On the morning of August 22, 1918, Sarah Mulvihill (also known as Sadie Mae) decided she would walk from her family home in Prince Albert out to the homestead where her father and brother were working near Sturgeon Lake. After making a few purchases in town, she started her walk, crossing the bridge over the Saskatchewan River and taking the northwest road. Her sister, Irene, accompanied her as far as the packing house before returning home and leaving her to complete her journey alone.
Sarah carried her knitting bag with her, made from a flowery material, and wore a brown coat and crocheted hat.
On Sunday, September 1, 1918, her father and brother went to town, only to be told that Sarah had started out for the farm on the 22nd. They had no idea about the plan, so when she never arrived at the farm no alarm was raised.
A search was immediately organized to look for the missing girl. Sarah was only eighteen, a collegiate institute student who wanted to be a teacher. She was well known and very well liked in the community.
The same morning that the search was organized, a woman named Mrs. Hutcheson heard about Sarah. Her property was near the Sturgeon Lake Trail, the same trail Sarah would have been on, about nine miles north of Prince Albert. In the afternoon she went out for a stroll, and as she was passing along the trail she was hit with a strong odor. She’d smelled it the previous Wednesday while berry picking and assumed it was a dead horse. Now, knowing about the missing girl, she decided to investigate. There, at the bottom of a small hill, hidden by a pile of brush close to the road, were the remains of Sadie Mae.
Constable Garry Tynen was the first of the provincial police to arrive on the scene. He testified that her body was lying slightly on the left side, her left arm doubled under her body and her left hand under her face. Her right hand was caught in the twig of a tree. Her skirts were pulled up over her stockings and her garters had been torn from the corsets. She was badly decomposed. The flesh on the lower half of her body was badly discoloured, while the flesh from her hips upward had disappeared, with no flesh whatsoever left on her skull. Her hair lay in a coiled mass beneath her head. A hole could be seen in the base of her skull, from which numerous cracks radiated. As soon as the skull was touched, the lower jaw crumbled and dropped off. Two clubs, one covered in blood, the other with pieces of hair matted to it, were found close to the body. Her hat was never found.
It was clear that Sarah had been murdered, and mostly likely raped. But by who?
As the police investigated, they found several witnesses who had seen Sarah on the trail that day. A man named Knute G. Soderstrom said he met Sarah on the road while driving a team to the city. Another witness, Miss Atta Miller of Sturgeon Valley, had passed Sarah while driving in a Ford car with her mother and brother near where the Wild Rose Trail joined the Sturgeon Lake Trail. Sarah had stuck in her memory, as she’d thought the clothes she was wearing were pretty. As they passed, there were two other rigs on the trail as well and she’d commented at the time “perhaps that fellow will give the girl a ride”.
Mrs. Bertha Wilson, who lived on a farm along the trail, told the police she’d looked out the window shortly after lunch and seen the girl pass by.
A man named William Foster had been driving a team of oxen on the trail the day of Sadie’s disappearance and had passed a girl and a man in a buggy. The buggy was hitched to a very peculiar looking pinto, described as being white with brown ears and blue spots. The girl wore a brownish coat and a crocheted cap. She looked shy, he said, with her eyes cast down to her feet where there was a bag made out of a flowery material.
Albert Cowan had also described an encounter with a pinto. He’d been walking the trail and had come upon a pinto of the same description hitched to a tree. A girl was sitting in the buggy and a man was pacing up and down the road with his hands in his pockets. They’d spoken briefly as Albert passed by. This was an especially important encounter, as it was right by the site where Sarah’s body was later found.
The man in the buggy with the unusual pinto immediately became a person of interest.
As the police continued their inquiries, they found a man named William Jefferson. On the day in question, he’d been cutting brushwood near the trail, which ran along his farm. Just before noon, he’d noticed a man in a buggy with a strange looking pinto heading towards Prince Albert. The driver had stopped to ask for directions to Shellbrook. He remembered it clearly because he’d never seen a horse like the one the man was driving. When the man mentioned that he was from Saskatoon, the horse stopped dead. The buggy had a black body and red gears and he’d made particular note of how the shafts were magnificently put together. He also noticed something unusual in the way the man held the reins. He didn’t hold them like a man accustomed to horses.
Another man, Alexander Beauchamps, had also encountered the strange pinto on the trail. On August 22nd he was hauling hay. Between 12:00 and 1:00 the buggy and pinto had passed him at a walk. He hadn’t noticed much about the driver, aside from the odd manner in which he held the reins, he’d only had eyes for the horse. A white pinto with brown ears and blue spots. A little while later, he’d seen the same horse and buggy trotting fast in the opposite direction.
With a description of the horse, buggy and driver, the police continued to track the movements of the mysterious man with the pinto, finally catching up with him at Zelma, Saskatchewan on September 8, 1918. The man’s name was Albert “Shorty” Roberts. He was from Saskatoon and had recently returned from England after joining the 65th Battalion. He’d been discharged from his unit before they moved on to France and sent home in June of 1918. In August, he’d purchased the pinto and buggy and gone on a trip north to look for work. They arrested him for vagrancy and held him as a material witness.
On September 9th, Roberts was moved to Prince Albert, where he and his police escort were met at the station by an enraged mob intent on lynching him. Sarah’s brother, Edward was watching at the train station and pounced on Roberts as he was being escorted between two police officers. He grabbed Roberts by the throat and started choking him. It took three men to pry him loose. Seeing the danger Roberts was in, the officers fought back against the crowd and Roberts was spirited away in the waiting police car.
After the inquest into Sarah Mulvihill’s death, Roberts was committed to stand trial for her murder. In Saskatoon, there was some skepticism about Roberts’ guilt, as well as a lot of sympathy for his wife, Mrs. Lillie Roberts, who was in poor health with three small children. The Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers League took up a collection to aid the distressed family.
On April 28, 1919, the trial began. It garnered more than the usual amount of women spectators, who turned up to show sympathy and solidarity with Mrs. Mulvihill, the mother of the murdered girl. It was presided over by Justice Elwood. Prosecutors for the crown were P. E. Mackenzie of Saskatoon and F. L. Halliday of Prince Albert. Representing the defense was T. A. Lynd of Saskatoon and Gilbert H. Yule.
The prosecution had their work cut out for them. Their evidence was highly circumstantial, albeit very suspicious, without any direct evidence linking Roberts to the murder. After his arrest, police had seized a washer boiler and some clothes of his and had them and the wash water tested for blood. None was found, although it was theorized that he wouldn’t have gotten a lot of blood on him, as the trauma to Sarah’s head was at the point where her hair was tied. They believed that would have limited some of the blood spatter. And although the shoes on Robert’s pinto matched the horseshoe prints around the scene, the shoes the pinto was wearing were not uncommon.
They focused on the large number of witnesses that had seen Roberts and his pinto on the trail, and especially the two witnesses who had seen Sarah in his buggy. William Foster had recognized Albert Roberts as the driver he’d seen in the buggy with Sarah and William Jefferson had positively identified Roberts as the man driving the buggy he’d given directions to, having recognized him by his bad teeth. Alexander Beauchamps’ memory of the pinto was so good that even when the defense tried to trip him up by taking him outside and showing him two similarly peculiar pintos, he was able to pick out Roberts’ horse without hesitation.
Sarah’s skull was also entered into evidence. During Constable Garry Tynen’s testimony a box was produced and shown to the jury. Inside, it contained her hair, still stuck to some turf and sticks, and her skull. When it was brought out, several women became too upset and had to leave. Sarah’s mother stayed.
Albert Roberts took the stand in his own defense. He told the court that he’d gone up north looking for work, specifically at a farm managed by C. W. Clinch located five miles northwest of Shellbrook. On August 22nd, he’d left Prince Albert at 10:00AM to go to Shellbrook. He didn’t know the road and got turned around. At about noon he stopped and asked Jefferson for directions. He maintained that he’d never encountered Sarah on the trail, nor had he given anyone a ride. When he got to the bridge at the fork in the road, he stopped and took a nap. At around 3:00PM he saw a man driving an English surrey rig from the bridge. He arrived at the Clinch farm after supper and was given a job shocking wheat. He’d worked all the following morning before giving up, saying the work was too much for his strength and moving on.
The crown worked hard to trip him up in their cross examination, pointing out every inconsistency in his current story from the one he gave at the inquest.
To support his testimony, the defense called James R. Clare, who testified that on August 22nd he was in Prince Albert. He’d found out that his son had been severely wounded in France and left for home the same day at around 2:00PM. He took the Sturgeon Lake Trail and within about an hour and a half he reached the fork in the road where Roberts was allegedly sleeping. He told the court that he hadn’t met Albert Cowan on the road, whom he knew quite well, and hadn’t seen Sarah or a horse and buggy in the clearing where she was killed. He was driving an English surrey rig, the same one Roberts claimed to have seen from the bridge.
Eager to discredit this witness, the crown called Mrs. Hutcheson back to the stand. She testified that on August 22nd, she saw Mr. Clare going home and he was sound asleep in his buggy. She’s sent her boys out to unhitch his team and put the horses in her stable. Seeing how deeply he was sleeping, they didn’t wake him. He woke up a while later and came into the house, staying at her place until about 8:00PM when he left for home.
The prosecution also pointed out that Roberts could have seen the rig from the clearing and used it as an alibi later, claiming to have seen it from the bridge instead.
On May 3, 1919, the case was given to the jury, who found Albert “Shorty” Roberts guilty of murder. He was sentenced to hang at Prince Albert jail on August 6, 1919.
“And I will die innocent,” Albert cried in a clear voice upon hearing his sentence.
The next day, Roberts made a statement before Sheriff David Seath, Warden Thomas McGregor and his wife, Lillie Roberts. He told them that he lied. He had picked up Sarah Mulvihill on the road just past Bertha Wilson’s farm and given her a ride. They had passed William Foster as described and driven on to the place where the tragedy occurred. He’d parked the buggy and tied up the horse then had his lunch.
Afterwards, a man in a red sweater came along. The man asked him for the “makin’s” and he’d given him a half dollar and a cigarette, after which the man had shared some of his weird tasting beer with him. They got to talking and the man asked him where he was going. He told him he was going up to Paddling Lake Country. The man told him it was all bush up there and said there was some land available near his place. He gave Roberts the numbers of the available homesteads, which Roberts took down on a piece of paper and put in his pocket. He later put the paper with the man’s name and the description of the land in his trunk. Roberts gave him his own name and address as well.
While this was taking place, Sadie was in the buggy. He went to her and asked if she thought she had better walk on. She asked him how long he’d be there and he told her he was going to give the horse another hour. She told him she didn’t like walking the road alone and was afraid the man might follow her.
Roberts hitched up the horse and when he came back to the buggy the man was talking to Sarah and she seemed scared. He tried to keep Roberts from hitching the horse up to the buggy, but Roberts told him he had to be going, as he had a long way to go. The man pulled Sadie from the buggy and she called for help. He went and tried to protect her, but the man pushed Roberts back and he fell over a stump. Sarah fell over a tree. He picked up a club (the one that was produced in court in two pieces) and hit the man with it. Sarah was lying over by a tree to the right of the buggy.
His pinto started off and he stopped it, asking the man what he intended to do. The man told him: “If you say a damn word about this, I will go back to Saskatoon and blow your whole family up.”
Roberts picked up another stick and tried to defend himself as best he could, but his horse started away again. It went around by the fire guard and stopped down at the bottom. He went after it, jumping in his buggy and driving on. Sarah was lying on the ground when he left her and that was all he knew about it.
Sheriff Seath searched Roberts trunk and his entire house with the help of Lillie Roberts but they could find no trace of the mysterious paper with the man’s name and the available land.
When asked why he lied and said he’d never seen Sarah, Roberts said he was worried about his family and that he wouldn’t be believed.
No clemency was given to Albert Roberts and he was hanged on August 6, 1919. His final words were “I am innocent. I commend my wife and children to the keeping of the Almighty.”
And that it the story of the murder of Sarah Mulvihill.
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Information from this post was found in the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Sep 4, 1918, Sep 10, 1918, Sep 20, 1918, Sep 24, 1918, Sep 26, 1918, Oct 19, 1918, April 14, 1919, April 25, 1919, April 29, 1919, April 30, 1919, May 1, 1919, May 2, 1919, May 3, 1919, May 5, 1919, May 9, 1919, May 10, 1919, Aug 2, 1919, Aug 6, 1919, Aug 7, 1919
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