POLICE CHIEF – HIT-AND-RUN DEATH IN 1938 (July 20/01)

“It is interesting to note that Chief Davis used a two-wheel bike when in need of fast transportation about the town,” Mabel Nichols wrote of Kentville’s third policeman in her book, The Devil’s Half Acre.

One of Kentville’s longest serving police chiefs, Rupert Davis patrolled when Kentville gained the reputation of being a wide open town – where, said Nichols, “lawlessness was rampant.” Nearby, wrote Nichols, there were 14 licensed bars where trouble was constantly brewing but which Davis controlled with fearless enforcement of the law.

Nichols portrays Chief Davis as a fine, fearless policeman who faithfully served the town for 37 years. His term of office ran from 1894 to 1931. Davis succeeded Thomas H. O’Grady, 1894-1931, who in turn had taken over from Robert Barry, 1887-1888, Kentville’s first police chief after incorporation.

Chief Davis was also the Nova Scotia Temperance Act inspector for Kentville and he apparently fulfilled his duties in this office with great zeal and dedication. The following tribute to Davis, from a 1938 edition of The Advertiser, indicates how dedicated he was as an enforcement officer:

“Rupert Davis has for over half a century been one of the best known and well liked men in the Valley. During the years he was Chief of Police, Mr. Davis was particularly active in warring on those breaking the law through selling liquor, and has a long series of successful raids to his credit. In one of those raids $50,000 worth of liquor was taken and the resulting court action was even carried to the Privy Council in England. In this again he had a triumph to his credit, the case being decided in his favour.”

It may have been Davis’ strict enforcement of the Temperance Act regulations that led to his demise at the hands of persons unknown. On December 26, 1938, Davis was “struck by an alleged hit-and-run auto driver” while riding his bicycle. Davis was 80 at the time and had been retired for six years. Davis was in critical condition, an Advertiser news story said, having “sustained a broken left arm, other injuries and severe shock.”

When The Advertiser reported Davis’ critical condition, the person or persons responsible for the hit-and-run were unknown. Police Chief John Brown, who had succeeded Davis, was investigating the incident and The Advertiser said he had sworn to “find the guilty party if it takes weeks, months or years.”

I don’t believe an arrest was ever made or any charges laid in the Davis incident. I scoured following editions of The Advertiser and Wolfville Acadian without discovering what Chief Brown had accomplished in his investigations. It appears that the person or person responsible for the death of Davis in the hit-and-run were never brought to justice.

I believe, however, that it was known at the time who was responsible for Chief Davis’ death. Several years ago during a conversation with the late Gordon Burton we were talking about Kentville in the 1930s and 40s when Davis’ name came up. Burton told me that Davis had deliberately been run down by two local bootleggers who “had it in” for him. Burton told me where the incident occurred, the type of vehicle the bootleggers were driving, and he said the hit-and-run was deliberate.

Burton also gave me the names of the men in the vehicle and told me which one was driving. I assumed that since Burton knew so many details about the incident that the bootleggers had been caught. It was only later when looking for information about Davis that I discovered this wasn’t so.

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