Murder Near Vanscoy: The Unhinged James Alak

Terezia and James Alak did not have a good marriage. It was, to be frank, barely a marriage at all. James had moved to Vanscoy from the United States and purchased a homestead in the Hungarian settlement nearby sometime around 1906-1907. In 1909, he married Terezia, but just three weeks after the wedding, she left to work in Saskatoon. She then went to Outlook and then to Moose Jaw, where she gave birth to a child. In August of 1910, she returned to her father’s home and about two weeks later, Alak showed up at the door, asking to her to go back and live with him.

She told him no. He’d mistreated her and she wouldn’t go back. He told her that if she didn’t return with him, then someone would die that day, but her brother intervened and sent him on his way.

The following August, in 1911, Alak came around again. This time, she rejoined him, bringing some furniture and a cow. They got some chickens and a pig as well. But by September 11th, Alak was back to his old cruelty and Terezia left again, returning to her parents’ house.

Alak visited the house twice the following day, wanting Terezia to come home with him. She refused. A quarrel ensued but eventually he left. At this point, Terezia’s father, Luke Bugyik, decided they should go and get her things.

They went to the home of Andy Ader and asked him for help moving out Terezia’s furniture. When they showed up with the wagon at Alak’s home, he pleaded with them for Terezia to remain, but she refused. When he spoke about starting a divorce suit against her, she replied that she would give him satisfaction.

The furniture was placed on the wagon, and while Bugyik secured the cow, Terezia went to get the chickens. Alak asked Ader to help her catch them and the two went off, passing through some brush along the way. As they were walking, they heard a shot from near the house. They ran back, only to find Luke Bugyik lying against the wheel of the wagon with his head wounded. Terezia, realizing that Alak had shot her father, ran past the house, desperate to escape. Alak followed her, aiming the gun at her as she ran. He shot from about 30 yards, and she fell. Ader asked Alak why he’d done this as he walked past him, but he didn’t answer.

Ader pulled the still alive Bugyik to the side of the house and then… went home. As far as it was reported, it doesn’t appear he contacted anyone or raised any kind of alarm. Which is unfortunate, because, having shot his wife and father-in-law, Alak then walked the three miles to the Bugyik family home, crept up to the house and fired at Terezia’s mother, Elizabeth (or Erzsebert), through the window. He missed the first shot, but not the next as she ran into another room, catching her in the abdomen. When she tried to escape, he shot her again. Terezia’s brother, Luke Jr., was in Delisle that day.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Sep 14, 1911

Later that evening, Alak showed up at Ader’s house and gave him his mother’s address. He asked Ader to write to his mother and explain why he couldn’t visit anymore. He told Ader about going to the Bugyik’s and shooting his mother-in-law, and that when he returned to his place he’d found the old man alive, so he shot him again to finish him off. Ader told him to go to Saskatoon and give himself up.

It’s unclear if that was his intention or not, but word was sent to Vanscoy and the RNWMP were telephoned at Saskatoon. Officers Corporal Thomas and Constable Messina were dispatched to Vanscoy and on their way they met Alak on the road. At the time, they didn’t know what Alak looked like, but Thomas was suspicious to see a farmer on the road so late at night, so he called him to a stop and asked him where he was going.

Alak responded, “oh, a serious thing has happened.”

When asked what that was, he told them he’d killed his wife and in-laws.

They took him into custody and went back to his house. The doors were locked, the bodies having been taken inside either by Alak or some neighbours. Corporal Thomas was forced to climb in through the window, where he found Terezia’s body in a room to the east and Luke Bugyik’s body in another. There were pools of blood in the yard, about three yards apart, with a man’s hat lying by one of them. A basket of eggs sat on the ground.

Elizabeth Bugyik was still alive after her attack, although not much hope was held for her recovery, and she was taken to St. Paul’s hospital in Saskatoon. The bodies of Terezia and Luke were also taken to Saskatoon, while Terezia’s little child was placed with a neighbour.

Elizabeth Bugyik died of her injuries on September 19, 1911.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoeniz – Sep 15, 1911

An inquest was opened on September 14, 1911 and on September 15, 1911, Alak was committed to stand trial in Saskatoon.

The trial was held on October 3, 1911 before Justice Lamont. The prosecutor was Mr. Mackenzie and for the defense was Mr. McIntyre. Terezia’s brother, Luke, testified. Telling the court that Alak and his sister did not get on well. After she left him, Alak had terrorized their family. Their haystacks had been burned and two weeks before the murders, their barn was mysteriously set ablaze. Of course, the family had pointed to Alak when RNWMP had come out to investigate, but there wasn’t much in the way of evidence. Apparently, Alak had previously proposed to the family that if they would allow him to murder Terezia’s child, he would take her back. He didn’t believe the little girl was his.

This was corroborated by RNWMP, who said that Alak had told them he’d killed his wife because she’d been unfaithful, and that if they’d just let him kill the child, he wouldn’t have done this.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Sep 13, 1911

Ader, of course, testified, as did the coroner. Terezia had been shot in the back and had nine wounds in all from the shot, which had penetrated her lungs. Luke had a wound in his back as well as two in his head. There were powder marks on his shirt, showing that the shot had been fired at a range of not more than three feet.

Alak testified, telling the court that he didn’t think Luke Bugyik was any good, because “while he was at Prince Albert, the old man came to him as a witch and sat on his chest.” (This is a reference to an old European superstition – The Old Hag or Night Hag, which we now know is sleep paralysis, but at the time was believed to be a literal witch or supernatural being who sat on your chest while you were sleeping.)

James Alak was found guilty the same day and sentenced to hang at Prince Albert on November 28, 1911. It is unclear if any appeals were filed, but if they were, they were dismissed. He was hanged on the scheduled day.

Terezia and her parents, Elizabeth and Luke Bugyik, were buried in Saskatoon. Luke Bugyik Jr, told reporters he was going back to Hungary. He didn’t want to live in Canada anymore after what had happened. Terezia had another sister, Teeny, but it’s unclear if she stayed in Saskatchewan or went back to Hungary with Luke.

And that is the story of the senseless murder of Terezia “Tessie” Bugyik Alak and her parents, Elizabeth and Luke Bugyik.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Oct 4, 1911

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Information for this post came from and the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Sep 13, 1911, Sep 14, 1911, Sep 15, 1911, Sep 16, 1911, Sep 20, 1911, Sep 21, 1911, Oct 4, 1911, Nov 28, 1911

Want more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan? Check these out:

The Horrific Mothering of Hannah Hanson

The Beating of Gregory Homeniuk

The Mystery of Mrs. Pengelly

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