Monday, March 26, 2012

The Grey Fox

I've told you about Michael J. Fox and another great Canadian, Terry Fox. But today I want to talk about a man that was known as 'The Grey Fox' or 'the Gentleman Bandit'.

This building on West Pender Street downtown was built in 1906. The original name was Empress Rooms.
Bill Miner was born on December 27, 1846 in Onandaga, Michigan as Ezra Allen Miner. (Another source says Miner was born a year later in Bowling Green, KY and his birth name was Macdonald.) By the age of sixteen this charming fellow had begun his life of crime by stealing horses. A seventeen he joined the Union Army during the civil war but Miner deserted a year later. At the age of eighteen he was back stealing horses as well as stealing watches and money from his employer. He had his first conviction in 1866 and was sent to San Quentin for a year.
This was the start of a trend for Miner. He almost always got caught and he also never worked alone. He enjoyed fancier clothes and, when he had the money, he would spend it lavishly. His younger, dimmer cohorts were no doubt impressed with the airs put on by this inept criminal. His charms attracted the ladies as well and Bill Miner never refused their attentions. Though he did desert the one he married.

He may have been a thief but Miner was polite. Not that this trait helped much when he was caught after robbing a California stagecoach of  $3,000. After being sentenced to 25 years in San Quentin Miner often found himself fending off attacks from knife wielding inmates.

At the age of 55, this career criminal was released from San Quentin and Miner fled the US for Canada after he had two unsuccessful attempts to rob a train near Bellingham.

Bill Miner and his gang of the time made Canadian history on Saturday September 10, 1904. That day they robbed a CPR train in Mission and that was Canada's first train robbery. Reports on how much they got were mixed. One source said it was $7,000 while others state the robbers got away with about $300,000 in bonds.

It was the most successful robbery of Miner's career - he even had a boat waiting for the getaway.

For Miner and his gang though the success was short lived. In 1906 they not only lost their horses during a robbery but all they got was $15 and some liver pills!

You'll find this building on Commercial Drive. It was built in 1912 and known as Brandon Block Apartments.

By this time everyone was after the 'Gentleman Bandit' including the Pemberton Detective Agency, the Field Detective Agency as well as a Calgary contingent of the Northwest Mounted Police. They caught him near Douglas Lake. He was sentenced to the BC penitentiary in New Westminster.

Within a year he had escaped (thus earning the nickname Grey Fox) and ran back to the United States. Once home he started robbing trains again. At least he tried to. But Miner's luck was with him again. While trying to escape from authorities he drank some swamp water which made him violently ill and he was captured once again.

In 1913 this charming yet mostly unsuccessful train robber died in prison in Georgia. The locals paid for his funeral.

Interesting note. The leg irons used to hobble Miner when he was captured in Canada have been preserved and are at the Vancouver museum.

Once again I have to thank The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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