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A phony dentist in the Slocan Valley

Updated: Dec 10, 2018

In January 1910, a man posted a notice in Silverton that read:

Mr. A.L. Pinchbeck, D.M.S. dental surgeon, has visited Silverton for two weeks only. All who want teeth seen to either crowning bridging or stopping. Set and false teeth a specialty. Honorary certificate for above work guaranteed and done $1 less than in Nelson or any other town in British Columbia.

His typewritten diploma, however, was made out in a different name:

This is to certify that Arthur L. Stanger is now proficient in dental practice and that the said A.L. Stanger has passed all his theory and practical demonstration examinations and I, T. James Gall, do now before all men declare that the said Arthur L. Stranger is now a thorough learned dentist, and I do hereby declare him as such.
JAMES GALL, head master
Sealed by James W. Water

Pinchbeck — or Stanger — had barely posted the notice before a young woman with a toothache came in. His dental instruments consisted of a jack knife, an awl, and scissors. He found the sore spot in his customer’s tooth and eased the pain with a few drops of carbolic acid.

He then began to fill her other teeth using chewing gum, telling her that “the secret of the painless method was principally in the patient keeping the eyes shut.” For this, he charged $10 and issued a receipt “for stopping and filling teeth and if ever the said fillings drop out, I, the undersigned, will put in new ones.” He signed it “A. Pinchbeck, dental surgeon.”

His next customer was a Silverton man whom he convinced had a serious problem with his teeth that required urgent care. The man agreed to the operation and Pinchbeck/Stanger went to work with his awl. He probed the patient’s gums for a while, then applied carbolic acid.

The unhappy patient asked that any further operations be put off for a few days.

Next came a woman with false teeth, one of which was broken off the bridge. The dentist agreed to repair it. When the woman came to pick them up, he charged her $6 but she took a dim view of his work and threatened to call the police if he didn’t hand over the teeth for free. He relented.

From Specimen of Wood Engravings, Charles Alt, ca. 1886/Wikipedia

Stanger/Pinchbeck thought it was about time to leave Silverton and mosey on to New Denver, where he portrayed himself as a wealthy man who planned to buy the Molly Hughes mine.

A rancher entertained him in hopes he would buy his property. Stanger said he already owned a farm near Calgary, but it was of little value to him because he could not be there. So he offered to sell it for $1. The rancher agreed to meet Stanger the next morning to have the transfer papers drawn up.

However, the rancher came to Stanger’s hotel to find that he had been called away to Sandon. Stanger arrived in Sandon, “but he had scarcely time to see the picturesque mountain scenery” before he was arrested by the local constable, who brought him back to New Denver and jailed him for the night. However, he escaped.

The next day he was recaptured near Denver Canyon and brought before a justice of the peace who committed him to trial in Nelson on a charge of obtaining money under false pretenses and jailbreaking.

More of the story then came out, as reported in the Nelson Daily News of March 2, 1910. (Some of it had already appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post.)

In December 1909, Stanger, an Englishman, was fined five shillings and court costs at Nottingham for riding a motorcycle with a fake license. It was also revealed that when he came to buy the motorcycle, he claimed to have a large account with Smiths Bank. He didn’t. He took the motorcycle anyway, but somehow was not charged with theft.

He was, however, soon charged with riding a train without a ticket. To much laughter in the courtroom, a clerk testified that Stanger told him he was a skating instructor and had been making seven guineas per lesson at the Empress Rink. Stanger was fined £1 or 14 days in jail in default. But by then he was on a boat to Canada. He said he spent Christmas Day 1909 in St. John — which seems impossible, since he was spotted in Nottingham six days earlier.

But he was in Slocan City in January 1910, where he adopted the Pinchbeck alias — claiming to be a relative of a local family of good standing. He stayed “until his welcome was exhausted.” He was charged with breaking and entering and ordered to leave town. That’s when he cooked up his phony dental scheme.

Stanger pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months on each count with hard labour, to be served concurrently at the Nelson jail. It was his first fraud conviction — but by no means his last. Judge Forin told him that when his prison term expired, he would be deported to England and indeed, he was.

On the 1911 English census, he appears at Newark, Nottinghamshire, working as a farm labourer and living with his parents William and Sarah Ann, and elder brothers John and Percy. We also learn that Arthur Sidney (or Sydney) Stanger was born at Newark in the first quarter of 1893 — which means he was only 17 when pulled off his scams in the Slocan, although no one remarked upon his age at the time.

We know a lot about his subsequent rap sheet:

• In 1912, he was charged with obtaining food and drink from a Liverpool hotel by false pretenses and with stealing a gold watch and chain. Stanger went to the hotel dressed as a naval officer and claimed his ship was in dock. In fact, the uniform came from a theatrical supply store in Manchester, where Stanger told the staff he wanted it for a masquerade ball.

When arrested, it was discovered a warrant was outstanding for the theft and watch and chain. He had passed himself off as a doctor to their owner and taken the items while his acquaintance was asleep. Stanger was convicted and jailed nine months.

• A notice in the Police Gazette in 1917 laid out his many aliases and most recent crimes. Oddly, they thought he was a Slocan City native.

• In 1922, he was arrested in New York City and charged with second degree attempted forgery. He was sentenced to 38 days at Sing Sing.

On the prison admissions record, seen below, he listed his occupation as surgeon, suggesting he was continuing to do fraudulent dental or medical work. And he listed as nearest relative his wife of 126-1st Ave. in West Kildonan, Winnipeg, although she was not named.

• At the same time, he was wanted in Winnipeg for auto theft and forgery. In 1924, he was found guilty of seven charges in Winnipeg police court and sentenced to three months in jail to be followed by deportation to England.

• Later in 1924, a “well-dressed, smart, and clean-shaven young man, wearing large gold-rimmed spectacles,” was brought into police court in Nottingham, charged with stealing a cheque for £4.

Stanger had conned a hotel proprietor into believing he was the son of a well-known resident. At trial, it was revealed that his aliases included S.A. Blythe, Earl Ashbourne, and Sir Thomas Moore. While in custody, Stanger attempted to hang himself. He was found unconscious but revived, and said: “I shall cheat you yet.” At the time, attempting suicide was a crime, so it was added to the list of charges.

In a dense fog, Stanger escaped from his cell at Lincoln Prison. Police scoured the countryside and found him the next morning hiding in a cabbage patch.

He pleaded guilty to both charges and was sentenced to five years. But he told the judge he blamed his life of crime on an “accident which affected his head” and thought an operation might stop it.

• He had been on parole for barely a month when he pleaded guilty on July 6, 1927 to two counts of obtaining money by false pretenses and was sentenced to another three years. Stanger, now 38, was described in a newspaper as a “smartly-dressed man” and described himself as a ship’s officer — but that was also a lie.

Not for the first time he had been wearing an officer’s uniform when he told a schoolmaster in Liverpool that he was chief officer of a ship in Alexandra Dock. Stanger offered to get the schoolteacher to Canada at a reduced rate, where, he said, there were “magnificent opportunities for teachers.” The teacher gave him £7.

Stanger was taken to Strangeways Gaol at Manchester, where a month later, he and another prisoner escaped — only to once again be swiftly recaptured. Here’s the full story from The Guardian.

• In 1931, Stanger was arrested in Winnipeg in a scheme to obtain $25,000 in forged bond certificates. When detectives took him into custody they found four $1,000 bonds of the Syntral Light and Power Co. of Minneapolis. Police also recovered 21 other similar bonds, all forgeries.

Stanger was alleged to have come to Winnipeg a few weeks prior and passed himself off as an engineer on the staff of the Bridge Engineering and Construction Co.

A story in the Winnipeg Tribune noted Stanger had twice been deported from Canada and once from the US and described him as “small, short-sighted with sparse hair and roving eyes.” He admitted to being unlawfully in Canada, but pleaded not guilty to fraud. The story below from the Tribune of May 12, 1931 reveals what happened.

He was deported in November 1931, sailing on the Duchess of Atholl from Montreal to Liverpool, and bound for Jasper (his parents’ house?) at Hawton, Newark-on-Trent. The ship manifest gave his age as 39 and his occupation, fancifully, as engineer.

• In 1933, a man described as Dr. Edward C. Barnes, a heart specialist from Cleveland, was charged with obtaining credit by fraud from the proprietor of the Red Lion Hotel at St. Albans, Nottingham.

A detective approached Dr. Barnes at the hotel and asked him how long he had been working at Charing Cross Hospital. About two months, the doctor replied.

The detective said: “Inquiries have been made at this hospital, and Dr. E.C. Barnes is unknown there; I have every reason to believe you are Sidney Arthur Stanger, alias Dr. Barnes, who is wanted on warrants at Leeds and other places for false pretenses.”

Stanger/Barnes was arrested. In the two months since he had been released from Briston Prison, he was alleged to have committed two dozen offences.

He collapsed in his cell, apparently under the influence of some drug, and was removed to an infirmary. Early one morning, while feigning illness, he eluded an officer watching him and escaped through an open window in his nightshirt.

He was recaptured three or four days later, found hiding “In the top of a large chestnut tree and outhouse” on the grounds near the infirmary. He was sentenced to five years for his latest crimes — plus another five years “preventive detention as an habitual criminal.”

Stanger’s wife and daughter at this time were still at West Kildonan, North Winnipeg. It turned out that when they married, his bride thought he was a government veterinarian. She didn’t learn his true identity until they’d been husband and wife for 18 months.

By July 1941, when he was released from prison, he was said to have been deported from Canada and the United States five times.

• A year later, Dr. William Horace Kent, who was about to be called up for military service, advertised for a locum and received a reply from Dr. Edward C. Barnes of Ontario. Dr. Kent checked Barnes’ name in a medical directory and hired him at a salary of £900.

That October, a dockyard worker named Walter Smith called Dr. Barnes to attend to his five-month-old son Victor. Barnes diagnosed teething trouble. He was called again on the following three days and said it was an ulcer on the intestines. On the fourth day, the baby was so sick that Barnes ordered an ambulance and had the child sent to hospital, where he died four hours later.

It turned out Victor was not suffering from teething, but from a bowel obstruction which should have been operated on immediately — and would have been diagnosed by any reputable medical practitioner.

Police interviewed Dr. Barnes, who said he was a native of Manitoba and gained his medical degree at Ontario University, but later admitted he was from Newark, Nottinghamshire, had no medical degree, and his real name was Arthur Sidney Stanger. (He still claimed to have attended medical school at the University of Manitoba in 1909-10, but even this was a lie.)

Stanger was charged with manslaughter in January 1943, at which time his age was listed in The Guardian as 49 and his address given as Sharrow, Hilltop Crescent, St. Budeaux, Plymouth. He denied that he had been negligent and insisted he did not kill the baby. He was also charged with obtaining £131 from Dr. Kent through false pretenses for the cheques that he had been paid.

A jury convicted him. He was sentenced to seven years for manslaughter and five years for fraud, to be served concurrently. An astonishing but not implausible claim was made at trial: that Stanger had spent 29 of the last 33 years in prison.

The judge told him: “You are a menace to the community. Whenever you are at large you commit frauds of some kind. On this occasion you started to commit frauds which imperiled human life, and therefore, I am bound to take a very serious view.”

Stanger was released in September 1947, having served about 4½ years, and promptly resumed posing as Dr. Edgar C. Barnes, claiming to work for the British Cancer Research Association.

However, his life of crime finally ended in a North Berwick hotel on Christmas Day 1947: he was found dead in bed of natural causes, age 54. He was known to suffer from heart disease.

A hotel maid found his body; a detective thought there was something familiar about him and checking on a photo in the Police Gazette identified him as Stanger. Fingerprints and identifying scars confirmed it. At the time of his death, Edinburgh police were searching for him in connection with alleged frauds in that city. He was buried at North Berwick.

I haven’t been able to find the photo of him mentioned. Nor do I know what happened to his wife and daughter or, indeed, even what their names were.

One postscript, though: remember how Stanger passed himself off in Slocan in 1910 as a Pinchbeck? In March 1911, his sister Florence married William Haywood Pinchbeck at Newark, Nottinghamshire. William was a brother to John Henry Pinchbeck, who came to Slocan around 1900 — and became police chief in 1903. We can safely say this knowledge about his future brother-in-law’s family inspired Stanger to head for the area in the first place.

William and Florence also immigrated to Canada; she died at Winnipeg in 1938, age 56. Had they gone there to help raise Stanger’s daughter? William Pinchbeck died at Willowhaven hospital on the North Shore of Kootenay Lake in 1974, age 93. He and Florence were survived by a son from her first marriage, John Stanger Walden, who died in Nelson in 1992, age 86. They were probably the last ones with firsthand knowledge of Arthur Stanger’s crimes.

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