This week in PG History: Police searching for body of Austrian fugitive

This week in Prince George history, June 3-9:

June 3, 1921: "Somewhere in the middle of Trembleur Lake, Deputy Inspector of Provincial Police T.W.S. Parsons sits in a canoe grappling for the body of an Austrian enemy flung into the water seven years ago," The Citizen reported.

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Parsons was dredging the lake, located northwest of Stewart Lake, for the body of a man named Pospich -who police believed was killed by a pair of Carrier men named Eugene and David in 1914. Pospich, a former officer in the Austrian army, had fled north to avoid being arrested at the outbreak of the First World World.

"Trembleur Lake is some 20 miles long, five miles wide and about 500 feet deep," The Citizen reported. "The inspector hooked a job that promises to interest him deeply. The (accused men) declare that Pospich opened fire on them when they emerged from the woods upon him, unexpectedly. They returned fire, killing him instantly, and, being afraid, took his body and effects into the middle of the lake and dumped them in."

Parsons had obtained evidence earlier that year - seven years after the shooting near the mouth of the Middle River - which prompted him to go north to find the two suspects and arrest them.

The June 7, 1921 edition of The Citizen reported that Parsons had returned and, when asked if he'd found anything, the inspector only "smiled enigmatically."

(ITALIC) The April 5, 1921 edition of The Citizen reported on the investigation which led to Eugene and David's arrest. (ITALIC)

"Bronzed to the colour of the (men) upon whose trail he left recently, Inspector Parsons of the Provincial Police returned here yesterday, bringing in two (suspects), Eugene and David, of the Carrier tribe, wanted for killing an ex-Austrian officer at the mouth of the Middle River in the year 1914," The Citizen reported.

Pospich had reportedly fled Kamloops at the outset of the war to escape internment, and arrived in Fort St. James in September, The Citizen reported.

"(Pospich) stayed at the post there for two or three weeks and announced his intention of trapping at Takla Lake. He left the post on Stuart Lake in September with a (local man), by canoe, with an outfit which included a folding canvas boat. He and his outfit were left at the mouth of Middle River, north of Trembleur Lake, late in the same month," The Ciitzen reported. "The (local man) returned to Stuart Lake, and this was the last heard of the Austrian in hiding until rumours reached the outside two years afterward that he had been murdered."

Police only had sufficient evidence to seek an arrest on March 1, 1921. Parsons left Prince George and arrived at Stuart Lake on Easter Sunday (March 27, 1921), expecting to arrest his suspects.

"The place was in a ferment on his arrival, and the wanted men were not there. They were reported to be on the Tachi reserve, 30 miles up the lake," The Citizen reported. "Inspector Parsons left for that point immediately, accompanied by Special Constable Ferrier. On arrival, the inspector heard the (suspects) were prepared for flight. As a result of a conference, the (suspects) surrendered. They also volunteered to take the inspector to the scene of the killing."

The Citizen praised the police's diplomacy in dealing with the men, rather than prompting a manhunt -unlike the case of Simon Gunanoot and Peter Himadam, a pair of Gitxsan men who evaded the law from 1906 to 1919, before turning themselves in and being found innocent of murder of Alec McIntosh and Max Leclair.

"The police feel that the presence of Father Allard, OMI, the resident missionary at Fort St.James, who was at Tachi on the night preceeding the surrender, largely influenced (Eugene and David.)," The Citizen reported. "The (suspects) are absolutely wild men. They have never seen a train before they were brought in, and the first time they had ever seen domesticated sheep was when they passed the Snell ranch near Vanderhoof."

Following their surrender, Eugene and David lead Parsons, Ferrier and an interpretor went six miles up the Tachi River hauling hand toboggans.

"On the river the party proceeded by canoe through the running slush ice to Trembleur Lake, which they crossed in a blizzard at its widest point, to the mouth of the Middle River," The Citizen reported. "There they visited the last camp of the Austrian and the place nearby where he was shot. Following the long hard trip into the place where the killing took place, the party proceeded to Prince George by easy stages."

Eugene, David and a number of witnesses were detained at the jail in South Fort George to await trial.

(ITALIC) The pair of suspects finally had their day in court on June 23, 1921. The June 24, 1921 edition of The Citizen reported on the trial: (END ITALIC)

Eugene and David's lawyer pleaded self-defence, saying that Pospich "was evidently fearing pursuit and opened fire on them."

Ferrier and Parsons testified before the court, relating the arrest and confession of the suspects, as well as their trip to the site of the shooting.

"The inspector proceeded to the story of his recent arduous search for the remains of the Austrian in Trembleur Lake, where the (suspects) stated they had thrown the body and the camp equipment of the man they had killed. The testimony of the disposal of the body was borne out by a (man) named Trembleur Lake Joe, father of David, one of the accused. He had taken part in the disposing of the body," The Citizen reported. "No other evidence was called. In addressing the jury, the court stated that the Crown had no evidence to offer in rebuttal to the straightforward story of the (suspects) of self defence."

Justice Gregory said it was "very refreshing" to find a police officer, in the person of Parsons, who showed a desire to place any evidence in favour of the accused before the court.

"(Justice Gregory) concluded by telling the jury that, in view of all the circumstances, it would be not necessary for them to leave their seats, and suggested that a verdict of not guilty was the only one which should be brought in," The Citizen reported. "The jury, without rising, returned a verdict of 'not guilty.'"

Before they left the court, Gregory told Eugene and David that in future they shouldn't fear the police and notify them at once should something of this nature occur again.

(ITALIC) While it may have been rare, it's nice to see that two aboriginal men accused of killing a white man - even if he was a fugitive at the time -were able to get a fair trial in Prince George in 1921.

Deputy Inspector Thomas William Stanner Parsons went on to become the commissioner of the B.C. Provincial Police and was named an Officer of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his 35-year service. Prior to coming to Canada he had served in the British army and the South African Constabulary.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to find any information on who Pospich, or possibly Pospiech, was or why he was in Canada at the outset of the war.

His story, like his body, will remain undiscovered at the bottom of Trembleur Lake. (END ITALIC)

To explore 100 years of local history yourself, visit the Prince George Citizen archives online at: pgc.cc/PGCarchive. The Prince George Citizen online archives are maintained by the Prince George Public Library.

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