Catching the Jewelry Thief

A True Tale of Fort La Cloche

by H. J. Moberly
Published in The Beaver, March 1923
Reprinted with permission from Canada’s National
History Society
Publisher of The Beaver Magazine



In the summer of 1853 the staff of Fort La Cloche consisted of the chief factor, clerk, and an old, trustworthy Orkney man.

The store was some sixty by thirty two feet. Downstairs it was divided into two rooms; one end was the trading shop with stairs leading to the upper rooms, the other was for furs and had a similar stairs for going up. Each end had a door to enter by. The upper room ran from end to end and was used as the reserve place for keeping the goods for trading, and was seldom entered except when a band of Indians arrived, when the chief factor handed the clerk a new supply.

The chief factor began to miss some cards of rings and earrings, and spoke to the clerk. They were compelled to suspect the old Orkney man, but on account of his long service, instead of accusing him he was sent off to an outpost at the post.

So things went on until the next band of Indians came in, when more jewelry disappeared. Now either the clerk or the factor must be the guilty party. Nothing was said until more Indians arrived. The chief factor, who was watching, saw the clerk take a lantern and the key and enter the shop.

He did the same and got in by the opposite door. Then each one, with a covered lantern, waited to see what would happen. Suddenly something dropped to the ground where the jewelry was kept. At once both lanterns were uncovered and they stood face to face. The chief factor gave a long sermon and told the clerk that he would report him to Sir George Simpson, which meant instant dismissal without a character. As soon as the factor was done, the clerk, knowing well that his word was futile against that of a chief factor, said he would as soon as he got home, publish the truth and show the outside world that one of the honorable chief factors of the Hudson Bay Company was a rogue.

During this time the card of rings that had fallen close to the wall suddenly disappeared. Both ran to the place and saw an open space between the floor and ceiling and heard the card being drawn along. They tore up some of the floor and there found all of the missing jewelry and a lot of other small things. They set a No. 1 trap, and next morning found the thief dead. He turned out to be a large grey squirrel. They decided to bury him, shake hands and wash out all the bitter words that had passed the night before.

Here was a case of circumstantial evidence. Either of the two would have sworn that the other was guilty, and both would have been wrong.

Moral - Never believe solely in circumstantial evidence.


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