Slain officer honoured with memorial in Napanee

One hundred years after the day of his death, the Town of Greater Napanee unveiled a memorial to Constable Richard Beard, who died in the line of duty in the early morning of Aug. 28, 1921.

The call box marks the entrance to the alley where Beard was gunned down. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

The memorial, a refurbished police call box — the kind that would have been used on the streets of towns and cities at the time of Beard’s service and death — was arranged by Councillor Terry Richardson, a retired member of the OPP, through generous donations by the Kin Club and Craven Autobody. It stands at the entrance to the alleyway off of John Street, where Constable Beard was gunned down.

Members of law enforcement and the public listen to a lone piper at the memorial service. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Beard’s great-granddaughter, Karen Mezciems, was on hand for the ceremony, as well as several members of law enforcement and first responders from Napanee and surrounding communities. The ceremony was presided over by Councillor Bob Norrie, a retired member of the Hamilton Police himself, and a prayer was offered by Rev. Richard Hetke, padre of the local Royal Canadian Legion branch. The call box was unveiled by Norrie and Retired OPP officer P.J. McCaffery, of the Napanee Kin Club.

The night Beard died was recounted by Norrie and is also recorded on several Police Memorial websites and in several Canadian Press dispatches from the time of the Murder.

The plaque reads:
On Saturday evening, August 27 1921, Napanee Constable Richard Arnold Beard responded to a robbery at Smith’s Jewelry Store in Napanee. Constable Beard courageously confronted the three culprits of the robbery in this alleyway and was shot and killed protecting the community. He had been a Napanee Police Constable for seven years.
The citizens of Greater Napanee are grateful to Constable Beard for keeping our community safe. We thank him for his service.
Rest in Peace

By all accounts, it was a lovely Saturday evening in downtown Napanee, and Constable Beard was on foot patrol. He was visiting with a group of locals sitting outside of the local hotel when he was notified that four men had been seen attempting to break into F.W. Smith and Son Jewelry Store on the corner of John and Dundas Streets.  

At the time, the job of night patrolman in the small town was fairly simple: convincing inebriated people to head home and sleep it off, breaking up the odd fight, and checking to make sure shop doors were securely locked. Beard was used to working independently and reports at the time suggested that he may have assumed he was just going to run off some vandals.

Constable Beard in an undated photo. Public Domain.

Beard entered the alleyway behind the store with his flashlight on, surprising the robbers. According to the confession of one of the men, someone shoved Beard hard against a wall, he made to draw his gun, and then one of the thieves fired a 30 calibre rifle. The bullet pierced Beard’s heart and he fell dead.

The men fled the scene on foot and stole a car. The story of their capture and trial can be traced through newspaper articles and documents of the time.

A week after the murder, the stolen car was found in a swamp on Perth Road, north of Kingston. A $1,000 award was offered for information leading to an arrest. The trail went cold until later that year when Kingston was plagued by a series of armed robberies and burglaries. On Dec. 4, 1921, at the scene of a break-in, Kingston Police arrested Sherwood Upton, Erwood Upton, and Fred Bryant. The Uptons were twin 20-year-old brothers and Bryant was 21.

They were connected to the Beard murder, and the Crown Attorney at Napanee promptly charged the Uptons and Bryant with the murder of Constable Beard. On Dec. 19th, 1921, Erwood and Sherwood Upton were convicted in Kingston of assorted charges and each of them was sentenced to four years in Kingston Penitentiary. Bryant was held in jail awaiting trial for several robberies.

On Jan. 12, 1922, the Upton brothers and Fred Bryant appeared in the County Courthouse in Napanee for a preliminary hearing. Written confessions by the twins were given to the Magistrate to read, who handed them back to the Crown Attorney, which was standard procedure.

However, the Crown Attorney compromised the case for all three accused by committing an incredible error — he handed the confessions to the press with an implication that they could do as they wished with them. The full confessions were published in The Napanee Beaver, with both the twins accusing Bryant of the killing. The attorney for Bryant demanded a change of venue because the jury pool in Napanee had been compromised against his witness.

The venue was ordered changed and trial began in Kingston in February of 1922. However, Erwood was unable to leave the penitentiary because he had Typhoid fever. The trial was again put on hold and held over until the fall.

On Sept. 27, 1922, the three men were sentenced to life imprisonment at Portsmouth Penitentiary. Justice John Fossburry Orde observed, “The constable died in a courageous act, one the Canadian Constabulary is famous for. The officer went into a laneway to perform his duty and in the course of a few moments met death, killed by a bullet piercing his heart.”

Constable Beard was 51 years old and left behind his wife, four grown sons, and a daughter.

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