A Deadly Quarrel: Murder Near Nipawin

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In January of 1934, RCMP officers made their way out to a lonely trapper’s cabin about thirty miles north of Nipawin. It was bitterly cold, the temperatures in the minus forties, as they began their investigation. They’d been called out by Albert Yager, a shopkeeper who had a store about two miles away. He was concerned that the cabin’s owner, Oskar Schwab, had met with foul play.

Oskar Schwab, a young man of twenty-eight, had been trapping in the area every winter since the fall of 1928. He’d erected the little log cabin in a small valley near the river, returning each year after working as a farm labourer in the Bruno district during the summers. In November of 1932, he’d returned, bringing a man named Thomas Kisling with him as a trapping partner. Thomas Kisling was a forty-four-year-old farmer, married with six children. The two appeared to be good friends.

But as winter progressed, Yager saw signs of discord begin to appear. On visits to Yager’s store, each would complain about the other, both believing their partner to be lazy. Petty grievances were common in the thinly populated bush country, isolated as they were during the winter, so Yager didn’t think much of it. That is, until June, when Kisling appeared in Yager’s shop to settle up their grocery bill. He told Yager that he was going back to Bruno and that Schwab had already left for Flin Flon. Included in the money he paid Yager, there was a German coin, one that Yager had seen in Schwab’s possession as a keepsake. Yager was immediately suspicious, especially since Schwab had never left without stopping by the store to say his goodbyes.

Yager did some investigating, and when he could find no trace of Schwab in Flin Flon or elsewhere, and when he failed to return in the fall, he took his story to the RCMP in Nipawin.

The officers examined every corner of the tiny log cabin, checking the bark and moss covered log walls for bullet holes, looking for signs of foul play. Their search was quickly rewarded when they found clotted blood in the straw at the head of the bunk. Near the blood stain was a bullet hole in the log wall, as though someone had fired from the side of the bed, exactly where someone’s head would be when they were sleeping. On the bullet they removed from the wall they found blood and what appeared to be human hair.

Things were not looking good for Oskar Schwab.

The RCMP arrested Kisling on his farm near Bruno on February 16, 1934 and charged him with forging cheques. Since leaving the cabin in June, Kisling had tried to cash two cheques allegedly from Schwab, one for forty one dollars and another for a hundred. He was successful with the first one but not the second. The signatures didn’t match. Kisling had spelled Oskar’s name with a ‘c’ not a ‘k’ and the bank rejected it. He tried going back, this time with a letter from Schwab apologizing for the difficulty and a new cheque but again, the signature didn’t match, thanks to the misspelling.

The RCMP didn’t play around with Kisling. They told him that they would be adding a murder charge to the forgery. Kisling denied the forgery and the murder, stating that they had nothing on him. Then, a few hours later he told them he wished to make a statement to explain the thing, but it was filled with inconsistencies and obvious lies so the RCMP rejected it and sent him back to his cell. Finally, late in the evening, he gave them another statement, this one with the distinct ring of truth, although it’s unlikely he was completely honest. His story changed numerous times after. He told them that on the night of June 9, 1933 he had had words with Schwab, the two of them quarreling over the settlement of money earned during the winter. Schwab refused to make the settlement and told Kisling he could walk home. As things got heated Schwab made a motion for his .22 rifle. Kisling, scared, left the shack and spent the night in the woods. At dawn he returned and looked in through the window to see Schwab asleep in his bunk. He crept inside, went to the west side of the bunk and shot Schwab where he lay. He took Schwab’s purse, two money orders and forged the two cheques.

They took Kisling out to the cabin the next day, Yager meeting them on their arrival. He turned to Kisling and asked straight out, “where’s Oskar?” Kisling pointed mutely to an area behind the cabin, not more than two feet from the building. The officers began digging, and although the temperature had warmed to minus twenty, it was still slow going. It took two hours of breaking through the frozen surface of the ground to make the grim discovery; the badly decomposed body of Oskar Schwab, wrapped in a blanket but otherwise naked, the back and part of the top of his head blown off.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Feb 23, 1934

A coroner’s inquest was held and an autopsy performed by Dr. Frances McGill, the provincial pathologist. She testified that death was caused by a shot which penetrated the scalp near the base of the skill and shattered the cranium into many pieces. Based on the level of decomposition, she believed he’d been buried in the summer. Kisling was committed to stand trial at the spring assizes.

During the trial, Schwab’s former partner, Paul Hippel, testified that Schwab could have a bad temper and at one point had pointed a rifle at him. Kisling took the stand and painted a very different picture from his initial confession, saying that he hadn’t meant to shoot Schwab, only strike him, but the gun caught on a small table and went off. The jury didn’t buy his new version of events and Kisling was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Despite appeals by his defense, he was hung on Aug 10, 1934 at Prince Albert jail.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Aug 10, 1934

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Feb 23, 1934, Feb 26, 1934, Feb 27, 1934, March 2, 1934, March 23, 1934, May 8, 1934, May 9, 1934, May 10, 1934, May 11, 1934, May 12, 1934, July 4, 1934, Aug 10, 1934

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