Fugitive Edward McMullen kills U.S. Immigration Inspector Charles M. Flachs in Blaine on May 28, 1936.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 7/17/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9852
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On May 28, 1936, Edward McMullen (1895-1936), a Canadian fugitive, arrives on a bus from Vancouver, British Columbia, at the Blaine Port of Entry in Whatcom County.  Using the alias James Arthur Fraser, he tells U.S. Immigration Inspector Charles Michael Flachs (1893-1936) that he has inadvertently left his identification papers behind in Vancouver. Inspector Flachs, dissatisfied with McMullen's evasive statements, refers him to Customs Inspector Leroy J. Pike (1879-1960) for further inspection. Fearing he will be arrested and deported, McMullen pulls a pistol from his pocket and starts shooting. Inspector Pike is unarmed and desperately wrestles with the gunman. The scuffle ends when McMullen is critically wounded by a bullet from his own gun. After the melee, Inspector Flachs is found dead on the floor, a bullet through the heart. McMullen has shot himself through the left eye and will die at Seattle General Hospital on May 30, 1936. Inspector Flachs is the first and as of 2011 only U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officer to be killed in the line of duty on the International Border in Washington state.

Notorious and Running

Edward McMullen was one of Canada's most notorious gangsters.  He was a member of Norman F. "Red" Ryan's gang of safe crackers, robbers, and killers who terrorized Ontario, Canada, in the 1920s and 1930s. McMullen and Ryan, both ex-convicts,  were wanted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for the murder of Edwin Stonehouse in Markham, Ontario, on February 28, 1936, and the robbery of the Bank of Nova Scotia in Lachute, Quebec, on April 15, 1936.  On May 25, 1936, the Ryan Gang attempted to rob the government liquor store in Sarina, Ontario. A clerk managed to trigger the holdup alarm and the Sarina police arrived within minutes.  A furious gun battle ensued, resulting in the deaths of Ryan, cohort Harry Checkley, and Constable John Lewis.  Believing McMullen had been involved in the heist, the Ontario authorities offered a $1,200 reward for information leading to his arrest.  McMullen went to Burnaby, British Columbia, to hide, but realized the dragnet was closing on him and attempted to flee into the United States.

On Thursday morning, May 28, 1936, Ed McMullen boarded a Pacific Stage Line bus in Vancouver en route to Seattle. Upon arrival at Blaine, all the passengers were escorted from the bus into border station for routine inspections. At the Immigration desk, Inspector Charles M. Flachs asked McMullen for his name, identity papers and purpose for the trip.  McMullen said he was John Arthur Fraser, railroad brakeman, and was going to Seattle for a holiday. However, he had inadvertently left his credentials behind in Vancouver.

A Deadly Struggle

When McMullen was unable to produce any identification, Flachs asked Customs Inspector Leroy J. Pike to conduct a personal search (which only customs officers were authorized to perform) and he was escorted into an inner office. McMullen declared "I'm not going to be searched," pulled a .380 caliber Colt semiautomatic pistol from the right pocket of his trousers and started shooting. One bullet creased Pike's right arm and another passed through his uniform blouse, gouging a furrow along his ribcage. 

Pike wrapped both arms around McMullen from behind, trying to hold him until help arrived. When Flachs and Immigration Inspector Frank Brainard heard the commotion, they rushed into the room. Flachs was immediately struck by a bullet and collapsed onto the floor. Brainard joined Pike in trying to subdue the gunman.  McMullen thrust the pistol over his left shoulder, trying shoot Pike in the face, but Pike managed to deflect the pistol just as McMullen pulled the trigger. The bullet entered below the gangster's right eye and exited the back of his skull. Although bleeding profusely, McMullen was still alive. Flachs, however, was dead, shot through the heart. In total, McMullen had fired five shots.

A search of McMullen's person revealed $780 in Bank of Nova Scotia notes in the inside pocket of his suit coat and a 7.65 caliber Mauser semiautomatic pistol in the right pocket of his overcoat, but no identification papers. His suitcase contained more than 200 rounds of ammunition.

Desperado Identified

McMullen's head was wrapped in towels and Whatcom County Deputy Sheriff Sydney Stewart took him to Saint Luke General Hospital, 809 E Chestnut Street, in Bellingham. Whatcom County Sheriff William T. Farmer notified the Vancouver Police about the shooting and requested their assistance in identifying the desperado.  Detective Superintendent Harold Darling hastened to the hospital, obtained a set of prints from the unconscious suspect and cataloged his numerous tattoos. The Vancouver Bureau of Identification positively identified him as ex-convict Edward "Wyoming" McMullen, alias George Baldwin, wanted in Canada for bank robbery and murder.

U.S. Marshal Artis J. Chitty (1887-1940) and Deputy Marshal Anthony E. Mandery arrived from Seattle with a federal arrest warrant for McMullen, sworn to by Raphael P. Bonham, District Director of Immigration and Naturalization Service. Marshal Chitty assumed official custody of the prisoner and the following day, moved him by ambulance to Seattle General Hospital, located on 5th Avenue between Marion and Madison streets, and stationed armed deputies outside the door to his room. The move was intended to guard against a possible attempt by Canadian gangsters to rescue him. Under federal law in 1936, the murder of a government employee was punishable by death.

A Doctor's Duty

On Friday evening, May 29, 1936, Dr. Walter Kelton, neurosurgeon, performed a life-saving operation on McMullen at bedside. His condition was deemed so fragile that moving him to the surgery would prove fatal. At 8:30 p.m., Dr. Kelton announced: "I'm afraid it's a successful fight. I have previously worked and am working on a man I wish would die, for I know the end will be justly so. But my duty is to do all I can to preserve him so that the federal government can expend several thousand dollars to have the privilege of hanging him. And though I have no desire that he should live, he is getting the same service as if he were to pay a million-dollar fee" ("Doctors Fight to Save Thug -- For Gallows!"). 

But McMullen died at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday without regaining consciousness.  King County Coroner Otto H. Mittelstadt (1902-1984) took charge of the body while Marshal Chitty tried to determine what the Canadians wanted to do about its final disposition.

Subterfuge and Intrigue

Vancouver detectives located McMullen's supposed wife, Mary Maude McGill. She claimed to have married McMullen approximately 18 months ago in Toronto and they arrived in the Vancouver area about May 20. McGill said she had been unaware of her husband's true identity or criminal activities until the shooting incident at the border.  She received permission to travel to Seattle to claim her husband's body, but never did. A few days later, McGill arranged through the Canadian Embassy to have the body shipped to Vancouver for burial.

Investigators learned that McMullen, posing as an oil salesman named Edward Masson, had rented a five-room bungalow on Victory Street in Burnaby. They thought it was likely McMullen and Red Ryan intended to use the place as their new base of operations.  In one of the rooms, detectives found a Vancouver newspaper opened to an article about the gun battle and Ryan's death in Sarina, Ontario. Ralph Patterson, the landlord, said the new tenant had paid the rent in advance with three $10 Bank-of-Nova-Scotia notes. On Thursday morning, May 28, however, McMullen told Patterson he had to return back east immediately because a family member had taken ill. That afternoon, a moving van arrived and removed all the furnishings.

Charles Michael Flachs

On Monday, June 1, 1936, Masonic funeral rites for Charles Michael Flachs were conducted at the Purdy Funeral Parlor in Blaine. Following the ceremony, the Washington State Patrol escorted his body to the Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park, 11111 Aurora Avenue N, Seattle, for burial with full military honors, conducted by the American Legion. 

Flachs was born in Baden, Germany in 1893.  He served in the U.S. Army from 1910 to 1920 and had been a flight instructor in the Army Air Service during World War I (1914-1918). He had been stationed in Blaine with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for five years. He was survived by his wife, Helen, and niece, Eileen Smith.

Sources: Edward Butts, Running With Dillinger: The Story of Red Hamilton and Other Forgotten Outlaws (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2008); Peter McSherry, The Big Red Fox: the Incredible Story of Norman "Red" Ryan, Canada's Most Notorious Criminal (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1999); "Felon Kills U.S. Guard at Blaine: Slayer Also Shot," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 29, 1936, p. 1; "Doctors Fight to Save Thug -- For Gallows," Ibid., May 30, 1936, p. 1; "Canadian Killer Dies of Wound," Ibid., May 31, 1936, p. 6; "Killer of U.S. Agent Identified," Seattle Star, May 29, 1936, p. 3; "Wounded Killer Is Recovering," Ibid., May 30, 1936, p. 5; "Passenger, Taken Off Bus, Fires on Official," The Seattle Times, May 28, 1936, p. 1; "Killer of U.S. Officer Dying," Ibid., May 26, 1936, p. 3; "Flachs Service Set for Blaine," Ibid., May 30, 1936, p. 3; "Immigration Man's Killer Dies of Wound," Ibid., May 31, 1936, p. 7. "Immigration Inspector Charles Michael Flachs," The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. website accessed June 23, 2010 (www.odmp.org).

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