The Murder of Eileen Bailey

In March of 1934, just four miles north of Estevan stood the Bailey Farm, where Percy Bailey and his wife lived with their two daughters, Eileen, who was seventeen, and Ruby, who was nineteen. On March 24, the couple went into town to do some shopping, leaving Eileen and Ruby home alone.

The two girls were in the kitchen cooking when they saw James Nelson Watson drive into the farmyard. Not wanting to talk to him, they latched the storm door and locked the inside door of the house and went upstairs. About a month before, Eileen had told James – who was sweet on her – that she didn’t want to get too serious and returned the various small presents he’d given her. When that didn’t discourage him, Mrs. Bailey told him not to contact Eileen anymore and told both girls to lock the door and not let anyone in when they were alone.

James Nelson Watson – March 27, 1934, Regina Leader-Post

Watson knocked, and when they didn’t answer, broke the lock and forced his way in. Ruby came down the stairs first and was struck in the head with a short club by Watson. Then he went for Eileen, who’d come down the stairs behind Ruby. He slashed at her neck with a curved hunting knife, thrusting it into her throat. Ruby tried to defend her sister, getting struck a few more times in the head. She ran out into the yard for help, but no one was there. When she returned, Watson simply passed by her and left, driving towards Estevan at a leisurely pace. Ruby found her sister lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, dead.

Ruby staggered to the telephone and called the chief of police, A. McCutcheon, who called Sergeant John Molyneux and sent him to the farm. She also phoned her father at a local store and Dr. J. V. Millions, who arrived at the house a few minutes later and took Ruby to the hospital for her injuries.

Percy Bailey, having received the frantic call from Ruby, drove immediately to the farm. On his way, he passed Watson and flagged him down. Watson stopped his truck and Percy asked him what he’d done. Watson looked at him and said, “I’ve done plenty.” At this point, Sgt. Molyneux arrived and Percy left Watson in his custody, rushing home to find Eileen, dead in the kitchen from a throat wound.

Sgt. Molyneux arrested Watson and took him to Estevan. He asked Watson what he’d been doing near the Bailey’s farm and Watson replied, “I killed her.”

Eileen and James had been friends for about two years. He had worked at the Bailey farm the previous fall under the government’s special farm employment plan and the two had also been in a play together. James was twenty two. His father, Harry Watson, upon hearing about the murder was stunned. He knew his son was in love with Eileen, but never thought he’d react with such violence to Eileen’s rejection.

March 26, 1934 – Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

James Nelson Watson went on trial for Eileen’s murder in September of 1934. His defense tried to argue that Watson was insane at the time of the murder and was not fit to stand trial but a jury found him to be sane and the trial went forward.

Included as evidence were the club and hunting knife, which the Baileys testified were not theirs and must have been brought to the farm by Watson, Eileen’s clothes, the trousers and shirt worn by Watson at the time of the murder and cloth cut from the seat cushions in Watson’s truck, all stained with blood. Also included was the smashed lock Watson broke to gain entry.

Numerous psychiatrists testified that Watson was not sane, not at the time of the murder and not since. One doctor diagnosed him as having a fit of epileptic furore – a sudden unprovoked attack of intense anger and violence to which individuals with psychomotor epilepsy are occasionally subject to. He believed that Watson was suffering from psychomotor epilepsy, a form of epilepsy typically limited to the temporal lobe of the brain, resulting in impairment of responsiveness and awareness to one’s surroundings. Patients with this form of epilepsy can act out in a variety of ways while experiencing the seizure and not remember it. His explanation for why Watson had previously shown no signs of the illness was that symptoms might only be exhibited once in many years.

Another witness called to the stand was Della Turner, a friend of the Bailey family. She testified that she got a call from Watson on the day of the murder. He asked her if the Bailey sisters had come into Estevan with their parents and she told him no. Apparently he phoned her every Saturday with the same question.

On September 27, 1934 James Nelson Watson was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang on January 18, 1935. This delay was to allow psychiatrists time to continue monitoring Watson, as there was still a debate over his sanity. His lawyer filed appeals on his behalf and on November 5, 1934, he was granted a new trial. On April 10, 1935 he was found unfit to stand trial and was sent to the North Battleford mental hospital, where he stayed for fifteen years.

It wasn’t until September 13, 1949, when Watson was forty years old that he was found sane enough to be fit for trial and on September 15, 1949 he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Was he sane when he killed Eileen Bailey? The question isn’t really about whether or not he suffered from mental illness, as he clearly wasn’t someone whose mind was functioning in a healthy capacity. The question is whether or not he knew what he was doing was wrong at the time of the murder. I’m inclined to think he did. He phoned Della Turner to make sure the girls would be home alone and brought the weapons with him. But I’m not a doctor and he’s long dead, so we’ll never know for sure.

What we do know is that Eileen’s life was cut brutally short and ended in violence, all because she turned away the advances of a man incapable of dealing with rejection.

Picture taken by Craig B on

Thank you for reading! Please subscribe and share! Information for this post was found in the following issues of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: March 26, 1934, March 27, 1934, Sep 26, 1934, Sep 27, 1934, Oct 6, 1934, Nov 6, 1934, Feb 2, 1935, April 10, 1935, Aug 30, 1949, Sep 13, 1949, Sep 14, 1949, Sep 15, 1949

Want to read about more murder in Saskatchewan? Start with these:

Murder in Redberry, Saskatchewan

The Unsolved Murder of James Eli Johnson

The Unfortunate End of Peter Daday

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