Monday, August 16, 2010

The Juke Box Murder

The elder statesman of Winnipeg journalism is a North End boy named Val Werier, who continues to write very occasional opinion columns for the Free Press. Werier has written columns on city affairs for some 45 years, first in the Tribune, then the FP), a tireless, often lone voice against the rising misanthropic destruction of the city's natural and built environment. Like Lewis Mumford, Werier wrote that cities exist first as a place for people, not cars or the egos of planners. Decades before Bar Italia, Werier advocated for sidewalk cafes as a way to add some life to Winnipeg streets.

But Werier's career in journalism goes back further: an incredible 72 years, to 1938, when Val Werier first began submitting news items to the Tribune. He worked as a reporter for the paper until 1942, when he served with the R.C.A.F. for the remainder of the war in Europe. A testament to his love for the city's public realm, Werier made a name for himself early on by being out and about and happening to come across the news in progress.

Val Werier on the job, c.1945. Credit

One such story was the Juke Box Murder that occurred in the summer of 1941, a story that Werier got wind of while walking down the street from the city's police station on Rupert Avenue East just as the police van pulled up with the two murder suspects. The scoop was his, and the Tribune gave him the front page and the byline (a rare honor for reporters in those days).

The body is carried out of the Row Bow Coney Island, 196 Smith St. Credit

The murder of a railway porter named Victor H. Bolden, Werier crafted into a gritty, low-class film noir. "While the crazy ragtime tunes pounded out of a juke box in a Smith st. snack shop Tuesday evening," Werier's lead began, "Victor H. Bolden, a colored railway porter, was stabbed to death through the chest with a knife as he was eating a steak."

The shop, the Rain-Bow Coney Island, was a small enterprise a couple doors south of St. Mary Avenue, owned by Fred Ball. Bolden, who worked for the CNR and lived a few blocks away on Main near Graham Avenue, was 48.

Victor H. Bolden: stabbed in the heart with a steak knife. Credit

Bolden's death occurred around 7:30 p.m. Bolden came in to the restaurant a half hour before with a male and female companion who he had been drinking with earlier that evening.

According to Mrs. Ball, wife of the shop's proprietor who saw it happen, "Bolden ordered a steak. The woman with him in the booth asked the Negro for a part of his steak. Then she called to Mrs. ball: 'Bring me a steak knife, will you please.'" She didn't, so the young woman came in an grabbed one herself. One waitress told police that if there was an argument, she could not hear it over the jukebox playing. She called the police, having to reach over the body of Victor Bolden, to the shop's telephone located in the booth where the man's body sat slumped over. Shaking she dropped four nickels before successfully entering one in the phone and reaching the police.

Bolden's companions, who fled the Rain Bow immediately after the murder, were Roger Lepine and Alice Dufault. Both were apprehended that night, and appeared in police court the next morning. Dufault was found in her room at 213 Donald; Lepine, between two houses near the Rain Bow.

The testimony of Mrs. Ball and a waitress named Mary McKay led to the murder charge being dropped against Lepine, while "Big Alice" Dufault (AKA: Alice Dillen, Alice Ducharme) was sentenced to ten years in prison for manslaughter.

"Big Alice" Dufault: Bolden's killer. Credit

In 1946, the Rain Bow operated as Hudson's Cafe. In 1951, the year Dufault was scheduled to be released from prison, it was called the New Bowes. The original South End, the neighborhood south of Portage Avenue was built up in the 1880s and '90s as a more fashionable residential alternative to Point Douglas and central Winnipeg. But it was clear that by the mid-20th century, the district, particularly north of Broadway, had fallen quite out of vogue. Mostly a dense residential neighborhood, with a number of small businesses like the Rain Bow, in the postwar years this character was almost entirely obliterated as roads were widened, and new developments such as residential high-rises, the Canada Post headquarters, Convention Centre, and the Centennial Library were built, and surface parking lots abounded.

The back of 196 Smith Street in its last days, circa 1966, surveying the neighborhood's destiny of parking lots and mega-scaled development. Credit

In 1970, the block where poor Victor H. Bolden met his end in the Rain Bow Coney Island, became the site of the Place Louis Riel, a highrise hotel. A small grocery store operates in the hotel's ground floor on the corner of Smith and St. Mary Avenue today.

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