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Authors: Steve Vernon

Tags: #History, #General, #Canada, #True Crime, #Murder

Maritime Murder

BOOK: Maritime Murder

Maritime Murder

Deadly Crimes from the Buried Past

Steve Vernon


Copyright © 2012, Steve Vernon

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission from the publisher, or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, permission from Access Copyright,
Yonge Street, Suite
, Toronto, Ontario,
m5e 1e5

Nimbus Publishing Limited

Mackintosh St, Halifax,
ns, b3k 5a5

(902) 455-4286

Printed and bound in Canada

Author photo: Belinda Ferguson

Cover and interior design: John van der Woude

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Vernon, Steve

Maritime murder [electronic resource] : deadly crimes from the buried past / Steve Vernon.

Electronic monograph.

Issued also in print format.

ISBN 978-1-55109-951-4 (EPUB).—ISBN 978-1-55109-983-5 (PDF). —ISBN 978-1-55109-985-9 (MOBI)

1. Murder—Maritime Provinces—History. I. Title.

HV6511.V47 2012 365.152'309715 C2012-903651-X

Nimbus Publishing acknowledges the financial support for its publishing activities from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (
) and the Canada Council for the Arts, and from the Province of Nova Scotia through the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.


One only has to look at the unbelievable prevalence of true crime programs on television to realize that there is something in the human intellect that is both deeply and undeniably fascinated with murder. This is something that I came to understand as I put together and wrote my early ghost story collections. Many of the ghost stories were rooted deeply in tales of murder and violent death.

The more I began to look into these sorts of stories, the more I realized that there were a great deal of Maritime-based murder stories that did not have a ghost attached to them. Or if the ghost did show up, it was nothing more than a tacked-on afterthought. So, after I finished writing my last ghost story collection,
The Lunenburg Werewolf
, I decided that I really wanted to put together a collection of historical, Maritime-based murder mysteries.

And here you have it. I offer you nineteen of the darkest and nastiest tales of murder that I could unearth. I have rooted through the archives, thumbed old newspapers, flipped through old books, and seriously overextended my library card. Each of these stories is taken directly from our Maritime past. I have done my best to draw from all sources and to unearth every critical detail I could possibly find.

By choice, I avoided stories that were too recent. A quick look at the table of contents reveals that the most recent of these murder tales took place in
. I did not want to run the risk of leaning into tasteless muckraking and sensationalism.

These stories are all based on murders that actually occurred in the Maritime provinces—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. I approach these tales as I approach all my other story collections—from the viewpoint of a storyteller. I have researched these events to the best of my ability, but, as a storyteller, I must also do my level best to entertain my audience.

Read and enjoy.


I worked on the final cleanup of this manuscript during the six-week-long
Halifax Metro Transit bus strike. Being a diehard pedestrian and working a day job downtown with a two-and-a half-mile walk there and back, I came to depend upon the kindness and driving abilities of four wonderful people—so I would like to dedicate this book to the four good people who drove me back and forth to work. Without you good folks, my feet would have been a whole lot sorer than they were: Thank you to Anne Roberts, Karl Brikkles, David Kramer, and Brenda Hum-Boutilier.

d thanks, as always, to the people at Nimbus who keep putting my books out.

And last, but not least, I'd like to thank my wife, Belinda, who hasn't murdered me, yet.

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

A Bitter Harvest

Peter Mailman
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

t was Monday morning, August
. The weather was that comfortable kind of hot that asks you to relax and grin for a while. The mosquitoes were dozing in the salt marsh, the songbirds were twittering lazily in the summer-fattened woodland, and the blueberries were swollen and heavy with heat, just aching to be picked. It was the kind of morning that made a body feel as if there was no way in this world anything bad could ever happen—but Nova Scotia weather can often fool you.

“I mean to prune those apple trees some,” Peter Mailman said to his wife, Mary Ann. “Why don't you bring along a basket and we can pick ourselves some wild pears and blueberries?”

“I thought you'd pruned those trees already,” Mary Ann said, as she found her favorite basket, painted white with three bright red stripes.

“Might be I missed a few,” Peter said. “Besides, there's a lot we can find to do in the woods together—all by ourselves.” He winked lewdly.

Mary Ann knew exactly what her husband had in mind. Mind you, she wasn't about to go along with any of his ideas, not after the way the two of them had been fighting these last two weeks. She still couldn't believe that her own husband actually thought she was involved with someone else. She was a married woman. He ought to realize how faithful she was to him, in spite of his temper.

Still, some berries would go nicely with the family supper.

“You stay here and tend to your baby sister and brother,” Peter told their seventeen-year-old daughter, Angelina. “There's no need of you following us.”

Privately, Angelina was relieved to stay at home. It was an awful thought, but the truth was that Angelina did not care for her father all that much. He was a nasty little man with a nasty little temper and he was awfully quick with his hands when the anger took him. He would slap and swat her so hard that her ears would ring like an Easter morning church bell.

Still, as Angelina watched the figure of her mother recede into the Lunenburg woodlands that surrounded their little home she felt an unmistakable shiver crawl up and down her spine. She waved—almost frantically—at her mother, who waved gaily back before turning and following her husband into the lonely forest.

Late that afternoon, Peter Mailman returned home. Alone.

“Where has mother got to?” Angelina asked.

“She's gone to visit Ben Baker,” her father replied, naming a nearby neighbour. “I brought the basket of berries home. You can clean them if you'd like. Now,” he added, which meant she didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Chores were chores, especially when those chores were handed to you by your own father.

After cleaning the berries, Angelina noticed her mother's favourite woolen dress lying neatly folded upon her parents' bed, along with the shoes and hat she had worn berry picking. None of this made any sense.

“My mother was wearing that dress when she went to pick berries, not to mention her shoes and hat,” Angelina would later tell the judge. “And she always hung her clothes whenever she changed. If she had left that dress there, she would surely have hung it in the closet and not left it folded improperly upon her bed.”

An hour after Angelina discovered the dress, Peter Mailman walked back out into the Lunenburg woods.

“I've been meaning to burn off that patch of woods out by the potato field,” he told Angelina. “It's the best way to fertilize for a better harvest, don't you know.” He smiled at his children. “A good farmer needs to get rid of the old,” he explained, “in order to make way for the new.”

After he left, Angelina noticed that the shoes, hat, and dress were gone. A short time later a great plume of smoke marked her father's labour. The next day, on the morning of August
, Mary Ann Mailman still had not come home. When the children asked their father about her, Peter Mailman informed them that their mother had stayed the night at Ben Baker's house.

“I went to see her yesterday,” he said. “That was where I walked to after I burned off that bad patch of woods. Ben Baker has hired your mother to help him reap his crop of rye. He will pay her a dollar a day. She is staying there because it will save on her travelling time.”

The two younger children believed what their father told them but Angelina wasn't nearly as certain. She had seen the direction that he had taken the day before, and it had been directly away from Ben Baker's farm. It didn't make sense.

On August
Peter Mailman travelled to the town of Bridgewater with a Mi'kmaq woman named Mary Glode. He told his children that his journey was strictly for business purposes.

“She's keeping me company for the journey,” Mailman told his family. He smiled and Mary giggled. Angelina didn't care for either the smile or the giggle.

Later that day, Ben Baker showed up at the Mailman residence. He was looking for Mary Ann.

“I need some help with the reaping of the rye,” Baker explained. “I thought that maybe your mother could use the extra work.”

Upon further questioning it was revealed that Angelina's mother had not been to Ben Baker's home that week at all. In fact, it had been several days since Baker had even seen Mary Ann Mailman.

Which meant that Peter Mailman had lied.

A Hasty Flight

When Peter Mailman returned from Bridgewater the woman Mary Glode was still with him. The two had been drinking heavily and when evening fell, Mary Glode spent the night in Peter Mailman's bed.

The next morning Angelina confronted her father. “Why did that woman spend the night in my mother's bed with you?” Angelina asked.

“She is a guest,” Peter told her. “I was only doing my best to make her feel at home.”

Angelina wasn't buying that at all. “You have told me a story,” she said to her father. “And I have told Ben Baker that I believe you have murdered our mother, and he, in turn, is going to tell his story to the town constable.”

Peter Mailman panicked. He hastily packed a rucksack with provisions, loaded a wagon, and took his two younger children with him.

“Don't you dare put the constable on my track,” he told Angelina, trying to scare her. “Take care of the house. I will bring you a present when I return.”

And then Peter Mailman headed off into the woods with his eleven-year-old daughter, Theresa, and his eight-year-old son, Peter Junior.

Angelina wasted no time in going to the neighbours. A search party of several hundred local citizens set out. Within a few days they found Mary Ann Mailman's body bent in two and rudely crammed beneath the upturned roots of a blown-down poplar tree.

She had been shoved headfirst into the hollow of the rotting trunk and hastily covered with leaves and moss. The hunters spotted her remains thanks to a patch of her calico underskirt that her murderer had carelessly neglected to cover. As the searchers drew closer, one of them saw a portion of Mary Ann Mailman's left foot protruding slightly from beneath the heaped-up dirt and moss.

They also found an axe in the nearby underbrush. The blade of the axe was crusted with rust and dried blood. The axe belonged to Peter Mailman.


Within a few days Peter Mailman was apprehended outside the town of Annapolis Royal, still watching over his two younger children. By all reports, he seemed to be quite surprised and grief-stricken over the news of his wife's murder.

Mailman was brought back to Lunenburg with little protest on his part. He was imprisoned in a makeshift cell that had recently been someone's spare upstairs room. He had a comfortable bed and a solid bench to sit upon. They kept him there awaiting trial throughout the month of September.

J. W. Longley, a special reporter for the
Acadian Recorder
and the
St. John Daily Telegraph
, visited Mailman in his cell. He reported the suspect as being noticeably agitated and quite nervous. He twitched visibly and darted about the room like a caged bird. Occasionally he would squeeze his hands together and rub, and fret nervously with his fingernails.

“I am worried about my trial,” Mailman confided to Longley. “I want a good lawyer, and I hope to get a fair shake from the judge. I am a poor man, and I haven't much in the way of speech. The truth of the matter is that I am far too honest for this thing, but I will meet it like a man.” He turned his head to the wall and shook as if weeping.

“It is hard to be here,” he complained. “They have got everything lined up against me, but I will look to my God to protect me. Still, I hope they will not take my life for this. They have got the wrong man. The right man has not been got yet.”

He let that sink in. “They haven't got the right one yet. They have the wrong man, I tell you. The man that takes my life for this will have no peace on this earth afterwards, and I don't believe he will ever get to heaven,” Mailman ranted, growing more excited by the minute. “I tell you they have got the wrong man.”

Longley left that evening feeling troubled by all he had heard. He was certain of Mailman's guilt, yet he could not help but feel a little bit sorry for the poor wretch confined to a lonely room.

The First Day of the Trial

The trial began on Friday, October
, over two months following the murder of Mary Ann Mailman. At ten o'clock in the morning Judge William Frederick DesBarres took his seat at the bench of the Lunenburg courthouse. The court was crammed with people, Mary Ann's murder being the talk of the territory.

A few moments later, Peter Mailman was brought into the courthouse. He wore a second-hand suit that had been borrowed from his jailer. His court-appointed lawyer, Henry Adolphus Newman Kaulback, stood at his side. The Honourable John Creighton and W. H. Owen stood as prosecution. Mailman looked more than a little nervous, swallowing constantly, but he remained calm and quiet as his charges were read by the court bailiff.

The jurors for our Lady the Queen, upon their oath present that Peter Mailman of Pleasant River Road in the county of Lunenburg, a farmer who on the eleventh day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-three at Pleasant River Road in the county aforesaid feloniously and willfully and of his own malice and aforethought did kill and murder one Mary Ann Mailman, the wife of the said Peter Mailman.

Judge DesBarres stared directly at Peter Mailman. “Are you guilty or not guilty?”

“I am as innocent as an unborn babe,” Peter Mailman replied in a clear and certain tone. “And that is all I will say.”

“And are you ready for trial?”

“I am, if my witnesses be here.”

And that was the problem. Many of the defence witnesses had failed to attend the trial. Some of them had farms to tend, while others were so poor that they couldn't even afford lodgings and had begged to be released from their duty to the court.

“This trial will proceed as planned,” Judge DesBarres ruled. “There will be several days of testimony in which to secure any of the missing witnesses.”

Daniel Carver, a neighbour of the Mailman household, testified that he had seen Mary Ann Mailman at one o'clock that day at her home. “Two hours later,” Carver went on, “I saw Peter Mailman returning from the fields, alone. His head was hung down as if he was feeling weary but personally, I thought he looked more ashamed than bone tired.”

“Why would you say that?” defence attorney Kaulback asked.

“I know Peter Mailman,” Carver testified. “He is not a good man, in my opinion. In fact, I would say that he has a mean and ugly disposition.”

That set the mood for the testimony of Mailman's daughter, Angelina, who described in great detail how her father had left with her mother and returned alone. She went on to relate all of the details about her mother's missing dress. She spoke of the Mi'kmaq woman Mary Glode her father had brought home and slept with.

“The two of them were both quite tight on rum,” Angelina said. “And after speaking to Ben Baker, I found out that my mother had not been to the Bakers' as my father had told me. I accused my father of telling me a story about Mother on the morning after. He offered me a present and begged me not to tell anyone about my suspicions. He swore that if the constables caught him, they would hang him, but they would hang his children first.”

And then Angelina brought out the last bit of damning evidence. “My father and mother often argued,” she went on to explain. “I have seen him beat her with an ox whip. He often threatened to kill her. Not more than two weeks earlier, I heard my mother cry out in the night. I came upon her and my father in mortal argument. He had his hand on her throat and his knee upon her chest. I believe that my father was trying to strangle my mother. I believe he would have murdered her right there and then if I hadn't caught him at it.”

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