The Vancouver Police Museum is often singled out as one of Vancouver’s most haunted sites for good reason. Built in 1932 and designed by architect Arthur J. Bird, the police museum, now a designated heritage building, originally served as the city’s Coroner’s Court, Autopsy Suite and City Analyst’s Lab. During its 78 years in service, it regularly ushered in thousands of bodies for refrigeration in the morgue or for autopsies in the autopsy suite. It was the place where the dead came for examinations that, as the late, great former Chief Coroner Glen Mc Donald liked to say “would help protect the living.”
It has witnessed natural deaths, accidental deaths, murders and mysteries—many of which still are unsolved to this very day. For example, the victims of Vancouver’s first triple homicide, the Pauls family, had their autopsies performed here in 1958, and despite many compelling theories, their killer or killers have yet to be found.
A year later, in 1959, Errol Flynn’s body was brought here after he reportedly took Demerol to relieve back pain at Glen Gould’s uncle’s penthouse in the West End. Gould was a doctor and gave the medicine Flynn, of course, hoping to relieve his pain. Instead, Flynn went down to rest in a room and never woke up. The Coroner’s report listed the death as “Myocardial infarction; fatty degeneration of the liver; partial cirrhosis of the liver and diverticulosis of the colon,”—all findings that led McDonald to deem the death “as having been due to natural causes.”
Just next to the morgue, thousands of inquests took place in the Coroner’s Courtroom too—each seeking to answer the essential question famously posed by McDonald during his proceedings:
“We have been inquiring to the best of our abilities into the circumstances of someone’s death. That person cannot, of course, be with us today in this courtroom. But, if he, or she, could be present, he would surely want to ask us one very simple and important question, ‘How come I’m dead?’ … If you can find the answer, maybe we can prevent a needless death in the future.”—Judge Glen McDonald from his book, How Come I’m Dead?
In 1980, the Coroner Services eventually moved elsewhere, but the City Analysts Lab in the police museum basement was still in use until 1996. Down here, the city’s best forensic experts examined everything from bullets to blood samples—anything that would guide them towards the cause of a crime, murder or death.
In the basement, the main rooms, including The Blood Room, the Overflow Morgue and the Forensic Lab, are all still relatively intact—though they are used for different purposes. Frequently, they host Vancouver Police Museum staff and volunteers who mull through old archives and artefacts for safekeeping, proper documentation, and exhibit preparation. Occasionally, they welcome authors, reporters and historians who seek information about the city’s crime history.
The former lab is not open to the public. Though, on occasion, small groups, such as those taking part in our Morgue Ghost Tours this month, do get a rare peek inside.
Needless to say, death has always been a large part of the police museum building’s history, and many individuals have seen and heard the otherworldly spirits that still linger around here. Darryl Pearson, founder of the NPI, Northern Paranormal Investigations, is one of those folks. As someone who has been visiting and conducting paranormal investigations in the museum for over 10 years, he has witnessed many things go bump in the night here—and has the recordings to prove it.
One recording, for example, suggests the presence of a particularly frustrated spirit who grew tired of NPI’s questions. “Are you tired of interacting with us?” one of the members asks, after which there is the loud sound of a door closing. Strangely, none of the members heard this noise during the session, but after listening to the recording, they were astonished to hear the unmistakable sound of a latchbolt clicking into a door strike.
Another recording captured the sound of tiny bare feet running through the autopsy room. Some of his associates whom Pearson likes to say are, like him, ‘sensitives,’ claim to have seen or felt the spirit of young boy or girl moving through the halls at one time or another. They believe there is a good chance that these footsteps belong to this child. “They were quiet, but audible enough that we heard them,” Pearson says. “They didn’t sound like shoed footsteps. They sounded like bare feet…you can hear them slap a little bit.” He and his team thought about this for a bit and realized that “If you are on the autopsy table, you are definitely not going to have shoes on.”
Sometimes these sessions have a meaningful purpose too. For example, NPI has had several sessions where they’ve asked about the unsolved Pauls murders. “We are always trying to find answers as to what really happened because it’s an unknown… it’s an unsolved murder,” Pearson notes. “In the Autopsy Room and in the main morgue area we have asked questions about where the Pauls were found… and a couple of times, we’ve gotten back: “the basement.” He adds, “But we know the mother was found in the upstairs hallway, we know the kid was found in the bedroom…but I’ve gone back months later and asked the same question: ‘Where were the Pauls killed?’ and still we hear something say ‘Basement.’”
It’s not hard to see why there might be a few ghosts floating around The Vancouver Police Museum. Aside from the many bodies that it has hosted over the years, it also is home to over 40,000 original police-related archives and artefacts—many of which are original pieces of evidence from true crimes.
For instance, the axe used in the Kosberg murders stands front and centre in the True Crime exhibit, while the original autopsy tables stand firmly in the Autopsy Suite.
Whether you are into all things paranormal or not, the museum is a fascinating place to visit regardless. “Spooky stuff aside,” says former Director Rosslyn Shipp, “we just want to engage the public with interesting Vancouver history as it pertains to justice and important related initiatives. There is a lot for people to do here. They can learn about Vancouver’s traffic history, police dogs, firearms, forensics—and yes, true crimes too.