The Murder of Arnold Gart

It was about 12:30PM on October 11, 1919. John P. Harris was walking westward on Railway Avenue in Radisson, Saskatchewan. Ahead of him by about twenty feet were two men, one young, one older, walking together. They appeared to be arguing but they were speaking a different language so he couldn’t tell what was being said. When they reached the front of the hotel, the younger man shoved the older man on the arm. At almost the same time, the older man pulled his right hand from his overcoat pocket and struck the younger man twice in a downward motion before immediately replacing his hand in his pocket. The young man threw up his hands with a cry of pain, staggered across the street and collapsed on the sidewalk opposite.

By the time John Harris reached him, the young man was dead. The older man kept right on walking and rounded the pool room corner. Several men rushed out of the pool room, having seen the scuffle. A few took off after the older man while the rest carried the dead man inside.

A mechanic named Enos Wurtz had also seen the struggle, although he was about seventy-five yards away. He saw the older man strike the younger, then saw the young man stagger across the street and fall. The older man threw up his hand and called, he thought for help, then started to run. Enos started to get Constable Smith at the local police barracks when he saw the man running ahead of him. When he reached the barracks, the man was already there, followed shortly by other men from the pool room.

The man, who identified himself as John Bronch, told Constable Smith in an excited voice that he’d wanted the man, Arnold Gart, to come with him to the police and have their quarrel settled. Constable Smith locked him up on suspicion after hearing his statements, then took statements from his pursuers. Next, he went straight to the pool room where he found Arnold Gart dead.

His father, Fred Gart, was called to identify him. He found his son, dead and covered with blood from a stab wound in his neck.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Oct 14, 1919

An inquest was held and Bronch was committed to stand trial for murder.

John Bronch’s trial opened on November 17, 1919 in North Battleford. He was represented by T. A. Lynd of Saskatoon.

Dr. J. A. Scratch of Maymont was called to testify on the results of the post mortem examination he’d performed on Arnold Gart. He told the court the common carotid artery in the victim’s neck had been severed and that the wound was about two inches deep. Arnold had hemorrhaged to death within about two minutes.

The same witnesses all testified to the stabbing, describing the men walking down the street arguing, Gart shoving Bronch, who immediately stabbed him twice in the neck. Constable Smith testified as well, telling the court that during his initial search of Bronch he’d found no weapon, but later had found a jack knife concealed in the mattress of Bronch’s cell. Bronch had asked him to put the knife in the stove, offering him and Sergeant Sparkman $200 each to get rid of the knife, later increasing the amount to $300 each. He’d admitted to hiding the knife in the mattress, telling them Gart had punched him in the nose and he was afraid of him, that’s why he’d struck him.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Oct 21, 1919

Sergeant Sparkman corroborated Smith’s testimony. At this point, Bronch broke down in court and cried violently.

Fred Gart testified that his son had been in France, fighting with the Allies since 1915. Before leaving he’d been working for Bronch. When he went to Bronch’s home after he’d enlisted to get his clothes, Bronch had jumped out of bed on hearing of Arnold’s presence, got a gun and loaded it. Mrs. Bronch had gone out and warned Arnold to go, as her husband was going to shoot him. Fred had shoved Bronch back into his room and taken the gun from him, but Bronch swore he’d get Arnold yet.

So, what was John Bronch’s defense? He’d stabbed a man in broad daylight in front of witnesses, then tried to bribe police officers to get rid of the murder weapon.

It was simple. The Unwritten Law.

The Unwritten Law traced back to the middle of the nineteenth century. It was not by any means an actual law, but had clear social meaning. Basically, criminal defendants used it to convince juries that they’d killed in defense of the sanctity of their home and the “virtue” of their women. To put it more simply, if a man slept with another man’s wife (in society’s mind, his property), the husband was well within his rights to murder the man who’d made him a cuckold. It was deeply misogynistic, a disgusting perversion of justice, and unfortunately, it often worked. (There’s an excellent paper on it here.)

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Oct 15, 1919

His defense, T. A. Lynd, called John Bronch’s daughter to the stand and she testified that improper relations existed between Arnold Gart and Mrs. Bronch. (It was also rumored that Gart had convinced one of Bronch’s sons to enlist, but it didn’t come up in the trial.) In his final argument, Lynd addressed the jury at some length and urged the unwritten law.

When the judge charged the jury with the case he asked them to place themselves in the shoes of the accused, saying he’d “suffered the utmost provocation” and according to evidence had really gone in fear of his life. (Bullshit. And extremely disrespectful to the victim, who lost his life over another man’s bruised pride, and his family who deeply mourned his loss.)

On November 19, 1919, the jury found John Bronch not guilty. He was free to go. The murder of Arnold Gart had become meaningless in the face of disgraced virtue.

And that is the story of the murder of Arnold Gart.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 20, 1919

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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Regina Leader-Post: Oct 14, 1919, Oct 15, 1919, Oct 20, 1919, Oct 21, 1919, Oct 22, 1919, Oct 23, 1919, Nov 17, 1919, Nov 18, 1919, Nov 19, 1919, Nov 20, 1919

If you can’t wait till next week to read more true crime stories from historical Saskatchewan, give these a try:

The Murder of Sarah Mulvihill

A Fire Near Tisdale: The Suspicious Deaths of William Robson and Mary Swanson

A Brief History of the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw

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