PENTICTON - Bert Terry is a retired RCMP constable who will be looking back 55 years with a great deal of sadness this Sunday.
Terry, now a Penticton resident, was on duty in Kamloops in June of 1962 when an out-of-control man named George Booth shot and killed three RCMP officers before being hunted down and shot himself.
Terry was in charge of the detachment’s prisoners on June 18, 1962, the day after a three-day celebration known as “Indian Days” had just completed.
The jail was packed with 54 prisoners, some facing serious charges, but most were jailed because they let their festive spirit get the better of them.
“I was in the office when a call came through someone had broken into the welfare office. Donald Weisgerber, who wasn’t on duty that day, was also in the office, and when he heard about the break-in, he wanted to investigate,” Terry says.
Weisgerber had been keenly following a rash of break-ins in the city and wanted to solve the case. He was in civilian clothes and was joined by officers Gordon Pederson and Joseph Keck.
“They didn’t realize until they got to the scene that George Booth was there, threatening people with a gun. He became agitated and began shooting,” Terry says.
Terry was in the early stages of transporting prisoners to the courthouse when he was told "a kid had been shot," and a gunman was going after police officers.
“Weisgerber was young-looking and out of uniform. I doubt Booth knew he was a policeman,” Terry says.
He told his remaining prisoners what happened and said it might be some time before they came before the court.
“None of them seemed to mind,” Terry said, adding the RCMP was highly respected in Kamloops in 1962.
A manhunt ensued for Booth, who had been shot in the stomach by Const. Keck before he was killed by Booth.
“If he hadn’t been wounded, he probably would have killed more people. He was a crack shot,” Terry says of Booth.
Jack White, a Corporal, killed Booth during the manhunt.
“We were aware of Booth, who lived in Knutsford. He was better known to the rural detachment, which was separate from the city,” Terry says.
It was fairly common in those days for people to carry rifles around, at least during hunting season.
He recalls that Booth was enraged over the decreasing size of his welfare cheque.
Had the call come in of an armed man threatening people, rather than a break in report, Terry would have been called into service and perhaps there would have been more deaths — maybe himself.
Terry recalls the detachment inundated with calls the day of the incident, and the whole city in mourning in the days following the tragic deaths.
All three police officers were married. Terry recalls Joseph Keck’s wife only finding out when she attended the detachment to pick up her husband’s paycheque that afternoon.
In 2012, 300 people turned out for a special service in Kamloops to mark the 50th anniversary of the shooting.
“It’s awful news to hear three of your fellow officers killed. Almost every day I think about it,” Terry says.
For more detail, see this excellent version of the story from the now-defunct Kamloops Daily News from the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.
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