Calgary, AB,

Calgary Police Service honours first fallen member

As Canadians celebrate the 150th anniversary of our nation, the Calgary Police Service is marking another significant anniversary this weekend. It was 100 years ago, in the early morning hours of July 2, 1917, that Calgary’s first police officer to die in the line of duty took his last call.

Calgarians are invited to join members of the Calgary Police Service as they mark this occation at 11 a.m., on Sunday, July 2, 2017, at the Police and Firefighters Memorial Plaza located at Calgary City Hall (800 Macleod Trail S.E.).

Constable Arthur Duncan's Story

While most Calgarians were celebrating Canada’s 50th anniversary, it is believed that Constable Arthur Duncan surprised one or more suspects who were recovering stolen property from underneath the Revelstoke Lumber Company office at the corner of 8 Street and 8 Avenue S.W. Before he had a chance to draw his weapon, he was shot in the jaw and chest with a Colt .45 revolver, likely the same one that was reported stolen from a pawn shop the night before. He died instantly.

The shots were not reported to police, possibly because the loud celebrations and frequent fireworks occurring that night made them easy to mistake for something more innocent. Constable Duncan’s teammates became concerned though when he did not report in from his usual call box at 1 a.m., or again at 2 a.m. The search began for Duncan, but he was not located until a citizen found his body, his gloves still clutched in his hand and his gun still in its holster, around 4:40 a.m. that morning.

An empty suitcase and weapon were found at the scene, and later stolen jewelry and a fur coat were found stashed under the building where he was killed -- which is what led investigators to think his murderers were interrupted while either hiding or recovering the goods.

Investigators interviewed countless witnesses, detained several vagrants they thought may have been involved and even received anonymous letters offering information in exchange for money. Police forces across the country gave the Calgary Police Service (then called the Calgary Police Force) whatever information they needed, including fingerprints and photos of potential suspects.

One man, named R.J. Thomas, became the prime suspect when he unexpectedly checked out of his hotel early the morning of the murder. Calgary detectives quickly identified who they thought R.J. Thomas was with the help of police agencies in the U.S. However, all leads on the R.J. Thomas clue led to dead ends, especially when detectives found out the main person they thought to be R.J. Thomas had been in jail in Philadelphia at the time of the murder.

Then, a week later, two men broke into the home of a police officer in the town of Hardisty (a town east of Red Deer) and demanded information about the Duncan investigation before fleeing. Local and provincial police flooded the area and pursued the men, assuming they wanted information on the investigation because they were involved in the murder. However, the men still escaped.

The odd break-in led investigators in Calgary to believe there were likely more than one person involved in the murder.

A $1,000 reward was offered for any information leading to an arrest but still no good leads were found.

One witness in 1917 had reported seeing a car drive away from the scene shortly after the shots, a tip that was questioned and did not really lead anywhere at the time.

But that tip may have been proved correct in 1979 when a hospital nurse in Surrey, B.C., contacted the Calgary Police Service. She reported that an elderly patient confessed to her that he and a friend had been driving past the scene of Constable Duncan’s murder around the time of the incident and both believed that they heard the shots.

The patient told the nurse that right after the shots, a man in his 30s ran out from between two buildings at the scene, flagged the patient down and asked for a ride to the Palliser Hotel so he could jump a freight train. The patient and his friend, who were young men at the time, gave the stranger a ride. After later hearing that a police officer had been killed at that location, the pair apparently decided not to tell anyone they potentially helped a murderer get away until the one man’s end of life confession.

That was the last lead the Service got in the case and Constable Duncan’s murder remains unsolved.

Constable Duncan had served as a police officer in Scotland for 12 years before moving to Calgary. His fellow officers described him as a fearless man and a remarkably shrewd officer. He had been with the Calgary Police Force for six years at the time of his death and was survived by his wife and a young son.

His funeral was held the Sunday after his death and was attended by the North West Mounted Police (now the R.C.M.P.), the Alberta Provincial Police and the Calgary Fire Department. Cards of condolences for his family and the Force poured in from across the continent.

Constable Arthur Duncan was buried in Union Cemetery, Section P, Block 7, Lot 30.

The Force secured a small house for Mrs. Duncan and her son, and kept them on the payroll for the rest of 1917 at a salary of $95 per month. Later, she was provided a two-year pension from The City between 1918 and 1920, which gave her $70 per month to look after her needs.

Their son remained in Calgary for the rest of his life.

The Calgary Police Service marks the death of all fallen officers every year and every officer is listed on the Police and Firefighters Memorial Plaza at Calgary City Hall.

The Service honours the vigilance, courage and pride of those who came before and on this, the 100th anniversary of our first fallen member, the Service honours Constable Arthur Duncan.