#21 – Extortion & Murder – Part 2 – Seeking Justice

The charred remains of Philip Lake were discovered the morning of Monday, January 6th, 1936 by a neighbour and fellow settler Otto Blakeney, who was on his way to see Philip for some provisions. After discovering Philip’s partially cremated body, Otto frantically searched the smouldering ruins for Philip’s wife and two small children. After only finding Philip and the skeleton of their cat what was left of the family’s two-room cabin, he started searching the surrounding property. About 200 yards away, near Ballast Pit Road, lay the nearly nude body of Bertha Lake with a halo of blood-drenched in the snow surrounding her. Her arms outstretched as though searching for her babies and a little further from that was the frozen body of little Jackie Lake, left to die in the freezing temperatures.

If you haven’t listened to part 1 of Extortion & Murder in the backwoods or it’s been a while, I suggest you go back and listen to that first before listening to this episode. To give you a brief overview of where we left off. Otto Blakeney made the gruesome discovery of the murder of Philip Lake, His wife Bertha, and the death due to exposure of the 21-month-old son Jackie on Monday January 6th. Philip had been shot in the back of the head and the cabin was lit on fire to either extinguish the family or cover the murder committed. Bertha Lake, partially clothed, in bare feet, grabbed little Jackie and was running from the cabin, presumably for help, when she was chased & beaten with a blunt object, which was the cause of her death. 21-month-old Jackie was left in the freezing snow to wonder, he was also partially clothed, and his death was the result of hypothermia. Bertha and Jackie’s bodies were partially covered by a thin layer of snow and were frozen. He couldn’t find the body of 6-month-old Betty Ann. After finishing his initial search, Otto travelled 2 miles to another neighbour, Omar Lutes, who worked for the Canadian Railway and who also had a telephone. Omar then called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to tell of the crime. Several members of the RCMP attended the scene and the investigation started immediately. There they did a preliminary search of the charred ruins and the surrounding country. Dr. Caldwell, the county coroner, also was on scene to view the bodies before they were moved. At first glance, they didn’t know that Philip had been shot in the back of the head. He was so badly burned, almost cremated, that they were only able to identify him by the two gold teeth in his upper jaw. He would later testify at the preliminary hearing and trial to the extent of damage to Philip’s body. His body was so badly burned that the legs had been burned off to below the knees, the skull was intact but burned pretty well through that he could not recognize the brain. He couldn’t recall seeing the genital organs. His clothing was mostly burned off as well, except for a few buttons that had melded into his remains. At first, they did not know that he suffered a gunshot wound. It wouldn’t be until later that this was discovered and would play an important part in the cases against the accused. Although his skull was intact, it was still fairly fragile, Constable Kent testified in court that when he touched on the gold teeth in the scorched skull at the scene it dropped out of place.

His remains were found in the kitchen part of the 2-room shack, on what remained of a metal bed frame. This is were they typically slept. The identification of his remains was initially done by Otto Blakeney and Omar Lutes and was later confirmed by his dentist and his identification was only confirmed by the 2 gold teeth in his upper jaw.

About 200 yards from the cabin, near or on Ballast Pit Road, lay Bertha, face-up, clothed only in a night slip that appears to have been only covering her hips at the time of her death as he had been torn away from her. She had suffered a blow to the head, causing a large laceration. She bled profusely, so much so that is created a halo of blood spanning up to 6 feet around her. There was evidence of a struggle, the impressions in the snow. It looked as though she fled the cabin with her toddler, both of them barely clothed, going in the direction of Omar Lutes home when she was attacked. The coroner indicated that her cause of death was due to blunt force trauma. He indicated that the blow was so forceful that there is no way that this could have been done accidentally or by falling unless she were to fall from a very high distance.  Her body lay there for a bit, however not excessively long as she was partially covered by a light layer of snow, which had fallen during the early morning. A forensic autopsy was completed by Drs. Melanson and Landry, who indicated they her cause of death was a compound fracture of the skull and lacerations of the brain. Twenty to forty feet away was the body of 21-month-old Jackie, who was left to die in the cold after his mother was attacked. Whoever attacked the family would have known that the temperatures were frigid and there was no way a toddler, barely clothed, would survive the night. The coroner indicated his cause of death to be due to “exposure” or hypothermia. The bodies of Bertha and Jackie were initially identified by Omar, Otto and Dr. Caldwell, who had visited Bertha in a medical capacity in the recent past. Her remains we later confirmed again by her sister.  During the search, they could not find the remains of 6-month-old Elizabeth Ann (Betty Ann). Initially they presumed she had died in the fire and that her remains were cremated. Given the heat and the extent of cremation of her father, a burly lumberjack, compared to her small body.

A barrel of a rifle and a bowie knife were found in and around the ruins.

The RCMP quickly saw footprints leading away from the home, and given the size, they assumed they were men’s feet. Eventually they saw 2 sets of footprints, which joined up with a smaller pair. The smaller pair appeared to be pacing or standing in one area for a while and when joined by the other two, walked along with them. They were able to follow the prints for quite a while. The tracks were heading towards the city of Moncton.  Along the way, they found a lone worn leather mitten. At that time, Pacific Junction didn’t form part of the city of Moncton and was approximately 13 km (8 miles) from Berry Mills and 28 miles from the city proper at the time. Just before the train tracks leading to Berry Mills station the RCMP came across several oval-shaped imprints that looked as though they were from the butt of a rifle. They lost the track around the Berry Mills station as their prints blended into many others.

The investigation took approximately 3-4 days. During this time, the RCMP interviewed many people. The first interesting piece of information to come out of these interviews was the statement completed by Omar Lutes, the CN Rail officer who lived 2 miles from the Lakes. They were also the last to see Philip Lake alive, aside from his murderer. Philip visited their home on the morning of January 5th, to pick up a bottle of medicine that Omar had picked up for him when he went into Moncton. He and his wife also informed law enforcement that their large police dog started barking non-stop a little after midnight on Jan 6 and continued to bark and running back & forth for about 15 minutes. Their dog didn’t typically bark without cause, so they became concerned and got out of bed to look outside for any potential intruders. But, after getting out of bed and checking to make sure no one was around his fox pens he went back to bed.

Philip’s, Bertha’s and Jackie’s bodies were discovered the morning on January 6th. The entire cabin was completely burned and a thin layer of snow partially covered Bertha and Jackie’s bodies. It had snowed in the early morning. A cabin of that size may only take 30 minutes to be completely engulfed in flames and collapse. When discovered the timber and ruins for still smoldering. Given the time of year and the climate, the burned structure would likely smolder for 6 -24 hours. The estimated time of death and the fire would be the night of Jan 5 or very early morning of Jan 6.

Shortly after Bertha’s death was confirmed, the RCMP was approached by Marshall Ring, Bertha’s estranged husband. He was an initial person of interest in the crimes. He and Bertha had separated approximately 4 years before her death when they were both living in Saint John (about 93 miles or 150 km from Pacific Junction) and she went to live with Philip Lake. A few months before her death he had moved to Moncton and was working at the Moncton Hotel. Marshall indicated that he never met Philip and had never been to their residence. He was later ruled out, this time it wasn’t the husband, as he had an alibi, he was working at the Moncton Hotel from 11:00 PM Jan 5th to 4:00 AM Jan 6.

During this time, there was a rumour about 2 “tramps” jumping from a freight train not far from Pacific Junction. The RCMP investigated this potential lead but it was a dead end.

The RCMP took statements from Otto Blakeney and Omar lutes. Otto confirmed that he had been visiting with the Lakes on Jan 1 and then again on January 2. He also let them know of some other people who had been visiting the Lakes on that same day, one of which was Earl O’Brien, an 18-year-old hunter who often stayed in one the Lake’s outbuilding while hunting. He confirmed being at the Lake residence on January 2. He also mentioned that Otto was there as well as Arthur Bannister, a 19-year-old resident of Berry Mills and told an interesting tale of the events on Jan 2. He told law enforcement of visiting the Lake residence on January 2 and staying all night in one of the outbuildings temporarily equipped as a camp, in which he frequently stayed when out on hunting trips. He wasn’t the only one staying in the Lake’s outbuilding that night; Arthur Bannister had arrived at the Lake residence with a .22 caliber rifle and spent the night as well. At approximately midnight, two other individuals came to the Lake property and called Arthur out. These two other individuals were Daniel and Frances Bannister, Arthur’s older brother and younger sister. 

In a subsequent interview with Otto Blakeney, sergeant Peters asked him if he knew the Bannisters. At this point he recalled an odd story that Philp had told him a few months before. He indicated that Philip told him of an evening that both Arthur, 19, and his older brother Daniel, 20, had visited the home one day and told Philip that they were “after Betty Ann”. It seems as though they wanted to adopt the baby but Phil took it as a joke as he never had intentions of giving up his daughter.

Two separate settlers in the area came forward and stated that they saw Arthur walking toward Pacific Junction with a riffle and snowshoes at around 5 PM on January 5th.

Things were leading law enforcement to look into these Bannisters a little more closely. Daniel was known to the Moncton police as he was arrested when he was around 15, but they didn’t divulge on what charge. They started interviewing the Bannister neighbours and associates.  And here is where things became interesting, as they would soon unravel a story of extortion, kidnapping, and murder.

Here’s what they learned when interviewing neighbours and associates. The neighbors had talked about the family and mentioned that May Bannister had recently had a baby girl. May had been separated from her husband for 10 years so they were wondering who the father would be, the neighbours were quick to mention a local man by the name of Milton Trites, May’s boyfriend. Milton owned a pawn shop or second-hand store in the area and his home was close to the Bannister home. They met when May became his housekeeper. Law enforcement interviewed Milton Trites, a slender, bronzed local 38-year-old man. He confirmed that he and May were in an intimate relationship and that he had fathered a daughter with her. He told law enforcement that May told him in November that she was pregnant and would be due in December and was asking for money to help pay for supplies. He indicated that at first, he was mad but then was getting excited about the thought of having a child. He said he paid for a crib and pram and had been contributing to weekly groceries and other household items. During his initial interview he also mentioned other frequent visitors of the Bannisters and mentioned Albert Powell, who was a freight clerk and part-time social worker with the Salvation army.

The next logical step was to do an initial interview with Albert Powell, he said that he used to frequent the Bannister home as a social worker and friend which started in 1934. Law enforcement asked if he recognized the mitten, and bowie-knife, which they were asking all interviewees, this time they had an answer. Albert thought that the bowie knife might be the property of Arthur Bannister and the worn leather mitten looked like a pair he had seen Daniel Bannister wear. The RCMP asked when the last time he was at the Bannister home and he said he had stopped going at the end of November when they had a falling out.

It was time to visit the Bannister home. All four of the Bannister children home, but May Bannister was out with the baby when they visited the family home. Daniel and Arthur were lazily sitting around while Frances was playing with a life-size doll and 13-year-old Marie was making lunch. He asked Daniel and Arthur about the knife and mitten. Both Arthur and Daniel admitted that these were their items. Daniel even went to fetch the matching mitten.  Law enforcement asked when they lost the items. Arthur said they were lost on Jan 2 when hunting and visiting the Lake’s. When they asked Arthur where he was on Jan 5th, he said that he went to bed at 7:30 PM. They took Arthur in for additional questioning as they had 2 eyewitnesses confirming seeing him walking between 5-6 PM on Jan 6th, towards Pacific Junction, away from the family home.  After realizing that they had some circumstantial evidence against him he provided an initial statement admitting that he, Daniel, and Frances were visiting the Lake home on January 5th. Arthur, Daniel, Frances and Philip were in the main room drinking and that Bertha was in another room resting with her kids. The drinking parry suddenly turned into a fight when Philip started sexually harassing their 15-year-old sister. The brothers started arguing with Philip and a fight ensued. One thing led to another when suddenly Philip threw a stick of firewood just as Bertha walked out of the other room and she was subsequently hit in the head and then Arthur threw it back at Lake, which he tumbles over onto a cot, knocking over an oil lamp on the way, which set the cabin on fire. Betha then in her nightdress, grabbed the toddler, Jackie, and fled the home out of fear, running to get help. Arthur, Daniel, and Frances, terrified, ran and tripped through the snow to the railway tracks and then from there to home. He was subsequently charged for the murder of Philip Lake.

During the next 2 days the RCMP learned that May Bannister had applied to adopt a baby girl from New Brunswick’s Protestant’s Orphan’s home in Saint John, NB in February 1935, 9 months before she told Milton Trites that she was about to have his baby. The orphanage confirmed that she wasn’t able to adopt a baby. The case manager remembered the story that Otto Blakeney told him where the Philip had told him that sometime in the fall, just before the first snowfall, he was visited by Arthur and Daniel Bannister who were looking to adopt his infant daughter Betty Ann.

It was time to question Milton Trites and Albert Powell again. 

Milton Trites was questioned about when he first saw his daughter. He had said that May went away in December to have the baby and came back on December 29th. She didn’t let him see their daughter for two days, and that first time she was wrapped in blankets sleeping in her crib. May wouldn’t let Milton get close to the baby, for fear of germs and not wanting to wake a sleeping baby. He was telling her that they should have her christened soon and hold a party and was growing anxious to be able to hold and interact with his daughter.

He also said that on Jan 6 May Bannister visited his home to see him and asked if he would like to come to see his daughter. He asked her if they could name her Thyra Milton Trites. He was finally able to see his daughter close and to her for the first time on January 6th. He then went out to get provisions for the baby and groceries for the whole Bannister family.

In further discussions with Albert Powell, he advised the falling out with the Bannisters in January was when May Bannister accused him of having sexual relations with her underage daughter Marie, who was 13, and told him that if Marie was Pregnant that he would need to provide support. He did admit to paying a total of $230 towards the family expenses, which would be about $4,200 in 2020. A significant amount for someone to just give out of the goodness of his heart.

The RCMP visited the Bannister home on January 9th, however, May Bannister would not let them enter the home and they didn’t have a warrant. However, it seems that they brought in Frances & Daniel Bannister for questioning.

After a period of questioning, France provided a statement implicating her siblings, but not her mother in a plot to kidnap Philip and Bertha Lake’s daughter. The plan was that Arthur would go ahead of them to the Lake home and that Daniel and Frances would meet him there at around Midnight, they would kidnap the baby and leave. Remember, May returned home on December 29th after allegedly having a baby and Milton, her boyfriend, was getting anxious to see and hold his daughter. They attempted to fulfill their plot on January 2nd, but when Frances and Daniel arrived at midnight they were told to leave as Earl O’Brien was there. They decided to attempt again on January 5th.

Arthur left the home at 4 PM with a .22-gauge rifle and that she and Daniel left the house at 8:00 PM. Daniel had taken a large hunting knife.  When they arrived at the Lake Cabin, Arthur had come out to meet them. He then went into the cabin. Frances said she heard a noise that sounded like a shot and that shortly after he came out and handed the baby to her. This was around Midnight on the 6th. She said that she ran out to the road with Betty-Ann while Arthur ran to the side of the house where the barn was to set fire to the house. While she running, she also heard a woman scream. She had screamed for a while and then she suddenly stopped. She didn’t look back. Shortly after that the boys caught up to her and she turned and saw that the cabin was on fire. As they continued walking, they could hear the incessant barks of the Lutes’ dog.  Arthur handed the rifle to Daniel and then carried Betty-Ann the rest of the way. She advised that they returned home at 3:20 AM. Arthur entered the home first with Betty-Ann in his arms and that her mother had taken charge of the baby.

Daniel was subsequently arrested for the murder of Philip Lake as he was the owner of the bowie knife found at the crime scene and his sister implicated him. And Frances was retained as a material witness.

The following day, January 10th, the RCMP showed up to the Bannister home with a warrant. There, on the second floor of the impoverished home, lying in a crib, was a baby girl. May Bannister had told the police that this was her baby and was 2-month old and that she had no doctor at the time of birth.  Only May and 13-year-old Mary were home at the time. Both boys were arrested the day before and Frances held as a material witness.  May said that Mrs. Cool, a Traveler’s aid representative of the young women’s Christian association could validate her story, but Mrs. Cool denied knowing of May having a baby. Just before law enforcement arrested May for kidnapping, she said “You can take the damn baby, but I will not come while there is a drop of blood in me!” She was then detained for questioning and the baby, believed to be Betty Ann, as well as 13-year-old Marie, stayed the night with May’s boyfriend Milton Trites, given the time of day.

The remains of Philip, Bertha, and Jackie Buried this same day. The funeral services were delayed due to law enforcement and the crown obtaining additional information and photos.

Betty Ann Lake was taken in for temporary shelter in the hospital. Relatives of Betty Ann and her identity was confirmed by friends, neighbours, Dr. Caldwell and the midwife who helped deliver her and who stayed with Bertha for 11 days following her birth. She was identified by a strawberry birthmark located at her hairline.

Marie was taken into care by the Salvation Army, seeing as her mother and older siblings were incarcerated.

Philip Lake’s body was exhumed around this time to specifically verify if there was a bullet lodged in his head. A gunshot wound was confirmed and a slug was removed from Philip’s skull.

The preliminary hearings started on January 13th, just 7 days after the bodies of Philip, Betha, and Jackie were discovered.

During this time the RCMP had further interviews with Frances, who indicated that as they walked along the railway, Arthur smashed a .22 caliber rifle he had brought with him and tossed the pieces in the bushes. She also testified that her mother was pleased when they arrived home with the baby.

On January 24th, Frances led the police to the location where the rifle was broken and strewn into the bushes. The butt of a .22 calibre rifle was located, split & splintered, in the snow near the railroad tracks, ¼ mile from Pacific Junction. The barrel of the rifle was found near the same location the following day.

The slug recovered from Philip Lake’s skull, as well as the .22 calibre rifle butt and barrel were sent to the office of Dr. Fontaine for analysis. The analysis & comparison was completed by the office of Dr. Rosario Fontaine, medico-legal & ballistic experts out of Montreal. Dr. Roussel, a Ballistic expert from Montreal, said he examined the slug taken from Philip’s skull and compared it to those fired from the barrel of the rifle belonging to Arthur Bannister. He indicated that the striations on the bullets he fired from the rifle matched those on the slug lodged in Philip’s head.

Arthur and Daniel Bannister were remanded on Jan 13 and were to both appear on Wednesday, the 15th, for a preliminary hearing. The whole event started a little chaotic with two different defense counsel going head to head over who was to represent the defendants. One of the lawyers threatened to have the whole affair investigated by the barristers’ society. Each defence counsel maintained that they had prior right to be defence counsel. All Bannisters ended up being represented by Murray Lambert, but not before the other lawyer made some ugly accusations.

The preliminary trials for Daniel, Arthur, and May Bannister took place between Jan 15 and Feb 26, about a month and a half. All prisoners were being held at Dorchester Jail, in Westmorland county, located directly behind the 2-story decaying courthouse. The hearings took a little longer than originally anticipated, there was an 8-day adjournment to mark the mourning of King George. During the preliminary hearings the crown outlined a motive for the crime. They held that May Bannister wanted a baby to put Milton Trites and Albert Powel under “moral obligation” and that when May couldn’t have a baby on her own, she tried to adopt one, and when that failed, they planned to kidnap the Lake baby.

During the hearings, there was an accusation brought against the RCMP by May Bannister suggesting that they threatened her to procure a statement. This accusation was heard by the courts and the RCMP corporal was fully exonerated.

During the preliminary hearing for May Bannister, several people were called as witnesses, that outlined and showed her passing off a large bundle of blankets as a newborn baby walking the streets in town and of also being a liar. Several testimonies were given by various bed & breakfasts where she had stayed, including the ones in December when she allegedly went away to have her baby. None of the testimonies provided made her out to be an upstanding citizen, yet none of these altered her emotions like that of Albert Powell. During his testimony she yelled out saying that was enough of his lies and threatened to throw something at him. Her defence counsel told her to keep quiet but she said she wouldn’t as he was going on with his lies for too long.

True bills were returned by the Grand Jury against Arthur, Daniel, and May Bannister on February 26th. A True Bill is the written decision by a grand jury that is has heard enough evidence from the prosecution to believe that the accused probably committed the crime and should be indicted. So, the indictment is then sent to the courts and a trial is scheduled.

A trial delay was requested by defence counsel due to issues surrounding the statements made by Arthur and Daniel that were not admissible in court but were leaked at the time. The judge denied the application trial delay and the trial of Arthur Bannister, the younger of the 2 brothers, was scheduled to start March 3rd.  Arthur and Daniel were charged with the murder of Philip Lake, Bertha Ring (Lake) and with Kidnapping and Abducting their Daughter, Betty-Ann. May Bannister was facing charges of conspiracy to kidnap, kidnapping and abduction.

The courthouse in Dorchester, NB was packed. So much so the there was standing room only and many people, including the jurors, staying at the local hotel across the street. Dorchester wasn’t a very large town at the time, and it is much smaller today, but very quaint. Many reporters attended the trials from all over the country and from the united states. They described the throngs of people arriving in their cars and some in horses and buggies.

Arthur’s trial opened on March 3rd and he pleads not guilty. The case against Arthur was strong, albeit mostly circumstantial. He did not have an alibi, was seen on Jan 5th walking towards Pacific Junction with a rifle, his rifle was later recovered and the striations on the slug taken from Philip Lake’s skull matched those fired from Arthur’s rifle. His sister was the main witness for the prosecution. Betty Ann was taken into court to show everyone the strawberry birthmark on her hairline, which was accompanied by several witnesses that confirmed her identity and the RCMP who confirmed locating her at the Bannister home following a search warrant on the 10th of January. Daniel’s mitten, the bowie knife and Arthur’s rifle were entered into evidence. The trial itself wasn’t without some sort of drama and nonsense from the stands and the audience. When Otto Blakeney, the first person to discover the deaths of Philip, Bertha, and Jackie, was on the stand and was cross-examined on the identity of the baby, admitted he was a bachelor and didn’t know much about babies, but had said he saw the baby before and that Bertha had shown him the birthmark New Year’s day and after being questioned whether he was certain the baby was Philip Lake’s daughter he said he didn’t know if she was Philip’s but that it must have belonged to Bertha since she had her!. With that the audience started applauding and commenting and the Judge had to warn everyone to calm down or the courtroom would be cleared. Frances, Arthur’s younger sister, was a reluctant witness, the judge had threatened her with a jail term for contempt of court. This was because she wouldn’t answer the prosecution’s question on what Arthur told her when he came out of the Lake home and handed her the baby. She didn’t seem fazed by the threat and there is no record that she answered this question in court. Sergeant Peters of the RCMP, fainted while being cross-examined describing the horrific crime scene and the state that Philip’s remains were in, he allegedly was given the 2 gold teeth to examine at the same time. He was sent home due to illness. He had been fighting the flu but didn’t want to hold up the trial. Then, on the same afternoon, one of the jurors found out that his house burned down and had asked to be excused as a juror, which was flatly denied, but he was given the day to find temporary accommodations for his family.  Defence argued on the validity of the ballistics analysis for quite a while and the examination became very heated. Defence counsel also questioned the actual identity of the burned body, maybe it wasn’t Philip’s. But his dentists stated he was positive the body was that of Philip Lake based on the dental work. Albert Powell was called to the stand the audience couldn’t stop whispering all the salacious details of the county’s rumours. However, his testimony was short, he described the unique markings on the rifle that enabled him to confirm that it was Arthur Bannister’s gun.  All the while, Arthur sat twirling his hat and grinning, almost as though the reality of the situation didn’t sink in. Defence counsel tried his best to plant the seed of doubt into the minds of the jurors. The trial lasted 8 days and ultimately the jurors only took 3 hours to deliberate. They gave back with a guilty verdict. The judge said he would only pass judgement (sentencing) after the trials of Daniel, Arthur’s older brother, and May, their mother. However, a murder conviction held a mandatory sentence of death at the time. Arthur was then sent back to his cell. Shortly after conviction, Murray Lambert, Arthur’s lawyer, announced that he would appeal the decision.

May Bannister’s trial started the following day. She too plead not guilty and was being represented by Murray Lambert.  This trial also wasn’t without disruptions of some kind between the continuous crying of May Bannister and Marie Bannister, Frances herself remained stoic for the most part, although there were moments of crying for her as well. A large blue-eyed “Mama” was entered into evidence. This life-size doll was found at the Bannister home and with its squeaker removed so he couldn’t say “Mama”. The prosecution claims that May used as a substitute baby to help fool Milton Trites and Albert Powell into thinking that either she or Marie had a baby and she could continue to extort money from the two until she was able to get a live baby. Frances was once again a witness however she would not give testimony of her mother being the conspiracists behind the murder-kidnap plot. The doll was purchased in December, but Frances testified that it was a Christmas gift for Marie and that the squeaker was removed because Marie didn’t like it. Both Albert Powell and Milton Trites said that they never saw May Bannister with the large doll. Nevertheless, a James Sergeant testified that he had driven the Bannister family home on Christmas eve and that May had a bundle in a blue blanket and when he asked her what she had there, she told him to never mind and not to mention it to Mr. Powell. James Sergeant and Albert Powell were acquaintances. Another witness gave testimony that he had seen May on Christmas eve walking with this bundle. When asked what she had there, she told him that she had a baby. The prosecution asked him what he replied and he said “I think I said I was surprised at her”. What else may have been said by the witness at the time wasn’t heard over the laughter of the spectators in the court. He said he encountered May again several days later and she asked him what he thought of her baby, to which he wasn’t able to answer because he stated that he didn’t see a baby, just a bundle in a blue blanket.

There were frequent objections by her defence counsel to the admissibility of May’s alleged statements to the police. He was able to obtain a decision from Chief Justice Barry (the judge) that the alleged statements made by the accused to the Moncton police were attained by practically “third-degree methods” and therefore were not admissible. The trial closed on March the 18th, 6 days after it started.

May was found guilty of harboring a stolen child. She was acquitted of the two more serious crimes of abduction and conspiracy. Her conviction carried a maximum of 3 and ½ years sentence. There was no evidence presented at court that beyond a reasonable doubt May knew what her children set out to do when they left the home on Jan 5.  Sentencing would take place after Daniel’s trial and she was led back to a cell at the Dorchester jail, located directly behind the courthouse.

These cases were very heavily covered in the media at the time and there were several letters from readers in part of Canada and the United States looking to adopt Betty Ann

Daniel’s trial started on March 31st; he enters a plea of not guilty. On this same day, Murray Lambert, defence counsel for the Bannisters, submits an appeal for Arthur’s conviction. A jury was selected, once of which was yours truly’s great grand-father, although we never met. Throughout Daniel’s trial he chewed on his fingers or moved nervously about his chair. His father was in the audience as was his sister Marie. Frances was once again called as a witness. She testified that neither she nor Daniel knew what was going to happen at the Lake resident and neither of them had the intent of murder when they set out. The crown was quick to point out that Daniel had left the home with the hunting knife, and as he was arming himself, must have known.  Once again, the ballistic expert was called and the cross-examination by the defence became heated. Chief Justice Barry had to stop him and tell him he wasn’t there for him to lecture and he was to only ask him questions then the judge asked he Mr. Lambert was suggesting that the police introduced bogus evidence and defence counsel exclaimed that that is exactly what he was trying to find out. 

The judge then advised that the defence did have the opportunity to get their own expert to which Defence counsel said there was no money to bring in their own experts, as the defendants were impoverished. This whole situation angered the expert and he interjected that his opinion was strictly impartial. The judge then chimed in to “not worry about money. There won’t be much left for anybody after the lawyers get through.” Defence counsel once again argued over the admissibility of Daniel’s statement provided to the Moncton Police when he was a prisoner at police headquarters there. The jury was excluded while the prosecution called witnesses to establish where or not the statement should be excluded. Ultimately it was not.

Much of the testimony given at Daniel’s trial was the same as that given at Arthur’s trial, with the exception that a psychiatric evaluation of sorts was completed for Daniel, at the request of the trial judge. Daniel was described as “not too bright”, which could have been an innuendo for mentally disadvantaged. The doctor gave evidence that Daniel was “crafty” and knew “what’s what”. The trial ended on April 6th. The judge instructed the jury that “when a gang plans a murder, each and every one of them Is guilty, regardless of who commits the act itself. Should you come to the conclusion that Daniel Bannister went to Philip Lake’s to steal the Lake baby and someone did an act that caused death, it is murder.” The Jury takes 7 hours to deliberate. They found him guilty of murder but brought in a recommendation for clemency.

Arthur and Daniel were both sentenced to death at this time, and although Daniel would be granted a second trial, this time taking the stand in his own defence, would, in the end, be found guilty again. An appeal was sent to the supreme court pleading for manslaughter, but this was denied as the Chief Justice stated that there were “no reasonable circumstances to show that Lake’s death was the result of manslaughter.”

Arthur was granted a stay of execution as he was named as a potential material witness in Daniel’s re-trial, although he was never called to the stand. They were both sentenced to hang on September 23rd, 1936.

An initial charge was submitted against Frances, and she was being remanded until after the execution. May Bannister was sentenced to 3.5 years in jail, but I believe only served a little over half that time.  She served her time in Kingston, Ontario. Media at the time indicated that Marie lived with her Dad at the Bannister home while her mom was incarcerated.

Executioner Arthur Ellis arrived at Dorchester Jail on September 21st to make preparations for the dual hanging of Daniel and Arthur Bannister. The scaffold was in position by the end of the day, within the walls of the county jail. All-day the two could hear the hammering as it was being built just below them.

George Bannister, Daniel and Arthur’s father, Marie and Frances all said their final goodbyes to Arthur and Daniel before their execution. Both boys hugged their sisters and told them to be good girls and then Arthur said he hoped nothing would happen to Frances during her upcoming trial.

In the early hours of September 23rd, Arthur and Daniel walked nervously as they were escorted from their cells to the gallows. Arthur and Daniel were tied back to back and as the nooses were adjusted Daniel protested that it was too tight and that he couldn’t pray. A witness swore he heard Daniel say “innocent, paying for someone else’s crime” just before the double trap door sprung at 2:06 AM Atlantic time and the two fell to their deaths. Both Arthur and Daniel were pronounced dead 21 minutes later. The bodies were then placed on stretchers, viewed by the coroner’s jury and then placed in a single pine coffin covered with a black cloth and lowered into a single grave, using the same ropes used to cause their death, forever bound in history and death. The ultimate price paid for the ruthless murder of Philip Lake, Bertha Ring and the gross negligence that lead to the innocent death of 21-month-old Jackie. 

Charges against Frances were dropped, but there was no real happy ending here for her. She died approximately 10 years later from pulmonary tuberculosis.

According to the provincial archives, May died in 1969, however, a copy of her death certificate was not attached. The archived records only go to 1969 and birth and marriage certificates even earlier than that. What became of Marie? I don’t know, but hopefully, she was able to pull herself out of the trappings of her family, heal from any trauma and lead a happy life.

Betty-Ann was adopted by Philip’s sister and husband and her last name was officially changed to Cuthbertson. She got married at only 17. We can only hope she had a well-deserved happy life.

One thought on “#21 – Extortion & Murder – Part 2 – Seeking Justice

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