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Domenico Melis (1869-1914)

Highlights of History from The Whitehorse Star

The Whitehorse Pioneer Cemetery

The Weekly Star - Friday, June 19, 1914

Headline: Floater in River Victim of Murder, 1914


    But little more than passing interest was aroused on Thursday of last week, June 11, when it become known around town that the body of a man had been found afloat in the river at this place, such thing not being unusual in this country where so many people travel by small boat. But when it was stated that the body was trussed between poles, the affair assumed a different phase.

    That nothing, no matter how insignificant, ever gets past the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, is bourne out by the noble record of that body of men, not only in Yukon, but elsewhere and wherever the "Law Bringers" of the North are known. The floater here was no exception. Captain Acland, commanding the force here, at once detailed Sergeant L. McLauchlan on the case. A coroner's jury, Police Magistrate Taylor as acting coroner, was at once empanneled composed of the following residents: C. H. Johnston, H. Eskrigge, O. Dickson, C. W. Cash, Geo. Wilson, R. B. Hyett. The jury viewed the body and adjourned subject to developments which, with Sergeant McLauchlan at work, were not long in maturing.


    On the body of the dead man was found clothing such as is sold at the store of J. R. Alguire at the Pueblo mine. In a pocket of the clothes were found two door keys. Inquiry revealed that a miner formerly employed at the mine had rented a flat in the Bissler house from the agent, Captain P. Martin. The house was visited, the keys were tried and found to fit the two doors of the flat. Investigation also showed that two Italians had occupied the flat until sometime after the first of February when one of them disappeared and was supposed to have gone over the trail toward Dawson. Between the 10th and 20th of February the other Italian left for Dawson, pulling a handsled. The first one to disappear had an open account at both the A. T. Co. store and Alguire's, the latter at the mine. He was not seen at either place after February 4.


    The first thing attempted by the police was to establish the identity of the dead man beyond all question. This was not hard to accomplish. Other Italians from the mine were called upon. They minutely described features and scars on the body of Dominico Melis as they had known him in life. A fire in a coal mine in which he had been employed had scarred his face, chest and one leg. These scars were clearly apparent and were pointed out by the witnesses to the jury and coroner, the nature and character of the scars being professionally attested by the medical men in attendance and who conducted the post mortem.


    While Dr. W. B. Clarke of this place had the post mortem of the body in charge, he requested assistance and consultation which the police provided by wiring Dr. W. G. Gabie of Skagway, who arrived on Monday's train and who verified all the findings and conclusions reached by Dr. Clarke. The two doctors worked in the post mortem until a late hour Monday night and nearly all day Tuesday. On the latter date Photographer Hamacher was called in and made five different pictures of the wounds of the body after they had been laid bare by the medical men.


    The post mortem revealed that the scull had been broken into many pieces, one side of the jawbone and nine ribs broken, the doctors testifying that such was evidently accomplished, possibly by an ax, but more likely by a club such as a baseball bat or a heavy bottle. There is evidence that the head was given many blows, any one of which, both doctors asserted, would have produced death.


    It is not believed the murder was premeditated or for the purpose of robbery, the latter being out of the question as Melis was known to be practically out of money. Rather, it is believed to have resulted from a drunken quarrel in which the murderer became a veritable gladiator. Having killed Melis, the revelers realized the seriousness of what they had done and set about to conceal their crime by disposing of the body. Naturally the river offered the best place of concealment and to the river it was taken, the poles in which the body was trussed being no doubt used to aid in carrying it. It is now believed that the body was carried to near the Whitehorse Rapids and there cached between or under some of the immense pieces of ice which remained piled up in the vicinity of the rapids after the river closed and the ice jammed until it was from ten to eighteen feet high in many places near the rapids. That the body remained there practically in cold storage until the ice melted and the water raised sufficient to wash it out and carry it down the river eight days ago is plausible. The fact that the rubber in the sleeve-holders on the victim's arms was as good us new when the body was found, is conclusive evidence that it had been in the water but a short time. This, with other conditions of the body, bear out the theory that it was cached in heavy ice when disposed of.

    (In this connection, the Star is requested to ask all persons who photographed the huge ice cakes at and near the rapids or elsewhere on the river this spring, to favor the police with copies of the pictures taken in order that they may be used in court in proving the condition of the river and ice at the time the body is supposed to have been hidden away.)


    After hearing the evidence of Drs Clarke and Gabie, as well as that of a number of other witnesses, including miners and others employed at the Pueblo mine who had known Melis while working there, the coroner's jury concluded its investigations Wednesday evening and returned a verdict, the substance of which is that Dominico Melis came to his death by violence at the hands of some party or parties to the jury unknown. Coroner Taylor thanked the members of the jury for their zealous efforts in investigating the case and dismissed them from further service.


    Descriptions of the Italian Caesari, the room mate of Melis in the Bissler house, and of a man named Ganley, who is known to have associated with the two Italians considerably during the winter, having been wired to Dawson, both men were taken into custody at that place on Wednesday and will be brought back here on an early steamer. Caesari and Ganley both left here over the trail and on foot within a few days after Dominico Melis was last seen alive. It is confidently believed by the police that they can throw some light on the cause of the latter's death.


    Too much ┬óredit cannot be given the police, Captain Acland and Sergeant McLauchlan, for the very perfect and systematic manner in which they have so far conducted the case, the latter having shown remarkable skill in framing a network of evidence which gives every promise of solving what at first looked to be a complex mystery, but which is being worked out by a process of simple addition and wise deduction. The people of Whitehorse are not sparing in their praise of the manner in which the case is being handled and they feel that the final solution of the mystery is not far distant.

    The body of Melis, which is in charge of Undertaker J. D. Durie, will not be buried until an order is issued from the court to that effect.


Special to the Star

    DAWSON, June 18. - Romollio Caesari and George Ganley were arrested here yesterday and charged with the murder of Dominico Melis at Whitehorse in February. They admit that they were partners of the murdered man. They will probably be taken to Whitehorse soon for preliminary hearing.

The front page of the newspaper is seen below.

Headline: Floater in River Victim of Murder, 1914

The Weekly Star - Friday, June 26, 1914

Headline: In Jail At Dawson. Ramollia Caesari and George Ganley Held for Murder, 1914

    There have been practically no developments during the past week in the Dominico Melis murder case. As stated in last week's paper, two men, Caesari and Ganley, were arrested at Dawson, charged with the crime. The Dawson Daily News of the 18th has the following concerning the arrest of the two men:

    Ramollia Caesari, an Italian, and George Ganley, an Irishman, were arrested by the police yesterday, and are in jail in Dawson on charges in connection with the murder of Dominico Melis, an Italian, whose body was found in the river at Whitehorse last week. The arrests followed quickly on arrival of information here from Whitehorse. Ganley was located in the Yukon Gold camp at 22 above on Bonanza, where he was working, and within eight hours of instructions to make the arrest he was in custody and on the way to town. He did not resist arrest, but precaution was taken by the officers not to take any risks in arresting him.

    Caesari was located on the street in Dawson, and placed under arrest without resistance. Both men admit they were associated with Melis at Whitehorse. Other than this there is no statement from them. They probably will be taken to Whitehorse within a few days for the preliminary hearing. The warrant for the arrest was issued there.

    Ganley was easily distinguished by an injured eye.

    Caeseri has one eye missing entirely, but he had been going about at Whitehorse and here with it closed. On looking for the man at the time of making the arrest the police found him with two wide staring eyes, and were therefore somewhat puzzled, but it was found after the arrest was made that one of the eyes is glass.

    Caesari was under arrest here within fourteen hours after the word arrived that he was wanted. He was located at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon while walking along First avenue. He has been here, living in a cabin, since his arrival. He and Ganley walked into Dawson from Whitehorse over the winter trail this spring. The police have been watching their movements more or less ever since, and there was not much difficulty in tracing them up here. Caesari speaks practically no English, and when he was taken to jail an interpreter was secured. Both men were warned that whatever they said might be used against them as evidence. They had practically nothing to say, it is understood, beyond admitting that they had been associated at Whitehorse with Melis.