Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Pause to Reflect

In the midst of a manhunt, pulses are racing, adrenaline is pumping and the focus is solely on the goal: catch the fugitive. Once the chase is over and the one sought has been captured, all the details begin to settle into place.

By late morning on January 27, 1917, Windsor police had captured the man who, two days prior, had killed a Canadian immigration official with his own weapon, then jumped from the train which was carrying him back to the U.S. border to face trial in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The man arrested at the Essex House hotel that morning—checked in as James Emmerson—was now booked into the Windsor city jail under a different name: James Stewart. Carefully following protocol, the police agency had searched the man and relieved him of the five dollars cash and handcuff key secreted in his pocket.

Perhaps due to the seriousness of Stewart's crime, his case seemed put on a fast track to justice. On that same day—January 27—he was seen by the local magistrate, though given no chance to plead. He was remanded for a preliminary hearing, scheduled for the following Friday, February 2. The trial itself was set to be heard in the Ontario Supreme Court beginning on Monday, March 5. If convicted of murder, according to Ontario law, James Stewart faced the death penalty on the gallows.

The slow-motion decompression that must have followed that tension-riveted two-day chase surely turned into a time to reflect. The newspapers back in Winnipeg, where the extradition journey had begun earlier that week, as well as in Battle Creek, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin—and doubtless those of a handful of other cities which Stewart had wronged—all churned through every detail they could turn up, seeking ever more fuel to stoke their headline-generating machine. Though The Wisconsin State Journal sniveled that Stewart was "too sleepy to talk" about the Orpheum robbery in Madison the previous year, the papers still managed to jointly piece together a mosaic of the aftermath of the chase. 

"This is what I get for being kind to you," were reportedly the last words of Marshal Jackson to his assailant. Though earlier stories had pictured Steward as handcuffed, later reports seemed to indicate that the immigration official escorting Stewart had allowed him the more comfortable traveling condition of being freed from his manacles.

For his own part, Stewart had insisted that "he was good to me," and that Stewart didn't intend to harm the marshal. He had planned to brandish the weapon merely to "show him I meant business."

On the other hand, Stewart had insisted that the weapon was "a hair trigger gun."

"I scarcely touched it when it went off," Stewart insisted, according to the Madison newspaper. Yet, when Windsor police closed in on him in his hotel room two days later, the newspaper reported that though Stewart had pulled the trigger several times, the gun failed to work at all.

In the aftermath, everything was settling back into place in Winnipeg, as well. Reporters reached editorial consensus on the identity of both the suspect and police escort—finally agreeing that he was Marshal William N. Jackson, a man born near Petersborough, Ontario, who once served as sheriff of Fargo, North Dakota, before returning to his own country and settling in the Winnipeg area. He was about fifty years of age at the time of his murder, leaving behind two grown sons and two daughters still at home with their mother. Plans were in place for the Dominion government to take charge of Jackson's funeral, with assistance by the Knights of Pythias.

Back in that Windsor jail cell, the man "too sleepy to talk" doubtless had a lot on his mind. He had just spent the last two days—cold, winter days—holed up in a hay loft four miles outside Windsor. Besides the immediate physical deprivations of the ordeal (not to mention, their emotional impact), I can't help but wonder whether James Stewart—or whoever he was—gave any thought to the family he had left behind. The ones of whose whereabouts he insisted he knew nothing were about to be the ones he would never see again.

Unlike those modern disrupters seeking their fifteen minutes of fame, it seems the last thing Stewart wished to claim was the platform being offered him by the editorial muscle of two nations. Perhaps, rather than yield to the hounding of those Madison reporters keen on his comments about that safe-blowing back at the Orpheum theater, he found a more comfortable respite, deep in the arms of Morpheus.


  1. You talk about stress - like that around the holidays - but it would be nothing like what James Stewart experienced on the lam. No wonder when the "pressure was off" he was so tired!

    1. Yes, no wonder he was "sleepy." That was likely quite an understatement.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...