Haney Heritage Village’s curator Deborah Chapman is digging up stories and offering her cemetery tour on the prettiest knoll in Salmon Arm. The old section of the Mt. Ida Cemetery is where Chapman likes to talk about Salmon Arm’s early characters.
The cemetery is divided into several sections. There are family plots where everyone is related, the Masonic section, an area dedicated to the First World War, another area predominantly occupied by Finns with a few Swedes, and a little-known unofficial Chinese section.
The Chinese section was meant to be a temporary resting place.
When Sam Kee’s bones were dug up from the Chinese section of the cemetery, scraped, polished and packed into a neat box, and shipped to the coast, no one thought about the mystery surrounding his death. The year was 1937. Kee’s box of bones joined many more headed for China.
In hindsight, Kee was both lucky and unlucky. Lucky because his bones were heading for his birthplace just before the practice of shipping bones ceased. Kee’s wish was going to be fulfilled, but he was a still murder victim.
A well known character, Kee had worked on the CPR after he came to Canada and arrived in this area as a farm labourer. He progressed from common labourer to land tenant, renting a plot from a landlord. He prospered and branched into other occupations. Kee was just a little colourful. In 1909, he had some trouble with the law and was charged with gambling. Later he opened a restaurant. In 1924 he had a garden, a store and a rooming house.
Then something unfortunate happened to Kee and his body was discovered by two teenage lads, Harry McDiarmid and Gus Tweeddale. The youngsters were near the tracks when they heard a dog barking and howling. The two followed the sound. It was Kee’s dog. They soon figured out why the animal was in distress. Kee’s lifeless legs were under a log. The lads went for help, running as fast as they could back to town. Provincial constables and City constable Hughes were called to investigate.
The unfortunate story was pieced together in the Salmon Arm Observer. Kee was returning from a garden that he kept at P. Michel’s on the reserve. His vegetables were in the ditch. There was a trail of blood on the ground left when the body was dragged, head first into the bush. A watch belonging to someone else was found near the fence marking the CPR right of way. Kee’s hat was picked up down the tracks by someone else.
With the body barely covered, was the murderer been interrupted trying to cover their tracks? It seemed likely.
The dog stayed with his dead master until help arrived. The pet followed Kee’s body to town, sitting outside the door where it was being examined, and scratching half-way through the door’s panel.
The local constabulary mobilized resources. This was a murder.
A First Nations tracker was brought in from Kamloops. He found footprints left by the murderer when the culprit went to the shore to wash himself off. Doctor Connolly examined the corpse. Kee had several wounds, but death was caused by a fractured skull.
MM Carroll, the undertaker, was called in to prepare the body for burial. When Carroll stripped Kee’s body he found a pouch containing $640.
Many witnesses were called but the coroner could only issue an open verdict. Some two years passed, rumours circulated…
To find out how the story ends join Chapman for other stories at 1 p.m. at the Mt. Ida Cemetery Sunday, Oct. 16.
Space is limited so pre-register by calling the Haney Heritage Village at 250-832-5243. Cost per person is $10.