Murder and mayhem at Mile 108

Many of the roadhouses on the Cariboo Wagon Road had an interesting and colourful past.

Barry Sale

Special to the Tribune/Advisor

Many of the roadhouses on the Cariboo Wagon Road had an interesting and colourful past, but none of them could match the story of the Mile 108 Roadhouse between 1875 and 1885.

During that time, the roadhouse was located at the junction of the Cariboo Wagon Road and a fur brigade trail which led to Harper’s Camp (Horsefly).

This original location is across the highway from the present 108 Mile Heritage site).

The roadhouse was owned and operated by Scots woman, Agnes McVee and her “husband” Jim.

Agnes was a buxom, strong, attractive woman who had come from Scotland to settle in B.C.

According to old legal records found in the old country, she was wanted for seven murders and three beatings in her home town.

It was also said that she could lift a 200 pound sack of grain with ease.

At the time, the Mile 108 roadhouse was a three-story inn.

Agnes ran the place, Jim tended to the horses and livestock, and did all of the chores around the place.

Al Riley, the bartender, was a scheming, muscular young man who was also Agnes’s son-in-law. Both men were completely dominated by Agnes. It was common knowledge that at this roadhouse, a traveller could purchase food, liquor, and lodging, and, for a price, a young woman.

Girls who were running away from home often came through the area on their way to the gold fields of the Cariboo, hoping to find a rich husband.

It was said that Agnes would capture these girls, tie them up with ropes, and keep them manacled in one of the outbuildings until she could sell them. But the story gets worse. When a man stopped at the roadhouse with money, looking to purchase a companion, or even just for an evening’s board and room, Al, the bartender, would ply him with whiskey.

After several drinks, Al would make an excuse to leave the room.

He would creep outside, meet up with Agnes, who handed him a loaded rifle, and then he would shoot the unsuspecting traveller from behind through an open window.

Meanwhile, Jim had a horse already harnessed to a wagon and waiting.

The three of them would load up the corpse and take it to the nearby lake where it was dumped in, and just left there.

Those who were found were assumed to have been murdered and robbed by outlaws, according to the local authorities.

Madams of houses of ill repute, farmers, merchants, miners, and prospective buyers of Agnes’s young women were all to fall victim to these three murderers. Over a 10 year period, it is said that the remains of at least 59 bodies were found in the small lakes of the area.

Agnes would take the loot carried by her victims, most of it in gold nuggets or coin, and bury it near the roadhouse.

According to various estimates, Agnes had more than $150,000 buried in various caches in the area.

Jim would take the horses of the victims, waiting until he had collected a string of them, then he would head south to Fort Kamloops, where he became quite well known as a wealthy horse dealer.

Then, suddenly, it all fell apart for the three villains. A good looking gambler with the last name of MacDonald appeared. He wanted to buy a girl to take with him to the goldfields.

The usual plan was implemented, and when Al Riley joined Agnes outside to do the shooting, she refused to give him Instead, she went back into the roadhouse and the next morning she sold MacDonald a comely 17-year-old girl for $4,000.

He left with the girl and rode off towards the north. But Jim followed the pair, and returned that evening with a sack of gold coins.

Agnes angrily confronted her husband, and Jim admitted to killing MacDonald. He gave Agnes the sack of coins.

The next morning, Agnes appeared to have forgiven Jim, and she cooked him a hearty breakfast. Part way through, he stopped and fell to the floor, rolling about with violent convulsions.

Jim died shortly after, poisoned by Agnes.

Agnes warned her son-in-law to say nothing about Jim’s death.

But Agnes and Jim had forgotten about the girl. Local law enforcement officers found her wandering along the road. She told them the whole story, the kidnapping and murders.

Just as Agnes and Al were carrying Jim’s body out to the wagon, the law arrived at the roadhouse.

Agnes told them that her husband had accidentally eaten some rat poison, and that they were preparing to give him a proper burial. She denied any murders and denied there were any girls at the place.

However, after some “persuasion” Al Riley broke down and admitted everything. When the place was searched, the law found eight young girls, all chained together and half starved.

Agnes McVee and Al Riley were taken to Fort Kamloops then on to New Westminster, charged with kidnapping and murder.

Agnes had somehow hidden some of the poison she used on Jim, and in June 1885, shortly before she was brought to trial, she committed suicide by poisoning. Al was found guilty of all charges and hanged.

In 1892, the roadhouse was torn down and moved to the other side of the Cariboo Wagon Road.

There, the wood was used to build a telegraph office/ store and post house, which are still standing today.

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