Good Friday, April 14, 1922 – North Regina
It was late in the evening when Kosto Surkin and several of his friends were walking down the street in North Regina on their way to one of the men’s houses. They’d had a few drinks and were singing and shouting. when John Amaniuk, whose house they were passing, opened his front door and yelled at them to shut up. Surkin shouted back, “shut up yourself!” An altercation followed, during which threats were hurled by both sides. Eventually, Surkin and his party moved on, although not without Amaniuk shouting after them, “I’ll fix you later.”
The party adjourned to the home of one of the other men, Adam Grobosky, and the party continued. When the gathering broke up, the men went in different directions, heading home. Surkin left the party alone heading down the opposite side of the street where they’d had the altercation with Amaniuk.
Joe Gabick, a member of the party that night, went outside of his boarding home at about twelve o’clock. He testified that he heard Amaniuk and his wife a few roads away, shouting that a man had died of drinking whiskey. He went over and found Kosto Surkin lying on the ground in front of Amaniuk’s house. He ran home, where Surkin’s brother, George, was also staying and told him Kosto was dead. George rushed from his bed to Amaniuk’s, where he found the man throwing water over his brother.
By this time, Annie, John Amaniuk’s partner, had gone to their neighbour, Andrew Stojak, and called him over. He testified that when he arrived at the scene, George Surkin said to Amaniuk, “my brother’s dead and you killed him.” Amaniuk replied, “I did not kill him. He came to my house and I asked him what he wanted. Then he fell over on my doorstep and died.”
John Amaniuk had already called police. Corporal Chard and two other provincial police officers arrived to investigate. They found the body on the doorstep, but as they searched the area, they found a pair of boots and socks, still warm, outside a back window. The officer who found them, Constable Beaulieu, also found footprints, made by the boots, that lead from the window to the front of the house as far as the sidewalk where the dead man was found. There were footsteps leading back to the house, made by bare feet. When asked about the boots, Amaniuk said they were his, but couldn’t explain the circumstances under which they were found.
Corporal Chard testified that when he went into Amaniuk’s house, the man took a club, which was lying in the shed, and hastily concealed it in a pile of sacks. This, along with the boots and some interviews with the neighbours, were all the police felt they needed. They arrested Amaniuk.
While in police custody, Amaniu reportedly ‘confessed’, although we’ll get to why that’s not a particularly compelling piece of evidence in a minute.
The Coroner’s Inquest was held at Provincial Police Court on April 18, 1922. The post mortem was conducted by Dr. J. C. Beatty and showed that Surkin had been struck over the head with a heavy object, fracturing his skull almost ear to ear. Dr. Beatty testified that he believed the injury would have been impossible to achieve with a fall. The coroner’s jury named John Amaniuk as being responsible for Kosto Surkin’s death and he was immediately committed to appear before a justice of the peace to stand trial for murder. Throughout the inquest, Amaniuk didn’t say a thing, just sat with his hands folded and his head slightly bowed.
The trial opened on September 13, 1922. Amaniuk was represented by C. C. Owen, who put in a plea of not guilty. Among the witnesses was a man named Blasko Kryzuk. He was reportedly the last man to see Surkin alive before Amaniuk. He told the jury that he was returning from his brother’s house when he met Surkin on the road and together they walked back, passing by Amaniuk’s house towards the railroad tracks. When they were about a hundred and fifty feet south of Amaniuk’s, a woman opened the door and called to Surkin to come back. They separated and Kryzuk said he heard the door bang shut.
It is unclear whether or not the police ever looked into Blasko Kryzuk as a suspect.
Annie, Amaniuk’s partner, also testified. She went by Mrs. Amaniuk, although they weren’t married. She was separated from her husband, a man named Lupin who lived in Winnipeg, and had been with Amaniuk for eight years. She said she woke up that Friday night when the crowd of drunken men went past their house. She woke Amaniuk to get him to see what was the matter. He went out and told them to shut up. When the men left, they went back to sleep. A while later, they heard a loud knock on the door. Amaniuk went to see who it was. She heard him say, “what’s the matter?” and then he came in and told her a man was dead on the sidewalk. She went to get the neighbour, and told the court she’d locked the door behind her, forgetting Amaniuk was still inside, so he had to go out the window. When asked if she thought John Amaniuk was the best man in the world, she smiled and said, “you bet your boots.”
Stranger still, Annie testified that a police officer, who she described as big and tall, came to her house the afternoon following the death and told her that if she said Surkin had come over earlier in the day and bothered her so much that she chased him away, it would get her man off. If this was true, the confession the police claimed was ‘voluntarily given’, became a lot less likely to be so. Given that even to this day false confessions are still very much a thing, thanks to terrible police practices, it was entirely likely that the confession was coerced.
After deliberating for three hours, the jury found John Amaniuk guilty of manslaughter, not murder, and he was sentenced to seven years at the penitentiary. Amaniuk, who’d remained stoic throughout the trial, broke into tears as he said goodbye to Annie. He was twenty eight years old.
And that is the story of the murder of Kosto Surkin.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: April 17, 1922, April 19, 1922, April 20, 1922, April 27, 1922, April 28, 1922, Sep 14, 1922, Sep 15, 1922, Sep 16, 1922
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