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The Kelowna police chief who murdered two people in broad daylight

The Mayfair Hotel on Abbott Street was the scene of one of two murders in 1932 by Chief of Police David Murdoch who was sent to the Colquitz Mental Hospital in Victoria.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Old Kelowna

It was 90 years ago when a Kelowna police chief committed one of the city's most shocking and brazen murders, killing a police informant and an ex-deputy.

Some sources described Chief Constable David Murdoch as a love-crazed madman who created panic in the city in the early evening of Jan. 19, 1932.

At about 5 p.m. he was shooting at police informant Genevieve (Jean) Nolan who ran into the lobby of the Mayfair Hotel, where she lived.

“Jean Nolan had been shot at seven times,” historian Sharron Simpson wrote in ‘The Kelowna Story.’ “Murdoch fired on her twice outside the hotel and five times in front of the dining room doors in the hotel’s rotunda.

“One bullet pierced her heart and witnesses claimed she was still moaning when Murdoch ran from the hotel. None of the bullets stayed in her body and those shown in court had been extracted from the door frame of the lobby’s telephone booth and from the dining room floor.”

The killer was identified as Murdoch who then walked from the Abbott Street hotel, through City Park, across the bridge over Mill Creek and into ex-deputy Archie McDonald’s home on Lake Avenue.

McDonald’s body was found with five bullets in him.

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“Word of the murders spread quickly and people were panic-stricken: doors were locked, porch lights were turned on and people fled (from) downtown,” Simpson wrote.

Nolan was a police informant working for Murdoch and had recently arrived in Kelowna. She may have been working undercover as a prostitute.

It’s speculated that Murdoch and Nolan had known each other prior to her arrival and subsequent murder.

As for ex-deputy McDonald, he and Murdoch had clashed the year before.

“In an August 1931 altercation with fellow police officer Archie McDonald, Chief Murdoch found himself at the bottom of a stairway,” says a report on the website of the Royal Hotel in Chilliwack. “McDonald was subsequently charged with assault and found not guilty.”

McDonald lost his job because of the altercation.

Murdoch’s story was covered by the Chilliwack Progress of the day because he had served on the Chilliwack police force for six months in 1928 before being asked to resign following an investigation by the Chilliwack Police Board.

No reason was given in the newspaper for the investigation.

Prior to working for the Chilliwack police, the Progress reported that Murdoch was a member of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, resigned and went overseas for four years in World War I. He returned and joined the RCMP for six years, five of which were as a corporal in charge of a detachment. He had also worked in the Vancouver fire department and served three years with the Manitoba Provincial Police.

“Murdoch was a visitor to Chilliwack during the recent Christmas season,” a Progress article written shortly after the killings said. “Some friends here thought him somewhat irrational and inclined to morbidity during his visit.”

Despite having a wife and son in Kelowna, it was speculated that Murdoch was infatuated with Nolan. He wrote several letters to her prior to the killing.

“Some were in verse; some rambled on for pages; some were signed, others were not,” Simpson wrote.

The letters were written on the police typewriter, one witness at his trial said, and Nolan had given them to McDonald.

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After the killings, which happened between 5 and 5:30 p.m., Murdoch walked home and calmly sat down to his dinner.

“By seven that night, City Constable Sands had been advised that the murderer was likely Murdoch and went to the chief’s house to take his wife and son to a safe place,” Simpson wrote.

Before going in, Sands phoned and, when the son answered, the constable assumed the killer was not at home so went over and knocked on the door.

“When Mrs. Murdoch opened the door, the constable immediately spotted Chief Murdoch’s blue coat and fedora lying on a chair.” Simpson wrote. “Quickly drawing his pistol, Sands walked into the kitchen and found the fugitive calmly sipping a cup of coffee. Declining the offer to join him, Sands arrested his chief and took him down the street to the lockup.”

Murdoch was held in Oakalla Prison in the Lower Mainland until his first trial, in Vernon, five months later.

That jury, and the one at his second trial five months after that, could not reach a verdict.

In both cases there was no testimony as to Murdoch’s mental state and he did not testify, leaving the jury unsure about whether he was sane at the time of the killings.

A week later, a third trial was held with both sides calling medical experts who, Simpson wrote, diagnosed him with “paranoia simplex” and said “the patient simply did not know what he was doing when he fired the gun and was not capable of the intent to murder.”

That jury deliberated for five hours before the judge called them back into the courtroom to say he would not accept another “disagreement,” Simpson wrote.

“An hour later, the jury returned with a guilty verdict, though they added a strong recommendation for mercy because of the defendant’s proven mental instability,” she wrote. “The judge refused to accept their verdict so they had to make a choice: either a clear verdict of guilty or a clear verdict of not guilty because of insanity. The jury finally agreed to the latter.”

The ruling was for the killing of Jean Nolan. Murdoch was never charged with killing his former deputy, Simpson wrote.

The Royal Hotel version says he was charged with two murders.

Murdoch was ordered to spend 25 years at Colquitz Insane Asylum (Provincial Mental Home for the Criminally Insane) in Victoria.

None of the reports say whether he lived out his days there or when he died.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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