Monday, December 21, 2015

"The Biggest Manhunt of a Year or More"

Being a stranger who was passing through town would not normally attract much attention, especially if the town were the size of Windsor, Ontario. With a population approaching thirty eight thousand at the start of 1917, the main city in the county of Essex was bound to have visitors traveling through, often. Besides, this was that week of January when the session of the Essex County Council was being held there.

Two Leamington men had traveled from the opposite end of Essex County to be in town for the council meeting. Sitting at the restaurant at the Essex House where they were enjoying breakfast, they noticed another man enter and take his seat nearby. Being that the Leamington men were from out of town, themselves, perhaps it might have seemed unusual for them to size up the stranger, but they did.

The stranger—a thirty year old man named James Emmerson—had just arrived in town and had checked himself in at the hotel for an overnight stay. There didn't seem to be anything particularly noticeable about him, with one exception: he had a finger that had been amputated at the second joint.

Perhaps this stranger seemed just a bit too oblivious to the buzz that had gotten everyone in town into a furor. Posters with printed descriptions had been passed around the city and far into the surrounding area, urging residents to be on the lookout for an armed and dangerous man wanted for murder of a Dominion immigration official. Though bloodhounds had been called out, two days prior, to assist in the manhunt, and though they had searched for three miles beyond the point at which the assailant's tracks were first spotted in the snow, the unsuccessful chase had been called off. Posses from several of the surrounding towns, however, were still vigilant.

The Leamington men, by now having just completed their breakfast, must have cast some meaningful glances between themselves, for they quietly compared notes with what they had read of those wanted posters. One of the telltale identifiers mentioned in the posters just happened to be concerning a finger amputated at the second joint.

Rising from their table, the Leamington men strolled leisurely to the door. Once outside, though, their pace quickened as they headed straight to the city's police headquarters.

Three Windsor officers were assigned to the case, and hustled back to the hotel.

By this time, James Emmerson had finished his own breakfast, stopped at the front desk to request a call to his room at three o'clock that afternoon, then retired upstairs to his room. He had had a very full couple of days and needed some rest.

He had not been up there long when the door to his room flew open, and three Windsor police officers stood facing him with their guns drawn. Though Emmerson immediately drew the weapon he was carrying, one of the officers lunged for his right arm and knocked the revolver to the floor, then with his two partners, pinned Emmerson to the radiator and subdued him.

Having spent those last two days and nights without food or shelter, the stranger from out of town likely did not have the strength to put up much of a fight. For though he checked in as James Emmerson, the man arrested that January, 1917, morning by Windsor police was suspected to be armed and dangerous fugitive, James Stewart—the same man who had, two days earlier, murdered Marshal William N. Jackson, the Winnipeg immigration officer escorting the criminal to Windsor, just before he was to be handed over to Detroit authorities at the river separating the two cities.

Above: View of the Detroit River at the place and approximate time at which Canadian immigration officer Jackson would have handed over Winnipeg prisoner James Stewart to American authorities in Michigan. Caption from 1918 Border Chamber of Commerce photograph: "Only a stream divides Detroit and the border cities." Photograph courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I bet missing fingers (and entire limbs) weren't all that uncommon back then.

    But the citizenry seems to have been most alert that day!

    1. I'm sure this was one of those news days that everyone was talking about. Wonder how inconvenient it was for all those others with missing fingertips...


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