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Calgary’s Greatest Ghost Story?: Unwrapping the eerie mummy murder of Tuxedo Park

His second grave looks peaceful enough, situated on the picturesque western slope of Union Cemetery, close to Macleod Trail.

There’s a nice view of downtown, and plenty of dearly-departed neighbours beneath various markers, headstones and slabs.  Nothing here suggests the man lying beneath one modest brown stone, inscribed “Thomas Samuel Charles Hall,” was the central character in what may be Calgary’s greatest ghost story.

But as indicated, Union Cemetery is Hall’s second resting place – and if one family’s terrifying experience in discovering his mummified corpse is accurate, it seems Thomas Hall wasn’t very happy about the first.

“The body was lying in ashes, in a leather coat. It had apparently absorbed all the moisture and sort of mummified,” reads the memoir of Detective Gordon Gilkes, one of the first police officers on the scene.

Gilkes’ calm recollection belies the terror that shook the community of Tuxedo Park that night in 1948, when a family ran screaming from the home they’d recently purchased in the 1800 block of 20 Ave. N.W.

Alfred Cecil Pearce, accompanied by his wife Jennette and their three daughters, had just located the desiccated remains of Hall, tucked away in a narrow space beneath their floorboards.

Just what drove Alfred, an electrician, to tear up the floors only a couple days after moving into the home is what makes this so much more than a home reno gone horribly wrong. 

From the moment they arrived, Mrs. Pearce had been complaining of a creepy presence in the little bungalow. The girls, aged 10, 11 and 12, said it felt like someone else was in the house, watching them.

Then, as the three daughters were washing dishes in the kitchen, one of them screamed in terror that she could feel a clammy hand touching her.

That was apparently enough for Alfred. 

Having noticed an odd sagging section of floor in one bedroom, he got to work tearing it up, perhaps hoping to resolve the eerie vibe inside the little home or maybe just discover more about his new abode.

As Alfred tore the floor open, exposing the soil underneath, it was Mrs. Pearce who thought she could see an ear or something in the ash and dirt.

When Alfred brushed more of the debris away, Thomas Hall’s whole face appeared.

Cue an entire family running screaming from their home, and neighbours dialling for Calgary’s finest.

Indeed, the city’s police did a very fine job of identifying the mummified body, and Detectives Gilkes and Frank Whiteside soon had the case focused on Hall, who’d last been seen two decades earlier living at the same address.

A stock-trading teamster who dabbled in all sorts of business ventures, Hall had simply stopped posting the rent cheque one month in 1929, and when the landlord came to investigate, they found the house deserted. 

Just another tenant skipping out on the rent, it seemed.

The landlord wouldn’t miss him, and it seemed no one else did either. The twice-married Hall was said to be a cold, judgemental character who drove his second wife to walk out, leaving two younger sons to deal with their ill-tempered dad.

That might explain why no one bothered to raise any alarm when Hall just vanished. The boys were gone from his life as soon as age and a paycheque allowed, and his ex-wife had moved on to a new career, working at a diner in downtown Calgary.

At some point, the lonely divorcee simply ran out of people who might care that he had disappeared, so no one reported him missing. He was clearly a murder victim, but the crime had gone unnoticed.

Unlike Hall, lying in his second grave at Union Cemetery, the debate over how and why the killing happened and who was behind it has never been properly laid to rest.

The motive, suggested by one police investigator working the case, may have been robbery, as none of Hall’s oil shares or money (presuming he had any winning investments at the time) were found in the deserted house, back in 1929.

Some whispered that Hall’s family had finally had enough of their domineering patriarch, and certainly, none of them had ever reported dear old dad missing from their lives. The ex-wife and youngest son told investigators they’d both seen a North Dakota news article years earlier, claiming Hall had died in a car crash, but such an article was never found.

Still, the sons had shown up to identify the body, so there was some respect for dad, at least in death. Hall’s ex-wife and her eldest boy also made an appearance at the funeral on July 26, 1948, which was otherwise thinly attended.

The case kept reporters busy, and the creepy story even made headlines as far away as the UK, because clammy phantom hands and floorboard mummies were obviously issues with universal appeal.

Back in Calgary, the local papers carried every possible update. At the inquest, a coroner described signs of blunt force trauma on the mummy’s head, but also small holes that could suggest a bullet wound – though no bullet fragments or metal residue were detected.

Not surprisingly, it was deemed a death by foul play.

As for the killer, there were rumours, but no charges were ever laid. Whoever beat or shot Hall back in 1929 had done a pretty respectable job of patching the floor, so suspicions had to fall on person or people handy with carpentry tools.

In the memoir co-written by his wife, Calgary’s Finest: A History of the City Police, Detective Gilkes says he and his partner were quite sure they had solved the case, but no charges were ever laid.

“We came up with a good suspect,” Gilkes recalled, while failing to provide a name.

“Due to the time lapse and lack of established time of death by witnesses whose memories were horrible, we couldn’t prosecute.” 

According to neighbours interviewed years later by reporters, the key suspect was one of Hall’s rare friends, a carpenter who would drop by the house to play cards. But when police caught up with him in British Columbia, the alleged killer was near death from cancer, so no charges were laid.

For Thomas C. Hall, Calgary’s mummified murder victim, the only closure would be the lid of a casket, at his second burial.

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