June 12, 1933
At around 3:15 in the afternoon, a few customers gathered at the door of the small general store in Redberry, Saskatchewan to buy stamps. The door was locked, but they weren’t alarmed, assuming the owner and postmaster, Peter Pommereul, would return soon.
Someone went to his daughter’s house nearby and she returned with the spare key to let them in the shop. A few more minutes went by, but still no one was worried. As the customers chatted, one of the men leaned against the counter, looked over, and saw Peter’s body crumpled on the floor behind it. He was on his knees, his forehead in a pool of blood. The wallet in his right hip pocket was missing, the pocket turned out. On the floor was a single .22 caliber rifle shell.
Outside, footsteps led from the shop across a nearby field to a clump of bushes.
When the doctor examined Peter’s body, he found that the bullet had entered above and behind the left ear, exiting through the right temple. He believed that the shot most likely caught the man unaware and it was likely Peter Pommereul never saw it coming.
The RCMP arrived and began their investigation by retracing the dead man’s steps. Peter was in his mid-fifties, a widower who lived alone, taking his meals with his daughter and son-in-law. On the day in question, he’d gone to his daughter’s for lunch, leaving shortly after to return to his store.
His son-in-law, William Hasse, stopped by at around 2:15 for a short visit before continuing on to his office at the grain elevator. Peter was dead by the time his customers arrived after 3:00.
When Fred Harach heard about the murder the following day he initially didn’t think anything of it. But when he saw the tracks across the field leading from the general store, he got suspicious and decided to do a little detective work.
The previous day, his neighbour, Steve Bohun, had shown up at around noon, asking if he could borrow Fred’s .22 caliber rifle to shoot a pig. Fred was reluctant, he had an expert coming to test out his rifle, but Steve was insistent, saying he only needed the rifle for a short time and would return it quickly. Fred caved and let Steve borrow the rifle.
But Steve didn’t return quickly. Fred waited an hour and a half. At 3:00 when the expert arrived, Steve still hadn’t returned, so Fred walked to his father’s farm to look for him. There was no sign of Steve or the dead pig he was supposed to have shot.
He headed home and was met in the field by Bohun, who came running towards him, excited and red with bloodshot eyes. They fired a few shots from the rifle together, then Fred took the gun and went home.
Fred now went back to that same pasture and examined Bohun’s shoe prints. They looked the same as the shoe prints in the field near Redberry. He told his father and their neighour, who reported it to the police. The investigators took a plaster cast of the shoe prints from both locations and compared them. They were identical.
At 1:30AM, June 14, 1933, they arrested Steve Bohun, waking him from a sound sleep at his girlfriend’s home in Krydor, Saskatchewan. There was a roll of $135 in bills under his pillow. He submitted quietly and was taken to Hafford, Saskatchewan.
Steve Bohun was a nineteen year old man living and working on his father’s farm in Krydor. He was engaged to a seventeen year old girl named Annie Barchuk, who, the day before the murder, had just told him she was pregnant. The next day, June 12th, he went to his father and asked to borrow money for their approaching marriage. His father refused and they’d quarreled, leaving Steve to storm off and ask Fred Harach if he could borrow his rifle.
There were a few key pieces of evidence put forth at Steve Bohun’s trial. First, there were the plaster casts of the shoe impressions, showing the matching shoe print and tread pattern between Steve and the murderer. Second, there were the expelled shells from Fred’s rifle the police had found in the pasture where Steve and Fred had fired the couple of bullets when Steve returned the gun. The shells matched the shell found at the murder scene. There was Fred’s testimony of course, and finally there was Steve’s confession, made to the police while in custody.
Steve denied his confession, saying it was made under threat and torture, that Constable Rudick (one of the RCMP officers on the investigation) “beat him up.” His story was that he’d borrowed the rifle to go hunting and had fallen asleep beside the lake, waking only a few minutes before seeing Fred.
His defense cousel, John G. Diefenbaker, argued against allowing the confession. In court, he confronted Constable Beavan (another officer on the investigation) about it and questioned how it was obtained. Apparently they’d taken Bohun to the scene of the murder at 2:30AM where they’d allegedly shown him the blood stains. Beavan vehemently denied Diefenbaker’s suggestion that Steve was made to put his hand on them. As to the claim that Constable Rudick beat him up, Beavan stated that when Bohun made the accusation he had tried to get a doctor to come and look at him but Bohun had refused.
Diefenbaker also brought in experts to testify on Steve Bohun’s mental state. Seven years before the murder he’d been kicked in the forehead by a horse. Dr. A. O. Rose declared that Bohun’s logical mental processes had been affected. Another expert, S. R. Laycock, professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan, put Bohun’s mental age at about ten years old.
On October 2, 1933, Steve Bohun was found guilty of murder. The jury asked for leniency on account of his age and “inferior mentality.”
On October 7, 1933, he was sentenced to hang on February 24, 1934. He was taken to the Prince Albert jail to await his sentence.
Diefenbaker continued to argue for leniency, trying to get his sentence commuted to life in prison. He succeeded in getting Bohun a two week reprieve, during which Dr. Harvey Clare, an Ontario alienist, visited Bohun in his cell to assess him. In total, five different alienists declared him to be “feeble-minded.”
Bohun’s sentence was not commuted however and he was hung on March 9, 1934 at 6:00AM at the Prince Albert jail. Death was instantaneous with a complete neck fracture and he was pronounced dead nine minutes later.
When his father was informed that his son’s sentence had not been commuted and he would be hanged, he was quoted as saying, “is that so?” When asked, he said he would not see his son before his execution and would not claim the body after.
As for Annie Barchuk and their infant son, Tony, they were expected to reach Prince Albert and spend time with Bohun before his execution, but they never arrived. It was never found out why.
Information for this post came from both The Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, as well as the Edmonton Bulletin and the Nanaimo Daily News. Issue dates included: June 13, 1933, June 14, 1933, June 20, 1933, June 21, 1933, September 27, 1933, September 28, 1933, September 29, 1933, September 30, 1933, October 2, 1933, October 7, 1933, Feb 22, 1934, March 8, 1934 and March 9, 1934.
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