Written & Directed by Leonard Cler-Cunningham
Illustrations by Thomas McKinnon Voice Over by Manfred Vijars
Editing by Mariam Zohra D. Music by Dariusz Jackowski
Counting Bullets, Destroying Files, and One Young Father's Death
No rally was held; nor march organized. Douglas Higginbottom made the mistake of being shot and killed by the RCMP almost 50 years too early.
On April 28th, 1971, a 20 year old RCMP constable had lost track of a suspicious vehicle he was following, just outside of Clinton, BC, when he heard a loud bang and saw a flash on the pavement. Although no bullet was recovered from the scene or photo evidence collected, the RCMP were convinced that someone had taken a shot at the officer. According to RCMP occurrence detachment reports filed that day, a senior officer stated “It appears that this may have been done by Higginbottom.” and that “Members have been advised that if he is seen to pick him up for questioning”.
Despite the absence of any physical evidence or eye witness testimony, Douglas Higginbottom, 32, a young father and ranch hand, became the main suspect. His criminal record peppered with minor offenses against motor vehicle branch and liquor board violations, brought him in contact with police every few months for most of his adult life. According to family and friends, there was a long standing mutual grudge between police and Higginbottom.
In a phone interview with Rose Haler, Higginbottom’s common-law wife, she explains it would have been impossible for Douglas Higginbottom to have taken a shot at the RCMP, because she and Higginbottom were “in the mountains corralling wild horses” at the time of the alleged shooting.
Douglas’ only request was that he be able to grab a quick shave and change his shirt before they went to the station.
The Constable placed him in the front seat, passenger side. Just minutes after they drove away, Douglas, shot seven times, lay dying on the side of the road, and the young constable shot in the stomach, was being raced to the hospital in a patrol car.
According to a statement the young constable made the day after while he lay at Royal Inland Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit in Kamloops, BC, he had shot Douglas Higginbottom five times. Reloaded. And shot him twice more.
“He [Douglas] was sitting on the passenger side when he hit me and nearly knocked me out. I could faintly feel his hand taking my gun out of my holster and I grabbed for it. He opened the door and tried to get out and I hung on to him. I was half- in and half-out of the car when he shot me, pulled the trigger. Both of my hands were on the rifle, I mean revolver, when he pulled the trigger. This was on the right-hand side door of the police car. He had the butt of the gun and I had the barrel. I knew I had been shot. Then I fell towards the ground and I jerked the gun out of his grasp. He was after it and I was trying to keep it in my possession. At this time I pulled the trigger until it clicked and there were no shells left in it. I believe I had six shots in the gun. I know I had five anyways, He started off toward the back of the police car. I started after him and he fell. When I saw him fall, I thought he had it so I started back towards the car and fell twice before I radioed for help. I got out of the car and I was going towards him when he started to get up. I pulled the trigger again and the gun clicked. I know the gun was empty so I emptied it out and had only time to put two more rounds in. I fired at him twice more as he was coming toward me. He was only a few feet away from me when I fired the second time.”
British Columbia’s First Nations community, already reeling from three young white men being fined $200.00 for the rape and murder of Rose Mary Roper years earlier, had enough and in June of 1971, The British Columbia Native Brotherhood recruited lawyer Henry Castillou to represent the Higginbottom family at the Coroner’s Inquest.
Upon review of the files he would find that the first documented allegations by RCMP that “Higginbottom has threatened to kill members of this detachment as well as numerous other local people and has a history of violence” were made the day after Higginbottom was shot and killed. This raised obvious questions for the lawyer. Why would the young constable arrive alone to pick up somebody who had threatened to kill cops and had taken a shot at him? Who would let an alleged violent criminal go and have a shave? Why would you put them in the front passenger seat? Castillou was also troubled that the location of Higginbottom’s murder was the only possible site in the area where there were no eye-witnesses. In addition to that, Rose Haler told him and also testified at the coroner’s inquest that Douglas laid there wounded on the side of the road for hours without medical attention.
Castillou quickly became convinced that Higginbottom’s death had been “a roadside execution”.
According to Royal Canadian Mounted Police records:
“During heavy cross-examination by Mr. Castillou, he stressed the following points:
a) That Higginbottom may have lived for a few hours and no attempt was made to get medical aid for him.
b) That the shooting of Higginbottom was planned and that [Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cst. Button] had laid in wait and shot him, attending at the scene later.
c) That Higginbottom was shot at long range, attempting to escape from Cst. Tourond’s custody.
d) That there was a personal vendetta existing by the Police against HIGGINBOTTOM”
It didn’t matter what Castillou did. He was never going to win. He made the same mistake as Douglas Higginbottom. He was 50 years too early.
It took just five minutes for an all-white Coroner’s Jury to deliver their verdict:
“We the Jury find that Douglas Alfred HIGGINBOTTOM’s death, was a result of gun shot wounds, on the 4th day of May, A.D. 1971, at Clinton, on a gravel road leading to Kelly Lake Road.”
Records show that the RCMP shared Castillou ‘s concern about the Higginbottom shooting:
Handwritten notes are found in the RCMP’s Higginbottom file questioning their official version of events:
Halfway through the file is a typewritten note:
A decade after Douglas Higginbottom was shot and killed on the side of the road, the RCMP Archives Unit sent a request to the Clinton RCMP detachment, “Upon reviewing the headquarters file for disposition, it is felt that this is an interesting case for permanent retention.”
They were informed that the “file relating to the above occurrence has been destroyed and we are unable to comply.”