History: Road Accident Leads to Arrest After Years of Thefts

Reprinted from the January 1952 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Road Accident Leads to Arrest After Years of Thefts
By H. T. Halliwell, Macleod, Alta. 

The most surprising development of cattle rustling in Southern Alberta, whereby thefts extending over a year had baffled police, was the discovery that an heretofore entirely unsuspected local man, owner of Macleod Apiaries, 34-year-old Ernest Wybrants-Maunsell, was the criminal who had played a lone hand, except for the complicity of a 19-year-old married woman with whom he had become entangled.

Maunsell’s record of a respectable citizen, grandson of the widely known Maunsell Bros. of early days, who had served during the war in the Navy, and had married a girl from Auckland, N.Z. was sufficient to put vigilant officers off the track. He had property worth several thousands of dollars in his plant in the vicinity of Macleod, and carried on business on quite an extensive scale under the firm name of Macleod Apiaries.

His first known theft (13 head), which remained a mystery over a year, was from the Calderwood place near Granum on Nov. 7, 1950. The value was $1,700, and they were sold in Edmonton under the alias of Albert Smith. $500 was collected at the time of sale, but for some unexplained reason the accused never collected the balance.

Apparently Wybrants chose this time of the year, when nights were lengthening, thereby permitting more time between sundown and the dawn to carry out his nefarious work, for it is plain that the thefts were carefully planned.

Singularly enough, it was just a year later, Nov. 29, 1951 that Thomas Dimm’s place was the scene of operations, also in the Granum district. Four head were shot in the field, hauled onto his truck by block and tackle and en route north were bled, for when the truck stopped at Okotoks for gas, a pool of blood was left. Even then he managed to evade suspicion, for he returned to his home here after dumping the carcasses near Warburg, when he found they had spoiled through being improperly bled. His suave manner and outward appearance never excited the least suspicion.

Then came the third theft, more daring than the previous two, for he must have spent the best part of a day spotting the cattle of his neighbours, the Hunter Bros., widely known breeders of Herefords. During the night these were corralled in the yards of Community Auction Sales Association of Mekastoe, a C.P.R. siding a mile or two north of Macleod, herded into a three-ton truck and spirited away right through the town of Macleod and eastward towards Moose Jaw, Sask.

There were six two-year-old heifers, two yearling steers and an aged cow, valued at least $13,500.

But for the fact that he dozed while driving the truck, which went into the ditch and spilled the cattle, he might have escaped detection. This was on Saturday, Nov. 30, approximately 24 hours after leaving Mekastoe yards. Finding that the Moose Jaw stockyards were closed, Maunsell is alleged to have partly completed a deal with a farmer who owned land adjacent to the spot where the accident happened. In fact Joe Hunter, who later identified the cattle following their discovery, stated that a price of 28 cents a pound had been agreed on, the farmer having no knowledge of the actual value of these purebred animals.

It was the police investigation into the truck accident which led to the accused’s undoing. He was travelling under an assumed name, had driving licenses and registrations for various trucks he had purchased under the names of Albert Smith and Albert Jones. Also in his possession were registered brand books of Alberta and Sask­atchewan, while subsequent investigation revealed he had bank accounts in Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg and Lethbridge.

The woman in the case, 19-year-old Maureen Horne, mother of an 11-month-old girl, was driving a car and was arrested with Maunsell.

Once the game was up, Maunsell admitted to police he had planned other thefts.

So stunned were farmers in the district that it was young Maunsell, hitherto regarded as a local boy who had made good, who had so cunningly carried out his midnight forays, that hundreds came in for the trial in the stuffy little cubbyhole of a room serving as a court room, formerly a Red Cross work room, instead of in the town hall, where the trial was first announced to take place.

Only a few were able to secure admittance, but those standing around recalled that in earlier days when through necessity ranchers did their own policing against cattle raiders, they carried their lariats and guns for prompt dispatch of justice. In view of the seriousness of the offence, for which the maximum sentence in police magistrate’s court is 15 years, the accused got off lightly with sentences of two years for Dimm’s cattle, two for Calderwood’s and three for Hunter Bros. cattle, all to run concurrently, while Maureen Horne was given a year on the two latter thefts, sentences to run concurrently, in Fort Saskatchewan jail.

So off to Prince Albert penitentiary was hustled a comparatively young man who ruined his reputation and risked his life, had he been caught by someone trigger-happy whose cattle he might have been caught stealing, for being on another man’s property at night and driving his cattle away is not the time for the rightful owner to stop and ask questions.

The only defense by his counsel was that he was $80,000 in debt, had become intrigued with the woman, Maureen Horne, and instead of going into bankruptcy, had taken this method to try and solve his difficulties.

Our History is curated by Gren Winslow. For more of the past from the pages of our magazine see the History section at www.canadiancattlemen.ca.

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