The Straw Stack Murders

On April 16, 1933, Mike Swyck, a farmer in the Whitkow district of Saskatchewan, noticed his dog digging around in the ashes of his straw stack, which he had seen go up in flames from his farmhouse several days previous and decided to investigate. Peering into the ashes, he made a gruesome discovery. There, in the middle of the burnt straw pile, were the charred remains of a human body.

April 21, 1933 edition of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix

The body was burned beyond recognition but RCMP believed the remains belonged to Nestor Terecszuk, a man who’d been missing since the previous October. He’d been married to a woman named Annie Bahrey, but she’d separated from him after it came to light that he already had a wife, alive and well, back in Poland. The Bahrey family was furious with Nestor for this indignity to Annie, and coincidentally, on the same day of the fire, Annie’s brother Alec (sometimes referred to as Alex in the articles) had told their brother William (also called Bill) that he was going to hunt muskrats and had taken his horse and left. It seemed likely that Alec had killed Nestor and fled the law.

But when the remains were sent to the province pathologist, the estimated height, weight and age didn’t match Nestor. They matched Alec. And when Alec’s half-starved horse was found tied up in the bush with no trace of Alec, the RCMP turned their focus to Bill. When they told him they had proof that the body in the straw pile was not Nestor’s, Bill cracked and told them everything. And I do mean everything.

Alec was not the first man he’d killed.

Bill told RCMP that he’d also killed his brother-in-law, Nestor Terecszuk, the previous fall. After they’d found out about the bigamy, the family had been furious, as the locals described. But there wasn’t much legal recourse to take, aside from suing him for non-support, since proving their bigamy claim would involve bringing Nestor’s wife over from Poland, which would have been expensive.

Unwilling to let the man go unpunished and deciding that Nestor had no honour as a man, Bill found his opportunity in October of 1932, when Nestor visited Alec’s farm. He watched as Annie, Alec and his sister-in-law all left to visit his father, leaving Nestor on the farm alone. Bill took a .22 rifle and waited around the corner of the barn for Nestor. When Nestor approached, Bill stepped out from his hiding place and despite Nestor’s pleas, shot him in the gut. Nestor didn’t die. Instead, the two fought until Bill picked up the hub of a buggy wheel and clubbed Nestor with it, beating him in the head until he was dead. Bill dragged the body to the low ground below the house. Coming back later, he shot Nestor in the head with his rifle to make sure he was dead, then hooked a rope around the dead man’s feet and hitched the body to a horse, dragging it two and a half miles to a quarter section of land owned by another man, Pete Lemahl, where he threw it into the straw pile and burnt it.

Bill took the RCMP to the straw stack where he’d dumped Nestor, and sure enough they found a lot of small bones, pieces of skull and bits of clothing and shoes in the ashes. Next, Bill took them to the creek where he’d thrown the rifle he’d used on his brother Alec, helping them fish it out of the water with a rake. After that, he showed them where in his father’s barn he’d hidden the bullets and took them to Mike Swyck’s, showing them where he’d hidden when he shot his brother.

May 10, 1933 edition of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Why did Bill kill his brother? The reason he gave was that he loathed Alec and was sick of watching him abuse and mistreat his wife. He’d seen Alec strike her countless times and at one point Alec had left his wife home alone the day after their child was born with no firewood in the house for them to keep warm. When she complained to him later that going out into the snow to try and get firewood in her state was dangerous, he told her he wanted her to die.

So, once again, Bill waited for his opportunity. It arrived on April 10, 1933. Mike Swyck told Alec he could have some beer bottles he had on his farm. When Alec went to the farm, Bill followed, and while Alec was gathering the beer bottles into two sacks he put by the straw pile, Bill took aim and fired. His first shot missed, but the next two didn’t. Bill left the body there, returning at night and tying a piece of wire around Alec’s arm and dragging him into the middle of the straw pile before setting it alight. A neighbouring farmer, John Masik saw the straw pile still burning the next morning but didn’t think enough of it to investigate.

The papers tried to play off his brother’s murder as a love triangle, saying that Bill was in love with his sister-in-law, Dora. But Bill never mentioned Dora in a romantic light when he told his story in court (and he certainly didn’t hold back on the details), and neither did Dora. Although in an interview with the provincial pathologist who worked on the case, there was mention that Bill confessed to a romantic relationship in his confession to police, so maybe it’s true. I have a hard time believing it, as he was said to have the mentality of a boy of ten.

Growing up, he’d only received two weeks of education and didn’t speak a lot of English. As well, the Whitkow district was described as bleak and desolate, without trains or phones and the highways were pretty well impassable in the winters. It’s entirely possible, given his isolation in that community, that he may not have understood the consequences of his confession. He certainly seemed to think his reasoning was sound.

If that was the case, his naivety didn’t garner him any mercy. He was sentenced to hang for the murders and despite several appeals by his defence, he did at 6:00AM on February 22, 1934 in Prince Albert.

May 13, 1933 edition of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix

And that concludes the tale of the Straw Stack Murders of Whitkow Saskatchewan. I read quite a few articles in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix to gather this information, using editions from April, May, September, October, November and December of 1933, as well as February of 1934. I also used an article in the October 22, 1955 edition of the Winnipeg Evening Tribune Weekend Magazine, in which provincial pathologist, Dr. Frances McGill gave an interview on the cases she’d worked.

If you’re wondering what started me on this murder research kick, I suggest you read my post, The Mystery of the Haunted Skull. If you’d like to read more strange and murdery tales from 1930s Saskatchewan, please check out the following posts:

April Showers Bring May Axe Murders

The Corpse Bride of Sokal, Saskatchewan

They Sure Like Their Strychnine, Don’t They?

As always, thanks for reading and please subscribe and share!

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