On December 27, 1944, Jennie Eldon Conroy, a young, 24-year-old woman was brutally murdered with a claw hammer on the remote gravel roads of West Vancouver’s wooded hillside. Described as a “cheery, popular girl” who was “always smiling and joking,” she had paved her way in the world with a job as a grain loader at Midland and Pacific Elevator company, and to those who knew her, seemed the unlikeliest of individuals to fall prey to such a horrifying attack.
Fresh off her shift from the elevators, Jennie was en route to a family dinner at her father’s house in West Vancouver when she missed her bus by less than a minute. She was last seen walking away from the bus terminal, and likely, was making her way to the dinner, which would have been less than an hour by foot.
She never made it to her father’s, and her body was found, badly beaten on a rough, isolated road near Capitano View Cemetery the next day.
This unsolved murder has intrigued investigators and locals for decades and was the topic of great interest during The Vancouver Police Museum’s second presentation of the 2017 Speaker Series this past April 26. During the presentation, a packed house of attendees listened on the edge of their seats as Eve Lazarus, journalist and author of “Blood, Sweat, and Fear: the story of Inspector Vance, Vancouver’s first forensic investigator,” presented the chilling events and facts of this case, and discussed its far-reaching implications—especially with regard to how society treated women during the earlier half of the 1900s.
Lazarus began her talk with intriguing facts about Jennie. In particular:
- Jennie was part of a boom of women who were forging their way into the workforce as a result of World War II and conscription.
- Five-foot-eight and slim, with brown curly hair and blue eyes, Jennie was an attractive and popular woman amongst her coworkers and friends—a seemingly normal individual by all accounts.
- She attended Ridgeway Elementary School, but since her mother had died of cancer when she was young, she left after grade seven to take care of her family household, including her younger sister, Eva.
- Less than 3 months before her murder, Jennie had given birth to an illegitimate child and had put her up for adoption without family, friends or colleagues knowing.
This last fact would end up changing the course of the murder investigation and, as Lazarus pointed out, showed extremely prejudiced attitudes towards women and, in particular, unwed mothers at the time. In Jennie’s case, the media got wind of her baby and subsequent adoption and scandalized her character, hinting that she may have deserved her fate. Statements like: “[we] believe she may have met questionable companions,” flooded the papers, despite there being no evidence to support these claims.
The truth about her pregnancy, in fact, painted a very different picture of Jennie as a young, hardworking woman who had fallen for a young man. The man, after learning of the pregnancy, denied paternity and accused Jennie of sleeping around.
As detectives compiled evidence and clues for the case, several important facts emerged. Specifically:
- A spot of blood found on Third Street and gouge marks on the road indicated that Jennie had been dragged roughly forty-seven feet along the street.
- Jennie had gravel in the ball of one of her feet, and the soles of her stockings were wet, indicating that she had tried to run from her attacker, likely by jumping out of a vehicle.
- One of her shoes was found lying near Third Street, along with her notification papers, a West Vancouver bus timetable, and an empty whiskey bottle that was soaked with her blood.
- The matching shoe was later found in downtown Vancouver, lying on the lawn at the corner of Pender and Beatty Streets. This suggested that the killer could have crossed a bridge to Vancouver after the killing, found the shoe in his vehicle and tossed it out the window.
- An RCMP tracker dog found a clot of blood-stained excelsior (a paper-based packing material) two blocks from the body. The same material was found on Jennie’s jacket. This specific padding material was manufactured in San Francisco. There were only a handful of importers of the product in Canada.
Lazarus revealed that despite all the clues, and after interviewing several suspects (including the father of Jennie’s child), the case still remained unsolved for nearly 10 years. Then, in 1952, Sergeant Matheson took it up and focused on the blood-soaked excelsior tape which only a few people in the city would have access to. One of these people was the Green Grocer—a North Vancouver grocer who sold fruit and vegetables door-to-door in West and North Vancouver.
Lazarus hinted that the Green Grocer’s importing of the rare tape, his travel routes, and the fact that he had walked into the police department inquiring on the murder investigation, made him a likely culprit for the murder. The grocer would often make trips across the Lions Gate Bridge down Pender past Beatty Street, where Jennie’s other shoe was found. Additionally, as Sergeant Matheson theorized, Jennie would have recognized him and could have felt comfortable accepting a ride from him. In the end, however, as Lazarus told the crowd, Matheson was unable to take his theory to the courts and had insufficient evidence to arrest the grocer. Not too long after, the case went cold.
One of the most interesting aspects of Lazarus’s presentation included her relationship with the Conroy family, which grew throughout her investigation. The audience learned that Lazarus had been contacted by Jennie’s niece, Debbie, who had read her blog on the Conroy case a few months back. Debbie offered to put Lazarus in contact with Jennie’s daughter, now 71 years old and living in New Zealand. Jennie’s daughter had a wealth of information on Jennie through her own investigation efforts and, together, the family and Lazarus were able to create a stunning portrait of Jennie for the book. Many of these details were crucial to Lazarus’s investigation and, as Lazarus said, helped create “one of the strongest chapters in the book.”
Those attending the series also had the pleasure of seeing Jennie’s niece in-person, as she was sitting in the crowd, and at the end of the presentation, recalled her family’s reactions and involvement the unravelling of Jennie’s story.
“I believe that the police brushed it under the carpet because it was a woman who was murdered. They were a family without much means, and there was shame and blame,” said Debbie. “I think her investigation was probably bungled and dropped, and I feel she is owed some justice for that.”
A fascinating look into the life of a strong-willed woman and her tragic murder in the early 1940s, this presentation was a thrill from beginning to end.