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Delta throwback: The hunt for killer bandits

It was a tale of a wild shootout, murder and cooperation between American and Canadian law enforcement to track a band of killers. The big news story in the Oct.
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Five bandits who robbed a bank on the American side of the border had a gunfight with Canadian officers, killing one of them and sparking an intense manhunt.

It was a tale of a wild shootout, murder and cooperation between American and Canadian law enforcement to track a band of killers.

The big news story in the Oct. 29, 1914 edition of The Delta Times described the killing of James Clifford Adams, 23, a Canadian customs patrol officer shot in a gun battle with Russian bandits Oct. 22 while on duty near Hazelmere.

He was shot while trying to apprehend the suspects who had robbed the Sedro-Wooley Bank.

“One of the bandits was killed on the spot, one was later found dying a quarter mile north of the scene of the fight, and the remaining three escaped for the time being. The entire countryside is up, however, and with American and Canadian posses hot on their trail, it is probably only a matter of time before they are captured,” an article read.

"The patrol of which young Adams was a member consisted, in addition of Great Northern Special Agent Keith, a U.S. immigration officer. The three men were walking on the old Great Northern track, and at the crossing of the North Bluff road, near Hazelmere, they came upon five bandits, who were skulking in the bush at the side of the track. On being challenged, the bandits opened fire without moment’s hesitation, and in the first discharge young Adams fell dead, shot through the heart. Keith was seriously wounded in the hand, the U.S. immigration officer had a close call, a bullet passing through his hat.”


The news story also stated, “In the meantime, the bandits’ fire was replied to, and one, later identified as the leader of the gang, was killed, while another was wounded. The bandits then fled into the bush, but the wounded man was later found at the side of the G.N. track, about a quarter of a mile north of the scene of the fight, having been fatally shot in the head, apparently by his companions. It is supposed that the wound received in the first fight had incapacitated him from effective flight, and his partners in crime shot him in order that he might not give any information when captured. He was breathing when found, but his death was only a matter of hours.”

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A separate news brief on the bank robbery noted Henry Leneer was arrested on suspicion of being the fifth and final member of the gang at large, but police later were of the opinion that the desperado in question, unidentified, made his getaway.

“Governor Lister has offered a reward of $500 for the capture of the fifth man, and deputy sheriffs are still prosecuting the search, but hope of finding him has now practically been abandoned.”

A separate article in that 1914 edition of The Delta Times quoted Frank MacKenzie, who served in the Legislative Assembly of B.C. from 1909 to 1920 for the electoral district of Delta as member of the Conservatives.

He commended those who searched the Canadian side for the killer bandits.

“It would certainly appear a dangerous place for the desperadoes to stay in as they caught a glimpse, as undoubtedly they did, of armed men patrolling all the roads. Mr. MacKenzie is equally appreciative of the co-operation shown by the residents of Surrey and Langley. There is every desire shown to help the officers, none of that maudlin sentiment so often which results in the hunted criminals being harbored, while there was always a cup of tea ready to cheer the police officers, deputies or troopers on their way. What was also a pleasing feature of the bandit hunt as it warmed up was the cordial spirit of co-operation shown by the American police and detectives…Had that co-operation been active at first it is thought that young Adams would not have lost his life. The Provincial Police Department also gave all needed assistance not holding back for expense, and this enabled the country to be effectively patrolled.”