If you’ve been reading along, you know that I’m currently on a deep dive researching murders in Saskatchewan in the 1930s. (If you only just stumbled on my blog and would like to know what I’m talking about, read this and this.) Over the course of my research I’ve come across a lot of weird stories, but this one, while not a murder, was truly wild and I knew I had to share it with you.
In mid-November, 1931, RCMP officers arrested a man after they found him inside the opened coffin of a dug up grave, kissing the decayed face of his wife, who’d passed away in January of the same year. The man, Dmytro Stefaniuk, was charged with unlawfully interfering with the dead.
Dmytro told the officers that he’d heard “her voice, asking me to come to her” and admitted that this was the third time he’d dug up the grave to give his dead wife some affection.
At the time of his arrest, the officers found candles that he’d brought to burn for the repose of her soul, holy water to spinkle on her remains, and various articles of food, clothes and household effects, as well as a prayer book. He told them that he’d felt guilty for not providing her with those comforts in life and for not taking her to church, so he tried to give them to her in death.
His defense council, none other than John G. Diefenbaker himself, had Dmytro’s sanity tested and mental authorities found him fit to stand trial. Diefenbaker argued that Dmytro’s mind had been clouded by grief and he’d suffered temporary insanity as a result of his lasting affection for his wife.
Taking into consideration that Dmytro had already spent a month in prison since his arrest, the judge suspended his sentence, warning him not to heed the mysterious voice should he hear it compelling him to dig up the grave again in the future.
There was only the single article for this story, but upon reading it I had so many questions. Who was his wife? How did she die? And how did the RCMP know to find him in the graveyard? Did someone see him going in with his bag of supplies and a shovel and call the RCMP?
The article mentioned that Dmytro lived in the Sokal district of Saskatchewan, so I did a Google search for cemeteries in the area. I only found two listed, one was for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the other was the Holy Trinity Ukranian Catholic Cemetery. Bingo.
There were 157 graves listed for this cemetery on Find a Grave (a website that is exactly what it sounds like). I started scrolling through the list, looking for a woman with the last name Stefaniuk, whose year of death was 1931. And I found Zofia. Zofia Stefaniuk, born 1900, died 1931, buried alongside a Dmytro Stefaniuk, born 1893, died 1970. The entry included a picture of the tombstone, although I doubt it’s the original. It’s looks like it was replaced later to include Dmytro.
Another interesting item I found while scrolling was the tombstone for one William Stefaniuk, who lived for only three days in January, 1931. Born January 3rd, died January 6th.
Given that the wife of Dmytro died in January of 1931, could this be the reason why? Had she given birth to a son named William, and both died from complications of childbirth? I was unable to find an obituary for Zofia, so there’s no way to know for sure. Nor is there any way to be one hundred percent certain that Zofia was the woman to inspire such an unhinged level of devotion, but it seems likely.
Now I can’t help but wonder. Was it Zofia’s ghostly voice murmuring to Dmytro, demanding that he visit? Or was it as Diefenbaker said, a mind clouded with grief and guilt? I suppose we’ll never know.
Information for this post was found in the Dec 18, 1931 edition of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.
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