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The Serial Killer Who Wasn’t

July 17, 2015

The story has everything you could possible hope for—gold, evil women, the Wild West, sex, robbery, murder…. It goes something like this:

Agnes McVee, her husband Jim, and her son-in-law Al, ran the 108 Mile Roadhouse from 1875-1885. That’s 108 miles from the start of the Cariboo Road in Lillooet, on the way to the gold fields in Barkerville, so there were a lot of miners passing through. The miners were often young, often single, and often lonely, and any miner heading south had money burning a hole in his pocket. What better way to spend the night than to buy some whiskey and a pretty girl to sleep beside you?

Agnes was the matriarch, the sort of strong, domineering Scotswoman they tell legends about. (Literally, in this case.) Jim and Al did whatever she told them to. And Agnes wasn’t happy selling beds and booze, though that was a lucrative business. She started kidnapping girls off the road, holding them in her basement, and selling them to miners looking for a more … permanent companion. If a girl wasn’t compliant, she’d be thrown into the fireplace until she was.

agnus_macvee

Even the sex trade wasn’t enough for Agnes, though. If a miner passed through with a fortune in his poke, she’d arrange for him and Jim, or him and Al, to go off alone somewhere—chase down an errant horse, mend a fence, shoot a buck for dinner. Except that only Jim or Al would come back, after tossing the body in 108 Mile Lake* or any other of the many lakes in the vicinity. Or a guest would be drinking alone at the bar and get shot in the back. Or … you get the idea. It wasn’t just miners, either. If you looked like a potential victim, you lost that potential real quick. Fifty-nine people, they say.

After the murder, Agnes and Jim would raid the miner’s room, taking whatever they could for themselves. They’d also take the horses down to Kamloops to sell off. They buried their ill-gotten gains around the property and nearby in the forest.

108lake-autumn-morning-P468

108 Mile Lake, today (ish)

Then Agnes did the unthinkable and fell in love with one of her guests. He was young, blond, dashing, a gambler, so money a-plenty. The murder machinery went into gear, but Agnes called it off at the last moment. The gambler rode off with a new bride. Jim followed him on the quiet, shot and robbed him, and snuck home in the wee hours of the morning. Agnes took this calmly, but then Jim up and died during breakfast.

The local Mounties found the gambler’s “wife” wandering the area, and, hearing her story, rode for the roadhouse. Al denied everything, but the Mounties searched the place anywhere, only to find eight girls chained up in the basement and human bones in the fireplace. They quickly arrested Agnes and Al, taking them to Kamloops for charges, New Westminster for trial and execution. Al was tried and hung. Agnes committed suicide via rat poison in prison—after it came out that she’d killed seven people back in Scotland, too, though I doubt that was connected.

A cache of gold was found in 1929. Another, larger cache was found in the 1960s, at the edge of the local airport. There may be more caches yet to be found.

Except…

This story is approximately 99% fabricated, if not more. There was a roadhouse and miners did stop there. There are no records of Agnes or Jim or Al in the B.C. Archives, certainly not on the deed to the roadhouse, in arrest records, or death certificates. (There might never have been an Agnes, Jim, or Al at all, picture above notwithstanding. I’m not sure if anyone in Scotland has checked.) There probably weren’t girls for sale. There probably weren’t murders, since no lodgers were reported missing. The gold caches are incontestable, but there’s nothing to connect them to anyone in particular and anyone could have buried the gold. There was only one road, after all.

The story as it stands traces back to a book of treasure stories which claimed it came from an old-timer of the area. It’s been elaborated since then. I’ve elaborated just now, even. Here’s the basic story, the one I cribbed from to jog my memory. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the matter.

Me? I’m more inclined to believe Wikipedia, mainly because the story sounds a little bit too sensational, a little bit too folkloric, like an urban legend or those stories about cannibal families that make it onto TV shows all the time. I remember the story from my childhood—I spent a number of years not too far from the site—and it came up again when I was doing the main gold/treasure research for the novel I’m writing. I don’t think I’ll include it, though. Like I said, it’s a bit too sensational.

* They’re mighty creative, up north.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Harold Rhenisch permalink
    July 17, 2015 1:19 pm

    A lot of Gold Rush names and motifs come from California… if you snooped around down there you might find the Ur-Story for this baby. Just a thought. 🙂

    • anassarhenisch permalink*
      July 17, 2015 10:03 pm

      I bet so! Or back east, where the Californians came from, maybe. After all, most cannibal families are hillbillies, aren’t they? Thanks for the tips!

  2. Harold Rhenisch permalink
    July 17, 2015 1:20 pm

    Murders of Indigenous people were never recorded or punished. Another angle? Could it be an old Scots folk tale?

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