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Memories of officer’s tragic death linger in Whitbourne

Sophie Cranford, age six, reads an article about the shooting printed by The Daily News in 1964. She is standing in the exact spot where Const. Robert Amey died.
Sophie Cranford, age six, reads an article about the shooting printed by The Daily News in 1964. She is standing in the exact spot where Const. Robert Amey died. - Arthur Green

Residents recall fatal shooting of Const. Robert Weston Amey 53 years later

A monument in honoring Const. Robert Amey. It sits across the road from Amey’s death site in the war memorial in the town of Whitbourne.
A monument in honoring Const. Robert Amey. It sits across the road from Amey’s death site in the war memorial in the town of Whitbourne.

WHITBOURNE, NL — It’s tragedy that shocked the quiet town of Whitbourne seven days before Christmas. The residents were in high spirits and busy preparing for the holiday season.

The event rocked the province at the time. However, many have forgotten this heartbreak 53 years later. But not the people of Whitbourne who were traumatized. For some residents who saw the events unfold that morning, the pain stays.

Const. Robert Weston Amey, age 24 from Pondville, Nova Scotia, became the second Mountie killed in Newfoundland history when an escaped convict from Her Majesty’s Penitentiary shot him dead on the morning of Dec. 17, 1964.

Melvin Young, an 18-year-old from St. George’s, was the shooter who would cut Amey’s life short and forever scar a town. For some citizens such as Charles Drover, this is the first time he has spoken publicly about the events that unfolded at Barrett’s store next door to his house on that cold, damp morning in December of 1964.

“I was six years old at the time sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast before going to school,” Drover said. “We watched the whole situation except the shooting.”

It began as a routine shift for the young RCMP officer in a small rural community. Until the silence was broken by an early morning radio call from the St. John’s detachment.

The escape

Today’s view of Cabot Avenue, formerly known as Williams Road in Whitbourne. Const. Amey stopped Clarence Mercer as a young boy on this road the morning of his death in 1964.
Today’s view of Cabot Avenue, formerly known as Williams Road in Whitbourne. Const. Amey stopped Clarence Mercer as a young boy on this road the morning of his death in 1964.

Four escaped prisoners stole a 1963 Valiant after fleeing over the wall from HMP and were traveling towards Whitbourne on the Trans Canada Highway.

Const. Amey and his partner headed east at once on the double-lane highway towards Ocean Pond to set up a roadblock and look for the fugitives.

The suspect vehicle ran through the officer’s roadblock and headed into Whitbourne at the cut off formally known as Browns Crossing. The fugitives would eventually take a shopkeeper, Fred Barrett, hostage and forever change a small town’s history.

Const. Amey found the empty car that morning near the Irving gas station, which is just across the road from the former Barrett’s store. The fugitives were in town hiding somewhere. At once, Amey and his partner began their search, stopping local children to ask if they had seen anything.

One of those children is resident Rudy Mercer’s brother Clarence.

Today’s view of Bond Road where the station wagon ambulance passed Patricia Thorne.
Today’s view of Bond Road where the station wagon ambulance passed Patricia Thorne.

“My brother was on his way to the end of Williams Road now known as Cabot Ave. to get on Reid’s bus when the two police officers stopped and asked him if he had seen anyone,” Mercer said. “Clarence said no and the officers went on down the road.”

Mercer said shortly after this when Clarence got up to the hill the escapees jumped out and grabbed him and asked what he told police.

The convicts would eventually head towards Barrett’s store, where the young constable eventually found them.

News reports at the time in 1964 said the convicts got into a scuffle with the two officers and Melvin Young gained control of Amey’s partner’s 38 revolver, firing three shots. One struck Amey in the chest, killing him instantly.

Lily Porter-Hobbs, a former school teacher, remembers that day quite well. She was hanging clothes on the line before going to school and the pain of that day has stayed with her all these years.

“I heard a gunshot,” Porter-Hobbs said. “That was a day I will never forget. Const Amey was going to be Santa at our school that day. A very sad day.”

A local boy Dave Mercer had left for school earlier that morning to drop off a couple of batteries in the garage for his dad.

“Const. Amey was laying on the ground in front of Mr. Drover's house,” Mercer said. “I will never forget that horrible day.”

Hostage situation

After Amey was shot, Young would flee into Barrett’s, taking the owner hostage. It is forever etched in the memory of Charles Drover, who saw it all happen.

“I saw all the police officers with guns drawn as they surrounded the store from the kitchen window,” Drover said. “That is where Malcom Young had Fred Barrett held hostage.”

He watched as the shopkeeper was held at gun point in the back door of the store. Police talked Young down and arrested him, Drover says.

Const. Amey was rushed to the nearby Markland Hospital via Bond Road while officers talked Young down.

Patricia Thorne, who lived just down from the RCMP Barracks on Bond, remembers watching the station wagon ambulance pass her house that morning.

“I can still see the soles of his boots in the back window as they drove past,” Thorne said. “Funny how little things stay in your mind.”

The former Markland Cottage Hospital where Const. Amey was rushed after he had been shot. The building is now part of the Rodrigues Winery.
The former Markland Cottage Hospital where Const. Amey was rushed after he had been shot. The building is now part of the Rodrigues Winery.

When Const. Amey’s body arrived at the Markland Cottage Hospital, Margaret George and Gloria Brazil were working. There was nothing that could be done for the dead officer.

“I was on duty at Markland Cottage Hospital the day it happened,” Brazil said. “While a lot of the surrounding circumstances have faded in my memory, the shooting and delivery of Const. Amey's body to the hospital will always be with me.”

The Mountie was pronounced dead after only serving five years in the RCMP — the second officer to be killed in the line of duty in Newfoundland. His body would be returned to his hometown of Pondville, where his parents accepted Amey’s remains. Their son was buried in the Anglican Church Cemetery.

Melvin Young served eight years for the fatal shooting of Const. Amey and was released in 1972.

Byron Suley of Whitbourne said he met someone at a bar in Fort McMurray in the late 1970’s who claimed to be Young.

“He was drunkenly bragging that he had shot a policeman,” Suley said. “A jaw-dropping encounter, given how traumatic an event it was for me as an 11-year-old boy.”

Melvin Young could not be reached for comment.

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