify them as being the three men who called in the auto, Mrs. Mac Robbie pointed out Scott and said he might be the man at the wheel. “He is not dressed in the same clothes as the man who came to the door. If I could see him in the same clothes, I would recognize him immediately.”

Mrs. MacRobbie explained that at the time the auto came up, a milk boy came to her door by mistake.

“Just then the man called out from the car for the doctor. I told him he was not in and shut the door. I watched them as I did not like the look of them. I saw them speak together. Then the one came up to the door and asked when the doctor would be in. I had no intention of telling them. I told them not till night.”

WATCHED THE CAR

“I watched the car as far as I could see it. I did not like the look of them,” again reiterated Mrs. MacRobbie, with emphasis.

The auto called between 10 and 11 in the morning, she continued under cross-examination by Crown Attorney Washington. The dead doctor often was called out and did not often tell her where she was going. Her husband got up after going to bed between 3 and 4 o’clock. He came down then and played with the baby a few minutes and then went upstairs and laid down again. He did not come down again until about 7 o’clock in time to answer the door to a lady. The witness was on the back verandah at the time, but heard the doorbell ring twice before he went out about five or ten minutes to eight.

Replying to the question put by Mr. Washington, Mrs. MacRobbie said she had never heard the names of Smith, Scott or McAuliffe mentioned by the doctor. She never knew of her husband going to premises of the Crescent Oil Co.

DID NOT TELL OF CALL

“Did you tell your husband that these men had called?” asked M. J. O’Relly, K.C., acting for McAuliffe, who then took the witness.

“No,” she replied emphatically. “I did not like the look of them.”

“There would be no harm in telling him,” proceeded the lawyer, “would there?”

“I suppose not,” answered Mrs. MacRobbie, after a moment’s thought.

Replying to C. W. Bell, counsel for Smith and Scott, Mrs. MacRobbie said it was not unusual for her husband to go out at such an early hour Sunday morning.

“Did you keep record of calls made during his absence?” asked Mr. Bell.

“No, I always answered the door, except when he was at home,” she answered.

WAS NOT WORRIED

Although the doctor’s office hours at night were 6 to 8 o’clock, he left no word of his being detained, she said. The witness stated she did not institute any inquiries when her husband did not return that night. “I went to bed at 10:30. I slept soundly and he could have come in and gone to bed without my knowledge.”

She stated to Mr. Bell that she did not know whether the doctor went out alone or in company with others.

ASSELSTINE EXAMINED

Herbert Asselstine, 114 Caroline street north, stated that he had worked at the Crescent Oil Company’s plant for the past three months. He left home last Sunday in the morning to go out in an auto with Mr. Dick Sturgles, Harriett street. He had not been in the company’s premises during the day. He returned home about 7:30. From then he was around the company’s premises until 9:30. He then walked home, where he found a man standing with an auto. He did not know who owed it. He thought it might belong to someone who was in the office, which was brilliantly lighted.

“Why you think that?” asked the Crown.

“You got me there,” was the reply.

Witness continued that he saw lights about 9:45PM for the first time. He did not go in, although he thought it unusual. It had been lit up before on Sunday, but not so brilliantly. Mrs. Smith had been around in the afternoon.

“But she would not be around in the upstairs room?”

“Sometimes they go up there to wash.”

“Why did you not investigate?”

“I had no keys.”

After further questions, he drifted back to the auto, which he stated, he went back to light. This was at 10:15. After an introduction by the Crown to McAuliffe, he thought it was his car.

He then noticed more lights where lit. He met Smith coming south on Caroline street, in company with another men. “I went to the corner to see of the lights where lit and see if anything was going on,” said witness.

Smith went into the office and he, the witness, declined an invitation to go also. He could not identify the man with Smith. Neither would he say that he looked like the deceased doctor. He knew McAuliffe to look at.

WITNESS CAUTIONED TO BE FRANK

“Mr. Asselstine,” interrupted the coroner, “it appears to me that you are not a very frank witness. I would advise you to answer in a straightforward manner and not hedge and evade so much.”

The Crown then proceeded with the examination. Asked if he knew Dr. MacRobbie, witness answered in the negative, but admitted knowing Scott. He did not think Scott was the man in company with Smith. He did not know a man who came along in an auto with a punctured tire, but helped fix it. Mr. Scott held by the Crown, but another man a tinsmith.

By the time the lights on the first car had gone out. He thought then that Smith was interested in the car as he told him to light the lights, although it was not his own, being a five passenger, while Smith’s was a runabout.

THOUGHTFUL OF NEIGHBORS

Two men came along and asked if “Harry” was in. “There was some noise going on, like singing. I was going in to stop it,” said Asselstine.

“Did you know if it was Smith’s – I was going to say – soprano voice.”

“No.”

“You could not tell whose voice it was.”

“When Smith called out to light the lights, did his voice appear to be that of a sober man?”

“I could not say.”

“Did you try the door?”

“Yes, and it was locked. I could not get any one to hear and did not want to arouse the neighborhood.”

 FOUND THE BODY

After the stranger’s car was repaired he went with the two men to the rear door to see if Smith was in. He found it open and went upstairs, the men following. There was only one light upstairs. He found three men in there with Dr. MacRobbie’s body lying with his head on the bars in a pool of blood. He said, “I guess this man has hurt himself.”

A plan of the office was then produced and the witness described the manner in which the other three men were lying asleep. Dr. MacRobbie was almost on his back, with his head against, not right on, the iron bars. Later, witness thought the head was on the bars. “I asked what I should do, and someone said, “Telephone for Harry Bell,” he declared.

FORGOT POLICE

“I am not a good man to tell, so did not know if deceased was alive. He was not moaning,” witness replied when asked if the doctor was alive.

“Did it occur to you then or at any time to call the police?”

“No, it did not.”

“These two men were with you when you discovered the body?” inquired the coroner.

“Yes, but I do not know their names.”

“What time did you call Bell?”

“About 11:30.”

“Did you tell anybody it was half past 10?”

“No. I had no watch.”

“How long was it after you called Bell before he arrived?”

“It might have been half an hour.”

KNEW MEN NOW

Further questioned witness admitted that he knew the three sleeping men, but did not attempt to awaken any of them, not even Smith.

“Why did you call Bell when you had the proprietor right with you?”

“Because someone suggested that I call Bell.”

“All you told Bell was that there had been an accident.”

“Yes.”

“Did he appear to know it was Dr. MacRobbie?”

“He seemed to.”

“Did he try to awaken Harry Smith?”

“No.”

After phoning for a doctor, Bell went away to get one. He, the witness left the building also, and during that time he did not know that anyone else left the building.

UNREASONABLE WITNESS

The coroner asked witness if it would not be common sense to awaken Smith under such circumstances if he did not know that he was drunk. After mumbling by the way of answer in an evasive manner the coroner remarked: “Your statements are most unsatisfactory and your conduct unreasonable.”

REMOVED SLEEPER

Witness said someone remarked, “Take that man out of the road where he could have a sleep,” pointing to McAuliffe. When he came back McAuliffe was at the bottom of the stairs. He could not say that he was drunk, but he was a little “lobby.” He left him in the yard. A number of whiskey bottles were taken out from under the bath tub. “I did not keep track of them. I think there were two,” Asselstine remarked, at which the assemblage broke into laughter. A number of empty Scotch whiskey bottles were found on his yard, although he did not put them there.

Witness and the Crown at this juncture had a little argument when asked if Smith had left the warehouse, accusing the Crown of bringing several more warehouses into the discussion. Mr. Washington claimed it was but one he was speaking of.

NO BLOOD ON HANDS

  1. J. O’Relly, K. C., counsel for McAuliffe, then examined the witness. He drew forth the information that witness heard no other sound issue from the building than singing. Asked how long McAuliffe stayed in the yard, he replied that it was until the police came.

Mr. O’Relly suggested that he might have blood on him as a result of being around the body.

The Crown presses this point, asking if he had blood on his hands. Witness replied not to his knowledge as he washed his hands and did not notice any.

“Did you touch the body?”

“Not that I know of.” At which several exclamations were heard in the court room.

“Has anyone been to you about your evidence?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Did you take a note to Mr. Bell today?”

“What Bell?”

“Mr. Bell, the lawyer.”

“No, not today; that was yesterday.”

“Then you did take a note?”

“Yes, that was about a bluff telegram and had nothing to do with this.”

HEARD CRIES FOR HELP

Mrs. Powis said she lived at 118 Caroline street north. “I was home last Sunday night,” she said. “I did not see anyone around the Oil Co., but the windows were lighted up about nine o’clock. I went to bed about ten.”

“Did you hear any noise from the building?” asked Mr. Washington.

“I heard four cries for help; I thought they came from the building. They sounded as if someone was holding their hand over someone’s mouth. I got up to get the baby a drink of water. It was eleven o’clock by the clock.

“What awakened you from your sleep?” asked Mr. Bell.

“The baby moved around and started to cry,” she answered. “I gave the baby a drink.”

“I heard the cries for help after I had gotten the baby quieted,” she reaffirmed.

The first two cries followed each other closely. The third was about a minute later. The last call came about five minutes later, the first call being the loudest.”

“Did it alarm you?”

“No, it didn’t frighten me at all.”

“Did you ever hear a drunken man shouting before?”

“Yes, I did; some Italians, once.”

“Did the calls sound like that?”

The witness thought that the cries might possibly have come from some Italians living nearby, however.

WERE ALL AT OFFICE

Harry Bell, on being called, said he lived with Harry Smith.

“Were you at home when Smith left the house in the morning?” asked Mr. Washington.

“Yes, I was. I went to the office with McAuliffe, in his car, and myself. Asselstine phoned about ten minutes twelve,” said witness.

“Dr. MacRobbie was in the office when I got there; so was Scott.”

“What were they doing in the office Scott, McAuliffe and MacRobbie?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you ever see any cards or drinking?”

“No, never.”

“I went out shortly after,” volunteered Bell. “As far as I could see they were all sober.”

The witness said Scott and McAuliffe and also MacRobbie had been there on several occasions.

“What did Asselstine say when he phoned?”

“He said, ‘Come down right away; there is someone hurt.’ I told him I would be right down.”

“Did you ask who was hurt?”

“No; I told him to get Campbell.”

“Did it occur to you that a doctor might be of some use around there?”

“No, it didn’t”

Mr. Dornan was the first man he saw when he came down, he said. “I asked him who was hurt. He said he thought it was Dr. MacRobbie. He went to the side door, followed by a man named Hindes, he said. “I saw McAuliffe and Smith lying on the floor. They were asleep.”

HEAD NOT ON BARS

The body was lying on the right side. There was a cigarette in the two fingers of his right side. The head was about two inches from the bars, and his legs were out straight. I touched his right hand, but I didn’t get any blood of mine.”

“Did you notice any sign of life?”

“When I touched his wrist, he gave a groan and turned over on his back. I went downstairs and called the doctor, but I did not touch anything about the place. Only Smith and McAuliffe were lying down when I got there,” he said in an answer to the Crown’s query. “I didn’t see Scott then at all.”

“Did you attempt to arouse these two men?”

“Yes, I did,” I didn’t get any response at all.”

“Did you notice any smell of liquor?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Did you think it important to wake them up?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Yet, you only made one feeble effort.”

He left Asselstine and Dornan in charge while he went for the doctor, witness said.

“I got back about a quarter to one. Smith and McAuliffe were still lying there. There was no change in position of body since I left.”

“Who aroused the men?”

“Mr. Fowler.”

“Did they appear to have their senses about them?”

“No, they could hardly walk.”

“Mr. Smith asked what was the trouble, Fowler said ‘do you know the doctor is hurt?’ He muttered something but I don’t know what it was.”

“What about McAuliffe?”

“He appeared in the same condition. He was muttering something.”

“Dr. Langs and I were downstairs when McAuliffe came down.”

“What became Smith?”

“I think he went home.”

“How was the cigarette in MacRobbie’s hand?” asked the coroner.

“It was about half-smoked.”

“The one we found was whole,” said Coroner McNichol.

DID NOT TALK WITH SMITH

“What did you and Smith talk about on the way down from the house when you brought him back?”

“I didn’t talk to him, I was driving the machine.”

“Surely you asked Smith what had happened.”

“No, I didn’t; I was driving the machine.”

“Weren’t you curious about it?”

“No, I wasn’t Detective Sayer just sent me up to bring him back. I didn’t talk to him.”

“Was his head on the bars of iron?” again asked the coroner.

“No, it was a few inches away.”

On the suggestion of Coroner Attorney Washington, the inquest was adjourned until Friday, August 31st, at 8:15 o’clock.

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