A Crimson Coloured Spade: Murder Near Wakaw

Content Warning: The following true crime story deals with the murder of a child. If reading about this will cause you distress, please skip this post.

In researching this story, one thing became clear. Reporting in 1913 was not always the best. Multiple variations of names emerged over the course of the articles I read and I was unable to verify which ones were correct. In the case of the murder victim, her name was given as Julia Genik, Julian Janiks and Julia Jennings. I went through every death certificate on the Saskatchewan Genealogy website for 1913 but was unable to find her. So, we’ll refer to her as Julia Jennings, as that was the name used during the news coverage of the trial.

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Julia Jennings was a young girl of eight or nine, living on her family’s farm west of Wakaw. On the evening of June 21, 1913, she didn’t return home as expected. Her family, obviously worried, launched a search for her. They found her body the following morning in a clump of bushes, the injuries to her head and face horrific in their violence. There was a deep gash across her forehead, her nose was broken, the right side of her face beaten to a pulp and her skull was fractured. It appeared one hand must have been raised to try and ward off blows, as it had several deep gashes and broken bones.

Who could have committed such a horrific act against a child?

Sergeant Thomas of the Mounted Police left Saskatoon on Tuesday, June 24, 1913 and arrived at Wakaw the same night. He met with Constable Cook, who was stationed at Wakaw, and the two immediately went to work on the case. After gathering evidence they were soon able to make an arrest and by noon the next day they had their suspect in custody. As with Julia, the newspapers published multiple versions of her name (Kate Simon, Katherine Simons, Kathleen Olka Simon), but I’ll go with the name published during her trial, which was Kathleen Olga Simon. She was approximately thirteen years old and only spoke a smattering of English.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – June 27, 1913

It didn’t take her long to confess. During the preliminary trial, she told the court through an interpreter that on the morning of Saturday, June 21, 1913, she left her father’s farm and walked towards Preston’s farm about a mile and a half northeast to pick Seneca roots. Passing the Jennings’ farm, she saw Julia out with her grandfather herding cattle and invited her to come along and dig roots. They arrived at the Preston’s place at around 9:30 and began digging. They continued digging until about 11:00, when Julia, either out of teasing or malice, threw a dead chicken at Kathleen. She also started throwing sticks and chunks of earth at her. Kathleen, enraged, rushed at the girl and grabbed the spade Julia had been using. She knocked Julia down and beat her savagely with the spade until she was dead.

Perhaps even more upsetting, after murdering her companion, Kathleen went back to digging roots. She returned home at about 5:00 with nearly three and a half pounds of them and said nothing of what had happened. When asked in court why she didn’t say anything sooner, she said she’d forgotten all about it.

Along with her confession at the preliminary trial, two pieces of evidence were introduced. Kathleen’s blood stained skirt that she’d been wearing the day of the murder, and the “crimson coloured spade” found near Julia’s body. Kathleen was committed to stand trial at the next session in Prince Albert.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 29, 1913

At her trial in November of 1913, the argument was made that Kathleen committed the murder during a moment of insanity, but the jury didn’t buy it. On Dec 6, 1913, she was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years at the Prince Albert Penitentiary. Justice Brown, who presided over the trial, told the court at sentencing that he had thought at first of committing her to the reformatory, but concluded that given the level of violence in the case (Julia’s face was described as nearly chopped away), it would be inadvisable to have her among other young girls, especially since they would at times be unsupervised.

An appeal was made to the Minister of Justice by the Attorney-General of Saskatchewan to have her formally committed to the care of the Superintendent of Neglected Children, S. Spencer Page. If granted, she’d be placed in an institution.

It’s unclear whether it was on the basis of the above mentioned appeal, or a later one, but after approximately one year, Kathleen was paroled and sent to a children’s home in Winnipeg. The timeline of how long she was at the children’s home is unclear, but it couldn’t have been more than a month or two, when one day, while walking with the matron, Kathleen managed to give her the slip and escaped.

She was on the lam for at least three months. At one point, she was found destitute and starving by a kindly older couple who took her in and nursed her back to health. She convinced them to take her to the countryside where their son lived on a farm north of Winnipeg, but it proved to be her undoing. While working on the farm a visitor recognized her and wrote to Ottawa about her whereabouts. They sent an official to bring her into custody, but he must not have read the part in her file about how she’d already escaped custody once. He informed her that she was under arrest and very calmly, she told him she’d go get her things. While he waited she escaped again.

She was caught five days later when hunger forced her to go to a farmhouse in the area, where she was immediately recognized and held to be taken back to prison. The family she worked for immediately made a strong plea for her release, asking for her to be paroled into their custody.

It’s unclear whether the request was granted. I couldn’t find any follow up articles on what happened to Kathleen Simon, whether she was returned to prison, sent to an institution, or paroled to the family who pleaded for her freedom. For now, her story ends there. But if anyone knows more about her, I hope they’ll reach out.

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Information for today’s post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, the Regina Leader-Post, the Edmonton Journal and the Sunday Telegram from Clarksburg, West Virginia: June 26, 1913, June 27, 1913, June 28, 1913, Nov 29, 1913, Dec 6, 1913, Dec 10, 1913, Dec 11, 1913, Dec 19, 1913, May 10, 1915 and May 23, 1915

If you’re interested in more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan, give these a read:

The Mystery in the Well

A Deadly Quarrel: Murder Near Nipawin

The Unsolved Murder of Annie and Metro Zurawell

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