Elizabeth Sherry, an Indian woman came to her death on December 5, 1929, at the home of her mother, near Jordan, "from suffocation due to an accidental fire in the house, the fire being neglected owing to the intoxicated condition of the occupants of the house". This is the verdict returned by a jury under Coroner Dr. C.W. Elmore in Beamsville, last week after hearing evidence of ten witnesses who were closely questioned by E.H. Lancaster, K.C., crown attorney, of St. Catharines. Two witnesses testified that wine had been obtained for the Indian by a resident of St. Catharines. Police are seeking him for a breach of the Indian act and B.L.C.A.
The first witness was Reuben Pollack, a son of the dead woman by a former marriage. He stated his mother used stimulants, but he never knew her to drink to excess. A brother's impending marriage might have affected the mental state of his mother on the day of death. He knew there was no ill feeling between his mother and her brother. Dr. Addy of Jordan testified that the woman was dead when he saw her. He examined the body closely, but found no marks of violence. When asked by the crown if Fisher was drunk that night, he replied: "Of course, completely," and when asked about the mother, replied: "Very much, yes, yes."
Provincial Constable W.H. Metcalfe of St. Catharines described conditions as he found them upon arrival. Fisher and the mother were both, he thought, drunk. He told of finding a gallon jug half full of wine at the bottom of the stairs, and a cup half full of wine on the fifth step of the stairs. He found another empty jug in the kitchen. The body was at the bottom of the stairs in a sitting position. He could not say where the fire originated. His evidence was corroborated by Constable Wood.
Phillip Wismer, owner of the burned house, was the first man on the scene. He stated Fisher had worked for him many years. He would not say whether the man of the mother was drunk, but he thought they had "plenty", as he could smell liquor on their breath. He asked Mrs. Fisher if there was anyone in the house, and she said, "No one was there; we were alone." She was in a hysterical condition. After the fire had been put out he found the dead woman at the bottom of the stairway. He did not see the jar of wine, but saw a cup half full.
W.J. Nicholson, manager of E.D. Smith farm at Jordan, described having given Mrs. Sherry $50 in five $10 bills two days before her death. This was part of some money she had saved during the season and she had asked Mrs. Nicholson to keep it for her. J.L. Buck, undertaker, stated he found two $10 bills and one $2 bill hidden in the dead woman's clothing. Joseph Fisher, the principal witness, was then called. He has been held in custody at St. Catharines since the fatality, and was brought by police to the inquest. His evidence was most contradictory, but under close questioning he finally stated that the wine was brought to his house on December 5 by a St. Catharines man, and that this man was paid $2.50 for the first jug and $2 for the second one. He said that the man went to the Jordan winery for the second jug. He, Fisher, followed about 100 yards behind.
"I waited at the first turn from the winery while he got the wine. I got no change back from my $2," he said. He was very vague as to why he waited out of sight, but finally admitted that he knew the winery would not sell wine if they saw an Indian there. He described the walk home with the wine, and the drinking bout that followed, with his mother, sister and himself participating. He became very drunk and went to bed and knew nothing more till his mother awakened him when the house was aflame.
Mrs. Fisher, 85 year old mother, was assisted to the stand. She had no idea how the fire started, but thought it must have been from a stove in the front room. She admitted all in the house had been drinking. She was asked what time the fire broke out and replied: "My clock is too fast, and I just have to go by its ticks." In summing up Coroner Elmore told the jury that evidence was very conflicting, both Mrs. Fisher and Joseph Fisher being so drunk that they had little idea of what actually took place.