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.
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.
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.
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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:
It was May 14, 1923 and George Ford was in trouble. He was at his preliminary hearing in Broadview, Saskatchewan on a charge of manslaughter, arising from his suspected neglect of a minor in his employ.
John Richard Boyns had been working for almost a year at Ford’s farm, about 7 miles southeast of Broadview, when he died of double pneumonia on March 19, 1923. He was a Barnardo Boy and just 19-years-old. His time at the Ford farm was anything but easy. Witnesses testified to seeing Ford punch and kick the boy on multiple occasions and the Crown was alleging that he’d allowed Boyns to deteriorate from his illness without getting him proper medical care.
Ford had admitted to Detective Sergeant Dunnett that he’d had Boyns sleep on a cot in the cellar when there was a room in the upper part of the house that could have been used. He told Dunnett that he’d called a doctor when Boyns was sick but that he’d died before the doctor arrived. However, when Dr. Allingham testified, he told the court that in his opinion, based on the condition in which he found the deceased, Boyns had been dead some time before his arrival.
The cellar where his bed was located was twelve feet by twelve feet and six feet deep with raw earth walls. There was a fresh excavation in the northeast corner, about six feet by eight feet, with a cistern next to it. A clutter of stove pipes, bottles, and sacks lay heaped about and near the middle was a furnace constructed from an old stove covered with tin. In the southwest corner was Boyns’ cot, constructed from chicken wire nailed to two by fours. The chicken wire sagged in the middle until it almost touched the earth beneath it and the mattress was only a thin tick and not clean. One covering lay on the bed and it was dirty. On and about the bed were several articles of clothing and boots, none fit to wear. The bed was shoved close to the wall and a thin sheet was hung between it and the earth. There were a few windows in the cellar, all of which were covered in frost when the police came to investigate.
Ford was committed for trial, but on November 29, 1923 the charge was dismissed by Justice MacLean at Moosomin, who said the Crown had failed to establish that a legal responsibility to provide care rested on the accused. He was careful to tell Ford that his dismissal didn’t mean he thought Ford was a good man or that he hadn’t been cruel to Boyns, merely that the Crown had failed to prove that Boyns was incapable of calling the doctor himself.
“I am dismissing you, Ford, because by law it has not been shown that you were criminally liable. But it has come out in evidence that you were harsh with this young man. You were most harsh. You have been brutal and displayed a violent temper in your action toward him. It was a cowardly procedure.”
The community of Broadview was not pleased with the dismissal. The story of Boyns’ ill treatment had obviously been in the news, making it across the ocean to the Old Country. On all sides there was indignation and bad feelings against the Ford family. In Broadview, the feeling was so intense that Ford and his wife were practically ostracized. Wherever they went the tragedy was recalled with curses and pointed comments.
All of this sat very heavily on the shoulders of Ford’s wife. Gertrude Ford (maiden name Drake) was under constant strain, her worry and anxiety over the hatred heaped on her from the community bringing her to the point of a nervous breakdown. She took a holiday in 1925, fleeing the district entirely for about six weeks. When she returned she was entirely restored to health, but the community’s memory was still fresh and their temper unchanged, and before long her condition again began to deteriorate. She begged her husband to sell the farm but he couldn’t get a fair price for it and they were advised to wait until selling conditions improved.
Around mid-November in 1925, one of their hired men, Norman Platts, came down with Scarlet Fever. Remembering what happened before and determined to have no more deaths in her home, Gertrude took charge of Platts and nursed him through the illness with every care.
Ford was less than pleased. He believed his wife’s first responsibility was to her children (they had a four-year-old daughter and a 20-month-old son) and that nursing the man in their home might infect the kids. He wanted to send Platts away. As Gertrude tended to Platts over the ensuing weeks he became bitter and resentful over the attention she was paying the sick man. Their marriage had grown decidedly strained since the death of Boyns and the ensuing ostracization, and they frequently got into heated arguments. Her nursing of Platts only increased the tension between them.
On December 20th, the couples’ lawyer received letters from both of them, Gertrude still desperate to sell the farm and leave and Ford complaining about having to care for Platts.
On New Year’s Eve they threw a party and seemed to be getting along better, but by the following evening, they were fighting again. Norman Platts’ brother, Ed, had come to visit him from Winnipeg. He’d stayed for the party and the following afternoon asked Ford drive him to Broadview so he could head back home. Ford had apparently believed that Ed would be taking Norman back with him when he left and when he didn’t, Ford was pissed off. He wanted Platts out of his house. The couple began fighting in earnest that evening, causing Platts and the other hired man, Herbert Kinglsey Lighton, to separate them.
The next day they began fighting again about Norman’s health and whether or not he was well enough to leave. Knowing the fight was about him, Platts told them he’d go and started packing his things. When he couldn’t find his boots, he went out to the barn to find Lighton and ask if he’d seen them. They chatted for a few minutes, Platts helping with a few chores, when they heard a dull noise at the house. As they let the barn, they heard two gunshots in succession.
Worried Ford might be shooting at them, they detoured and approached from the bush. As Platts got to the north side of the granary near the house, he saw Ford, lying on the ground dead, a shot gun laying by his feet. The left side of his face was partly blown off.
“There is one of them gone,” Platts told Lighton.
When they entered the house, they found the couple’s little girl, crying. Lighton picked her up and started comforting her. Platts went through the kitchen towards the living room and found Gertrude lying in a pool of blood, dead. She’d been shot in the back of the head with the shot gun while writing a letter. The baby boy was sitting on the floor, thankfully unharmed physically, but unfortunately had witnessed the horrific murder of his mother.
At the inquest into her death, it was revealed that their lawyer, F. B. Bagshaw, had received another letter from Gertrude on December 31st, detailing how her husband was driving her to another nervous breakdown. She described him watching her “as a cat watches a mouse”. She wrote that if she continued to live with him she’d go mad. “I absolutely must get away from him.” She asked him about getting a separation, telling him she wanted custody of their children.
The letter had come too late to save her.
Gertrude was buried in the Broadview Cemetery on January 7, 1926, in a different area than her husband. At least in death, she was given the separation she so desperately wanted.
As for the children? They stayed with a neighbour for a short while before being taken to Babies’ Welfare in Regina.
And that is the story of the neglectful death of John Richard Boyns and the murder of Gertrude Drake Ford.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: May 16, 1923, Nov 30, 1923, Jan 4, 1926, Jan 5, 1926, Jan 7, 1926, Jan 8, 1926
If you’d like to read more true crime stories from historical Saskatchewan, give these a try:
It was about 10:30 p.m. on July 15, 1913, and C. D. Bennison, owner of the Silver Moon Ranch just south of Manor, Saskatchewan, was putting his team of horses in the stable for the night. Out of nowhere, he was attacked by his hired hand, Lloyd Atz, who struck him repeatedly with a whiffletree, beating him to the ground. (A whiffletree is defined as “the pivoted swinging bar to which the traces of a harness are fastened and by which a vehicle or implement is drawn.”)
Bennison managed to struggle to his feet and staggered towards the house, but when he was within ten yards, Atz returned, beating him once again and leaving him for dead. But Bennison wasn’t dead. Once again, he struggled onward and made it to the house where he was taken in by his wife and Miss Wolfe, the hired help.
The women yelled for help, attracting the attention of John Procknow and his sisters, who were driving past. They went to the house and Procknow immediately barred the door. Atz returned to the house, trying to gain entry, but was unsuccessful, leaving soon after.
At this point, Miss Wolfe remembered that the other hired hand, Leonard Warren (also spelled Warne), was still outside somewhere. Miss Wolfe went out into the dark, looking for Warren, and finally found him near a straw stack, unconscious and with terrible head wounds. Alone in the dark, and despite the fact that he was one hundred and eighty pounds, she managed to carry him to the house sixty yards away.
Atz didn’t return that night and when Warren was recovered enough to speak, he told them he’d been viciously attacked by Atz, who battered him with the butt of a rifle. The rifle was found by the Royal North West Mounted Police when they came to investigate, the butt broken in two pieces and the barrel covered in blood.
The police started scouring the country for Atz, and at one point it was rumored he’d escaped into the States. The police believed the attacks had been premeditated, because Atz had gone after Bennison while Warren was still in the field, rounding up the cattle, when they would be separated and more vulnerable.
Atz was found and taken into custody near Wauchope, Saskatchewan on July 21, 1913. He was a young man, only twenty-six, described as broad shouldered with light wavy hair, standing 5’8″ tall. He was taken to jail in Arcola to await his preliminary hearing, but while exercising in the corridor of the court house at Arcola he tried to overpower the guards and escape. He was taken to the Regina jail instead, where he would stay until his preliminary on July 28, 1913.
He was committed to stand trial on two charges of attempted murder. His first trial, for the assault on Bennison, opened on December 17, 1913 before Justice Elwood. Atz refused counsel and conducted his own defense. He was described by newspapers as displaying “more than average intelligence.”
Dr. Christie, who testified to the injuries both men received at the preliminary, detailed Bennison’s injuries. (Warren had received nine bad cuts on his head and needed to go to the hospital.)
Bennison testified, describing the attack and telling the court that on two previous occasions Atz had talked about religion in a very eccentric manner. Bennison concluded that Atz was “crazy on religion” appearing to suffer from some kind of fanaticism. At one time Atz had also told Bennison that he’d been implicated in a murder in Spokane some years ago.
Lloyd Atz’s defense was simple. He told the court that the heat of the day had affected his mind and that he had no recollection of the circumstances of the crime.
When charging the jury, the judge pointed out that the evidence did not seem to substantiate the accused’s evidence (especially with his rash attempt at escape while in custody) and the jury agreed. They found him guilty and he was sentenced to ten years at the penitentiary. Given his conviction, the crown didn’t bother to proceed with the second attempted murder charge.
And that is the story of the attempted murder of C. D. Bennison and Leonard Warren.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: July 17, 1913, July 19, 1913, July 22, 1913, July 24, 1913, July 29, 1913, Dec 18, 1913
If you’d like to read more true crime stories from historical Saskatchewan, give these a try:
It was about 12:30PM on October 11, 1919. John P. Harris was walking westward on Railway Avenue in Radisson, Saskatchewan. Ahead of him by about twenty feet were two men, one young, one older, walking together. They appeared to be arguing but they were speaking a different language so he couldn’t tell what was being said. When they reached the front of the hotel, the younger man shoved the older man on the arm. At almost the same time, the older man pulled his right hand from his overcoat pocket and struck the younger man twice in a downward motion before immediately replacing his hand in his pocket. The young man threw up his hands with a cry of pain, staggered across the street and collapsed on the sidewalk opposite.
By the time John Harris reached him, the young man was dead. The older man kept right on walking and rounded the pool room corner. Several men rushed out of the pool room, having seen the scuffle. A few took off after the older man while the rest carried the dead man inside.
A mechanic named Enos Wurtz had also seen the struggle, although he was about seventy-five yards away. He saw the older man strike the younger, then saw the young man stagger across the street and fall. The older man threw up his hand and called, he thought for help, then started to run. Enos started to get Constable Smith at the local police barracks when he saw the man running ahead of him. When he reached the barracks, the man was already there, followed shortly by other men from the pool room.
The man, who identified himself as John Bronch, told Constable Smith in an excited voice that he’d wanted the man, Arnold Gart, to come with him to the police and have their quarrel settled. Constable Smith locked him up on suspicion after hearing his statements, then took statements from his pursuers. Next, he went straight to the pool room where he found Arnold Gart dead.
His father, Fred Gart, was called to identify him. He found his son, dead and covered with blood from a stab wound in his neck.
An inquest was held and Bronch was committed to stand trial for murder.
John Bronch’s trial opened on November 17, 1919 in North Battleford. He was represented by T. A. Lynd of Saskatoon.
Dr. J. A. Scratch of Maymont was called to testify on the results of the post mortem examination he’d performed on Arnold Gart. He told the court the common carotid artery in the victim’s neck had been severed and that the wound was about two inches deep. Arnold had hemorrhaged to death within about two minutes.
The same witnesses all testified to the stabbing, describing the men walking down the street arguing, Gart shoving Bronch, who immediately stabbed him twice in the neck. Constable Smith testified as well, telling the court that during his initial search of Bronch he’d found no weapon, but later had found a jack knife concealed in the mattress of Bronch’s cell. Bronch had asked him to put the knife in the stove, offering him and Sergeant Sparkman $200 each to get rid of the knife, later increasing the amount to $300 each. He’d admitted to hiding the knife in the mattress, telling them Gart had punched him in the nose and he was afraid of him, that’s why he’d struck him.
Sergeant Sparkman corroborated Smith’s testimony. At this point, Bronch broke down in court and cried violently.
Fred Gart testified that his son had been in France, fighting with the Allies since 1915. Before leaving he’d been working for Bronch. When he went to Bronch’s home after he’d enlisted to get his clothes, Bronch had jumped out of bed on hearing of Arnold’s presence, got a gun and loaded it. Mrs. Bronch had gone out and warned Arnold to go, as her husband was going to shoot him. Fred had shoved Bronch back into his room and taken the gun from him, but Bronch swore he’d get Arnold yet.
So, what was John Bronch’s defense? He’d stabbed a man in broad daylight in front of witnesses, then tried to bribe police officers to get rid of the murder weapon.
It was simple. The Unwritten Law.
The Unwritten Law traced back to the middle of the nineteenth century. It was not by any means an actual law, but had clear social meaning. Basically, criminal defendants used it to convince juries that they’d killed in defense of the sanctity of their home and the “virtue” of their women. To put it more simply, if a man slept with another man’s wife (in society’s mind, his property), the husband was well within his rights to murder the man who’d made him a cuckold. It was deeply misogynistic, a disgusting perversion of justice, and unfortunately, it often worked. (There’s an excellent paper on it here.)
His defense, T. A. Lynd, called John Bronch’s daughter to the stand and she testified that improper relations existed between Arnold Gart and Mrs. Bronch. (It was also rumored that Gart had convinced one of Bronch’s sons to enlist, but it didn’t come up in the trial.) In his final argument, Lynd addressed the jury at some length and urged the unwritten law.
When the judge charged the jury with the case he asked them to place themselves in the shoes of the accused, saying he’d “suffered the utmost provocation” and according to evidence had really gone in fear of his life. (Bullshit. And extremely disrespectful to the victim, who lost his life over another man’s bruised pride, and his family who deeply mourned his loss.)
On November 19, 1919, the jury found John Bronch not guilty. He was free to go. The murder of Arnold Gart had become meaningless in the face of disgraced virtue.
And that is the story of the murder of Arnold Gart.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Regina Leader-Post: Oct 14, 1919, Oct 15, 1919, Oct 20, 1919, Oct 21, 1919, Oct 22, 1919, Oct 23, 1919, Nov 17, 1919, Nov 18, 1919, Nov 19, 1919, Nov 20, 1919
If you can’t wait till next week to read more true crime stories from historical Saskatchewan, give these a try:
On the morning of August 22, 1918, Sarah Mulvihill (also known as Sadie Mae) decided she would walk from her family home in Prince Albert out to the homestead where her father and brother were working near Sturgeon Lake. After making a few purchases in town, she started her walk, crossing the bridge over the Saskatchewan River and taking the northwest road. Her sister, Irene, accompanied her as far as the packing house before returning home and leaving her to complete her journey alone.
Sarah carried her knitting bag with her, made from a flowery material, and wore a brown coat and crocheted hat.
On Sunday, September 1, 1918, her father and brother went to town, only to be told that Sarah had started out for the farm on the 22nd. They had no idea about the plan, so when she never arrived at the farm no alarm was raised.
A search was immediately organized to look for the missing girl. Sarah was only eighteen, a collegiate institute student who wanted to be a teacher. She was well known and very well liked in the community.
The same morning that the search was organized, a woman named Mrs. Hutcheson heard about Sarah. Her property was near the Sturgeon Lake Trail, the same trail Sarah would have been on, about nine miles north of Prince Albert. In the afternoon she went out for a stroll, and as she was passing along the trail she was hit with a strong odor. She’d smelled it the previous Wednesday while berry picking and assumed it was a dead horse. Now, knowing about the missing girl, she decided to investigate. There, at the bottom of a small hill, hidden by a pile of brush close to the road, were the remains of Sadie Mae.
Constable Garry Tynen was the first of the provincial police to arrive on the scene. He testified that her body was lying slightly on the left side, her left arm doubled under her body and her left hand under her face. Her right hand was caught in the twig of a tree. Her skirts were pulled up over her stockings and her garters had been torn from the corsets. She was badly decomposed. The flesh on the lower half of her body was badly discoloured, while the flesh from her hips upward had disappeared, with no flesh whatsoever left on her skull. Her hair lay in a coiled mass beneath her head. A hole could be seen in the base of her skull, from which numerous cracks radiated. As soon as the skull was touched, the lower jaw crumbled and dropped off. Two clubs, one covered in blood, the other with pieces of hair matted to it, were found close to the body. Her hat was never found.
It was clear that Sarah had been murdered, and mostly likely raped. But by who?
As the police investigated, they found several witnesses who had seen Sarah on the trail that day. A man named Knute G. Soderstrom said he met Sarah on the road while driving a team to the city. Another witness, Miss Atta Miller of Sturgeon Valley, had passed Sarah while driving in a Ford car with her mother and brother near where the Wild Rose Trail joined the Sturgeon Lake Trail. Sarah had stuck in her memory, as she’d thought the clothes she was wearing were pretty. As they passed, there were two other rigs on the trail as well and she’d commented at the time “perhaps that fellow will give the girl a ride”.
Mrs. Bertha Wilson, who lived on a farm along the trail, told the police she’d looked out the window shortly after lunch and seen the girl pass by.
A man named William Foster had been driving a team of oxen on the trail the day of Sadie’s disappearance and had passed a girl and a man in a buggy. The buggy was hitched to a very peculiar looking pinto, described as being white with brown ears and blue spots. The girl wore a brownish coat and a crocheted cap. She looked shy, he said, with her eyes cast down to her feet where there was a bag made out of a flowery material.
Albert Cowan had also described an encounter with a pinto. He’d been walking the trail and had come upon a pinto of the same description hitched to a tree. A girl was sitting in the buggy and a man was pacing up and down the road with his hands in his pockets. They’d spoken briefly as Albert passed by. This was an especially important encounter, as it was right by the site where Sarah’s body was later found.
The man in the buggy with the unusual pinto immediately became a person of interest.
As the police continued their inquiries, they found a man named William Jefferson. On the day in question, he’d been cutting brushwood near the trail, which ran along his farm. Just before noon, he’d noticed a man in a buggy with a strange looking pinto heading towards Prince Albert. The driver had stopped to ask for directions to Shellbrook. He remembered it clearly because he’d never seen a horse like the one the man was driving. When the man mentioned that he was from Saskatoon, the horse stopped dead. The buggy had a black body and red gears and he’d made particular note of how the shafts were magnificently put together. He also noticed something unusual in the way the man held the reins. He didn’t hold them like a man accustomed to horses.
Another man, Alexander Beauchamps, had also encountered the strange pinto on the trail. On August 22nd he was hauling hay. Between 12:00 and 1:00 the buggy and pinto had passed him at a walk. He hadn’t noticed much about the driver, aside from the odd manner in which he held the reins, he’d only had eyes for the horse. A white pinto with brown ears and blue spots. A little while later, he’d seen the same horse and buggy trotting fast in the opposite direction.
With a description of the horse, buggy and driver, the police continued to track the movements of the mysterious man with the pinto, finally catching up with him at Zelma, Saskatchewan on September 8, 1918. The man’s name was Albert “Shorty” Roberts. He was from Saskatoon and had recently returned from England after joining the 65th Battalion. He’d been discharged from his unit before they moved on to France and sent home in June of 1918. In August, he’d purchased the pinto and buggy and gone on a trip north to look for work. They arrested him for vagrancy and held him as a material witness.
On September 9th, Roberts was moved to Prince Albert, where he and his police escort were met at the station by an enraged mob intent on lynching him. Sarah’s brother, Edward was watching at the train station and pounced on Roberts as he was being escorted between two police officers. He grabbed Roberts by the throat and started choking him. It took three men to pry him loose. Seeing the danger Roberts was in, the officers fought back against the crowd and Roberts was spirited away in the waiting police car.
After the inquest into Sarah Mulvihill’s death, Roberts was committed to stand trial for her murder. In Saskatoon, there was some skepticism about Roberts’ guilt, as well as a lot of sympathy for his wife, Mrs. Lillie Roberts, who was in poor health with three small children. The Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers League took up a collection to aid the distressed family.
On April 28, 1919, the trial began. It garnered more than the usual amount of women spectators, who turned up to show sympathy and solidarity with Mrs. Mulvihill, the mother of the murdered girl. It was presided over by Justice Elwood. Prosecutors for the crown were P. E. Mackenzie of Saskatoon and F. L. Halliday of Prince Albert. Representing the defense was T. A. Lynd of Saskatoon and Gilbert H. Yule.
The prosecution had their work cut out for them. Their evidence was highly circumstantial, albeit very suspicious, without any direct evidence linking Roberts to the murder. After his arrest, police had seized a washer boiler and some clothes of his and had them and the wash water tested for blood. None was found, although it was theorized that he wouldn’t have gotten a lot of blood on him, as the trauma to Sarah’s head was at the point where her hair was tied. They believed that would have limited some of the blood spatter. And although the shoes on Robert’s pinto matched the horseshoe prints around the scene, the shoes the pinto was wearing were not uncommon.
They focused on the large number of witnesses that had seen Roberts and his pinto on the trail, and especially the two witnesses who had seen Sarah in his buggy. William Foster had recognized Albert Roberts as the driver he’d seen in the buggy with Sarah and William Jefferson had positively identified Roberts as the man driving the buggy he’d given directions to, having recognized him by his bad teeth. Alexander Beauchamps’ memory of the pinto was so good that even when the defense tried to trip him up by taking him outside and showing him two similarly peculiar pintos, he was able to pick out Roberts’ horse without hesitation.
Sarah’s skull was also entered into evidence. During Constable Garry Tynen’s testimony a box was produced and shown to the jury. Inside, it contained her hair, still stuck to some turf and sticks, and her skull. When it was brought out, several women became too upset and had to leave. Sarah’s mother stayed.
Albert Roberts took the stand in his own defense. He told the court that he’d gone up north looking for work, specifically at a farm managed by C. W. Clinch located five miles northwest of Shellbrook. On August 22nd, he’d left Prince Albert at 10:00AM to go to Shellbrook. He didn’t know the road and got turned around. At about noon he stopped and asked Jefferson for directions. He maintained that he’d never encountered Sarah on the trail, nor had he given anyone a ride. When he got to the bridge at the fork in the road, he stopped and took a nap. At around 3:00PM he saw a man driving an English surrey rig from the bridge. He arrived at the Clinch farm after supper and was given a job shocking wheat. He’d worked all the following morning before giving up, saying the work was too much for his strength and moving on.
The crown worked hard to trip him up in their cross examination, pointing out every inconsistency in his current story from the one he gave at the inquest.
To support his testimony, the defense called James R. Clare, who testified that on August 22nd he was in Prince Albert. He’d found out that his son had been severely wounded in France and left for home the same day at around 2:00PM. He took the Sturgeon Lake Trail and within about an hour and a half he reached the fork in the road where Roberts was allegedly sleeping. He told the court that he hadn’t met Albert Cowan on the road, whom he knew quite well, and hadn’t seen Sarah or a horse and buggy in the clearing where she was killed. He was driving an English surrey rig, the same one Roberts claimed to have seen from the bridge.
Eager to discredit this witness, the crown called Mrs. Hutcheson back to the stand. She testified that on August 22nd, she saw Mr. Clare going home and he was sound asleep in his buggy. She’s sent her boys out to unhitch his team and put the horses in her stable. Seeing how deeply he was sleeping, they didn’t wake him. He woke up a while later and came into the house, staying at her place until about 8:00PM when he left for home.
The prosecution also pointed out that Roberts could have seen the rig from the clearing and used it as an alibi later, claiming to have seen it from the bridge instead.
On May 3, 1919, the case was given to the jury, who found Albert “Shorty” Roberts guilty of murder. He was sentenced to hang at Prince Albert jail on August 6, 1919.
“And I will die innocent,” Albert cried in a clear voice upon hearing his sentence.
The next day, Roberts made a statement before Sheriff David Seath, Warden Thomas McGregor and his wife, Lillie Roberts. He told them that he lied. He had picked up Sarah Mulvihill on the road just past Bertha Wilson’s farm and given her a ride. They had passed William Foster as described and driven on to the place where the tragedy occurred. He’d parked the buggy and tied up the horse then had his lunch.
Afterwards, a man in a red sweater came along. The man asked him for the “makin’s” and he’d given him a half dollar and a cigarette, after which the man had shared some of his weird tasting beer with him. They got to talking and the man asked him where he was going. He told him he was going up to Paddling Lake Country. The man told him it was all bush up there and said there was some land available near his place. He gave Roberts the numbers of the available homesteads, which Roberts took down on a piece of paper and put in his pocket. He later put the paper with the man’s name and the description of the land in his trunk. Roberts gave him his own name and address as well.
While this was taking place, Sadie was in the buggy. He went to her and asked if she thought she had better walk on. She asked him how long he’d be there and he told her he was going to give the horse another hour. She told him she didn’t like walking the road alone and was afraid the man might follow her.
Roberts hitched up the horse and when he came back to the buggy the man was talking to Sarah and she seemed scared. He tried to keep Roberts from hitching the horse up to the buggy, but Roberts told him he had to be going, as he had a long way to go. The man pulled Sadie from the buggy and she called for help. He went and tried to protect her, but the man pushed Roberts back and he fell over a stump. Sarah fell over a tree. He picked up a club (the one that was produced in court in two pieces) and hit the man with it. Sarah was lying over by a tree to the right of the buggy.
His pinto started off and he stopped it, asking the man what he intended to do. The man told him: “If you say a damn word about this, I will go back to Saskatoon and blow your whole family up.”
Roberts picked up another stick and tried to defend himself as best he could, but his horse started away again. It went around by the fire guard and stopped down at the bottom. He went after it, jumping in his buggy and driving on. Sarah was lying on the ground when he left her and that was all he knew about it.
Sheriff Seath searched Roberts trunk and his entire house with the help of Lillie Roberts but they could find no trace of the mysterious paper with the man’s name and the available land.
When asked why he lied and said he’d never seen Sarah, Roberts said he was worried about his family and that he wouldn’t be believed.
No clemency was given to Albert Roberts and he was hanged on August 6, 1919. His final words were “I am innocent. I commend my wife and children to the keeping of the Almighty.”
And that it the story of the murder of Sarah Mulvihill.
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Information from this post was found in the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Sep 4, 1918, Sep 10, 1918, Sep 20, 1918, Sep 24, 1918, Sep 26, 1918, Oct 19, 1918, April 14, 1919, April 25, 1919, April 29, 1919, April 30, 1919, May 1, 1919, May 2, 1919, May 3, 1919, May 5, 1919, May 9, 1919, May 10, 1919, Aug 2, 1919, Aug 6, 1919, Aug 7, 1919
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It was a quiet Thursday evening on May 24, 1928 near Tisdale, when Joe Morrell decided to visit a nearby neighbour. He left the home of his employer, William Robson, between 7:30 and 8:00PM. When he started the walk home at about 11:30PM, he noticed flames issuing from the top story of the house.
Alarmed, he ran home and called for Robson, but received no reply. As he went to open the door, the top story caved in, crashing out two of the walls. He retreated to the nearby storehouse and set to work rescuing its contents in case the fire spread. He was joined by the hired man of one of the neighbours, and when they finished Morrell spent the night at their place. He returned early the following morning, the house burned to the ground, and discovered the bodies of William Robson and the housekeeper, Mrs. Mary Swanson.
They were not in their beds, which had been on the second story of the house and after the collapse were found in the cellar. Instead, Robson’s body was found lying on Morrell’s cot, which had been in the corner of the living room, with Swanson at one end, her head also lying on the cot.
Dr. M. A. Mackay, coroner of Tisdale, investigated the deaths and decided no inquest was necessary, believing they were most likely caused by fire. But Constable Jennings of the Provincial Police didn’t agree. Some ugly rumors had been circulating in the Pontrilas district where Robson’s estranged wife was living and those rumors led Jennings to arrest a man named Ernest Olson on the night of May 28th, four days after the fire.
In light of the arrest, an inquest was held on May 30, 1928. Dr. McQueen of Tisdale made an examination of the bodies, but they were so badly burned and so little was left of them that he could offer no clue to the cause of death, aside from fire. The inquest was put on hold until June, so that the Provincial Police could continue their investigation.
With no physical evidence pointing to murder, aside from the odd location of the bodies, Constable Jennings relied on Ernest Olson’s history with the Robsons, and the testimony of Nellie Robson, William Robson’s estranged wife. Ernest Olson had previously worked for Robson, but two years ago he was fired after he “became too friendly” with Mrs. Robson. After he lost his job, Mrs. Robson left her husband, taking the children with her, eventually ending up in Pontrilas where she worked as a housekeeper.
When the inquest resumed on June 13, 1928, she testified that on the evening of May 28, 1928, Ernest Olson had confessed the murder to her. According to Mrs. Robson, Olson told her that on the evening of the fire he’d gone to the house and waited there until the hired man left, then went and knocked on the door. Robson came down from upstairs and he hit him with an axe. Apparently hearing the noise, Mrs. Swanson came running downstairs screaming. “What was I to do then?” he told Nellie. So he killed her too. He put them on the hired man’s cot in the living room, poured coal oil over them and over the beds upstairs and set them on fire. He thought he heard someone outside so he ran away.
The whole time Mrs. Robson testified, Olson stared at her in amazement. He vehemently denied her statement and said that on the night of the fire he left the home of his employer, Roy Snider, just after 9:00PM and went north a short distance for a walk. Then he turned east and after walking for a short while he went back to the Snider farm, stopping at the stable before going to bed.
The jury at the inquest returned an open verdict, listing the cause of death for both Robson and Swanson as at the hands of a person or persons unknown. Ernest Olson was sent for a preliminary hearing and committed to stand trial for murder, but only of William Robson.
His trial opened on October 30, 1928 in the town hall of Melfort, which was converted to a courtroom for the occasion. The seriousness of the situation was slightly undercut by the decorated lights and Hawaiian lagoon pictured on the back of the stage.
The prosecution built its case almost entirely on the testimony of Nellie Robson. She’d married William Robson on October 1, 1919 when she was only fifteen years old and he was forty seven. She and her husband had not gotten along well and he’d often abused her. In 1924 she’d had him arrested for abuse but nothing much had come of it. In 1926, she’d separated from him and gone to keep house for Olson at his shack in Nipawin. She denied having more than ordinary friendship with Olson. Once, in January of 1927, Robson had gone to Nipawin and asked her to return to him but she refused.
She kept house for Olson until March of 1928. She quit, she said, because he wasn’t paying her the $15 per month that was supposed to be her wages and there often wasn’t enough food in the house. He drank a lot and she didn’t approve. After leaving Olson, she went to work for Albert Knuth as his housekeeper in Pontrilas.
Nellie Robson testified that on Sunday, May 27th, Olson met her and Albert Knuth while they were driving in a buggy. He’d said good morning and told her that he was going to Ridgedale. He asked her if the police had been to see her and she told him that Constable Jennings had. She asked him the same and he said yes. When she asked him where he was that night he told her “up and down the road from Snider’s.” Knuth remarked that unless he could explain where he was, he’d put his foot in a trap.
The next day, she saw Olson again at Knuth’s. He pleaded with her to come back to him and be his housekeeper, but she told him she “was through”. A little later, when she was standing with a few other people, he tapped her on the shoulder and said he wished to speak to her alone. At that point he gave his confession. She told Knuth the following morning and the police were called.
In addition to this alleged confession, the crown produced a witness, George A. Clark, who told of a conversation he’d had with Olson in which Olson said he’d get even with Robson for some statements he’d made about him, saying he’d “clean up” William Robson.
Albert Knuth also testified, stating that on May 27th, he’d talked with Olson and Olson told him that he knew more about the fire than Knuth expected.
Finally, a man named William Hill was put on the stand. He testified that on May 26th Olson offered him money to say that he was at his place on the night of the fire. He refused. He stated out right that he didn’t like Olson. He didn’t respect a man who would go around another man’s wife. (Although I guess his moral outrage didn’t go so far as to condemn a forty-seven-year-old man for marrying a child.)
Roy Snider testified that on the night in question he’d seen Olson leave at about 9:30, headed north. At about 11:00, his wife made him go see if Olson was back yet. She felt as though something was perhaps wrong. He went to the barn to see if Olson had taken a horse, but they were all there and everything was in order. His bed had not been slept in and he wasn’t home. When they got up at 5:00AM the next morning, Olson was back, doing the chores.
(This also confirmed Olson’s story of going out after 9:00PM, which conflicted with Nellie Robson’s testimony that he’d gone to the house and waited for the hired man to leave, who’d left between 7:30 and 8:00PM.)
Joe Morrell also testified, telling the story of the night of the fire. When asked if he’d seen anyone else that night, he said he noticed Nicholas Stranchuk, a woodcutter, going to the house with a little pail and a stone jug. Stranchuk was called to the stand and he explained that he was scrubbing for Robson some distance away and had called for water and milk. He’d found Robson and the housekeeper downstairs and all seemed to be well.
Had the prosecution effectively proven that Ernest Olson committed the murders? Had they even proven the murders occurred at all?
On October 31, 1928, the jury left the courtroom at 3:00PM and returned at 5:20PM. They found Olson guilty of murder and he was sentenced to hang on February 15, 1929. On hearing his sentence, Olson trembled violently, nearly tottering over. His sandy hair was in wild disorder, his face an ashen grey. He protested multiple times that he was innocent.
He was thirty-one-years-old. He’d immigrated to the U.S. at five and did not attend school beyond grade two. He’d come to Canada in 1910.
On November 2, 1928 he was taken to Prince Albert to await his sentence. An appeal was filed and on February 1, 1929, his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
And that is the story of the (maybe) murder of William Robson and Mary Swanson.
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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: May 26, 1928, May 29, 1928, May 30, 1928, May 31, 1928, June 7, 1928, June 13, 1928, June 14, 1928, June 15, 1928, Oct 31, 1928, Nov 1, 1928, Nov 2, 1928, Nov 7, 1928, Nov 29, 1928, Feb 1, 1929, Feb 2, 1929
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Last week you may remember that I told the story of the murder of Ralph Warwick. (If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.) And in that story, there is a suicide at the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw, which of course, made me raise an eyebrow. For those of you who don’t know, there is another very famous Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles built in 1924 that is believed to be incredibly haunted, thanks to the myriad of horrible and mysterious things that have happened there. It made me curious about the one in Moose Jaw. Did it have an interesting and sordid history like its famous counterpart? Yes, yes it did. So, without further ado, here is a brief history of Moose Jaw’s Cecil Hotel.
The Cecil Hotel first opened on November 14, 1907 and quickly became a landmark on River Street in Moose Jaw; a street that grew to be considered one of the most colourful and gaudy tenderloin districts in Western Canada. In 1909, a banquet to celebrate the opening of the new Saskatchewan Flour Mills was held at the hotel by the president and staff of the Board of Trade and was attended by one hundred of Moose Jaw’s most prominent citizens.
And then things took a turn. On the morning of May 15, 1911, James McCarthy, the chief steward of the Cecil Hotel, died by suicide in the hotel cellar, blowing his head to pieces with a double barreled shot gun. He had a homestead in Manitoba and a wife in Winnipeg. At the time, domestic troubles were given as the believed cause, although obviously now we know things are much more complicated than that.
The next gruesome incident happened in 1912, when sometime during the night of Sunday, December 8th, Stanley Price also met his end in the Cecil Hotel. He’d fled to Moose Jaw after the suspicions of the RNWMP landed on him for the murder of Ralph Warwick. He cut his own throat in his hotel room, cutting so deep the newspapers alleged he nearly cut off his own head.
On July 28, 1916, Mrs. “Buster” Harris was arrested in her room at the hotel, but she refused to get dressed and go to the station, instead staying under the bed covers… naked. Chief Johnson was called, but she just burrowed further under the blankets, so in desperation, he rolled her up in a sheet and carried her out. She was driven in a police car through the business sector to the station, wearing only the sheet. She was charged with breaking and entering with intent to rob.
On January 17, 1922, the Cecil Hotel played a small role in a liquor bust. At the time, the Saskatchewan Temperance Act was in effect, which made it illegal to sell liquor in the province, although it wasn’t illegal to manufacture and sell liquor to other countries. An undercover operation was launched by the Liquor Commission to catch a company called Southern Exporters Ltd in the act of selling liquor locally. Their base of operations during the sting was the Cecil Hotel. It was also included in multiple liquor raids in the city. At the time, the side of the building facing River Street had iron galleries that women used to whistle from to get the attention of men on the street below. It was also believed to have been frequented by prohibition-era gangsters when they needed to “stay out of circulation for a while”.
On August 10, 1924, the Cecil Hotel almost fell victim to fire after the nearby burning Woolworth building experienced an explosion that shot flames across the alley and struck the wall of the hotel, shattering nearly every pane of glass at the rear of the building. Unfortunately, the alley was also where a crowd of curious onlookers had gathered to watch the fire, leaving eight people burned, two of them nine-year-old children who were so badly burned it was unlikely they survived.
In March of 1933, the hotel played host to wrestlers and boxers in town for the Maroon’s card. The participants went through a workout at the hotel, with a fair-sized gallery of fans there to watch.
On January 29, 1968, a man was found dead in his room and remained unidentified for eight days. He had registered at the hotel on January 28th as N. Kargohs and when his body was found the next day, he had no identification papers on his person or in the room. Eventually he was identified as Nick Hrytuik, a sixty-year-old caretaker at the Ukrainian Federation Hall in Regina. His cause of death was not listed, nor any theories as to why he might have checked in under a false name.
The reign of the Cecil Hotel came to an end in the early hours of Saturday, July 26, 1975, when it was destroyed by fire. The fire was first called in at 1:50AM and quickly became a roaring inferno of flame and dense smoke. By the time dawn broke, the hotel’s interior had collapsed into the basement and all that remained standing was the brick facade facing River Street. As firemen sifted through the wreckage, they came upon the burned remains of a man who was eventually identified as forty-one-year-old Russell Stefura, a resident of the hotel. On August 1, 1975, the body of a second victim of the fire was found, believed to be that of Albert/Franklin Webb, who was about seventy two. He was difficult to identify, having gone by the two different names and because he told people he came from different places in Eastern Canada. Both deaths were caused by asphyxiation. The fire was believed to have been caused by a short circuit in wiring within a false ceiling, which contained the smoke until the blaze had become well established. Peculiar burns were found on the outside of the main circuit box and the condition of the wires within indicated a short circuit had occurred. What was left of the building was too hazardous to leave standing and was torn down.
And that is the story of the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw.
Information for this post came from the following editions the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Jan 27, 1909, May 16, 1911, Dec 11, 1912, July 29, 1916, Aug 11, 1924, March 29, 1933, May 13, 1967, Feb 7, 1968, July 26, 1975, July 28, 1975, July 29, 1975, July 30, 1975, July 31, 1975, Aug 1, 1975, Aug 2, 1975, Aug 12, 1975, Sep 11, 1975
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It was on the evening of November 18, 1912, that Amy Warwick showed up at her neighbour’s house, distraught. She’d gone out to the stable and found her husband, Ralph Warwick, trampled beneath the horses’ hooves in one of the stalls. The horses were still agitated and upset and she’d been too frightened to go in the stall.
John S. Reid and Jas. Irving went back with her. They found the body in the last stall of the stable, lying on its back on the floor with the legs crossed, arms outstretched and the head turned to one side so the face was almost against the floor. His hands and face were covered with blood and manure, but strangely, the soles of his shoes were perfectly clean, even though their own shoes were dirty as soon as they walked in the stall. John Reid also noticed that there was blood all the way down the south passage and quite a large stain in the stall next to the one where the body was found.
It all read as suspicious, but at the inquest into his death, the jury came to the conclusion that Ralph Warwick died after being trampled by the horses. This verdict didn’t satisfy the Royal North West Mounted Police, who were also suspicious, and they continued to investigate, despite the verdict.
Ralph Warwick was quite a well-to-do farmer in the district. He was a homesteader north of Invermay, a settlement halfway between Moose Jaw and Lumsden and his estate was valued at between $12,000 and $13,000 (about $205,000 – $220,000 today). He was born in England and had come to Canada twelve years previous from Derbyshire. He’d married Amy only about three months before his murder. His bride was a great deal younger than him, enough so that newspapers referred to her as his ‘girl bride’. He was fifty while she was barely out of her teens.
After Warwick’s death, Amy went to stay with her friend, Mrs. Martha Alice Trodden, and her husband. Mrs. Trodden noted several things in the weeks following Warwick’s death. Stanley Price, a man Amy used to keep house for, came to visit her several times. He brought her the news about the inquest into Warwick’s death and told Amy, “you see, he was killed by horses.” Amy apparently threw it on the floor, exclaiming, “I don’t believe it.”
Mrs. Trodden didn’t like Price, she was frightened of him. He always had a gun on him and seemed fully capable of using it. And since Warwick’s death he’d been saying strange things. At one point, Price had told Mrs. Trodden, “I’ve heard news enough these last two or three days to make me open my eyes and begin to think.” Another time, he told her, “If Amy don’t carry this thing through right I’ll swing for this yet.”
As news traveled that the police were still investigating the death, Price got nervous, admitting to friends that he feared the police suspected him, before fleeing to Moose Jaw.
On December 10, 1912, Moose Jaw police received a warrant for Stanley Price’s arrest, but it was too late. Some time during the night on Sunday, December 8th, Stanley Price cut his own throat in the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw, apparently going so deep with the razor that he nearly cut off his own head.
When Amy Warwick found out, she was nearly hysterical in her distress. She told Mrs. Trodden that she kept seeing Stanley come into the room with his throat cut. That night, as Mrs. Trodden lay in bed with her, Amy told her about Stanley’s last visit and the confession he’d made to her.
She told Mrs. Trodden that on the night of the murder, Price claimed he’d left home at 5:30PM, arriving at their place at 8:30PM. There was no light on in the house, so he broke the door in. Seeing that they weren’t home, he went back outside and sat behind a pig pen and waited.
He watched them come home, saw Warwick put the horses in and go into the house, then go out to the stable with a lantern. He followed. Warwick had already hung up the lantern and was coming out of the little hall at the end of the stable with a pitchfork.
Seeing Price, Warwick asked, “What are you doing here at this hour of the night?”
“I’ve come to kill you.”
“What for, what are you going to hurt me for?”
Warwick started backing up. He could see Price meant business and started jabbing at him with the pitchfork. Price took the pitchfork from him and struck him on the head with it, knocking him to the ground. He kicked Warwick in the face and while he was kicking him, their little white dog, Flossie, attacked and bit him.
Price left the stable to get a piece of two-by-four scantling. When he came back in, Warwick was up on his knees, wiping the blood off his face with his handkerchief. When he saw Price, he begged for his life.
“I have come to kill you and I am going to finish it.”
Price hit him with the two-by-four, then hit him again. When he was finished, he took Warwick by the shoulders and dragged him under the horses’ feet and made them jump on him, chirruping at them until they did. Next, he went outside, got some gravel and covered up the place where he killed him. He forked some straw over it as well, then took the two-by-four and went and waited behind the pig pen. He heard Mrs. Warwick go out to the stable, singing, then scream when she saw Warwick. He stayed, watching as she took a horse out of the stable and hitched it to the buggy and left. Only then did he go home, where he burned the two-by-four.
This was the story he told Amy, which she told to Mrs. Trodden.
An inquest into Stanley’s death was held on December 11, 1912. Amy Warwick was brought to testify. The police believed she was involved, that she had conspired with Stanley Price to murder her husband. They questioned her so forcefully that her testimony at the inquest was not allowed at her trial, as the judge ruled it was not given voluntarily and though she was technically under arrest at the time (despite no warrant being issued), she wasn’t given a warning.
On December 24, 1912, Warwick’s body was ordered to be exhumed and an autopsy performed by Dr. Charlton. It was taken from its resting place in the cemetery by the Stony Beach townsite and brought to a nearby vacant farm house where it was laid out on a pine door supported by stacks of shingles.
Dr. Charlton found two large skull fractures, both severe enough to cause death and neither of which were likely caused by a kick from a horse, in his opinion. There were also broken ribs, a broken finger and crush injuries to the chest that he believed did come from the horses, as well as some of the cuts to his face and head. It was his conclusion that Warwick was murdered, his death caused by at least two heavy blows to the head.
Amy Warwick’s preliminary hearing was held on January 2, 1913. She was charged with complicity in murder and her trial began on February 2, 1913.
Mrs. Trodden of course testified to the story told above. As did John S. Reid and Jas. Irving about finding the body. Mrs. Howd of Dilke, Saskatchewan was another witness. She kept a store at Bethune and on the day of the murder, Mrs. Warwick had been in at about 5:00PM. She chatted with Mrs. Howd for about an hour, during which, she told Howd that Warwick was often cruel to the animals on their farm, saying that sometimes he beat them until tears came to her eyes. She told Mrs. Howd that someday he’d be found dead under their hooves. She also told her that her husband was often drunk, and that currently he was in the hotel so drunk that he could hardly stand. But a few minutes later, Warwick entered the shop, perfectly sober. Howd had seen him again before he left for home and he was still perfectly sober.
What else came out at trial was Amy Warwick’s true identity. William James Newman, a cousin of Stanley Price, testified that he’d met Amy in the later part of July in 1911. But when she started working for him on his farm near Belle Plaine, she went by Lizzie Swain. She’d met Stanley Price while she was working for him and Stanley had taken her on drives a couple of times. Amy had worked for Newman until March of 1912, when she told him she was going to Regina. Two months later, however, when he visited Price, Amy was living with him, ostensibly working for him as a housekeeper. At this point, she’d changed her name to Amy Christina Johnston.
It was alleged by the prosecution that while Amy was living with Price, he’d proposed that she marry Warwick and get him to turn all his belongings over to her and have him make a will in her favor. Whether it was on this advice or not, she had clearly married Warwick, and it didn’t seem to be a very good marriage. She’d left him for a while to live with various people and Warwick was heard to blame Price for the desertion. And although she’d returned to him, about two months before his death, Warwick had told neighbours he wanted to make a will, and that in the event of his death he wanted an inquest, no matter what the cause of death was supposed to be.
There was also the fact that Amy was clearly in love with Stanley Price. After his suicide, a suicide note of her own was found in her possessions a few days later. It was addressed to Will and Ethel Newman and stated that this would be her last letter because the boy she loved had gone to his everlasting place and her love lay with him. It went on to say that her life was nothing for her now that her dear Stanley was gone and ended with: “Stanley killed Ralph. I killed Stanley. May you all pray for me and Stanley.”
But did she collude in a plot to kill Ralph Warwick?
Amy Christina Johnston, aka Lizzie Swain, had come to Canada twelve years previous from Newcastle, England. She was described as slightly built and rather pretty. Her brother, Jack Swain testified that she was struck over the head with a pointer when she was quite young and had been strange ever since. Even during the trial, despite the courtroom being warm, she wore a heavy, fur-lined coat with a black scarf covering her head.
Mrs. Trodden was called back to the stand by the defense and she told the court of Stanley Price’s hold over Amy. Mrs. Trodden had often told neighbours that he seemed to have her hypnotized and that she clearly lived in fear of displeasing him. He had a strong influence over her, one look from him was sufficient to make her be quiet when he seemed to think she was talking too much.
Amy Warwick took the stand in her own defense, telling the court that there was no collusion. She’d never been part of any plot to kill her husband. She hadn’t told anyone of Stanley Price’s confession until after he died because she was afraid of him. It was true, what Mrs. Trodden said, that Price had a hold over her and she was terrified of displeasing him. At one point, before her marriage, Stanley had told her she should marry Warwick, that he was old and wouldn’t have many years left but she’d laughed it off thinking he was joking.
Why she’d chosen to marry Warwick when she had feelings for Price was never made clear.
On February 4, 1913, with instructions on the definition of complicity, the jury was sent away and after two hours of deliberation, they found Amy Warwick not guilty. She was free to go.
Did she plan the murder of her husband with Stanley Price? Or was she a star-struck young woman caught up in the sway of an obsessive man? Only she could say for sure.
And that is the story of the murder of Ralph Warwick.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Dec 11, 1912, Dec 12, 1913, Dec 13, 1912, Dec 14, 1912, Dec 16, 1912, Dec 17, 1912, Dec 21, 1912, Dec 25, 1912, Jan 3, 1913, Jan 4, 1913, Jan 30, 1913, Feb 1, 1913, Feb 3, 1913, Feb 4, 1913, Feb 5, 1913.
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On March 28, 1918, Katie Morowski came home from school and found her father, Mike, at the kitchen table counting his money. He had recently sold his farm at Colonsay, moving his family to his small shack at Elstow. He’d sold the farm for $1200 and had also organized the sale of their shack in Elstow for $200. His plan was to move his family down to the United States where his brother was living.
Katie helped her father count out the twelve hundred dollars, and as they were doing so, George Stanko came in. He’d worked on their family farm and come with them to Elstow, although he wouldn’t be joining them in their move to the States. He was an imposing man, described as blond and heavy, and was considered part of the family, a second father to the girls; Katie, who was fifteen, Nellie, who was thirteen, and Helen, who was nine. Their mother had left the family about eight years previous.
Mike Morowski finished counting his money and put it in his belt. They had supper together and then Morowski had gone downtown to the pool room. Stanko went out as well a short time later and the girls cleaned up the dishes and went to bed. Katie woke up at about 11:30PM to go to the bathroom. Neither Stanko or her father had returned home yet and she went back to bed and fell asleep.
When Katie woke again, it was to the sounds of yelling in the front room. She went to the bedroom door, but found it locked from the outside. She climbed up on a trunk and looked through a stovepipe hole in the wall. By this point, the yelling had stopped. She saw her father sitting on a chair, head down, taking his boots off. He was acting as if nothing had happened. Stanko stood by him with a hammer in his hand and without warning, struck Morowski in the head with it, causing him to fall forward onto the floor.
He tried to get up, to scramble forward to the front door, but Stanko grabbed him by the hair and hauled him back, throwing him onto the couch and choking him. At this point, the other girls were awake and also looking through the stovepipe, the three of them screaming. Stanko yelled at them to keep quiet or he’d do the same to them. They watched their father gradually grow weaker until he stopped struggling and became still.
Stanko then removed Mike Morowski’s coat and bundled the body into a sack, weighing it down with scrap iron. He loaded it into a sleigh and the girls watched from the bedroom window as he dragged the body to a well a ways from the house and dropped it inside. He then meticulously boarded up the opening. When he came back in he burned their father’s coat in the stove.
The following morning, he brought the girls breakfast but kept them locked in their room until about 1:00PM when he took them to the train station and they boarded a train to Winnipeg. None of the girls spoke much English, and had no way of signaling that they were in danger. He took them to the Savoy Hotel and gave them each some money. Then, he left Katie and Helen with a woman they’d known in Colonsay and took Nellie with him to Prince Albert to get a passport and train tickets to the United States.
It’s unclear if he took Nellie as insurance that the other girls would keep their mouths shut, but if it was, it didn’t work. Katie immediately told the woman looking after them what Stanko had done and when he returned to collect them he was arrested.
Constable Whybrow was immediately sent to Elstow, where, with help from the community, he managed to climb down into the well and retrieve the body of Mike Morowski. Morowski had three cuts on his head, one on the bridge of his nose, one on his cheek and another on his forehead. There was a blue mark on his throat and while his skull was not fractured, his brain was described as badly congested. The coroner believed the cause of death was either the concussion of the brain or that he’d drowned in the well. Water was found in his lungs, which of course could be attributed to drowning, or possibly found its way in from the damage to his throat.
George Stanko was, of course, committed to stand trial for murder, which was held on June 4, 1918 before Justice Elwood. The crown prosecutor was P. E. Mackenzie and Beaton H. Squires was assigned to the defense.
Throughout the proceedings, Stanko sat with a cynical smile on his face. His defense was that Katie had asked him to do it. He said that Morowski was often cruel to the children, abusing them, and that recently he’d been pushing Katie to hurry up and get married to a man living at Floral and she’d been very vexed by it.
All three girls appeared on the stand to tell the story of what they’d seen the night their father was murdered. All of them denied the story that their father had ever abused them or that they’d gone to Stanko for protection. Katie said that while her father had been pushing her to get married and she was vexed, she’d never approached Stanko to kill him.
The motive seemed clear. Stanko wanted the money Morowski had made from selling his farm. The constables who’d arrested him and escorted him back to Saskatchewan testified to Stanko confessing multiple times to the killing.
The jury was only out for fifteen minutes before finding him guilty. He was sentenced to hang on September 4, 1918. As he was being transported to the train station to be taken to Prince Albert jail to await his sentence, he told the officers, “it’s this way. No money, no fun; lots of money, lots of fun. If I’d have had money, I would have lived for many years yet. But a life for a life, I suppose, and I’m not worrying.”
He was hung on September 4th, as sentenced.
The most tragic part of the story is what happened to Mike Morowski’s daughters. Even though Morowski had another daughter, Annie, who was a little older than her sisters and was married and living at Blucher, Saskatchewan, none of the girls were sent to live with her. Katie was sent to work on a farm near Saskatoon and Nellie and Helen were put in a children’s shelter in Saskatoon.
And that is the story of the murder of Mike Morowski.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Regina Leader-Post: April 9, 1918, April 10, 1918, April 15, 1918, May 20, 1918, June 3, 1918, June 4, 1918, June 5, 1918, June 6, 1918, June 7, 1918, Sep 3, 1918, Sep 5, 1918
If you’d like to read more historical true crime from Saskatchewan, give these a try:
It was just after 5:30PM on Sunday, August 14, 1927 when Anthime* Bourdin burst into the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Fortunet Tessier. Both parents were out, but his granddaughter, fifteen-year-old Irene Tessier, was home looking after the other children. He’d run over in his stocking feet, his shirt opened and his throat red. He told her to go and get the neighbours, that he’d shot Peter Champagne but he wasn’t sure if he was dead. He told her that Champagne had attacked him, choked him, gone for his shotgun and after he’d managed to fight him off had picked up the axe. All the while he kept glancing out the window, as though expecting Champagne to have followed him.
She summoned one of the neighbours, Henry Guignon, and he and another neighbour escorted Bourdin back to his farm about a half mile away to see what had become of Champagne. Guignon later testified that at his arrival, Bourdin had seemed a little drunk, and confirmed that his throat was red and he’d complained of a bump on his head.
Cautiously, they approached the house, only to find Peter Champagne dead in a hole about three to four feet across and about eighteen inches deep just outside the kitchen door. An axe lay on the right side of the body, a little over ten feet away.
After they confirmed that there was nothing to be done for Champagne, they went back to Tessier’s and called the provincial police. Constable Flannagan received the call to go to the farm at about 10:30PM. When he arrived he found the body as previously described, and also located the gun. An open box of cartridges was found on a trunk in the bedroom. Champagne had a gunshot wound under his right collarbone and some surface wounds about his head. The gun appeared to have been fired at close range, with Champagne dying within a minute of the shot.
Flannagan was forced to take Bourdin’s statement through an interpreter, as he spoke very little English. When it became clear that he’d shot Champagne, Flannagan placed him under arrest.
An inquest was conducted by Dr. R. G. Scott of Wakaw. As witnesses were interviewed, some strange details came to light. On the day of the shooting, Joseph Donohue described coming across Bourdin lying in the road about a mile from his house. He’d proceeded on to the farm of Norman Morrison and after explaining what he saw, Morrison drove back to where Bourdin was lying by the roadside, wrapped in a robe, with Donohue following behind in his own car.
It was raining quite heavily, and Bourdin’s shirt was torn, his buggy badly smashed up. Morrison pulled the robe off Bourdin and asked him if he was drunk. Bourdin replied that he was “waiting for his man”, but wouldn’t elaborate on who that man was. Morrison and William Jobin, who’d come along on the outing, got Bourdin into the car and drove him to his son’s house. When they arrived, Peter Champagne was there. Bourdin got out of the car, and then a few minutes later, got back in, despite Morrison telling him that he couldn’t drive him home. Champagne got in as well, and Morrison drove them both to Bourdin’s. Champagne offered to pay for the ride, and when they refused he went and got a jug of alcohol from the house, insisting that they each have a drink, before he took a drink of his own so long that Morrison told him to stop.
Morrison later testified that he didn’t really want the drink. He was anxious to get away, admitting that he didn’t like to see Champagne drunk because he was afraid of him. He said that the two men seemed quite friendly when he left.
Following the inquest, a preliminary hearing was held and Anthime Bourdin was committed to stand trial that September in Prince Albert.
The trial opened on Tuesday, September 20, 1927, before Justice J. F. L. Embury. John G. Diefenbaker and J. E. Lussier appeared for the defense, and J. H. Lindsay KC represented the Crown.
Lindsay submitted his theory that Champagne was killed by a shot fired deliberately from inside the house, while the deceased was found outside a few feet from the back door. He entered the screen door into evidence, which showed a bullet sized hole, fired at close range from inside the house. He called witnesses that testified that no trace of a struggle was seen in the house, that no blood was found on the ground or about the premises and that the screen door was found closed and latched. Both Professor Edmonds of the University of Saskatchewan and a gunsmith and mechanic testified that the shot was fired from inside the house at close range.
Diefenbaker and Lussier had a two pronged approach to Bourdin’s defense. First, they brought in witnesses to testify to Champagne’s bad temperment and violence while drinking. William Jobin testified that the previous year, Champagne had come to his house drunk and he and the others at his place had been afraid of what he might do. Champagne had gone to the granary to get an axe, and Jobin, at the suggestion of his mother, had fired a shot at the granary to scare him away. He told the court that Champagne had a bad reputation, and that the women in the community were scared of him.
Another stated that Champagne had gone to his house while intoxicated and insisted on fighting him. He’d run into the house to get away from him.
Mrs. J. Donohue testified that Champagne was very bad tempered when under the influence, and on one occasion had come to their house and demanded a gun to shoot Tessier with. She was frightened and hid the gun, saying he’d looked very angry.
The owner of Hoey poolroom also testified, telling the court about the time Champagne had cut up his arms and hands after drunkenly smashing the window with his fists.
The second part of their approach was to show what an upstanding citizen Anthime Bourdin was. Bourdin was a very prosperous farmer in the district, having lived there for thirty-three years. He was about sixty-eight years old and quite active for his age, but was said to have very poor eyesight. His wife had been in Montreal at the time of the shooting, visiting relatives, while his children were all grown up and moved out. Meanwhile, Champagne was about forty-six, had lived in the district for twenty years working as a farm labourer (including working for Bourdin occasionally), and had a bad reputation in the district.
Their final move was to bring Anthime Bourdin to the witness box to testify. The statement achieved by Constable Flannagan was a non-sensical mess (probably due to a lack of ability by the interpreter and Bourdin still being a little drunk at the time), so now they wanted to set the record straight and let Bourdin tell his story.
He told the court that he’d owned the shotgun for some years but had never used it, having originally purchased it for an employee who could shoot game. The trigger on it, he said, was hard to raise.
On the day in question, he was out doing his chores. When he went inside, Champagne was in his house, getting drunk on liquor Bourdin had bought from the liquor store a little while ago. He told the court that if he’d known Champagne was coming over, he’d have locked it up because Champagne turned ugly when he was drunk. Champagne asked him for more liquor and he’d felt obliged to give him some. When he did, he noticed the gin was about a third gone. He’d joined Champagne in partaking of the alcohol and had “a drink or two” before lunch. At this point, he noticed Champagne was getting pretty drunk, now asking for wine.
They had lunch at about 1:00PM and to prevent Champagne from getting more liquor, Bourdin testified that he put him in an old buggy to drive him to his son’s house. On the way, Champagne slid out of the buggy, catching Bourdin as he fell and dragging him out with him. Bourdin lay down beside the road and sent Champagne to his son’s place, where the horse had gone. Here he was found by Norman Morrison, who took him to his son’s and then brought both men back to his house, where Champagne, having secured the liquor, gave Morrison a drink.
After Morrison left, they went into the house and Champagne became quarrelsome. He caught Bourdin while he was sitting down, threw him to the floor, and according to Bourdin, choked him and kicked him in the side. Champagne told him he would kill him and went to the bedroom where the gun was. Bourdin heard him putting shells in it and as Champagne came out of the bedroom he caught the gun barrel and managed to push Champange out the back door of the kitchen and fastened the screen. Champagne took the axe from the wood box and came back, evidently to break down the door. Bourdin told the court that he’d put the gun under his arm and with both hands tried to hold the door. The gun went off, although he had no recollection of raising the trigger. The shot hit Champagne, who fell backward onto the ground and Bourdin had run out the other door to get help.
With that, the jury was dismissed and after between three and four hours of deliberation, the jury found Bourdin not guilty of murder. The defense’s approach had worked.
And that is the story of the unfortunate shooting of Peter Champagne of Domremy.
*Anthime Bourdin was also seen spelled as Anthony, Antime and Antoine. Last name was also seen spelled Bourdon.
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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: Aug 15, 1927, Aug 20, 1927, Aug 22, 1927, Sep 20, 1927, Sep 21, 1927, Sep 22, 1927
If you’d like to read more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan, give these a try: