On April 18, 1908, newspapers across Ontario carried a story about a homicide at the Wolsely Barracks at London, Ontario. A Sergeant Lloyd had been killed. Investigations pointed to an enlisted man named Private Moir.
According to later stories, Moir had been on a drinking binge on April 17. He had an altercation with the sergeant, but claimed to recall nothing. Two days later, hearing he might be considered a suspect, Moir fled to parts unknown.
Over the next few weeks stories surfaced that he had been seen in various localities. No one in Wellington County paid them more than a passing glance. But all that changed on May 8 when W.E. Draper, the stagecoach driver for between Fergus and Arthur, thought he saw Moir at the Robb farm, near Cumnock, five miles from Fergus, and reported it to Chief Constable Farrell, of Fergus.
Draper was a respectable man, not one prone to exaggeration or a wild imagination. So, Farrell thought his story worth investigating. He contacted Constable Cochrane, of Arthur, and the two met at Cumnock before going to the Robb farm at Lot 16, Concession 13 of Nichol, between 5 and 6pm May 9. There they found David Robb and Private Moir in the stable, unhitching a team of horses following an afternoon of seeding.
The constables were in plain clothes, and pretended to be horse dealers, while eying Moir, who became increasingly edgy and nervous under their scrutiny. Chief Farrell gradually moved closer to Moir. Suddenly he sprang upon him, attempting to hold him by his arms. Cochrane at once came to his aid, but it took the two officers about 10 minutes of scuffling to secure Moir, and then only when the fugitive was too exhausted to resist any longer. They bundled up Private Moir in Cochrane’s wagon, arrested him, and took him to Arthur’s lockup. The scuffle and arrest astonished members of the Robb family.
Moir had shown up at their farm on April 21. He asked if the Robb Brothers were at home, explaining to Robb’s sister he had heard they were seeking a hired man. She said they were, but her brothers were at the Elora Horse Show. She was expecting them to return soon, and invited the stranger in to wait for them. He declined a chair she offered, instead taking one near the door.
The stranger identified himself as Frank Miller, from Berlin (now Kitchener).
Charles Robb returned home about 8:30pm. He told the stranger they had hired a neighbour to work occasional days, and did not require anyone else then. The Robbs offered him lodging for the night, which he willingly accepted.
Moir shared a bedroom with Charles and David Robb, sleeping on a third bed in the room. He did not stir when they rose the next morning to attend to chores. He was still dozing mid-morning when they called to him to offer some breakfast.
Moir got up, washed, and ate sparingly. He seemed less nervous than before. The Robbs noted he had no possessions other than his clothing, which consisted of some scuffed brown boots, tweed trousers, a soiled shirt, a faded cap, and a checked overcoat that had seen better days.
Later, in the stable, Charles Robb asked of he had any experience with farm work. Moir said he had worked for four years for Alex McIntosh, in Guelph Township. He seemed very interested in working for the Robbs. Charles reconsidered during the morning, and agreed to hire Moir (or Miller) on a trial basis at $22 a month plus board. Moir asked for $25, but readily agreed to the lesser amount. He said he was desperate for money. Charles asked him about work clothes; Moir said he would send for his other possessions.
He proved to be a steady, obliging worker, but ate lightly, much less than would be expected of a robust farm hand. The Robbs had no suspicion of him, but later recalled he insisted on grabbing newspapers before anyone in the household, and glancing over them. They did think it a little strange he carried a revolver with him.
As a companion in the household, the Robbs found Moir quite agreeable. He told of his travels in Ireland and Scotland, and remarked several times he never had any desire to serve in the army, but he claimed to have a brother who was a soldier. One thing did bother them a little. When talking, Moir’s eyes flitted from person to person and around the room. On April 25, he accompanied the Robbs to Alma, where they were part of a gang hauling logs to the sawmill.
The following day he asked to borrow a razor from Charles Robb. He explained he had trimmed his moustache unevenly, and wished to shave it off altogether.
A week later, on May 2, Moir went to Alma to have a tooth pulled. He borrowed one of Charles Robb’s caps rather than wear his own, and borrow ed a little money. He returned in the afternoon with a new shirt and a pair of socks.
The next day he helped the Robbs with their chores as usual, then went to their second farm to complete tasks there. When he returned, the Robbs asked if Moir wanted to look at some newspapers. He picked up one and tore off the front page after glancing over it.
That made the Robbs suspicious. They found a description of him in another paper, along with a story of his flight from authorities. Charles Robb went to Alma to see Dr. Wallace, who had pulled Moir’s tooth. He thought Robb’s suspicions worthy of pursuit. The Doctor sent for a photograph of Robb and a full description. When the material arrived on May 9, Dr. Wallace and Charles Robb were sure of their man.
Robb went to Elora to see Constable Blackstock, whom he knew. Blackstock wired to Guelph for assistance, which arrived that night about 11pm. Blackstock and the Guelph officer went immediately to the Robb farm. They were, of course, about six hours late. Chief Farrell and Constable Cochrane had already arrested Moir, and he was then resting, however uncomfortably, in the Arthur lockup.
On May 11, officers escorted Moir to the Arthur railway station. That evening he was back in London, awaiting his trial for murder. For the Robbs, and others in the neighbourhood, the story remained alive for weeks. For most, it was the only time in their lives when they had associated with an accused murderer.
Some thought that only divine intervention had spared them from becoming another of Moir’s victims. The more reasonable realized that Private Moir was no cold-blooded killer, only a soldier whose inability to hold his liquor had resulted in the death of an innocent man, and the ruin of his own.
That was the real tragedy of the case of Private Moir, fugitive.