On February 11, 1923, Pete Bagatoff* had gone to a wedding celebration, and since that night he’d been ill in bed. By Friday, February 16th, he told his employers George and Perana Kinakin, whom he worked for as a farmhand, that he wanted to go to Saskatoon and see a doctor.
Perana talked him out of this, promising that they would take him to their son’s farm the following day for a proper Russian bath, which she was sure would get him feeling better.
The next morning, on February 17, 1923, George and his son, Nick, hitched up the sleigh and noticed when Pete came out of the house that he was dressed in his nice Sunday clothes. When they asked him why he was wearing them, he said, “if I’m going to die, these clothes will be better.”
George and his wife, Perana, along with their two young granddaughters (Nick’s children), joined Pete in the sleigh and they began the drive to their other son, Henry’s, farm. Pete had been the one to take up the reins and took them along a route that passed by the Eagle Point school. At this point, Pete stopped the sleigh and told them he was going inside for cigarette papers.
However, when he walked into the school teacher’s residence, he told him in rapid, broken English to phone the police at Saskatoon and tell them to send a man out, as there’d been a fight. He didn’t give any other details, nothing about where the fight occurred or where they should send someone. He just left, returned to the sleigh and they drove on to Henry’s farm, fifteen miles north of Asquith and 13 miles south of Radisson.
They arrived at Henry’s at 10:00AM. When they pulled up, Henry’s team was hitched to his sleigh in the yard with the rack on it. He told George he was going to switch the rack for the box to go into the woods later. As they were talking, Perana and the girls went into the house to find Gertie, Henry’s wife, and their two children. George left, continuing on with his team to check some traps he had set up near the river.
Gertie and Perana went to the bath house, a separate building some distance from the house, to get it ready for Pete’s bath, while Pete went to help Henry take the rack off his sleigh. When he was finished, he joined Perana at the bath house, bringing some hot coals. As they were standing in the bath house, Henry drove past with his team towards the house where he had the box. Perana called after him to wait, that she’d help him lift the box onto the sleigh, but Pete volunteered and went to help instead. In the box of the sleigh was a pair of mittens and a freshly sharpened axe.
Task finished, they left Pete standing by the box and Henry and Perana went into the house. Henry’s wife, Gertie, later testified that Henry had gone to the cupboard for a glass and had a drink of water, then went back outside. Perana recalled that maybe he had a box of matches in his hand, but she wasn’t sure.
Perana went out shortly after Henry with a pail for the bath house. As she came out the door, she saw Henry lying on the ground, trying to protect his face with his hands while Pete slashed at him with the axe. She started running towards them, crying, “Pete, Pete, what are you doing?”, throwing the pail at him and yelling at him to stop. As she tried to take the axe from Pete, he turned and struck her on the hand, then turned and struck Henry on the head. He slashed at her again with the axe, trying to hit her on the shoulder but the blow caught her on the arm instead. She started to run from him. As she was running she expected at any minute to fall, but when she looked back, she saw Pete had dropped the axe into the sleigh and was driving away.
Gertie had run out of the house when she heard screaming, only to see Pete chasing her mother-in-law with an axe and her husband lying on the ground covered with blood. She rushed to his side and he muttered that Pete had hit him, but that was all he managed to say.
Pete drove Henry’s team to the river, then unhitched one of the horses and rode it into Radisson, going straight to the provincial police department to turn himself in. He told Constable Hill in broken English that he had killed a man. He pointed to a shotgun, which was attached to the horse’s harness, and said, “Him take rifle. You no good, Doukhobor**. Me up axe and swung down rifle. Woman come with pail. Me say, ‘Get away, get away.'”
He was taken into custody and Constable Hill went immediately to the farm. He was already aware of the murder, it had been called in by Henry’s neighbour, James Atkinson, after he’d gone to Henry’s farm and found him lying between the barn and the house. Police had initially been worried that Pete was on the run and had started calling other detachments to set up checkpoints when he turned himself in.
Dr. H. C Whitemarsh was the first to arrive to see the body at about 1:15PM. He testified to finding the body lying on its back, with the hands folded across the breast. When he moved Henry’s cap, he discovered the skull was fractured.
Dr. H. A. Matheson arrived later, at around 9:00PM. At this point the body had been moved to the bath house to allow it to thaw. He found two wounds on the left arm. The first was below the elbow and completely severed the radius, leaving the arm half cut off. The second was above the elbow and penetrated about 3 inches. A blow had been struck behind the right ear and was about 3 inches deep and 5-6 inches long. It had penetrated the brain, and Dr. Matheson guessed he was mostly likely dead within three or four minutes.
Bagatoff was committed to stand trial in April, although he showed no outward appearances of being upset or in turmoil. At the end of his preliminary hearing he was smiling, and asked a group of men near him for a cigarette.
His trial opened on April 17, 1923. He was represented by T. C. Davis of Prince Albert, and a plea of not guilty was entered. The trial ended with the jury being unable to come to an agreement, and so a second trial was held on April 20, 1923.
Pete Bagatoff testified in his own defense. When asked about his strange request of the school teacher that morning, he said that he thought someone had hit him at the wedding. He’d been so ill and his body so sore from the celebration that he thought he was dying. He told the court that he’d been given a couple of drinks at the wedding and didn’t remember what happened after that, so had come to the conclusion that someone must have hit him.
He’d lived in the Radisson district for two years and had met Henry at the last harvest, when he started working for his father, George Kinakin. By all accounts, they seemed to get along fine. On the day of the murder, he told the court that after helping Henry put the box on the sleigh, Henry had gone to the granary and returned with a gun, which he leaned against the sleigh. He asked Henry where he was going and he said to shoot some coyotes. Henry then asked him to watch the horses while he went inside to get a couple of shells. He returned a few minutes later and started putting shells in the gun, with the gun pointed at Bagatoff. According to Bagatoff, Henry had the gun pointed at him and told him, “you a no good Doukhobor.” He became frightened and seized the axe, slashing at Henry’s hand and knocking the gun to the ground. He said Henry reached down to pick up the gun, so he hit him on the head with the axe. He claimed to already be in the sleigh when Perana came out of the house, and didn’t chase her. He also stated that Henry was standing when he left.
Obviously, there were some discrepancies in his testimony, given the injuries Perana sustained trying to save her son, and the fact that the doctors all agreed Henry could never have remained standing after the injury to his head, nor could he have reached for the gun with the injuries to his arm. And then there was the complete lack of blood on the gun, when everything else had blood all over it.
Was Pete lying, or was he delusional from his fever at the time? Between wearing his Sunday clothes and the strange request he made of the teacher at Eagle Point, he certainly didn’t seem to be behaving rationally. Either way, the jury found him guilty of murder and he was sentenced to hang on July 20, 1923.
His sentence was commuted to life in prison on July 12, 1923.
And that is the strange story of the murder of Henry Kinakin.
*Pete Bagatoff was also seen spelled Bogatoff and Bahatoff.
**Doukhobors were a pacifist Russian Christian group, said to reject materialism.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star, the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Feb 17, 1923, Feb 19, 1923, Feb 20, 1923, Feb 24, 1923, Feb 27, 1923, Feb 28, 1923, April 12, 1923, April 17, 1923, April 18, 1923, April 20, 1923, April 21, 1923, July 13, 1923
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