A new book details a sensational murder that occurred on Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford in 1893.
The book by Chad Reimer is called The Trials of Albert Stroebel: Love, Murder and Justice at the End of the Frontier (Caitlin Press).
On a dreary April morning in 1893, John Marshall, a Portuguese immigrant and successful farmer on Sumas Prairie, was found lying sprawled across the veranda of his farmhouse, his body cold and lifeless.
The farmer’s face was a mess, his nose smashed in and cracked blood covering his forehead around a jagged black hole.
The shocked and unfortunate neighbour who discovered the body rushed to Huntingdon railway station to summon the authorities.
An autopsy, coroner’s inquest and murder investigation followed.
Only two days later, a local handyman named Albert Stroebel was arrested for Marshall’s murder. Stroebel was an unlikely killer: short and physically disabled, locals considered him a harmless “boy” who seemed much younger than his 20 years.
The community was shocked to imagine that Stroebel was capable of killing anyone, particularly Marshall, a man who had treated him like family.
Unravelling the mystery would take nine months and two lengthy trials that seized the attention of local communities on both sides of the Canadian-American border.
While the eastern U.S. was gripped with the Borden murders, West Coast newspapers devoted page after page of coverage to Stroebel’s trials.
Throngs of spectators squeezed into the courtroom galleries, debating the young man’s innocence and guilt.
The heaviest hitters of B.C.’s political and legal establishment took part, including former and current premiers, an attorney general, and a future Supreme Court justice.
The first trial in New Westminster ended with the jury hopelessly deadlocked. When the second trial ended with a guilty verdict, many in the public howled in protest, convinced that an innocent man had been sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit.
And the dramatic events would not stop there. With the condemned man sitting on death row, the case would take more twists and turns that would lead Stroebel to the shadow of the gallows.
Reimer, an Abbotsford resident, is the author of Before We Lost the Lake: A Natural and Human History of Sumas Valley. That book received an honourable mention in the 2019 B.C. Historical Federation’s Historical Writing Competition.
He also wrote Chilliwack’s Chinatowns for the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of B.C. and Writing British Columbia History with UBC Press.
Reimer was born in Winnipeg, where he spent his first 14 years before moving to Abbotsford, teaching for some years at the University of the Fraser Valley.
The Trials of Albert Stroebel is available online at caitlin-press.com and other major book sellers, including Amazon and Indigo.