by Detective Sergeant John Burchill
It is alleged that a tip from a young William Stephenson, who later became the famous spymaster known world-wide as “The Man Called Intrepid,” led to the arrest of the infamous Manitoba murderer and bank robber “Bloody Jack” Krafchenko.
Although in custody by December 10, 1913, Krafchenko would gain further notoriety as a result of his escape from jail while brandishing a pistol on January 10, 1914.
By the time Jack Krafchenko was 33 years old, he was a living legend, and before he had turned 34, he was dead.
John Larry Krafchenko was born in 1881 in Romania to Ukrainian parents. In 1888, the Krafchenko's immigrated to Canada and settled in Plum Coulee, Manitoba, a small town southwest of Winnipeg near the American border.
Although he spent little time in school, Krafchenko was apparently quite bright, though this supposed intelligence was not evident when considering the ineptitude he displayed when committing a number of his crimes. He could speak several different languages including Russian, German, Italian, Bulgarian and English. From all accounts, he was fluent in these languages and his ability to converse in them was to benefit him greatly in the years to come.
From his earliest youth, Krafchenko exhibited a violently
aggressive streak towards authority figures. By the time he was 15, he had been arrested for theft and sentenced to jail.
Shortly after getting out of jail, Krafchenko traveled to Australia where he trained to become a professional wrestler. After a few matches in Australia, he returned to North America and wrestled extensively throughout the United States and Canada under the name of “Australian Tommy Ryan” and “Pearl Smith.”
By 1902, he had given up his wrestling career and returned home to southern Manitoba where he toured as a temperance lecturer.
Krafchenko’s life of crime began to unfold after his return to Manitoba.
During his speaking engagements as a temperance lecturer, he passed numerous bad cheques throughout Manitoba before he was finally caught in Regina and sentenced to 18 months in the Prince Albert Penitentiary.
En route to Prince Albert he jumped through the window of the moving train while still in handcuffs and attempted to escape. His guard jumped through the window after him and the would-be escapee was again in custody.
Despite his escape attempt, Krafchenko was put in charge of painting the outside walls of the Prince Albert penitentiary. Not being one to pass up on an opportunity, he struck his guard over the head with a paint can and escaped with three other inmates. While the other three inmates were caught, Krafchenko traveled back to Manitoba where he held up a shipment of money ($2,500) at gun point and then fled to the United States.
Once in the United States, he worked his way to New York where held up several banks. He then slipped onto a freighter bound for England. Once in Europe, he robbed banks in England, Germany and Italy.
After robbing a bank in Milan, Italy, he was alleged to have locked the bank manager in the vault and then joined the crowd outside to watch the excitement. From Italy, he moved to Russia where he married in 1905.
In 1906, Krafchenko returned to Canada with his new wife and settled near Plum Coulee. It was not long before he found another bank to rob. The Bank of Hamilton, between Plum Coulee and Winkler, was his first target. Although he was recognized, he again escaped to the United States and remained at large until 1908 when he appeared as a witness for one Thomas Henry Hick.
Thomas Hick had been arrested for the November 21, 1908, shooting death of Eccles Lennox in a sleeping car in the CPR yards on Higgins Avenue. The evidence against Hick was that the alleged murder weapon found at the scene belonged to him. At Hick’s trial, Krafchenko came forward and declared the weapon was actually his. While the court could not prove that Krafchenko was the murderer, the charges against Hick were dismissed since he could not be tied to the gun.
Following his testimony, Krafchenko was arrested for the 1906 robbery of the Bank of Hamilton and was sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary.
After his release from prison, he and his wife moved to Graham, Ontario, where he worked as a boiler-maker at the National Transcontinental Railway shops. In the summer of 1913, he was fired from his boiler-maker job because of his violent nature and returned to Winnipeg. Because of his underworld connections, he was paid a small amount of money by Winnipeg’s Chief of Police, Donald MacPherson, to find out who was involved in a series of safe robberies using explosives. Krafchenko took the money and never reported back to Chief MacPherson.
On November 2, 1913, Krafchenko was arrested on “suspicion” of being involved in a robbery at a resort in Kildonan. Although he was arrested with two loaded revolvers in his possession, he was released for lack of evidence. Krafchenko later said that he felt the only reason he was arrested was because of the trick he had pulled on the police chief.
It was during several trips to
his home town of Plum Coulee
throughout November, 1913, that Krafchenko decided the Bank of Montreal in Plum Coulee was the perfect target for a robbery. After watching the bank, he discovered that during lunch hour the only person in the bank was manager Henry Medly Arnold.
On November 18, 1913, Krafchenko went into the Hingston/ Smith Arms Company in Winnipeg and ordered six Winchester rifles, a
9-mm Browning automatic and 7.65 Luger handgun. He told the clerk he was the owner of the Plum Coulee Hardware Store and that he wanted the rifles shipped to him along with an invoice. He also told the clerk that he would take the two handguns with him.
At 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday,
December 3, 1913, Krafchenko entered the Plum Coulee bank wearing a heavy coat and a handkerchief pulled over his face. He pulled out the 9-mm Browning and robbed Arnold of $4,200.
As Krafchenko fled from the bank to a waiting taxi, he turned and fired one shot that killed Arnold instantly. The shooting was witnessed by at least three different people who indicated there was one gunman. Furthermore, one of the witnesses, a schoolgirl named Mary Doerksen, identified the man leaving the scene of the robbery as John Krafchenko. The other witnesses could not identify the man, but gave descriptions of the
suspect that were a match for Krafchenko.
On December 4, 1913, a coroner’s inquest was held into the death of Arnold. On December 8, the coroner's jury returned its verdict, saying “that the late H. M. Arnold came to his death by reason of a bullet wound through the ribs and the left lung and was shot from a revolver by a disguised man, unknown to us, but the evidence that has been produced points strongly to the fact that the
disguised man was one John Krafchenko.”
After leaving Plum Coulee, Krafchenko had taxi driver William Dyck take him a few kilometres outside of town and then drop him off. Krafchenko threatened to come back and kill Dyck if he told anyone who he was and advised him to make up a good story as to where he had been.
Krafchenko then worked his way to Winnipeg and rented a room at 546 William Ave. He advised his landlady, Martha Thomas, that his name was Dr. Fairchild from Oak Point and that he was in Winnipeg to perform an amputation. He only stayed one night on William and then moved into a room at 439 College Ave., telling the landlady he was a school teacher from St. John’s College named Andrews.
While in Winnipeg, Krafchenko called upon a few of his old friends and tried to enlist their aid in helping him escape. One of the so-called friends he sought help from was taxi driver Benjamin Rolph. The cabbie eventually went to see ex-Winnipeg Police Chief J. C. McRae and told him where Krafchenko was staying. Based on Rolph’s information, Krafchenko was arrested on December 10, 1913, at 439 College Ave. by Winnipeg
Police Chief MacPherson, Deputy Chief Newton, Chief of Detectives Smith, Inspector Headon and Provincial Police Chief Elliot. While no shots were fired during the arrest, the Browning and Luger guns were found in Krafchenko's room, loaded and within his reach.
A total of $1,550 in Bank of Montreal notes were recovered — $810 was found hidden beneath the fence near the front door of the house and an additional $740 that Krafchenko had given to Benjamin Rolph was turned over to Chief MacPherson.
Although it would appear that
Benjamin Rolph led the police to Krafchenko, in his book, The True Intrepid, Bill MacDonald suggests that it was William Stephenson — author Ian Flemming said he based his James Bond character on the Winnipeg-born Stephenson — who spotted Krafchenko while the bank robber and murderer was making deliveries for the Great North West Telegraph company.
Although Krafchenko was rightfully a Provincial Police prisoner because the murder happened within their
jurisdiction, the Winnipeg Police Department had drafted their own arrest warrant for Krafchenko. The warrant was for “Unlawfully giving a Revolver” to Ernest Larsen, a youth who was serving a three-month sentence for possession of a handgun. It would
appear that the Winnipeg and the provincial police were rivals with
each wanting to take credit for Krafchenko’s arrest.
When Krafchenko was arrested he was not charged with the murder of H. M. Arnold, but was instead charged with the Winnipeg offence. Krafchenko was held on the Winnipeg charge until December 22, 1913. This charge was then withdrawn and he was officially “arrested” on the provincial warrant of “Murder and Robbery.”
Chief MacPherson decided that, because of Krafchenko’s history of escape attempts, he should be held in the Winnipeg Police jail rather than in the provincial lock-up. MacPherson felt Krafchenko could more safely be walked from the police jail to the police court — both of which happened to be housed in the same building — than from the provincial jail to the provincial court which would require Krafchenko to go outside.
Krafchenko’s preliminary trial got underway on January 5, 1914, before Justice Bonneycastle in the Winnipeg Police Courts. Percy Hagel was retained to represent Krafchenko and the Crown was represented by W. H. Hastings. The preliminary lasted until January 9, 1914, when Krafchenko was committed to stand trial in
Morden, Manitoba, in March.
After the judge’s decision, Krafchenko was taken back to his cell where he was guarded by constables Robert Ried and William Flower. It seems that Krafchenko told wondrous stories of money, diamonds and jewellery to his two guards. He told his guards that he would share his hidden treasures with them if they helped him escape. Flower paid no attention to the stories, but Ried was fascinated. Hagel was also interested in Krafchenko’s stories and together the two men planned to help Krafchenko escape.
Hagel and Ried met several times at the Clarendon Hotel or at Hagel’s office in the Builder’s Exchange Building to discuss their plans. Hagel also enlisted the support of John Buxton and John Westlake, a former employee in Hagel’s law firm. Buxton, a former caretaker at the Builder’s
Exchange Building, was to get a gun and rope and give them to Ried
who would then sneak them to Krafchenko. The gun and rope were then to be used by Krafchenko to escape from the second-floor jail area. Westlake, a former clerk in Hagel’s law firm, was to hide Krafchenko in his suite until Krafchenko could be smuggled out of the city. Hagel indicated that he would be responsible for picking Krafchenko up outside the jail and would take him to Westlake’s place.
Hagel wanted Buxton to use one of two revolvers he had in pawn for use in Krafchenko’s escape, but Buxton was worried that it might be traced back to him so he had a youth, John Walley, steal one from Ashdown’s Warehouse. Walley stole a 32-Calibre Colt Automatic handgun bearing serial No.137743 and gave it to Buxton, who turned it and a clothesline over to Ried in Hagel’s
office. Ried smuggled both of these items into Krafchenko’s cell on the night of January 8. Krafchenko was supposed to have escaped that night, but Hagel got drunk at a bar and forgot to come by the police station to pick him up.
In the early morning hours of January 10, 1914, Krafchenko pulled the Colt out from underneath his mattress, pointed it at Ried and Flower and said: “I’m going to leave here boys and I’ll kill anyone who tries to stop me. Go into the closet and don’t come out or try to call for help for 10 minutes.”
He then ordered Ried to throw his keys to the floor and then used the keys to lock both constables into a nearby closet. The key chain also contained a key that allowed Krafchenko access to a photography room. The photography room had an unbarred window facing the street. Krafchenko threw the clothesline out the window and started to climb down, however, the rope was so thin that it broke and he fell 30 feet to the pavement. spraining both knees, an ankle and his back.
It is unknown how he made it to Westlake’s residence in the Burris Building, 4-686 Toronto St. ( the
corner of Ellice and Toronto), but
one could assume that if Hagel
was to pick him up on the 8th, he probably picked him up that night as well.
On Monday, January 12, 1914, a Royal Commission was called to
investigate how Krafchenko was able to escape from the Winnipeg Police Station with a gun and a rope. Everyone in connection with the Krafchenko case was called to testify, including Constable Ried, who was kept on the stand for a grueling 10 hours. At 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 17, Ried broke down on the stand and admitted to the commission the role he had played in helping Krafchenko
After giving this testimony, both Ried and Hagel were arrested. Ried was immediately suspended from the police department and on January 22, he pled guilty and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in Stoney Mountain Penitentiary. While only in his 30s, Ried was later to die in Stony Mountain while serving his sentence.
On January 18, after all the necessary information was obtained from Ried, members of the Winnipeg
Police Department surrounded the Burris Building. While the Colt automatic was found loaded and within Krafchenko’s reach, both he and Westlake were arrested without a fight.
Both Westlake and Hagel were held in custody until they appeared in court together on March 10, 1914, before a jury and Judge J. Curran. Westlake claimed he didn’t know who Krafchenko was and Hagel claimed he was being framed by the Winnipeg Police Department for the beating he had given a street constable on
November 1, 1911 (Hagel was only given a $20 fine for “Assault and Beat” offence).
On March 20, 1914, after every attempt was made by the defence
to have the charges dismissed by Judge Curran, the jury found
both Hagel and Westlake guilty of
assisting Krafchenko to escape. Westlake was sentenced to two years and Hagel to three years in Stony Mountain.
Although Hagel was disbarred from practicing law in Manitoba after his conviction, in 1922 he was welcomed back to the Manitoba Bar where he continued to practice law until his death in 1944.
As for Buxton, he testified for the Crown against both Hagel and Westlake. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, after the trial Buxton was “given his life anew in another country, having been spirited out of Manitoba, with the aid of the Attorney General’s Department.”
Krafchenko was tried in Morden, Manitoba, before a jury and Justice J. C. Mathers. The trial started on Wednesday, March 18, 1914 and was completed on April 9, 1914, when the Jury found him guilty of murder. Krafchenko was sentenced to hang and on Thursday, July 9, 1914, at 7 a.m., one of the West’s most infamous criminals fell to his death at the Vaughan Street Jail. His body was later buried at the Brookside Cemetery.
Interestingly, at trial, Krafchenko’s lawyer asked the court if his client would be permitted to make an unsworn statement from the dock instead of giving evidence on his own behalf. After consulting with the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Mathers refused and Krafchenko elected not to give any evidence at trial.
While it is unknown what Krafchenko might have said in court, Reverend W.B. Heeney (who had been with Krafchenko up to his execution) released a statement made to him by Krafchenko prior to his death. An edited version of the statement, which appeared in the July 10, 1914, edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, was as follows: “I intended to rob the bank, but not until Friday, for the simple reason that on that day it was likely to receive a consignment of cash. (However) Buxton sent out a man to do the job. I was angry and went into town, and met the man (who was an old pal of mine), told him that if it was going to be done I would do it myself … I entered the bank and the other man remained outside. I told Arnold that the robbery was soon to be committed … Meanwhile, the other man, looking through the window, saw what was going on and came in … I told him to go to the safe but he could not get it open. Arnold said it was locked. I told the other man to stand guard over Arnold. I opened the safe, then the other man took all the bills and started toward the front door … Arnold followed the other man through the front door … I had a gas gun, and I fired it at Arnold, but at the same moment Arnold fell, for at the same moment a bullet fired by someone else struck him. The other man kept running.”
Basically Krafchenko admitted to the robbery, but blamed the murder on an unnamed accomplice. Although Krafchenko admitted to “shooting” at Arnold, he claimed he only had a “gas” or air gun and that the real shooter was the “other man.” Unfortunately, none of the witnesses to the shooting identified a second person. William Dyck, the cab driver who drove Krafchenko out of Plum Coulee, also said that he was alone. Furthermore, when he was arrested in Winnipeg, Krafchenko was in possession of a substantial amount of the stolen money.
The Colt automatic used in Krafchenko’s escape was entered into evidence at Hagel’s trial. After the trial ended, the gun was retained by veteran Crown prosecutor John Allen. When Allen died, the gun was turned over to the Law Society of Manitoba and subsequently turned over to the Archives of Western Canadian Legal History, located in the basement of the Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba. In 1991, the writer made arrangements with Cameron Harvey, associate dean, Faculty of Law, for the gun to be donated to the Winnipeg Police Museum.
Enquiries to the Colt Manufacturing Company further confirmed that a “Colt 1903 Hammerless Pocket Automatic Pistol,” bearing serial No. 137743 was shipped to the J.H. Ashdown Warehouse in Winnipeg on October 7, 1912. A historical information sheet with the manufacture and shipping history of the Colt gun is also on file at the Winnipeg Police Museum.
(Reprinted with the permission of the Winnipeg Police Museum, 1300 Allard Ave. The museum is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no admission fee. Tours can be arranged by calling 986-3976.)