The Heritage Corner, Springhill Record

September 29, 2010

The Inquest of J. Howard McDonald   

      The inquest, into the death of J. Howard McDonald whose body was found in his rooming house bedroom shortly after returning home from a party on Christmas Eve, was scheduled for the following day.  On the instructions of S.R. Bennett a coroner’s jury was empanelled by Corporal J.A. Nilsson of Amherst and Chief of Police Ivan Buchanan.  Members of the jury included Charlie Meagher as foreman, Harry Smith, Harry Newcombe, Ted Arseneault, Simpson Anderson, Wylie McPherson, Ronald Gillis, Morris Hatherly, Andrew Stevenson, Bion McIsaac, David Colwell and James Warren.

     Shortly after the jury was sworn in they were taken to Brown’s Funeral Home where they viewed the body and then to the home where the death occurred.  Each member of the jury was taken into the bedroom, one at a time and examined the trunk, the bullet hole in the wall and other details which it was thought might assist them in reaching a decision.

     Upon returning to the Town Hall Coroner Dr. Bennett began calling witnesses where McDonalds’ movements of the previous evening were reviewed.  Sumner Cooper stated McDonald arrived back at the boarding house at 1.30 A.M.  Cooper, who was sitting by the radio and reading stated McDonald was standing by the French Doors, smiled and waved at him, before turning to the telephone.  He said he caught the end of McDonald’s conversation when he said “That’s Final” and then before he hung up the phone added “Go to Hell”.  Sumner then stated that Howard then ran up the stairs, went to the bathroom and then to his bedroom and that he had slammed both doors.  Two minutes later he heard a thud and went up to investigate.  Cooper stated he didn’t know that McDonald owned a gun although he had taken one into Sumner’s room about three weeks before and was told to take it out.

     Chief Ivan Buchanan told of visiting the scene, finding the bullet lying on some clothes, and the empty casing behind the trunk.  He stated that the gun had been recently been fired.

     At 6 P.M. the inquest was adjourned until Tuesday at 10 A.M.

When the inquest resumed other witnesses were called.  The lady at whose house MacDonald had visited stated he had been there from about midnight until about 1:30 when he abruptly left.  She stated he had called when he got home but that was not unusual for him to do.  She also stated that she never heard McDonald make the comments which Sumner Cooper had heard.

     Eddie Thorpe told of rooming with McDonald for a few weeks, when the latter thought he would prefer to room alone.  Thorpe stated that McDonald had brought the gun back from his home in Truro when he visited there on Thanksgiving.  When questioned about touching the gun twice Thorpe stated he had not realized the importance of touching the gun.

     Howard Chandler, manager of the Agnew Surpass, told how he had returned to the rooming house about 12:30 and had gone straight to bed.  He hadn’t heard anything until Cooper came to his room and woke him up.

     Vincent Wilkie, a cook in the air force, told of having been invited by Mr. McDonald to join him at the party and then McDonald had walked out suddenly and left him there.

     Ralston Ryan had also been at the party and stated he had called McDonald after he left and was told McDonald was “very sick”. 

     Others who testified were I.N. McLean of the Royal Bank, who stated that McDonalds’ books and cash were all in order.   Officer McDonald, Wm. Mont, Chief of Company Police Force, Arthur Phillips, Deputy Inspector of Mines, Elmer Hyatt and Ralston Ryan.

     Dr. Bennett summed up the evidence and the jury retired, returning two hours later with their findings.

     Considering the evidence submitted to the Jury, we find that J. Howard McDonald came to his death through a shot fired from a small caliber gun in the hands of person or persons unknown.


Foreman of the Jury

     Chief of Police, Ivan Buchanan, in his evidence stated that the course taken by the bullet almost proved that the fatal wound could not have been self-inflected, after it had been learned that McDonald had been right handed.

     Chief Buchanan left for Halifax Monday evening, with pictures taken at the scene of the crime and other evidence, to confer with Chief of Police Conrad and members of the Halifax Detective Service.  Upon his return he would make no comment until he spoke with Mr. Lusby, Crown Prosecutor, when it shall be determined what action will be taken to clear up the case.

     After the meeting it was decided no further action would be taken on this matter.  It was concluded that John Howard McDonald, who was subject to spells of melancholy, and it is believed that he took his own life.  The bullet was then believed to have entered his forehead and exited through his neck which was just the opposite of what was first suspected.

     There have been speculations about what happened in that bedroom on Christmas Eve, 1939 but what really happened will never be known and will continue to be a mystery.