Only One Man Came Back part 4: Guilty or not guilty?

In the last of this four-part series, Karl Fredericks faces three different juries after being charged with two murders.

Barbara Roden

Karl Fredericks, accused of the murders of Max Westphal and Herman Peters at Trembleur Lake in June 1930, did not take the stand during his trial in Prince George in May 1931; but his lawyer, Mr. Young, argued that two small trees in the vicinity of the camp showed evidence of having been struck by a bullet, which he said proved that Peters had fired at Fredericks, who was a short way from camp on the night of the killings. The trees had been discovered when, a few days before the commencement of the trial, Fredericks had accompanied police to the site and pointed them out. While no sign of a spent bullet was found at the site, Mr. Young asked the jurors to accept that the marks on the trees—which had been cut out and were exhibited in court—corroborated his client’s statement that he had been fired upon by Peters. No explanation was offered as to why Peters’s head had been severed from the body.

The crown attorney, Mr. Johnson, said that while there was no direct evidence about what happened in the camp, there were a number of contradictions in Fredericks’s statement. For example, he said in it that he had been paid $150 individually by George Cameron, a farmer the men had worked for near Vanderhoof. When questioned, however, Cameron said he had paid the trio a total of $149 between the three of them. Johnson argued that Fredericks had lied about the payment in his statement, in order to lead people to think he had a good deal of money, and therefore there was no need for him to kill his companions. Cameron also testified that the three men had been on good terms.

Johnson also noted that while Fredericks’s 30-30 and Westphal’s .22 rifle had been found, there was no trace of the 45-90 rifle Fredericks alleged that Peters had carried. He pointed out that Fredericks’s actions after the death of his companions were not those of an innocent man, nor was his statement (to the Indians at Tachie) that his companions had headed north the truth. He asked the jury to find that Westphal and Peters had been killed in their sleep, or while they were in no position to defend themselves.

The lawyer claimed that the cleaning up of the camp by Fredericks after the crime was simply an effort to destroy all evidence which would lead to the identification of the bodies. However, he said, it had been established that Max Westphal had been killed. The question faced by the jury was simple: who had killed Westphal? Was it Peters, in anger, who then killed himself; or Fredericks, as part of a double murder to rid himself of his companions, take their money, and leave the area?

Mr. Justice MacDonald was very careful, in his charge to the jury, regarding circumstantial evidence. The case ended just after noon, and the jurors retired, but were called back by MacDonald a few minutes later and told that a verdict of manslaughter would not be allowed. Sometime after that the jurors returned and asked for a transcript of the evidence as it pertained to the deaths of Westphal and Peters, so they could confirm whose head had been severed (Peters).

Over the course of the afternoon the jury twice reported back to the judge that they felt unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Both times the judge sent them back to consider further; but when, at 6:00 pm, the foreman reported they were still deadlocked the jurors were discharged, with the case being traversed to the Fall Assize in Prince George.

When the case resumed in November 1931 the same evidence was once more presented, including the written statement Fredericks had made in December of the previous year, and which prosecuting lawyer Mr. Johnson had initially not wanted admitted; he had felt that in the event of a conviction the statement—which the accused had made without police warning—might be declared inadmissible by the defence, and used to challenge a verdict that was unfavourable to Fredericks. This time the jury did not hesitate to bring in a verdict of guilty; but Fredericks’s defence appealed the decision, winning him yet another trial, this time in Kamloops in the spring of 1932. The third time was the charm for the German, as he was acquitted of both charges and able to leave a free man.

Two years later, however, he was picked up near Bridge Lake in the Cariboo by a game warden, who discovered that Fredericks did not have a licence for the rifle he was carrying. He was told he could either pay a fine or spend 60 days in jail, and Fredericks, unfortunately for him, chose the latter option. While he was being held, his fingerprints and picture were sent to Ottawa, where they were promptly used to identify Fredericks as a man who had been tried for murder two years earlier. As he was a German national, this information was transmitted to German officials, who replied that Fredericks had six criminal convictions in his native country.

The matter was turned over to Immigration, and Fredericks soon found himself heading towards Halifax, where he was placed on a ship back to Germany. Much had changed there since Fredericks had left, including the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. The Nazi Party had started rounding up those who opposed it, paying particular attention to anyone who was a member of the Communist Party. Fredericks, it turned out, had been involved with the party before he left for Canada, and had taken part in some street fighting. When his ship arrived in Germany in 1934 he was met by members of the S.S., who promptly whisked him away to a concentration camp.

He was never heard of again.

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