Homosexual advance defence: a gay panic murder

cecil warner stanley valpeters homosexual advance january 23
Cecil Warner. Insert: Two boys point out where they found the body. Images: Edmonton Journal

On January 23 1960, the Edmonton Journal reported that 38-year-old Cecil Warner would hang for murder. During his trial, Warner attempted to justify the murder by claiming 48-year-old Stanley Valpeters made a homosexual advance. It seems that once again the search for love and companionship condemned a man to death in a world that criminalised consenting adult sex acts. Stanley Valpeters, I mean – not his killer.

Two lads hunting rabbits found the body facedown in a roadside ditch outside Edmonton. The dead man’s trousers were below his knees and a belt pulled tight around his throat appeared the likely cause of death. The terrified boys ran for help.

Police soon identified the body as Stanley Valpeters, a Latvian immigrant who moved to Canada in 1948.  He co-owned a cafe with Mr and Mrs Peter Magi in Leduc, just over 30 kilometres south of Edmonton. He lived in a rented house with the Magis who were then away on holidays. The trio had owned the cafe for two years and lived together for another three before that. Stanley was last seen at 9.30 pm Saturday, August  22 1959 when he closed up the cafe for the night and left, as usual, with the day’s takings of about $200.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police put out an alert for Stanley Valpeters’ missing car.

Cecil Warner

A neighbour of Cecil Warner reported that he arrived home in a strange car before sunup, August 23 1959. He packed up his wife and four kids and left town. His wife, neighbour and landlady all testified he seemed sober but Warner insisted he was shitfaced and merely good at holding his grog.

Cecil Warner was a petty crim and an alcoholic. He later said he drank excessively from the age of 15.

“I usually drank something every day. When I got off work during noon hours, I would stop at a hotel for a few beers instead of lunch. I always tried to keep liquor available where I lived.”

Injured at work a month before the murder, Warner had been drinking ever since. On August 22, he went out with a cheque for $24 his wife received for child endowment, returned home with $10 worth of school clothes for the kids, and then went out again with the remaining $14 – plus a worker’s compensation cheque he received himself.

Stanley Valpeters

The court heard that Stanley Valpeters locked up his cafe at 9.30 pm on the 22nd. He went home and changed before driving into Edmonton and meeting his killer sometime after 2 am.

Warner had spent the night drinking. Before meeting Valpeters, he’d called his boss and discovered he no longer had a job.

“I met a fellow, and he mentioned having a bottle of whisky in his car. It was in the downtown section somewhere.

“He said he didn’t want to drink there. He said, ‘Let’s take a ride out by the refineries.’

“We left the highway and went down this dark gravelled road. He pulled off the road onto a track or cattle path.

“He says, ‘Let’s get in the back seat because the whisky is there.’ Both of us got in the back seat. Instead of producing a bottle of whisky, he put his hand over and started to undo my pants.”

Warner told the court that Stanley Valpeters then made a grossly indecent proposal.

“The next thing I knew I got mad and proceeded to choke him. I don’t remember too much how long I was choking him but when I came to my senses again he was all limp.”

Then, according to the murderer, he turned all heroic and remembered a first aid course he once took.

“I tried to feel a heartbeat but couldn’t and I got scared. I tried artificial respiration with him lying on the back seat. Nothing happened so I closed the back door and got into the driver’s seat. I backed the car out of there onto the road, and I drove a short distance from there. I got out and pulled him out of the car into the ditch.”

Took his belt from his pants

“I don’t know whether I was still mad or crazy but I took his belt from his pants and wrapped it around his neck.”

Warner then stole Stanley Valpeters’ car and wallet.

Strangely, neither the police nor the prosecution made anything of Stanley Valpeters’ trousers being below his knees. It seems they assumed the pants came down as Warner dragged him out of the car. But Warner testified he took the belt from the pants after dragging Valpeters into the ditch.

But, of course, Warner was the straight man here. He had a wife and four kids and was so offended by a homosexual advance, he choked a man to death. Valpeters, on the other hand, was a predatory homosexual.

(Actually, Mrs Warner was someone else’s wife and only the last kid was Cecil Warner’s.)

Hands up all the gay readers who can attest that plenty of straight men turned nasty after enthusiastically consenting to gay sex. Before the court accepted Warner’s claim that he went crazy following a homosexual advance, there should have been an explanation of why those trousers were below Valpeters’ knees.

As the prosecutor finally pointed out, “There were two men in the car that night. Only one man is here today, and that man is telling a story best suited to his own actions.”

The verdict

The jury found Cecil Warner guilty.

Judge Greschuk pronounced sentence, telling him that on April 26 “you will be taken to your place of execution and hanged by the neck until you are dead. May God have mercy on your soul.”

Cecil Warner did not swing by the neck. His sentence was later reduced to ten years in prison on a technicality. The Supreme Court accepted medical evidence that Valpeters choked to death because of the belt. However, Warner believed Valpeters was already dead when he placed the belt around his throat – and you can’t kill a dead man. Seems a bullshit point of law to this writer, but as an opponent of the death penalty, I’ll accept it.

Let’s just hope Stanley Valpeters found some joy in his life before Cecil Warner so cruelly snatched it away.

Also: The Cooyar Tragedy  – perhaps Australia’s first example of gay panic defence.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.s

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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