Killers of Scottish nanny Janet Smith ‘protected by cover-up’

John MacLachlan Gray looked into the death of Perth-born Janet Smith. Photograph: Brian K Smith
John MacLachlan Gray looked into the death of Perth-born Janet Smith. Photograph: Brian K Smith
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It was a grisly murder of a Scottish nanny in an upmarket Canadian suburb that was never solved.

Now the killing of Perth-born Janet Smith in the 1920s has been fictionalised in a novel by a best-selling author.

Janet Smith was found dead in the home of her employers in Vancouver in 1924.

Janet Smith was found dead in the home of her employers in Vancouver in 1924.

John MacLachlan Gray’s White Angel examines the case of 22-year-old Smith – whose surname is changed to Stewart in the novel – who was found dead in the home of her employers in Vancouver in 1924.

The publication of the novel has reignited interest in the case, which pointed the finger at a Chinese servant, Wong Foon Sing, who was the only other person in the house at the time of the killing. The case was eventually thrown out for lack of evidence and a culprit was never found.

MacLachlan Gray, whose ancestors are from the Highlands, told Scotland on Sunday: “The Janet Smith murder was never solved. It is one of those things that opens up an enormous can of worms. This was a woman lying in a laundry room in the morning with a bullet through her forehead. Your first thought wouldn’t be suicide or an accident, which is what was said at first.

He added: “It was either a festival of abject stupidity, which was possible, or it was a cover-up. There were all kinds of rumours at the time. At one point, the finger was pointed at the Prince of Wales, it was ludicrous.”

Smith was initially hired in London to take care of Rosemary, the newborn daughter of Frederick and Doreen Baker, then moved with them back to their native Vancouver in 1923.

The case was initially dismissed as a suicide and the body quickly embalmed before a postmortem. However, friends of the nanny, including the various Scottish Societies of Vancouver, pressed for the case to be reopened and were supported by local newspaper the Vancouver Star. Her body was exhumed and a second inquest held, which concluded she had been murdered.

However, the case was thrown out due to lack of evidence and Wong later returned to China.

MacLachlan Gray added: “The Scottish Societies came in in a state of absolute outrage and insisted that the case must be solved. They were the dominant cultural force in Vancouver at the time, they were putting such pressure on the government that they had to point the finger at the Chinese houseboy.”

Other rumours circulated for years, including a theory that Smith had been raped and murdered at a “wild party” held at the Baker house by playboy bachelors, who then bribed the police and the coroners.

Meanwhile, others, including writer Edward Starkins, who in his 1984 book Who Killed Janet Smith? claimed that Smith’s employer was a drug smuggler and that his dealings were linked to the nanny’s death.

MacLachlan Gray’s book explores an alternative theory, which suggests that the victim is killed elsewhere and moved to the Baker house where she is shot to cover it up.

He said: “The actual case was never ever solved, but I created a ‘what-if’ scenario. I have a theory about what happened.

“I could easily be wrong, but it’s better than most of the others that were suggested at the time.”