Sunday, 29 June 2014


Those who have followed this blog closely may recall that the Pecover sisters on Vancouver Island -- Jean Hunter and Helen O’Connor who, in their youth, had been neighbours of Dr Robert Henry MacLauchlan and his second wife Calgary stage actress, Evelyn Hambly – firmly believed that the doctor as well as being an abortionist had also been a bootlegger. It appears from a very interesting series of Alberta Supreme Court decisions taken during the early and middle 1920s that doctor had begun that other illicit career at that time. For, in 1925 after investigations of certain charges of misconduct on Dr MacLauchlan’s part, his name was ordered erased from the register of the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons. Some of his misconduct seems to have arisen from bootlegging while employed at a Calgary hospital. In April and May of 1927 MacLauchlan then 33 years old and seven years out of McGill Medical School (where he had been a prize-winning student) appealed the College’s decision, winning readmission on a technicality. In turn, the College appealed the decision and the appeal succeeded. Yet another appeal by MacLauchlan followed. 

Both parties hired high-powered legal help in the cases. Acting on behalf of the College was C F Adams, at the time Secretary-Treasurer of the Alberta Law Society. Acting for MacLauchlan during his first appeal was E V Robertson, a prominent Calgary lawyer (who later died young – only 40). For the second appeal he had the assistance of A.L. Smith, one of the pit bulls of the Alberta legal profession. 

What were the six charges of unbecoming and unprofessional conduct that the Court made a decision upon on May 17, 1927? Four stood out. One of these related to the excessive number of prescriptions for narcotic drugs issued by MacLauchlan over a period of time which ended in January, 1920. It is not clear if the incidents all took place in Calgary. In any case, more than five years passed before this particular complaint was looked into and, as the Court noted, MacLauchlan had not repeated the offence during that later period.  

Another charge related to a woman upon whom he had performed an unnecessary thyroidectomy. He was criticized for his failure to confer with other members of the medical staff of the hospital, the name of which is not given in the court document. This is called the Dawson case and his failure to consult was punished by a suspension from the institution’s staff.  Writing about the matter, the judge states that “the Dawson case strikes me as being rather a case of negligence or of unskilful treatment than misconduct.”  

In the liquor-related case, it appears he was dispensing liquor to people he should not have been but whether these people were staff, patients or simply outside people is not clear. According to the documents such practices were not unusual among other medical staff. It is interesting to note that prohibition was in effect in Alberta between 1916 and 1924. However, it appears that doctors may have had the right to dispense alcohol for “medicinal purposes” and that MacLauchlan in particular took advantage of this right. As the judge wrote: 

 His abuse of his privileges as a member of the medical profession in the dispensing of liquor was unbecoming and improper and in fact quasi-criminal, it being in breach of the law. It is, of course, no defence that many others were, as he says, doing it.  

In relation to the Thyroidectomy, the judge wrote: 

I can see no excuse for his failure to make a full report on the Dawson case to the insurance company. According to the record he stated that he knew at the time of the inquiry that this was wrong and pleaded his inexperience in excuse for it, the incident having taken place in 1922, three years before the inquiry and when he had been in practice here for about three years.  

The fourth incident was called the Becthold incident. Details are extremely vague in the documents but it appears to have occurred in relation to Dr MacLauchlan being jailed – for an unknown reason -- on a very short term basis and a Mr Becthold paying the doctor’s bail. The incident, which involved an unpaid loan from Becthold to MacLauchlan, was described in the court documents as “either dishonesty or gross impropriety” since Becktold’s generosity was not repaid -- ever. Some of the money was paid to a Calgary lawyer, Gregory A Trainor, as a fee for his services on behalf of the doctor.   

Seeking to put the various charges in perspective and to be fair and sympathetic to MacLauchlan, the judge wrote: 

I think the punishment inflicted [in the earlier decision by the College to strike MacLauchlan from its list] too severe. The appellant is a young man who has been practising his profession for but about eight years. The erasure of his name from the register means the taking from him of his means of livelihood for I fancy he will not be able to practice his profession in any other country so long as he is in bad standing in this province. The result of course is the absolute waste of all the years and the money that he spent in qualifying himself to practice it and the beginning of life anew in some other calling. I do not think that his offences call for such drastic punishment. While they are six in number they cover a period of about that number of years.  

As mentioned above, the cases attracted some quite prominent members of the Alberta legal profession, including Bencher Charles F Adams, who was a former Secretary-Treasurer of the Alberta Bar Association and acted on behalf of the College, and E.V. Robertson for MacLauchlan. Acting in MacLauchlan’s final (and successful) appeal was Arthur L. Smith, K.C., a formidable criminal lawyer who was nationally respected. During his career, A.L. Smith was associated with many of Alberta's great law cases including 1933’s MacMillan vs. Brownlee, in which a sitting Premier of Alberta, John Edward Brownlee, was initially brought low by accusations of sexual misconduct brought against him by a young woman, 18 year-old Vivian MacMillan, employed as a stenographer at the government buildings and her father Allan MacMillan. Although the girl and her father initially won damages from the premier, the latter appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Alberta and had it overturned. It was A.L. Smith who handled the cross-examination of Vivian MacMillan on Brownlee’s appeal and reduced her to tears and confusion in the court.  

The upshot of the Alberta Supreme Court cases between 1925 and 1927 appears to be that it is quite easy to demonstrate that Dr Robert Henry MacLauchlan always had a whiff of shadiness to his character and it appeared fairly early in his career.

Saturday, 21 June 2014


At various times, as Ken McIntosh and I have tracked the newspaper  coverage that followed closely upon the December 22, 1965 arrest of Dr Robert Henry MacLauchlan, Margaret Anne Cunningham, Joe Sperling and Thelma Mosier for trafficking in heroin, we have noted that the police were certain that these four people had been associated with several others. However, none of the press reports from the New Westminster Columbian, the Vancouver Sun or the Vancouver Province that we had ready access to gave names of any others who were under suspicion. 
So we began to look further afield – into the local Burnaby papers of that era which, we thought, would have covered the story since Thelma Mosier was a Burnaby resident. Thus, while trolling through the microfilms of the old Burnaby Courier for March 3, 1966, we came across an interesting item. When Mosier, who pleaded guilty without contest to the charges against her, was sentenced to seven years, it was also mentioned in the Courier that one of the people that she had been selling to was a well-known trafficker and drug addict. The story described how this fellow got the capsules of heroin left for him by Mosier by digging around the base of a stop sign on Fell Avenue in Burnaby where they were contained within a cigarette box. So we now call him “The Cigarette Box Man” and we are now carefully going through the Burnaby papers’ microfilms for January and February 1966 so we can find out his name. Who knows where he will lead us?
Our discovery of the “Cigarette Box Man” shows that the “MacLauchlan gang” consists not of four people but at least five. Remember also that he was described as a “well-known trafficker and addict”. Chances are he will have been mentioned in previous newspaper accounts relating to the Vancouver drug trade and, in such accounts, likely also in relation to other people. So, once we have his name we will be able to see if he can be connected to one of our “gang organization charts” (consisting of several dozen names we have found by searching and cross referencing Vancouver criminals arrested all through the late 1950s and 1960s). You may recall that, in the early press reports of the MacLauchlan drug bust, the police were saying additional arrests were imminent. Perhaps this was one of them – the cigarette package guy. 
In a subsequent story about the March 21, 1966 murder of Dr and Mrs MacLauchlan, the New Westminster police said that any of four or five associates could have done it. This is an interesting statement because, when the story ran, Mosier was in jail and Sperling likely was too. This means the police knew of four or five other people connected with the doctor in the illicit drug trade, who could be suspects in the slaying, although indications are that a hired gunman from eastern Canada or from the United States was used. 
Ken and I discover new leads all the time, some more promising than others. In January 1966, for example, there was an important Ottawa conference on organized crime held for all the provincial ministers of justice. A major RCMP report was presented at the conference. The report, which we have requested through inter-library loan from the National Archives, seems to have been a pretty big deal because it raised prominent Page 1 headlines in the Vancouver Sun, which said, “Crime rings grow” and “Fear, payoffs aid syndicates”. The newspaper continued the story over to Page 2 and entitled that part of the story “Report shows crime rings growing.” On this latter page there was a related story concerning the province’s organized crime problem which, according to Social Credit Attorney-General Robert Bonner, was not very significant. His attitude was summarized by the paper in seven words: “Crime syndicate report “old stuff” to Bonner”. The AG’s opinion seemed to be echoed by the Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department.
“There is nobody operating anything here who could be classified as belonging to an international crime syndicate,” said Ralph Booth. The chief went onto say that there was no crime syndicate in Vancouver and no crime links with the Mafia. 
“It’s ridiculous to think there are any Mafia types in Vancouver, because the pickings would be mighty slim. They can’t get a foothold here,” he said.
Of course it was only about 10 weeks later that the MacLauchlans were murdered in a manner that New Westminster police were quoted as saying had the hallmarks of a Mafia “hit”. Was the chief dissembling or did he really not know that Vancouver did have some Mafia infiltration in the local gang organizations. We suspect the first and think it was probably done to protect an ongoing investigation arising out of the MacLauchlans’ December 22, 1965 – 10 weeks earlier -- arrest. Remember also that this investigation had been sparked by what was described as the biggest bagging of illegal narcotics since 1962.
robert_bonner.JPG (420×369)
BC Attorney-General Robert Bonner

Monday, 2 June 2014


When 72 year old Dr Robert Henry MacLauchlan was arrested for drug trafficking following a raid, jointly undertaken by the RCMP Drug Squad and the New Westminster Police (with what might be called background assistance from the Vancouver Police), on Wednesday, December 22, 1965, three other people were arrested – Margaret Anne Cunningham 50, Joe Sperling 45 and Thelma Mosier 40. MacLauchlan, Cunningham and Sperling had their preliminary hearing in New Westminster. 
On the other hand, Thelma Mosier, who was nowhere in sight when the initial takedown occurred, was arraigned in Burnaby. We have mentioned this before. We are also wondering how she came to be involved in this crime and have recently come across some possible leads. In any case, in March 1966, Thelma Mosier pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years. 
We have done some research into Mrs Mosier and have come up with the following information: we are certain she was married to Richard Mosier, born in 1914, who died in 1984. The Mosiers first appear together in the public record in 1953, in the federal voting list for that year, when they are living on Fell Avenue in Burnaby and, again in 1957, in the federal voting list, when they are living in Half Moon Bay, near Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. In the 1953 list Richard Mosier is listed as a truck driver and, in the 1957 one, as a logger. In the 1953 electoral roll, the Mosiers are listed as living at the same address on Fell Avenue as a Mr and Mrs L Bullerwell. It appears that the couple separated at some point after that because, by the time of the 1965 voters list, only Thelma Mosier appears. She appears at a Sperling Avenue address, the same one as William and Hazel Boone, a married couple in which the husband is a sales analyst. Mrs Boone has no occupation listed. 
Remembering that Mrs Mosier was arrested in 1965 and sentenced to seven years on March 3, 1966, it is not surprising that, when her husband Richard next appears in a voters list, it is by himself – in Sechelt in the 1968 and 1972 lists. On both occasions he is listed as a logger. Richard Mosier died aged 70 on June 21, 1984 in Vancouver.
However, Thelma Mosier pops up next in a rather interesting situation. It seems reasonable to assume that the woman who, from 1982 until 1992, was listed as the Manager at the Seventh Step Society at 219 Carnarvon Street in New Westminster was the same person as the associate of Dr MacLauchlan, Margaret Anne Cunningham and Joseph Sperling. After all, the everyday management of the Seventh Step was run by ex-convicts. Probably for that reason, the organization was, during the 1970s in New Westminster, a very controversial establishment. Based on the teachings of Bill Sands and Rev. James Post, Seventh Step was basically composed of ex-convicts, who had gone “straight” and become successful citizens, helping newly paroled prisoners follow the same path of reform and re-entry into society. Incidentally, one of the directors of the organization at that time was Provincial Court Judge Nick Mussallem.
The current Seventh Step Society website states the following credo:

7th Step is a program designed to help the incorrigible and recidivist offender change their behavior and attitudes using a basic self help philosophy.  Its fundamental principles are realistic thinking and positive peer pressure.

In the history of penology there has never been a program, which could conclusively reach and motivate to change the hard-core convict population.  The Seventh Step, self-help program was initially designed to reach those men and women who are many time losers.  They are strong men and women who often are leaders within the structured institutional environment.

So, basically it was about ex-convicts helping newly-released convicts rebuild their lives along the straight and narrow. At the time of its introduction to New Westminster, many citizens wanted nothing to do with it. The Seventh Step Society first came to public attention in New Westminster with its plans to establish a half-way house for prisoners at 131 Third Street in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood. Hundreds of angry Queen’s Park residents put their names to a petition opposed to the idea and presented it to City Council. Similarly the prospect of a convict (ex or not) settlement at 219 Carnarvon also ran into a storm of opposition – especially from business owners along that street. However, that particular hostel seems to have weathered the outrage because it operated in that location at least until 1990. By the time Thelma Mosier was manager at Seventh Step at 219 Carnarvon in 1982, it appears the organization had become an accepted part of the neighbourhood landscape.
Ken and I would be most interested in hearing from anyone who knew Mrs Mosier when she was the manager at Seventh Step and can share their impressions or anecdotes about her.