24/08/1917 - MYSTERY DEEPER AS RESULT OF INQUEST

No Evidence Produced to Show How Dr. MacRobbie Received the Injury That Caused His Death on Sunday Night Last — Inquiry Adjourned For a Week

Crown Attorney Intimated to Harry Bell and Herbert Asselstine That Their Evidence Was Unsatisfactory and That They Would Probably Be Recalled

No evidence to lift the veil of mystery that enshrouds the means by which Dr. D. G. MacRobbie received the wound which caused his death, in an upstairs storeroom in the Crescent Oil Company’s office building on West Cannon street Sunday night, was adduced at the preliminary inquest presided over by Coroner McNichol at police headquarters last night. However, many of the strange circumstances surrounding the finding of the victim’s body were explained, although some of the explanations were quite palpably not satisfactory to the crown, as indicated by the questions and remarks Crown Attorney Washington addressed to the two principal witnesses – Herbert Asselstine and Harry Bell. The previously unaccountable lapse of time between the time of the finding of the body and the summoning of the police was cleared up by Asselstine’s statement that it was at 11:30 not at 10:30 as previously stated, that he made the gruesome discovery. He said that he did not remember even having said that he made the discovery at 10:30.

VISITORS IDENTIFIED

The identity of the two men who called to see Smith about 11:30 o’clock Sunday night and who accompanied Asselstine upstairs when he found the deceased doctor was revealed by Bell, who said that they were Edward Dornan and William Hynes.

WITNESS WAS WARNED

Asselstine appeared so stupid about comprehending questions asked him by the crown and in making replies that Coroner McNichol warned him not to evade the questions or equivocate his answers. He frequently gave such answers that the crowd laughed, despite the solemnity of the occasion. Bell’s evidence also was unsatisfactory and he was plainly told by the crown attorney that he had better try to refresh his memory before the next session of the inquest.

SOME PECULIAR FEATURES

Despite a rigid cross-examination by the crown, Asselstine persisted in repeatedly giving the answer, “One of the men, who came upstairs with me (Dornan or Hynes) told me to send for Harry Bell,” as his explanation of his failure to summon medical aid for the police. He failed to give any explanation as to why he did not even attempt to waken Smith, Scott or McAuliffe, whom he claimed to have found asleep on the floor within a few feet of the body. He refused to admit that he even thought they were drunk.

Asselstine admitted seeing Smith go into the office at 10:33 Sunday night with another man, whom he did not know. He knew both Scott and McAuliffe by sight, but did not know MacRobbie at all and he denied ever seeing Smith come out of the building.

Harry Bell explained his failure to awaken his employer, Smith whom he claimed to have found sleeping on the floor with McAuliffe, but not Scott, by stating that he shook Smith’s arm but failed to arouse him, but he admitted that it was a rather feeble effort.

DECEASED ALIVE AT MIDNIGHT

That Dr. MacRobbie was still alive when Bell arrived at 12:05 was admitted by Bell himself, who said that the doctor, whom he found lying on the right side, groaned and turned over on his back when he touched the doctor’s right wrist.

“It was shown by Asselstine evidence that Harry Smith was so sober at 10:30 Sunday night that he was able to walk up Caroline street around to the office and say to Asselstine, “Light the tall lights on that car,” and then stop at the office door to enquire of Asselstine, “Are you coming in?” at 11:30 o’clock, only an hour later, he was so sound asleep that he was not awakened by Asselstine. Hynes and Dornan coming into the room and talking together or by Bell shaking him or the general excitement.

ASSELSTINE HEARD NOISES

Asselstine’s testimony about hearing singing in the building at 11 o’clock confirmed at least partially the statement of Mrs. Fowis, the Indian woman that she heard muffled cries from the building at that time. She was somewhat confused regarding which of the four cries were the loudest and said she had thought they were made by some Italians living in that neighborhood, but finally stuck to her original testimony that they sounded as if someone were holding his hand over the mouth of the one crying for help and that they came from the Crescent Oil Company’s building. Although Asselstine said it was singing he heard, he could not say how many voices there were or what was being sung.

LACKED NATURAL CURIOSITY

While Asselstine and Bell were on the stand Crown Attorney Washington frequently expressed surprise at what he called the ‘witnesses’ “absolute lack of natural curiosity” in not awakening their employer, Smith, to get an explanation of the presence of Dr. MacRobbie’s body and the fact that no question was asked or information given as to who had been hurt when Asselstine summoned Bell to the scene. The crown attorney said he could not understand such a lack of curiosity on their part.

PRISONERS WERE PRESENT

Smith, Scott and McAuliffe were brought from the jail and seated as far apart from each other as they could be placed in the prisoner’s dock during the hearing of the testimony. They listened intently to the evidence, but did not say a word themselves. Smith and McAuliffe were quite evidently very nervous and showed the strain of four days in jail. As many people as could crowd into every nock and cranny of the court room listened eagerly so as not to miss one word of the evidence. A still larger crowd, unable to gain admittance, waited for over two and a half hours outside the doors of the police station until the inquest was over, evidently expecting some sensational developments.

The clearest and most convincing evidence was offered by Mrs. MacRobbie whose appearance and testimony or the stand was most dramatic, particularly when she spoke of the rough looking party of motorists who called for her husband on Sunday morning.

MRS. MACRROBIE

Mrs. (Dr.) MacRobbie, widow of the victim of the tragedy, was the first witness called. Speaking in a low, clear voice she said –

“He (the doctor) went out of the house at 8 o’clock Sunday morning. He returned between 11 and 12 o’clock and did not go out of the house again until 10 minutes to 8 o’clock. I answered the door. The man who came to the door was a rough looking man in brown clothes and cap. He slouched. I did not like his looks. The man at the wheel of the automobile in which they came had sharp features. That man looks something like him,” said the witness, pointing toward Walter Scott.

“Then you don’t recognize the other two men?” asked the crown.

“Not in those clothes.”

“The two men in the car shouted at me, ‘Is the doctor in?’ I said, ‘No.’ and shut the door for I did not like their rough looks. Then one man came back to the door and asked if the doctor would be back soon and I told him I did not expect hi until evening, and they all went away.

“The doctor came home and went right upstairs to sleep, without saying where he had been or taking any lunch. He got up between and 3 and 4 in the afternoon and went downstairs. He played with the baby for a few minutes, but did not go out. A lady patientcalled about 7 o’clock in the evening. I went out onto the back verandah and while I was there were two more rings, but I don’t know who called, as the doctor answered the door himself. A few minutes before 8 o’clock he went out but I don’t know whether there was any person with him. He did not say where he was going. He never mentioned either Scott, McAuliffe or Smith to me, and I never knew hm to go to the Crescent Oil Company.”

“Did you ever see any of these men before?” asked the crown attorney.

“Not in those clothes, but I think I saw that one once before,” replied the witness, pointing to Scott.

In reply to M. J. O’Relly, K.C., Mrs. MacRobbie said she did not tell her husband about the visit of the auto party in the morning, because she did not like their appearance.

Cross-examined by C. W. Bell, the witness said that the doctor had not been in the habit of informing her where he was going on professional visits and had usually slept on Sunday afternoons.

“It must have been about half past two before I heard of his death,” said Mrs. MacRobbie.

HERBERT ASSELSTINE

Herbert Asselstine, 114 North Caroline Street, the Crescent Oil company employee, who discovered the tragedy was the next witness. “In what capacity do you work for the Crescent Oil Company?” asked the crown.

“I do almost everything,” witness replied.

“How long have you been there?”

“About three months.”

“What time did you leave home on Sunday?”

“About 9 o’clock. I went up to a friend’s house, and went with him to get an auto.”

“Who did you get the car from?”

“I can’t tell you his name.”

“Who was your friend?”

“Mr. Dick Harris. He lives on Harriet street.”

“Who were in the car?”

Asselstine name such a list of his friend’s relatives who were in the car with his own family that the crowd laughed and the crown asked: “Was your car an auto truck or a freight car?”

“It was a beer car, if you want to know,” replied the witness. He went on to tell about being away in the car all day and returning in the evening. After tracing his movements all day and evening he went on to say that about 9:30 o’clock in the evening he saw an auto standing across the street in front of the Crescent Oil Company.”

“Whose car was it?” he was asked.

“I don’t know. The lights were out so I went over and lit them. I thought that it must belong to someone in the company’s office.”

“Why did you think that?”

“Because the lights were lit in the office.”

“What time was that?”

“I think it was about a quarter to ten. ‘I had no watch or way of telling the time”

“Did you investigate the lights then?”

“No, that wasn’t my business. I’m not the caretaker. They sometimes work at nights.”

“On Sunday nights?”

“Sometimes, Mrs. Smith was working there Sunday afternoon. “I thought she was there then.”

“Which light are you sure you saw?”

“The one upstairs over the top of the steps.”

“Is that an office up there?”

“No.”

“How long did you notice the lights lit?”

“I went away and came back about 10:15. And they were still burning.”

SAW HARRY SMITH

Explaining how he came to go back to the front of the building a second time, Asselstine said he noticed Harry Smith, manager of the Crescent Oil Company and his employer, and another man whom the witness did not know, coming south on the west side of Caroline street and thought he would take a walk around to see if the auto lights were still burning. He got in front of Smith and his companion and the former called to him “Light up those tall lights for us.” Asselstine crossed the street to do so and Smith and the other man went into the office. As they were closing the door, Smith called back:

“Are you coming in Herb?”

“No,” answered Asselstine.

The two men then went into the office and Asselstine went around the corner and sat on his own doorstep.

Questioned by Mr. Washington, Asselstine said that when Smith entered the office he turned on the downstairs lights, lighting up the whole of the front of the building. He did not investigate when he first saw lights in the building because he did not think anything about it and anyway, he had no keys to the office. He was not curious to know whether or not there were burglars in the building. At the time he did not know who owned the auto in which he was taking such an interest, but he had since been told it belonged to McAuliffe.

“What put it into your head to go and look just when Harry Smith went by?” asked the crown attorney.

“Oh, just to see if he was going in the auto. Smith called out to me, ‘Light the tall light’”

“Didn’t you know the other man?”

“No.”

“You saw the body of Dr. MacRobbie; was it the doctor who was with Smith?”

“I don’t know, I can’t say.”

“Was it Mr. McAuliffe?”

“I don’t know.”

“When did you see McAuliffe first that night?”

“About 11:30 o’clock.”

“Did you know him then?

“Yes, I knew him by sight.”

WITNESS WARNED

Coroner McNichol here interrupted to reprimand Asselstine for giving evasive answers and attempting to quibble. “It seems to me,” said the coroner, “that you are not trying to answer the questions properly and directly. I would advise you to give straightforward replies without any fooling.”

Asselstine said that he knew neither MacRobbie nor Walter Scott, but admitted knowing McAuliffe by sight.

Witness said that about 11 o’clock, while sitting on his doorstep, he heard a noise around the corner as though an auto were in trouble and on investigating found that a car with a man and two women in it had had a puncture. He did not know any of the parties, but gave the man a hand to fix the puncture. A neighbor name C. V. Scott also assisted.

“Have you any idea when you finished this job?” asked Mr. Washington.

“It would be somewhere around 11:20.”

“Could you see the Crescent Oil building from where you were working on the auto?”

“Yes.”

“Was it lighted up yet?”

“Yes.”

HEARD SINGING

Under Mr. Washington’s questioning Asselstine said that while he was assisting to repair the puncture he heard singing in the Crescent Oil building and went across to stop it, as he did not think Mr. Smith would like it. The front door was locked and he could not get in, but he knocked on the door and the singing, what was being sung or whether it was good or bad singing. He did not recognize the voice or voices.

After the puncture had been repaired he noticed that the tail lights on the auto across the street had gone out again and, fearing an accident might result or the owner might be prosecuted, he asked C. V. Scott to run the car into the driveway beside the Crescent Oil building. Scott did so and then went home, but Asselstine hung around in front of the building. While he was there two men, one of whom he knew by sight, came along and asked him if Harry Smith was inside. He had seen Smith go in and had not seen any person come out, but he answered that he did not know.

MADE STARTLING DISCOVERY

“What did you do next?” asked Mr. Washington.

“I went around to the side door, found it open, and went up the stairs and found the men.”

“Did the two men go with you?

“They were behind me.”

“Was there a light downstairs?”

“I don’t know.”

“What did you find when you went upstairs?”

“I saw these three men (pointing to Smith, McAuliffe and Walter Scott) lying there and then saw another man lying with his head on the bar of iron. I saw the blood on the floor and I turned around and said, ‘I don’t know what to do next. I guess this man has hurt himself.’”

“What were the other three men doing?”

“They were sound asleep.”

“How were they lying?”

“Two were lying with their heads together and the other was lying across them.”

At this juncture the crown attorney introduced a diagram of the room in which the doctor’s body was found. Asselstine pointed out where McAuliffe was lying with his head to the west, Scott with his head to the north and Smith lying next to Scott.

“Was Dr. MacRobbie lying on his back when you found him?”

“I can’t say exactly, but he must have been for the back of his head was on the bars of iron.”

“On the bars or against them?”

“Well, against them. I went up close and saw the blood and then someone said, ‘Phone for Harry Bell’”

“Were there two pools of blood?”

“I didn’t notice.”

“Was hid head lying over a pool of blood?”

“It seemed to be.”

“Was he alive at that time?”

“I thought he seemed to be.”

“But did he appear to be alive?”

“I thought he was, but I saw no signs of life. There was no moaning or cries.”

“I turned to the two men who were behind me and said, ‘What will I do about this?’ and one of them said ‘Phone for Harry Bell.’”

“Did it occur to you at all?”

“Yet, later on, but someone else had called them.”

“What time did you discover the body?”

“As near as I can remember about 11:30.”

“Did you tell anyone that it was 10:30 when you found the body?”

“Not that I remember.”

“Did you call Bell right away?”

“Yes.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That there had been an accident and to come down right away.”

“Where did you go then?”

“I went out and waited until I saw Bell coming. The other two men came with me.”

“Didn’t you try to find out who the three sleeping men were?”

“No, I knew Smith and knew the faces of the others, but not their names.”

“Didn’t you think of calling a doctor?”

“It would have taken me 15 minutes to look for a doctor’s name in the telephone book.”

“Why should you phone for Bell when you had the proprietor of the place right there?”

“Because one of the men who went up with me said to phone for Bell.”

“You told me that before. Why didn’t you wake the boss?”

“Because the man said to phone for Bell.”

“When Bell came did you and one of the men who called for Smith go up with him?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know this other man?”

“No.”

“Did Bell seem to know Dr. MacRobbie?”

“I think he did.”

“What happened next?”

“Bell went downstairs to phone for Dr. Langs. Then he went and got the auto to go for the doctor.”

“What did you do next?”

“I went out to tell the wife about what had happened.”

“After you did that what did you do next?”

“I waited around outside until the doctor came.”

“Did anyone leave the building?”

“I didn’t see anyone. They could have gone out the front door without me seeing them.”

At this juncture Coroner McNichol interrupted to ask the witness: “Did you know when you saw Smith asleep that he was drunk?”

“No.”

“Why didn’t you waken him, then?”

“I wouldn’t want to wake up a man even if he was drunk.”

“Didn’t you think he was drunk?”

“No; I didn’t know.”

Crown Attorney Washington again resumed the examination.

“When you went inside the building again were the three men still asleep?”

“I don’t know. I was downstairs. Someone said, ‘You had better put McAuliffe some place where he can lie down and go to sleep’.”

“Did you know who said that?”

“No.”

“Where was McAuliffe then?”

“At the bottom of the stairs.”

“Was he drunk?”

“Well, if I hadn’t held him up in helping him around to the back of the place he’d have fallen.”

“Did you find any whiskey bottles?”

“Well, I saw the detective find two or three in behind the bathtub. I found some in my yard and put them in the garbage can, but the bottles didn’t belong to me. My wife wouldn’t allow any bottles around my house and I wouldn’t want any.”

  1. J. O’Relly, K.C., then took up the cross-examination.

“The only thing you heard coming from the warehouse was singing?” enquired the lawyer.

“Yes, that’s all.”

“Did you get mixed up with the blood around there?”

“Not that I know of. I might have without knowing it.”

“McAuliffe, you say was very drunk when he came downstairs – so drunk that you had to carry him out?”

“Yes.”

“How did you get blood on your hands?” asked the crown attorney.

“I didn’t say I had blood on my hands.”

“Did you touch the doctor’s head?” was the next query of the crown.

“Well, you’ve got me. I can’t remember whether I did or not.”

“Did anyone see you about evidence you were to give here?”

“Well, I don’t know whether they did or not.”

“Did anyone see you about evidence you were to give here?”

“Well, I don’t know whether they did or not.”

“Did you take a note to Mr. Bell?”

“Which Mr. Bell?”

“He means me; I’m the Bell he’s speaking of,” spoke up C. W. Bell, the lawyer, who continued, “Tell him all you know.”

“Yes,” admitted Asselstine, “I sent Mr. Bell about a telegram, but nothing was about my evidence.”

MRS POWIS

“I heard four cries that came from the oil company’s building. They sounded muffled, as if someone was holding his hand over the mouth of the person calling. I got up and looked at the clock and found that it was 11 o’clock,” said Mrs. Powis, 118 North Caroline street, whose backyard adjoins the oil company’s premises and whose house is only about fifty feet away. “The building was lighted all night after 9 o’clock,” continued this witness.

To C.W. Bell, Mrs. Powis said that her boy’s crying for food awakened her and it was after that she heard the cries for help. She was certain that the child was not crying when she heard the muffled cries from the office behind her house. She saw the lights still burning in the building and thought the officials of the company were working there, as they had often done before.

“The first two cries came close together, the third one came about a minute after and the fourth one was quite a loud call and came quite a while after.”

“Five minutes later?” enquired Mr. Bell.

“Yes.”

“Which was the loudest?”

“The first one, and the last one was louder that the other two.”

“Did you ever hear a drunken person shout?”

“Yes, there are Italians living around there. I thought it might be an Italian calling for help.” Mrs. Powis insisted. However, that the cries came from the direction of the lighted building.

HARRY BELL

Harry Bell, who was called to the scene by Asselstine and that McAuliffe, called with his car at Smith’s home about 11 o’clock in the morning and that he and Smith went with McAuliffe to the office, and Walter Scott and Dr. MacRobbie came in later. They all sat there chatting for about half an hour, but Bell could not remember what they were chatting about or a word that had been said. He had never seen any drinking or card-playing in the office. He left alone and went to Winona on que 1:10 car, leaving the other four in the office.

“Did you see MacRobbie come in?”

“Yes.”

“Were these men in the habit of meeting there?”

“Yes.”

“Just sitting around the office and talking.”

“Were there ever any card games going on or any drinking in the office?”

“No, I never saw any.”

“Did they discuss their plans for the day?”

“I didn’t hear what they were going to do.”

“What was their condition?”

“They were perfectly sober when I left them.”

“Did MacRobbie and Scott come in together?”

“Yes.”

“Did they often meet there together?”

“I often saw McAuliffe and Scott there, but not MacRobbie, although I saw him there before some time ago.”

Bell said he returned from Winona about 10 o’clock at night and went to Smith’s home on West Jackson Street, where he boarded. He went to bed and knew nothing about the movements of the four men during the day. He had been in bed some time when he was called to the telephone and told by Asselstine that somebody had been hurt down at the office. He did not ask now was he told who it was.

“What time were you called to the office by Asselstine?”

“At ten minutes to twelve.”

“What did Asselstine say over the telephone?”

“’Someone is hurt; you’d better come right down’.”

“Did you ask who was hurt?

“No.”

“How long did you take to get down?”

“I think it was about 15 minutes.”

“Who was the first person you met when you got down there?”

“Mr. Dornan – Ed. Dornan. I met him on the corner of Caroline and Cannon Streets.”

“What did he say?”

“He said, ‘Someone is hurt. I think it is Dr. MacRobbie’.”

“Did you ask Asselstine anything?”

“No.”

“Still no curiosity?”

“No.”

“When you went inside the side door was there a third man there?”

“Yes.”

“Who was he?”

“I think it was Hynes.”

Bell swore that he found three men lying in the room. He recognized them as Dr. MacRobbie, who was lying by himself and Smith and McAuliffe, who were about five feet away. He did not see Walter Scott at that time.

“I went over to see the doctor,” continued the witness. “He was lying on his right side, and held a cigarette in his right hand. His head was about two inches from the iron bar. His legs were slightly bent, not straight out.”

This testimony differed from that of Asselstine, who had sworn that the doctor’s head was lying right on the bar.

“Did you touch the body at all?” inquired the crown attorney.

“I touched his wrist.”

“Did you get any blood on you?”

“No.”

“Was his right hand lying in any blood?”

“Not that I know of.”

DOCTOR WAS STILL ALIVE

“Did you notice any sign of life?”

“When I took hold on his wrist he gave a groan and turned over on his back.”

Bell swore that he touched nothing else in the place but the doctor’s wrist.

“Did you get any blood on your hands?”

“No.”

“What did you do next?”

“I went downstairs and called a doctor.”

“Did you wake the three men who were lying there?”

“There were only two men asleep there.”

“But you said there were three men.”

“Yes, but that included the doctor. I didn’t see Scott around at all then.”

Bell then told of going after the doctor in the auto he found in the alley west of the office.

“Did you attempt to arouse Smith and McAuliffe before you left?”

“Yes.”

“Did you succeed in waking them?”

“No; I shook their arms but they did not wake up.”

“Did you smell any liquor around them?”

“No.”

“When you got back were these men still there?”

“McAuliffe and Smith were still asleep in the same place.”

“What time did you get back?”

“About a quarter to one.”

“Who woke them up?”

“Mr. Fowler, one of our salesmen. He lives on King street and I called for him. They appeared dazed when they woke up.”

“Did they say anything?”

“Smith muttered, ‘What’s the matter?” Fowler said to him, ‘Wake up; don’t you know the doctor is hurt?”

“What did Smith reply?”

“He muttered something. I couldn’t hear what.”

“Did McAuliffe say anything?”

“He didn’t seem any better.”

Bell said that while he and Dr. Langs were downstairs Smith and McAuliffe came down and Smith went home, but didn’t take McAuliffe’s car. He did not see McAuliffe go out and thought Smith must have walked home.

In reply to Coroner McNichol, Bell said that the cigarette found in Dr. MacRobbie’s hand was about half smoked.

“When Detective Sayer arrived you took McAuliffe’s car and went after Smith?” inquired the crown attorney.

“Yes.”

“Was he dressed when you got to his place?”

“He was about half dressed.”

“What were you and Smith talking about as you rode back to the office?”

“We didn’t talk at all. I was driving the car.”

“But that isn’t reasonable. Haven’t you any curiosity at all? Do you mean to stand there and tell me that you found Dr. MacRobbie in that condition in your employer’s office and your employer lying asleep beside him and were not curious enough to ask him any questions about it?”

“I didn’t talk to him because I was driving the car,” persisted Bell.

“Oh, I’ve often driven cars and talked at the same time. That will do now, but you had better think it over and see if you can’t remember what you said to Smith before you are called again,” significantly replied the crown attorney.

ADJOURNED FOR A WEEK

Crown Attorney Washington then announced that he had called all his witnesses for that sitting of the enquiry and asked for an adjournment until Friday, August 31st, which was immediately granted. In the meantime the police, with Detective Sayer in charge of the case, will continue to search for more evidence and follow up the clues already in their hands.

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