The Shooting of Alex Shulman

On the morning of September 20, 1918, Constable Worgan of the Provincial Police was notified that a man named Alex Shulman (sometimes also spelled Alec) had been found dead in his bed, apparently from a gunshot wound. He promptly went out to the man’s farm, six miles south of Calder, Saskatchewan, to investigate.

Alex Shulman was indeed dead. He’d been turned so he was lying on his back in the bed, but the imprint from his head on the pillow, as well as a large clot of blood, showed that when he died he’d been lying on his side, facing the wall with his back to the door. The gun shot had entered at the back of his left ear and exited through his right eye. A Winchester rifle was lying on the bed by his side.

The Regina Leader-Post – Sep 21, 1918

Shulman’s wife, Grapine, and the hired man, Frank Rutka (also spelled Rudka and Ruzka), theorized that he’d committed suicide. But it soon became evident that Alex had been shot while he was sleeping, from the doorway to the bedroom.

Both Grapine Shulman and Frank Rutka were held as material witnesses.

Alex Shulman was well known in the district and on good terms with everyone in the community. The Shulmans were prosperous, with about 150 head of cattle and roughly 50 head of horses on their large farm. In one article, Grapine was listed to be about twenty-seven-years-old, with the couple having nine children. This information didn’t appear in any other articles, so it’s impossible to say if that’s accurate.

On the morning of September 25th, Grapine confessed to Constable Worgan that she’d been the one to shoot Alex, but it had been an accident. One of the neighbours had already reported to police that the night before the murder, Alex had tried to kill Grapine. He’d shot at her as she was going away from the house, but missed and Grapine had run away unscathed. She told Worgan that after he’d shot at her, she’d stayed out in the bush for most of the night. At early dawn, she’d crept in through the bedroom window where he was sleeping, and finding the rifle near the bed, she’d picked it up, intending to take it and hide it so he couldn’t shoot at her again. The rifle had gone off somehow and she’d killed him by accident.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Sep 26, 1918

Following this confession, Grapine was formally arraigned on a charge of murder. A preliminary hearing was held at Calder on October 2, 1918. After she was committed to stand trial, she asked to talk to her mother, in the presence of a constable who also spoke her language. (None of the articles bothered to list what that language was.)

As requested, her mother was sent for as well as Sergeant Harreck, who spoke the same language. According to the police reports, Grapine told them her husband was in the habit of ill treating her and for a month she’d kept the gun hidden under the floor of the house. On the night of the murder, he’d beaten her. After he’d fallen asleep, she went to the granary where the hired man slept and asked him what she should do. Rutka advised her to shoot her husband, telling her to wait until he (Rutka) fell asleep, then kill him. He told her if she failed to kill him outright, to come wake him and he’d finish the job for her. She told them he’d shown her how to load the gun and operate it and he’d said that if she gave him $300, he’d see to it that she wouldn’t get into any trouble over what she’d done.

Grapine was taken to Regina jail on October 4th to be held until her trial at Yorkton.

Her trial opened on January 17, 1919 before Judge MacDonald. The evidence against her was strong. She admitted in the witness box that she and Rutka had arranged to commit the crime sometime previously, although I couldn’t find any details on how far previous that was. But there was also a lot of evidence to her claims of ill treatment. There were court records from several years previous showing that she’d obtained a judgement against him. At the time, she’d told the court that he abused her, beating her without mercy. He’d managed to convince her to come back to him, promising to be good to her, but the brutal treatment had begun again soon after.

On January 18, 1919, she was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to be hanged on April 22, 1919.

On April 11, 1919, Frank Rutka was found not guilty of being an accomplice in the murder. The principal witness at his trial had been Grapine. On the same day, Grapine’s sentence was commuted to twelve years in prison by order of the Minister of Justice, in light of all the evidence of Alex’s ill treatment. She was sent to Prince Albert to spend the length of her incarceration.

Upon his release, Frank Rutka was immediately arrested again and charged with the theft of $1800 from Alex Shulman. Apparently, the police had gotten hold of a letter he’d sent to a friend, asking them to get the money he’d concealed at the Shulman farm. It’s unclear if the charge ever led to a trial.

And that is the story of the shooting of Alex Shulman. Was it cold, calculated murder? Or was it justifiable homicide against a man who’d already tried to kill her that same night, after years of abuse and ill treatment? Only Grapine and Alex Shulman know for sure, although they might disagree.

The Regina Leader-Post – April 12, 1919

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Information for this post came from the following editions of The Regina Leader-Post, The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and The Saskatoon Daily Star: Sep 21, 1918, Sep 24, 1918, Sep 26, 1918, Oct 1, 1918, Oct 4, 1918, Oct 5, 1918, Jan 17, 1919, Jan 18, 1919, April 12, 1919, April 15, 1919

If you’re still hungry for more stories of historical Saskatchewan true crime, check these out:

The Downward Spiral of George Ford

The Attempted Murder of C. D. Bennison and Leonard Warren

The Murder of Arnold Gart

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