As Thomas ran back towards his hotel, two more shots rang out and he heard the eerie whine of a bullet pass within inches of his head.
Well, Halloween’s come and gone and with it another Citizen account, this one on the front page no less, of a headless woman who supposedly haunts Mount Sicker.
Far be it from me to put down a great story. Let me just say that there’s nothing that I know of in old newspaper accounts or other archival sources that in any way, shape or form mentions, let alone gives credence to, such an apparition. If she is in fact a ghost, who she was, how she lost her head and why she roams this lonely Westholme mountain, the scene of a frenzied copper mining boom at the turn of the last century, is unknown.
Now, I’m not dismissing her out of hand or saying that she’s complete fiction; I’m saying that, if Mount Sicker really is haunted, I have some better and more credible candidates to offer in the way of restless spirits. If ghosts really do exist, Sicker’s former mining camps of Lenora and Tyee should be haunted; not by a headless woman, perhaps, but by a murderer and his hapless victim. I’ve told this story before, but not for 15 years or more, so settle back and let me revisit the sad tale of twisted loved and murder-suicide that created shockwaves and made newspaper headlines, 112 years ago…
Not much is known of Frederick Charles Beech’s background other than that the 35-year-old Welshman had moved from South Wellington to Mount Sicker where he lived alone in his cabin and worked a claim, the Springfield, which he’d registered in his own name the previous May.
Apparently well-liked and known to be an amateur wrestler of some ability, Beech’s closest friends seem to have been the Campbell family, also formerly of South Wellington.
Beech’s relationship with Mrs. Campbell changed dramatically after Campbell’s death. Soon the young widow and mother of three was complaining of his possessiveness and jealousy; she even said she was afraid of him.
At 8:30 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 20, 1905, Beech’s obsession exploded in violence.
First word of impending tragedy was carried by young May Campbell when she rushed into the 18-room Mount Sicker Hotel in Lenora Townsite to inform a startled proprietor Thomas that Beech was trying to kill her mother. From his front porch, Thomas could clearly hear the sounds of a disturbance from the nearby cabin where Mrs. Campbell supported her children as a laundress.
At that moment, fellow hotelier Joe Bibeau, 42, whose Mount Brenton Hotel was farther up the hill, arrived on the scene, having been alerted by Mrs. Campbell when she sought refuge in his hotel. Bibeau strode up to the Campbell house, opened the door and peered inside.
Finding it empty, he asked Thomas, who’d also approached the cabin by this time, if he knew where Beech was. Thomas pointed to a gully just down the road. Bibeau, a friend of Beech, advanced towards the ravine. He’d taken only a few steps when a rifle shot exploded in the stillness.
Struck in the abdomen, Bibeau gasped, threw up his arms, shouted, “Murder!” and pitched forward. In the stunned silence that followed, no one moved to help him and he struggled to regain his feet, unaided. Dazed and bleeding, he stumbled in the direction of his hotel when a second rifle slug tore upward through his shoulder and his throat, severing his jugular vein. He died within minutes.
Thomas, his wife and two of their guests had watched Bibeau’s cold blooded murder in shocked paralysis. But when Bibeau fell for the second time, Thomas started forward. He’d gone 50 yards when a man stepped from behind some bushes and stood over the prostrate Bibeau. Thomas recognized Fred Beech who “calmly gazed about him” until the women from the Mount Sicker Hotel began screaming.
To Thomas’s horror, Beech, unnerved or enraged, raised his rifle. As Thomas ran back towards his hotel, two more shots rang out and he heard the eerie whine of a bullet pass within inches of his head and strike the hotel. All then ran inside and he bolted the door. Beech, apparently sated, didn’t follow but turned around and headed up the hill in the direction of his cabin.
Miners, alerted by the shooting, recovered Bibeau’s body and gathered at the Mount Sicker Hotel. Word was sent to B.C. Provincial Const. A.H. Lomas in Duncan, who paused only long enough to inform his superiors in Victoria and Const. R.B. Halhed in Chemainus. Once on the murder scene, he recruited a posse from among the eager miners and dispatched armed guards to the junctions of all roads and trails leading from the mountainside. He then proceeded to Beech’s cabin near the Richard III Mine with Const. Halhed, Special Const. Morton and more armed miners.
(To be continued)
T.W. will be selling his latest book, Cowichan Chronicles, Volume 5, on Saturday, Nov. 25, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at the Shawnigan Lake Community Centre.