The case of the defaulting bank accountant, part 3

"I hoped the matter could be got over without a trial till I consulted my legal advisor" – James Walker, manager.

It’s May 1865 and Bank of British Columbia accountant George Cruickshank is undergoing a preliminary hearing in Victoria police court on a charge of having embezzled $5,000 in American gold coin from his employer.

As we’ve seen, the bank’s safe required two keys to open both compartments, that used for keeping the gold, the other for a daily float; Cruickshank had the key to the latter, his manager James Walker had the other.

This mystery was explained when Walker testified that, during his absence, he’d entrusted his accountant with both keys: "…He had the power to take money from the treasury in my absence…if required for the use of the bank…"

He’d already produced a notarized statement in which Cruickshank admitted taking the money, a document that defence counsellor D.B. Ring dismissed as "the signature of an insane man!" Acting for the bank, George Cary asked him, "Was there the faintest influence, with or suggestion used that Mr. Cruickshank should make this statement?" Walker: "There was not."

Initial press reports, although not yet brought out in court, made reference to Cruickshank having had personal financial losses and having recovered from a lengthy illness. It’s now becoming apparent that he’d suffered a mental breakdown and for this reason, Walker explained, when his accountant first confessed, after having previously denied taking the money, he didn’t believe him: "Amongst other ravings [he] accus[ed] himself of murder and forgery… Mr. Cruickshank made the confession to me this week, in presence first of Mr. Edwards and then of Mr. Drake [the notary public]. It did not occur to me to have a legal advisor present, I did not think it was necessary. Mr. Cruickshank dictated the confession himself."

When Mr. Ring pointed out some of the legal terminology used in the statement, Walker admitted that Cruickshank hadn’t "dictated every word. The whole object of having a written confession was to clear the other officers of the bank. I hoped the matter could be got over without a trial till I consulted my legal advisor."

Asked as to his awareness of Cruickshank’s state of mind when signing the statement, he contradicted himself (not the first time): "I did not know that he was suffering from aberration of intellect; I heard he was once wandering in his mind."

Ring: "Did it not occur to you, knowing that Mr. Cruickshank was wandering in his mind, that it would have been a humane thing to have taken a medical opinion on his state of mind before taking this confession?" Walker: "I think the question has no bearing on the case. I appeal to the court." When Ring insisted upon an answer, Magistrate A.F. Pemberton interjected that Walker wasn’t obliged to give one and the deposition, after being read aloud, was signed by Walker and admitted as evidence. Cary asked that the case be moved to a higher court.

At which Ring played his hand, flat out declaring that his client was insane, that he’d charged himself with "murder, forgery and all sorts of other things, amongst which was this (theft), and his mind was still labouring under these hallucinations". He asked the court to allow him to introduce medical evidence to the effect that Cruickshank was "of unsound mind at the time of this supposed confession". In the meantime, he requested that Pemberton set a light bail.

Cary graciously consented to any bail His Honour might set and insisted that the Crown proceed with indictments for embezzlement and larceny. Pemberton then set bail at 300 pounds and two sureties for 100 pounds each. This was a massive sum in 1865 – but it was furnished forthwith and Cruickshank released until his trial.

Just one more curious factor in this curious case.