On a dreary morning in April, 1893, John Marshall, a Portuguese immigrant and successful farmer on Sumas Prairie in British Columbia, was found lying sprawled across the veranda of his farmhouse, his body cold and lifeless. The farmer's face was a mess, his nose smashed in and cracked blood covering his forehead around a jagged black hole. The shocked and unfortunate neighbor who discovered the body rushed to Huntingdon railway station to summon the authorities. An autopsy, coroner's inquest and murder investigation followed. Only two days later, a local handyman named Albert Stroebel was arrested for Marshall's murder. Stroebel was an unlikely killer: short and physically disabled, locals considered him a harmless "boy" who seemed much younger than his 20 years. The young man the community knew was not capable of murder, and they were shocked to imagine that he could have killed the man who had treated him like family. But something had gone tragically wrong on the night Marshall died. Unraveling the mystery would take nine months and two lengthy trials that seized the attention of local communities on both sides of the Canadian-American border, splitting them into pro- and anti-Stroebel factions. Newspapers devoted page after page of coverage and throngs of spectators squeezed into the courtroom galleries. The first trial in New Westminster ended with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, the second in Victoria found him guilty and set an impending date for his execution. The heaviest hitters of BC's political and legal establishment took part including former and current premiers, an Attorney General, and a future Supreme Court justice. When the second trial ended with a guilty verdict and death sentence many in the public howled in protest, convinced that a young man had been condemned to die for a crime he did not commit. And the dramatic events would not stop there. With the condemned man sitting on death row, the case would take more twists and turns that would lead Albert Stroebel to the shadow of the gallows.
Chad Reimer has a BA Honours in History from the University British Columbia, along with an MA and PhD in History from York University. He is the author of Before We Lost the Lake which received an honorable mention in the 2019 British Columbia Historical Federation's Historical Writing Competition. He also wrote Chilliwack's Chinatowns for the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC and Writing British Columbia History with UBC Press. Reimer has been published in BC History, Pacific Northwest Quarterly and a number of other journals. He lives in Abbotsford, BC.