Born in Brixton in 1880, Stephen Oldacres Lawson was the grandson of the Rev. Basil Ranaldson Lawson. He emigrated to Canada in 1903, having been a singer in the Lambeth area, and went west in the spring of 1904. After trying his hand at ranching, he joined the Macleod police on May 7th 1907, where he later became chief of police. At the outbreak of war, he enlisted and served overseas. On his discharge, he became police chief of Fernie in 1920 and served with that force until his enlistment in the Alberta Provincial Police (APP) on March 12th 1922.
He was stationed at Coleman, a little mining town west of Blairmore that straddled the main highway used by rumrunners. He was added to the APP as one of fifty men specifically placed to suppress the illegal liquor traffic.
The Lethbridge Daily Herald 28/11/1922
On September 21st 1922, Lawson and his partner received a tip that a popular rumrunner named Emilio Picariello, also known as "Pick" or "Pic", was going to Fernie for a load of liquor. Another anonymous tip let the APP know that Pick was returning with his load. Constable Lawson observed Pick and his crew going both directions. Picarello got to Blairmore long before the police showed up. When they did, the Sergeant from Frank detachment ran around the back of the hotel looking for Steve and the 'Whisky six' (a powerful 6 cylinder car) with the booze--couldn't find it and simply strolled up to Pick, who was casually leaning against his parked car at the side of his hotel and the Sergeant served his warrant.
The moment Pick was served with a search warrant, he sounded his horn to warn his son who set off with his crew to go back across the British Columbia border. However, waiting in the middle of the road was Constable Lawson.
Pick's son refused to stop for Lawson, so the Constable fired several shots one hitting him in the hand. Later that evening, Pick's son was arrested and held prisoner.
Pick and Florence Lassandro, the wife of an associate, went to confront Lawson. They drove up to the police barracks in Coleman, and Stephen Lawson approached them in their car. According to Lassandro's statement to the court, an argument ensued, which turned into a fight.
Pick insisted that Lawson was going to accompany him to retrieve his son from jail. Lawson refused, claiming not to know where the boy was. Several shots were fired and the unarmed Lawson was shot in the back with a .38 calibre bullet from close range. It is unclear from the reports I have seen who fired the shots but some websites conclude that is was Florence who panicked and fired the gun. Stephen Lawson died a few minutes after being hit, leaving a wife, Maggie, and five children, two of whom witnessed the death of their father. Another who was a short distance away heard the shots arriving at the scene to see her father slumped on the ground at the corner of the house. Peggy Lawson, then aged just 13, was required to give harrowing evidence at the trial and to was subjected to cross-examination for an hour, breaking down and audibly weeping at one stage. She was described as exhibiting 'an unusually keen mind'.
Emilio Picariello and Florence Lassandro were tried, found guilty and executed on May 3rd 1923. Florence Lassandro was the first and only woman to be executed in Alberta.
Several newspaper reports from The Lethbridge Daily Herald of 1922 and later can be found on Stephen Oldacres Lawson's page.
I would like to thank Joene Peel for her help in enabling me to find information for this history and to Rich Mole for his observations.