A Nanaimo author, local historian and investigative journalist has finally published a story that was put into abeyance until five years after the death of a notorious drug lord from Ladysmith.
Daryl Ashby’s Nobody’s Boy: Ralph Harris – The Northern Connection recounts the life and criminal activity of Ralph Ross Harris, who was charged with 13 offences but wasn’t convicted.
As the author suggested, his latest book, which was published in mid-November, can be viewed as a sequel to his previous work, 85 Grams: Art Williams – Drug Czar, in that Harris assumed the market and production for the “love drug” MDA, following Williams’s disappearance in the late ’70s.
“Ralph definitely managed to skirt below the radar for 50-plus-or-minus years. And yet, when it comes to actually being involved in the drug world – the underground world – he was a major player,” Ashby said. “I found that the public, in general, at least from a local interest standpoint, are quite fascinated by what went on behind closed doors in their own little neighbourhood – Ladysmith, in particular. They seem to have a thirst for it.”
Unlike Williams, whom the author described as someone who detested violence in all forms, Harris did not shy away from brutality.
“In fact, if anything, he seemed to be prone towards lethal violence and seemed to find pleasure in it,” Ashby said.
The author’s latest account was “a work in progress” since 2006, following a request from Harris for a story about his life.
“It was understood that he was going to have to name names. And it was understood that nothing was going to go to print until he passed … But, he was very open,” the writer said. Ashby even noted that when he confronted Harris about the murder of Williams’s wife, he denied nothing.
“He didn’t hold back. He, in fact, told me that where she’s buried, there was actually two other ‘sets of bones’ in there – that was his term … He would fall under the serial killer category, if you look up the definition for it … He had planned the murders of others and he just never got around to them.”
Ashby said he assumed Harris had trusted him since he didn’t “burn” Williams in the telling of 85 Grams, despite gaining “a lot of juicy material” through interviews, court records, photographs, RCMP accounts and newspaper articles.
Most first-hand accounts gained from Harris were collected between 2006-11, Ashby said, and he has been chasing sources ever since who seemed “scared spitless” of talking.
A key figure to Ashby’s telling of Harris’s story, and someone he spent years chasing, was John Stirling, who was released from a U.S. federal prison in 2021 for smuggling liquid methamphetamine off the Oregon coast on an unregistered sailboat. The writer said Stirling was key since he provided “boxes and boxes of court records and photographs.”
In regards to telling Harris’s story, Ashby said one of the most challenging aspects was writing a story that would excite readers.
“Art Williams was so colourful. I mean, he was playing cat and mouse. He was so brilliant in the way that he engineered everything. Ralph wasn’t that person … he was brute force. He had charisma and street smarts, and that’s all he had going for him.”
In his investigation, the writer said he was surprised by how the RCMP seemed unable to make any of the charges stick, noting that in some cases, evidence had been deemed inadmissible for various technical reasons.
“In every case that I chased, there was a judicial error either in their handling of a warrant, or [similar] … I’m not writing this book to slam the RCMP, but can’t they get it right?”
Nobody’s Boy: Ralph Harris – The Northern Connection can be purchased in Nanaimo at WindowSeat Books, or online through www.amazon.ca.