The Vancouver Police Museum is often singled out as one of Vancouver’s most haunted sites for good reason. Built in 1932 and designed by architect Arthur J. Bird, the museum, now a designated heritage building, originally served as the city’s Coroner’s Court, Autopsy Facility and Analyst’s Lab. That means, over the 48 years that the Coroner’s Court and Autopsy Facility were active, the building ushered in many bodies—literally thousands— for refrigeration in the morgue or for autopsies in the autopsy suite.
“I don’t know the exact number of bodies for sure,” says former Museum Director Rosslyn Shipp, “but we do know that there were approximately 20,000 autopsies performed here while it was in service.”
It has witnessed natural deaths, accidental deaths, murders and mysteries—many of which still remain unsolved to this very day. For example, the victims of Vancouver’s first triple homicide, the Pauls family, had their autopsies performed here in 1958, and despite many compelling theories, their killer or killers have yet to be found.
A year later, in 1959, Errol Flynn’s body was brought here after he reportedly took Demerol to relieve back pain at Glen Gould’s uncle’s penthouse in the West End. Gould was a doctor and gave the medicine to Flynn, of course, hoping to relieve his pain. Instead, Flynn went down to rest in a room and never woke up. The Coroner’s report listed the death as “Myocardial infarction; fatty degeneration of the liver; partial cirrhosis of the liver and diverticulosis of the colon,”—all findings that led McDonald to deem the death “as having been due to natural causes.”
Just next to the Morgue, thousands of inquests took place in the Coroner’s Courtroom—each seeking to answer the essential question famously posed by McDonald during his proceedings:
“We have been inquiring to the best of our abilities into the circumstances of someone’s death. That person cannot, of course, be with us today in this courtroom. But, if he, or she, could be present, he would surely want to ask us one very simple and important question, ‘How come I’m dead?’ … If you can find the answer, maybe we can prevent a needless death in the future.”—Judge Glen McDonald from his book co-written with John Kirkwood, How Come I’m Dead?
In 1980, the Coroner Services moved elsewhere, but the City’s Analyst Lab on the ground floor and basement were still in use until 1996. Down here, the city’s best forensic experts examined everything from bullets to blood samples—anything that would guide them towards the cause of a crime, murder or death.
In the basement, the main rooms, including The Blood Drying Room, the Overflow Morgue and the Forensic Lab, all remain relatively intact today—though they are used for different purposes. Frequently, they host police museum staff and volunteers who mull through old archives or examine artefacts for research, safekeeping, proper documentation and exhibit preparation. Occasionally, they welcome authors, reporters and historians who seek information about the city’s crime history.
The former lab is not open to the public. Though, sometimes, small groups, such as those taking part in our Morgue Ghost Tours this month, do get a rare peek inside.
Needless to say, death has always been a large part of the police museum building’s history, and many individuals have seen and heard the otherworldly spirits that still linger around here. Darryl Pearson, founder of NPI, or Northern Paranormal Investigations, is one of these folks. As someone who has been visiting and conducting paranormal investigations in the museum for over 10 years, he has witnessed many things go bump in the night in the building—and has the recordings to prove it.
One recording, for example, suggests the presence of a particularly frustrated spirit who grew tired of NPI’s questions. “Are you tired of interacting with us?” one of the members can be heard asking, after which there is the loud sound of a door closing. Strangely, none of the members heard this noise during the session; but after listening to the recording, they were astonished when the audio revealed the unmistakable sound of a latch bolt clicking into a door strike.
Another recording captured the sound of tiny bare feet running through the autopsy room. Some of his associates, whom Pearson likes to say are ‘sensitives’ like him, claim to have seen or felt the spirit of young boy or girl moving through the halls at one time or another. They believe there is a good chance that these footsteps belong to this child. “They were quiet, but audible enough that we heard them,” Pearson says. “They didn’t sound like shoed footsteps. They sounded like bare feet…you can hear them slap a little bit.” He and his team thought about this for a while and realized that “If you are on the autopsy table, you are definitely not going to have shoes on.”
Sometimes these sessions have a meaningful purpose too. For example, NPI has, on many occasions, asked about the unsolved Pauls murders. “We are always trying to find answers as to what really happened because it’s an unknown… it’s an unsolved murder,” Pearson notes. “In the Autopsy Room and in the main morgue area we have asked questions about where the Pauls were found… and a couple of times, we’ve gotten back: ‘The basement.’” He adds, “But, we know the mother was found in the upstairs hallway, we know the kid was found in the bedroom…but I’ve gone back [to the Morgue] months later and asked the same question: ‘Where were the Pauls killed?’ and still we hear something say ‘Basement.’”
It’s not hard to see why there might be a few ghosts floating around The Vancouver Police Museum. Aside from the bodies it has hosted over the years, it is also home to over 40,000 original police-related archives and artefacts—many of which are original pieces of evidence from true crimes.
For instance, the axe used in the Kosberg murders stands front and centre in the True Crime exhibit, while newly archived weapons that the VPD once seized from criminals and gang members are sprawled out in different rooms as part of the newest “Zombie Apocalypse” exhibit.
Whether you are into all things paranormal or not, the museum is a fascinating place to visit. “Spooky stuff aside,” says Shipp, “we just want to engage the public with interesting Vancouver history as it pertains to policing, justice and important related initiatives. Some say it’s one of Vancouver’s most haunted sites, but there is a lot of other stuff for people to discover here. They can learn about Vancouver’s traffic history, police dogs, firearms, forensics—and yes, true crimes and zombies too.”