Gold Country Presents Past, Present, and Beyond

In the Line of Duty part 7 - The face of a killer. Police unmask the identity of Isaac Decker's murderer.

When William Haney had been identified as the murderer of Isaac Decker

When William Haney had been identified as the murderer of Isaac Decker

The search for the murderer of Isaac Decker was hampered by the fact no one knew who the killer and his dead accomplice were. There had been no identifying marks on the dead man’s person or clothing, nor in the suitcase discovered in the men’s boat. A photograph of the dead bandit, taken by police in Ashcroft, was sent to police departments in Canada and the U.S., but it generated no leads. The engineer and fireman from the train which had been held up on June 21 1909 were shown it, and both men were able to confirm that the dead man was one of those responsible.

The provincial government and the CPR were now, between them, offering a reward of $4,000 for the arrest and conviction of the man who had killed Special Constable Decker, and while this was doubtless an incentive for many people to keep searching, the odds of finding the unidentified man were slim. In the first week of July a Spokane, Washington deputy sheriff identified the dead man as one Lou Kelly, a Canadian ex-policeman gone bad, but this proved to be wrong; while the report, received at the end of July, that a man claiming to be Decker’s murderer had worked at Doc English’s ranch at Venables for a few days seemed more like a tall tale than fact. The only other things approaching clues had been found in the suitcase in the boat. One was a wooden clothes brush, stamped with the imprint of the Long Beach Mercantile Company; the other two were photographs, neither of which showed the unknown men.

It was a long shot, but the clothes brush and one of the photographs – showing a little girl sitting on the porch of a house – were sent to the Chicago Police Department. A Chicago detective named Smith was dispatched to Long Beach, California, where enquiries at the Mercantile Company led nowhere. Smith then took the picture of the dead man, and that of the little girl, to the Long Beach Police Department, to see if anyone there could identify them.

At first it seemed that this would be another dead end. Then Sergeant Phillips of the Long Beach force took another look at the picture of the girl, and something about it jogged his memory. After a search through his papers, Phillips came up with a duplicate of the photo, which had been given to him two years earlier while he was investigating the case of a runaway girl. The girl had been found in Los Angeles, and had told the policemen that she had been taken by a woman to be photographed. Enquiries at picture studios in Los Angeles soon found the correct one, and the photographer was able to provide the name of the woman who had had the picture taken.

The trail was taking some curious twists and turns, but at least there was now a trail to be followed. Sgt. Phillips traced the woman who had had the photograph taken, who remembered it very well. She was also able to remember that she had given a copy of the picture to a man, and she recalled the surname of the man in question. It was Haney, and he lived in Florence, just south of Los Angeles.

It was not long before Sgt. Phillips was meeting with a Mr. and Mrs. Haney in Florence; and the detective knew he had come to the right place. On the Haneys’ mantelpiece was the picture of a man Phillips recognized instantly as the person who had been killed beside the Thompson River in faraway Ashcroft. His name was Dave Haney, and his partner – the man who had killed Special Constable Isaac Decker – was his older brother William, who was thirty-eight, and had previously served three years in prison for a robbery he committed in Calabasas, California.

A B.C. Provincial Police sergeant named Murray was immediately dispatched to Los Angeles, to liaise with the California police and see if Haney had returned to the area following the murder of Isaac Decker. Newspaper reports had Sgt. Murray and the local police chasing Bill Haney as far south as Mexico, but these tales were almost certainly exaggerated, for Murray returned to Canada after a month’s absence with no prisoner and no leads.

It was not until February 1910 that police finally received a tip-off as to Haney’s location. He was, it seemed, back in the Calabasas Hills, about forty miles north of Los Angeles, where he was being given refuge by relatives. Police mounted a raid on the property he was suspected of being in, but Haney had already fled.

Thus began a game of cat-and-mouse, as sheriffs, deputies, private detectives, and bounty hunters chased Bill Haney through the Calabasas Hills. Many of them were probably encouraged by the fact that the reward for the capture of Isaac Decker’s murderer had been increased to $5.500; but Haney continued to elude his pursuers, clearly using his knowledge of the area, and his connections there, to his advantage. At least one of his relatives said that she would happily turn him in so he could get his “just deserts”, but no one managed to find Bill Haney, and gradually the search wound down. Two deputies, on their return to Los Angeles, told the press that they had “almost” caught Haney, and the fugitive wrote to mock them, saying, “I was on the trail next to you. You had better stay in the city, where you have only city folks to deal with.”

At that point, Bill Haney vanished from California. Whether or not he vanished from history at the same time is a matter that is still open to debate, more than one hundred years later.

To be continued

Barbara Roden

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Most Read