A few weeks ago, I told you about my search for the mysterious skull that Kerrobert claims is behind their haunted courthouse. (If you haven’t read it, you can do so here.) I haven’t given up my quest, and have spent the last few weeks wading through what I can only describe as a lot of archived newspaper articles from the 1930s. It turns out old timey Saskatchewan really loved its murder. My access to the 1920s is limited, so I’ve focused on the 30s for now.
I already have so many interesting murders to tell you about, but so far none of them have taken place in Kerrobert. Not the murders themselves and not the trials that followed. The skull continues to evade me, but I must confess, I’m thoroughly enjoying the hunt.
One thing I’ve learned thus far is that strychnine seems to have been a murder weapon of choice. It turns out gopher poison was rather easy to come by, and unfortunately for the murderers, very easy to test for. So much for the perfect crime.
The first murder I’ll tell you about was committed by Kateryna Tracz. She mixed strychnine into her husband’s “home brew” (in some articles this was referred to as whiskey but in most just as home brew so we’ll assume it was some kind of alcohol and leave it at that), and served it to him with supper.
Unfortunately for Kateryna, her husband took several hours to die and spent those hours accusing her of murder.
Their son, William came in just in time to see his father fall from his chair, and on his father’s request went to fetch the school teacher and his wife, as well as several other neighbours and finally the doctor. (I’m sure Kateryna was less than thrilled by this abundance of witnesses. Especially with her husband in agony, suffering convulsions and rigid limbs.) Soon after William returned with the doctor, his father was dead.
This death was obviously very suspicious, so the R.C.M.P. sent the bottle of home brew and Yacam’s intestines out for testing. Surprising absolutely no one, it came back positive for strychnine. Not that the testing was really necessary, Kateryna had already admitted to her parents that she’d poisoned Yacam.
According to Kateryna, their neighbour, Theodore Oleskiw had given her the poison and told her to do it, saying that he would marry her when Yacam was dead. Theodore, of course, denied all allegations. He told the R.C.M.P that he was in fact engaged to another woman and wasn’t interested in Kateryna at all. He was charged as an accessory but was found not guilty.
Now, before you go assuming Kateryna was a soulless monster, by all accounts their marriage was not a happy one. They had eight children and according to her neighbours, Kateryna had complained often about how unhappy she was and that she’d been forced to marry Yacam against her will by her parents at age fifteen. She was, of course, found guilty and sentenced to death but her sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
The second murder I have for you is not a murder at all, but an attempted murder.
On July 2, 1931, Agnes Longeuil and her family came home from a district picnic to their farm in Aberdeen to find a back window broken. Some articles inside the house had been moved around and a padlock had been taken from the garage door but nothing else appeared to be missing.
The following day, Agnes Longeuil served lunch to her two children, her visiting niece and a hired man who worked on their farm. They noticed a strange taste to their tea and threw it out. Agnes also threw out a stale pudding from the cupboard and a few potatoes that had gone bad. One of their dogs got into the stale pudding and became violently ill, stiffening in the joints and had to be shot. The pigs they’d fed the potatoes to also became violently ill. Agnes, convinced someone had tried to poison them, called in the R.C.M.P to investigate. They sent the tea caddy away to the University of Saskatchewan for analysis and it came back positive for strychnine.
Not only was there strychnine in the tea, there was enough to kill at least nineteen people. Soon after, the R.C.M.P. arrested Reinhold Drews, her neighbour, who admitted that he broke into the family home on July 2nd and sprinkled gopher poison on food in the kitchen cupboard.
Don’t worry though. He had a great reason for trying to kill Agnes and her entire family. It turned out he wanted revenge for a judgement Agnes had secured against him in February for $305 for the loss of her hay the previous fall when fire spread from a strawstack he was burning. That would be about $5200 today. So as you can see, his response was perfectly reasonable.
Reinhold plead guilty to the crime and received a sentence of fifteen years. It is unclear if Agnes ever got her $305 dollars.
I have many more murder stories to tell you, but we’ll leave it here for today. And remember, if the tea tastes funny, throw it away.
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