In the Summer of 1906 Canada’s Maritime Provinces were captivated by a strange mystery of two children who disappeared from their lawns in plain daylight. Nothing, as it turned out, was quite what it seemed…
The story was broken by a reporter who signed their articles as The Special Correspondent. She worked for the large industrial port city of Saint John’s biggest newspaper, called The Daily Telegraph. They travelled by train to the tiny coastal village of Cape Tormentine on the fog-shrouded Bay of Fundy to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the Creamer children.
The Special Correspondent wrote many long and in depth articles about their investigation, which were reprinted all over the Maritimes. All of the following quotes and conversations all directly taken from The Special Corrospondent’s series of newspaper articles published 116 years ago.
The Special Correspondent rolled into the tiny village named Cape Tormentine on an overnight train in May of 1906. She was met by a fierce gale, with strong northwesterly winds blowing in from off the cold waters of the straits. She was there to investigate a bizarre mystery; two children had seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.
Everything about the case was strange. Two children had just disappeared from their own front lawn when their parents were inside the house, and had only turned their backs on the kids for 10 minutes. A large search had been conducted, and there was no trace of them anywhere.
She first visited Sheriff McQueen, the lone police officer in the area, who told her “there had been nothing suspicious about the childrens’ disappearance.”
The children were Ollie and Ralph Creamer. Ollie was a 5 year old girl, while Ralph was about 3 years old.
The Special Correspondent went to the farm owned by the Creamer family.
It was a ramshackle and dilapidated series of shacks on the edge of a forest in a very rural area five miles outside of the village of Cape Tormentine named Peacock Settlement.
She wanted to talk to the children’s father, John Creamer, but was told that after an hour searching in the woods for the children, he became ill and had gone to his room and could not be woken up while the reporter was present.
However, The Special Correspondent met the children’s mother, 30 year old Ruth (Goodwin) Creamer, describing her as:
“Pale and fair, she has known scant sleep since Sunday night. As she talked she kept folding a strip of crimson cloth belonging to the pieces from which her baby boy’s blouse was made, which he was wearing when he disappeared.”
Ruth Creamer described what she remembered to The Special Correspondent:
“It was Sunday around 5 o’clock when the children went over to the field to pick white violets. Geneva was with them. I watched the children from the window and didn’t feel alarmed, for they never wandered far. It was all of an hour before I began to feel uneasy. Geneva had returned and didn’t say anything to alarm us until we began to feel anxious.”
Geneva was the oldest child, a girl of about 7 years, “a bright, interesting looking child who speaks without hesitation.”
"She told me last she saw her sister and brother were together on the edge of the woods a short distance from the home with a seventeen year old neighbour named Russell Trenholm. Then, says the girl, Trenholm invited Ollie to help him look for the cows. She went to go home, and turned around and the last she saw was the children standing by Trenholm’s side.”
The Special Correspondent next went up the road to the house next door, the Trenholm farm. Many siblings –at least 11 of them– lived there with their widowed mother, who was away at the time.
Russell Trenholm, who the reporter described as “an ordinary looking farm boy, large and slow moving, seeming somewhat unconscious” was eating dinner, but invited the Special Correspondent in, and freely told her his version of events:
“I left home between 5 and half past 5 o’clock Sunday evening last. I was going for the cows. I went back the house and up the fields until I was along the woods down toward the Creamer house. There I met Ollie and Ralph and Geneva Creamer. They were together not far from the back of the little brook by the house. They wanted to know what I was doing. I said I was looking for the cows. Ollie and Ralph wanted to know if they couldn’t help me find them. I told them they couldn’t.”
“I continued towards the woods, where there’s a common snake fence in the field. They followed me. I saw Geneva lift Ralph over the fence, and then she and Ollie climbed over themselves. I told them they’d best go back and nevermind looking for the cows.”
“Geneva and Ollie climbed back over the fence again, and I lifted Ralph over the fence, and placed him on the opposite side along with his sisters. Then I ran into the woods so they would not be able to follow me.”
Russell’s sister Belle chimed in saying that she saw from her house’s window her brother lifting Ralph over the fence.
Russell Trenholm paused and shyly asked: “I suppose people are thinking I killed them?”
The Special Corrospondent’s articles were republished in nearly every newspaper across the province, and an anxious mood seized New Brunswick.
Over the next few weeks newspapers were filled with a flood of stories reporting kidnapped children in big cities like Moncton and Saint John. However, each of those missing children was soon found. Perhaps influenced by what they heard the adults around them discussing, the children in the bigger cities were reported to be making up stories, and pretending to be kidnapped.
Much to the Special Corrospondant’s surprise, when they found Sheriff McQueen again after their reports were first published was furious with the attention their articles were bringing to the case. The Sheriff told them: “Until the children are found, I can hardly see there is a basis for taking action. I do not deny there are interesting features, but this is a case where it is necessary to proceed with great caution. Everything depends on the children. Proof, or something closely resembling proof, is necessary before I would feel justified questioning any person.”
Due to the Special Correspondents reporting, and the public outcry it caused, the government got involved. The province’s Attorney General sent a Special Magistrate to ‘assist’ Sheriff McQueen, and a special train of some 200 militia soldiers were sent to scour the area looking for the missing children. The soldiers walked in straight lines, with four foot gaps between them, scouring the forests for any trace of the missing children.
The Special Correspondent went back to the Creamer’s house.
“Rambling around the yard was Mr. Creamer. He looked ill. He seemed utterly broken. His eyes were moist and his voice quivered. He looked like a man whose face had never been illuminated by a smile.”
With a gesture towards the forest Mr Creamer said:
“Some have told me that it’s all for the best. We have been told that it is God’s way. But it’s hard to understand. When night comes on and I look towards the woods, believing that our little darlings are somewhere in there, it’s maddening. This suspense is hard.”
The reporter noted Geneva standing alone in the yard: "Loitering along the side of the road was Geneva. Since the evening days before when she had picked white violets with her brother and sister, the days have been lonely for her. Ralph and Ollie were her constant companions."
Russell Trenholm walked down the road. He was “dressed in a suit far superior to what he had been wearing the day before. Newly appointed Special Magistrate Riley had called for him, but before he said he was venturing to the train station where he could telephone his brother who lived in Ontario.”
The Special Correspondent went inside and found Ruth Creamer, the children's mother. She told him that the newly appointed Magistrate that was assisting Sheriff McQueen had interrogated her earlier:
"The Magistrate asked for the garments of the children, and I produced a number of soiled garments," the mother told the reporter. "The Magistrate asked why I had not washed them. I replied that I had heard that bloodhounds were to be employed and if that were so then they would need something that would give a smell or scent. If the clothes were washed the child-smell would be gone. The Magistrate said that clearly proved that the children were not kidnapped with my knowledge."
The reporter noted that: "she said all of this coldly, without even the slightest hint of emotion or feeling. Mrs. Creamer gave no outward sign of the sorrow which has unquestionably been hers. Her tranquil manner has caused in certain quarters some comment that her demeanor is the result of unconcern. When asked if she was aware of the talk she only smiled wistfully, as if thinking that those who talked were incapable of fathoming the depths of her suffering."
The Special Correspondent then decided to walk through the woods herself. After Russell Trenholm failed to find the cows he had said that he went to his grandmother’s house.
The Special Correspondent noted the walk to the grandmother’s house took her 10 minutes.
The Special Corrospondant’s continued reporting on the children's disappearance whipped readers from all over the province into a frenzied hysteria, and people began coming to Cape Tormentine to try and participate in the search, and help solve the mystery.
As the militia searched in the woods, they found an important clue. A single thread of red cloth three or four inches long.
The Special Magistrate said that he compared it to a sample of Ralph’s clothing and there was no doubt that it was identical. However, Mrs. Creamer instantly denied that it was part of her lost son’s clothing.
The reporter nonetheless noted that "the clue is a very important one, however, and had the effect of having the effort in the search renewed with greater vigor."
A frazzled Sheriff McQueen tried to halt the influx of would-be sleuths coming from all over by asking that trains raise their fares to dissuade visitors. He told the Special Correspondent:
“These people generally believe there has been a kidnapping, and there are hundreds eager to view the scene of the mystery and participate in the hunt. Perhaps the necessity of paying expenses will greatly reduce the number who might go.There was no motive for any crime that I could see. But this does not mean we are not taking further action.”
By that point the disappearance had become a wider media spectacle that newspapers took to calling: “BABES IN THE WOODS.”
Newspapers reached out to a clairvoyant to see if she could see where the kids were. This psychic claimed that the children were kidnapped by a rough looking farmer type man, working alongside a big fat man. This psychic’s story made front page news.
The Special Correspondent thought the description fit Russell Trenholm and asked him his thoughts on what the clairvoyant had said.
“But… that’s silly! There’s nothing to it!”
In the coming days newspapers around the province began to report that the children surely must be dead. They said that just that bluntly.
The militia continued searching, but began draining nearby ponds and marshes searching for bodies.
The Special Correspondent returned to the Creamer house again to talk to Ruth Creamer, asking:
“Mrs. Creamer How much truth is there to a certain rumour circulating around Cape Tormentine Station that the day before she disappeared your little daughter Ollie had come to you complaining that a man had tried to act indecently with her?”
The reporter noted that: “Mrs. Creamer froze and for a long moment she hesitated. She glanced at her husband for a brief moment and said:”
“It is the truth. Ollie did come to me with a complaint. What the poor little dear did say made me extremely uneasy.”
Twenty days after the children disappeared, as the Victoria Day long weekend was starting. As she was preparing to go back to the city, the Special Correspondent was surprised by a knock on her door.
When she opened it, she found Sheriff McQueen and Special Magistrate Reily. They invited The Special Correspondent along to go with them to the Creamer and Trenholm houses to observe police interviews they would be conducting.
As they rode in the Sheriff’s horse drawn wagon along the muddy roads, Sheriff McQueen updated the Special Correspondent on his thoughts on the investigation:
“I am without any reason for suspecting foul play. There was no motive for murder. Even if outrage had been the motive, there was not enough time for the accomplishment of such an object and the disposal of the bodies. Concerning the kidnapping theory, the attempt to get the children out of the neighbourhood could not have been taken unnoticed.”
The wagon containing the Special Correspondent, the Magistrate and the Sheriff rode past the Trenholm residence. Russell Trenholm was outside working. The Sheriff called him over and said to follow the carriage to the Creamer residence.
The reporter noted that “The boy from the first manifested uneasiness. For a lad who had never been beyond Port Elgin, and is totally unused to being questioned by a law officer, his embarrassment was natural. He has been forced by circumstances into a position which does not tend to increase one's self possession. He approached the sheriff with a somewhat confused air, and walked along the carriage as Sheriff McQueen asked him questions.''
“What do you suppose happened anyway, Russell?,” asked Sheriff McQueen.
The reporter noted that before replying: “He looked up from kicking loose turf with a surprised glance”
“I have no idea what really occurred sir,” Russell Trenholm eventually responded.
“Did you find the cows, Russell?”
“Do you often stop searching for the cows before you find them?”
“Yes sir. Well… only when they’re hard to find, sir.”
“You walked from the woods straight to your grandmother’s Russell?”
“And you got there when?”
“Your grandmother says you got there at 7 o’clock.”
Russell Trenholm stared at Sheriff McQueen, speechless. Paying no attention the Sheriff continued.
“Did you go to school?”
“I did as far as the fifth grade sir.”
“Do you read bad books?...”
“Up to within a couple years ago I read such books.”
The conversation was interrupted, because, the Special Correspondent noted:
"Right then we spotted Mr Creamer, rambling around in front of his home. He looked in a bad way. He carried a shotgun, and seemed fatigued and perplexed. Bareheaded and frail looking ... he tripped."
“Mr Creamer. What is your opinion?” asked the Sheriff.
“I believe that some harm has come to Ollie and Ralph greater than what I first feared," replied the children's father. "What else can I believe? We’ve searched over and over and over. I know I’ll never be too tired to search for them! Go on with the hunt! Go on with the hunt! Go on with the hunt!”
The Sheriff cut him off: “Mr. Creamer. People have told me that you are a drinking man. Is that so?”
“I won’t deny it. Last Christmas I had a drink. Since then I’ve had a little.”
“Are you a good provider, Mr Creamer?”
“I do the best I can. I’m not rich but no one goes for want in my house. Ask anyone here!”
“Have you been cruel, Mr Creamer? Have you abused your wife and children?”
“No sir, just ask them if I have. But sometimes it is necessary to correct them. But it’s for their own good.”
The carriage arrived at the Creamer house. Sheriff McQueen and Special Magistrate Reily went inside to talk to Ruth Creamer, alone.
They spoke at length, and the Special Correspondent was left outside.
The Sheriff and the Magistrate later emerged, and quickly departed with the Special Correspondent. Despite her best efforts to pry the nature of their conversation with Ruth Creamer from them, they remained tight lipped.
Shortly after, the search was called off.
The Special Correspondent returned to Saint John, and without her long and dramatic daily articles updating what was happening in Cape Tormentine, interest in the mysterious disappearance of the Creamer children quickly faded.
Within a short amount of time the whole mysterious saga was forgotten.
A potential answer to what really happened to the Creamer children in the Summer of 1906 came in a curious note in Michael MacKenzie’s 1984 book called Glimpses of the Past. The local author recounted the tale of an old man that came to the little village decades after the event, telling a strange story…
Some sixty odd years after the Creamer children disappeared, an old man drove to Cape Tormentine one summer and began asking random people the strangest questions.
He wanted to know if anyone recognized him.
He asked if anyone remembered a man named John Creamer.
He told bewildered locals that was his father.
He said that while he was too young to remember him himself, his mother had told him that his father had been a violent and abusive alcoholic, and she had sent her kids away from him for their safety.
He recounted that as his father’s abuse towards his mother and his siblings escalated, his mother acted.
When the father had passed out drunk one day, she had someone whisk him and his sister away through the woods so as not to be seen, to meet her brother who was waiting with a wagon on a nearby road.
The two children were hidden under a load of hay on the wagon to avoid prying eyes in the tiny community where everyone knew everyone else. They were transported like this to the Cape Tormentine railway station.
Their uncle then took the children on the train to Toronto, where they lived with their mother’s parents.
His mother had remained behind during the search, in an attempt to try and distract the police from searching for the children at her parents home in Toronto. But as soon as the search was ended, his mother and older sister slipped away and joined them in Ontario.
However, it didn’t seem that anyone the old man talked to in Cape Tormentine knew what this stranger who had come to their town was talking about. It seemed that the mysterious disappearance of two children that summer decades before had been forgotten.