Murder at the Airport

by Frank Tibbo

Imagine waiting for hours in an abandoned hangar, waiting for your victim to show. You have a 22-calibre rifle and lots of ammunition.

Hangar 3 was one of several hangars built during the war and has since been demolished. It was in the vicinity of the present air terminal building and accessible through damaged windows.

Sixteen-year-old George Dwyer lived with his sister and brother-in-law Pat Burke a fire-fighter with the Department of Transport. Dwyer, whose mother had died when he was very young and had been living with a sister in Norris Arm, had moved to Gander Airport to live with another sister, Philomina, wife of Pat Burke.

George dropped out of school and did some work for photographer John Higden. One day George made one of his customary visits to the fire hall where his brother-in-law worked. Pat Burke had a bike which he had lent to George and was upset that George had left it at Higdon’s Photo Shop. He shouted at George in front of other firemen, "If you don't get the bike back from the last place you left it, you, not the bike, will be outside." George later told police, "Pat made a proper show of me in front of the men." Pat had offered to sell the bicycle to George for five dollars but George hadn’t yet paid for it.
The next day Pat was not scheduled to work and went rabbit-catching with Clarence Price, a fellow firefighter.

Walt Tucker had a small retail business operating from his apartment on Roosevelt St.
One of the items he had for sale was a 22-calibre rifle. George Dwyer bought it along with a box of bullets. (It was the last rifle that Tucker ever sold).

It was February 9, 1950.

George knew the route which Burke and Price would take returning from the woods and climbed through the window of Hangar 3. He knew their path would take them behind the hangar in full view from the rear windows.

He settled down for what could be a long wait. After a while he got hungry and called out to ten-year-old Austin Hiscock who lived nearby. He gave Hiscock money to get him some chocolate bars at the Co-op store. Later he saw 15-year-old Frank Ireland Jr., son of fire chief Frank Ireland, and sent him to the store to buy orange juice.

Gilbert Tibbo, (father of the columnist) lived on the American Side in Building 180 on Hull Street. Hangar 3 was practically in his back yard. One could look out the window of his residence right into the windows of Hangar 3. Tibbo, an employee of the Department of Transport, had been working and had gone home to eat and was now returning to his work place.

It gets dark early in February, as we all know, and by the time Pat Burke and Clarence Price neared the back of Hangar 3 it was late in the afternoon and dusk.
It would probably be too dark to get an accurate shot and the area was void of lights.

Gilbert Tibbo stepped from his residence on his return to work. He would walk toward the back of Hangar 3 to proceed to the Electrical Shop where he worked as a refrigeration technician.

Pat Burke and Clarence Price were just walking around the corner of Hangar 3. Tibbo saw the two men and was about to pass some comment when a shot rang out from the Hangar. Tibbo looked toward the hangar and simultaneously saw Burke fall to the ground.

Price, who was less than an arm’s length from Burke, dropped to his knees to help his friend. It was incredible but someone had fired a shot. A car appeared on the scene and Burke was put aboard and rushed to the Banting Memorial Hospital just across Runway 14.

Tibbo ran across the runway and headed for the Police Station which was across the road from the hospital.

Sgt. Jack Clarke of the Newfoundland Constabulary was on duty. (On August 1, 1950, all members of the Ranger Force were absorbed into the RCMP.)
Tibbo was out of breath as he burst into the Police Station and exclaimed, “A man was just shot behind Hangar 3 !”

Clarke was incredulous, stuff like that doesn’t happen here he thought.

Tibbo was still telling Sgt. Clarke what happened when Dwyer walked in. He handed his rifle and ammunition to Clarke and said, “I just shot Pat Burke.”

Before the policeman could acknowledge, Tibbo, who was visibly upset, shouted, “I was so close and it was so dark, you could have shot me!”

Dwyer replied, “It wasn’t you I was shooting at.”

In the meantime the efforts to save Pat Burke’s life were lost. The gunshot proved fatal and Dr. James Paton declared him dead.

George Dwyer was arrested and charged with first degree murder.

Dr. James Paton, Sgt. Jack Clarke , Walter Tucker, Gilbert Tibbo, Clarence Price, Mrs. Philomena Burke, Frank Ireland Jr. and Austin Hiscock were summoned to St. John’s for the trial which took place on March 30-31, 1950.

There was never any doubt about the result and at 9 p.m. on March 31, the jury returned a guilty verdict. The jury, however, made a strong recommendation for mercy. The jury obviously didn’t want to see Dwyer hanged. The Judge agreed and he was sentenced to life imprisonment and incarcerated at the “King’s Pleasure.”

Patrick Burke was buried adjacent to the Commonwealth Graves, Gander. He was 25.

The columnist wishes to acknowledge with thanks assistance with this column by Mr. Frank Ireland, Mrs. Margaret Luther, Mrs. Edna Tibbo and Mr.Walter Tucker.

contributed by F. Tibbo


top return to top