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Thursday 2 April 2015

The Toronto Street hideout of "Bloody Jack" is for sale !

The apartment block at 686 Toronto Street near Wellington Street is up for sale. The seller and eventual buyer likely have no clue that this building was once known to every Manitoban as the last place of freedom for a notorious bank robber and murderer.

The Burriss Block, as it was then called, was constructed in 1913, replacing a rooming house on that site named Hyldigunn. Its first roster of tenants was typical of any middle class building: 

Suite 1 - The Thomas family. Parents Gudjon (jeweler) and Caroline (music teacher), along with their children Jonina (teacher) and Solveig (student). Suite 2 - Charles Reid, a CPR engineer. Suite 4 -  Frank Holt, shipper,  and Patrick Garrity, teamster, both at Security Storage Ltd. on Ellice Avenue. Suite 6 - Albert Johnson, a clerk at W H Stone Ltd, grocers. Suite 7 - Harrison "Had" Phillips, agent for Wood Vallance hardware company and he block's caretaker.

Jack Krafchenko,  January 19, 1914, Manitoba Free Press

The criminal in this story is John Larry "Bloody Jack" Krafchenko of Plum Coulee, Manitoba, (sometimes spelled Krawchenko.). His life of crime began around 1900 with passing bad cheques and soon escalated to bank robbery. Over the course of just three or four years, he was wanted for heists in the U.S., Britain, Italy and Germany.

Murder victim Henry Arnold

Krafchenko's final robbery took place on December 3, 1913. He entered the Bank of Montreal in his home town of Plum Coulee and got $4,200 in cash, (about $100,000 in today's money). As he was felling, he turned and fired his gun at bank manager Henry Arnold. The shot killed him.

A manhunt ensued and Krafchenko was captured in an apartment on College Avenue in Winnipeg.

January 10, 1914, Winnipeg Tribune

It was thought that Krafchenko was a very rich man after his years of crime. He used promises to share this wealth to get his lawyer to recruit a gang to help him break out of jail and flee the city. In the early hours of January 10, 1914, an armed Krafchenko escaped from the third storey lockup of Winnipeg's Central Police Station on Rupert Avenue, with the help of a bribed police officer, but things didn't go exactly as planned. 

The rope he used to shimmy down the side of the building broke, sending him 30 feet to the pavement below. With an injured back, badly sprained ankle, and assorted cuts and bruises, he hobbled down William Avenue. Krafchenko later told police that a friendly motorist noticed him and offered a ride to his destination: 686 Toronto Street.

John Howard Society Building
Security Storage building on Ellice

Suite 4 of 686 Toronto was home to Frank Holt, a young shipper who had worked for five years at Security Storage Ltd., a moving company located on Ellice Avenue at Sherbrook Street. The other tenant was Patrick Garrity, a teamster at Security Storage. 

A man name Westlake, whom Holt had known for a number of years, wrote to say he was coming to the city and asked if he could stay for a while. Holt agreed. He did not know that Westlake had once worked for Krafchenko's lawyer and was coming to help get Krafchenko out of town.

Holt said that he only knew of the Krafchenko escape plan on Westlake's first evening in town when he told Holt was he was in town to do. Holt, unsure if Westlake was telling the truth or not, was in bed when he heard a knock at the door around 11:00 pm. It was Krafchenko.

The injury to Krafchenko wasn't part of the plan and Holt was told he'd have to put up with his two house guests until Krafchenko recovered from his injuries. By this time, Garrity the roommate, was also aware of what was going on.

The next morning, Holt and Garrity went to work as usual but made arrangements stay over at a suite on Beverley Street. They went back to Toronto Street periodically to pick up clothes but did not sleep there while Krafchenko recovered.

Security Storage Building, ca. 1911

Krafchenko's injuries were not getting any better after the third day and and Westlake began to panic. He asked Holt to help find him a place to hide Krafchenko at the Security Storage building. On the night of January 14th he was smuggled into the building through the coal chute.

After a couple of days it was Holt's turn to panic. He went to Westlake to demand that Krafchenko be moved back to the Toronto Street apartment, which he was.

On the night of January 18, 1914, an informant gave police a tip about Krafchenko and the Security Storage escape plan. Dozens of officers, including police chief Donald MacPherson, descended on the building around 8:30 pm. The commotion brought out nearly 1,000 onlookers according to the Free Press. 

Police searched the building, but found no sign of Krafchenko. They must have then searched employee records, as the police chief rushed from the building back into his car and sped off with other police cars and reporters in tow. They arrived at the Burriss Block at 11:08 pm..

Top: Living room where Krafchenko was sitting when arrested
Below: Sitting room at 4-686 Toronto St. (Winnipeg Tribune)

Suite 4, where Krafchenko was holed up, was described as the Free Press as diminutive and sparsely decorated. Krafchenko's room contained a couch bed, a dresser and two chairs. One chair had a pack of matches, packet of tobacco, and a candle, (for some reason the power in the building was out that night). There were several copies of the newspaper strewn around the room.

A Winnipeg Tribune reporter who claimed to have been in the building at the time of the arrest said that Chief MacPherson led a group of officers to the door of suite 4. They entered to find Krafchenko, gaunt, unshaven and bandaged, sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette. 

The Tribune reports a typically Canadian arrest scenario. MacPherson said to the unarmed fugitive "Play fair, Jack, and we'll play fair with you." Krafchenko is said to have replied "I'm all in. I don't want any shooting, boys." The two then shook hands and MacPherson placed him under arrest. The police then had to help the injured man to the police car that whisked him off to Headingley Jail's highest security cell.

The subsequent inquiry into the escape revealed the identities of those involved in the escape.

Percy Hagel, Krafchenko's lawyer, assembled the crew and was sentenced to three years in prison. After his release, he returned to practising law.

Constable Robert Reid, a policeman who worked at the jail and smuggled in the gun and rope used by Krafchenko to escape, was sentenced to seven years at Stoney Mountain. While serving his sentence, he became ill and died. 

John Westlake was sentenced to two years for his involvement

J. H. Buxton, a local businessman and former secretary of the Builder's Exchange, procured the gun and rope used by Krafchenko. It turns out that he was also informant who came forward to police that led to the capture of Krafchenko. Later, he gave a full statement outlining the plan and who was involved. For his role, Buxton, originally from the U.S. was put into an early version of "witness protection" - and relocated to the state of Maryland.

Frank Holt was given a suspended sentence. The judge and Crown felt that he only went along with the plan out of fear for his safety if he had "squealed'.

April 10, 1914, Manitoba Free Press

John Larry "Jack" Krafchenko he stood trial at Morden, Manitoba for the murder of Henry Arnold in April 1914. He plead not guilty, claiming that he shot at Arnold with an air gun and that a second person must have been responsible for shooting him with a real one, (none of the witnesses to the crime or its aftermath recall seeing a second robber or a second man with a gun.)

Krafchenko was found guilty and was hanged on July 9, 1914 at the Vaughan Street Jail in Winnipeg at the age of 33. He left behind a wife and infant child.

Rental ads, 1917 (top) and 1931

As for the Burris Block, its name was sullied just months after it had opened. Subsequent "for rent" ads referred to it only as 686 Toronto Street. In the 1930s, it was rechristened the Toronto Block, a name that still appears above the door.

A scan through the Winnipeg Free Press archives show that it has had a quiet, uneventful existence ever since the arrest of "Bloody Jack".

Krafchenko's pre-sentencing statement and Justice Mathers' sentence

Krafchenko wanted poster at Winnipeg Police Museum

For other detailed accounts of the Krafchenko story:
The Story of “Bloody Jack” Krafchenko Manitoba Historical Society
Bloody Jack Winnipeg Police Museum
Also visit the Winnipeg Police Museum for artefacts about the case


Lydia Penner said...

Great story Christian! We live behind this block and I've always been curious about it. There used to be 3 plaques up at the very top stating "19", "A.D." and "13", but the 19 and the 13 have been covered up in the last 20 years. Do you know why?

Bill P said...

I love this story; found it by googling. May not have found it if you hadn't spelled Krafchenko correctly at least once... There are at least 4 different spellings of the name in this article!

Christian Cassidy said...

Thanks. I will change them all to one. The different spellings were an issue back in the day. I came across numerous incarnations of it through years of newspaper articles!

Christian Cassidy said...

Done! A couple were plain, old typos. i see I posted that at 4:08 am that day so wasn't at my best for proofreading !

Dianne Jordan said...

The person that was murdered was a relative of mine, Mr. Henry Arnold.

Bill Peters said...

Dianne - please contact me. I am researching a book on Krafchenko. billp@sbrc.ca

Unknown said...

Wow! I lived in that very apartment as a teenager during 1987-89 with my mom and little sister. The place was so cramped but cozy.

Bill P said...

Dianne... My email has since changed to Nachraligre01@gmail.com