As those of you who’ve been reading along already know, my fall down the rabbit hole of Saskatchewan murder started with the Kerrobert Courthouse. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a moment and read this. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you.
Done? Okay, great.
As I was saying, it was nearly a year ago that I began hunting for the owner of the mysterious skull said to be kept in the basement evidence room of the courthouse. And I was having absolutely no luck.
When CBC Radio reached out to interview me last week (a very surreal moment for this little nerd), they were able to give me a new lead. Their associate producer had much better luck getting in touch with the town of Kerrobert than I had (I believe that’s what you call ‘pull’), and sent me a scan of a Kerrobert history book that gave a few more details about the haunting and the skull that was allegedly to blame.
According to the history book, the skull kept in the evidence vault came from a Beechy murder, and was used as evidence in the homicide case of R.V. Schumacher. The case was never tried at the Kerrobert Courthouse (hence why I had no luck in tying it to the Kerrobert haunting) and was also not defended by John G. Diefenbaker.
The name Schumacher rang a bell, and as soon as I started digging, I knew why. It was one of the first cases I came across when I started investigating the skull, and the only reason I didn’t write about it then (it’s a fascinating case), was because it had already been written about, so I figured the internet didn’t need me adding my thoughts as well. Well, now that I know that this is the skull, you better believe I’m going to tell you the story.
Prepare yourselves for the Beechy Murder.
The Beechy Murder
On the evening of December 10, 1930, Professor Henry Gladstone “Mind Reader” was doing a show in a little theatre in Beechy, Saskatchewan. A former Vaudeville headliner, he was travelling around Saskatchewan doing performances.
During the show, Gladstone pointed at a member of the audience, a man named William Taylor, and said, “The man you are thinking of was murdered. There was foul play and the body will soon be found.”
The audience was in shock. William Taylor admitted he’d been thinking about his friend, James ‘Scotty’ McLachlan, who’d been missing for almost three years. Constable Charles E. Carey of the Beechy RCMP detachment was also in the audience. He reached out to Detective Corporal Wood, who agreed to allow Gladstone to consult on the case.
The Missing Man
James Stewart McLachlan, known to his friends as “Scotty” had moved to the district with his wife fourteen years before his disappearance. She’d died six years later and their two children became wards of a family named Moore in the Herbert district, although they later moved to Swift Current.
Scotty lived alone and continued to work the farm, but it was not prosperous. He was described as well liked in the community, but as his fortunes continued to worsen he became more and more quick to anger, especially if he’d been drinking. The farm was eventually put up for sale for taxes and was bought by Olaf Evjen, who allowed Scotty to stay on as a renter.
In the spring of 1927, McLachlan took on John F. Schumacher as a partner on a crop share basis. When winter arrived, Olaf Evjen approached Schumacher and told him that he’d decided to cancel McLachlan’s lease in favour of giving it to Schumacher, who appeared much more able to turn a profit than McLachlan. After he’d spoken to Schumacher, Olaf told McLachlan, who was, of course, pissed.
In mid-January, 1928, Scotty went to a neighbour’s and made arrangements to be driven to Herbert later in the week. He stayed the night and set out on foot for home the following day. A few days later Schumacher told the neighbours that Scotty had up and left, selling his equipment to Schumacher. He told them Scotty had most likely headed for British Colombia, where he’d gotten work before. No word was heard from Scotty and the community, although suspicious, carried on.
The next year’s crop did well and Schumacher, only in his early twenties, got married and had a baby.
A few days after the show, Constable Carey, along with a plain clothes officer and Professor Gladstone, went out to the farm of John F. Schumacher. Schumacher wasn’t home, but his young brother-in-law was. They told him they were water finders and asked if they could look around.
With the brother’s permission, they checked out the property. As they took a look around in the barn, Gladstone stopped, sniffed the air and said, “there’s been a killing here and the body is nearby.”
On their way back from the farm, they were almost sent into the ditch by a truck coming down the road with no lights. Carey turned the car around and pulled it over, only to find that it was Schumacher behind the wheel. They asked him to return to town and answer some questions about McLachlan.
Corporal Wood and Constable Carey questioned Schumacher for a while, with Gladstone mostly watching except for the odd question. They weren’t getting very far, when Gladstone flicked his fingers and said, “the barn. Yes, I’ve got it. Now, gentlemen, I’m going to tell you just what took place out there.”
Gladstone told them that there’d been a fight in the barn. McLachlan was struck over the head and was killed. He’d been buried nearby, most likely near an old well.
John Schumacher said nothing for a few minutes, then broke down and started crying, saying, “oh my wife, oh my baby, will they hang me?” Gladstone left the room and Schumacher, still sobbing, made his confession.
According to Schumacher, Scotty had come home from the neighbour’s while he was in the kitchen, eating. They’d spoken a bit and he’d finished up and gone out to the barn to clean out the stalls. After a short time, Scotty had come out to the barn and started an argument, hurling abuse at the young man before picking up a shovel and going after him with it. Schumacher told the officers that he’d been holding a pitchfork and when Scotty came at him with the shovel he’d swung it once, as hard as he could, out of fear. Scotty had chased him once before with a frying pan, and once at a party had chased another man with a knife, only stopping when Schumacher stopped him and led him away.
He’d run back to the house in a panic, not sure what to do. After about an hour to an hour and a half, he’d gone back out to the barn to find Scotty laying as he’d left him, dead. Fearing that he’d be hanged for murder because no one was there to witness the argument and still in a panic, he’d dragged Scotty out of the barn and down the slope out to a spot near the well. He’d covered him with straw and then manure, adding to it from time to time.
The next day, Dec 14, 1930, the officers took Schumacher back out to the farm, where he was kept under guard in the house while a group of volunteers began to dig. Schumacher had told them where the manure pile was, but after an hour of digging in the snow they brought him down from the house and he pointed to the spot in the manure pile where they would find Scotty.
And find him they did. He was lying with an arm by his side, the other folded across his chest, wearing a waistcoat, khaki shirt, heavy breeches, woolen underwear and four pairs of socks on each foot. The left side of his skull was broken into 12 fragments and he had a broken rib. His remains were no longer recognizable, but his neighbours immediately identified him thanks to his Mackinaw pants. He was the only man in the district who wore them.
Dr. W. S. Lindsay, pathologist from the University of Saskatchewan, performed the autopsy and further identified it as Scotty. The body belonged to a man between forty and sixty, who was five foot, five inches tall and had an old, healed ankle fracture. Scotty was five foot, five, about forty eight years old, and had a previous ankle fracture.
The trial began on March 24, 1931 in Kindersley, Saskatchewan. A multitude of witnesses were called, including Professor Gladstone.
Gladstone couldn’t explain his gift for mind reading, saying only that it was “nothing magical, but merely a highly-developed sensibility to thought transference.” This wasn’t the first time he’d predicted the location of a body. In 1924 he’d been in Red Deer River, Alberta and predicted that the body of Alexander McDonald, an old miner who’d disappeared six months previous would be found at the bottom of the river. Investigators had floated bars of soap down the river and followed them to an eddy where they found the body.
Testimony from Dr. Lindsay, as well as Dr. Frances McGill, Provincial Pathologist, stated that McLachlan had been killed by an extremely heavy blow to the left side of the skull. Neither had seen a skull so badly fractured outside of shell explosion wounds. The skull was indeed produced as evidence in court, as well as a plaster replica of an intact skull, and jury members were shown all of the injuries. It was agreed that the damage, both to the skull and the rib, could have been done with a single blow of a four prong pitchfork, given the strength of Schumacher, who was over six feet tall and well over two hundred pounds, especially if one accounted for him being in fear for his life.
John Schumacher also took the stand, telling the court about how he kept a succession of young men working at the farm because he was scared to stay there alone. He’d been afraid to leave and afraid to stay, knowing what lay beneath the manure pile on the farm. He swore he didn’t murder McLachlan, but had only acted out of fear for his own life.
He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years of hard labour.
The skull of James ‘Scotty’ McLachlan was kept in the basement evidence vault at the Kerrobert Courthouse until 1996, when it was interred with the rest of his remains in Beechy. It’s certainly understandable why some would believe the courthouse is haunted. The whole thing is reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow. I picture the restless spirit of Scotty McLachlan wandering the courthouse, looking for his missing head.
And that, my friends, is the story of the haunted skull of the Kerrobert Courthouse. And although my hunt has reached its end, please let me reassure you that I am now completely hooked and will continue to bring you the fascinating tales of murder in historical Saskatchewan.
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Thanks for reading!