"Pooh! Nothing but the signature of an insane man!" -defence counsel R.B. Ring.
May 1865: Bank of British Columbia accountant George Cruickshank is in Victoria police court charged with having embezzled $5,000 in American gold coin from his employer. This, despite the fact he’d had but one of the two keys required to open the vault.
In fact, he’d confessed, according to bank manager James Walker and he had signed a statement to that effect. Where was the confession? He’d sent the original to the London office and, um, he couldn’t lay his hands on his copy.
Questioning Walker, George Cary, normally the attorneygeneral but in this case acting for the bank, continued: "Did Mr. Cruickshank state since July 1863, anything to you about the abstraction of the $5,000?" Walker: "He made a statement to me shortly after the discovery, and another statement within the last week. The statements do not agree."
Addressing Magistrate A.F. Pemberton: "The last statement was not reduced to writing; the statement was that he had taken the money. He said he took the money out of the cashier’s funds in the morning. He took a bag of coin out of the treasury [one of two compartments in the safe, both of which were opened by different keys kept separately in his and Cruickshank’s possession] amounting to $5,000, put it amongst the cashier’s funds [the other compartment used for daily business transactions to which he had access], and took it up to the general office. [He] did not state further what he did with the money, he did not…state his object in taking it."
Cary: "Did he at any subsequent time?" At this point Walker began to squirm, saying he didn’t want to "make use of a certain document," but defence counsel D.B. Ring insisted that he "produce the paper".
Cary offered the document to Ring for his perusal before entering it as evidence. Ring wasn’t impressed: "Pooh! Nothing but the signature of an insane man! Nothing could excuse you from producing that paper" after he scanned it. He insisted that Walker produce the original statements he’d taken from the bank’s employees and
Cruickshank’s alleged confession or that they not be allowed to be discussed in court. Cary thought they should proceed, using Walker’s recollection of the documents but Pemberton instructed him to stick to direct evidence before producing "secondary".
Cary: "Then I must produce the document." To Walker: "Do you know that signature?" "Yes! it is Mr. Cruickshank’s." Counsellor Ring: "I do not [know the signature] but I insist on its being shown that he did not sign it under compulsion."
After a sharp exchange between Ring and Cary, Walker began to read: "I, George Cruickshank…do solemnly and sincerely declare that in the month of July , I was in the employment of the Bank of British Columbia, as accountant, and during the temporary absence of James. D. Walker, the Manager of the Bank, I was entrusted with the key of the safe where the cash was kept, and on one occasion in the month when I went down to the safe for the purpose of delivering out the cash for the day…I removed a bag from the Reserve Fund of [$10] pieces, containing $5,000 in [U.S.] gold coin, and kept the bag of coin for several days in a drawer in the Bank, of which I had the key, and made use of the money it contained for my own purpose… "No other person in the Bank had any knowledge of my having appropriated it for my own use. On the loss being discovered by Mr. Walker…I denied all knowledge of it and I make this statement for the purpose of making all the reparation I can to Mr. Walker and the other persons employed in the Bank. And I make this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true…" It was signed George Cruickshank, May 8, 1865 (four days before the affair became public) before Notary Public M.W. Tyrwhitt Drake.
Well, that solves the mystery of how he accessed both compartments in the safe: Walker had entrusted him with both keys! It doesn’t explain the discrepancy in Walker’s testimony that the second statement, the confession, hadn’t been signed – it was – or that he didn’t have it with him in court – he did. And what did Mr. Ring mean by "the signature of an insane man?" More curious aspects of this curious case.