Bad Blood: Murder at Melfort

Thomas Halcro was a well liked and respected farmer in the Royal district a few miles south of Prince Albert. He’d been farming there for forty years with his wife, had seven grown children and had even served for some time on the Royal school board. Before moving to Royal, he’d farmed in the Halcro district, which was named after him. He was described by friends as a peaceable man with a cheerful, friendly disposition.

In October of 1924, Thomas made the journey to Melfort to collect his share of the crop on a farm he owned and rented to a man named Tolf Tollofson*. Previously, he’d arranged the sale of the farm to a man named James Howard, but he’d had to foreclose on Howard the previous winter when Howard grew too far behind on his payment. Howard had remained on the farm for a long part of the summer, before moving to Edenbridge.

On the afternoon of October 25, 1924, Tollofson was getting ready to leave the farm for his home after spending the day settling up with Halcro. The grain had already been threshed and they’d been busy dividing the hay. They finished around 3:30, when they both decided it was time to go home. Halcro was going to ride with Tollofson, as he was staying with some neighbours while in the district. Tollofson was getting his team from near the straw stacks, some distance from the house, when his young son ran to him and told him James Howard had arrived. Howard drove towards Tollofson and asked where the threshed grain was. Tollofson replied that he had his share and Halcro had his. Howard became visibly upset, shouting at Tollofson to ‘crank the car’. Tollofson obeyed and Howard drove off towards the house.

Halcro was standing at the door of the house when Howard pulled up. He walked towards the car, his hands in his pockets. Tollofson heard shouting and what he called ‘some vile talk’ by Howard. He was making his way towards the house when through some bushes he saw Howard kneel in the front seat of the car and raise a shot gun, firing directly at Halcro, who was about three feet away. Halcro dropped without a word, the upper part of his head blown off. Tollofson immediately hid in the bushes, but Howard shouted at him to come out, that he wouldn’t hurt him. He told Tollofson, “well, I have done for him, I’ll now tell the police.”

Howard got out, cranked the car and drove out of the farmyard towards the Bagley store.

A. Tranberg** had been standing on a culvert at the approach to the farm about sixty yards away when the shooting took place. He watched Howard leave, stopping to pick up a man named Felix Rozmarniewick, who’d joined Howard on the drive to the farm and had run away down the road when he heard the shooting. Felix later told police that he’d had no idea Howard was going to shoot Halcro that day. He’d joined him on the ride to the farm strictly “for his own pleasure.” He’d gotten out at the gate to walk around and take in the scenery.

James Howard drove to Oscar Pearson’s*** store in Bagley. He went inside and told Pearson that there was a man up at Halcro’s farm that required the attention of police and that if the police wanted him, they’d find him at his home in Edenbridge. Howard then left and Pearson called the police. Howard was picked up at his house that night and taken into custody.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Oct 28, 1924

Word was sent to Halcro’s wife and his family arrived in Melfort the following day. On Monday, October 27, 1924, the inquest opened at 2:00PM and ran until 10:00PM that night. On October 28th, Howard appeared before Magistrate Thomas Murray of Prince Albert for a preliminary hearing on the charge of murder. He was committed to stand trial for murder at the next sitting of the King’s Bench.

James Howard was nearly 70, while Halcro was 64. Howard had no family and had come to Melfort in 1910 from the southern United States.

The Regina Leader-Post – Oct 27, 1924

Howard entered a plea of not guilty at his trial, claiming that he’d shot Halcro in self defense. He testified in his own defense, telling the court that he argued with Halcro about wages he believed were owed to him. After finding out that he wouldn’t get a share in the grain that had been threshed, he’d driven to the house and argued with Halcro about these wages. The dispute got more heated and Howard testified that Halcro had ordered him off his land. He said Halcro told him, “if you don’t go, I’ll put you.”

Halcro then approached the car and Howard got up from his seat and grabbed the gun, telling Halcro, “if you come another step, I’ll blow off your damned head.” He said Halcro reached into his pocket, as if to grab something, a weapon or a gun, so he shot him.

Howard was adamant that he had shot instead of getting shot, despite the fact that Halcro was found to have nothing in his pockets. He told the court that if he’d meant to murder him, he would have done so after the sheriff dispossessed him of the farm. “If I wanted to shoot him, I had lots of other opportunities.”

James Howard was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to serve fifteen years in the Prince Albert Penitentiary. The jury was out for only an hour and about twenty minutes.

Thomas Halcro was buried at the Royal St. John’s Cemetery. More than two hundred people attended his funeral.

And that is the story of how some bad blood led to murder.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Nov 5, 1924

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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Oct 27, 1924, Oct 28, 1924, Oct 29, 1924, Oct 30, 1924 and Nov 5, 1924.

*Also saw it spelled Tolof Tollofson, Tollefson, and Tollef.

**Also saw it spelled A. Cranberg.

***Also saw it spelled as Peterson and Person.

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

The Mysterious Dr. Joseph Gervais

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours: The Murder of George Legebokoff

Killed On Duty: The Murder of Constable George Lenhard

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