The strange case of Dr. Dou­glas MacRob­bie

On a sum­mer night 100 years ago, a Hamil­ton doc­tor was found dead in a pool of blood up­stairs in a build­ing on Can­non Street The mys­tery re­mains, and so does the build­ing, which some be­lieve is haunted

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JON WELLS

Aaron Blake read the booze- and blood­soaked de­tails: Screams in the dark on a hot Au­gust night. An in­trepid de­tec­tive. And the med­i­cal men ex­hum­ing the dead.

THEN HE SEARCHED in Hamil­ton Ceme­tery. It was, he knew, an odd way to spend an af­ter­noon, look­ing for a grave of some­one un­re­lated to him. Who died 100 years ago. And who was mur­dered. Per­haps. He dragged his wife, Vanessa, along with him, but it was hot, she was preg­nant with twins and she stayed in the car as he walked the 170-year-old burial ground on York Boule­vard.

He asked a ceme­tery staffer where Dou­glas MacRob­bie was buried, but just the sec­tion; he wanted to find it on his own from there.

THE END SHOCKED HIM

BLAKE’S IN­TER­EST in MacRob­bie’s death be­gan a few years ago when he and Vanessa were dat­ing and he vis­ited her at work at Cres­cent Oil, the fam­ily busi­ness.

The 121-year-old stone build­ing on Can­non Street at Bay is in­vis­i­ble to most mo­tor­ing past, hard against lit­tle Rail­way Street. (Lit­tle street, big his­tory: Johnny “Pops” Pa­palia was gunned down there out­side his vend­ing ma­chine busi­ness 20 years ago this past spring.)

Across Can­non is Sir John A. Macdon­ald high school, where there was once a wa­ter­ing hole called the Royal Oak Ho­tel — a place Dr. MacRob­bie had known well.

Blake heard that long ago some­one died in the Cres­cent Oil build­ing. Who? How? He re­searched at the cen­tral li­brary branch’s Lo­cal His­tory and Ar­chives Depart­ment.

MacRob­bie died Aug. 19, 1917. And not of nat­u­ral causes.

The case was not in­cluded in the his­tor­i­cal homi­cides ar­chive. Why?

He read dozens of sto­ries, thou­sands of words, from Hamil­ton’s three daily news­pa­pers that cov­ered the case: the Spec­ta­tor, Her­ald and Times.

The end to the story shocked him most of all. He could not leave it alone.

And he made that pil­grim­age to the ceme­tery.

He searched and searched for MacRob­bie’s stone.

An hour passed. Clouds gath­ered. Rain started to fall.

It wasn’t there.

A POOL OF BLOOD

IN THE HEAT of the night the bell rang 11 times in the clock tower at Hess Street School. It was Sun­day, Aug. 19, 1917. In the dark­ness, a golden glow from gas lamps filled win­dows on the up­per floor of the build­ing on Can­non Street at Bay.

A big night of drink­ing had been go­ing on in the Cres­cent Oil of­fices.

Hard liquor was taboo and against the law since On­tario passed the Tem­per­ance Act nearly a year ear­lier.

You could ob­tain al­co­hol for medic­i­nal pur­poses, and buy 2.5 per cent beer at places like the Royal Oak Ho­tel across the street, where the men in the of­fice had been drink­ing ale that hot af­ter­noon.

Canada-wide pro­hi­bi­tion would soon be de­clared and Hamil­ton, whose pop­u­la­tion had dou­bled in 10 years to 100,000, had a grow­ing un­der­world of boot­leg­gers, in­clud­ing the likes of Rocco Perri.

A woman walk­ing along Can­non heard a scream. And an­other, muf­fled. And then noth­ing. At 1 a.m. the phone rang at Cen­tral Po­lice Sta­tion on King William Street.

Det. Harry Sayer, pulling the grave­yard shift, took the call.

Sayer was a ris­ing star on the force, well-re­garded among po­lice of­fi­cers far and wide.

It was a doc­tor named Langs on the line, at the Cres­cent Oil of­fice, a cou­ple of min­utes ride from the sta­tion on a Hamil­ton Po­lice mo­tor­cy­cle.

Sayer ar­rived through a side door and climbed a flight of stairs to the up­per floor.

He saw a man ly­ing in a pool of blood, a large man, per­haps 200 pounds.

It was Dou­glas MacRob­bie, a well­known doc­tor. Dead.

SAYER CAST A WARY EYE

DR. LANGS SAID he had at­tempted ar­ti­fi­cial res­pi­ra­tion about an hour ear­lier and de­tected a flut­ter of the heart, “a spark of life,” but it was dif­fi­cult to hear it; men seemed to be com­ing and go­ing, clomp­ing up the stairs, and a faucet ran in the bath­room.

The room was strewn with old car­riage parts. Iron bars lay on the floor next to MacRob­bie’s head.

At a glance, in dim light, Sayer could see a gash at the base of the skull, and the man’s shirt col­lar gaped open.

Had he fallen and hit his head on the bars? Sayer ex­am­ined the iron with a mag­ni­fy­ing glass.

Down­stairs he spoke to the Cres­cent Oil night watchman, Her­bert As­sel­s­tine, who said when he ar­rived just af­ter 11 p.m. he saw a man he did not know, on his back, breath­ing faintly.

He said the first thing he thought was, “this man must have hurt him­self,” and he no­ticed three other men asleep in the room.

He knew one of them was Harry Smith, the owner. As­sel­s­tine phoned an­other Cres­cent Oil of­fi­cial at home, who in turn called a doc­tor.

Sayer cast a wary eye at As­sel­s­tine. Why not wake Smith up?

And why did it take the sec­ond com­pany of­fi­cial at least an hour to call a doc­tor?

The three men in the room with MacRob­bie had been Smith, and Wal­ter Scott, an ar­chi­tect, and Joseph McAuliffe, a real es­tate agent.

Sayer left the build­ing and found McAuliffe in the yard, asleep, and drunk, his col­lar miss­ing and wear­ing one shoe.

He ar­rested him, and within the hour, also Scott, who was at his home in bed, and then Smith. He saw no blood on any of the men, or their clothes.

Why had all three left the build­ing?

All of them said they couldn’t re­mem­ber why, they were too drunk.

“I don’t know any­thing,” Smith said. “I don’t know any­thing about it.”

He charged them with va­grancy so he could hold them at Bar­ton Street jail.

A po­lice am­bu­lance took the body to the City Hos­pi­tal morgue.

Sayer went home, slept a few hours, and re­turned to the scene.

On street cor­ners, news­pa­pers that bran­dished head­lines about Hamil­ton men wounded or dy­ing in the First World War, in its 36th month, now car­ried news of car­nage closer to home.

‘THE DEATH CHAM­BER’

They drove to a slaugh­ter house to ex­am­ine blood-clot­ting pat­terns, and to study cat­tle struck on the back of the head, to see how they fell.

The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor Mon­day Au­gust 20, 1917 Dr. MacRob­bie Found With Skull Crushed Grue­some Dis­cov­ery Made on Premises of Cres­cent Oil Com­pany

AT 42, Dou­glas Gil­bert MacRob­bie had lived in Hamil­ton 10 years af­ter mov­ing from a med­i­cal prac­tice up north near Ge­or­gian Bay.

He was one of the younger doc­tors in town, with a rep­u­ta­tion for help­ing those who couldn’t af­ford to pay for treat­ment, in­clud­ing de­liv­er­ing a baby for a woman af­ter she was

turned down by four oth­ers.

He was not known to have “vi­cious habits,” re­ported the Hamil­ton Times, “although he would take a drink now and again with friends.” He played poker “for small amounts … and was uni­ver­sally liked, with a jovial dis­po­si­tion.”

Back at Cres­cent Oil, Sayer con­tin­ued ques­tion­ing As­sel­s­tine.

Sayer had found a piece of wooden mould­ing, three feet long, next to the body. There was a red spot on it. Blood?

“It could be red paint,” As­sel­s­tine said.

The de­tec­tive found two bot­tles of whisky be­hind the build­ing with fresh la­bels, re­cently con­sumed, among older bro­ken bot­tles tossed out an up­stairs win­dow.

The more wit­nesses Sayer in­ter­viewed, the murkier the pic­ture be­came through the mists of booze, de­cep­tion, or some com­bi­na­tion.

MacRob­bie and the three men had been drink­ing to­gether that Sun­day night, but even be­fore that, Smith, McAuliffe and Scott had been drink­ing, driv­ing around the coun­try on the Moun­tain and nearly crash­ing their car.

They were men of wealth and stature, although Smith, in the oil busi­ness for years, had been un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 1914 over con­tracts he had with the city.

The city coro­ner or­dered an in­quest into what was be­ing called the MacRob­bie tragedy.

Mon­day af­ter­noon, ju­rors viewed MacRob­bie’s body in the morgue, and then vis­ited the Cres­cent Oil scene and the room news­pa­pers were call­ing “the death cham­ber.”

With the room filled with nat­u­ral light, blood spat­ter ap­peared to pep­per the walls.

A Hamil­ton ar­chi­tect drew blue­print-style sketches of the scene, and a blood-ex­pert doc­tor tested stains, in­clud­ing those on floor boards he tore up. He con­cluded it was hu­man blood.

Given the state­ments made so far by wit­nesses, and pre­lim­i­nary foren­sics, the the­ory among doc­tors was that his death had been a ter­ri­ble al­co­hol-fu­elled ac­ci­dent: MacRob­bie had frac­tured his skull fall­ing on the iron bars.

The three men drink­ing with him de­nied there had been gam­bling, or a fight. And yet they claimed to re­mem­ber lit­tle.

Dr. Langs and Det. Sayer poured wa­ter on the floor to see which di­rec­tion it flowed, com­par­ing it to the move­ment of blood, to de­ter­mine if the body had moved from its orig­i­nal po­si­tion.

It had: MacRob­bie had lain on his side, and then his back. Could he have moved un­der his own power?

TWO KEY WIT­NESSES

THE FU­NERAL was held in MacRob­bie’s home at 56 Hess St. N. His father, a pas­tor at Nel­son Pres­by­te­rian Church in Tans­ley, near Burling­ton, ar­rived by train.

The shat­tered man, at 85, had lost his wife just over a year ear­lier.

Mourn­ers turned out at Hamil­ton Ceme­tery where pall­bear­ers were fel­low doc­tors with names like Harper, McEd­wards, MacLough­lin, Cody and Blake.

That night, Thurs­day Aug. 23, at 8 p.m., res­i­dents flooded Cen­tral Po­lice Sta­tion where the coro­ner’s in­quest opened, with many wait­ing out­side to hear news.

The pur­pose of the in­quest was to de­ter­mine the cause of death and what, if any, crim­i­nal charges should progress to a grand jury trial.

In the pris­on­ers dock, the three ac­cused men looked pale, sweat pop­ping on their fore­heads.

MacRob­bie’s widow, Cather­ine, dressed in black, took the stand.

She said her hus­band had been nap­ping in the af­ter­noon that Sun­day, when three men ar­rived ask­ing af­ter him; men she didn’t know, or trust. She didn’t like the look of them.

She said he left home for his of­fice at 6 p.m. He of­ten went out with­out say­ing where he was go­ing.

Her hus­band drank, she said, but then would go months with­out. She be­lieved he had not had a drink for six weeks.

She went to bed at 10:30 Sun­day night and he had still not come home, but she thought noth­ing of it and slept well.

“I did not see him alive again,” she said, her voice, that had been strong and dig­ni­fied, fi­nally crack­ing.

The three men tes­ti­fied and said they re­mem­bered noth­ing about how MacRob­bie was hurt.

Wal­ter Scott said MacRob­bie drank with them at the Royal Oak Ho­tel, and then Cres­cent Oil. By 9 p.m. they were all drunk, and at Smith’s sug­ges­tion all four lay down to rest.

An­other wit­ness, the owner of the ho­tel, said in fact MacRob­bie had ap­peared sober to him.

“Can you ac­count for Dr. MacRob­bie’s in­juries?” Scott’s lawyer asked his client. “Not in the least,” Scott said. “And you had no quar­rel with him at all?” “None what­ever.” The in­quest sat five times, with the fi­nal ses­sion Sept. 1.

The hope that fin­ger­prints might solve the case hit a dead end: a blood­stained piece of wooden mould­ing sent to Ot­tawa for anal­y­sis matched none of the men.

“Po­lice are pes­simistic,” wrote The Spec­ta­tor. “The be­lief that the mys­tery sur­round­ing the tragic death of Dr. MacRob­bie will never be solved ap­peared to be grow­ing in vol­ume.”

But Harry Sayer had found two key wit­nesses: women who heard screams around the time MacRob­bie had died; one lived next door to the build­ing.

One of the women had been walk­ing past, looked up and saw a sil­hou-

“The be­lief that the mys­tery sur­round­ing the tragic death of Dr. MacRob­bie will never be solved ap­peared to be grow­ing in vol­ume.” THE SPEC­TA­TOR

ette against a win­dow shade, what ap­peared to be a man, sit­ting, or re­clin­ing back, and not mov­ing.

An­other wit­ness re­ported hear­ing a car­riage pulling away fast, soon af­ter the cries for help.

With ev­i­dence of mur­der sur­fac­ing, Dr. Langs, and his col­league Dr. John Parry, con­tin­ued in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

They drove to a slaugh­ter house to ex­am­ine blood-clot­ting pat­terns, and to study cat­tle struck on the back of the head, to see how they fell, and from how many blows.

Crit­i­cally, the day af­ter the in­quest had started, they qui­etly or­dered MacRob­bie’s body ex­humed in Hamil­ton Ceme­tery.

They found signs of a fight: a deep scratch on his neck; his left hand bruised, as though struck by an ob­ject.

They found two skull frac­tures, par­al­lel to each other. One of them ex­tended two-thirds of the way around the skull.

Only blows from a heavy in­stru­ment could have caused such dam­age.

And no man could have vol­un­tar­ily moved, af­ter be­ing felled by such an at­tack.

They had missed the com­plete pic­ture in their ini­tial post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tion.

Not this time.

A CHILL DE­SCENDS

Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor Septem­ber 3, 1917 Two Blows Killed MacRob­bie “Star­tling med­i­cal tes­ti­mony given un­hesi­tat­ingly by Dr. Langs and cor­rob­o­rated by Dr. Parry brought a gasp from the crowd. McAuliffe, in clean linen, lolled back in the dock, see­ing noth­ing; Harry Smith, man­ager and part owner of com­pany, chin in his right hand tak­ing lit­tle in­ter­est; Wal­ter Scott, young ar­chi­tect, was equally un­af­fected.”

Septem­ber 4, 1917 Doc­tor slain, jury finds Man­slaugh­ter is charge Men Who Weighed Ev­i­dence Be­lieve One of Pris­on­ers Dealt Fa­tal Blow

THE IN­QUEST JURY ruled the three men be charged with man­slaugh­ter, and also a fourth: Her­bert As­sel­s­tine, the night watchman. He had gone from wit­ness to an ac­cused; his tes­ti­mony had been eva­sive and in­con­sis­tent.

Harry Sayer waited for As­sel­s­tine at the Grand Trunk Rail­way sta­tion on Stu­art Street. The train pulled in at 2:45 a.m., an hour late re­turn­ing from the Toronto Ex­hi­bi­tion. Sayer held a war­rant for his ar­rest.

A grand jury trial was sched­uled at Hamil­ton’s As­size Court.

In the mean­time the men were granted bail.

Smith, McAuliffe and Scott had used their in­flu­ence to make the best of their four-week stay in Bar­ton Street jail — or “Ogilvie’s Cas­tle,” as it was de­ri­sively named af­ter ad­min­is­tra­tor James Ogilvie.

Find­ing the reg­u­lar menu lack­ing, friends brought in “dain­ties” to eat, re­ported the Hamil­ton News; “they dined sump­tu­ously in state.”

Jus­tice was not of the rough, or equal, va­ri­ety. Not for ev­ery­one.

It was a sign of things to come.

THE BODY OF EV­I­DENCE

THE TRIAL BE­GAN Nov. 14, less than three months af­ter MacRob­bie’s death, presided over by Jus­tice Fran­cis Latchford, a for­mer politi­cian who was On­tario’s at­tor­ney gen­eral from 1904-1905.

The court­room was half full, re­flect­ing wan­ing pub­lic in­ter­est in the case in the two months since the in­quest, re­ported The Spec­ta­tor.

The Crown at­tor­ney, Thomas Bat­tle, told the grand jury their task was to de­ter­mine how MacRob­bie died and who was re­spon­si­ble, and if the ac­cused men should face a crim­i­nal trial.

They did not have to con­clude which of the four men killed MacRob­bie: if the fa­tal blow was “struck by one of them and the four were act­ing in con­cert, then all four can be held for the act of one of them.”

The first Crown wit­ness showed draw­ings of the scene, and mea­sure­ments of blood spat­ter, and said a head wound could not have pro­jected blood that ex­ten­sively.

“Ob­jec­tion,” said one of the de­fence lawyers. “State­ment is based upon sup­po­si­tion.” “Sus­tained,” Judge Latchford said. Dr. Langs took the stand and held up a hu­man skull to ex­plain how the wounds were caused by a blunt in­stru­ment, not a fall.

But he added the wood mould­ing, while stained with blood, was not likely the weapon.

Harry Smith’s lawyer went af­ter Langs.

“You said that for sev­eral days you thought it was an ac­ci­dent?” he said.

“I did al­most un­til the time of the in­quest,” Langs said, adding that was why they or­dered an ex­huma­tion, to take a closer look.

“Would you dis­pute a doc­tor who said about 60 per cent of frac­tured skulls are due to falls?”

“I would not want to say it was not cor­rect.”

He ridiculed Langs for re­search­ing at the slaugh­ter house.

“Do you think the ex­per­i­ment with the cat­tle was a good com­par­i­son?” “Yes. A rough one.” “A pretty rough one in­deed!” Bat­tle asked Dr. John Parry if there was any chance a fall caused the wounds.

“Not those par­tic­u­lar frac­tures, not un­less he dived … twice,” Parry said.

He said MacRob­bie re­ceived at least one of the two blows while ly­ing on the floor.

“No man could have re­mained stand­ing af­ter re­ceiv­ing a blow that caused ei­ther one of the wounds on his head.”

Bat­tle sug­gested the doc­tors demon­strate the po­si­tion the body was found in the room.

The judge said that would not be nec­es­sary.

The trial lasted through the day and into the evening.

Harry Sayer was the fi­nal wit­ness for the Crown.

He wheeled in a cart of ex­hibits and recre­ated the scene, in­clud­ing the iron bars, and made chalk marks on the wall to in­di­cate blood spat­ter.

He showed a col­lar with the ac­cused man Joseph McAuliffe’s ini­tials, found un­der the vic­tim’s body.

The judge in­ter­rupted Sayer, an edge to his voice.

“What have th­ese things to do with the case?”

Mo­ments later, Bat­tle an­nounced the Crown’s case was com­plete.

Judge Latchford directed the jury to re­tire while he dis­cussed le­gal is­sues with the Crown.

Later, af­ter 9 p.m., court re­sumed, with the jury still out.

The day had bro­ken un­sea­son­ably warm for Novem­ber.

But now a chill de­scended over the city. The judge ad­dressed Bat­tle. “What ev­i­dence is there against As­sel­s­tine?”

“No di­rect ev­i­dence, my lord,” said Bat­tle. “Then As­sel­s­tine is dis­charged.” The night watchman stood and quickly strode from the pris­oner’s box.

“What about McAuliffe?”

“I don’t pro­pose to sep­a­rate the other three men,” Bat­tle said. The judge called the jury back in. “In my opin­ion,” Latchford told the court, “there is no ev­i­dence to jus­tify any jury to find that th­ese three men, or any of them, had com­mit­ted any crime, if a crime was com­mit­ted. There is no ev­i­dence proper to go be­fore you for con­sid­er­a­tion.”

The clerk read an in­dict­ment the judge had com­posed: “Ver­dict by di­rec­tion of the court, not guilty.”

The clerk asked if the jury con­curred. They did. The judge asked the men to stand. “To you three men I wish to say a word of ad­vice, if ad­vice is needed af­ter the ex­pe­ri­ence of last Au­gust and af­ter your ex­pe­ri­ence to­day be­fore the bar of jus­tice,” he said.

“Your po­si­tion is clearly due to your fond­ness for liquor, a most dis­cred­itable weak­ness. If you ex­pect to hold the po­si­tion in the com­mu­nity that your ap­pear­ance and seem­ing in­tel­li­gence jus­ti­fies, you must de­cide now to never drink an­other drop of in­tox­i­cat­ing liquor, for fear that you again fall away into the beastly state that you were found in that Sun­day night.

“The only safe course is for you to never again in­dulge. You are dis­charged.”

The four men shook hands with friends in court.

And that was the end of the ju­di­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as The Spec­ta­tor put it, “into the un­timely end of the late Dr. D. G. MacRob­bie.”

THE PAST NEVER DIES

“NO EV­I­DENCE the men com­mit­ted a crime, if a crime was com­mit­ted?” said Aaron Blake, his voice ris­ing, read­ing from the ar­ti­cle head­lined: “MacRob­bie case was taken from the jury.”

Af­ter Blake had re­searched the story, rolled through spools of mi­cro­film, read­ing the buildup to the trial, print­ing out all the ar­ti­cles, it was a cruel punch line.

“I was blown away when I read that. Where is the sense of jus­tice?” he asked.

How could the judge pull the rug out from the jury?

The judge had in­voked the men’s “po­si­tion in the com­mu­nity.” Did their sta­tus carry the day more than ev­i­dence?

To­day, it would be rare for a judge to “take away” a case from a jury, but it can hap­pen in a dif­fer­ent sense: a judge can take away first-de­gree mur­der as an op­tion for a jury and leave sec­ond de­gree to de­lib­er­ate, if the judge feels there is in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to sup­port plan­ning and de­lib­er­a­tion.

Were there miss­ing pieces to the case?

There was a short story in The Spec­ta­tor one week af­ter MacRob­bie was killed, quot­ing un­named po­lice sources, about a man po­lice searched for who had al­legedly been in the room but was never found; he had “dis­ap­peared from his usual haunts.” His name was never re­vealed.

Aaron Blake be­lieves gam­bling and per­haps boot­leg­ging led to a dis­pute be­tween MacRob­bie and Harry Smith. There was a ru­mour at the time that MacRob­bie took Smith for a lot of money. He won­ders if Smith, the most pow­er­ful of the group, directed the coverup, the stag­ing of the crime scene to look like an ac­ci­dent, and the drunken stu­por alibi.

Blake was more mo­ti­vated than ever to find MacRob­bie’s stone in Hamil­ton Ceme­tery af­ter his first search came up empty.

Who knows what drives him. He works at Cres­cent Oil as ter­ri­tory man­ager. He has a big heart, is nat­u­rally cu­ri­ous, and his father is a lawyer.

He asked ceme­tery of­fi­cials to sur­vey the plot area. They found the grave, in Sec­tion S, ob­scured en­tirely by grass and dirt.

It was, Blake thought, the epit­ome of be­ing for­got­ten, that even his grave marker had dis­ap­peared into the earth.

The sim­ple flat stone was carved out, once again bathed in light.

It had his name, year of birth and death, and a one-word epi­taph: Daddy.

Dou­glas MacRob­bie had left be­hind a widow, and also two daugh­ters, five and nine years old.

Blake and his wife Vanessa have three young chil­dren.

The story, the in­jus­tice, the stone, was buried a long time. No longer. It felt good. And still he con­tin­ues his quest to peel back the lay­ers. He found a dis­tant rel­a­tive of MacRob­bie, near Guelph, and vis­ited him.

The man said the fam­ily story told for years was that MacRob­bie had been killed try­ing to help some­one that night, for some rea­son the men all turned on him.

That ver­sion doesn’t mesh with ev­i­dence re­ported at the time. Per­haps, the rel­a­tive con­ceded, the more pos­i­tive story was spun by MacRob­bie’s father.

But MacRob­bie did have a rep­u­ta­tion for help­ing oth­ers. Given the haze sur­round­ing the mys­tery, any­thing is pos­si­ble.

Maybe the good doc­tor has for eter­nity tried to con­vey some­thing: some be­lieve a spirit is ac­tive within the old walls of Cres­cent Oil.

They say smart­phones have died in­side for no rea­son. Aaron Blake’s brother in law, Dash Ewen, who works there — and who typ­i­cally doesn’t go for X-Files type stuff — says he’s heard and ex­pe­ri­enced things in that build­ing that give him pause. Maybe the past never re­ally dies. It’s there in the blink of an eye, a flut­ter of the heart.

And MacRob­bie’s ghost would have more rea­son than most to be rest­less.

One cus­tomer reg­u­larly comes by to pay his bill. He heads up to the of­fice on the up­per level.

The wooden stairs creak and groan and it hits him, a pres­ence.

“Ev­ery time, I get that feel­ing,” he said, “like some­thing is up there.”

No one has ever told him what hap­pened, up there, that Au­gust night.

“The only safe course is for you to never again in­dulge. You are dis­charged.” JUDGE LATCHFORD PRE­SID­ING OVER THE MACROB­BIE MUR­DER TRIAL

COUR­TESY HAMIL­TON PO­LICE

Top: The Cres­cent Oil build­ing on Can­non Street, where Dr. Dou­glas MacRob­bie was killed on Aug. 19, 1917.

Above: Hamil­ton po­lice de­tec­tive Harry Sayer shown at far right, back row, was the lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor in the MacRob­bie case.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Aaron Blake stands in the sec­ond-floor of­fice where Dr. Dou­glas MacRob­bie was blud­geoned to death on Aug. 19, 1917.

Aaron Blake searched for Dou­glas MacRob­bie’s stone in Hamil­ton Ceme­tery on York Boule­vard, be­fore staff was able to lo­cate it cov­ered by grass.

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