BOTWOOD, NL – Fred Humber was 13 years old when a Mountie serving his hometown of Botwood was killed by a bullet while responding to a missing person case.
Memories of that cold and miserable Nov. 6, 1958 evening and the tragedy that unfolded the next day are as clear to Humber today as when the crime took place almost six decades ago.
“You never get over it. It’s stayed with me forever,” Humber said.
Humber had just finished his first guitar lesson on Burt’s Lane the evening of Nov. 6. After his lesson he walked back out the lane, which ran adjacent to the Harbourview Cafe.
Humber looked toward the café, where rumours about Jim Ling, who owned the business, were rampant. Ling’s son, Ken Ling, was missing.
According to one of the rumours circulating around town, “Jim Ling, the owner, had killed his son and cut him up and either had disposed of him or had him chopped up and put into a deep freeze,” Humber said.
As Humber and his friends walked to school the next morning, they saw smoke shooting out from the Harbourview Cafe.
“With that, it was pop, pop, pop. Gunshots. There were RCMP everywhere. Everything was in a state of absolute bedlam,” said Humber. “As I’m telling you now I’m reliving it. I hear those gunshots going off. I can hear the confusion – everybody was terrified.”
By the time the children were finished school for the day, the cafe was destroyed by fire and a young RCMP officer, Const. Terry Hoey from Peterborough, Ontario, had been mortally wounded by a bullet fired through a closed door.
Jim and Ken Ling were both found dead in the building, while two other citizens including the town’s fire chief were injured.
Hoey was the first Mountie to die in the line of duty in this province. He was 21 years old.
“We were left with the hopes that a magisterial inquiry would be called and we would get some answers.”
The inquiry was conducted in Grand Falls and ended Dec. 19, 1958. Humber said results of the inquiry were never released to the public – but are included as an appendix in his recently released book, “Death at the Harbourview Cafe” (Flanker Press 2017).
Compelled to tell story
Humber, who lives in Spaniard’s Bay, said most people he talked to about the crime over the years had no idea Hoey had been the first police officer killed while on duty in this province.
Rather, most spoke about other officers such as Const. Robert Amey and Const. William Moss, who were killed on the job after Hoey’s death.
Humber felt compelled to tell Hoey’s story – a story that is as gripping as it is tragic, which Humber refers to in the book as “a true story from a night of horror and heroism.”
In addition to his extensive research (it took him over three years to write the book), Humber interviewed people who, like himself, held memories of the days surrounding the crime. The interviews were emotional, he said.
The RCMP was very helpful as well, Humber said, as were Hoey’s relatives and the Botwood Heritage Society.
Members of the Chinese community were instrumental in providing insight into the Chinese culture in Botwood at the time, he said.
“I found out about all the racism that existed when Jim Ling first came over (to Newfoundland). Few people know what he and other Chinese had to go through,” Humber said.
Jim Ling’s life’s story is an important part of the book.
The book also details how the people of Botwood risked their own lives to help the police and firemen.
Humber is quick to note the story is about searching for the truth rather than assigning blame.
“I want the people who are reading and buying this book to understand that this is the people’s story. I told their stories, put it into words, and gave it back to them,” he said.
“Death at the Harbourview Cafe” will be launched on Oct. 26 – Humber’s 72nd birthday – at 7 p.m. at the Kinsmen Club of Botwood.
Humber will also be doing book signings on Oct. 27 from 10 a.m. – 12 noon at Shoppers Drug Mart in Botwood, from 2 – 4 p.m. at Imperial Variety in Botwood and on Oct. 28 from 2 – 4 p.m. at Shoppers Drug Mart in Grand Falls-Windsor.