As always, hindsight showed the tragedy to have been some time in the making.
On Tuesday afternoon, two days after shooting Joe Bibeau, Fred Beech proved his woodsmanship by slipping through police lines and returning to Lenora townsite. He was determined to end the tragedy as dramatically as he’d begun it on Sunday morning by making a second attempt on Mrs. Campbell’s life.
Concealing himself 50 yards from the Mount Sicker Hotel where she was under police protection in a second-storey room, he announced himself with a volley of shots.
Legend has it that Mrs. Campbell rushed to the window to see what was happening and presented herself to Beech, who snapped off a shot, the bullet parting her hair and causing her to faint.
What hadn’t occurred to Beech was that she was under the guard of B.C. Provincial Police Const. R.B. Halhed and several special constables who were having lunch in the ground floor dining room at the front of the hotel. When they rushed outside, guns drawn, Beech saw it was over and, only a few hundred feet or so from where he’d gunned down the hapless Joe Bibeau, turned his rifle on himself.
In so doing, to quote the Victoria Daily Times, he “followed his victim into another world”.
Such, at least, is the official theory. Popular legend has it that, upon seeing Mrs. Campbell recoil after he fired through her window, Beech thought he’d achieved his original goal and thus ended it all with a bullet for himself.
Only then did a friend come forward to say that Beech had called at his Duncan home the night before. But as this unnamed friend hurriedly dressed, Beech heard someone approaching and fled in the darkness.
Ironically, when Beech was acting out the final act in his self-initiated drama, many of Mount Sicker’s residents were attending Joe Bibeau’s funeral service at St. Ann’s, Tzouhalem.
As always, hindsight showed the tragedy to have been some time in the making. As early as June, Red Woodruff, an engineer at the Tyee Mine, had physically “rebuked” Beech for his “unmanly attentions” to Mrs. Campbell. Despite his reputation as a wrestler, Beech had received “a good drubbing” from the man whom history has recorded as being Mount Sicker’s resident atheist and anarchist. Mrs. Campbell’s growing fear of the former family friend and suitor led her to a justice of the peace to whom she swore out an information against Beech to the effect that he was annoying her and she was afraid of him.
Fined, and bound over to keep the peace, the future assassin was strictly warned against annoying her further.
The contents of Beech’s last letters, found in his cabin, weren’t made public but the Times alluded, in the vernacular of the day, to “a horrible tale of intrigue and treachery, and unlawful passion that is appalling”. The letters “conclusively [showed] that the circumstances of his life were such as to make him a maniac on this one subject. For quite a long time he has been living alone in his cabin and working alone in the tunnel in the Springfield claim.
“This constantly being alone and brooding over his troubles served more than ever to form and intensify the guilty passion he had conceived, and gradually he came to regard every man who spoke to Mrs. Campbell as a criminal, and every person who protected her as his enemy…”
In fact, Beech left another farewell note, this one scratched into the butt of his rifle. Addressed to his parents, it “show[ed] that when he realized what he had done he repented his crime”. This has to be a reference to Joe Bibeau as Beech was still trying to kill Mrs. Campbell until within moments of his suicide.
As noted, Joe Bibeau lies in St. Ann’s, Tzouhalem cemetery. Miner and murderer Fred Beech takes his eternal rest, if such is possible, in an unmarked grave in the Old Section of the cemetery of St. Peter, Quamichan.
Which brings us back to where we started. Does a headless woman haunt Mount Sicker as has been reported in recent years? If so, who was she and how did she lose her head? I have no answers because I know of no historical provenance for such an apparition.
Which certainly isn’t the case for the hapless Joe Bibeau and Fred Beech who are a matter of public record. Surely, if there really be ghosts, Mount Sicker should be haunted.
T.W. will be signing his latest book, Cowichan Chronicles, Volume 5, at the Providence Farm Christmas craft show this coming Saturday, Dec. 2.