On June 2, 1911, the New Westminster community was shocked to learn that 45-year-old, Sarah Ann Elizabeth Jobes, was shot to death by her husband, Henry Anderson Jobes.
This extreme form of domestic violence was not an isolated event in the city’s daily life, nor is it rare today. Sadly, it has been part of human history, and it continues to occur into the present day. The magnitude and frequency of the crime are such that it has earned the name “femicide” in the penal system of many Western countries.
Sarah and Henry, along with their two sons William and Harry, had emigrated to Canada from Sunderland, England, after 26 years of marriage. Henry worked in England as a coal mine foreman, but he made little money. He was already a heavy drinker. So they resolved to attempt to change their lives and create a better future for their sons.
Henry and his sons arrived in New Westminster in March 1910. Shortly after, all three were employed as assistant machinists at Schaake Machine Works, a fish canning factory. Sarah came to Canada at the end of the same year.
The reasons she remained alone in England are unknown. From the information gathered from the press news reading, one might say that life for her in England, living with a drunken, low-paid and unsatisfied worker, was probably a miserable one. Still, they had agreed to make a new start in a new country.
Once reunited, the family rented a four-room house at 427 Fourth Street, leasing two of the rooms to further enhance their income. Things were going well until Henry began to be jealous of his wife with the tenants. Their fights became frequent and violent, in part because he had started drinking again. Since Sara did not work, she was completely dependent on her husband and, thus, more isolated in her house.
On May 26, they attended a picnic in North Vancouver, where, according to Henry´s version of events, Sarah had flirted with another man. When he complained to her, she got upset, and they started to fight. Henry decided to leave home and rented a room at the Guichon Hotel, twenty minutes from their house. On more than one occasion, he said that his wife had kicked him out of the house. But his son William denied it. “He was the one who wanted to leave,” he said.
Henry kept going to work, but he drank daily, from the moment his workday was over. He began to send letters to Sarah; more than ten in eight days. All of them saying the same thing but in different words.
The following is one of those letters published in The Daily News:
I am alone in this world. Can you not forgive me this time, for God’s sake? It is enough to drive me mad. Try and make up your mind for this once. I will never do anything to vex you again. Do try and forgive me. I know that your life has not been a pleasant one ever since I took the drink, but I have given it up. Only forgive me this time, and God will bless you.
From your loving husband, Henry Jobes.
I love you; I could not live without you. Write and let me know what to do if you please.
Desperate because he was not getting any answers and determined to end his suffering and anger, Henry bought a 32-calibre revolver from Speck & Crandell, a local store. He told the salesman that he needed a gun to destroy a rat’s nest but later informed the police that he had wanted to commit suicide but had repented.
On June 3, Henry paid his bill at the hotel and put his clothes in a suitcase. He went home at half-past seven in the morning, at a time that he knew he would find his wife alone and helpless. Without a word, he shot her in the head.
Henry’s action shows a cold, ruthless man who had planned to kill his wife. He was in full control of the situation and carried out the plan he has conceived beforehand. Although Sarah has been exposed to a savage attack, none came to her rescue. Violence against women was often unattended by public services and even more for immigrants who generally lacked close relatives in their new residence.
When Henry was leaving the crime site, he met his eldest son near Tipperary Park and asked him where he was going. William answered that he had forgotten something in the house. In reality, he had just learned that his father had bought a revolver, and he feared that something serious had happened.
William found his mother lying on the kitchen floor, amid the remains of breakfast and a pools of her blood. The victim had three gunshot wounds: one below her right ear and the others, one in each temple.
Immediately, William called the police, but Henry was long gone. The agents thought he had escaped to Nanaimo or Ladysmith, where coal mines were looking for workers.
Henry wandered around Vancouver for six days; then, his guilty conscience brought him back to New Westminster. On June 6, he arrived at St. Mungo Cannery, a site located across from the city, on the Fraser River. Starving and in a pitiful state, he asked the locals for food. People recognized him thanks to a unique trait: he had only three teeth and difficulty making himself understood. Then they called the police.
The trial started on October 20 with twelve jurors. For Judge H. L. Edmonds, it was an easy case because all the evidence condemned Henry. However, some of the events would have hindered such a case conducted today. For example, the police never found the gun; the seller did not remember selling it to him; and, according to the defence attorney, the agents had forced the confession out of him. Despite these arguments, the next day, October 21, the judge sentenced Henry to death by hanging, with the following words:
The jury has found you guilty of the ghastly crime of the murder of your wife, one of the most ghastly crimes it has ever been my lot to try. It would not be right for me to dwell upon the horrors of your situation, but to urge you to cease from thoughts of the things of this world and prepare for the life to come. The sentence of this court upon you, Henry Jobes, for the murder of your wife, is that you be taken from this place to the place whence you came, and on December 5 next, you be taken to the site of execution and there that the neck hang you until you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.
On December 5, 1911, at Oakalla Prison Farm, Henry was hanged, along with Ishii, a Japanese man who had murdered a fellow countryman. Although it was front-page news, the newspapers devoted only a few words to it.
What this case highlights are the helplessness of women in the face of domestic violence and the absence of adequate protection for battered wives, daughters and other female household members. A crime committed at the beginning of the twentieth century that continues to be repeated in the twenty-first century urges effective action.
Special thanks to Sylvia Helmer (Seniors’ Health & Wellness Institute volunteer), Oana Capota (curator of the New Westminster Museum), and Ana Rico de Alonso (retired sociologist) for editing this text and enlightening me on a subject as sensitive as femicide.
About the Author
Jorge Luis Alonso has been a volunteer at the New Westminster Museum since August 2019. He loves to write about the history of the cities where he’s been. Jorge lives with his wife by Irving House.
“Woman Slain at Royal City; Husband Wanted,” June 3, 1911, Vancouver Daily World, page 1.
“Brutal Murder of Woman in Royal City,” June 3, 1911, The Province, page 1.
“Wife Shot dead in Kitchen; Husband Fugitive from Justice,” June 5, 1911, The Daily News, pages 1, 4.
“Gives Description of Murder Suspect,” June 7, 1911, Vancouver Daily World, page 18.
“Henry Jobes is Under Arrest,” Junio 9, 1911, The Victoria Daily Times, page 1.
“Fugitive Gives Himself to Justice,” June 10, 1911, The Daily News, page 1.
“Jobes Murder Case Occupies Court,” October 20, 1911, Vancouver Daily World, pages 21.
“Prisoner Admitted that He Was Guilty,” October 20, 1911, The Province, page 4.
“Henry Jobes Was Found Guilty of Murder,” October 21, 1911, The Province, page 4.
“Two Executed at Westminster,” December 5, 1911, The Victoria Daily Times, page 1.