#34 Eve Lazarus
December 13th, 2015
LOCATION: North of Beaver Lake, Stanley Park
In 1953, the skeletons of two little boys were uncovered by a Vancouver Parks Board worker in the bushes of Stanley Park, not far from the entrance to Lions Gate Bridge. Both were likely killed about five years earlier. Eve Lazarus points out in her creepy, saddening and necessary book, Cold Case Vancouver: The City’s Most Baffling Unsolved Murders, that they were slain around the time seven-year-old Roddy Moore was inexplicably beaten to death on his way to school in East Vancouver in 1947.
The good news in Eve Lazarus’ Cold Case Vancouver (Arsenal Pulp)—if there can be any good news in a book about unsolved murders—is that the homicide rate has been falling in Canada. Near the outset of the 21st century, murder accounted for 0.1 percent of all police-reported violent crime.
Vancouver was becoming safer than ever, with one of the lowest murder rates in North America. In 1962, Vancouver had eighteen murders with a population of less than 400,000; by 2013, the city’s population had more than doubled and yet there were only six murders.
That disparity can be partially explained by demographics. The percentage of the population comprised of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five—the demographic that commits seventy-five percent of homicides in most countries—had dropped considerably since the 1970s.
In 2015, the VPD had 337 unsolved murders on its books dating back to 1970. Police will not comment about these crimes on the record, but Eve Lazarus examined twenty-four of the city’s most baffling unsolved murders between 1944 and 1996 for Cold Case Vancouver.
As a populist historian, Lazarus developed a lively but authoritative tone in three previous B.C. heritage titles. For Cold Case Vancouver, Lazarus was more like a respectful reporter, avoiding sensationalism, as she relates the facts, without lurid or rumoured conjectures, adding maps, archival photos and newspaper clippings.
There’s the case of the young country singer Debbie Roe, just back from success in Nashville, who was sexually assaulted, beaten, strangled and left to drown in 1975 and also the first recorded gang murder in 1954 when Danny Brent was shot in the head, probably by hired killers from Montreal, and left on the tenth hole of the UBC golf course.
Sex rears its ugly head in numerous entries, including the case of an in-the-closet gay man, Robert Hopkins, who was found strangled and shot in the head in his home in the Kensington-Cedar Cottage area. We learn from BC Gay and Lesbian archivist Ron Dutton that if a crime against a gay person ever did make it to court up until the 1980s, the “homosexual panic defence” was a standard tactic for defence lawyers. A defendant could claim he was so horrified to be propositioned by a gay person that extreme retaliation could be deemed acceptable by the court.
Conversely, when a man attacked thirty women in the early 1950s, he was dubbed “the love bandit” by the press. In that era, domestic violence was largely ignored and women were chronically at-risk in their homes.
“Certainly in the Fifties,” says Neil Boyd, Director of SFU’s School of Criminology, “it was totally permissible for mother and fathers to whack their children in the grocery store. Teachers would hit children, and the notion that a man could ‘correct’ his spouse was seen as totally acceptable.”
Lazarus has not merely regurgitated stories from the likes of retired Vancouver Police staff sergeant, Joe Swan, who operated the Vancouver Police Centennial Museum and wrote an historical crime column for the West Ender newspaper commencing in 1983. His accounts of murder cases were reprinted in A Century of Service: Vancouver Police 1886-1986 (Vancouver Police Historical Society, 1986) and Police Beat: 24 Vancouver Murders (Vancouver: Cosmopolitan Publishing, 1991).
Instead Lazarus has consulted a wide range of informants and undertaken some original research, most strikingly in her introductory story about the grisly fate of twenty-four-year-old Jennie Conroy whose body was found near the West Vancouver cemetery in 1944.
A disturbing percentage of victims in Cold Case Vancouver are female; and we learn we are most at-risk to be murdered if we are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four.
“The truly frightening thing is,” Lazarus writes, “is that these killers might still walk around among us. As a forensic expert for the Vancouver Police Department said, even with DNA and all the scientific improvements, ‘we don’t catch the smart ones.’”
It’s common knowledge that Canuck Place in Shaughnessy was previously a mansion that served as the headquarters for a Vancouver chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, but there are many other addresses in the Lower Mainland with skeletons in their closets.
The Australian-born journalist and freelance writer Eve Lazarus of North Vancouver examined the social histories of heritage houses in Greater Vancouver for At Home with History: The Untold Secrets of Heritage Homes (Anvil 2007).
Lazarus followed with Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens: Tales from the Capital City (Anvil 2012). It received the 2015 City of Vancouver Heritage Award for a book that heightens awareness of the historic value of Vancouver’s early neighbourhoods.
Lazarus returned to print with Sensational Vancouver (Anvil 2014). Including a walking tour map of Strathcona and Chinatown, Lazarus highlighted the famous and the infamous, particular the latter from the first half of the 20th century when ‘Terminal City’ was a hotbed for bookies, brothels and bootleggers. Lazarus makes the (disputed) claim that Canada’s first female cop was Lurancy Harris who patrolled the houses of ill repute on Alexander Street. Opium dens and gambling joints were the purview of Detective Joe Ricci. Sensational Vancouver also celebrates remarkable women such as Elsie MacGill, Phyllis Munday, Nellie Yip Quong and Joy Kogawa—along with entertainers, artists and controversial characters.
Between 2004 and 2015, more than 10,000 demolition permits were issued for residential buildings in the city of Vancouver. As of 2015, an average of three houses a day were being torn down, many of them original homes built for the middle and working class in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Very few are deemed significant enough to merit heritage protection, but Caroline Adderson and other Vancouver writers–including Eve Lazarus–believed the demoliton of these dwellings amounted to an architectural loss. Adderson spearheaded Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival (Anvil 2015), co-authored with Eve Lazarus, John Atkin, Kerry Gold, Evelyn Lau, John Mackie, Elise & Stephen Partridge and Bren Simmers. The introduction is by heritage artist and activist Michael Kluckner–who had published a book called Vanishing Vancouver–and photographs are by Tracey Ayton and Adderson. Eve Lazarus “blogs obsessively about houses and their genealogies” at www.evelazarus.com/blog/
Review of the author’s work by BC studies:
Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens
Heritage Award for Heritage Advocacy
2013 District of North Vancouver
City of Vancouver Book Award
2008 Finalist for At Home with History
Kenneth R. Wilson Awards
2007 Gold – best merchandizing/marketing article “Keep it Real,” Marketing Magazine
2001 Gold – best merchandizing/marketing article “Sizing up the Sizzle,” Marketing Magazine
At Home with History: The Untold Secrets of Heritage Homes (Anvil 2007). $20. 1-895636-80-2
The Life & Art of Frank Molnar, Jack Hardman & LeRoy Jensen (Mother Tongue, 2009) $34.95 Co-authored with Eve Lazarus, Claudia Cornwall and Wendy Newbold Patterson.
Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens (Anvil, 2012)978-1-927380-06-2 $24
Sensational Vancouver (Anvil 2014) 160 pages, $24 can/usa, 7.5 x 9.5, Paperback 978-1-927380-98-7
Cold Case Vancouver: The City’s Most Baffling Unsolved Murders (Anvil 2015) $21.95 978-1-55152-629-4
[INFORMATION POSTED JANUARY 1, 2016]