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Entries in Winnipeg (2)


The Fakir of Wolseley

Early on May 15 1919 in the neighbourhood known as Happyland (which later became Wolseley - neither happy nor unhappy due to Restoril and Xanax) a man, posing as a monk, was nabbed in the act of deflating bicycle tires and opening the diaper flaps of idling dray horses.


For weeks, Happyland-Wolseleyites had glimpsed the miscreant and there was a whisper campaign where he was dubbed "The Barbarian" or "The Anarchist". Some suspected he was a Bolshevik since that word was in vogue. It was thought a few of them had infiltrated from far away and were trying to lure young sons into the ballet.

They caught this barbarian-monk very near the spot where the Westminster Tot Lot and the Organic Planet Worker Co-op exist today but for reasons of national security we are unable to be more precise, or even to disclose how we came on this info.

Suffice to say the rogue claimed complete innocence, pleaded for mercy and said he was just going door-to-door canvassing for alms. But really, there was little doubt in the minds of most that he was a disturber of gumbo-grade excrement. Besides, no one had really even heard of alms since the term for this, in Happyland, was baksheesh.

He was caught when an observant Wolseley gardener, peering from behind her cannabis and rhododendron bushes, saw that the Rasputin-like sneak had the only wheels with air. Everyone else's had been deflated.  And she reported smelling a horse-dung vapour trail mere footsteps behind wherever he trod. The rogue also was also wearing that weird purple robe you see on monks today when they stand together in unity with Justin Trudeau in Myanmar, which was then Burmese territory of British India and no Trudeau had been elected even for the first time.


Anyway the purple robe was a dead giveaway when you really stop and think about it.

And so folks knew intuitively that the erstwhile monk was a ne'er-do-well. And when he made the mistake of rapping on the ornate oak door of the home of Charles Frederick Gray the jig was sauced. "Begging for arms? I'll show you arms!" Gray poncified, as he also happened to be the city's mayor. And so, because he was empowered to do so, Mayor C.F. Gray called in the fire brigade. (And when you look in the history books you discover there was something going on between third parties and the mayor and fire brigade at the time.) But then C.F. Gray also ended up reading the Riot Act, because he was empowered to do so. And one thing led to another. And the good people of Wolseley (aka Happylanders) felt empowered and so gave the monk-poser all the alms he could beg for alright. They fastened that rogue-culprit-monk right then and there to a wide Wolseley elm - so that he might contemplate through the day the suffering they might later inflict on him.

Now it remained early in the a.m., remember, and so off was the direction in which most of the Wolesleyers fucked, as they travelled to work and then arrived against the granularity of others who were not working that day, it being the apex of a general strike. Still, the Happylanders huddled together and pondered what to do with the rogue. "Look at the hook on that Bolshie - he's one of those foreign fakirs," suggested the mayor. "For sure this is the son of a daddy-fakir and mother-fakir," agreed the educated water-cooler crowd who gathered at City Hall, not just a few Happylanders among them. And the bunch of them got whipped into a bit of a froth over the whole thing. "The eyes. Like those of the football club manager," said one frother. "He likely does capital markets business at Deutsche Bank," whispered another.

An aperitif; Winkler sausage

So on and so forth, back and fro-to. Until finally the majority of Happylanders decided the best course would be to throw the son of a mother-fakir into the Assiniboine River after they got home from work, had an aperitif, dinner, and laid on his every bone a good beating. This was justified seeing as how monk hook-mother was probably from the North End, anyway.

And this is where it got interesting. Because it was precisely then – high noon - that the local ice wagon driver (who sold harpitars, Fuller brush and Avon products, Singer sewing machines, Colliers Encyclopediae, MSG-free Winkler sausage and vacuum prototypes as well as ice blocks) was driving his cool wagon along the Wolseley rues and vards. The ice-vendor saw the misbegotten monk tied to the elm tree and quizzified him.

"So what's on you mother-fakir? You feel me? Why are you tied to this tree?"

Incidentally, the iceman-Fuller etc wore a strawberry-hued cap with a vacuum cleaner advert that said: Filter Queen Sure Sucks. Who could dare say that he was not the sharpest sword in the celestial armoury?

"Ah, some men have put me here because I won't accept their money," explained mother-rogue monk-poser think-ahead sneak.

"What do you mean, you won't take their money? And why do they want to give it to you?" asked icicle-Fuller-feely man, his eyes narrowing.

"Can you not see from my Trudeau-appealing robe that I am a contemplative? They are trying to corrupt me. Godless bunch these Wolseleys."

"I feel you," said iceman, who had a suggestion and a plan. And so he unbound the poor fakir from the elm tree and they changed places.

Later, following an aperitif, dinner, and a few digestifs, a crowd gathered beneath the phattest neighbourhood elm for an early evening beating and river-tossing. They put a sack over the head of the Fuller-ice-sausage-feely guy. Down to the riverbank among the scrub-oak branches which rose all scraggly like the arms of the crucified, they dragged their victim.


And together they tossed him into the Assiniboine.

Now in 1919 the Assiniboine River was at its highest and swiftest since 1883 when everything got disrupted by Krakatoa, the sky turned a queezy purple, and Charles F. Gray's second cousin Marvin strangled the six starlings. So ice-man drowned.

The day followed the night and Wolseleyite-Happylanders were amazed to see the rogue-nosed barbarian-mother enter their hood on an ice-wagon with all of this Avon-Fuller vacuum paraphernalia dangling out all jingly-jangly.

"Where have you been and where did you get that fabulous MSG-free Winkler sausage?" they asked.

"In the Assiniboine are kindly spirits who reward all who jump in and 'drown' in this manner," said the rogue, taking a swig of bottled Avon-water.

In almost less time than it takes to tell, all of Happyland dashed to the Assiniboine and leaped in.

And this was how the anarchist-monk son-of-a-mother-fakir took over Wolseley. THE END.


Reader Note: This blog entry was updated 2017, first published here 2012.


(Top Image: Man With Blue Thoughts 14x11 w/c, by David Roberts; Inside image: Sea and Stone 12X16 w/c India Ink by David Roberts)


A Dark and Stormy Night

A Winter's Night (16x12 watercolour on board)

It wasn't a Kennedy assassination moment, or a 9/11 moment. But I quite vividly remember a morning 12 years ago when news came on the radio that a body had been found in a car in the city of Selkirk, just north of Winnipeg.

Call it premonition – you wonder where they come from - but I thought: 'Who do I know in Selkirk?' And in that instant Mark Stobbe bounced to mind. We'd bumped into each other a few days earlier and he mentioned he had recently bought a home in St. Andrews, not far from Selkirk.

I met Stobbe in the mid-1990s when he was a political operative in Roy Romanow's Saskatchewan government. As a PR guy he was impressively large and friendly and helpful to an interloping newspaper reporter trying to get a feel for the political imperatives in a neighbouring province. I was a bit surprised in September 2000 to see him on the streets of Winnipeg and to hear he was now working for Manitoba Premier Gary Doer.

Called to commiserate

Later, on that October day more than a decade ago, when I got to my office in the Globe and Mail bureau in downtown Winnipeg, more details trickled out about the body in the car in Selkirk. There had been a slaying. And the victim was Bev Rowbotham, wife of Mark Stobbe, senior communications advisor to the Manitoba government.

It was surreal as I reflexively called Mark's home to commiserate. I told him I could not believe what I had heard on the news. “It's shitty,” he admitted in his understated Stobbe-esque way.

Of course I knew, and he knew that I knew, that suspicion would fall on him for the killing. Nine times in 10 it's the husband, out of anger. Until he was ruled out as a suspect, Stobbe would have to be the RCMP's main man.

Since Bev Rowbotham's body was found some distance from the family home and the story was that Bev had failed to return home after a late evening shop to Selkirk for groceries, we were being asked to believe she was attacked and killed in a random act by an unknown perpetrator. Not very likely, but not 100 percent impossible either, I thought. At that time I did not know Bev was killed in the back yard of the family home. Nor did I know Bev had been bludgeoned repeatedly with a hatchet or hammer – apparently 16 times – an emotional outburst.

Before long Mark Stobbe no longer worked for the government. A dark cloud of suspicion hung over his head as he took to operating a candy route to support himself and two young children. I'll admit to feeling some sympathy: if the guy is innocent, he's tragically lost his wife, his job, his reputation. I tried to buck him up and we had lunch a few times in the months that followed.

Full of food

Several times I asked him if he killed Bev and, just as he repeatedly told jurors at his murder trial last month, he steadfastly denied any involvement in her terrible death.

As police leaked selective details of the case to the media, Mark gave me explanations for things that might cast suspicion. Why did Bev need to go shopping when the family fridge was full of food? The fridge was full of food because family members, friends and neighbours all brought food in the hours and days after the murder.

Months passed and Mark was bitterly frustrated that the focus of the RCMP investigation appeared to be only on himself as a suspect. He mentioned that around the time of Bev's killing a woman driving on a rural road near Selkirk had been attacked by two hammer-wielding women who tried to rob her as they pretended their car had broken down. How coincidental is that? Why weren't the Mounties chasing down that possible lead?

It was only at trial that the public were told DNA and bone fragments pointed to the back yard as the location of the killing. And so the question arose: Who had a motive after the fact to remove Bev Rowbotham's bodyand take it in the family sedan 15 kilometres to Selkirk, where the car and body were some hours later found abandoned?

Sometime in late 2002 Mark moved back to Saskatchewan and we lost contact.

In 2008 he was arrested and charged with second degree murder. Police apparently had shopped around for a prosecutor who would support a charge on the strength of not much more than suspicion. Four prosecutors who were  previously consulted said there was insufficient evidence to lay a criminal charge against Mark Stobbe or anyone else.

A wise conclusion

So then, last month, after a seven week trial, the testimony of 80 some witnesses, several gruelling days on the witness stand and 12 years under a cloud, Mark Stobbe was found not guilty in the death of his wife Beverly Rowbotham.

I'm relieved and impressed that 12 citizen jurors reached this wise conclusion.

From what I could parse from news reports at trial, there wasn't evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mark Stobbe was connected to the killing.

Oh, you may have your  suspicions. But our justice system requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict.

So a finding of not guilty was the correct verdict, in law.

In the end, Mark Stobbe may be the only person to know whether it was correct in fact.

(A version of this was published in The Winnipeg Free Press on April 20, 2012.)

(Top: A Winter's Night 16 x12 Italian watercolour pigments on board)