September 23, 1920 - October 10, 1943
Edith Mary Brownlee was born in Rycroft, Alberta to George Howard Brownlee, farmer, and his wife Mary Renton (nee Atchison) Brownlee, residing at Bridgeview, Alberta, about 70 km north of Grande Prairie. Mr. Brownlee was born in Ontario and Mrs. Brownlee, Scotland. Edith had one older sister, Mrs. Florence Bryan. The family attended the United Church.
Edith stood 5' 6 1/2" tall, weighed 152 pounds, had brown hair and hazel eyes. She had a partial Grade IX education and was working at home prior to enlistment in October 1942, but had been an assistant postmistress for five years.
Mr. John Paul, Secretary/Treasurer of the Village of Spirit River, Alberta, wrote a glowing reference letter, dated April 4, 1942. "This is to certify that I have known Mr. and Mrs. Geo Brownlee and family for the past twenty years. I have known Edith Brownlee practically all her life. I have always found the Brownlee family the very best of citizens. Edith has a fine reputation as a young lady as to character, and ability. She is resourceful and capable, and I have no hesitation in saying that Edith will always carry herself well and in addition be a credit to any organization she may join."
Jack Gardiner, Minister at the United Church in Spirit River wrote, "Edith Brownley [sic] has asked me for a character recommendation and I do not hesitate to give it to her. I have known her in the work of the Church in her community of Bridgview [sic] during the past two years and will recommend her highly for any position she may wish to obtain. She has been interested in the varios [sic] activities of the Church and is respected throughout the community for integrity of character which in her case is associated with a genial personality."
Margaret Henderson, on April 11, 1942 wrote, "I have taught the Junior grades in Spirit River for over twenty years and have known Edythe [sic] Brownlee since her birth. As a pupil, her record was excellent. As a citizen her character has always been exemplary. She enjoys the esteem of all who know her and I am sure will always give satisfactory service in any line of duty to which she may be called."
During her interview in Edmonton in December 1942, she was recommended for Standard Tradeswoman (Postal Clerk). "Big, tall girl, of average appearance. Has had experience helping her father in post office." She was sent from Edmonton to Rockcliffe for training as standard tradeswoman, then sent to No. 5 SFTS, Brantford, Ontario in January 1943. She was AW1 in March 1943, assigned general duty, then by July 1943, she was Leading Aircraftwoman working as a Records Officer then Postal Clerk. She started earning $0.90/day then $0.95, then $1.00, $1.20, $1.25 and by July 1943, $1.45/day.
On Friday, October 8, 1943, LAW Brownlee was issued a weekend pass effective from 1730 hours October 8th to 0630 hours October 11, 1943. According to Section Officer Elizabeth Johnson (V30381) of No. 5 SFTS, in charge of personnel at the station. She stated, "The time was to be spent 'on the station'. I also approved a weekend pass for AW2 Hutchings from 1400 hours, October 8 to 0200 hours October 11, 1943. LAW Brownlee was employed in the Post Office as a Clerk Postal "C" Group and SW2 Hutchings was employed in the Airmen's Mess as a Chef, "Std" Group."
While on leave, Brownlee and Hutchings spoke with Sgt Edward William Leonard (R140948) of No. 5 EFTS, a member of the Service Police outside the Outside Inn. [The Outside Inn was a lunchroom west of No. 5 SFTS.] "They informed me that they were there to get some hot dogs for some other girls and would return to camp as soon as their order was ready...At 0010 hours, I left the Inn and sat in a car parked on the left side of the driveway facing the highway. I was in the car for about five minutes when a dark blue 1937 Ford sedan scraped against the rear of the car I was seated in. This car did not have its lights on. On hearing me command him to stop, the driver put the car in second gear and kept on going headed in the direction of Brantford....I was informed by another civilian that this same car had sideswiped him before he scraped my car...and stated that this car had no lights on."
Very early on October 10, 1943, LAW Edith Brownlee with AW2 V. G. Hutchings were victims of a hit and run accident on Highway 53 in the vicinity of the Outside Inn, Brantford, Ontario. Both the Special Police of No. 5 SFTS and the Provincial Police investigated. A Court of Inquiry was struck to investigate, with a trial in March 1944. The accident made newspapers across the country with the trial being covered in great detail by the Brantford Expositor.
ALLEGATION: ROBERT EVANS and GEORGE WINN did on October 10, 1943 cause the death of W309326 LAW Brownlee and injuries to W310460 AW2 Hutchings. NARRATIVE: "At approximately 0005 hours, October 10, 1943, Service Police of #5 SFTS were advised by F/O Woodward that an Airwoman's body was lying in the middle of the road a short distance from the entrance to the Hostess House. Sgt. Brawn notified the hospital and had an ambulance dispatched to the scene of the accident. He immediately went to the scene and took charge until the arrival of F/O Prud'homme DAPM returning from Brantford with a Service Police Patrol at approximately 0008 hours. As it was noticed LAW Brownlee was still alive, she was immediately rushed to the station hospital where she died shortly after admittance. While awaiting the ambulance to remove the body of LAW Brownlee, Cpl Jacques of the Service Police notified the DAPM that another body was lying in the ditch approximately 100 yards from the entrance to the parking lot of the Outside Inn. Arriving at the scene it was found that AW1 Vera Hutchings had been presumably hit by the same hit and run drive and thrown about 20 feet into the ditch. She was in an unconscious condition and had a bad gash in the calf of her left leg. She was taken to the hospital where it was found she was suffering from a concussion and abrasions in addition to the gash on her left leg. [She was unconscious for three hours and the laceration required 8 sutures.] LAW Brownlee sustained severe lacerations and a broken ankle of the right leg Her left leg was fractured in several places with the lower part of the foot almost severed, fractured pelvis, and several broken ribs, right shoulder fractured and several lacerations in her head. Investigation disclosed the fact the F/O Woodward and Sgt Blackwood were proceeding from Brantford and were approaching the vicinity of the Hostess House when they noticed a car heading towards Brantford which had an object hanging over the bumper. It was thought that same was a blanket or bulky parcel. This car was not showing any lights and was approaching in a zig zag course. The object fell from the car before it passed them and on approaching it, the glare of their headlights disclosed the body of LAW Brownlee. F/O Woodward immediately notified the Service Police...While several parties had noticed the car in question, no one had been able to identify the object hanging over the bumper nor had anyone been able to secure the license number in view of the fact that the car was proceeding without ights, possibly with a view of preventing this. A search of the surrounding country was made by F/O Prud'homme in cooperation with the Provincial Police without results. It was later learned that the car in question had been proceeding from the town of Brantford and had nearly collided with another car when passing it after passing by the station entrance. This car had given chase and had caught up with the suspected car when it turned into the Outside Inn. Chasing party had a good view of the car and the occupants. They didn't take the license number but were in a position to identify them. After the argument with the suspected parties, they were seen to drive off and side-swiped a car occupied by Sgt Leonard of the Service Police. Owing to the fact that the party was not showing any lights, Sgt Leonard was unable to secure the license number and could not get his car started quickly enough to follow. It was ascertained that there were two parties in the car and that the car was a 1938 black Ford standard model coach.
"When it was learned of the accident to the two girls, the pathway of the suspected car was followed out of the parking lot area of the Outside Inn and it was seen to have continued in the direction of Brantford in a zig zag course. At approximately 100 yards distance, it was shown that the car had gone well off the road on to the shoulder at which point there was evidence of the impact with some object. Traces of headlight glass were fololwed together with a piece of packing used between the body and the chassis and a piece of metal from the ornament on the car. It appeared that AW1 Hutchings and LAW Brownlee who were returning from the Outside Inn had been struck at this point. Hutchings, it was presumed, being struck with the rear fender of the car when it swerved and a dent which was later found in the fender, causing the abrasion in her left leg. From that point on there were distinct evidences of blood where the body of LAW Brownlee had been struck to approximately 1254 feet before it had been dislodged from th ecar. Articles of clothing belonging to the two girls were found strewn along the road. Traces of flesh and shin bone were also found along the course the car had taken. Examination of the body worn by LAW Brownlee disclosed the fact that her body had been dragged underneath the car for quite some distance as portions of it showed evidence of it having been burnt by scraping. Her right shoe was still on her foot and the left shoe was later found along the road badly burnt from dragging along. Adhered to the shoulder of her tunic were tufts of the girl's hair which were later identified as her own with strands taken from her hair brush. With this evidence, it was felt that it would be possible to get the car responsible regardless of what repairs had been made.
"Several leads were thoroughly investigated without results....It was found, however, on certain instances that information turned over to the Provincial Police was not acted upon promptly. The Service Police undertook to secure registration of all 1938 Ford cars in the district and to check same individually.
Sgt Leonard said, "On being informed that the two airwomen I had been speaking to had met with an accident, I questioned the people that were around the time this car had left the Inn. A Miss M. Keipers, living at 148 Dalhousie Street, Brantford, informed me that she knew the driver of this car to be called, 'Nicky' and that he worked at Cockshutt Plow Co. His description: Height: 5 ft 8 in. Hair: dark curly. Wearing a tweed topcoat and dark suit. She did not know his address. This information was forwarded to the Provincial Police..."
AW2 Vera Gladys Hutchings stated, "I went to the Outside Inn to get some hot dogs for some of the girls. We stayed there for a little while and then we came out along the path that leads up to the road. I don't remember going any further then going to the road. Brownlee went over with me and was coming back with me, we were both together. We were coming up from the Outside Inn and I was on this side and she was on the far side, but on the road. I don't know what side she was on. I think we crossed the highway. We went over there about 11 o'clock. I had been to the dance in the WD Canteen. We were getting hot dogs for Lois Blankstein. I was on a '48' and Brownlee was on a '48' too. I had intended to go for my '48' to Mrs. Alex Lamond's at RR 3, St. Mary's, Ontario, but changed my mind because my sister came to Galt, so I intended going down to see her some time on Sunday. I have no recollection of being struck or seeing a car. Brownlee told me that she was going to see some of her friends who were coming from the hospital in Galt and she and her friend went to a show in Brantford." The Medical Officer did not notice any odour of alcohol on either Brownlee nor Hutchings.
"During the course of the investigation, George Winn was taken into custody by the Provincial Police for questioning on the declaration of one of the parties claiming to be able to identify the two in the suspected car. Winn was questioned...and denied any knowledge of the accident other than what he had read in the papers. He was allowed to leave without being confronted for identification. This the Service Police strongly objected to and endeavoured to head Winn off so that the identification could be made. This could not be done. The Provincial Police were apparently quite satisfied that Winn had no connection wit the accident. Further, the Service Police endeavoured to trace a purchaser of Walkerville beer which was not well known in the district, but was sold at Woodstock, Galt and Ayr as two bottles of beer had been found near the scene of the accident. This phase of the investigation was overlooked by the Provincial Police. A check of the lists had not been completed when the apprehension was made.
"As a result of the systematic check on the 1938 Ford cars, information was received...to the effect that Robert Evans was the owner of the car that had not been seen for some days. This car had been parked in the garage at 14 Huron Street, Brantford, and when this garage was examined, it was found that recent repairs had been made to the radiator. On questioning the land-lady at 20 Huron Street, Brantford, where Robert Evans was boarding, it was learned that George Winn and Evans were frequently together. It was also learned that Robert Evans had been driving his car continuously from the time of the accident. She further advised that he had been in an accident on the night of October 19th at Oakville, Ontario, where the police had impounded his car.
"On questioning Evans, he denied any connection with George Winn. He stated that he knew nothing about the accident on October 10th. He could not give a satisfactory account of his whereabouts on October 9th or 10th. He stated that he had been in an accident with his car on October 19th at Oakville, and that his car had been impounded by the Oakville Police and that he was to appear on a charge of drunken driving on October 29th. Chief Kerr at Oakville was contacted by long distance telephone and corroborated this fact also stating that he was sure there was something suspicious about the driver of the car as he was exceptionally anxious to take his car when released on bail.
"F/O Prud'homme, Sgt. Leonard and Cpl Bell proceeded to Oakville on October 23, accompanied by Cpl Beasley of the Service Police, an expert garage mechanic. Examination of the car in question disclosed the fact that the radiator had recently been removed and that a new fan belt had been added. Definite indications were found in the hood of the car where it was presumed LAW Brownlee's head had hit at the time of impact. Also, on the left side of the car were found the marks of his collision with Sgt Leonard's car on October 10th. Examination of the under part of the chassis revealed a tuft of hair adhering to the shackle bolts. They were found to be the same texture as that know to be LAW Brownlee's. Evidence of splattered blood drawn up under the fenders by suction were quite plain. Evidence of blood was found on the rim of the wheel of the left side of the car. Threads of fabric were found of the type in the shirt worn by LAW Brownlee.
"Service Police proceeded to the scene of the Oakville accident and found there portions of glass from a right headlight which corresponded with that picked up at the scene of the accident. Portions of the metal decorations were also found which corresponded with the piece of metal picked up at the scene of the accident. With this evidence, it was felt sufficient to take Evans in charge and the Service Police returned immediately to Brantford where they found Evans in bed and brought him back to #5 Guard House. He was questioned and denied any knowledge of the accident or his presence in the vicinity. George Winn also brought to the Guard House was confronted with Evans. He admitted a working acquaintance with Evans due to their associations at Cockshutt Plow, but stated he did not know him otherwise. Provincial Police were notified of the apprehension of the two suspects and took them into custody at approximately 1330 hours.
"While waiting for the Provincial Police, George Winn requested an interview with F/O Prud'homme to whom he admitted that he was the other occupant of the car and in the presence of Sgt Leonard and Cpl Bell stated that he knew they had hit the girls. He had requested Evans to stop, which he didn't do. That, he, Winn, had thrown two bottles of beer from the car after the accident, in case they should be apprehended before getting away. They were both later charged with "Manslaughter" and lodged in the County Jail. Both parties made a confession to the Provincial Police after being arrested." Signed S.I. 1026 E. W. Leonard, Sgt.
A four day long trial took place in March 1944. After many witnesses, the jury deliberated for two hours. George Winn, 21, was found not guilty of manslaughter, but of dangerous driving, given a maximum sentence of two years in the Kingston Penitentiary, as part of the Criminal Code, as Winn was aiding and abetting Evans. Robert Evans, 28, was sentenced to 10 years in the Kingston Penitentiary for manslaughter.
F/O W. F. Wright, for G/C Williams, No. 4 W.S. Guelph, part of the RCAF, after the trial wrote a summary. "The accident happened not more than two hundred yards west of the gate of No. 5 SFTS and the unconsious form of LAW Brownlee was carried or dragged by the motor car owned and driven by the accused Evans to a point just west of the Hostess House, which is approximately 200 yards east of the gate of No. 5 SFTS. When the ambulance arrived at the station hospital, Nursing Sister Sleuth, since posted to Mount Hope, and LAC Bains accompanied the driver thereof to the place where LAW Brownlee was lying on the highway. Just as the ambulance was going out the gate, S/L Macdonald now posted to Centralia, and F/L Brown, now posted to Trenton, former SMO and MO respectively of No. 5 STS happened to be emerging from the Officers' Mess and immediately took after the ambulance in F/L Brown's car. As F/L Brown reached the gate of No. 5 SFTS, the ambulance passed it going in a westerly direction and the Medical Officers followed. When the ambulance stopped to pick up AW2 Hutchings, the Medical Officers were present and noticed the unconsious form of LAW Brownlee on a stretcher in the ambulance. As evidence was given by S/L Macdonald at the trial that 'shock' suffered by an injured person is increased by movement and further injury may be sustained in such a movement by inexperienced personnel, it is suggested that consideration be given, if it already has not been laid down, that the MO on duty accompany the ambulance on all occasions it is called out in an emergency. It is conceivable that had LAW Brownlee not been so seriously injured, her life may have been saved by (a) immediate treatment where she was found (b) movement under the supervision of a medical officer, and (c) taking her to the hospital for immediate treatment by one of the medical officers while AW2 Hutchings was brought in by a second trip of the ambulance. Both accused are factory workers and impecunious (have little or no money). The car owned by Evans was subject to a lieu if favor of the previous owner and has been repossessed. Evans carried no accident insurance. The Service Police of No. 5 SFTS particularly F/L Prud'homme, are to be commended for apprehending the accused, particulars of which may be procured from the Service Police at your Command Headquarter."
On April 24, 1944, a letter to the Deputy Minister of National Defence from Brigadier R. J. Orde, Judge Advocate-General: "The Crown claimed against Robert Evans, the sum of $142.50 for injuries received by AW2 Hutchings, V.G. It now appears that this man was convicted of a charge of manslaughter arising out the accident involving two airwomen and sentences to a term of imprisonment of ten years. It appears that Evans has no money, that the car he was driving is being repossessed by the lien holder and that he was not insured. Therefore, it is recommended that the Crown's claim be abandoned on the ground that there is no reasonable expectation of success in collecting it."
A funeral parade was held in Brantford on October 11, 1943 with an escort of WDs to the train. LAW Bamsey escorted Brownlee's body back to Spirit River, Alberta. Leading Aircraftwoman Brownlee was buried in the Spirit River Municipal Cemetery, Alberta. Mr. Brownlee indicated he and his wife paid $16.50 for the plot, opening and closing costs. The undertaker's costs were $45.00.
In the list of personal items, Edith Mary Brownlee had toiletries, clothing and jewellery, including an identification bracelet, a signet ring, a gold ring with the stone missing, plus a watch case. Mr. and Mrs. Brownlee inquired about the missing watch, as Mr. Brownlee sent Edith the money in March 1943 for a watch. They had wanted it returned as a keepsake of their daughter. Perhaps it was lost in the accident.
On September 1, 1944, Lawlor & Sissons, Barristers-Solicitors in Grande Prairie, Alberta wrote to the Honorable C. MacMillan, Parliamentary Assistant to Minister of National Defence in Ottawa. "Dear Sir, We wrote you on August 24th. Would you let us know as quickly as possible if the Air Force will take up this case and sue the Defendent, Evans, whom we believe was the owner of the car, for damages? If the action is to be started, it should be commenced without delay because we believe the time may elapse in October. If your Department will no consider handling the case, would you please reply to that effect by airmail?" The law firm must not have received the memo from April 1944.