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New book devoted to Canada's Sherlock Holmes

Last Updated Jun 11, 2017 at 8:07 am PDT

Inspector Vance, Vancouver’s first forensic scientist, called this machine a gun printer and used it for early fire arms examination. (Courtesy Blood, Sweat and Fear Facebook)
Summary

John Vance started out as a simple city inspector before helping solve hit-and-runs, safe-crackings, and murders

He faced seven attempts on his life

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The story of Vancouver’s very first forensic investigator is the subject of a new book.

“Blood Sweat and Fear,” is the latest from historian Eve Lazarus. She is devoting an entire book to Vancouver Police Inspector John Vance, who some have dubbed Canada’s answer to Sherlock Holmes.

He helped detectives solve hit-and-runs, safe-crackings, and some of the most sensational murder cases of the 20th century.

But John Vance started out as a simple city inspector.

“His role was primarily checking that the food and water and alcohol and anything for the public consumption was safe,” Lazarus says.

She points out it wasn’t until 1914 that Vance went to his first crime scene, when he was called in to help in a missing person’s case in the West End.

“By the 20s, the newspapers are really grabbing hold of him and they’re almost treating him like he’s a celebrity, as he goes about using trace evidence by this point and firearms examination and serology and toxicology and all these sorts of things.”

“What I found fascinating was, the Vancouver Police Department was the only police department in Canada that had a forensic scientist on staff and regularly used forensics in its investigations.”

She points out Vance may have become a little too good at his job.

“There was a bomb put in his home office, there was a bomb put under his car. Someone had fiddled with his brakes. The last attempt [on his life] was a criminal had broken into his garage and actually threw acid at him, trying to blind him.”

“(That) did create some huge burns all over his body that he had to deal with for the rest of his life.”

In all, there were seven attempts on his life, and for a time, he and his family had to be kept under constant police guard for their protection.

Lazarus says, no matter what resistance he faced in his 42-year career, Vance kept his moral compass, especially in the midst of corruption that reached to the top of the police force and to City Hall.

Vance’s legacy lives on today at the Vancouver Police Museum, which is home to his old crime lab.