The Murder of the Bromley Five

Content Warning: The following true crime story deals with the murder of children. If that will be upsetting for you, please read no further and join us next Tuesday for the next true crime installment. Thank you and take care of your mental health!

Let’s begin.

On the evening of September 17, 1918, Walter Edward Bromley sent his wife to the picture show. It was her first time out of the house since the couple and their five children had moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in April. He was described in the newspapers as a driver for the Dominion Express Company, but in an article from Moose Jaw Today, he was said to have worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway. In either case, his wife left him at home with the children and went out for a much deserved break.

When she returned to their little two-story house on Ominica Street East at about 11:30 p.m. Bromley met her in the road and refused to let her inside, telling her he’d killed their children. She started screaming, rousing the neighbours and bringing them out of the house to see what was going on. A crowd gathered and the police were summoned. Around this time, Bromley led his wife away, walking east towards the cemetery. She walked for some blocks, dazed and in shock. He began telling her the story in all its horrid details and she pleaded with him to surrender to the police. He did, walking into the station with his wife shortly after midnight. In his pocket was the fateful razor blade, still covered in his children’s blood.

The Regina Leader-Post – Sep 19, 1918

What the police found inside the home was a horrific sight. According to Bromley, he had been reading while his children played. His son, Norman, who was about 9-years-old, was playing upstairs when he started crying. His father told him to stop, but the crying continued. In a fit of rage, he rushed upstairs, seized his razor and cut the little boy’s throat. He threw the child on the bed and then, supposedly realizing what he’d done and becoming overwhelmed by fear, distress and horror, he decided to exterminate the rest of the children.

He went to the room where his 14-month-old twin daughters, Doris and June, were sleeping and took them one by one to the bedroom where his son lay and did the same, cutting their throats before placing them on the bed with their brother. The last two children, Dulsie and Ivy, aged 7 and 5, were also asleep. He killed them both in the same way.

The Winnipeg Tribune – Sep 21, 1918

Bromley told police that he’d intended to kill himself as well, but his resolve weakened and instead he washed up and changed his clothes before waiting for his wife to come home.

But the police weren’t entirely convinced of Bromley’s tale of sudden insanity brought on by his son’s crying. As they searched the home, cataloguing the brutal violence within (the newspapers described the wounds on the children as being so deep they were nearly decapitated), they found an axe lying on a dresser in one of the upstairs bedrooms. It was new, having never been used before. Furthermore, they found a man’s shirt, the back and tail of which were saturated with blood. When Detective Hugh Johnstone questioned him about it, Bromley told him he’d tied it around his waist to protect his clothes as a make-shift apron, before he went upstairs with the razor and the axe. To the police, this showed premeditation.

The Winnipeg Tribune – Sep 21, 1918

At the inquest, his wife testified that Bromley had told her he’d killed the children so that they wouldn’t freeze in the coming winter. He’d told police that he was worried over financial matters, the $25 rent for their home was due on September 19th. Apparently, he’d recently been demoted, unable to handle the responsibilities at his job and now was struggling to make ends meet.

Walter Bromley was given a preliminary hearing at Moose Jaw on September 20, 1918. He was brought into court dazed and unshaven, with his hair tousled and looking generally haggard. He was about 5’9″, with a slender build, narrow chin and light red hair. Not someone that at first glance seemed capable of such violence.

The Moose Jaw Daily News – Aug 16, 1919

When Detective Hugh Johnstone testified about the bloody shirt used as an apron, it came out that he’d neglected to issue Bromley the necessary warning before questioning him. Bromley had been given the warning before his confession, but Johnstone should have given it again when he returned to question him in his cell. All mention of Bromley’s interview about the shirt was ordered deleted from the evidence.

Bromley was committed to stand trial and was taken to the Regina jail.

The Regina Leader-Post – Sep 23, 1918

On October 18, 1918, Detective Hugh Johnstone died of pneumonia. He was intended to be a prominent witness in the case. The trial experienced another set back when it was postponed from November of 1918 to January of 1919, due to the influenza epidemic. Bromley’s defense attorney, Walter Mills KC, asked for further adjournment on January 31, 1919, in order to secure evidence from England regarding a history of insanity in Bromley’s family. It was granted and the case was adjourned until the next sitting.

During this time, Mrs. Bromley was hospitalized. Unsurprisingly, she’d suffered a nervous breakdown after the murder of her children. When Bromley’s trial at last took place on May 15, 1919, she was well enough to attend.

The trial was short, lasting a single day. Bromley entered a plea of not guilty, his defense arguing that he had suffered from homicidal insanity at the time.

Walter Bromley took the stand and stated that mental illness ran in his family, pointing to an uncle born with an intellectual disability. On cross examination by acting Crown Prosecutor Rose of Weyburn, Bromley admitted that he’d murdered his children, declaring that he couldn’t give a motive.

That evening, the jury found Bromley guilty, with a recommendation for mercy, and the judge sentenced him to hang on August 21, 1919.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – May 16, 1919

Bromley’s defense, Walter Mills, continued to work hard on his behalf, asking for a reprieve. He believed there was strong evidence of mental illness. His request was granted and on August 16th Walter Bromley’s sentence was commuted to life in prison.

And that is the story of the murder of the Bromley children.

The Regina Leader-Post – Aug 16, 1919

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Information for this post came from a September 22, 2022 article in Moose Jaw Today (linked above) and the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Moose Jaw Daily News and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Sep 18, 1918, Sep 19, 1918, Sep 20, 1918, Sep 21, 1918, Sep 23, 1918, Sep 25, 1918, Oct 19, 1918, Oct 22, 1918, Jan 28, 1919, Jan 29, 1919, Feb 1, 1919, Feb 3, 1919, May 13, 1919, May 16, 1919, Aug 4, 1919, Aug 5, 1919, Aug 16, 1919

If you’d like to read more historical true crime from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

The Mysterious Murder of the Hansons

The Murderous John Bronch

The Terrible Acts of John Wowk

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