Guest: John MacLachlan Gray
Headline: White Angel - Vancouver’s Oldest Cold Case
Vancouver in 2019 is regularly ranked as one of the top cities to live in globally. But it wasn’t always that way. Go back 95 years to when author John MacLachlan Gray says, “Vancouver was a dirty, smelly, corrupt hell hole” – a place that played host to what is the oldest cold case in the city’s history.
In White Angel, MacLachlan Gray takes us inside the seamy underbelly of the city: not just the skids, but the entire city. He introduces us to a police department that was less than professional, high society that was scandalous, adulterous and outright corrupt. The city across all socioeconomic levels was blatantly racist – racist to everyone and to the Chinese in particular.
White Angel is the story of the murder of a Scottish nanny in a Shaughnessy mansion, it is a story of lies, orgies, alcohol, drug abuse and police corruption. It is centred around the murder by gunshot of Janet Stewart and subsequent ham-handed police investigation and cover-up. As Gray points out, “The city is buzzing with rumors” and the story spins out of control as the powerful United Council of Scottish Societies demands an inquiry. The murder victim’s fellow nannies have accused the Chinese houseboy of the murder and the newly established Ku Klux Klan, which took up residency in Shaughnessy, picks up the cause by abducting the poor young man and attempts to beat a confession out of him.
The poor houseboy escapes the custody of the KKK only to be arrested by the police who promptly charge him with murder. It is a case that is beautifully told by one of Vancouver’s most colourful playwrights and authors.
Throw in an undertaker who alerts a failed poet turned journalist about Janet Stewart’s death and subsequent cover-up and the story becomes so real your senses come alive. As Gray points out, “The killing created a situation analogous to lifting a large flat rock to expose the creatures hiding underneath” and those creatures represented a holy inglorious and unglamourous city.
As you turn the pages you can’t help but ask yourself: what happened to Vancouver? How did we go from a lawless city with a thriving criminal class to the city of today? It’s a dramatic transformation.
We invited John MacLachlan Gray to join us for a Conversation That Matters about how the cold case of the Scottish nanny epitomizes Vancouver in its 1924 opium-hazed, smoke-choked and rain soaked uglier days.
Conversations That Matter is a partner program for the Center for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University. The production of this program is made possible thanks to the support of the following and viewers like you.
Please become a Patreon subscriber and support the production of this program, with a $1 pledge https://goo.gl/ypXyDs