Dr. Walkem was a man for all seasons – even murder

It was the hole in poor Dring’s head, and another over his eye, that drew the inquisitive coroner back to the task at hand, and to his medical calling…

They didn’t have DNA back then, nor modern forensic science, but police weren’t entirely helpless when faced with murder. In February 1886, when Crofton settlers Charles Miller and William Henry Dring were found brutally slain in the former’s cabin, Provincial Police Const. Dan Mainguy made his first call to Nanaimo.

He was after Dr. W.W. Walkem, coroner, who immediately responded by taking the newly-built EN Railway.

He didn’t catch the train, exactly; rather, he huffed and puffed to Chemainus on a hand-car to meet Mainguy. A raging windstorm made going "so hard that I had to get off the velocipede. It was a long ride…"

The sight that greeted them was shocking, even for a seasoned policeman and doctor. As physician for the East Wellington Colliery, Walkem had seen many a mutilated body but, making this case harder for him, was the fact that he’d known the victims. Both men had been shot and, for good measure, their throats had been cut. As Mainguy examined the crude cabin that had been home to Miller, and puzzled over the viciousness of the attacks and that the cabin appeared not to have been ransacked, Walkem examined the bodies.

Other than the fact that he lay on the floor beside a table and his interrupted meal, Miller, at first glance, looked to be sleeping, so natural was his position, with one leg doubled back and his arms neatly at his sides. In a Nanaimo courtroom a year and a-half later, Walkem’s testimony revealed that he’d had an interest in more than medicine when he noted the remains of some soup in a bowl, half a loaf of bread and some tea in a cup on the table.

He even checked the lantern to see if it had any oil in it. This was police work, and it was by these observations that Mainguy concluded that Miller and Dring had been attacked during their dinner on Saturday, Feb. 13.

Walkem checked the back door, too, to see if it had been jimmied, and noticed a bullet hole in a window pane. It was the hole in poor Dring’s head, and another over his eye, that drew the inquisitive coroner back to the task at hand, and to his medical calling, although he couldn’t help but scan the ceiling to see if perhaps a shot had passed right on through the victim.

Unlike Miller, Dring remained seated in his chair, encircled by a pool of blood. Because there had been no hemorrhage from Miller’s neck wound, Walkem concluded that it had been inflicted after death by two gunshots which had "completely destroyed the kidney and also the right lobe of the liver.". Either wound would have been fatal. He believed Miller to have been standing when struck. Dring, although shot in the head, had died from having his throat cut, likely because his head wound hadn’t been immediately fatal.

Then it was back to playing the role of Sherlock Holmes for Walkem. Near Miller’s gate, he noticed "the marks of a boot as if from a miner’s brogan with heavy nails [and] another foot mark – like a ladies [sic] boot with tapering heel."

He followed the footprints to the beach, 150 yards from the cabin, noting more prints along the way.

Later B.C. Police Supt. H.B. Roycroft, demonstrating truly modern techniques for the day, made several casts of each with molten wax.

Under cross-examination, Walkem gave a graphic description of how blood spurts when the jugular vein is severed, stated that for some reason rigor mortis was more advanced in Dring, and that Miller had smelled slightly of alcohol.

As it happened, the Miller-Dring tragedy wound to a lengthy and unsatisfactory conclusion in Nanimo. Both men tried for the double murder were acquitted although the accused ringleader died of consumption in prison. Dr. Walkem’s evidence, as professional and helpful as it was, made no difference to the outcome of the case.

But it sheds an illuminating light on the varied roles sometimes demanded of frontier physicians.

The doctor who’d handpumped his way to Chemainus on a velocipede in a raging storm and total darkness to assist police, and who’d found himself checking doors for signs of forced entry, looking for bullet holes in windows and ceiling, and for footprints in the sand, truly was a man for all seasons.

www.twpaterson.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone has been re-elected as chairman of the board at the CVRD. (File photo)
Aaron Stone re-elected as chairman of the Cowichan Valley Regional District

Salmon Blaise, director for Mill Bay/Malahat, elected as new vice-chairman

North Cowichan strengthens some COVID-19 safety protocols, and introduces new ones, as the pandemic enters ts second phase. (File photo)
North Cowichan and CVRD implementing new COVID rules

Municipality reacting to new public health orders

Search and rescue crews from all over Vancouver Island responded to calls to assist with the search for a 19 year-old man with medical issues who got lost on trails in the south end of Duncan on Nov. 21. The man was found Sunday morning and taken to hospital for assessment. (Submitted photo)
Duncan man rescued after getting lost on local trails

19-year-old taken to hospital for assessment

Duncan’s Knights of Columbus hand out cheques to a slew of deserving organizations in an online event Nov. 8, 2020. (Submitted)
Duncan Knights of Columbus hand cheques to lucky 13 in virtual event

Another historic first for the Knights was to have two area mayors join the presentation

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. to test emergency alert system on cell phones, TVs, radios on Wednesday

The alert is part of a twice yearly test of the national Alert Ready system

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Phillip Tallio was just 17 when he was convicted of murder in 1983 (file photo)
Miscarriage of justice before B.C. teen’s 1983 guilty plea in girl’s murder: lawyer

Tallio was 17 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 22-month-old cousin

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
41 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Firefighters try to put out a structure fire on the Island Highway in Nanoose Bay early Saturday morning. (Nanoose Bay Volunteer Fire Department photo)
Horses in nearby stable saved as building burns down in Nanoose Bay

Firefighters called out in the early-morning hours Saturday

Most Read