Vancouver Feature: Police Chief Slain in Wild Gun Fight

Chief Constable Malcolm MacLennan of the Vancouver Police Department was celebrating his son’s tenth birthday when he got the call that a drug addict was shooting people on East Georgia Street. He rushed away and into a maelstrom that cost the popular chief of police his life.

MacLennan’s funeral procession drew a huge crowd of mourners

Stuart Thomson photo, Vancouver Archives 99-488.

Landlord Frank King attempted to collect four months back rent for his apartment at 522 East Georgia Street from his tenant, Robert Tait, an American addicted to morphine and cocaine. But Tait angrily refused, threatening the landlord with a shotgun. King returned with two constables and Tait opened fire through the apartment’s glass door, wounding all three. The raging tenant barricaded himself and his girlfriend, Frankie Russell, in the rear bedroom and began shooting indiscriminately out the window, killing an eight-year-old boy on the street.

The force was called out, Chief MacLennan among them. The chief tried to negotiate but Tait would not cooperate. MacLennan saw no recourse but to storm the apartment and, typical of his sense of duty, led the charge himself, wielding the axe to chop through the door.

The police stormed through into a fierce gunfight. Armed with two rifles, two revolvers and a shotgun, Tait drove the officers into retreat. When they paused to reload, the policemen realized that their chief was not with them. He lay mortally wounded inside. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to rescue him, the police finally dragged the lifeless body from the apartment.

Ultimately Tait shot himself and Frankie Russell surrendered. It was ironic that a drug addict would kill MacLennan. He had strongly advocated a treatment centre for addicts as an alternative to punishment, an idea one hundred years before its time in Vancouver.