Walker Graham, an amateur historian from Dawson City, has his own theory about the identities of the dead men recently unearthed. He believes two of them are Edward Labelle and Peter Fournier, perhaps the most notorious convicts to be executed during the gold rush.
The pair were hanged on Jan. 20, 1903, for the murder of three men whose bullet-ridden bodies were found weighed down with stones in the river.
"It concerned a murder based on greed, carried out in the most brutal manner imaginable, without mercy, in secret, and by stealth and cowardice," wrote Ken Coates, a historian at the University of Waterloo. "Fournier was a drifter, unemployed, a passive character, not very intelligent - all in all, a rather minor actor in the drama. Labelle on the other hand was quick and resourceful and was, moreover, an experienced criminal. He was the leader, Fournier the follower."
The manhunt for Mr. Labelle became the stuff of legend, helping to solidify the Mounties' fame. W.H. Welsh, a police detective, spent more than a month tracking the man through several states, until Mr. Labelle was arrested and shackled in Wadsworth, Nev., and returned to the Yukon.
Justice at the time was truly swift. The jury trial of Labelle lasted five days, which Justice James Craig considered "long and wearisome." Mr. Fournier's trial lasted seven hours, and the jury spent just three minutes before returning with a guilty verdict.
"It seems impossible," said Judge Craig, "that any human being made in the image of God could be guilty of such a crime."
Special to The Globe and Mail
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