Vancouver Bank Officials Commit Suicide; Bodies Found in the Woods

Brown and Canby Confessed Their Guilt to Examiner Maxwell—Cashier Leaves a Touching Note to his Wife

VANCOUVER, Wash., April 21—Charles Brown and E.L. Canby, respectively president and cashier of the defunct First National Bank, who disappeared Friday night, are dead. With a cold-blooded premeditation unparalleled in the annals of desperate deeds, they went out into the woods a mile from Vancouver Friday night, and within an hour from the time they had quitted the place where they had lived for years, shot themselves with the same revolver. Their bodies were found this morning by a searching party from Vancouver.

When found, the bodies were facing each other, Canby’s leaning against a stump, and Brown’s against a small thicket. Their feet were not two feet apart. The revolver which ended both their lives was in Brown’s hands, showing that Canby died first; that he shot himself in Brown’s presence, and that Brown, after waiting to see whether or not the shot was fatal, reached over and taking the gun from his friend’s lifeless hand, ended his own life.

Nothing was wanting to complete the ghastly coincidence. Both men shot themselves in the mouth. After the blood was washed away, not a mark was discernible on the body of either. A slight discoloration on the back of Canby’s left ear showed that the bullet in his head had almost but not quite reached the surface.

Confessed Before Fleeing

Prior to the flight from Vancouver, both men confessed their guilt to Bank Examiner Maxwell. No doubt is left behind that they willfully and knowingly violated the banking laws, and that in doing so they left a trail of poverty, bankruptcy, and woe behind them. The scenes that transpired in the private office of the bank a few moments prior to their flight might well baffle the pen of the most vivid dramatist of the time.

Mr. Maxwell worked on the books nearly all day Friday, with both Canby and Brown in the bank. During the day he became satisfied that things were in very bad shape. Finally he called for the private books and papers. This convinced Canby that the inspector was on the right track, and that in a few moments the condition of the bank would be laid bare. Maxwell was working at a high bookkeeper’s desk in the rear room of the bank with his back toward Canby, when the latter called out in a nervous tone, “Oh, Maxwell”.

“Well, what is it?” asked the inspector, turning around.

“I may as well own up, old man,” replied Canby. “You’ve caught us. You’ve got onto this thing. No other man ever did, but you have learned it all. There’s nothing left but for me to blow my brains out.”

Saying this, Canby picked up a revolver which was on another table in the room and dallied with it for a moment. Maxwell made a leap for him to take the gun away, but Canby ran out of the room into a passageway and held the door fast after him. Maxwell hurried into the main room of the bank where Brown was and exclaimed:
” For God sake, go in there: that man is going to kill himself!”

Brown was perfectly self-possessed. Not a muscle flinched as Maxwell made the astounding statement. He walked quickly back into the rear room and out into the passageway, where he and Canby remained alone for several moments. Every instant the examiner expected to hear the pistol shot that would send Canby into eternity, but it did not come. After a few moments waiting, the two bank officers came back into the rear room where Maxwell was. Canby still held the revolver.

“It isn’t my fault that I’m not dead,” he remarked to Maxwell. “This gun wouldn’t go off.”

“Let me look at it,” requested Maxwell, and Canby passed it over. Mr. Maxwell promptly put it in his pocket.

President Brown’s statement

“Mr. Brown,” queried Maxwell, “are you a party to the condition of this bank? Have you been in this thing, too?”

“Yes,” replied Brown coolly. “I’m equally guilty. I have known all about it all the time.”

The three then discussed the condition of the bank for some moments. This part of the conversation Mr. Maxwell will not divulge, but after talking to Brown and Canby for a few moments, he announced his intention to close the bank, and to take possession of what cash was on hand. The three went out to the main room where Mr. Maxwell counted the cash. Realizing that he was in the presence of two desperate men, who were looking death in the face without a tremor, Mr. Maxwell would not go into the vault, but instead asked Brown to put the cash away, which the latter willing did.

When everything was in order, Canby again remarked there was nothing for him and Brown to do but kill themselves. Brown said nothing, but by his silence seemed to acquiesce in his friend’s morbid view of the situation. He reached down and took another revolver off a shelf under the counter and put it in his pocket. Then he and Canby left. A few people saw them go up the street in a northerly direction, and they were no more until their bodies were found this morning.

Mr. Maxwell, after placing a guard at the ferry to see that Brown and Canby did not leave town that way, wired for the United States District Attorney, who arrived last night. All day yesterday, as told in The Oregonian, the disappearance of the two men was the sole topic of conversation, and the result proved that those who entertained the suicide theory hit upon the correct solution.

Mr. Gay, after consultation with Mr. Maxwell, drew up a complaint charging Brown and Canby with making a false entry of $10,000 in their books on January 19 last. The purpose of this entry was to show that the bank had a deposit of that sum in a New York bank, whereas it did not have such a deposit. This entry involved four offenses—embezzlement, misapplication of funds, falsifying the books of the bank, and making a false report to the Controller of the Currency.

There is no United States Commissioner in Vancouver, and the complaint was made to Judge A.L. Miller of the Superior Court of Clark County, who issued a warrant for the arrest of the two men. This warrant was placed in the hands of Sheriff Marsh.

By this time it was late at night, and the Sheriff decided not to organize his searching party until the next morning. In the meantime, Chatfield Knight, a resident of Vancouver, found Canby’s umbrella and Brown’s bicycle a short distance from town, and this fact led to the belief that the men had started on foot for Kalama, with the intention of taking the train to Puget Sound at that place.

At 7 o’clock this morning a searching party was organized, consisting of the following persons: Chatfield Knight, M.R. Sparks, Milton Evans, Will DuBois, M.L. Coovert, O.H. Smith, O. H. Peebles, S.P. Gaither, C.P. McCarthy, Jack Bissener, J.A. Webber and James A. Munday. Striking out north of town, the party proceeded for about a mile. T.B. Rand, a farmer living in the neighborhood, reported that he heard two shots Friday evening between 7 and 8 o’clock, about an hour after the men left the bank. Subsequent developments showed that this must have been about the time that the two men committed suicide.

The party had crossed the railroad track of the Portland, Vancouver, and Yakima a short distance when Mr. Munday, who had separated from the others, found the bodies. He called out to the others and they quickly joined him. The search was ended.
Coroner Burt was summoned, and under his direction the bodies were brought to the city. Hurriedly impaneling a jury, the Coroner held an inquest and the jury promptly found that the two men had met death by their own hands.
On Canby’s body was found about $35 in money and his gold watch, which was still running. Brown had 10 cents loose in his pocket and $25 wrapped up in paper addressed to his daughter, Mrs. E.L. Carpenter.

Canby’s last message

On Canby’s person, scribbled on the back of a billhead in lead pencil was his last message to his wife. It read:

My Dear Wife: I feel that what I am about to do is for the best. Forgive me if you can, and try to live for our dear children. God bless you all! Forgive me.
April 19th, 1901, E.L. Canby

In addition to this penciled note was found a receipt for a life insurance premium on a policy of $10,000 taken out in the Penn Mutual on March 30th. There is some question as to whether or not this policy has been delivered, or whether it will be paid. Canby carried, in addition, $3,000 on his life, while Brown is said to have carried about $15,000.

Canby was 52 years of age. He lived in Vancouver for 18 years. Prior to his appointment as cashier of the bank in 1883, he was a paymaster’s clerk in the regular Army. His brother, Colonel James P. Canby, is now a retired paymaster in the Army, and lives in Denver, Colo. Canby was married to Miss Frances Burnside, daughter of the Portland pioneer. He left four children, the oldest of whom is a boy between 16 and 17.

Brown was a few years older than Canby. He came to Vancouver in 1862, along with his father, who was appointed the first receiver of the Vancouver Land Office by President Lincoln. Brown was born in Rhode Island and married in that state. He left three grown daughters, only one of whom is married. She is Mrs. B.L. Carlton of Westport, Wash. Brown’s aging father is still living on a farm near Vancouver.

The funeral of Brown will be held tomorrow afternoon, and that of Canby, Tuesday afternoon. The wives of both men are prostrated, and Mrs. Brown may not recover.

Causes of the Failure

Examiner Maxwell still refuses to make any statement concerning the condition of the bank or the causes of its failure. One is therefore left to surmise as best he may from statements of intimate friends of the dead officers as to what caused the failure. The original impression that it was due to bad speculations commenced during the boom times of 1889 and 1890 still remains. No one believes that any recent bad investment has caused the failure, but that the bank officers have been forced constantly to make false entries to cover up the insolvent condition of the institution. Through all the years that have intervened they had been forced to carry constantly on their minds the fact that almost any time they might be forced to close their doors. In fact, as Canby himself remarked to Inspector Maxwell, “It can’t mean anything but the penitentiary.”

Both men were of very modest habits. Both were family men, and Canby, whose children are still young, simply idolized them. On their way out of town, he stopped at a corner where one of them is accustomed to play, and seemed to be waiting, in view of subsequent events, to catch a last sight of him. He was forced to leave without seeing him.

Of course there is much conjecture, and many people profess to believe that Canby has of late been speculating in order to gain money to bolster up the bank, and that his speculation has merely resulted in throwing good money after bad. There is no confirmation of these rumors, however, but Mr. Maxwell will endeavor by every possible means to get at the bottom of the failure before he goes away. Canby was given to taking chances, and it is said that minting stock had a peculiar fascination for him.

The idea of appealing to their friends never seemed to have occurred to the two men. It is said that they could have raised enough money at any time to tide them over, had they only asked for it; but the plan of confession does not seem to have entered their minds.

No one knows what the bank will be able to pay. Its asset are not rated very high, and since Mr. Maxwell has discovered that one of statement of its reserve funds has been falsified, it is feared that others will be found in the same condition. The case of one depositor is pathetic in the extreme. He is an old man named Potter. He has his wife had been tilling a farm near Vancouver for years and years, and by toil and hardship had saved up $1800, which was deposited in the bank. It represented the labor of a lifetime. This morning the old man’s wife died. He will probably follow her soon.

Ankeny Aides Solicited

Today a committee of prominent men, including Dr. A.B. Eastham, George H. Stevenson, Lloyd Dubois, Judge A.L. Miller and George W. Stapleton, visited Levi Ankeny, the well-known millionaire, Walla Walla banker, who is visiting Portland and asked him to take up the assets of the bank and try to place it on its feet again. Mr. Ankeny was unable to give the committee a positive answer owing to the fact that the bank’s condition has not been made public. He is said to be willing to place the bank on its feet but provided the depositors are willing to let their money remain after it is reopened.

Scott Swetland says an injustice was done him in Sunday’s Oregonian by the statement that he had expressed joy that the bank had failed. What he did say, he says, was that he was glad Canby and Brown, whom he had warned the public against over a year ago, when the capital stock of the bank was reduced, had been unmasked. Swetland says he is sorry for the unfortunate depositors, and for the businessmen of Vancouver who have been embarrassed by the failure.

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