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Vancouver Confidential: New book tells hidden stories of murder, gangsters

09/15/2014 09:00 EDT | Updated 11/15/2014 05:59 EST
There was no doubt that Malcolm Woolridge killed his wife Viola on March 1, 1947, but Vancouver writer Diane Purvey says that didn't stop officials from putting Viola on trial for her own murder.

"Four months later he was on trial, but who actually was on trial was Viola," Purvey told Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.

The bizarre case is one of several untold stories from the city's early 20th century in the book Vancouver Confidential, published Monday by Anvil Press.

The book chronicles the lives of marauders, hobos and gangsters, and aims to "plumb the shadows of civic memory looking for the stories that don’t fit into mainstream narratives," according to Anvil. 

Purvey, who is the dean of arts at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, says she wanted to write about the story of Viola Woolridge because it reveals the attitudes towards women during the era, as well as Vancouver's violent history.

Malcolm Woolridge was ultimately convicted of manslaughter in Voila's death, but in the courtroom and the court of public opinion, she was portrayed as a troublesome wife whose murder was somehow justified.

"By any standard, their relationship was a rocky one," Purvey said.

"In 1947, they were having a particularly bad argument, and Malcolm pulled out a gun and shot her three times, went to a neighbour's house and phoned the police and said, 'I've shot my wife.'"

Victim's character was on trial

In the subequent trial, Viola was depicted as a "bad" wife. She didn't cook dinner for her husband. Her house was untidy.

"They brought witnesses up to talk about how bad Viola was, and Malcolm was constantly referenced as being a boy, a child," Purvey said.

She was also seen as being a poor mother.

"Their child was apparently taken from them at several times, put into the care of Children's Aid Society," said Purvey.

Finally, Purvey said, Viola was thought of as sexually immoral.

"She was seen as having a letter-writing relationship with someone in Oakalla [prison in Burnaby]," she says.

Though there was no doubt Malcolm killed Viola, he walked away a free man.

"At the end of the trial … [the judge] actually says to [Malcolm], 'Boy, you have suffered enough. Put this behind you, and go and make a life for yourself.'"

The book Vancouver Confidential will be launched on Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. PT at the Emerald Supper Club, at 555 Gore St., in Vancouver's Chinatown.

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