Slain on-duty police officer honoured in Vancouver 102 years later
Special Const. Charles Painter was laid to rest in an unmarked grave after dying in the line of duty
Under grey skies, a Vancouver police piper lets loose a droning wail. Two rows of Metro Vancouver Transit Police officers stand at attention.
It's a ceremony to honour a fallen officer — a fresh headstone marks the spot where Special Const. Charles Painter lies in Vancouver's Mountain View cemetery.
What's different about Tuesday's ceremony is that Painter, who was killed in the line of duty, died 102 years ago.
Const. Graham Walker uncovered the story of his unsolved murder while researching the history of the transit police.
"When we had our 10-year anniversary, we started doing some digging and we discovered a 100-year-old history of transit policing here in B.C., going back to street cars and railway constables appointed to that system," said Walker.
Painter was a special constable working for the B.C. Electric Railway. According to Walker, Painter was investigating wire thefts at the time.
It was March 19, 1915, when he noticed a suspicious man walking with what appeared to be a bundle of wire along the False Creek tracks near Sixth Avenue in Vancouver.
"He was carrying a badge, revolver, baton and handcuffs," said Walker, who has dug up everything he can on the ice-cold case.
Painter tried to arrest the man and managed to get a single handcuff on him, when he asked the suspect to pick up the suspicious load he'd dropped on the ground.
The man declined to do so, and when the officer bent over to pick it up himself, the man struck him and a struggle ensued.
Walker said the men were both on the ground, when Painter's revolver fired, wounding him in the torso. The suspect escaped and Painter died two days later in the hospital.
According to Walker, investigators at the time thought they'd figured out who the suspect was, but by then he was in prison in Washington State, serving a life sentence for the murder of his ex-wife and her new husband.
"Technically, yeah, it's an unsolved murder mystery from 1915," said Walker. "He was never brought to justice for Charles Painter's murder."
"This is our only line-of-duty death in the history of the Transit Police and even though he's just one man and nobody ever knew him, it brings all of us together and gives [us] somebody to look back on a recognize the risk we face every day," he said.
And Walker said the case —though distanced by a century — hits close to home.
"To know that there were railway constables patrolling the same interurban tracks that are now the Expo Line a hundred years ago is an amazing feeling," he said.
"And with Painter, he was the same age as me when he died, and I've even done overtime shifts looking for wire thieves, so the connection there for me was pretty personal, and I'm glad that we got to honour him today."
Walker hopes officers return to the grave site each year to leave flowers for Painter.
"If he had died today, he would have had a proper memorial — a police memorial — and he never got that back in 1915, so I'm glad we were able to give it to him today."
Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker