‘Ma Miller’s’ birthday recalls unsolved crime part 2

“...long and fearful record of mysterious assassinations that have occurred in this Colony during the past 11 years.”

“This horrible affair,” noted the Colonist, was another of the “long and fearful record of mysterious assassinations that have occurred in this Colony during the past 11 years.”


As we’ve seen, the discovery of human remains in a swamp on what was known as the Langford Plain, near Goldstream, didn’t immediately raise an alarm. Because the bones were scattered and appeared to have been there for quite some time, the discoverers concluded that they likely were aboriginal and ancient, so decided to simply bury them.

It was the realization that they were, in fact, more recent that set colonial police constable Bob McMillan on the scent for more evidence; particularly when he learned that a young Victorian had vanished about the time of the bones’ discovery. The missing man, unnamed, had set out for Cowichan and hadn’t returned. Were those his bones in the swamp and now the subject of what had become known as the ‘Langford Lake Mystery’?

By this time, too, McMillan had determined that he was dealing with a murder case, the victim’s vest, punctured by four bullet holes, having been recovered from under a nearby log. It was the vest, in fact, that led to the victim’s identity: Capt. Joseph Baker, of Nova Scotia, had been wearing it when he was last seen, heading south from Leech River along the Goldstream Road, a mile and a half from the death scene. At the time of his disappearance, Baker was said to have been carrying up to $50 in gold dust.

“This horrible affair” inspired the Colonist to editorialize on what seemed to be a high incidence of violent death in the young Island Crown colony. That of the Langford Lake victim, be it Capt. Baker or someone else, “adds another page to the long and fearful record of mysterious assassinations that have occurred in this Colony during the past 11 years, and of the perpetrators of which no clue has ever been obtained”.

In breathless prose the newspaper gave its speculative version of the Langford Lake Mystery: “…The finding of the hideous evidence of murder — the deliberate, cold-blooded slaughter of an unarmed and unsuspicious traveller — laid in wait for at the edge of a lonely woods, and shot down FROM BEHIND by a stealthy assassin…”

This was pure conjecture, of course. But there was no doubt as to the victim, Capt. Baker’s vest having been formally identified by his cabinmate. It was now learned that, in February, Baker had stopped to talk to Patrick Fowler, proprietor of the Goldstream House, and a hunter known only as ‘Butch’ as the two attempted to clear the roadway of a tree downed by a recent storm. Upon parting, Baker indicated he would spend the night at Parsonsbridge House.

But Baker never reached what’s now known as Six-Mile House and was “never seen again alive by mortal men save his murderer”.

His failure to arrive in Victoria apparently went unnoticed (or without comment): “…It was taken for granted that in a fit of the ‘blues,’ he had shipped out on board some vessel and gone away.”

Because Baker’s clothes were found beneath a fallen tree closer to the road, Officer McMillan surmised that the miner had been ambushed while hiking along the Goldstream Trail, dragged into the bush, stripped of valuables and clothing, and his body then dragged deeper into the bush.

The swamp in which his remains were found likely would have been deep enough in water in January to have covered them completely.

Two months passed without apparent headway in the investigation.

This impasse ended dramatically with the arrest, by Insp. Bowden, of Goldstream innkeeper Patrick Fowler who’d sold his establishment and was just about to leave the colony when taken into custody.

According to McMillan’s investigation, Baker left Leech River on or about December 14, 1868. As did most travellers, he stopped overnight at Goldstream House. The next morning, Fowler and a man named Leonard, commonly known as Butch, accompanied the miner for a mile and a-half along the road, then — supposedly — returned to the hotel. Eight months later, Baker’s bones were found in a shallow pool on Langford Plain, some two miles from the roadhouse and only half a mile from the spot where Fowler claimed he and Butch had taken their leave of him.

Concluded McMillan: “From information I have received I have reason to believe and do believe that said Patrick Fowler was concerned in the wilful murder of the said Joseph Baker, and I charge him accordingly.”

Fowler was arrested just as he was about to board the steamship Wilson J. Hunt.

(To be continued)