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Verdict of Powerful Explosion Caused by Person or Persons Unknown


Was Placed in the Car With Intent or in Ignorance.

"That in our opinion the said William J. Armstrong, Neil E. Murray, Mary Strelaeff and Henry J. Bishop came to their death as the result of the disaster near Farron, B.C., on the morning of October 29, 1924, by a powerful explosive placed within Canadian Pacific railway car No. 1528, by some person or persons unknown, either with intent or through ignorance.

"We would earnestly request that the attorney-general's department of this province continue diligently their efforts to apprehend the person or persons responsible for this terrible accident."

The above is the verdict of the Nelson jury which has for the past five days been sitting on the inquiry into four deaths in the Kettle Valley train explosion of Wednesday l ast. The verdict as returned was signed by the following jurors: Denis St Denis (foreman), Russell Brown MacEwan, Walter M. Myers, George Benwell, John Bell, William Rutherford, and Henry Hector MacKenzie, coroner.


Following the presentation of the verdict, the jury was complimented by Coroner MacKenzie on its verdict. He also complimented them on the thorough manner in which they had gone into the evidence. Nothing in his opinion had been left undone which would have helped solve the mystery.

After five days' inquiry the jury has gone into every angle of the t errible explosion which cost the lives of nine persons and injured nine more. Every witness thought able to throw light on to the case was called. The jurors visited the scene of the accident by special train. They saw the remains of the coach. Expert witnesses were called. Pintsch gas was brought to the court house. It was released in the room, and its fumes smelled by the jurors. It was found to be lighter than air.

Yesterday's session was a short one. The jury arrived at its verdict after about a half-hour deliberation. The evidence of two Hindus at present in the Kootenay Lake General hospital were-presented by StaffSergt. Ernest Gammon, from statements made by these persons at the hospital. Other witnesses heard before a verdict was returned were William Harkness and Charles Munroe, the engine crew on the train; Ernest Collinson, a watchmaker, and Nick Zebroff, one of the injured Doukhobors. Wilfred Marquis was also recalled to the stand.


When the inquest opened for the fifth day at 10 o'clock yesterday morning, the question of adjourning to the hospital to examine the two injured Hindus who were in the explosion came up. Staff-Sergt. E. Gammon produced the original statements of Nando Singh and Bud Singh, sworn to soon after the accident, in the hospital, and after these had been read it was decided that, owing to their lack of English and the comprehensives of their statements, nothing could be gained by visiting them in the hospital.

According to the statement of Nando Singh, he was on his way from Wasso, where he had been working in a lumber camp, to Vancouver, accompanied by his brother. He was asleep when the explosion came, and later was told his brother had been killed by it. His brother had been carrying a clock in his grip, he said.

Bud Singh said that he was also coming from Wasso, and going to Vancouver. He had a large clock with a wooden frame and a small one with him. He had been asleep when the explosion came.

The two original statements were put in as exhibits by Staff-Sergt. Gammon.

In reply to a question from William Rutherford, Staff-Sergt. Gammon told of John Perrasso of Sargent's garage getting on the train the night of October 28 to go to Rossland. Near one end of the train he had accidentally kicked or touched a suit case, and a man had told him to be careful, as it was full of dynamite. Later he had told Mr. Perrasso that he had three bottles of Scotch whisky in it. Chief Gammon stated that Perrasso was out on a hunting trip at present, and for that reason had not been called as a witness at the inquest.

D. St Denis, foreman, then announced that jury had no more witnesses to call, and Coroner Dr. H. H. MacKenzie cleared the court in order that the jury might consider its verdict, about 11:30. The verdict was returned shortly after 12.


Ernest Collinson, a watchmaker by trade, gave evidence. The cogwheel to which the wire was attached, he stated, was the wheel which turned the hour hand. It was attached to the wheel and as resting between the teeth. On the next tooth was another piece of wire. It may have been soldered on, but witness did not think so. He believed that it was a brass wire, and could not say what metal was holding the wire and did not think it was soldered. It looked as if the wire was forced in place. Asked if it. was an actual piece of wire or a strip off the cogwheel, Mr. Collinson stated that it was a piece of wire. Wire was used in several places in a clock. It was used to keep the dial in place. The wire might possibly be a piece of that. If it was a copper wire, it must have either been blown in or put in the clock. In its present position it was out of place.

The clock was not a common one, and there were not many sold in this city. It was of an Italian manufacture, and the alarm spring was tight. The wire might have been put there by the force of the explosion. The heat might have melted the metal off so that the wire would stay there. There were many ways in which a wire could get there.

If the wire were put on for a purpose, it was awfully loose, declared the witness. The wire was not in position to trip anything, and he was of the opinion that a clock could be insulated, but just how he couldn't say. It did not look to him that there was any design in the wire being on the cog. A man would not take that method to set off a clock. While in the stand, witness picked up the clock and the wire dropped off.


William Harkness, engineer on the train which left here on Tuesday night last, told of the explosion being heard and the brakes automatically setting themselves. He reversed the engine and put on the independent brakes. The coach was on fire when he looked back. The fourth car from the engine was burning.

He went back and was inside the coach. After the passengers had been removed the car had to be sepa rated from the train. He saw a hole in the floor of the coach. He had examined the gas tanks in the floor of the car and had found them uninjured, shortly after the explosion.

The hole in the coach, he explained, was to the center and right of the car. Fire was burning all about it.

He had seen the hole in the floor when he went to examine the gas tanks. The steam pipe under the car had been blown to a bending position by the explosion. The walls of the coach were practically blown out. The roof was blown away. He noticed an unusual odor in the east end of the coach, where the smoking compartment was. He saw no jet of flame from the gas tanks.

William Rutherford Why did you go to inspect the gas tanks?

Harkness Someone said that the gas tank had exploded. I went to look: I naturally thought that the gas did explode.

It appeared to the witness that if the car was full of gas someone would have detected it. The only manner in which it could get into the car was through the lights. He was convinced that the tanks were all right, and the hole in the coach, he stated, was on the opposite side to where the gas tanks were located.


C. G. Munroe, fireman on the train, was called, and told of hearing the explosion and seeing flames from the coach. He had helped to get the wounded out. He had gone inside the day coach. There were no seats left in the center and debris was scattered about. He had seen the hole in the floor: it was four or five feet round. The hole was near to the air cylinders, and the steam heat pipe was bent down by the force of the explosion.

He, like Harkness, had thought that the gas had caused the explosion. Seats were piled in the day coach in every direction. He heard a lot of pops like cartridges going off at intervals. There were quite a few of them, and they sounded as if they had been detonating caps.

The impression that the gas tanks had exploded, he stated, was a first thought. He had never seen such a thing occur.


George Zebroff, one of the Doukhobor travelers on the train, who left the hospital on Sunday last, was brought back from Brilliant on Tuesday to appear as a witness.

He had been at Birchbank, where he had been picking apples. He boarded the train at Castlegar. He was sitting at the second seat from the end of the coach, and on the same side as Peter Verigin. One Hindu sat behind him, and another opposite to him. Some other Doukhobors got on at Tunnel and sat ahead of him three or four seats.

After he left Tunnel, witness stated, that he went to sleep. He did not know what happened. He was thrown on top of some farmer. A farmer was an Independent Doukhobor, in his thinking. He hurt his ches, and heard and saw the fire.

With him he had a suit case, coat and cap and some baggage. The baggage was in the baggage car. In his baggage was a change of clothes and his blankets. In his suit case were a pair of pruning shears.

A pair of pruning shears badly burned and picked up in the remains of the car by Staff-Sergt. Gammon was displayed in court. Zebroff identified them as his own. He had had them for six or seven years, and they had been imported by the community. He did not have pliers or scissors in his grip. He noticed no holes in the coach.

Witness stated that he had never told anyone he had seen a hole in he coach. He had jumped up as the coach started to burn. It came to his mind that he had to go away or be killed. He tried to get out of the door, but couldn't open it. He saw a window open, or with the glass blown out of it, and he jumped through it. The only person he had seen in the burning coach was George Kazakoff, who was also rescued. He had not told Edward Graf at Brilliant, that he had seen a hole in the coach.

Wilfred Marquis was recalled on the stand and asked by Mr. Hamilton if he carried a light with him when going through the coach. Witness stated that when he shut off the evaporating system under the seat nearby Peter Verigin, some few seconds before the explosion, he held an ordinary coal oil switchman's lamp in his right hand. He had not smelled gas.

This, stated Mr. Hamilton, did away with the gas theory, as it would have exploded when the fire was present from the lamp.

Max Baskin was a witness during the day, and he testified that two coats produced in court were those belonging to Peter Verigin, dead Doukhobor leader. He had himself helped Mr. Verigin to choose the overcoat in a Spokane store.

Mr. Campbell, one of the dead in the explosion, was known well by Mr. Baskin. He carried with him a uit case and a pack sack. He carried no explosives with him. Outside of his baggage, he carried only a tape measure and marking hammer.

Source: "Nelson Jury Finds Explosive Death Cause," Nelson Daily News, November 6, 1924.

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