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Escaped convict threatens to "burn the whole country"

Arctic & Northern Biographies

Crime & Policing in the North

The Yukon Sun - January 15, 1903

    When Thomas B. Grimsey was arrested for theft a short time ago he uttered a torrent of imprecations and declared that he would make his escape and burn the whole country. He has escaped, and despite the most careful search by the police had up to an early hour this morning evaded capture.

    That Grimsey will attempt to carry his threat into execution is believed by all who know him. He is deemed one of the most desperate characters with whom the police have had to deal in many months. It is regarded as likely by many that he may plan to lie in hiding until the hue and cry is abating, then to hold up a few people to get money and arms, and finally to set fire to the city and endeavor to make his escape.

    The escape from custody was made while Grimsey was working on the police water wagon. The wagon had just been taken to the stable. While his escort was attending the team of horses the daring man quietly slipped around the stable and cut along the slough lying behind it. That he had gone was discovered within a few seconds but when the escort got to the corner of the stable Grimsey had disappeared in the dense fog at that time bordering the swamp.


    The alarm was at once given and Major Cuthbert, the officer commanding, notified. He in turn acquainted Sergt. Smith with what had occurred. Detective Welsh was summoned and patrols were immediately organized under the direction of Sergeant Smith, Corporal Piper and others and a search made.

    No trace of the fugitive was discovered either up or down the river. He is believed to be some place in the city. Without food or arms, it would be suicidal for him to attempt to leave Dawson. The theory is entertained that he may have friends here, on whom he can depend for food and shelter until be has a chance to try to carry his plans into execution.

    The fugitive convict was arrested on two charges of theft by Sergeant Smith, Detective Welsh and Constable McMillan on December 20. When he was searched at the guard room a large butcher knife was found in his belt. It had recently been sharpened and had an edge of razor-like keenness. In his pockets were a dozen 45-calibre Colt revolver cartridges. The revolver was found in his room.

    The weapons and other circumstances gave the authorities the impression that Grimsey intended to go in to the "stick up" business. His demeanor was most defiant after his arrest and at times his criminal nature was manifested by his breaking into tears, due to a knowledge that his rage was impotent.


    "You may put me on the wood pile as long as you want to," he shouted angrily, "but I will get square and you can depend on it. I'll burn the whole country when I get out. That's what I'll do."

    When Grimsey was taken into the police court on two charges of theft he pleaded not guilty to one but when he found the evidence to be so damaging he threw up the sponge on the second. He wept freely in begging the court for mercy, his subsequent actions showing that he is a good actor as well as a desparate man.

    I was blind drunk when I did it, judge," he moaned. "I will plead guilty and get all the leniency I can. I have not made enough money this winter to support myself. This is the first time I was ever arrested. I have a wife and four children in Seattle and I hope you'll come down easy on me."

    In consideration of the man's family and the fact that it was the first time he had appeared in the police court his lordship permitted the two sentences, each for six months, to be served concurrently.


    Grimsey was accused of the theft of a bear skin coat from Porter's blacksmith shop in South Dawson. He was also charged with stealing a Winchester rifle of 30-30 calibre, belonging to one Thomas, from the same shop. The evidence in both cases was worked up by Sergeant Smith and Detective Welsh, and that their labor was of the scientific kind was shown by the attitude of the prisoner when he learned how conclusively is guilt had been shown.

    W. H. Walker, the owner of the coat, identified it and swore he had left it at Porter's shop. C. W. Porter corroborated the testimony as regards the coat being left at his place of business.

    Charles Titcomb, connected with a second-hand store on Princess street, identified the coat as one sold him by the prisoner. Grimsey signed himself as W. S. Allen. The prisoner and the seal skin coat given him in exchange for the fur coat, were identified by Titcomb. George E. Nichols witnessed the transaction in the second-hand store. Charles Stewart, a bartender in the Nugget saloon, swore the prisoner had left the seal skin coat there, saying a man would call for it.


    Constable McMillan furnished the police end of the story in part after Walker reported the loss of his coat. Sergeant Smith testified that when Grimsey was taken to the town station Detective Welsh had him write his own name and that of W. S. Allen. Both signatures were in the same handwriting as that placed in the second-hand store's entry book.

    Grimsey said his own witnesses, by whom he expected to prove an alibi, were out of the country. In commenting on the case his lordship remarked that in cross-examining Witness Nichols the prisoner's questions tended to show him guilty of the theft.

    As regards the rifle it was proved by John Dowdall, a second-hand shop keeper, that he had secured it from the prisoner on Depember 18 for a 45-calibre Colt revolver. Grimsey there signed the name of J. H. Jones. He identified Grimsey and also both weapons. They were offered in evidence. The revolver was found in Grimsey's room by Sergeant Smith and Detective Welsh.


    At this point Grimsey broke down. His lordship remarked that he would be just as useful to his family in jail as out of it.

    When you are released from prison, it will be the best time I can think of for you to start back for Seattle, even if you have to walk," said the court.

    This remark of his lordship seemed to anger the prisoner intensely and he glared fiercely at Sergeant Smith and Detective Welsh, whom he looked on as the cause of all his trouble. As he passed out of the door to his confinement he walked close to the sergeant and hissed: "I'll not be behind the bars more than a month. When I get away you watch out for me. Remember what I said - I'll burn the whole country to get even with you fellows."

Thomas Grimsey, escaped convict, Dawson City, Yukon, 1903

    The hardened prisoner was in jail just twenty-six days from the time of his arrest. He was sentenced on December 23 and escaped at 5:30 o'clock yesterday evening. The patrols will continue to scour the country for him today, as they did all last night.


    The accompanying picture was furnished the Sun by the police to aid in the work of capture. It must be borne in mind by the public, however, that Grimsey is now clean shaven. He had a short stubble on his face when he escaped. His description, by which he may best be identified, is as follows:

    Age, 46; weight 165 pounds; complexion, sallow; eyes, brown; height, 5 feet 4½ inches; hair, dark brown; teeth small, uneven and discolored; has a triangular scar from the right side of the nose to the corner of the mouth, another on the left temple, a circular scar on the right elbow, and scars below the right kneecap and on the inside line of the great toe of the left foot.

    On January 20, 1903, with the temperature nearing -60°F, Thomas B. Grimsey was captured at woodchopper John Brown's cabin on Swede Creek, about 10 miles from Dawson. He was in bed, and there was no struggle, though he had said he wouldn't be taken alive.

    Back in Dawson, although he could have had 2 years added to his sentence, Justice Macaulay only added one year, commenting: "Your efforts were so futile that I do not deem it necessary to impose the full penalty. I do not think for a moment that any one can escape from the police in this country."