Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Remembering Winnipeg Police Constable Charles Gillis

On February 7, 1936, Winnipeg Police Constable Charles Gillis, 48, died at Misericordia Hospital. It brought to the end a two-week long vigil kept by many in the city.

On the evening of January 24, 1936, Gillis and his partner, George Blow, responded to a police radio message of a robbery-in-progress at a gas station at Donald Street and St. Mary Avenue. They pulled up just as the 22-year-old thief, Ian Bryson, was leaving the building.

Gillis and Blow gave chase and Bryson turned and fired a shot that hit Gillis in the stomach.

Blow was able to catch Bryson while Gillis stumbled into the arms of a passing pedestrian. He was rushed to Misericordia Hospital in a taxi.

Winnipeg Police Constable Charles Gillis
Gillis, multiple Police Athletic Association top athlete

Aside from being a well-liked Winnipeg policeman since 1912, Gillis was also a respected war veteran and award-winning athlete involved in a number of athletic leagues around town. Just days before the shooting he had been elected president of the Winnipeg chapter of the Cosmopolitan Club, a community service group.

He and his wife lived at 169 Morely Street with their two teenage children, George and Eleanor. His son told a reporter that he was also an avid shutterbug and loved to take photos on their family vacations.

Notice posted by chief on Police Department bulletin board, Feb. 7, 1936

Newspapers ran daily updates on Gillis's condition and the city followed the ups and downs as he tried to recover.

Initially, he remained in fair condition with some hope of recovery due to his excellent physical condition. The bullet, though, had done too much damage, tearing his intestine in three places. As time went on, peritonitis, then pneumonia set in.

Constable Gillies died at 6:30 am on the morning of February 7, 1936.

The city mourned. Flags on many buildings, including stores, flew at half mast. Hundreds filed past his coffin as he lay in state at a funeral home. A thousand people attended his funeral at St. Ignatius church. The Tribune raised over $2,000 for a special fund to assist the widow and children.

On June 8, 1936, Ian Murray Bryson, went on trial for the murder.

It was noted that he had a criminal record, including an earlier stint in jail for other thefts.

His defence argued that he had been drinking all day and could not remember the shooting. It was also proposed that because Gillis ultimately died of pneumonia, the lung ailment could have struck him down whether or not he had been shot.

The jury was having none of it. Bryson was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to hang.

November 20, 1936, Winnipeg Tribune

On the morning of November 20, 1936, Bryson was led to the gallows. He was reported to have looked calm and prayed quietly as the trap door was pulled at 7:27 a.m..

The saddest part of this tragedy is that the cash drawer at the gas station had already been emptied when Bryson arrived. The total Bryson got during the robbery was thirty cents.

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