Farr case — alleged arsonist faced three charges in police court

by Bruce Cherney (part 3)

On June 20, 1895, William Farr, the alleged arsonist and unfaithful husband, who broke out of the Winnipeg Police Jail two months earlier and was found on a ship bound for Honolulu when he was arrested in Vancouver Harbour, arrived at the CPR Station in Winnipeg accompanied by Manitoba Provincial Police (MPP) chief  E.J Elliott, Vancouver Police sargeant Haywood and MPP constable Cox. Other police officers were waiting on the platform ready to whisk Farr off to the Winnipeg police station at the corner of King and James.

Farr had been originally arrested for allegedly setting fire to his Ross Avenue home in an attempt to kill his wife and their four children. The fire was quickly extinguished and no one in the house was injured.

“When the prisoner first cast his eyes on the immense crowd of men (at the railway station) — men of the working  class mainly, sprinkled with low characters and without a single woman in their midst — rushing madly towards him as he appeared on the steps at the end of the (rail) car, he gave a nervous look and then smiled, as though he would like to appear careless and unconcerned about the matter (Tribune, June 20, 1895).

“He had no need to fear the crowd for they were orderly enough, although as a by-stander remarked to the reporter, ‘It is probable that one or two men so disposed could induce this crowd to lynch him’ is more probable.

“Farr had few, if even a single friend, and his enemies, or rather those made so by his alleged base conduct, were legion, and there was no hesitation in the declarations to this effect.”

The police cleared a path through the crowd and Farr was hustled into a horse-drawn cab. While driving to the police station, many people followed the cab and more people were assembled at the station awaiting Farr’s arrival.

Ironically, Farr was taken to the cell where he made his escape, but the security of this cell was much improved.

The next duty was to wait until a case in the police court was dealt with and Farr’s name was eventually called. Farr appeared in Winnipeg Police Court, presided over by Magistrate Col. Arthur Peebles, wearing a black sacque coat and black pants and blue vest with a black watch guard and turn-down collar and dark tie. He was said to have lost 35 or 40 pounds since his escape two months earlier when he was said to have weighed at least 160 pounds.

McRae read out the charges against Farr, saying on April 13 that he “did unlawfully set fire to a certain building, being a dwelling house, the property of R.S. Hamilton situate on Ross avenue, with intent then to kill and murder (his wife) Ellen Farr (and their children), Mabel Farr, Percy Farr, Russell Farr and Maurice Farr ...”

He was further charged with setting the fire to “injure R.S. Hamilton” by depriving the landlord of his property — that is, the terrace house (today’s rowhouse) in which the Farr’s lived — and defraud the Lancaster Insurance Company, which had issued to Farr a $1,000 policy on his home’s contents.

The next day, the only witnesses appearing before Magistrate Peebles were Vancouver police sargeant Haywood and Margaret Robertson. Their examination was conducted behind closed doors due to the disruptive noise generated by the audience on the previous day when Farr was arraigned.

Haywood testified that when he encountered Farr in Vancouver, the prisoner at the dock first gave his name as Farwell. What Haywood found in Farr’s possession was a small copy of the New Testament, with the prisoner’s name on it and a photograph of a woman in it, several blank envelops, a $50 bill and some change, a telegram from Isaac Pitblado, a note signed by J.R. Russell, a letter dated February 25, 1895, from one of his sisters in Hawaii, an envelop addressed to W. Eddington, Hastings, an envelop marked CP Railway, several cards printed with the name W. Eddington, engineer, Fargo Section, Division 74, all of which were placed in evidence at the Winnipeg Police Court.

Farr had asked Haywood to destroy the photograph and the business cards, but he refused. He changed tactics and threatened Haywood he would make it “hot” for the police officer by charging him with false arrest. The prisoner also denied that the woman in the picture was Robertson, according to Haywood’s testimony.

Haywood was unmoved by Farr’s pleas and threat, so the prisoner finally resigned himself to his fate and told Haywood he was anxious to return to Winnipeg to prove his evidence.

Haywood said he first spied Farr at the Hastings Hotel in Hastings, B.C.

W.J. Reesor, an agent for the Lancashire Assurance Co., told the magistrate he had issued an insurance policy to Farr for $1,000 on his household furniture and a piano, doubling his original policy for $500.

Testimony from witnesses mentioned in newspaper accounts, following the April 13 fire at Farr’s house at 486 Ross Avenue, was also given at the court house.

W.D. Russell, the prisoner’s brother-in-law, added more to the case when he testified that Farr came to his home on the Sunday morning of his escape from jail and knocked on his door. When he asked who it was, the reply was, “me,” but he didn’t recognize the voice.

Russell came to investigate and was surprised to see Farr standing in the doorway. He asked Farr to come in, but the man refused, “saying all he wanted was for a witness to accompany him to see his (Farr’s) wife, as he had certain matters he would like to explain to them both.”

Farr told him that he had to explain two things, including his relationship to Robinson. Farr told Russell he frequently gave her money when she was in need. Farr admitted to Russell that he had given  at one time or another about $150 to Robinson when she was in need of money. Farr said there was nothing more between them.

The other matter was the fact that he had raised his insurance coverage to $1,000. He was sorry about raising the policy amount, “as it would cast suspicion on him.”

(Next week: part 4)