For much of its history, Red Deer had a well-deserved reputation as a quiet, safe community. In 1917, only two people were incarcerated in the City’s police cells during the whole year. Most police cases involved by-law infractions, health code violations and the occasional breach of the new Prohibition laws.
The onset of hard economic times is often blamed for an increase in crime. However, in 1931, after the start of the Great Depression, Red Deer’s police chief reported that there had not been a single major crime in over a year.
Tragically, that long period of peacefulness suddenly came to an end four years later during 1935.
The year started off quietly enough.
There were four cases heard by the circuit judge. The crimes were relatively mundane, such as shooting a neighbour’s boar and taking firewood from a farmer’s woodlot.
Moreover, only one case ended in conviction. On April 17th, 1931, the peace was shattered. A bachelor farmer from Drumheller fatally shot Corp. Michael Moriarty in the back. The shooter was quickly killed by other police in a brief, but fierce, gun battle.
The incident was very unsettling.
However, the consensus was that the farmer had gone insane. He was a veteran of the First World War. To use the terms of the day, he was suffering from ‘shell shock’, now known as PTSD.
Hence, the death of Moriarty, while tragic, was thought to be an isolated incident.
With the onset of summer, businesses in Red Deer were hit with a wave of thefts. However, while the RCMP were out looking for a missing toddler using their new police dog, Dale of Cawsalta, they came across a suspicious car.
The vehicle was found to be full of the stolen merchandise.
The dog quickly located the culprits hiding in a nearby field. The two men were convicted, and sent to jail in Fort Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, Dale of Cawsalta proceeded to find the lost little girl down by Innisfail.
As the summer progressed, matters continued to deteriorate, as the region was hit by dust storms caused by the prolonged drought. Murray Gardiner, a popular Red Deer umpire, was badly beaten during a baseball game in Calgary by an irate player. Gardiner had to undergo surgery due to his severe internal injuries.
In the fall, another crime spree hit local businesses, as well as a number of campers in what is now Rotary Park.
The thieves tried to make their escape in a stolen car, but were unable to make it up the steep clay hill. They then took off on foot and were able to make their escape.
Shortly thereafter, a local teenage farm boy was stabbed to death by a 16 year-old girl.
An inquest was quickly held, but the coroner’s jury found that the girl had been defending herself from an assault. Consequently, no charges were laid against her.
In early October, police gave chase to a stolen car through the streets of downtown Red Deer. The fugitive lost control of the vehicle on Gaetz Avenue and the car crashed into a tree.
The young thief then high-tailed it on foot. While the police fired a number of shots in his direction, they missed and the culprit was able to make his escape.
Finally, on Oct. 9th, 1935, a gun battle erupted between the RCMP and three young criminals near the Banff Park gates. The young men were wanted for the fatal shooting of two policemen in Manitoba. Before long, two officers, Sgt. T.S. Wallace and Const. Scotty Harrison were fatally wounded as was one of the murderers.
The other two young gunmen took off. The police brought in Dale of Cawsalta to help locate them. Fortunately, a small posse, which included Park Warden William Neish, finally spotted the wanted men. Neish was noted as a crack shot and was able to fatally wound the two fugitives.
Although the tragedy at Banff occurred a long distance away from Red Deer, it still deeply upset the community. As with the loss of Moriarty, the shooting deaths of young policemen were a shocking occurrence. However, unlike the death of Moriarty, the deaths at Banff seemed to be yet another blow in a year of unprecedented crime, rather than an isolated incident.