years later, Navan’s only murder still intrigues
By Fred Sherwin
been more than 60 years since the village of Navan experienced
its one and only murder on June 20, 1940 and Eric Smith
can still remember the circumstances of that early summer
morning as if they happened only yesterday.
original news report of Cst. Harold Dents
shooting published in the Ottawa Citizen
on June 20, 1940 quoted his dying words as That
foreigner shot me. I am done. File Photo
was working in the front yard with my father when the
call came, recalls Smith who was 19 years old at
the time. My mother came running out of the house
yelling that Bill Heinz had just called saying that Harold
Dent had been shot at the train station and asking whether
or not we could see the guy that did it.
Dent was Cst. Harold Dent, an OPP officer who had been
stationed in Rockland with a wife and six-week-old baby
boy. Heinz was the station master. In those days the train
station was located near the rail crossing on Smith Road.
The Smith farm was on the west side of Milton Road just
a stones throw away from the station.
his mother was relaying the news from the train station,
Smith and his father looked up to see a figure walking
quickly through a field behind the station and moving
in a southerly direction. Rather than follow the figure,
Smith and his father drove over to the train station.
didnt even get out of the car. As soon as we got
there, Heinz came out waving his arms yelling at us to
go get Dr. Irwin, says Smith.
and his father pulled out of the train station and started
up the hill on Smith Road when they ran into the doctor
who was already heading to the scene.
told the doctor that Harold had just been shot and we
did a U-turn to go back down to the station, says
the time they got to the station, help had already arrived
in the form of Allan Stringer, an OPP sergeant who just
happened to be on holidays at the time.
was married to one of the Findlay sisters who ran the
telephone exchange out of their home in town. Apparently
he had overheard some of the phone conversation and headed
over to the station, says Smith.
Smith and his father walked into the waiting room with
Dr. Irvine and Sgt. Stringer, Dent was being tended to
on the floor by Middi Huneault and his wife
Peggy who lived near the end of the railway platform.
The popular constable had been shot twice, once in the
abdomen and once in the arm.
can recall everything vividly. The doctor had Dents
shirt open and you could see the mark where the bullet
went in, but there was no blood, says Smith.
would come out at an inquest several weeks later, that
the shooter was John Miki a 54-year-old Finn who had robbed
a country club in Gatineau the night before. That morning
he had taken the ferry across to Cumberland and started
to walk toward Trim Road. At some point he was approached
and questioned by Norman Edwards, a local farmer who would
later become Reeve of Cumberland Township.
stopped Norman and asked how to get to the local train
station. I guess Norman thought he was a little funny.
Here was this stranger with a thick accent, carrying a
large pack. You have to remember the war was going on
at this time and people were suspicious of anything different,
resident Eric Smith holds up a news clipping
showing a photo of his father George Smith taken
during the inquest into the 1940 murder of Cst.
Harold Dent and subsequent shooting of his assailant.
talking to Miki, Edwards immediately called Dent and alerted
him to the suspicious stranger heading to the Navan train
station. At about the same time Edlow Lancaster, who owned
a feed store in Navan, picked Miki up on Trim Road and
gave him a ride into town.
Miki arrived at the train station shortly after 10 a.m.
he bought a ticket for the 11:18 a.m. train to Montreal
and sat on a bench in the waiting room. Thats where
Dent found him when Miki pulled out a .45 automatic pistol
and shot the OPP constable twice before fleeing out the
to an Ottawa Citizen report of the incident published
that evening, Dent told the station master's wife and
their daughter Gladys that he had been shot by a foreigner.
am done. He shot me twice. He shot me through the stomach.
That foreigner shot me, the story reports Dent to
have said as he lay dying.
Smith doesnt know what Dent said before he and his
father arrived on the scene, he does remember what he
told Sgt. Stringer.
said, My guns under the bench. Go get him.,
grabbed Dents standard issue .38 revolver and started
after the assailant along with Smiths father George.
took off in the car with my dad and he told me to stick
around at the station and wait for help coming from Ottawa.
He wanted me to show them where they went, says
happened next was told to Smith by his father after the
fact. Believing Miki was still heading south, Stringer
and Smiths father headed down Milton Road to see
if they could spot him. About a mile down they saw him
heading toward a wood thicket about 600 yards away known
as Spears Bush.
told my dad to just keep driving past the edge of the
bush. About halfway down, he jumped out and told my dad
to drive to the end to make sure Miki didn't slip out
the other side and then he went into the bush, recalls
at the train station, help had finally arrived.
of the officers said, Who knows where they went.
I said, I did. Then he said, Okay, come
with me., says Smith, who would later learn
the officers name was Cst. Stoneman. We drove
down Milton and found my dad. When Stoneman asked him
if anything happened, my dad said he had heard three shots.
At that point the two of them headed into the bush and
Stoneman asked me to take the cruiser back to the train
station to get more help.
minutes later, Smith returned with two police officers
who had arrived from Ottawa. The three men walked into
the bush where they eventually found Smiths father,
Cst. Stoneman, Sgt. Stringer and a dead John Miki. He
had been shot once through the head.
follows is the Ottawa Citizen account of the gun battle
that had taken place between Stringer and Miki.
Stringer was one of the first on the scene and alone,
went into the bush seeking the man who had murdered one
of his best friends.
his friends gun ready for instant action, he searched
the bush and when halfway through it sighted him. Apparently
the slayer saw the officer at the same time and opened
fire. The battle was short as it required only one shot
to down the fugitive.
short while after Smith arrived on the scene with the
two additional police officers, the doctor showed up.
one thing that sticks in my mind is the doctor broke a
small branch off a tree and stuck it through the mans
head from temple to temple to show the path of the bullet,
says Smith who helped the other men carry Mikis
body out of the bush and onto the back of a waiting hydro
then a lot of people had come down to see what was going
on, says Smith. We drove back to the station
in several cars and everyone was cheering on the side
of the road.
the time the party returned to the train station Dent
had already been pronounced dead as a result of internal
bleeding caused by the stomach wound.
coroners jury later found that Dent died as a result
of gun shot wounds suffered at the hand of John Miki and
that Stringers killing of Miki in Spears Bush was
justifiable homicide. Stringer would later
receive the Kings Medal for valour for his actions.
the inquest it was also revealed that Miki had stolen
four bottles of liquor, upwards of 300 packs of cigarettes,
several boxes of cigars and $80 in cash from the Tecumseh
Country Club in Gatineau the night before the shooting.
The items were all found in the pack Miki had left behind
in the train station.
the months and years that followed, a number of questions
arose over the number of shots that were fired in the
bush and how Stringer was able to shoot Miki through his
head from temple to temple from 30 feet away.
Smith remembers Stringer as being a crack shot.
used to get his wife to hold up a buttercup and he would
shoot the top off, recalls Smith.
1949, the circumstances surrounding Mikis death
were part of an inquest into allegations of improper conduct
against a crown attorney and nine OPP officers including
accuser was Cst. Ernest Keays who was one of the officers
present when Miki's body was brought back to the train
station. At the time he was known as Cst. Ernest Soubliére.
(He changed his name in the intervening years.)
believed that Miki had shot himself in the head and that
Stringer had taken credit for an act he did not carry
out. His theory was based on information that only one
chamber in the revolver Stringer had borrowed from Dent
had been fired.
the inquiry Stringer testified that he had fired three
shots in his duel with Miki, the first one having found
its mark and the other two were fired after the assailant
had already fallen dead. Only one chamber was powdered,
he said, because he had reloaded after each shot.
are those who might still question the validity of Stringers
account of what took place. For one thing, Smith still
remembers his father telling Cst. Stoneman that he had
only heard three shots that day. For another, its
rare that in a gun battle a police officer or anyone else
would take the time to reload after every shot, especially
if the assailant had already been killed by the first
despite the fact that Stringer was a crack shot, it's
a stretch to believe that he could shoot Miki through
the side of the head from 30 feet in thick bush.
the time of the shooting and during the inquest that followed
on July 9, 1940, Stringer was hailed as a hero. He was
also married to a member of a prominent local family.
It didn't occur to anyone that his account of what happened
in Spears Bush may not have been entirely accurate.
existence of conflicting reports does not help either.
For instance, according to the evidence and Stringers
testimony, Miki fired six shots, three in the train station
and three in the bush. But in a report filed by Keays,
he states that 10 rounds were found in the gun recovered
from the dead assailant nine in the magazine and
one in the chamber.
gun was of the type and model that could only hold a maximum
of 11 shells 10 in the magazine and one in the
chamber, which would mean that Miki only fired one shot
during the entire incident. Stringers explanation
is that Miki must have reloaded while he was trying to
make his escape.
if Stringers theory was true, it would still mean
that Miki only fired one shot during the gun battle in
the bush and not three shots as Stringer had claimed,
lending credence to George Smiths claim that he
only heard three shots.
other problem in trying to figure out what happen is the
fact that there was never a clear accounting of the number
of shots fired. Incredibly, separate reports filed by
OPP Insp. Thomas Cousans and a Deputy Commissioner McCready
in the aftermath of the incident failed to account for
any shells from either Miki's gun or the weapon Stringer
had borrowed from Dent.
years later, Eric Smith doesnt much care how many
shots were fired or by whom. The important thing he says,
is that Dents assailant met justice.
doesnt matter to me. I never really thought about
it. I just thought it was neat that Miki was killed by
the gun of the man he himself had killed, says Smith.
theories were never substantiated and he was drummed out
of the provincial police force shortly after the inquiry
in 1949 cleared the accused of all charges.
James Allan Stringer remained in the OPP until he retired.
He later died in 1967 at the age of 66.
Cumberland Township Historical Society is hoping to turn
the story of Cst. Harold Dents murder and the subsequent
shooting of John Miki by Sgt. Stringer into an on-line
exhibit to be part of the Virtual Museum of Canadas
Community Memories Program.
outline of the proposed exhibit has already been submitted
to the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). If
it is selected for the Community Memories Program, the
Historical Society will receive a $5,000 bursary to aid
in the develop.m.ent of the actual exhibit using text,
pictures and audio interviews with people who have first
or second-hand knowledge of the event.
Society is hoping to hear from CHIN within the next several
story was made possible thanks to the generous support
of our local business partners.)
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