*Content Warning: This story includes the murder of children. If you will find this distressing, please take care of your mental health and skip this week’s post. Please join us again next Tuesday for a new true crime story.
In 1919, Hannah Hanson moved with her two children, six-year-old Annie May and 9-month-old Olive to the farm of Ole Weflin, about 20-30 miles north of Maple Creek. She worked for him for a while as a housekeeper, but by June of that same year, Weflin had decided that Hannah and her children should be sent to a neighbour. So, he made the arrangements and on Tuesday, June 24, 1919, he went to his cousin’s farm nearby to borrow a rig and drive the woman and her children to their new destination.
When he returned, he found Hannah on the floor, dead. Six-year-old Annie was also dead and the baby, although still alive, only lasted a few moments. Two almost empty bottles of strychnine and one partially empty bottle of carbolic acid were found on the floor. The woman had killed her children and herself.
But this wasn’t the first time Hannah Hanson had killed a child in her care.
Oswald Hanson was an easy-going, good natured Swedish man who had moved to Loverna, Saskatchewan from the States with his three children from a previous marriage. He had two daughters, Myrtle and Evelyn Ruth and a son, Glen.
It’s unclear when he married Hannah, but his son, Glen, was born in 1914, so it would have been some time after that. The couple got married and moved Oswald’s three children and Hannah’s daughter, Annie May, into a home about eight miles northeast of Loverna. It didn’t take long for tragedy to strike. On April 10, 1917, three-year-old Glen died, believed at the time to have been “tramped on” by his sister, Evelyn Ruth, who was about seven or eight at the time.
An inquest was held into little Glen’s death, with the verdict being that the boy had come to his death through strangulated hernia as a result of an attack on him by his sister, Evelyn Ruth.
Evelyn Ruth was later committed to the hospital for the insane, but after a short time was found to be normal and released. It was around this time that suspicion began to grow around Oswald’s wife, Hannah.
Because, while Evelyn Ruth was considered normal by the hospital staff, around her stepmother, her behavior was odd. On one occasion, her father found phonograph needles in Evelyn’s ear. When he questioned her about it, she claimed she put them there herself.
At another time, Myrtle was given a large number of patent medicine tablets by someone and became seriously ill. Evelyn Ruth also took the blame on this occasion.
In the fall of 1918, Oswald and Hannah had become estranged. It’s impossible to say why, if it was the grief over losing his son or if Oswald had perhaps begun to grow suspicious of Hannah and her dealings with the children. If so, his suspicions were well founded.
On December 3, 1918, Hannah wrote a letter to Oswald filled with admissions of some of the horrible things she’d done to the children. She told him that she had been the one to give Glen his rupture, that she’d hurt Myrtle’s arm and whipped all the children (including her own daughter, Annie), saying she “whipped them sinful.” She had put the phonograph needles in Evelyn’s ear and made her eat lye and “made her do lots of things that was done.” She admitted that she’d often planned on killing the children and herself or burning them all up.
She closed the letter by telling him that in her heart she loved him and the children and she didn’t know why she’d done what she’d done. She couldn’t explain it. Finally, she apologized for losing him his only boy.
Now, it’s possible you’re wondering how she was able to go on and murder two more children, when she should have been in jail for murdering three-year-old Glen. Apparently, it was impossible to use the admissions Hannah made to her husband as evidence, on account of a legal rule in the Canada Evidence Act. The rule was to the effect that evidence from a spouse against their partner is inadmissible.
While she was still living in Loverna, she was prosecuted for ill-treatment of the children and sentenced to pay a fine. (Yes, a fine. Good grief.) When she refused, she was sent to the Prince Albert jail where she stayed for a short time before she decided to pay the fine and was released.
In the early spring of 1919, Oswald sent his two daughters, Myrtle and Evelyn Ruth, to live with his parents in Ellingston, North Dakota, to get them away from Hannah. Under proper treatment, they gradually became more comfortable and were finally able to admit what Hannah had been doing, but only with the promise that Hannah wouldn’t be told what they said. They were still deathly afraid of the woman.
The Provincial Police had had their eye on Hannah since April of 1917, when Glen died, although they’d held back on doing much while she was pregnant with Olive. About a month before the final, horrible incident when Hannah ended the life of her children, they had submitted the file to Crown Prosecutor P. E. Mackenzie of Saskatoon to see if further charges were possible. It was found that the evidence was insufficient, as her husband was not available as a witness, to create more than a suspicion that she’d caused Glen’s death and mistreated the other children.
In the months leading up to the murder of Annie May and Olive, Hannah had been writing letters to Oswald, begging him to come back to her. Oswald had been called to North Dakota a few days before the murder and it was thought that she must have heard of his travels and come to the conclusion that he intended to pay no more attention to her.
Weirdly, the idea that she was insane didn’t seem to have ever crossed the minds of her husband, their neighbours or the police, although all admitted that she was violent, high-tempered and impulsive.
And that is the story of the horrific mother and stepmother that was Hannah Hanson.
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Information for this post came from findagrave.com and the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: April 20, 1917, June 28, 1919
If you’d like to read more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan, give these a try:
The Beating of Gregory Homeniuk
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