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Mystery and murder surround Kaslo madams

Updated: Jun 1, 2019

A few years ago, I wrote about Koto Kennedy, the only Japanese Canadian living in Kaslo immediately before the start of the internment in 1942. The late Aya Higashi remembered her as “a comfort to the internees” who was “held in awe as a highly cultured gentlewoman.”

Although there was some mystery around how Koto came to Kaslo — including a story about a shipwreck — she was probably a prostitute, the occupation held by most if not all Japanese women in the West Kootenay at the turn of the 20th century. A recent discovery seems to support this notion — and led me to another Kaslo madam who was mixed up in a murder trial. More about that in a moment.

Koto’s obituary claimed she came to Kaslo in 1889, which is impossible since the village didn’t yet exist. She appears on the 1921 census, living on Front St. with her new husband, but I was not able to find her on the 1891, 1901, or 1911 census, even though I know her maiden name was Shimizu.

By fluke, I discovered a Japanese-born woman in Kaslo on the 1901 census named Mary Koto.

She was born March 3, 1874 and was listed as running a “lodging house,” often code for a brothel. She indicated that she came to Canada in 1896. Koto Kennedy, according to the 1921 census and her death registration, was born either April 11, 1874 or 1875. So while the birthdates don’t match, they’re pretty close. I think it’s probably her.

Also living nearby in 1901 were George Tanduki and Josa Kawamura, 37 and 25 respectively. He was listed as a cook, but no occupation was given for her. Another neighbour, May Randall, 37, was given as a lodging house keeper. She came to Canada from the US in 1898.

A Google search for May Randall turned up a big surprise: in 1909, her fiancé Paul Clein was charged with murder in Spokane. The full story is told on the Historical Crime Detective site (including a mugshot of Clein), so I don’t propose to repeat it all.

But briefly, the body of John Saudawski, a cabinetmaker, was found on the Fort George Wright military reservation in March 1909. Clein, whose real name was Krasniewski or Krasnensky, had been a member of the North West Mounted Police at Lethbridge from April to October 1907, when he deserted. He spoke several languages, including Russian and Polish and claimed to have served in the German army. He had already been married twice.

A headline in the Vancouver Daily World, April 6, 1909.

According to Randall, he then went to Kaslo with five others who were “discharged” from the Mounties. “He came with them to help them move their belongings,” she said. “They came to Kaslo to take up fruit land. Paul went to work in the Bluebell mine and he was well liked by everybody. We were engaged about two weeks after we met, which was about two years ago. He was always so gentlemanly and kind that it is utterly impossible to even think of him as committing a cruel murder.”

Randall made a “hurried trip” from Kaslo to Spokane, where she visited the prosecuting attorney’s office and asked to see her fiancé. Clein was brought into the office, but wasn’t allowed to speak privately with Randall.

“I can not for one minute entertain the idea that Mr. Clein is guilty of this awful crime and I will always believe him innocent, no matter what comes,” she said.

The newspapers saw fit to describe May’s appearance:

Miss Randall is a tall and well formed blonde and is stylish … Her light hair is not peroxide, unlike many women of her class and her large liquid blue eyes seem to express guilelessness despite the life she leads. When seen at the apartments of a woman friend on Front avenue where she has been stopping since her arrival in Spokane she was dressed for the street, wearing a light grey suit, a large hat trimmed with ostrich tips and a grey veil.

Presumably readers would have deduced from “women of her class” and “life that she leads” that she was a prostitute.

Clein, it emerged, was engaged to a second woman, Ida Douglas, but May refused to believe it:

The claim of this Mrs. Douglas that she is engaged to marry Paul is just a pure piece of fiction. I know there is nothing to that, for he has told me so. I knew of her before this trouble came up. Paul told me of her in a letter, merely mentioning her casually … If he ever talked anything about an engagement to her he didn’t mean it, for he has written me many letters since New Year’s and in them was no hint that he felt any different about our engagement.
Paul has written to me all along that he expected to come to Kaslo just as soon as he had money enough. He and I planned for him to come and visit during the holidays, but he wrote me that he had a good job and would wait until he had saved up a little money. I was expecting him every day and I know he would have come had he not been arrested, for I received a letter from him dated March 21 saying that he would leave for Kaslo the next day … Oh, if he only had come to me last winter! He would not now be in this terrible trouble.

Less than two months later, however, May changed her tune. She walked into the office of the deputy prosecuting attorney and turned over a handful of love letters and postcards that Clein sent her, in which he proclaimed his undying love — and asked for money.

“At one time I loved this man, but now I am through with him,” she said. “He has thrown me down and I do not want to have anything more to do with him. If I could believe that he was not engaged to another woman I would assist him in any way that I could. But he has been untrue to me and that ends it.”

From the Vancouver Daily World, May 28, 1909.

Oddly, I could find no mention of the case in the Kaslo Kootenaian from April to June 1909. Did they not know about it? Or just not think it was worth repeating?

You can learn Clein’s fate at the Historical Crime link above. As for May Randall, she died in Kaslo on Sept. 17, 1932. Her brief obituary appeared in The Kootenaian ten days later:

May Randall, a resident of Kaslo for the past 25 years, passed away at the Victorian hospital on Saturday morning from the effects of a stroke several days earlier from which she never rallied. She was 70. Funeral services were held on Sunday, pallbearers being Jas. Speirs, Henry Whipple, Charlie Petersen, Ernie Gerlach, Howard Perkins, and Jack Kennedy.

Here’s the really interesting part: Jack Kennedy was Koto Kennedy’s husband.

May’s death registration didn’t provide much information. It gave her name as May Randals (Randall)” and said she was born in the US, date unknown. She was divorced and of Norwegian descent (although the 1901 census said German). Her occupation was given as housewife. She had been in Kaslo for 34 years and in BC for 36 years. The cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage. She was buried in Kaslo in an unmarked grave.

The person who provided this information and signed the registration was Koto Kennedy. So they certainly knew each other and were probably in the same line of work.

May Randall left an estate valued at $1,654 — the equivalent of a little over $27,700 today — consisting of $479 cash, $175 in household goods and furniture, and two City of Kaslo electric light debentures from 1914, worth $500 each. Once the funeral and hospital expenses were deducted, the estate’s net value was $1,362. However, she left no will and had no heir. The final note in her probate file says “Names and addresses of relatives in the United States not yet ascertained.”

— With thanks to Ron Shearer for looking up May Randall’s probate file at the BC Archives for me

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2 commentaires

Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
28 févr. 2018

Thanks, Craig! No I don't know of any connection between Danny and Koto. Koto's obituary said she was survived by a 91-year-old brother in Japan and a nephew, but they weren't named. I'm not aware that she had any children. But I should check again whether the BC Archives has her probate file as well – I think I looked for it unsuccessfully.


Craig Barraclough
Craig Barraclough
28 févr. 2018

So enjoying these stories Greg. I have a you know if Daniel (Danny) Shimizu is related to Koto Kennedy? He would have graduated in Kaslo around 1950, went to UBC and came back to teach math - briefly - (he was a mathematician) in about 1961.

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