Murder in James Bay

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The following story is an excerpt from Sensational Victoria: “Murders in the Capital.”

A few years after the Bests’ bought their James Bay home, a young woman knocked on the door and asked if she could come and take a look inside. She told them that her grandparents had lived in the cottage in the 1950s and she’d grown up believing that they were killed in a car crash.

This unassuming James Bay home was the site of a brutal murder in 1956. Eve Lazarus photo, 2012
This unassuming James Bay home was the site of a brutal murder in 1956. Eve Lazarus photo, 2012

It was only recently, she told Paul Best, that she discovered that her grandfather Chester Pupkowski had died in a mental hospital for the criminally insane, more than 40 years after stabbing and bludgeoning her grandmother to death in their kitchen.

“We had a bad feeling from the guy we bought the house from, but we could never put our finger on it,” says Best. “My wife had a gut feeling that this house needed to be cleaned, so we did a sage brush burning to give it some good energy and then 10 years later we found out about the murder.”

The Pupkowski’s bought the yellow and brown house in 1955. They lived there with their eight year old son, and Robina, an older woman who lived with them.

The couple met in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland and came to Canada via Germany. People saw them as a quiet and unassuming part of the local Polish community. Chester, 48, was short with blonde hair and glasses. He spoke little English, was a butcher by trade, but no longer worked and was often seen puttering around in the garden. Cecelia was friendly and always working. When she wasn’t in the kitchen at the Empress Hotel she cleaned houses to pay the mortgage and support the family.

pupkowskimurder1956

The week before the murder, Chester collapsed on the street and was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital. He was discharged after seeing a psychiatrist who described him as being in a “nervous state.”

On Saturday morning March 24, 1956 Cecelia had just returned from work. Their little boy was playing at a friend’s house, and Robina was taking a walk in Beacon Hill Park. At 2:45 p.m. George Warwick was standing outside his home when he heard a woman`s scream coming from the Pupkowski house. Warwick rushed inside and called police. When he came outside he saw Chester covered in blood, half walking, half running towards Holland Point. Shocked onlookers watched as Chester waded up to his neck in the freezing ocean and started beating his head against a floating log. Police arrived and dragged Chester from the water as he pleaded with them: “Shoot me, shoot me, I want to die.”

Pupkowskiheadshots1956

At the same time, a second squad found Cecelia’s body sprawled on the kitchen floor, her throat slashed and her head battered in. Chester never stood trial. He was sent to Essondale (Riverview Hospital) where he stayed until his death. Their son was placed in a foster home and likely had his name changed to distance himself from the tragedy. Evidently, he grew up, married and had a least one child.

“She only came the once,” says Best of the Pupkowski’s granddaughter. “We never saw her again.”

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11 comments

    1. And, what I found really interesting was that the new owners, knowing nothing about what happened in this house, felt that there was something wrong, and went through a cleansing when they moved in.

  1. Yes, a terrible story! And one that I have been familiar with all my life. George Warwick is my dad. He actually owned the house at one point. Is this the complete story from your book or is this a shortened version?

  2. Hi Eve.

    Have you ever come across a 1963 book by F W Lindsay called “The BC Outlaws”? Unfortunately I lost my copy several years back but I did see a copy fairly recently belonging to my cousin. The book has several chapters on noted BC “bad guys”. Two stood out for me, the chapter on the McLean Gang, and the David Clark/Halden family case from Quesnel in the 1920’s. The latter is one of the creepiest “disappearance” cases I’ve come across, but I’ve never read about it anywhere else. If you know the Lindsay book and the case, I’m sure you agree: If you haven’t seen the book, it’s worth checking out! Cheers, Charles.

  3. Ich finde das echt gruselig weil mein Bruder Mirko pupkowski mich 2008 fast und seine Freundin Rita umgebracht hat und unsere Kinder waren auch dabei

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