George Sproule grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, wanting to be a doctor. He realized into his late teenaged years that there was no way his parents could afford university, because he had six brothers. So, he looked around for other career choices.
“I was walking down the street one day and passed an RCMP recruiting center,” Sproule recalls. “There was a big sign in the window that said, ‘The Force Needs You.’ I went in and inquired about it.”
The officer he met with set up all the required appointments and paperwork he needed to get into the Force. Six months later he received word that he was accepted.
Twenty-eight years later, he retired a Staff Sergeant who had an incredible career and several brushes with royalty.
While Sproule was training at the RCMP Depot he met with the lady behind the ‘Royal’ in Royal Canadian Mounted Police. On October 17th, 1951, Queen Elizabeth visited Regina for the first time, when she was then Princess Elizabeth. Along with her husband, Prince Philip, they stopped in Regina as part of a six-week tour of Canada. The prince and princess went to the RCMP barracks for a tour and afternoon tea with about 80 guests. Sproule’s squadron was due to graduate but was kept back a month to do a presentation for Her Majesty.
“We were made to go outside in our shorts and do our drills while she watched,” Staff Sgt. Sproule chuckled. “Being October, we were freezing. As soon she left, we were given our transfers.” It was the first of four encounters with the Queen.
While at Depot he was told he was too young to go to British Columbia or up north, “You had to be 21 in those days, and I was only 19.” Instead, he was sent to Canada’s newest province, Newfoundland.
"I took the Newfie Bullet from Port aux Basque to St. John’s,” he says. “I loved all the adventure and all the coves.”
Sproule, being an avid photographer and painter took advantage of the landscape, “I photographed fishermen and dory’s, coves and mountains. I still have them all. I also painted over seventy-five scenes and sold them in a local gallery in St. John’s.”
He said he’ll never forget the wind and cold, “During my time there I had grown a handlebar-moustache. When I went out in the rain and cold it would get wet and often times stuck to my wool collar. If I moved to quickly, I would almost rip it off my face.”
He is immensely proud to be one of the first members to come to Newfoundland. “I have photos of old St. John’s and the horse drawn carriages downtown.” He was stationed in this province three times. “I got to see all of Newfoundland and a good part of Labrador.”
After he completed his general duty, he decided he wanted to specialize in something and settled on the Identification Unit. “I wanted a skill,” he says. That skill led him to some of the biggest investigations in Newfoundland and Canadian history and he was declared an expert in fingerprint analyses by the Supreme Court of Canada.
His skill set eventually brought him to Alberta where he helped convict a murderer who became that province’s last execution. Robert Raymond Cook was the last official hanging in Alberta. When a plea for his sentence to be commuted was rejected by federal officials, he was hanged on Nov. 15, 1960, the last person to die by capital punishment in Alberta before it was formally abolished in Canada in 1976.
With the storyline of a Hollywood film, Cook, a local vandal known to police for petty theft became the centre of a seven-family member massacre within the sleepy town of Stettler, Alta. in 1959.
Cook was spotted driving a flashy white 1959 Chevrolet impala convertible with red leather interior. For a town of 3,600 at the time the vehicle was hard to miss for Const. Allan Braeden. Cook was asked to go to the police station after Sergeant Thomas Roach received a call from a dealership in Edmonton stating they had incomplete paperwork filled out by a man named Raymond Cook. Cook told the sergeant that he gave his father $4,100 in cash to pay for a move to British Columbia to start a garage business.
In return, his father gave him the family station wagon which he traded in Edmonton for the new convertible. After some questioning by the sergeant, Cook was charged with conducting business under false pretences and put under arrest until his story could be proved by family. Sgt. Roach and a couple of officers visited the Cook home a mere two blocks away from the station and found nothing unusual other than children’s running shoes left behind and bed covers removed. The next morning a team of RCMP investigators descended on Cook’s seemingly normal family home.
Const. George Sproule was first to spot tiny, dried blood stains on the television screen and a piece of flesh on the wall. The master bedroom was in disarray with many articles of clothing strewn over the bed. An officer lifted some of the clothing to discover a large, damp bloodstain in the centre then the bent double-barrel of a shotgun.
The search was on to find the bodies and investigators moved to the garage. In it, large heavy pieces of cardboard lined the floor to avoid oil stains when working on vehicles. They gently removed each piece from the ground which revealed the unmistakable stench of decaying bodies. The infamous grease pit was where the bodies of all seven family members were found including Raymond Cook, Daisy Cook and their children: Gerald, 9, Patrick, 8, Christopher, 6, Kathy, 4 and Linda, 3.
“I’ll never forget the smell,” Sproule says. He photographed the entire scene and was the first to use coloured photography at a scene. The photos were later used for training purposes in Ottawa.
Robert Cook was sent to the Ponoka Mental Institution for a psychiatric evaluation. On Fri. July 10, between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and midnight, Cook escaped his maximum-security cell of the hospital.
Staff Sgt. Sproule next encounter with the Queen happened shortly after. From June 18 to August 1, 1959 Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip embarked on the Queen’s first major tour of Canada. She officially opened the St. Lawrence Seaway and visited all Canadian provinces and territories over the span of six weeks.
Staff Sgt. Sproule was a member of her security team in Alberta. After her visit was over, the team stopped in a wooded area, took off their Red Serge and opened a case of cold beer.
“We were just relaxing, and I was halfway through a beer when a radio call came in saying Robert Cooke had escaped from a mental hospital.”
Sproule went back to the detachment and retrieved his gear to join in on the hunt for Robert Cook. The killer surfaced and was found to be completely exhausted after spending 84 hours on the run.
“Because of Cook we had to postpone our wedding twice,” he says with a slight laugh. “I was called to testify, and the first date was in December and then in January. I had to stay and give evidence each time.” George and Arlene Sproule finally got married in February 1960 and have been together for sixty-one years.
In 1978 he was stationed back in St. John’s when he was called to the scene of an aircraft crash.
At 9am on Friday, 23 June 1978, a Gander Aviation Ltd. Beechcraft 80 took off from Torbay Airport en route to St. Anthony. This aircraft was one of three carrying members of the National Historical Sites and Monuments Board and local officials who were to attend a ceremony in L’Anse aux Meadows. Soon after departure, the aircraft informed the airport that it was at 165m and climbing to 1900m. Moments later, the emergency locator transmitter activated, indicating a crash. Locating the crash was hampered by thick fog in the area, and the crash was located by a search and rescue helicopter at 11:45am. Paratroopers could not be immediately dropped on site due to the thick fog and zero visibility conditions. All ten crew and passengers were killed in the crash.
Search and rescue had to wait until the fog lifted before they could land the helicopter and reach the site. An RCMP pilot named, Cpl. Vickers flew Sproule to the scene in a Force helicopter. He was the first RCMP officer to get to get there.
“The first thing I found was a foot in a boot,” he worked alone photographing the scene and collecting evidence. “It was a real mess. I was there for a couple of days surveying and documenting it. I had to collect all the body parts, tag them and bag them.”
It was unusually hot, and the scene was thick with mosquitoes. “I used mosquito spray and I was sweating. The spray and sweat kept getting in my eyes and burning them. I was in agony.” Finally, other officers arrived and helped with the scene. The Investigation continued for a number of weeks, and wreckage was recovered from the site.
He wasn’t long off the Torbay crash site when he had another encounter with the Queen. In August 1978, Her Majesty toured St. John's, Deer Lake, Strawberry Hill, Corner Brook, and Stephenville Airport. Staff Sgt. Sproule was a member of her escort and security team.
“Queen Elizabeth presented me with my name tag and credentials at Government house,” he says proudly. He was also the only photographer permitted to photograph the Queen during the formal events in St. John’s.
By the time he retired, he had met the Queen four times. “As soon as the Queen left, I went in an signed my retirement papers.” Staff Sgt. Sproule retired shortly after on December 31st, 1978 with twenty-eight years’ service.
“I was incredibly happy with my career. We transferred from Newfoundland to British Columbia and back again.” He fondly remembers his years in the RCMP. “I enjoyed my service.”
He says, “Today I would tell new cadets that they have to be dedicated to this type of work. They will face all kinds of crimes. Make sure you’re ready for that. It’s not for everyone.” He adds, “Be honest and treat people well. Respect everybody.”
At eighty-eight years old he and his Arlene retired to Edmonton where he spends his time painting and doing photography and thinks of his career often.
Throughout his career his unique skills in the Identification Unit led to the conviction of many criminals and gave closure to many victims.
As it turns out, the Force really did need him.
For more RCMP stories you can buy "In Search of Adventure - 70 Years of the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador" here