Monday, January 27, 2014

Nitroglycerin goes BOOM!

Built in 1908, this home is located at 23 Renfrew Street - across from Hastings Park and the PNE grounds.

When I left off Friday, the police answered a anonymous tip concerning an injured watchman at Johnson's Storage. When they arrived, they found the body of murdered watchman, Vaino Alto. The story continues.

The room where Alto was found was long and narrow. It had a Taylor brand safe against one wall and the safe had been blown open by explosives. A thick layer of fire clay from the safe's fire walls covered the entire room. This was a case for detectives and crime scene experts so the officers carefully exited the room and radioed for their colleagues.

Detective Sergeant Bill Porteous and Detectives Armeneau and Hendy were assigned the case. These detectives arrived on scene with Inspector Percy Easler of the police Crime Laboratory and Constable Maloney and Mr. Black of the Scenes of Crime Unit.

The scene was photographed from every angle before the body was sent to the morgue. Then, the search for physical evidence began.

On top of the  nearby cigarette machine, an empty and a full bottle of nitroglycerin was found. So this is what blew the safe. The outer safe door hung on the bottom hinge and the inner door - which was left open by the staff and where the cash was kept - was jammed shut by the force of the explosion and the money was still there.

The safe attack had been bungled. But it was the work of professional safe-crackers. A small cup was made using Fels Naptha soap and placed over the left door-jamb. Several layers of half- inch Scotch tape sealed the door cracks to prevent the nitroglycerin from running out after it had been poured into the cup. Two 16-foot wires - covered with maroon coloured cotton - ran from the cup to a delayed action detonator. The ends led to the rear of a counter against the south wall and were set off by using a Ray-o-vac battery. Next to the safe, on the floor, were a 10lb sledgehammer with 'Provincial H.B.' marked on the handle and a 32-inch crowbar with a broken claw.

This house is at 2061 East 3rd. No building permit was found on but Vanmap lists it as dating back to 1913. The features of this home, the cut in porch, the great sleeping porch and the sharply pointed Victorian cottage gable, don't seem to fit that era. Of course, they may have been added at another time.
Two sets of footprints were visible in the powdered clay - remember the room was covered in this clay. The footsteps led from the safe to the door, across the yard to a high wire perimeter fence. By the fence, where the footprints ended, a lady's nylon stocking was found and inside the stocking were traces of short silver-grey hair similar to those found in the ivy-league cap I mentioned on Friday. The footprints were carefully measured and photographed.

All of this evidence was taken to the Crime Laboratory for further examination. No fingerprints were found and the faint smudges on the safe indicated the burglars were wearing cotton gloves.

The detectives and the scientists began to form a theory of what occurred. Two men had scaled the outer fence with possibly a third staying outside to hand over tools and keep watch. The two criminals went to the Drivers' Room and surprised the watchman.

They tied and gagged him before throwing Alto to the floor, banging his head as they did so. One of the men dropped his cap. 
The would be burglars prepared the safe for blowing but used too much nitroglycerin. The explosion not only jammed the safe door but also blew out many of the windows in the room. It is though that they were going to work on opening the inner door but noticed the watchman was choking. When they loosened the gag, they saw the man was in very poor shape so they panicked and left the scene in a hurry.

Hurriedly, they left the area and stopped to phone the police and report the watchman needed help.
The mystery deepens! Wednesday I will share more of this intriguing story from Policebeat, 24 Vancouver Murders by Joe Swan.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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