Family photo of Grecos on their farm in New Hazelton. (Submitted photo)

Family photo of Grecos on their farm in New Hazelton. (Submitted photo)

A murder mystery in the Hazeltons and the search for truth: Part II

The facts in Lorenzo Greco’s murder are not in dispute; somewhere shortly after 7 p.m. on July 7, 1952, on a shortcut trail between the town of New Hazelton and Greco’s farm (approximately two miles from town), Greco was attacked, robbed, beaten, and left on the trail bleeding and unconscious. He died from his injuries six days later.

A man named Vernon Elgin McMaster, (a 25-year-old transient), was arrested for the murder and robbery on July 14, as reported in the Interior News, July 17, 1952. McMaster was then acquitted of the charges on Sept. 18, by Justice Norman Whittaker, in Prince Rupert court. After hearing from only three witnesses out of the 11 slated for the trial, including the Cafe Owner, Carl Christensen, who had the most relevant information about that day, Whittaker abruptly directed the jury to acquit McMaster and directed the court to seal the records of trial for 75 years. Leaving the remaining witnesses confused and upset that they did not get to testify, once Whittaker refused to hear them.

Therein lies the mystery.

Why the Court acted as it did, will probably not be known for six more years (if ever) when, in 2027, court documents can be unsealed.

In the meantime, Lorenzo’s son Tony has collected a huge amount of information about what happened to his dad all those years ago. His file of documents, including unsealed RCMP reports, newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts, and records of court proceedings that are public records, is formidable. Some are heavily redacted and the fact others are sealed frustrates and bewilders the Greco family.

As those observing and reporting on the court proceedings at the time said, it was seemingly strange behaviour for a court judge. And it was the second trial that day in which Whittaker instructed a jury to release a man accused of murder without holding a full trial. It certainly baffled everyone associated with the Greco murder.

It also gave some members of the Greco family the feeling that if you were an uneducated, poor immigrant family, who couldn’t speak English, you couldn’t find justice either, Lorenzo’s son Tony explained. But Tony has managed to gain some perspective on the issue of justice and McMaster over time.

“I feel justice was served when my research revealed that the perpetrator had died “suddenly” himself a few years later in 1963, in Vancouver, B.C.,” Tony said.

“Life can certainly take unusual turns,” he reflected.

“And this is definitely not a story of self-pity. We are not a family of victims that got off the boat in 1949, so to speak. It’s a story as strong as the story of Canada, and the opportunities available to everyone through hard work and perseverance.”

Tony explained the Greco boys became successful and productive citizens Canada.

“The oldest of us Biagio, who became a successful contractor and built many homes in the Prince George area; Guissippi, started a business from his basement in Ontario and worked until it became an international company; John, later in his life managed apartment buildings; Victor worked for BC Rail (now CN Rail) for 28 years and served several terms as President of the Union; Tony himself worked for the Chrysler Corporation for 29 years, in Ontario, and after moving back to Smithers is now the owner of Tyee Mobile Park.

“We all made successes of our lives,” he said, in spite of suffering such a terrible tragedy early on in their Canadian experience.

“I’m very proud of my family and how far we have come.”

Nevertheless, Tony has always wanted the truth about his father’s murder to pass on to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, “

“The truth is, our family roots run back to the Hazeltons, to our first home and the land, where my father was murdered and is buried, but it is also a truth of triumph over tragedy, of making a future in Canada, working hard and succeeding.”

“All of us (in the family) did that, we went on and bettered ourselves, looked after each other, my mom, my grandfather, like our dad would have wanted us to do.”

Tony and his brothers do one day hope to see what the court documents have to say, maybe to answer some of the questions they have. Other community members remember the events of 1952 and wonder as well.

Bill David, the only living witness to give testimony at the trial, hopes for the Grecos, that the answers in the court files will one day bring the family peace.

“It was very odd, to give testimony that we (the kids playing in the rail yard) had seen McMaster following behind after Greco up the trail, and for others like the owner of the Café and Hotel, who had yet to give his testimony (but had given his sworn deposition) about McMaster being “broke” and a few hours later come back with a wad of money, for the judge to just to say all of the sudden it was all over and set the man free, was just maddening, confusing and made no sense,” David said.

Both Greco and David agree that they may never understand all that went on during that time in their lives, but they do remain friends after all these years.

They also both agree Lorenzo Greco was an honest, hard-working man, who worked to make a better life for his family in Canada.

In the passing of time, whether they get the answers they seek from the court documents or not, what the Greco family did get from Lorenzo was the passion and drive to work hard, help each other and their communities, to seek the truths they could find, and to make a better life for their own families and the next generations.

That is a fine legacy to leave.

 

Antonio Greco, the first immigrant in the Greco family to immigrate to New Hazelton. He paid for his son Lorenzo and family to come from Italy in 1949. (Submitted photo)

Antonio Greco, the first immigrant in the Greco family to immigrate to New Hazelton. He paid for his son Lorenzo and family to come from Italy in 1949. (Submitted photo)

Lorenzo Greco’s passport photo. (Submitted photo)

Lorenzo Greco’s passport photo. (Submitted photo)

A view of the Hawliget canyon and bridge from one side of the Greco family farm in New Hazelton. (Deb Meissner photo)

A view of the Hawliget canyon and bridge from one side of the Greco family farm in New Hazelton. (Deb Meissner photo)

A view of Roche de Boule mountain range from the Greco family farm in New Hazelton. (Deb Meissner photo)

A view of Roche de Boule mountain range from the Greco family farm in New Hazelton. (Deb Meissner photo)

The short cut trail from New Hazelton to the Greco family farm approximately the point in the trail where Lorenzo Greco was attacked. (Deb Meissner photo)

The short cut trail from New Hazelton to the Greco family farm approximately the point in the trail where Lorenzo Greco was attacked. (Deb Meissner photo)

Tony Greco, at the place his father was attacked and robbed in New Hazelton, B.C. (Deb Meissner photo)

Tony Greco, at the place his father was attacked and robbed in New Hazelton, B.C. (Deb Meissner photo)

Saldetta Greco, widow of Lorenzo Greco. (Submitted photo)

Saldetta Greco, widow of Lorenzo Greco. (Submitted photo)

Bill David and Tony Greco, have known each other since childhood. Davis is the only remaining witness that testified at Lorenzo Greco’s murder trial in Prince Rupert. (Deb Meissner photo)

Bill David and Tony Greco, have known each other since childhood. Davis is the only remaining witness that testified at Lorenzo Greco’s murder trial in Prince Rupert. (Deb Meissner photo)