The case of the defaulting bank accountant

(Part 4)

Now, for the first time, we understand that, upon unlocking both doors to the safe, the money in the "treasury" as well as the daily receipts were accessible for the day.

As we’ve seen, in May 1865 accused bank embezzler George Cruickshank was bound over for trial and released on bail after the issue of his mental state came up in police court.

He immediately put his liberty to good use, it being reported that he’d made a second sworn statement before a Notary Public.

Previously, he’d confessed to having removed $5,000 in American gold coin from his employer’s safe; this declaration was to the effect that he’d been of "unsound mind" and his alleged confession was totally untrue. His medical advisors, he said, had since pronounced him in full possession of his faculties.

Less than two months later, he appeared before Chief Justice David Cameron on a charge of embezzlement laid by his former employer, the Bank of British Columbia. This time, instead of acting on behalf of the bank as he had at the preliminary hearing, George Cary was in his usual role as the colonial attorney-general. An idiosyncrasy of British law allowed him to be assisted by, of all people, the very lawyer who, as Notary Public, had taken down Cruickshank’s now refuted "confession."

Before presenting his case to the jury, after a large number of prospective jurors had been rejected by both sides, Cary asked that the medical witnesses be asked to leave the court; this was done. Bank manager James D. Walker then reiterated much of his testimony at the hearing other than these salient facts which are more detailed: He’d been manager of the Victoria branch for three years, there were two cashiers besides Cruickshank the accountant, and, somewhat curiously, he had no power to hire or fire staff which was done by the head office in London although he could "appoint persons in an acting capacity".

As noted, the safe had two compartments, upper and lower. One held the gold, the other the daily cash, and both were accessible upon the safe doors being opened. Receipts were written for any monies removed from the vault which required two keys plus two combinations to open; he had one key and Cruickshank the other, until, upon moving to Esquimalt, he’d made the accountant acting manager and gave him his own key. Cruickshank in turn was supposed to give his key to one of the cashiers so as to maintain the security system. Cruickshank’s sole duty in terms of the safe was to unlock it and lock it at the beginning and close of each business day.

Now, for the first time, we understand that, upon unlocking both doors to the safe, the money in the "treasury" as well as the daily receipts were accessible for the day. Meaning that not just Cruickshank but the cashier to whom Cruickshank gave his own key could also have appropriated the gold. Currency and ordinary coins were counted daily but the American gold pieces were bagged and, it seems, taken at face value except during audits.

Walker’s count of all the safe’s contents in early July had matched the ledgers but for $2-3, the difference in exchanging British sovereigns to American currency which was favoured in the colony. However, his quarterly audit early in October "found exactly $5,000 deficient".

After lunch, Cary objected to the presence of Dr. Trimble, a defence witness. When Cameron permitted Trimble to remain, Cary resumed questioning the manager who again explained the two-key security. Defence counsel Ring objected to Walker’s stating that Cruickshank had removed money from the safe, even for business purposes, during his absence. Cameron concurred.

Walker then told how, upon discovering the loss, he’d questioned Cruickshank and the two cashiers. Ring jumped in, wanting to know if the accountant was "in a sane state of mind, and capable of making any disclosure". When Cary explained that he was referring to Walker’s questioning his staff, not to the alleged confession presented in police court, Ring replied, "Oh! I thought you were springing the disclosure upon us. Bear in mind, then, that I shall make the same objection when the time comes."

Mr. Cary, to laughter, "Oh, you always get hold of some cock and bull story."

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