History & Museum Historical Stories
THE MURDER OF DETECTIVE RON HOUSTON
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Researched & written by Staff Sergeant Jack Templeman (retired)
June 26th, 1970, was a nice warm evening as
Dets. Ron Houston and John DeGroot prepared for a night stakeout
on Stradbrook Street for a window peeper who was also a rapist.
had seen a number of violent attacks on women between September
‘69 and that date. Most
occurred in the Fort Rouge area as well as a couple on Furby
Street close to the Assiniboine River.
suspect would cut screens and enter suites to attack the women.
Age was not a factor as the women ranged from 21 years to
62 years. The common
elements in the attacks were the violence and window entry.
In the first assault, a 21 year old girl was struck on the
head but for some unknown reason the suspect fled before
committing any sexual act. The
next was a 31-year-old woman who was struck on the head by a
baseball bat before being raped.
violent assault occurred about 4:25 a.m. on May 28th at 414
suspect cut the screen to enter and found a 27 year old female
asleep on a chesterfield. He
shattered a whisky bottle over her head as she slept but this did
not knock her out although it caused serious injury.
He then forced her to undress and covered her face as he
committed an indecent act. He
then stole $400.00 rent money from her purse and fled.
reports continued in the area with the same man seen at 117 Bryce
on June lst, 7th and 8th.
patrol was initiated by Acting Deputy Chief Norm Stewart on June
9th with two officers being concealed on the rear porch of 399
Stradbrook, which is a house, situated between the apartment
blocks at 395 and 401 Stradbrook.
Two other officers were to patrol in the immediate area as
not take long for the Special Patrol to arrest window peepers.
The first one was at 10:20 p.m. on June 10th at 399
Stradbrook by Dets. Norm Wickdahl and Don Gove.
On the 17th, Dets. Don Grove and John DeGroot got the next
peeper with another arrest at 401 Stradbrook.
Gove and DeGroot repeated with another arrest at 401
Stradbrook the next night. However,
none of these peepers matched the description of the rapist.
26th the stakeout was assigned to Dets. Ron Houston and John
DeGroot in the house and P/Sgt. B.M. Stuart and Det. James
Stirling as the back up unit.
officers entered the veranda of 399 Stradbrook about 11:30 p.m. on
the 26th. The veranda
was dark inside giving good concealment and at the same time
allowed an excellent view of the apartment blocks, which were so
often visited by window peepers.
were quiet so Houston removed his shoes as he had sore feet at
that time. The
officers sat on each side of a table looking out.
Those empty shoes became a stark reminder of this tragedy
when a picture of the veranda was on the front page of the
newspaper later that day. The
shoes and Houston's issued flashlight were removed during the
night by A/Dets. Cal Varey and Bob Nolan.
2:00 a.m., a man later identified as Thomas Mason Shand, 30 years,
was seen at the rear of 395 Stradbrook where he went to a window
which had a light inside. After
pausing briefly he crossed the parking lot towards the fence of
399 Stradbrook. The
male climbed on the railing and jumped over into the yard of 399
Stradbrook. The man
then walked across the lot behind the house and just a few feet
from the officers on the veranda.
He was heading towards 401 Stradbrook where there was a
light in the basement window of Suite #2.
as he passed by, DeGroot got up and went to the veranda door to
the hinge squeaked slightly and Shand stopped and turned so that
he was facing DeGroot. DeGroot
yelled ‘Hold it buddy - Winnipeg Police’.
But Shand turned away and started to jump the fence to 401
managed to grab Shand just as he was going over the fence and the
weight of the two men broke the fence and they fell to the ground.
to DeGroot, Shand obviously had an open stiletto type knife in his
hand ready to cut screens. At
no time was Shand seen to place his hands near his pockets.
fell to the ground, Shand struck DeGroot in the left shoulder and
he felt a sharp pain but did not realize he had been stabbed.
DeGroot held on and slammed Shand against the building.
Houston joined the struggle and shouted ‘he's got a
grabbed Shand’s right hand holding the knife and tried to pin
him against the wall. Shand
bit the top of DeGroot’s right ear almost severing a piece of
drew his revolver and shouted at Shand ‘hold it or I’ll
released his bite on DeGroot and DeGroot stepped back to catch his
breath as the knife wound had punctured his lung and breathing was
may have been distracted momentarily seeing DeGroot injured as the
men separated, but whatever the reason, it gave Shand that split
second opportunity to lash out at Houston.
Shand stabbed Houston in the chest with the blade
penetrating his heart and causing almost instant death.
Houston was able to say ‘he's got me good John’ as he
collapsed and dropped his service revolver.
Shand dropped his knife after stabbing Houston.
was still struggling to stay conscious as he saw Shand pick up the
revolver and fire a shot towards the prone body of Houston.
Then Shand turned towards DeGroot and pointed the gun at
his face. Survival
overtook the pain and weakness as DeGroot grabbed at the gun
barrel with both hands and managed to push it aside as it fired. It was later discovered that he had a burn type wound on the
top of his right shoulder. His
jacket was examined at the RCMP lab in Regina and found to have
lead traces on the right shoulder.
point Shand gave up his attempts to finish off the officers and
ran out to Stradbrook. DeGroot
managed to follow to the front of 401 Stradbrook only to see Shand
running west towards Osborne Street.
DeGroot managed to draw his revolver and fired two shots at
the disappearing runner before collapsing onto the boulevard.
of the apartment blocks came outside to see what was happening and
James Bain ran over to DeGroot on the boulevard. Bain asked if he was a policeman and DeGroot was only able to
move his hand towards his pocket and Bain pulled out his wallet
At 2:13 a.m., B.M. Stuart and Det. Stirling heard the radio message go out for an ambulance and police to a disturbance at 401 Stradbrook and quickly responded only to find DeGroot on the boulevard and Houston laying beside the block.
rescue truck responded quickly from Osborne & Stradbrook and
the officers were rushed to Winnipeg General Hospital.
Efforts to resuscitate Houston continued until 3:15 a.m.
when he was pronounced dead.
was found to be suffering from stab wounds to the left upper chest
and left shoulder which had collapsed his right lung and partially
collapsed the left lung. Although
his condition was ‘guarded’, he was in excellent physical
condition that helped him survive and recover fully.
His wife Sharon was notified by Dets. Pete Vandergraff and
Ted Felbel who conveyed her to the hospital from St. Clements.
Back at the scene, Shand had cut between
houses and crossed River Avenue and then Roslyn Road heading for
the Osborne Bridge. Consts.
Thomas Sallows #53A and Erik Gruter #118A had been on beats 1
& 2 in ‘B’ Div. (Fort Rouge) and were walking back to PSB
for lunch. Their
practice was to check the riverbank under the bridge and on this
occasion Gruter spotted a male in the parking lot of 105 Roslyn
Road. Gruter called
out to the male who bolted towards the river and jumped in and
swam away. The
swimmer was slapping his arms about and making a lot of noise as
he reached the centre. The
officers tried to keep their flashlights on him but he went out of
sight and the noise stopped.
The beat officers did not carry portable radios at that
time and were not aware of the attack on the officers nearby.
They used a call box to notify the station of a possible
searchers failed to turn up any signs of where the person may have
climbed out of the river and dragging operations failed to locate
attended to the scene of the attack and shootings and conducted a
search after the initial pictures were taken.
About 06:00 a.m., Det. Lou Spado found what was to become
the main piece of evidence in this case, a pair of prescription
glasses, knocked off the suspect during his struggle with DeGroot.
Numerous officers spent the next two days going over
prescription files in every city optician’s office that used
‘SAFILO’ type frames. Finally
the prescription was found at Ramsay Matthews Ltd. in the name of
T. Shand indicating they were made on February 28th, 1969. T. Shand was Thomas Mason Shand, WPD #28408.
survived the river and managed to get out on the north side.
His exact movements were never proven but late on Sunday
the 28th he was in suite 15-35 Hargrave occupied by Alexis Nabe
and Thomas Scott Mitchell. They
admitted Shand confessed to killing the policeman that all the
news broadcasts were talking about.
He showed them the officer’s gun that he still had.
Claiming they were afraid of him, they allowed him to stay
overnight and then Mitchell convinced Shand to go to his
lawyer/friend Hugh Parker to arrange his surrender as he had been
identified and a warrant had been issued for his arrest
Canada-wide, Capitol Murder.
met Hugh Parker after an earlier release from Stony Mountain Pen
and had actually lived in his home for a period of time and was
treated like a family member.
Shand had an extensive record in the city dating back to
1960 when he broke into businesses and churches in St. Boniface
and Winnipeg. One of
his first violent attacks occurred in 1960 during the break- in of
the St. Andrews Ukrainian Catholic Church at 160 Euclid when he
was confronted by the elderly caretaker who received a cut hand in
the scuffle. His
violent nature showed again in 1967 when he stabbed a man in the
chest outside a beverage room after a dispute.
At the time of the murder, a warrant for his arrest for
this stabbing was in existence.
contacted the RCMP at 2:45 p.m. on the 29th, to arrange a
surrender as Shand said ‘I didn't want to get shot by a Winnipeg
Policeman, I guess there'd be some itchy fingers’.
The RCMP advised Parker they would turn Shand over to WPD
immediately and Shand agreed to this.
RCMP Cpl. Denys
Stewart and Const. Frank Palmer who had received the original
call, attended to the law offices at 210 Osborne and arrested
Shand at 3:03 p.m. Parker
turned over W.C.P. Revolver #301 (Houston's) and three live
conveyed to the P.S.B. accompanied by Parker and turned over to
Det. Supt. Al Biggs and Det/Sgt. Herb Stephen. Det. Sgt. Bob McNeice and Det. Len Daniels interviewed Shand
but he would make no statement and was detained.
committed to trial and was convicted of Capitol Murder on October
10th, 1970. He was
sentenced to be hanged on June 10th, 1971, after the jury made no
recommendation as to clemency but his appeal caused the date to be
moved to March 8th, 1972.
appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court on Nov. 30th, 1971.
In keeping with government policy at the time to bypass the
authorized death penalty for police or prison guard killers,
cabinet commuted Shand’s sentence to life on Feb. 24th, 1972.
served the minimum time before being released.
At the time of his arrest he told the RCMP he thought of
shooting himself but ‘couldn’t get up the guts to pull the
November 7th, 1985, in BC, Thomas Mason Shand found the guts to do
what he had been unable to do in 1970 and what the government had
failed to do in 1972; he committed suicide by hanging.
period of time in hospital, John DeGroot recovered and resumed
full duties with the department.
During his stay in hospital the true spirit of police
comradeship showed once again when Sharon told him a whole bunch
of policemen turned up at the farm one day and just did all the
chores. In typical
John DeGroot fashion he is reported to have asked her if they did
a good job on the weeds.
Houston family was not forgotten at that time either by his
officer who had worked overtime on this investigation had his
overtime pay converted to cash which was made payable to the
Houston Trust Fund. $4,389.44 was paid out, a large sum of money
at the time.
Edward Houston was born on April 2nd, 1935.
He joined W.P.D. on June 3rd, 1957 but resigned on Dec.
31st, 1964 to pursue another career. He rejoined the department on Oct. 11th, 1966 and was
transferred to the Juvenile Division as an Acting Detective on
July 31st, 1968. Ron
was survived by his wife Mary and two sons, Kenneth, 2 years and
5 years. Kenneth
George Houston is now following tradition as Constable #1717/33.
funeral for Ronald Houston was held on Tuesday, June 30th, at the
Transcona Memorial United Church with burial in St. Mary’s
officers served as the pallbearers and once again a very large
representation of police forces came to pay their respects.
Winnipeg has been very fortunate since 1970
although other officers have laid down their lives on duty within
the province. Increased
training, more and better equipment and constant awareness of
danger obviously has paid off.
But for the Grace of God, I could be writing articles on
Rick Donovan, Kelly Harrington, Kim Koswin and others.
I am thankful this is the last of this series.
said on Hill Street Blues. "Be
careful out there".
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