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Trail Blazers: The story of unrequited love and murder, 95 years later

Check out the Trail Times every Thursday for another historical story featured in Trail Blazers
Close up of the inscription on murdered Nurse Mildred Neilson’s monument that has been standing in a Burnaby cemetery for 95 years. She was shot to death in Trail on Feb. 6, 1925. Trail citizens were so upset they raised over $1,200 (around $18,000 in today’s world) to send to her parents for burial and this granite monument. Photo: Trail Historical Society

This week’s Trail Blazers is a little more intriguing than usual.

It began with an email from a person living in Vancouver. He’d been walking through a cemetery and snapped a few photos that he thought would interest our readers.

“I was visiting a cemetery in Burnaby and noticed there was a monument erected by the ‘Citizens of Trail, BC’ for a nurse named Mildred Neilson (1898-1925),” Evan explained, requesting the Trail Times to only use his first name.

“It was an interesting discovery given that Trail is considerably far from Burnaby and I thought it would make an interesting story for you. I have no idea who she is, but it seems she died relatively young and would have lived through the First World War and Spanish Flu period,” Evan said.

“It would be a great shame for her to be forgotten if she meant a lot to Trail, even if it was nearly 100 years ago.”

Mildred Neilson’s monument today. Photo: Submitted by Evan
Mildred Neilson’s monument today. Photo: Submitted by Evan

The Ocean View Burial Park in Burnaby holds the remains of many people who lived and died in the 19th century.

“And I often wonder who they were and what their lives were like,” Evan shared. “Maybe there is a part of me that wonders whether any of us will be remembered or thought worthy enough for someone to build a monument to honour us.”

So the Times did an internet search and began to unveil what at the heart of it, is a story as old as time - one of unrequited love and murder.

As with any story of such magnitude there is much to tell. For this feature, however, the narrative will focus on the how and why a large granite monument from the city, dedicated to Mildred Neilson, stands in the Ocean View cemetery.

Mildred Neilson was a young nurse, a 27-year-old graduate of Vancouver General Hospital, who was working in the Trail Tadanac Hospital.

She was shot through her heart and killed on Feb. 6, 1925 by Patrick Hanley.

The Nelson businessman had come to see her in the nurses’ residence on Aldridge Street while she was off-duty.

Hanley had a crush on Mildred, but she didn’t reciprocate, having turned him down more than once, according to a Trail Daily Times article written right after the murder.

As the story goes, the killer was known to Neilson’s family, who resided in Vancouver. On that fateful day, Hanley claimed he had been asked to deliver a tin of cookies to the young nurse by her mother in Vancouver.

Mildred Neilson’s parents at her burial site, 1925. Photos: Trail Historical Society
Mildred Neilson’s parents at her burial site, 1925. Photos: Trail Historical Society

There were no eye witnesses, so no one will ever really know what transpired between the two of them that Friday morning before Hanley shot the nurse, then himself.

It didn’t end up being a murder-suicide, however.

Hanley later presented himself at the hospital with a bullet wound. He recovered, was subsequently tried, found guilty and sentenced to death.

The town was shocked by this cold-hearted act and such a sudden and brutal demise of a caring young nurse.

So the community rallied alongside smelter employees, and collectively raised over $1,200 (around $18,000 today) that they sent to her parents for burial and a dedicated memorial in Ocean View cemetery.

The inscription reads:

Erected by the citizens of Trail, BC to the memory of Nurse Mildred Neilson 1890-1925

So greatly loved.

- With files from and the Trail Museum and Archives

Find more Trail Blazers here: Fires raged in the summer of 1927 Remembering the Silver City Serenaders of Song Setting the Record Straight

(Trail Times stories from 1925 reveal that Hanley, district manager of the Monarch Life Insurance Co., was gassed while serving in the First World War and he is said to have suffered from mental illness. Trail Blazers will re-visit his trial and the outcome in a later edition.)

Mildred Neilson’s monument several years ago.Photo: Trail Historical Society
Mildred Neilson’s monument several years ago.Photo: Trail Historical Society

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Sheri Regnier

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