It was early summer 1902, and three men from Quebec were on their way to the Klondike to grab whatever fame and fortune were left at the end of the great gold rush.
They had high hopes and more than enough pocket money to get them to Dawson.
By mid-July the bodies of Leon Bouthillette, Guy Joseph Beaudoin and Alphonse Constantine were found bullet-riddled and floating in the Yukon River.
At the time the North West Mounted Police often enlisted the help of private investigators to solve cases.
They hired William H. Welsh to lead the investigation.
Nearly one month later on August 16, after exchanging a number of coded telegrams about the case with the police, Welsh identified Edward Labelle as a person of interest.
Meanwhile the NWMP tracked Labelle’s alleged accomplice, Peter Fournier, to Dawson City where he is apprehended.
Police found about $400 in Quebec bank notes on his person.
Welsh tracked Labelle through Seattle, Chicago and finally to Nevada, where Labelle was finally captured at a construction camp in September 1902.
It took Welsh just 47 days from the time the bodies were discovered to find Labelle, thousands of kilometres from the scene of the crime, according to Library and Archives Canada.
Through the course of private interviews, Labelle confessed to robbing and murdering the three men.
“After thinking a while, he said, ‘I will tell you the truth’. And said Fournier was a very bad man, and that Fournier had some influence over him he could not understand, while he was in his company,” Welsh wrote in his final report on the case.
Labelle agreed to return to Canada with Welsh.
“It will be a matter of rejoicing to haters of crime and believers in retributive justice,” reported the Daily World in Vancouver after Labelle was apprehended. The paper cleverly described Welsh’s manhunt as “Welsh’s wary work.”
Fournier and Labelle were tried for the murders.
In January 1903, they were convicted and hanged for the murders in the Dawson jail yard.
“After the usual formalities had been gone through and before the trap was sprung, both men were asked if they had anything to say,” reported the Star.
“Both admitted to their hearers that they fully deserved the awful punishment, which was to be meted out to them.
“Labelle advised all who were present to take a lesson from his life which, he said, had been misspent.”
According to accounts of Labelle’s earlier life, which came out during the trial, he worked as a smuggler on the St. Clair River
“Fournier and Labelle were the kind of men whom the North West Mounted Police liked to describe as ‘the scum of the coastal cities’…” wrote Ken Coates in Strange Things Done: Murder in Yukon History.
This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.