The Yorkton Hammer Murder

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

June 4, 1933

It was a typical Sunday on the Steberl farm, just 12 miles northeast of Yorkton near Rhein, Saskatchewan. Gustav Steberl and his wife Rosie had gone into Rhein that day with their hired man, Henry Suppes, before returning to the farm around supper time.

Earlier that day Henry and Gustav had gotten into a minor argument about the horses. Gustav didn’t like how fast Henry was driving them. But it hadn’t lasted long and both men seemed to have forgotten about it.

After supper, Gustav sat on the front steps of the house, nursing the baby, while Rosie milked some cows nearby. He’d only recently been released from the hospital and was still convalescing at home. Hearing a sudden noise and the crying of the baby, Rosie turned and saw Henry Suppes standing behind Gustav, striking him over the head with a hammer. She screamed and ran to her husband. Suppes dropped the hammer (later found to be a blacksmith’s hammer) and ran into the bushes.

Gustav, even though he’d been attacked, hadn’t dropped the baby. Instead his unconscious form had slumped over the infant. Rosie grabbed the baby from his arms and ran to the neighbour’s farm, belonging to Amos Burkell. They called for medical assistance and notified the RCMP.

Constable M. V. Novakowski of the Yorkton detachment went straight to the Steberl farm. After learning of the seriousness of Gustav’s injuries, he called Corporal Charles Harvey to let him know what had happened on the farm and went to Henry Suppes’ home near Rhein and arrested him.

Gustav Steberl was taken to the Yorkton hospital at 11:15PM. He died three hours later, having never regained consciousness.

Photo by Barron Stricker on Find A Grave

Henry Suppes, Hired Man

A coroner’s inquest was opened the following day on June 5, 1933, led by Coroner C. J. Houston. Henry Suppes was charged with murder the same day. The jury viewed Gustav’s body and adjourned for one week before returning a verdict on June 12, 1933 finding Suppes responsible for Gustav’s death. Suppes was taken to Regina by Constable J. Timmerman on June 6, 1933.

The preliminary hearing was held on June 13, 1933, before magistrate W. B. Scott of Regina. Rosie Steberl was the first to testify. Henry Suppes also testified on his own behalf. He’d only been working for the Steberls since May 12, 1933, not even a full month. He told the court that on June 4th he’d been to Rhein with the Steberls and when they returned he’d unhitched the horses. After putting them in the barn he suddenly became tired of farm work and decided to quit, so he left and walked to his home at Rhein. He denied striking his employer with the hammer and told the court he hadn’t even held a hammer that day. He was committed to stand trial at the next court of the king’s bench, to be held in Regina.

June 13, 1933 – Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

But he never stood trial. In the early morning of Tuesday, July 25, 1933, Henry Suppes was found dead in his cell. He’d ripped his bedsheet in half, wound it into a cord, tied one end around his neck and suspended himself from the grating near his window.

An inquest into Suppes death began at 6:30PM on July 26, 1933. Dr. C. E. McCutcheon viewed the body at Speers funeral home the night before, where it was being held pending completion of funeral arrangements. The post-mortem was performed by Dr. J. G. Wright.

W. Watson, the guard on duty that night, testified that he’d made his usual rounds of the jail at midnight and 1:00AM and reported everything in order to Alex Bruce, the night-keeper. At 2:00AM, Alex Bruce made the rounds and at about 2:20AM he found the suspended body of Suppes in his cell.

No heartbeat or pulse was found and efforts at resuscitation had no effect. Bruce immediately notified Charles Gleadow, the warden, and arrangements were made to notify relatives.

Suppes had been in the Regina Jail since June 13th and at all times the warden described him as a quiet, model prisoner. He caused no trouble. Even the prisoners near his cell reported that they hadn’t heard anything unusual during the night of his death.

The verdict of the coroner’s inquest was as follows: “That the deceased came to his death from strangulation by hanging by his own hand between 2:00 and 2:30AM at Regina Jail on July 25, 1933.”

None of Henry Suppes’ relatives claimed his body. Services were held for him at 4:00PM on July 27, 1933 at Speers funeral chapel, officiated by Reverend H. Kroeger of the Lutheran Church. He was interned at the Regina Cemetery.

Both men were in their early thirties.

July 25, 1933 – Regina Leader-Post

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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: June 5, 1933, June 6, 1933, June 7, 1933, June 13 1933, June 14, 1933, June 16, 1933, July 25, 1933, July 26, 1933 and July 27, 1933

If you’re interested in more Saskatchewan historical murder cases, please give these a read:

The Haunted Skull of the Kerrobert Courthouse

Shootin’ Rabbits by Moonlight: The Murder of Hans Pederson

The Disappearance of Richard Arthur Hudson

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