It was Christmas night, 1929, and Antena and Stanley Kropa had been visiting at the home of their friend, J. Philip Mokolyk. Around 5:30PM, Antena took their three-year-old son home to put him to bed and Stanley followed not long after.
They were a young couple, Antena was only twenty-five, and they’d come to Canada just seven months before. Stanley worked as a railway worker and was often away with the railway gang. He was described as young and mild mannered, but unfortunately, it appears Antena was not in love with him. Just a few weeks before Christmas, she’d run off with a man named Alex Wysochan.
On December 11th, Stanley Kropa had gone to the local police chief, Denis Palmer, and appealed to him for help. He’d found out where the two lovers were staying, at a room above a cafe in town. Together they went to the room and found Wysochan sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed, his clothing open. Antena was sitting in a chair, fully dressed.
According to the police chief, Stanley had tried to embrace Antena, but she pushed him away and laughed. It seemed she had no intention of returning to her husband. Stanley took back her suitcase, and when the chief left, the three were at the lunch counter, arguing. The next day, the chief brought along an interpreter and went to Wysochan’s shack with Stanley Kropa, in another attempt to convince his wife to return to him. Chief Palmer testified that he’d done everything he could to get Antena to return to her husband and child, but she just laughed. Eventually, he grabbed Wysochan by the collar and asked him what he intended to do. Wysochan apparently said that he’d let her go home. And she did. Although she rejected further friendly advances from her husband. But, according to Palmer, there were no angry words between the two of them. Antena simply returned home and picked up their child, seeming to accept the reunion.
Which brings us back to December 25, 1929. The young couple had gone back home, and their son was in bed in their bedroom, when, according to Stanley Kropa, he heard a noise outside. He went to see what it was and Alex Wysochan entered their home, brandishing a revolver and appearing quite drunk. He forced the couple into the bedroom, announcing that he was going to shoot Antena and himself and kept them there for several hours.
Stanley Kropa testified that he and his wife made desperate attempts to induce Wysochan to put away the gun and leave, but he wouldn’t go. Nor would he let them leave the bedroom. He said that at one point, he’d considered trying to overpower him, but was afraid of the revolver in Wysochan’s hand. He made a run for the kitchen, but Wysochan blocked him. Stanley said he managed to shove him out and close the door on him, but Wysochan announced through the door to Antena that he was going to shoot her husband like a dog. Terrified, Stanley turned and leapt headfirst through their bedroom window, severely cutting his hands on the glass. He heard shots fired as he ran, he believed four in total, although the fourth sounded muffled.
He returned immediately with neighbours and police.
Chief Palmer and Sergeant Evans of the RCMP got the call at approximately 9:05PM. When they arrived at the home, they found the door locked, so they crawled in through a broken window. They found Antena Kropa and Alex Wysochan tangled up on the floor together, moaning, with a revolver on the floor between them. On the bed, a helpless witness, was the couple’s three-year-old son.
They immediately removed the child and placed Antena on the bed. She had multiple gun shot wounds. Wysochan had faired much better, with only a bullet graze to his chest. A doctor was called and they were both taken to St. Elizabeth hospital. Antena Kropa died a few minutes after her admittance.
Alex Wysochan appeared too drunk to speak, although officers later said they believed he was playing it off worse than it was. They were not able to get a statement out of him until 11:00AM the next morning.
He was formally charged with her murder on January 3, 1930.
The murder trial began on March 18, 1930. Alex Wysochan was defended by none other than John G. Diefenbaker himself, with W. G. Elder assisting. The prosecutor for the crown was R. J. Pratt, whom you may remember from the murder of Lena Faust. He was assisted by K. C. Wilson of Yorkton. It was presided over by Justice H. V. Bigelow.
Wysochan plead not guilty.
One of the key witnesses was, of course, Stanley Kropa. He retold the story of the affair, of Antena agreeing to return home, and the events of Christmas night, when she was murdered.
Dr. W. S. Lindsay, who performed the autopsy on Antena, described her injuries. He believed she’d died from shock and internal bleeding. She’d been shot three times. The first bullet had entered beneath her right breast, struck a rib and passed through ‘the border of her heart’ before lodging in her chest. The second entered her abdomen and was found in the bowels. The third had entered near her right hip. According to Dr. Lindsay, any of the three bullet wounds were sufficient to cause death. She had abrasions on her nose, chin and both knees and a large cut on the ball of her right foot, most likely from the broken glass.
Alex Wysochan took the stand in his own defense. He strongly denied shooting Antena. He told the court that they had met in the railway yards, about a month before Christmas. They both went to get hot water from the locomotive foreman. He carried her water home for her and it seems the attraction was immediate. According to Wysochan, she went to his place whenever Stanley was away working, leaving the child home alone. They had sex often, and at one point he claimed that Stanley had come home and found them undressed together, but didn’t say anything. They decided to elope, running off to the cafe, but were stopped by Stanley and Chief Palmer. He told the court that Stanley took Antena’s valise, which contained the gun found on the night of the murder, cartridges, and a picture of himself and Antena. He insisted that that’s how they came to be in the house that night; he hadn’t brought them.
The two had continued to meet at the post office up until Christmas.
He admitted that he drank a lot on Christmas Day, but couldn’t say what specifically or how much. He said he’d gone to a hotel, where he’d seen Stanley Kropa. Kropa had invited him to have a beer at their house. When he entered, he said he went into the bedroom where Antena was sitting on a trunk, crying. Once there, Kropa attacked him from behind. He testified that Kropa got on top of him and beat him as he lay on the floor. Later, he heard some shots and felt that he’d been injured. He regained consciousness at the hospital.
His defense called one of the doctors who’d examined him to the stand, who testified to finding a lump on the back of his head, but another doctor refuted that, saying he found no injuries on his head.
Stanley Kropa was called back to the stand for rebuttal, and he firmly denied Alex Wysochan’s account of events. He didn’t invite Alex to the house, and he’d found nothing of the sort in Antena’s valise.
According to the RCMP, all the shots fired at Antena occurred at close range. They showed the court bullet holes that they found in Wysochan’s clothing from the night of the crime.
A neighbour corroborated Stanley Kropa’s testimony, saying they heard a window break that night, and when they looked out to see what it was, they saw someone running from the shack before shots were fired.
Everything in the evidence pointed to Antena and Wysochan fighting over the gun, during which Wysochan was injured and Antena was shot several times.
The defense tried to lay the blame on Kropa. They argued that there was no motive for Wysochan to kill Antena. He loved her. Whereas Kropa had ample motive to attack the couple. Diefenbaker told the jury that Kropa’s story of being terrorized by Wysochan didn’t ring true. He reminded the jury that they weren’t there to find Wysochan guilty of ‘immoral behavior’ but to decide if he was guilty of murder.
So, did the jury buy Diefenbaker’s argument?
They most certainly did not.
On March 21, 1930, Alex Wysochan was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang at Prince Albert jail on June 20, 1930. The judge told Alex not to hold out hope for a reprieve, as he would not be recommending clemency.
But was Alex Wysochan worried? Absolutely not. He believed he’d be granted an appeal, and at worst, be deported.
His lawyers filed an appeal for a new trial on the grounds that the judge misdirected the jury and that some evidence shouldn’t have been allowed. It was denied. Undeterred they sought to have his sentence commuted to life in prison.
Two days before his sentence was to be carried out, they received word from the governor general. They’d been denied. His sentence would not be commuted. Up until this point, he had remained resolute, staunchly refusing to believe he’d be hanged.
He spent his last hours with his spiritual advisor, Rev. Father H. J. Baillargeon, sobbingly protesting his innocence. And at 6:00AM on June 20, 1930, Alex Wysochan became the first person to die in the new provincial jail building at Prince Albert.
And that is the story of the love affair that turned to murder.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Dec 26, 1929, Dec 28, 1929, Jan 3, 1930, Jan 4, 1930, Jan 6, 1930, March 18, 1930, March 19, 1930, March 20, 1930, March 22, 1930, May 27, 1930, June 12, 1930, June 18, 1930, June 20, 1930
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