The Speaker Series Is Back! Part 1: Seeing the Kosberg Murders in a New Light: Criminologist Heidi Currie Digs Deep with Her Expertise
In the early hours of December 10th,1965 the streets of Vancouver were quiet and chilly, just like any other morning in early winter. On this day, in the suburban area of Main Street and East 22nd Avenue, most families were fast asleep in the warm confines of their modest homes, but would soon wake to horrifying news that would shake the foundation of their idyllic lives. They would learn that, in their tight-knit community, unbeknownst to neighbours and friends, the majority of the Kosberg family was mercilessly murdered in their home with a single double-bitted axe. The killer, to everyone’s horror, was the Kosberg’s eldest son, 16-year old Thomas, who, to most, seemed like a normal teenager in the large family of six—a family that one neighbour said: “…had the nicest, most beautiful children.”
These are some of the Kosberg murder details that have been written, told and shared over the past 52 years, but the facts and criminal proceedings that surround the case are still filled with many unanswered questions, leaving the door open for new insights. Heidi Currie, a criminologist and professor of Mental Health Law at Douglas College, unveiled many of these fascinating new views to a packed crowd in her recent talk at the Vancouver Police Museum’s 2017 Speaker Series: Beyond the Headlines.
Currie began her presentation by pointing out critical deficiencies in the Kosberg murder case, and how these oversights would not stand in today’s vastly different judicial and mental health system. For instance, she revealed that there was no transcript from the trial of Thomas Kosberg, and instead, were only documentations of the amount of time witnesses were interviewed. She also pointed out that current murder and young offenders laws are vastly different, as are forensics, media and the handling of defence of insanity cases.
Delving deeper into the Kosberg murders, Currie highlighted details that many were not familiar with. Specifically:
– Dorothy Kosberg had been entertaining her best friend Florence the night before the murder. Sometime around 11pm, Florence left to go home. Thomas waited for Florence to leave, and for his father to return home from his late shift at the Allied Heat and Fuel Company (roughly 1am) before committing the murders.
– There was a large span of time between the murders and when they were reported (from 1am-7:45am)
Police were notified of the crime at 7:45am by Dr. Bennet Wong, a highly regarded psychiatrist in Vancouver who had been treating Thomas prior to the murders. Thomas drove his father’s 1954 sedan to Dr. Wong’s home in West Vancouver and confessed to him: “I’ve done something awful.”
– The Kosberg house was in a strange state of disarray when entered by police. Photos reveal that most drawers and cupboards were left open, shoe polish and shaving cream were left in the kitchen and beer bottles were strewn everywhere. Most chillingly, the axe had been delicately placed standing against the kitchen stove.
– 13-year old Marianne Kosberg was alive at the time that police found her, and underwent surgery to save her life, but nine days later, would succumb to her serious head and brain injuries.
– 6-month-old Osbourne Kosberg Jr. was found alive and unharmed by police and likely went on to live with family members who lived near by. Presumably he is still alive.
– Thomas Kosberg had been admitted to Crease Clinic (now Riverview)in 1961 at 13 years of age. Crease Clinic, at the time, was a state-of-the-art mental health facility where “patients went to get better.”Thomas had reached out to Dr. Wong two days prior to the murder, but was not able to get a hold of him. Some reports say that Dr. Wong tried to get in touch with Thomas but the messages never reached the teenager.
– It is unconfirmed whether Thomas drugged his family before the murders. Reports have stated that he made them chocolate milkshakes and laced them with sleeping pills, but the evidence has yet to be confirmed.
Based on her investigation of these facts and evidence, Currie highlighted several problems with the way the case was handled. Namely:
– Both the police and media made grand and hasty assumptions about the murder. The most important of which found Thomas “unhinged” or mentally unstable. However, Currie argued that the both Thomas’s admission of doing something “awful,” his meticulous planning of the murder, and the fact that he waited for the victims to be home (also known as “laying in wait”), show a mental capability that was not explored enough by authorities.
– The investigation of why Thomas chose an axe as his weapon would have revealed deep insights into the murder. It was never known if Thomas had used the axe before, why he chose it and how the weapon had factored into his life.
– The state of the house and kitchen seemed unusual for a mother who had been entertaining a guest.
Currie went on to describe the court proceedings two years after the murder as “the fastest I’ve ever heard of…the case was decided before it even went to court.” For instance, witnesses were only interviewed for minutes, and the entire process of assessing Thomas fit to stand trail, declaring him not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) and sending him to Riverview only took hours. In fact, the entire trail for sentencing only took eighty-one minutes in total.
This left many in the audience to ask why the courts would choose to make such a hasty sentence. Currie answered aptly that it was difficult for the public to believe that someone would commit such horrific acts willingly. Labelling Thomas as mentally unhinged (his official diagnosis by doctors was schizophrenia) would offer them solace from the disturbing reality, as most people at the time believed that the mental health system would take care of him—or keep him safe from the general public. She also noted that with his sentence, he would not have to face the death penalty—a punishment that was viewed as “distasteful”, especially for a teenager at the time.
Currie assured the audience that the process and outcome of the case would be extremely different under today’s laws and practices. In particular, there would be a thorough and detailed examination of Thomas’s intent to murder, the events leading up to the murder and his relationships with his family members. Moreover, the trial would involve more witnesses, lengthier testimonies and more detailed assessments of Thomas’s mental state prior, during and after the crime. She noted that Florence, the only witness who saw the family before the murders, was only questioned for nine minutes—a testimony which nowadays would take hours.
At the end of her presentation, Currie spoke of what finally happened to Thomas after he was deemed not criminally responsible for the murders by reason of insanity in 1967. Specifically, he was sent for rehabilitation at Riverview Hospital and, 10 years later, was released in 1977. Doctor’s labelled him as a “sober and sensible” young man who could enter safely back into society at the age of twenty-seven. His release and diagnosis by his psychiatrist at the time, Currie pointed out, are highly inconsistent with the severity of his mental illness, schizophrenia. In particular, most cases see an increase in schizophrenic behaviour with age—especially without modern-day medication and psychological assistance. “Can you have a remission of schizophrenia?” she asked the crowd. “Yes, you can…but not like that. It is extraordinary.” Currie went on to state that, in her opinion, Thomas did not suffer from schizophrenia.
The crowd was left with a final image of Thomas as an older man, found through his obituary in 2016. In it, Thomas was described as having lived a full life as a happily married man who worked at Vancouver Children’s Hospital for over 30 years. It was a conclusion that certainly left many pondering the many complexities surrounding justice, mental health issues and rehabilitation in today’s modern world.
Stay tuned for our next blog on the Unsolved murder of Jennie Eldon Conroy, a 24-year old woman who was found beaten to death with a claw hammer in West Vancouver.
Written by George Dill-Jones, VPM Curatorial Volunteer
The Vancouver Police Museum has recently completed a 3-year digitization and rehousing project. Over 400 glass plate negatives are now scanned, stored in archival quality materials, and available for research!
If you’re interested, we’d like to tell you a bit about what them:
History of Glass Plate Negatives
Glass plate negatives, the precursor to plastic film rolls, were the primary medium on which photographic images were captured from the 1850’s until the 1920’s.
Although photographic processes were first developed in the early nineteenth century, it was not until the 1850’s when Frederick Scott Archer developed the first wet plate glass negative that a widespread interest in photography was established.
In use from 1851 until the 1880’s, wet glass plate negatives were produced by coating a plate with collodion, a solution made of cellulose nitrate and ether. The glass plate was then put into a bath of silver nitrate in order to transform the collodion into more photosensitive silver iodide. At this stage, the photographer had about five minutes to expose the plate in a camera before the solution dried. Finally, the wet plate was developed in a dark room and coated with a varnish for protection. In the 1870’s, the wet plate method was abandoned in favour of the more convenient dry plate method.
First developed in 1871 by Richard Leach Maddox, the dry plate method involved the application of a light-sensitive gelatin emulsion to the plates. The plates were then allowed to dry and could be used for up to several months, unlike the wet plates that had to be used immediately. The glass plates in our collection are of the gelatin dry variety. Dry plates were used extensively up until the 1920’s, when the more convenient celluloid roll film became widespread.
Most of the glass plate negatives in the museum’s collection consist of mug shots and personnel photos taken around 1910 to 1930. In order to preserve the negatives for the future and to facilitate easier access to the images, we felt that it was important to get high resolution digital scans. Not only does this make them easier to view and research, it also reduces the need to handle the originals, meaning that they can stay safe and well preserved in their archival materials.
The glass plates were removed from their original boxes and scanned and saved as both positive and negative images. Each glass plate was given a unique number and any information, including the condition of the plate (for example, was it broken, are scratches or fingerprints present), and anything written on it (such as the names of individuals) was noted and added to a database for future reference. Once the images were saved and the data recorded, the glass plates were each rehoused in individual paper sleeves and placed in archival boxes for storage.
We’ve very happy to have completed this digitization project. It’s nice that we’ve made new items available for research and use, and that the originals are being housed in a way that will keep them around for much longer than they would have been in their original boxes. But in some ways the work has just begun!
Who are these people? What stories can these photos tell? For the mug shot photos, we cannot wait to find out why they were arrested! There is a lot of research ahead of us…
The use and publication of mugshot photos is tricky. Just because someone was arrested, does not necessarily mean that they did anything wrong. Innocent until proven guilty right? So names and any other identifiers for the mug shots will have to remain restricted unless we can find documentation that shows that the person was actually charged with an offence – in which case the information is in the public domain.
But before we dive back into our history books and archives, here’s a quick word from the museum’s curator:
“We hold these items in trust for the people of Vancouver, and it’s a real success to show that we’ve met the highest standards of care and accessibility for them. Thanks to the hard work by our collection volunteers – namely Anna Tidlund and George Dill-Jones – the story of Vancouver has become a bit more complete.”
There’s always lots going on here at the Museum, so make sure you stop by to see what’s new. And if this project sounds like the type of thing you might want to get involved with, don’t hesitate to check out our volunteer page!
Some of our Favourite Photos
The War Years were Rough Years for the VPD
The scale and influence of World War I cannot be exaggerated. Never before had the politics, armies, and lives of every continent been so entangled, caught in the war’s insatiable appetite for resources and destruction. On the local scale, citizens of the young and optimistic city of Vancouver were not only swept up in it all, they delved headfirst into the fray.
In previous posts from our Policing Vancouver in WWI series, we’ve looked at where Vancouver fit in the grand scheme of the War to End all Wars, who the first VPD officers were to volunteer, and how pivotal those four years were to the City. Today, we’ll be exploring the new challenges and responsibilities put on the VPD during the war years of 1914-1918.
Excerpts from the Chief’s Order Books and Annual Reports tell a four-year tale of struggles to man the Department with a severely limited budget, additional responsibilities, and the need to adjust to swiftly changing laws and regulations. The most telling excerpts are listed below:
With pride, the enthusiastic response from VPD officers to join the war overseas was fostered and supported by officials, but the reality of losing manpower was difficult to manage. Chief MacLennan stoically writes in the 1915 Annual Report that the Department was running 31 under its Authorized Strength. By 1917, the pressure of a reduced Department became more apparent in the words chosen in the Annual Report:
“In addition to the forty-one men who volunteered for active service prior to January 1st 1916, twelve men have since joined, making a total of fifty-three men who have been granted indefinite leave for this purpose. This total does not include several men who have resigned their positions to join their old regiments in the Old Country. The places of these men were not filled, and we are now running on an average of 200 men, which is forty-nine men under the latest authorized strength.”
In addition to a low roster, the Board of Police Commissioners handed down multiple budget cuts to the Department. This not only affected the pay of individual officers, but the efficacy of the squads and units.
November 18, 1914, Order No. 860:
“The Board of Police Commissioners have this date temporarily reduced the rates of pay of members of the Department on the following basis, as a war measure, to take effect from November 19th, 1914:
“Over $300/month a reduction of 30%
From 200 to 299/month a reduction of 25%
From 100 to 199/month a reduction of 20%
From $75 to $99/month a reduction of 15%
Under $75/month a reduction of 10%
“In connection with the above order I might state that the Committee has assured me that the reduction is temporary, and that the estimates for 1915 are being made out on the old rate.
“I especially request that the members of the Department refrain from voicing their opinions in regard to the reduction, as it will not help matters.
By order, Chief Constable McLennan”
June 25th, 1915, Order No. 965:
“By order of the Police Commissioners the following scale of wages will go into effect from June 1st, and will continue until times warrant a return to the old rate:
(Sample rates listed)
Chief Constable: $225/month
1st Class Constable: $95/month”
July 16th, 1915, Order No. 980:
“On the recommendation of the Board of Police Commissioners, the Mounted Squad will be reduced from the present standing of eleven men to five men from August 1st or next.
“Sgt. Long will recommend what men will be kept on the Mounted Squad; also what five horses will be disposed of; his recommendation to be in July 20th.
By order, Chief Constable McLennan”
1917 Annual Report:
“At the beginning of the year we were instructed to be as saving as possible, and the estimated expenditure was cut down almost to the breaking point, and after that the City Council saw fit to deduct the sum of $7,802.00 off the total, but by running short-handed we are able, at the close of the year, to show some balance unexpended.”
Despite a cut budget and salaries, individual officers were still able to make more than one charitable donation to the cause of the Great War, and they continued to organize and carry out an annual Christmas Festival for the City’s poor children.
August 5th, 1915, Order No. 992:
“At a meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners held August 3rd, the following resolution was heard:
‘That this board expresses to the members of the Police Department our deep appreciation for the handsome donation subscribed by them for the purchase of one machine gun and a half.’
“The following resolution has also been passed:
‘That in the event of any other members enlisting for service in the war, that they be assured that their positions will be maintained for them until their return to duty, and that the Chief Constable strongly urge on the men, particularly the single men, who have only themselves to look after, to enlist for the service.’
“By order, Chief Constable McLennan”
It’s difficult to say if it was the wage cuts that prompted the creation of a labour union within the Department, or if it was a result of the general pattern of unionization in Vancouver (read more about this in our last post). But unionize they did:
July 3rd, 1918, Order No. 1350:
“By Order of the Board of Police Commissioners, a ballot is to be taken to decide the wishes of the majority of those men eligible to join a Union which is now proposed.
“All men will answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as the question appears on the ballot proper, and an umpire and two scrutineers are appointed to see that votes are taken fairly.
“The votes will be taken as the different shifts are paraded, beginning at or about 4pm this date.
“The ballot will be secret.
“By order, Chief Constable McLennan”
1918 Annual Report:
“In July the members of the Department, below the rank of Inspector, formed themselves into a labour union affiliated with the Trades and Labour Council, although such action was strenuously opposed by myself, my objections being submitted to the Board at the time. Although, so far, nothing serious has resulted therefrom, since being recognized by the Board, it had a tendency to disrupt the workings of the Force for sometime, and subsequently drew criticism of the Department when labour disputes arose.”
The struggles continued. The Great War added responsibilities to the Department’s daily schedule, as did the vote to implement Prohibition in BC.
1914 Annual Report:
“During the year, several important matters out of the ordinary routine of police work came up, which affected the Department very materially.”
August 13th, 1914, Order No. 801:
“The following telegram has been received from the Chief Commissioner of Police at Ottawa. Order in Council passed August 2nd prohibiting the operations of all private wireless telegraph stations whether operating under license or otherwise. Please therefor see that all such are dismantled and wires removed from within your jurisdiction.
“All Inspectors will see that the above is complied with at once.
“By order, Chief Constable McLennan”
1916 Annual Report:
“Owing to the War we have had considerable work in addition to the ordinary routine. We keep a register of alien enemies who report to the Department once every two weeks, and in looking after them it takes up the entire time of one man. A Board dealing with aliens, comprised of the Dominion Immigration Agent, a military officer and myself, meet in my office at 2pm each Tuesday.”
Read more about alien enemies in Vancouver here.
1917 Annual Report:
“Many labour disputes were settled during the year, which necessitated a great deal of attention by this Department, as was also the case in connection with the Military Service Act, and other duties concerning the Great War.”
September 19, 1917, Order No. 1223:
“A lecture in connection with the Prohibition Act is to be given by Mr. R.S. Maitland, Prosecuting Attorney at 4:30pm in Courtroom at Police Headquarters Thursday 20th. No 1 and 3 Reliefs and all members not on actual duty, are to attend.
“Will endeavour to arrange a lecture for No. 2 relief later.
“By order, Chief Constable McRae”
October 5th, 1917, Order No. 1233:
“All members of the Department are hereby requested to report any violations of the Prohibition Act which may come to their notice and Sergeant and Constables will be held largely responsible for the enforcement of the Act in their respective districts and beats.
“Until further notice, all cases, where they suspect liquor is unlawfully trafficked in, are to be reported to DCC Leatherdale or Inspector of Detectives as speedily as possible with necessary particulars, excepting cases requiring immediate attention (where much must be left to a man’s own judgement). Any Constable should if possible get the assistance of a Sergeant or other officer to investigate. In all cases where constables are in doubt as to violators’ appearing on summons they should be brought to the notice of DCC Leatherdale or Inspector of Detectives for discussion.
“By order, Chief Constable McRae”
1918 Annual Report:
“A great many matters somewhat foreign to regular Police work occupied the attention of the Department during the year, and with a depleted staff, we were called upon to burden many additional responsibilities. The extra duties caused by the Great War, Labour Disputes, Enforcement of the Prohibition Act and the formation of a labour union by members of the Force, all added to make the year a particularly strenuous one.”
As difficult as things were at home for members of the Vancouver Police Department, it paled in comparison to the horror being lived on the battlefield in Europe. In the next instalment of Policing in Vancouver in WWI, we’ll commemorate the nine VPD officers who did not return to their city and loved ones after the war, having made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield.
On this Remembrance Day, and every other day, we are every grateful for the dedication and sacrifice made to preserve the peace, both abroad and at home. Lest we forget.
Written by Naomi Nguyen, VPM Curatorial Assistant.
During the collections rehousing project done this summer several police training notebooks from the 1940s and 1950s were unearthed from among the artifacts. One in particular caught my eye as I was flipping through on my way to depositing it in the archives. It was Sergeant Jack W. McKinnon’s training notebook for the Supervisor’s class from 1957.
What grabbed my attention were the comic like illustrations at the beginning of each section. At first I thought they were printed title pages, a part of every officer’s notes, but soon realized Sgt. McKinnon was a talented artist with some doodling time during class. But Sgt. McKinnon’s talents extend far beyond paper. His brilliant illustrations led to the rediscovery of a dynamic member of the force who won “wild gunfights” and was behind the wheel in the “Foster car chase” in the late 1930s – the days of the “Blue Sedan Bandits”.
Jack W. McKinnon was born in 1903 and joined the Vancouver Police Force as a constable in 1930. By 1935 he was acknowledged for his courage with the award of an engraved gold watch for “Conspicuous Gallantry” for his role in the car chase and capture of the Blue Sedan Bandits.
In the summer of 1935 Sgt. McKinnon (then Constable) was Chief Foster’s official driver. Together they spent their evenings out on prowler calls and patrolling the streets of Vancouver’s summer night life. Sergeant McKinnon had recalled that summer in a newspaper article from 1959 saying: “I worked 16 hours a day […] those were the days of the ‘Blue Sedan’ and ‘Silk Stocking’ bandits, when it was not uncommon to have 10 hold-ups a night”. The “Blue Sedan Bandits” or “Silk Stocking Gang”, so named for the type of car they favoured and stole as getaway vehicles and the silk stockings they used as masks, were an annoyance and embarrassment to the VPD. The gang had been preying on local shopkeepers all summer and managed to escape the VPD’s grasp every time. But on the evening of September 21st the Blue Sedan Bandits were finally busted.
A smoking police car riddled with shots and broken glass has stopped in the middle of the street as if from a screeching halt. In front of the police car an equally wrecked blue Sedan is piled up on the sidewalk with all four doors left swung open. Across the scene two policemen are in hot pursuit of four bandits running for their lives. One officer shoots and a bandit falls. The other three escape amid the chaos of their fallen member.
Reads like a scene from CSI: Miami doesn’t it? Imagine that street being 6th Avenue and Maple Street right by the railroad tracks and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 178, a little up from Delamont Park and Kitsilano Community Garden. Imagine it being a cool Vancouver evening at around 10:30pm when the tail end of summer meets the beginning of fall.
What started as a regular patrol turned into a car chase and shootout when over the radio Sgt. Foster and Cst. McKinnon heard that the bandits had struck again at Mitchell’s Drug Store, close to their location. They were driving over the Granville Bridge when the call went out and they looked up to see the robber’s freshly stolen blue sedan coming toward them from the other side. Cst. McKinnon flipped the car around and the pursuit started.
They raced east down Broadway. The bandits were not giving up without a fight. They broke the back window of the sedan and men with silk stockings over their heads began shooting at Cst. McKinnon and Chief Foster through the smashed glass. The chase went on through Kitsilano for almost 4km with the bandits shooting at them with revolvers and a sawed-off shotgun. At Maple Street and 6th Avenue the bandits took the corner too quickly and smashed their getaway car into the sidewalk. All parties jumped out of their vehicles and the pursuit continued on foot.
It was Cst. McKinnon who brought down the first Blue Sedan Bandit. He fired his revolver and shot Elmer Almquist in the shoulder. Almquist was arrested but his accomplices managed to disappear into the darkness. Later that evening two more arrests were made when Almquist squealed on his fellow stocking-clad bandits, but the fourth man was never identified. They had finally caught the bandits.
From the Vancouver Sun article (October 21, 1935) of concluding court sentences for two of bandits the punishment was as follows:
“Almquist was sentenced to seven years on one charge of shooting with intent to kill; five years to run concurrently for robbery with violence in connection with the holdup of Mitchell’s drug store the same night. The 15 strokes of the paddle were ordered in connection with the holdup in which Mrs. Mitchell, wife of the store owner, was the victim, being in charge of the shop at the time. Gates received five years concurrently on each of three charges of robbery with violence and 15 strokes of the paddle for hold up of the Mitchell store.”
Sgt. McKinnon’s wild story is only one of the millions hiding in the Vancouver Police Museum’s collection and archives. I wonder what we’ll stumble upon next!
And here’s the man himself: