At various times, as Ken McIntosh and I have tracked the newspaper coverage that followed closely upon the December 22, 1965 arrest of Dr Robert Henry MacLauchlan, Margaret Anne Cunningham, Joe Sperling and Thelma Mosier for trafficking in heroin, we have noted that the police were certain that these four people had been associated with several others. However, none of the press reports from the New Westminster Columbian, the Vancouver Sun or the Vancouver Province that we had ready access to gave names of any others who were under suspicion.
So we began to look further afield – into the local Burnaby papers of that era which, we thought, would have covered the story since Thelma Mosier was a Burnaby resident. Thus, while trolling through the microfilms of the old Burnaby Courier for March 3, 1966, we came across an interesting item. When Mosier, who pleaded guilty without contest to the charges against her, was sentenced to seven years, it was also mentioned in the Courier that one of the people that she had been selling to was a well-known trafficker and drug addict. The story described how this fellow got the capsules of heroin left for him by Mosier by digging around the base of a stop sign on Fell Avenue in Burnaby where they were contained within a cigarette box. So we now call him “The Cigarette Box Man” and we are now carefully going through the Burnaby papers’ microfilms for January and February 1966 so we can find out his name. Who knows where he will lead us?
Our discovery of the “Cigarette Box Man” shows that the “MacLauchlan gang” consists not of four people but at least five. Remember also that he was described as a “well-known trafficker and addict”. Chances are he will have been mentioned in previous newspaper accounts relating to the Vancouver drug trade and, in such accounts, likely also in relation to other people. So, once we have his name we will be able to see if he can be connected to one of our “gang organization charts” (consisting of several dozen names we have found by searching and cross referencing Vancouver criminals arrested all through the late 1950s and 1960s). You may recall that, in the early press reports of the MacLauchlan drug bust, the police were saying additional arrests were imminent. Perhaps this was one of them – the cigarette package guy.
In a subsequent story about the March 21, 1966 murder of Dr and Mrs MacLauchlan, the New Westminster police said that any of four or five associates could have done it. This is an interesting statement because, when the story ran, Mosier was in jail and Sperling likely was too. This means the police knew of four or five other people connected with the doctor in the illicit drug trade, who could be suspects in the slaying, although indications are that a hired gunman from eastern Canada or from the United States was used.
Ken and I discover new leads all the time, some more promising than others. In January 1966, for example, there was an important Ottawa conference on organized crime held for all the provincial ministers of justice. A major RCMP report was presented at the conference. The report, which we have requested through inter-library loan from the National Archives, seems to have been a pretty big deal because it raised prominent Page 1 headlines in the Vancouver Sun, which said, “Crime rings grow” and “Fear, payoffs aid syndicates”. The newspaper continued the story over to Page 2 and entitled that part of the story “Report shows crime rings growing.” On this latter page there was a related story concerning the province’s organized crime problem which, according to Social Credit Attorney-General Robert Bonner, was not very significant. His attitude was summarized by the paper in seven words: “Crime syndicate report “old stuff” to Bonner”. The AG’s opinion seemed to be echoed by the Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department.
“There is nobody operating anything here who could be classified as belonging to an international crime syndicate,” said Ralph Booth. The chief went onto say that there was no crime syndicate in Vancouver and no crime links with the Mafia.
“It’s ridiculous to think there are any Mafia types in Vancouver, because the pickings would be mighty slim. They can’t get a foothold here,” he said.
Of course it was only about 10 weeks later that the MacLauchlans were murdered in a manner that New Westminster police were quoted as saying had the hallmarks of a Mafia “hit”. Was the chief dissembling or did he really not know that Vancouver did have some Mafia infiltration in the local gang organizations. We suspect the first and think it was probably done to protect an ongoing investigation arising out of the MacLauchlans’ December 22, 1965 – 10 weeks earlier -- arrest. Remember also that this investigation had been sparked by what was described as the biggest bagging of illegal narcotics since 1962.
BC Attorney-General Robert Bonner