Kagawong: Spellbinding stories of mystery, mayhem and murder still mesmerize

An extensive display in the Kagawong Museum shows newspapers dated 1938 reacting with shock to the accidental death of U.S. Dodge automobile scion Danny Dodge, 13 days after his wedding to Laurine MacDonald of Gore Bay. photo by Isobel Harry

by Isobel Harry

Many are the intriguing stories of mysterious disappearances on the Manitoulin.

In Kagawong, modern-day legends arose around larger than life characters—whether in social status or nonconformist behaviours—that still evoke mystery, and in one case, possibly murder.

The Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum is a storehouse of information on the great Dodge drama of the 1930s that took a tragic turn, sometimes featuring the captivating tale at their popular History Night events.

Celebrities are fascinating to the public imagination and so was the heir to the US Dodge automobile fortune, Daniel Dodge, as he travelled from his home in Detroit to his summer estate called the Dodge Lodge on Maple Point in Kagawong. When he fell in love with a telephone operator from Gore Bay, Laurine McDonald, 21 years of age, speeding to see her in sportscar or speedboat, and then married her, it sent shock waves through the Dodge family. Daniel’s mother thought Laurine to be a gold digger, but the couple married at the Dodge home in 1938 in Rochester Hills, Michigan, despite her opposition, and returned to Maple Point for their honeymoon. 

Only 13 days after they married, tragedy struck the newlyweds. Danny—a nickname he despised but which stuck—was in the garage with a caretaker, “experimenting” with sticks of dynamite and caps left over from the construction of the lodge when he threw a lit stick out the door where it exploded. Laurine, with another caretaker and his wife, rushed to the scene from the house. 

Meanwhile, Danny had lit a second stick but upon seeing his wife and the other two approaching, he threw the stick toward an open window away from them; the dynamite bounced off the window frame and detonated in the garage, injuring everyone present.

In the ensuing mayhem, they managed to get into a speedboat and steer toward Little Current in strong winds and high waves; halfway there, the young Mr. Dodge apparently stood up precariously and suddenly pitched overboard into the four-foot-high swells. Trying to save him quickly proved hopeless and the rest of the rescue party continued on to Little Current for help.

Billings Museum curator Rick Nelson joins lthe late Stan Gordon and OPP Detective Constables Patricia (Patty) Smith and Yvon-Pierre Perron in 2010 in the field containing the old collapsed building said to have been Stanley Richards’ home, to discuss local legends and lore surrounding the 1946 disappearance of the trapper and guide. Expositor file photo

The story of the drowning of the scion of the prominent Dodge family made front-page headlines in the United States. Twenty-three days later, after a $1,500 reward was offered by Daniel Dodge’s stepfather and extensive searches carried out that cost upwards of $50,000, two local fishermen found the body of the young millionaire whom some had called “somewhat reckless” in life and in death. 

Only eight years later, another curious disappearance occurred at Maple Point, unsolved to this day.

In a cabin deep in the bush, not far from the Dodge Lodge, but in very different circumstances, lived a bachelor, trapper and guide named Stanley Richards. 

In the fall of 1946, he disappeared. How, where and why remains a mystery.

What little was known about Stanley Richards back then was that he had been born in 1903, was married briefly and had a daughter in 1941; at the time of his disappearance, he was working for the township of Billings. Mr. Richards, it was said, “was known as a self-proclaimed conservation authority who was not kind to trespassers on his property.”

The last person to see Stanley Richards alive was Richard Hammond, who had brought Stanley in to Kagawong to buy groceries on Saturday, November 1. On Monday, Stanley did not show up for work. People went to his cabin but found only the still-packed bags of groceries on the kitchen table.

A search party of 200 people combed the area surrounding the cabin; they uncovered nothing, no signs of foul play, no telling evidence of any kind. “At the end of 1946,” says OPP constable Patty Smith in a 2014 Manitoulin West Recorder article, “the case went cold.”

In 2010, the story took a remarkable twist, courtesy of a front-page interview in the Expositor with Lyman Corbiere of M’Chigeeng First Nation. When Mr. Corbiere was a boy of two in 1947, he lived with his family at Maple Point. “Burned into his memory,” he said, was “a fatal skirmish that involved Stanley Richards, his grandfather Narcissus Corbiere and his uncle Dan Corbiere.”

Lyman Cobiere explained that the elder Corbieres had gone out into the bush to jacklight deer (use a night-hunting light) on that November night. Instead, they mistakenly shot a cow. All of a sudden, Stanley Richards was on the scene as they tried to bury the animal. In the confrontation, says Lyman Corbiere, “my grandfather whacked [Richards] in the head with a shovel … they buried him and the cow together,” although they had had no intention of killing Richards with the blow. 

The case was reopened by the police; they canvassed the community and spoke with Mr Richards’ daughter but no new evidence surfaced. Should Mr. Richards’ remains be found, family have agreed to provide samples for DNA tests. In 2014, there were hints that ground penetrating radar might be used in the search, but that has yet to happen.

In the end, the article says, “The OPP couldn’t confirm Mr. Corbiere’s statement.” 

And so the mystery of Stanley Richards’ disappearance remains just that. The cabin he inhabited that was barely standing when photographed for this paper in 2010 must have fallen down by now. As former constable Al Boyd was careful to note, although it remains “not active, but ongoing … This case may never be solved.” 

Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum, Kagawong

Until Labour Day: 10 am to 4 pm, Monday to Saturday; 11 am-5 pm Sunday. September: Open 11 am to 4 pm Wednesday to Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. www.kagawongmuseum.ca, oldmillheritage@billingstwp.ca. Tel: 705-282-1442.