The Tragic Death of Viola Erickson

*Content Warning: Today’s post includes the abuse and murder of a child. As this is a very upsetting topic, please don’t continue if this will cause you harm. Protect your mental health and join us next week for a new true crime story.

Let’s begin.

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On March 5, 1912, three-year-old Viola Erickson died. The next day, March 6th, her stepfather, Victor Erickson, was arrested.

Viola’s mother and Victor Erickson had not been married for very long; only since December of 1911. Viola was Mrs. Erickson’s daughter from a previous marriage. They lived on a farm two miles from Tompkins, a CPR town about 40 miles west of Swift Current. The home was described as happy for the first three weeks, but then the abuse of Viola began. Erickson would kick and beat her for no apparent reason. In her testimony at the preliminary hearing, Mrs. Erickson called these episodes his “crazy spells”, saying that otherwise he was good to the child. When asked if she interfered, she told the court that she tried to protect Viola during these attacks.

Whether or not Erickson was good to Viola outside of his “crazy spells” was irrelevant. If he was, he certainly wasn’t good enough, considering the extreme levels of abuse he was visiting upon the child. One witness, Albert Lett, told the court that about three weeks before her death, he saw Erickson beat the little girl without any provocation. He said he told Erickson to quit, and he did, but he was mad at Lett for telling him to stop.

Another witness, Gus Lofyren, had a similar story. He’d also gone over to the Erickson’s place about three weeks before Viola’s death. He’d seen Viola with her hands tied together, being beaten by Erickson. He’d been using his hands, Loyfren told the court, and it had gone on for about five minutes.

The Regina Leader-Post – April 1, 1912

Victor Erickson was committed to stand trial in Moose Jaw, and was taken to Regina jail. Apparently, at the time of his arrest, he’d told the arresting officer, Constable Salt, “I do not know how I came to do it, and did not know I had done it until my wife had told me. I expect to get a life sentence, but after putting in six or seven years I hope to get a petition for my release.”

His trial began on June 17, 1912. Although she’d testified against him at the preliminary hearing, Mrs. Erickson refused to testify against her husband at the trial.

Victor Erickson plead not guilty. His defense was that the myriad of horrific injuries to the three-year-old girl’s body were the result of a series of accidents.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – June 18, 2023

But that was definitely not the case. A bloody garment and a whip had been found hidden in the house at the time of Erickson’s arrest, and the principal witness at the trial, Dr. Kerr of Maple Creek, had a lot to say about Viola’s injuries. He’d been called by a Justice of the Peace to the Erickson farm on March 6th and found the little girl dead in bed. He did a cursory examination and then performed the post mortem on March 9th.

His discoveries are honestly too horrific to list here in their entirety, so I will only give you a short summary of a few of her injuries. She died from an injury to her brain, attributed to a large scalp wound on the back of her head. (On the morning of her death, Mrs. Erickson claimed her husband had shaken her so hard she lost consciousness.) Six of her fingers were blackened with frostbite, her face was cut and scarred. Her back was black and blue with bruises and there was evidence she’d been sat on a hot stove. There were scratches and cuts all over her body. Dr. Kerr found that one of her shoulders was dislocated and had been for some time, as there were no longer any indications of inflammation.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – June 19, 1912

It was clear that Viola’s injuries were not accidental. She’d been beaten to death. Erickson was found guilty of manslaughter on June 18, 1912, and the following day was sentenced to 20 years at the penitentiary. Chief Justice Wetmore, who presided over the trial, told Erickson that this was the worst case brought before him in his entire judiciary career. Erickson was quiet until he was taken to his cell after sentencing, when he broke down completely.

It’s unclear whether he served his full sentence or was granted a petition for his release after a few years, as he’d been hoping.

And that is the story of the horrific abuse of Viola Erickson.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – June 20, 1912

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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: April 1, 1912, April 11, 1912, April 17, 1912, June 18, 1912, June 19, 1912, June 20, 1912, June 26, 1912

Interested in more historical true crime from Saskatchewan? Check these out:

Murder Near Vanscoy: The Unhinged James Alak

The Horrific Mothering of Hannah Hanson

The Beating of Gregory Homeniuk

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