The Man on the Fence: The Murder of Michael Kaminsky

Rosthern, Saskatchewan

On the evening of January 3, 1907 Gerhard Fast* was out walking when he came upon a man. His initial impression was that the young man was drunk and had been in a fight. He was in a kneeling position, with an arm thrown over the fence, in front of the residence of John J. Friesen.

But when Gerhard went for assistance and returned with a lamp, it was obvious that the young man was dead. His head was badly crushed, his face cut and slashed horribly. Huge blood clots had formed over his eyes and become frozen. Any yet, his body was still warm.

They took the man to Peter Fast’s stable, where he was identified as twenty-one-year-old Michael Kaminsky.

It was immediately clear that the murder had not taken place in front of Friesen’s where the body was discovered. Although there were sleigh and foot marks at the scene, there was no sign of struggle and several people had passed the spot minutes before the body was discovered and noticed nothing amiss.

Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer – Jan 9, 1907

Coroner Stewart opened an inquest and called a jury. The body was viewed and a post mortem was ordered. Dr. Geo Cuzner performed the post mortem and testified to finding several cuts on the man’s head. On the right side, behind the ear, one cut was three inches long, with another sharp, jagged cut just an inch higher. He described Michael Kaminsky’s head injuries as similar to that of breaking a window pane, with numerous radiating fractures and pieces of his skull hanging loose. He believed that the deed must have been done with blunt instrument, and with terrible force.

It was believed that the murder occurred at the nearby grain elevator. At around 5:00PM, several people described hearing calls for help. A man named Prokup Zarrey came forward, swearing that he saw three men, Joseph Rogozinsky, Maxim Stadnik and another he couldn’t identify, drive past the elevator between 5:00PM and 6:00PM, holding a man down in a sleigh and traveling north.

But that’s about all the information the police could get. Most people in the community wouldn’t talk to the police out of fear. One man gave some information, but reportedly asked them not to divulge his name “for God’s sake” or he’d be a dead man in twenty four hours.

This was especially true for a young woman named Marie Wauryk. It was known all over the community that she was with Michael Kaminsky on the night he was murdered, but she refused to give any information to the police. Eventually they got her to admit that yes, she was with him. The two were out walking when someone struck Michael from behind. Marie told police she ran away, saying that she only saw one man but she didn’t know him.

The Regina Leader-Post – Jan 10, 1907

Police believed that she was the motive for the attack, that someone had taken it upon themselves to remove their rival.

The strongest suspect they had was Demetro Holanitiw. Marie told police that on the afternoon of the murder, she, Michael and Demetro had been seated near the stove in M. Caminetzki’s store. Demetro told Michael that he was going to take Marie’s trunk to the station and would also buy her a ticket to Vonda, where he knew Marie had been intending to go. He told Michael that he would later follow Marie to Vonda and marry her, and that Michael could go to the devil, or some such like that.

Some community members weren’t surprised by suspicion landing on Demetro. A person who claimed to be his friend told reporters that Demetro was always quarreling with Michael, but seemed scared to meet him in a fair fight. Michael Kaminsky was a noted fighter among the community. The friend went on to say that he thought Demetro might creep up behind Michael and hit him in the head, not to kill him, but to “give him a good threshing.”

Marie told police that she thought Demetro might be the culprit as well. She said he was about the same size and build of whoever had struck Michael and had the same coloured coat.

There was only one problem. Demetro Holanitiw had an alibi. At 5:00PM he was at the store of Jno Epp, trying to buy a suit of clothes. He told police that he was there for about twenty minutes before leaving without buying anything. Jno Epp corroborated this. From there, he went to Henschell & Co. before going to the post office, where he ran into Joseph Ritzack and spoke to him about getting a ride home. They agreed to meet at Knoch’s livery barn, which they did, then the two went to K. Wiebe’s hardware store. They were there loading parcels until the mill whistle blew at 6:00PM.

Ritzack confirmed he met Holanitiw outside the post office at about 5:30. Holanitiw left him and later met him at Knoch’s livery barn as he said. The two went to the hardware store and loaded parcels until 6:00PM, just like he told police.

This left a very short window for murder. Not impossible, but rather unlikely.

The Regina Leader-Post – Jan 21, 1907

On February 8, 1907, with no new leads and not enough information to bring anyone to justice, the provincial government offered a $200 reward for information leading to the capture of the murderer or murderers of Michael Kaminsky. (In today’s dollars, that would be about $5000).

Finally, on May 15, 1907, Joseph Rogozinsky, his nephew Jasky Rogozinsky, Maxim Stadnik and Michael Bunk were all arrested and charged with the murder of Michael Zaminsky. They were all granted bail at $2000 each and court was adjourned until May 21, 1907 when the preliminary trial began.

At the preliminary, Thomas Malone testified that he was near the vicinity of the murder at around 6:00PM that day and had met two men running from the place where the murder was committed. He’d seen Marie Wauryk a short distance behind. A barn team had driven up rapidly and a driver had gotten out, looked around, and walked westward in the direction of the murder scene with a very determined look on his face. When asked who the driver was, Thomas Malone pointed to Maxim Stadnik.

But it wasn’t enough. There was no hard evidence connecting any of the men to the murder. And so, on June 15, 1907, The defendants were dismissed by Justice Ham. It was noted in the final news article that the police would continue to gather evidence, but as far as I could find, no one else was ever charged.

The Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer – June 19, 1907

And that is the story of the unsolved murder of Michael Kaminsky. I believe that most people in the community knew exactly who was involved, but were too afraid to speak. Especially Marie Wauryk, who most likely witnessed the whole thing, but was too terrified to name anyone.

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A short note: *As with most of the cases I cover, I found multiple spellings for every name in this article (except Michael Kaminsky) and went with the most used version of each name.

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer, the Vancouver Daily World, The Province (also out of Vancouver), and the Edmonton Journal: Jan 5, 1907, Jan 9, 1907, Jan 10, 1907, Jan 14, 1907, Jan 16, 1907, Jan 21, 1907, Feb 8, 1907, Feb 13, 1907, May 15, 1907, May 22, 1907, May 23, 1907, May 29, 1907 and June 19, 1907

If you’d like to read more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

A Love Affair Gone Wrong: The Murder of Antena Kropa

The Murder of Lena Faust

The Mamchur Family Massacre

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