The story behind a 1924 Vancouver photograph

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Inspector John Jackson, Detective Killeen, Joe Ricci, unnamed constable, Detective Donald Sinclair and Detective Sgt George McLaughlin.

One of my favourite characters in Sensational Vancouver is Detective Joe Ricci who joined the Vancouver Police Department in 1912. Joe was a kick-arse cop from the old school who didn’t get too hung up on legal niceties such as warrants or evidence, but would take to the doors of opium dens and gambling joints with axes, fists swinging and shooting first, asking questions later.

Most of the material that I used in that chapter came from Joe’s daughter Louise. Louise still lives in the house that Joe built in 1922 and has kept all her father’s memorabilia including boxes of newspaper clippings, photographs and letters.

The photo (above) was in one of those boxes, but unfortunately wasn’t dated or labeled. I recognized Joe holding the knives and his partner Donald Sinclair from a photo hanging in the Vancouver Police Museum, but I couldn’t identify the other men or find out what the story was behind the photo until this week.

Jason Vanderhill kindly sent me some clippings about Joe that originated from the long defunct Vancouver Daily World.

The clipping has the same photo taken from a different angle, but it’s clearly the same event and it ran with the quite wonderful caption: Officers Battle with Slayer of Seamen.

It turns out that on January 25, 1924, Ben Baba, a Maltese seaman had armed himself with two stiletto knives and gone on a rampage onboard the Pilar de Larringa murderiing the captain and a crew member and injuring four others before police arrived to stop him.

Sergeant George McLaughlin shot Baba with the sawed-off shotgun that he’s proudly displaying in the photo (they called it a riot gun), and according to the story, Baba then slit his own throat.

The story doesn’t say what set him off.

women police officers

For another photo mystery that was solved, see Women Police Officers on Patrol

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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  1. thanks for the post Eve! Based on the principle that men’s jackets button left over right, I would say the newsroom flipped the negative for emphasis, to give the man with the gun first billing in the caption. Flipping a negative image for composition has always been a somewhat dubious editorial choice, as occasionally it can cause embarrassment, and today would probably be seem unprofessional. If you didn’t get the right angle, you didn’t shoot enough pictures. Back then with a view camera, you may have had only one shot.

  2. Good story. As a reporter at the Province I would go hide in the library and browse through the “crime cards” a rollodex of everyone who had been in the paper connected to a crime and then I would go pull the microfiches.

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