The Body in the Haystack

It was about 5:00AM on Thursday, January 14, 1915 that Michael Penno heard a team come into the yard and went outside to see what was going on. He assumed he’d find his brother-in-law, Henry Jeskie (also spelled Henry Gesky in some articles) and his friend, Andreas Neumann. They’d left the previous morning on the cutter sleigh with the intent of going out to buy some hogs, and at the sound of the team, he figured they’d returned from their errand.

But the team of horses in the yard were pulling an empty sleigh. He found the inside of the box spattered with blood, Neumann’s coat inside, also spattered with blood and a gun that seemed to have been recently discharged. There was blood on the outside of the box and sleigh as well. He called the Royal North West Mounted Police, and the investigation began.

The two friends had left Jeskie’s home in Laird on the morning of Wednesday, January 13th and had stopped briefly at John Klassen’s farm about three miles north of Laird. That was the last anyone had seen of them. Stories differ on who organized and sent out the search parties; some say Constable Kirk of the RNWMP was in charge, others say it was H. D. Epp and Michael Penno. In either case, the search began.

It wasn’t until Saturday evening, January 16, 1915, that a gruesome discovery was made. Two men, Henry Letkeman and a fellow referred to as Jacob M., were getting a load of wood on a quarter section of land (some sources said it was about nine miles southeast of Hague, others said it was north of Laird, given the direction Neumann and Jeskie were headed when they left Laird, the latter seems more likely to be true), when they came across the burnt remains of a body in a partly burned haystack. The body was still burning when they found it, the head wrapped in a horse blanket.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Jan 18, 1915

The body was unrecognizable, but given the height differences between Andreas and Henry, it was established that the recovered remains were that of Henry Jeskie. Up until this point, the community believed someone must have murdered both men and taken the money Andreas had for the hogs. But now, they’d discovered the body of Jeskie and Neumann was still nowhere to be found. Police began to suspect that Neumann had committed the murder and fled. Adding to their suspicions was a note found in the pocket of Neumann’s coat, that had been left in the sleigh. It read: “Last words of your son to father and brothers, greetings to all.” It was signed Andreas Neumann. The police interpreted it as a final farewell.

An inquest was held at Rosthern on January 19, 1915 and Andreas Neumann was named as the believed murderer of Henry Jeskie. A warrant was issued for Neumann’s arrest, and his description was sent out across the province. The search for Neumann lasted over two weeks.

He was traced to Saskatoon, then a man was found who recognized Neumann on a train between Saskatoon and Regina. The police intially believed he might have escaped into the United States, but towards the end of January, word reached them that a man answering Neumann’s description had been seen in the vicinity of Lemburg, Saskatchewan. He was arrested at the house of some friends he knew from the old country. He had hired on with a farmer in Lemburg under an assumed named and shaved off his moustache.

Andreas Neumann was commited for trial at a preliminary hearing at Rosthern and taken to Prince Albert.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Feb 1, 1915

He admitted that he’d killed Jeskie, but told police it was an accident. He said that he and Jeskie had started out from the Jeskie home to buy hogs that morning, and Jeskie had taken his gun along to shoot coyotes. As they drove across the prairie, they drove into a small flock of chickens. Neumann jumped from the sleigh to take a shot. As he touched the ground, the chickens flew up and circled back over the sleigh where Jeskie sat, holding the team. While watching their flight, Neumann claimed that as the birds passed over Jeskie’s head, the gun was accidentally discharged and the heavy load of bird shot entered Jeskie’s back, killing him almost instantly.

Neumann was terrified and decided to try and conceal Jeskie’s body and make a getaway. He dragged the body to a nearby haystack and set the hay on fire, before fleeing.

The trial began in April of the same year. Several witnesses were called and Neumann took the stand in his own defence. As it turned out, the jury had very little difficulty believing his story. Neumann and Jeskie were good friends and as far as everyone knew, there’d been no quarrel between the two. Of the two of them, Neumann was the one carrying money, while Jeskie had nothing on him, so robbery wasn’t a motive.

After only twenty-five minutes, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty and Andreas Neumann was acquitted.

And that, my friends, is the story of the untimely death of Henry Jeskie.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – April 16, 1915

Please note, I’ve found in my research that this time period was insanely bad for newspapers getting people’s names wrong. For pretty much all the names in this story, I found multiple spellings, and sometimes first names were changed completely. I used my best judgment. This appears to be a product of the times and lack of easy communication, so if any of these names or spellings are not completely accurate, I apologize.

Information for this post was found in the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Jan 18, 1915, Jan 20, 1915, Feb 1, 1915, Feb 2, 1915, Feb 5, 1915, Feb 24, 1915, Feb 27, 1915, April 15, 1915 and April 16, 1915

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