It was around 10:30PM on the evening of Monday, April 21, 1930, that Dr. D. Baldwin received a frantic call from Mary Legebokoff. She urged Dr. Baldwin to come to their farm, telling him that her father, George Legebokoff was badly hurt.
When Dr. Baldwin arrived at the Legebokoff farm an hour later, he found George Legebokoff in very serious condition. George was unconscious and his face and head were covered with blood. He had a large lump on the left side of his head, and as he continued his examination, he discovered that a piece of George’s skull had been pushed into his brain, leaving a hole about one square inch in size. George’s pulse was weak and irregular and Dr. Baldwin wasn’t sure he’d survive the night.
The following day, George was examined by Dr. Tran, who immediately ordered that he be taken to the Kamsack hospital. At about 3:30 in the afternoon, He and Dr. Skafel operated on George and removed the piece of bone from his brain. It had been imbedded more than half an inch.
Despite these efforts, Dr. Tran’s hopes for George’s recovery were slim, and at 1:30AM on the morning of April 23, 1930, George Legebokoff died of his injuries. He never regained consciousness.
But how did George Legebokoff receive such a traumatic head injury? It all came down to a fight over a fence.
According to George’s daughter, Mary Legebokoff, on the evening of April 21, 1930, she and three of her brothers, her sister-in-law and her nephew were all in the car on their way back from Pelly, Saskatchewan. Their farm was just eight and a half miles from Pelly, with their land adjoining that of Alex Legebokoff, a distant cousin of her father. The homes were about three hundred yards apart and were separated by a fence, with a gate between the two properties.
They arrived at the gate at about 10:00PM and tried to pass through to get to their property. It had been nailed shut. So, they drove along the fence a short distance and Mary got out and pulled out one of the fence posts. She was in the act of pulling another out of the ground so that her brother could drive the car across into their own land, when Alex Legebokoff’s wife showed up and chased Mary with a shovel. Alex came out of the house after his wife and began swearing and arguing with William Legebokoff, who’d been driving the car.
William later stated that Alex had thrown a stick and a shovel at him, so in return he’d thrown a stone at Alex.
At this point, George Legebokoff had heard the arguing, and came out of his house. According to Mary, he told Alex, “Alex, we must not quarrel, we must be good friends because we are neighbours,” to which Alex replied, “No. This is the last day you are going to live.”
Mary stated that at this point, Alex grabbed the fence post from the ground and struck her father over the head with it.
During this entire scene, there’d been another car pulled up behind William Legebokoff’s. It was occupied by George and Andrew Bowolin. George Bowolin testified that he had seen Alex Legebokoff strike George with some object he couldn’t see. And Alex’s hired man, Mike Bedinoff, also stated that on that night he’d seen George with a stick in his hand, then saw Alex bend down and pick something up. Shortly after, he heard Mary Legebokoff crying that her father had been killed.
A Coroner’s Inquest was held immediately after George’s death, and it didn’t take long for the jury to find that ‘George Legebokoff met his death from the effects of a blow from a blunt instrument delivered by Alex Legebokoff’. Naturally, following the inquest, Alex Legebokoff was charged with murder and remanded to appear at a preliminary hearing scheduled for 10:00AM, Monday, April 28, 1930 at the Pelly hall. He was committed to stand trial at the next sitting of the Court of King’s Bench at Yorkton and was taken to the Regina jail to await his trial.
The trial opened on May 20, 1930 in Yorkton, before Justice D. Mclean of Saskatoon. J. G. Banks represented the defense and F. C. Wilson represented the crown. It was a short trial, despite a large number of witnesses, and after six hours of deliberation, the jury delivered their verdict in the late evening of May 21, 1930. They found Alex Legebokoff guilty of manslaughter.
On May 26, 1930, Justice D. Mclean sentenced Alex Legebokoff to seven years at the Prince Albert Penitentiary.
It was never made clear what led Alex Legebokoff to nail the gate shut. Had there been ongoing arguments or bad blood between the neighbours? I certainly can’t imagine it came out of nowhere. But either way, that is the story of the murder of George Legebokoff.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: April 23, 1930, April 25, 1930, April 29, 1930, May 1, 1930, May 20, 1930, May 21, 1930, May 22, 1930, May 26, 1930.
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On the evening of August 6, 1933, Constable George Lenhard was cycling his beat in the outlying area of Regina’s northeast side. The district was mostly warehouses, small industries and open prairie, an area so large that Constable Lenhard needed a bicycle to cover it. He’d been riding his bicycle along a cinder path from Winnipeg Street to the railway tracks just west of the Canadian Liquid Air plant, when he noticed three men whose actions appeared suspicious to him.
Donald Campbell, a teenager out for a stroll with a lady friend, Ardyce Aney, happened to be close enough to see and hear what happened next. Getting off his bicycle, Constable Lenhard told the men to stop. One of them refused, and when Lenhard repeated his order to halt, the man drew a gun and pointed it at him, telling him to ‘stick ’em up’.
At this point, Donald said that the constable was still holding onto the handlebars of his bicycle. He heard the constable say, “what… ?” as he moved around toward the wall of the building. The gunman, his revolver still trained on the constable, moved with him. Just as Lenhard reached the wall, the gunman shot him. Constable Lenhard tried to draw his service revolver from beneath his tunic but was shot two more times.
Donald watched as the three scattered, the shooter running west to the railway tracks and then turning south on the ties. The other two went east. Donald ran to Winnipeg Street, knowing he’d find a policeman there. Meanwhile, Lenhard managed to crawl along the side of the wall to one of the doors of the building, throw one leg over the ledge a few feet from the ground and pushed up the steel vertical sliding door, already open a few inches. An acetylene operator saw Lenhard collapse on the floor and ran to his aid. The constable muttered two words, then died. It was the day after his twenty-eighth birthday.
Inspector Fred Toop received word of the shooting at 9:50PM that night. His first action was to press a button that rang a gong four times to call the patrol wagon out. Next, he called an ambulance and directed it on where to go, then called the hospital and told them to prepare for an emergency operation. He instructed the sergeant on duty to call all officers on and off duty that could be immediately located and called the chief constable.
At this point, the patrol wagon was in front of the police station. Toop dispatched a member of the force from the wagon to pick up two detectives that were close by, then rushed the patrol wagon to the scene and had the constable taken to the hospital. Upon his return to the police office, he sought out the cooperation of the mounted and railway police, while every available officer was being hurried to the outskirts of the city. They wanted to block off all exits and catch the gunmen before they could escape Regina. City, mounted and railway police launched an intensive search for possible suspects, while the highways and trains were watched night and day.
An inquest was opened under Coroner W. A. Thompson the following day, on August 7, 1933. The autopsy revealed that three bullets had struck Constable George Lenhard. One entered through his right arm just below the armpit and exited at the front. Another entered fairly low down on his back, exiting through his left breast just over the heart and severing a pulmonary artery. The last bullet entered through his right breast and exited at his back, having touched the top corner of his heart.
The funeral was held on Wednesday morning, August 9, 1933 and was led by Reverend Fr. P. F. Hughes. A ten block procession led the hearse on its journey to the Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Cathedral and afterwards to the Regina Cemetery. Members of the Mounted Police and Regina City Police marched ahead of the hearse, led by the salvation army band, followed by members of the Regina street, railway and fire departments, a detachment of the Moose Jaw city police and representatives of the trades and labor council. Prominent citizens followed behind the hearse in autos. Thousands of citizens lined the streets, their hats off as the procession went by.
On the same day of the funeral, it was announced that a $1000 reward would be offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the three men responsible for the murder.
Countless tips were phoned in by alert residents throughout southern Saskatchewan. G. H. Burns at 1431 McIntosh Street told police that at 8:40PM on Sunday, August 6th, while driving across the CPR crossing at Elphinstone Street, he nearly knocked over a man whose description matched one of the gunmen.
Rumors abounded. Were they ‘dope fiends’? Bandits? Transients? Many believed that Lenhard had caught the criminals in the act of burglary, and startled, they’d shot him. Still others wondered if there was any connection between Lenhard’s shooting and the robbery of the confectionary in the Grand Theatre over the same weekend. And on July 29th, two men had attempted to smash their way into the vault of the Robert Simpson Western Limited store. Could that be connected as well?
Even more outlandish were the rumors that the gunmen were members of the Sankey kidnapping gang, fleeing justice in the U.S. to seek refuge in Saskatchewan. The leaders of the gang, Verne Sankey and Gordon Alcorn, were from Saskatchewan. But the description Donald Campbell and Ardyce Aney were able to give of the gunmen, although scant, didn’t match anyone from the Sankey gang. They had described the shooter as tall, heavy set and about twenty-eight-years-old. The other two appeared younger and smaller. All three were dressed shabbily in dark clothes, similar to ‘hobo types’.
The most credible theory was that the men were transients who’d come to the city for the 1933 World Grain Fair, which ended just before the murder. This of course also made the police’s job that much more difficult. The city had a massive influx of visitors, any of whom could be the shooter.
The case went cold. Almost a year later, on Wednesday, April 25, 1934, Matt Kowalchuk was held in Regina for questioning in connection with the murder. Kowalchuk was the alleged member of a gang of freight car robbers and had been sought for weeks in the belief that he might be able to throw important light on the murder. It doesn’t appear that he was able to offer much help in the matter however, because not long after he was escorted to Portage La Prairie where there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
On May 21, 1934, a memorial bronze plaque and accompanying portrait was unveiled and hung in the city police station. A monument of red and white granite was also erected at the head of Constable George Lenhard’s grave. Both read: “In memory of Constable George A. Lenhard, who was fatally shot in the discharge of his duty August 6, 1933. Erected by the citizens of Regina.”
His murder was never solved. He was the first police officer to be killed in the line of duty in Regina.
*At the Coroner’s Inquest into his death, the jury recommended that officers wear their gun outside their tunic and the department implemented this suggestion. They believed that having the gun beneath his tunic had cost Constable Lenhard the ability to defend himself, as he was one of the force’s top marksmen.
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Information for this story came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Aug 8, 1933, Aug 9, 1933, Aug 10, 1933, Aug 12, 1933, Oct 24, 1933, April 25, 1934, April 28, 1934, May 22, 1934, June 26, 1934, Dec 10, 1977, Aug 15, 1981
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On the morning of January 31, 1919, Steve Haggidus received two visitors at his home. The visitors, Mike Boldis and John Agostin*, had stopped by his place with some local gossip. A. Baila Nagy** had been found dead in his bed. Not only that, he’d been murdered.
Haggidus immediately went to Nagy’s shack to see for himself, and sure enough, he found the dead man lying across his bed, partially clothed. A hammer was lying underneath the bed and an axe was found under the stove.
The Provincial Police had, of course, been notified and quickly launched an investigation. Within days, they had someone under arrest.
Her name was Annie Boldis. She was approximately forty-years-old, Hungarian, and was also the last person seen with Nagy. Furthermore, she was known in the community to have been on “intimate terms” with the deceased. As her son, Mike Boldis, later testified, about twelve years previous Annie and her husband had separated for about a year. The children were sent to an orphanage and Annie moved to Rosthern, where she lived for some time, working at the Queen’s Hotel. That’s where she met Baila Nagy and had begun something of a relationship with him.
When she returned to the farm at Wakaw, Nagy had followed her. He continued to frequent the Boldis homestead and when her husband was away he’d stay overnight. Annie would also go to Nagy’s shack and stay with him for intervals, until they’d inevitably quarrel and she’d go back home.
Annie Boldis was charged with murder and sent up to Prince Albert to face trial. The trial was set to begin in early May when something completely unexpected happened. The crown’s star witness, John Agostin, who’d given some strong statements to the police in connection with the chain of circumstantial evidence, had grown increasingly agitated since going to the city to serve as a witness. On the morning of May 1, 1919, he got up early and left the cafe where he was staying without eating breakfast. He went to his friend, James Kasi’s shack and asked him for a razor to shave with. He lathered up only his throat, then, instead of shaving, he drew the razor across it. According to Kasi, he made a slight noise and stood dazed for a moment, looking into the glass. Kasi looked up from where he was fixing the fire, saw the blood and made a dive out the door and ran for the police station, raising the alarm.
Inspector Tait was immediately notified, and while he could find no reason for Agostin to have committed such a rash act, he sent his men out right away. They went to the shack, where they found blood stains and the razor blade covered in blood, but John Agostin was no longer there. It would be five hours later when they found his body in the bush, some two hundred and twenty yards from the shack, lying in a pool of blood, his face turned downwards, the brush near him trampled down as though he’d thrashed about before dying.
The coroner’s inquest into his death found the cause to be that of suicide, although it didn’t stop the rumors from swirling that it had been murder. According to witnesses, Agostin had been greatly agitated since arriving at the city. He’d been having bad dreams and restless nights, calling out in his sleep things along the lines of: “Don’t shoot me. I didn’t tell it to anybody.” and “Leave me alone.”
Dr. Charlton of Regina, provincial analyst, said in his evidence that he was in doubt over whether it was possible for a man with such a wound to travel the distance covered by Agostin. The gash in his throat had been 3.5″ long and 1.5″ deep. He testified that the wound could only have been self inflicted by a left-handed man, but it was never made clear in any of the newspaper articles if John Agostin was left-handed.
Obviously, the crown needed time to re-organize their case, so the trial of Annie Boldis was pushed back to June of 1919. Annie entered a plea of not guilty and the trial began.
The first witness was her son, Mike Boldis. He told the story mentioned above, detailing the affair his mother was having with the murder victim. The court also heard from Steve Haggidus, who told the story of finding out about the murder and going to Baila Nagy’s home and told the court that he’d often heard Baila Nagy and Annie Boldis arguing during the summer before he was killed.
Dr. R. G. Scott testified to having been summoned by Constable Sulaty to Nagy’s shack and having made thorough examination of the shack and the body. He described finding a bruise on the back of Nagy’s head, a slight laceration to the right lung and blood stains on his underwear. Five ribs were broken, some in two places. He believed the injuries were caused by a heavy, blunt instrument. On cross examination, he admitted he couldn’t say how long the bloodstains had been on the undergarments and that they might have been there before the murder (which… yikes).
Dr. Charlton, who performed the post-mortem, stated that the blow to the head was not necessarily the cause of death. He agreed that the other injuries were inflicted by a blunt instrument using incredible force and testified that the injuries in the stomach area looked as though they could have been caused by someone jumping on it. He believed that internal hemorrhage had been the immediate cause of death.
On June 14, 1919, Annie Boldis was found not guilty. According to news articles, Annie had given evidence on her own behalf which implicated John Agostin, the witness who died by suicide on the eve of her trial, but no details were given as to what this evidence entailed and whether or not she’d testified in her own defense.
In an interesting turn of events, a month later on July 14, 1919, Jim Kasi, the man John Agostin had gone to see, was found dead in his shack. The door was wide open and it appeared from the advanced state of decomposition that the body had lain on the bed where it was found for quite some time. No superficial marks of violence were found on the body and based on the lack of follow up articles, it was most likely chalked up to natural causes.
As far as I’ve been able to research, the murder of A. Baila Nagy was never solved.
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Information for this post was found in the following articles of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Feb 5, 1919, Feb 10, 1919, Feb 25, 1919, March 1, 1919, May 2, 1919, May 5, 1919, May 6, 1919, May 12, 1919, May 17, 1919, June 3, 1919, June 13, 1919, June 14, 1919, June 16, 1919, July 15, 1919
*John Agostin was also spelled John Augoston in some articles
**A. Baila Nagy was also spelled A. Baila Magi and Bally Nagy in some articles
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On the evening of January 3, 1907 Gerhard Fast* was out walking when he came upon a man. His initial impression was that the young man was drunk and had been in a fight. He was in a kneeling position, with an arm thrown over the fence, in front of the residence of John J. Friesen.
But when Gerhard went for assistance and returned with a lamp, it was obvious that the young man was dead. His head was badly crushed, his face cut and slashed horribly. Huge blood clots had formed over his eyes and become frozen. Any yet, his body was still warm.
They took the man to Peter Fast’s stable, where he was identified as twenty-one-year-old Michael Kaminsky.
It was immediately clear that the murder had not taken place in front of Friesen’s where the body was discovered. Although there were sleigh and foot marks at the scene, there was no sign of struggle and several people had passed the spot minutes before the body was discovered and noticed nothing amiss.
Coroner Stewart opened an inquest and called a jury. The body was viewed and a post mortem was ordered. Dr. Geo Cuzner performed the post mortem and testified to finding several cuts on the man’s head. On the right side, behind the ear, one cut was three inches long, with another sharp, jagged cut just an inch higher. He described Michael Kaminsky’s head injuries as similar to that of breaking a window pane, with numerous radiating fractures and pieces of his skull hanging loose. He believed that the deed must have been done with blunt instrument, and with terrible force.
It was believed that the murder occurred at the nearby grain elevator. At around 5:00PM, several people described hearing calls for help. A man named Prokup Zarrey came forward, swearing that he saw three men, Joseph Rogozinsky, Maxim Stadnik and another he couldn’t identify, drive past the elevator between 5:00PM and 6:00PM, holding a man down in a sleigh and traveling north.
But that’s about all the information the police could get. Most people in the community wouldn’t talk to the police out of fear. One man gave some information, but reportedly asked them not to divulge his name “for God’s sake” or he’d be a dead man in twenty four hours.
This was especially true for a young woman named Marie Wauryk. It was known all over the community that she was with Michael Kaminsky on the night he was murdered, but she refused to give any information to the police. Eventually they got her to admit that yes, she was with him. The two were out walking when someone struck Michael from behind. Marie told police she ran away, saying that she only saw one man but she didn’t know him.
Police believed that she was the motive for the attack, that someone had taken it upon themselves to remove their rival.
The strongest suspect they had was Demetro Holanitiw. Marie told police that on the afternoon of the murder, she, Michael and Demetro had been seated near the stove in M. Caminetzki’s store. Demetro told Michael that he was going to take Marie’s trunk to the station and would also buy her a ticket to Vonda, where he knew Marie had been intending to go. He told Michael that he would later follow Marie to Vonda and marry her, and that Michael could go to the devil, or some such like that.
Some community members weren’t surprised by suspicion landing on Demetro. A person who claimed to be his friend told reporters that Demetro was always quarreling with Michael, but seemed scared to meet him in a fair fight. Michael Kaminsky was a noted fighter among the community. The friend went on to say that he thought Demetro might creep up behind Michael and hit him in the head, not to kill him, but to “give him a good threshing.”
Marie told police that she thought Demetro might be the culprit as well. She said he was about the same size and build of whoever had struck Michael and had the same coloured coat.
There was only one problem. Demetro Holanitiw had an alibi. At 5:00PM he was at the store of Jno Epp, trying to buy a suit of clothes. He told police that he was there for about twenty minutes before leaving without buying anything. Jno Epp corroborated this. From there, he went to Henschell & Co. before going to the post office, where he ran into Joseph Ritzack and spoke to him about getting a ride home. They agreed to meet at Knoch’s livery barn, which they did, then the two went to K. Wiebe’s hardware store. They were there loading parcels until the mill whistle blew at 6:00PM.
Ritzack confirmed he met Holanitiw outside the post office at about 5:30. Holanitiw left him and later met him at Knoch’s livery barn as he said. The two went to the hardware store and loaded parcels until 6:00PM, just like he told police.
This left a very short window for murder. Not impossible, but rather unlikely.
On February 8, 1907, with no new leads and not enough information to bring anyone to justice, the provincial government offered a $200 reward for information leading to the capture of the murderer or murderers of Michael Kaminsky. (In today’s dollars, that would be about $5000).
Finally, on May 15, 1907, Joseph Rogozinsky, his nephew Jasky Rogozinsky, Maxim Stadnik and Michael Bunk were all arrested and charged with the murder of Michael Zaminsky. They were all granted bail at $2000 each and court was adjourned until May 21, 1907 when the preliminary trial began.
At the preliminary, Thomas Malone testified that he was near the vicinity of the murder at around 6:00PM that day and had met two men running from the place where the murder was committed. He’d seen Marie Wauryk a short distance behind. A barn team had driven up rapidly and a driver had gotten out, looked around, and walked westward in the direction of the murder scene with a very determined look on his face. When asked who the driver was, Thomas Malone pointed to Maxim Stadnik.
But it wasn’t enough. There was no hard evidence connecting any of the men to the murder. And so, on June 15, 1907, The defendants were dismissed by Justice Ham. It was noted in the final news article that the police would continue to gather evidence, but as far as I could find, no one else was ever charged.
And that is the story of the unsolved murder of Michael Kaminsky. I believe that most people in the community knew exactly who was involved, but were too afraid to speak. Especially Marie Wauryk, who most likely witnessed the whole thing, but was too terrified to name anyone.
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A short note: *As with most of the cases I cover, I found multiple spellings for every name in this article (except Michael Kaminsky) and went with the most used version of each name.
Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer, the Vancouver Daily World, The Province (also out of Vancouver), and the Edmonton Journal: Jan 5, 1907, Jan 9, 1907, Jan 10, 1907, Jan 14, 1907, Jan 16, 1907, Jan 21, 1907, Feb 8, 1907, Feb 13, 1907, May 15, 1907, May 22, 1907, May 23, 1907, May 29, 1907 and June 19, 1907
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It was Christmas night, 1929, and Antena and Stanley Kropa had been visiting at the home of their friend, J. Philip Mokolyk. Around 5:30PM, Antena took their three-year-old son home to put him to bed and Stanley followed not long after.
They were a young couple, Antena was only twenty-five, and they’d come to Canada just seven months before. Stanley worked as a railway worker and was often away with the railway gang. He was described as young and mild mannered, but unfortunately, it appears Antena was not in love with him. Just a few weeks before Christmas, she’d run off with a man named Alex Wysochan.
On December 11th, Stanley Kropa had gone to the local police chief, Denis Palmer, and appealed to him for help. He’d found out where the two lovers were staying, at a room above a cafe in town. Together they went to the room and found Wysochan sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed, his clothing open. Antena was sitting in a chair, fully dressed.
According to the police chief, Stanley had tried to embrace Antena, but she pushed him away and laughed. It seemed she had no intention of returning to her husband. Stanley took back her suitcase, and when the chief left, the three were at the lunch counter, arguing. The next day, the chief brought along an interpreter and went to Wysochan’s shack with Stanley Kropa, in another attempt to convince his wife to return to him. Chief Palmer testified that he’d done everything he could to get Antena to return to her husband and child, but she just laughed. Eventually, he grabbed Wysochan by the collar and asked him what he intended to do. Wysochan apparently said that he’d let her go home. And she did. Although she rejected further friendly advances from her husband. But, according to Palmer, there were no angry words between the two of them. Antena simply returned home and picked up their child, seeming to accept the reunion.
Which brings us back to December 25, 1929. The young couple had gone back home, and their son was in bed in their bedroom, when, according to Stanley Kropa, he heard a noise outside. He went to see what it was and Alex Wysochan entered their home, brandishing a revolver and appearing quite drunk. He forced the couple into the bedroom, announcing that he was going to shoot Antena and himself and kept them there for several hours.
Stanley Kropa testified that he and his wife made desperate attempts to induce Wysochan to put away the gun and leave, but he wouldn’t go. Nor would he let them leave the bedroom. He said that at one point, he’d considered trying to overpower him, but was afraid of the revolver in Wysochan’s hand. He made a run for the kitchen, but Wysochan blocked him. Stanley said he managed to shove him out and close the door on him, but Wysochan announced through the door to Antena that he was going to shoot her husband like a dog. Terrified, Stanley turned and leapt headfirst through their bedroom window, severely cutting his hands on the glass. He heard shots fired as he ran, he believed four in total, although the fourth sounded muffled.
He returned immediately with neighbours and police.
Chief Palmer and Sergeant Evans of the RCMP got the call at approximately 9:05PM. When they arrived at the home, they found the door locked, so they crawled in through a broken window. They found Antena Kropa and Alex Wysochan tangled up on the floor together, moaning, with a revolver on the floor between them. On the bed, a helpless witness, was the couple’s three-year-old son.
They immediately removed the child and placed Antena on the bed. She had multiple gun shot wounds. Wysochan had faired much better, with only a bullet graze to his chest. A doctor was called and they were both taken to St. Elizabeth hospital. Antena Kropa died a few minutes after her admittance.
Alex Wysochan appeared too drunk to speak, although officers later said they believed he was playing it off worse than it was. They were not able to get a statement out of him until 11:00AM the next morning.
He was formally charged with her murder on January 3, 1930.
The murder trial began on March 18, 1930. Alex Wysochan was defended by none other than John G. Diefenbaker himself, with W. G. Elder assisting. The prosecutor for the crown was R. J. Pratt, whom you may remember from the murder of Lena Faust. He was assisted by K. C. Wilson of Yorkton. It was presided over by Justice H. V. Bigelow.
Wysochan plead not guilty.
One of the key witnesses was, of course, Stanley Kropa. He retold the story of the affair, of Antena agreeing to return home, and the events of Christmas night, when she was murdered.
Dr. W. S. Lindsay, who performed the autopsy on Antena, described her injuries. He believed she’d died from shock and internal bleeding. She’d been shot three times. The first bullet had entered beneath her right breast, struck a rib and passed through ‘the border of her heart’ before lodging in her chest. The second entered her abdomen and was found in the bowels. The third had entered near her right hip. According to Dr. Lindsay, any of the three bullet wounds were sufficient to cause death. She had abrasions on her nose, chin and both knees and a large cut on the ball of her right foot, most likely from the broken glass.
Alex Wysochan took the stand in his own defense. He strongly denied shooting Antena. He told the court that they had met in the railway yards, about a month before Christmas. They both went to get hot water from the locomotive foreman. He carried her water home for her and it seems the attraction was immediate. According to Wysochan, she went to his place whenever Stanley was away working, leaving the child home alone. They had sex often, and at one point he claimed that Stanley had come home and found them undressed together, but didn’t say anything. They decided to elope, running off to the cafe, but were stopped by Stanley and Chief Palmer. He told the court that Stanley took Antena’s valise, which contained the gun found on the night of the murder, cartridges, and a picture of himself and Antena. He insisted that that’s how they came to be in the house that night; he hadn’t brought them.
The two had continued to meet at the post office up until Christmas.
He admitted that he drank a lot on Christmas Day, but couldn’t say what specifically or how much. He said he’d gone to a hotel, where he’d seen Stanley Kropa. Kropa had invited him to have a beer at their house. When he entered, he said he went into the bedroom where Antena was sitting on a trunk, crying. Once there, Kropa attacked him from behind. He testified that Kropa got on top of him and beat him as he lay on the floor. Later, he heard some shots and felt that he’d been injured. He regained consciousness at the hospital.
His defense called one of the doctors who’d examined him to the stand, who testified to finding a lump on the back of his head, but another doctor refuted that, saying he found no injuries on his head.
Stanley Kropa was called back to the stand for rebuttal, and he firmly denied Alex Wysochan’s account of events. He didn’t invite Alex to the house, and he’d found nothing of the sort in Antena’s valise.
According to the RCMP, all the shots fired at Antena occurred at close range. They showed the court bullet holes that they found in Wysochan’s clothing from the night of the crime.
A neighbour corroborated Stanley Kropa’s testimony, saying they heard a window break that night, and when they looked out to see what it was, they saw someone running from the shack before shots were fired.
Everything in the evidence pointed to Antena and Wysochan fighting over the gun, during which Wysochan was injured and Antena was shot several times.
The defense tried to lay the blame on Kropa. They argued that there was no motive for Wysochan to kill Antena. He loved her. Whereas Kropa had ample motive to attack the couple. Diefenbaker told the jury that Kropa’s story of being terrorized by Wysochan didn’t ring true. He reminded the jury that they weren’t there to find Wysochan guilty of ‘immoral behavior’ but to decide if he was guilty of murder.
So, did the jury buy Diefenbaker’s argument?
They most certainly did not.
On March 21, 1930, Alex Wysochan was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang at Prince Albert jail on June 20, 1930. The judge told Alex not to hold out hope for a reprieve, as he would not be recommending clemency.
But was Alex Wysochan worried? Absolutely not. He believed he’d be granted an appeal, and at worst, be deported.
His lawyers filed an appeal for a new trial on the grounds that the judge misdirected the jury and that some evidence shouldn’t have been allowed. It was denied. Undeterred they sought to have his sentence commuted to life in prison.
Two days before his sentence was to be carried out, they received word from the governor general. They’d been denied. His sentence would not be commuted. Up until this point, he had remained resolute, staunchly refusing to believe he’d be hanged.
He spent his last hours with his spiritual advisor, Rev. Father H. J. Baillargeon, sobbingly protesting his innocence. And at 6:00AM on June 20, 1930, Alex Wysochan became the first person to die in the new provincial jail building at Prince Albert.
And that is the story of the love affair that turned to murder.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Dec 26, 1929, Dec 28, 1929, Jan 3, 1930, Jan 4, 1930, Jan 6, 1930, March 18, 1930, March 19, 1930, March 20, 1930, March 22, 1930, May 27, 1930, June 12, 1930, June 18, 1930, June 20, 1930
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It was close to four thirty in the afternoon on Monday, September 30, 1929, when the phone rang in the office of Wadena lawyer and crown attorney Ross Pratt. It was Lena Faust, a widow and dairy farmer in the district. She needed advice, and to be frank, protection. Her recently fired hired man, Emile Plasky, was in her kitchen and they were having an argument over the wages he was owed.
As they were speaking, Ross heard a bang and the sound of a woman’s scream as the phone was dropped. He immediately phoned the RCMP detachment in Wadena and he and Corporal Stevens rushed to her farm about four miles east of town.
As they were coming up the drive, they met John Wilchinski, the fifteen-year-old nephew of Plasky. The shaken teenager told them he’d just seen something awful on the Faust farm. Lena Faust was dead. As the two men made for the house, they heard a shot. They found Plasky in the kitchen, bleeding profusely, his jaw blown away. A doctor was called but he died from blood loss within an hour, never regaining consciousness.
As for Lena Faust, she was found dead in the wheat field about a quarter mile from her house. The contents of two shotgun cartridges had been fired into her face and back.
Given that there was a witness to the murder, it was fairly simple to put together what had happened. On that fateful Monday afternoon, Plasky had taken his nephew and driven out to the farm from town with the intention of picking up his clothes and final wages. He left Wilchinski in the vehicle and went into the house. A quarrel ensued over his wages, prompting the call to Ross Pratt.
While Lena was on the phone, he went to the well house at the rear of the building and returned with her shot gun. He fired on her while she was was still talking, but missed, leaving holes in the wall above the phone.
Faust ran from the house and crouched behind the car Wilchinski was still sitting in. According to his testimony, Plasky followed quickly after her and fired at the car she was hiding behind. She ran into the wheat field, Plasky chasing after. He fired another shot and this time Faust fell to the ground. As she attempted to scramble to her feet and keep running, he leveled the gun at her and pulled the trigger, shooting her in the face.
Wilchinski said that after this, Plasky returned to the car and told him to drive back to Wadena, then entered the farmhouse.
But was it just an argument over wages that prompted the cold-blooded murder of the well-to-do widow? Lena Faust was well known in Wadena. She’d lived there for more than twenty years and was quite prosperous. In addition to the dairy farm, she owned a lot of property. She was survived by two daughters; Mabel, a nurse at the St. Boniface hospital in St. Boniface, Manitoba, and Emma, a teacher in Wadena, as well as a stepson named Arton, who was a prominent merchant in Wadena.
An inquest was held and Albert Halvorson, another hired man, gave testimony, adding another piece to the puzzle. Plasky, a twenty-two-year-old immigrant from Austria, had been employed on the Faust farm during the summer and grown angry when Halvorson was hired on September 26, 1929 and given the job of driving the tractor. According to Halvorson, Plasky offered him $50 to quit. When he refused, Plasky took the oil plugs out of the tractor, draining it of oil and rendering it useless. When Faust confronted him about the sabotage, apparently he threatened her, saying, “I’ll see you some other time alone.” Faust fired him. This was on Friday, September 27th.
Emile Plasky’s brother-in-law, Joe Wilchinski, also testified. He said Plasky appeared “like a man in a dream” both on the day before and the day of the murder.
The jury at the inquest reached a verdict, declaring that Lena Faust came to her death at the hands of Emile Plasky, and that Emile had died by suicide.
And that, my friends, is the story of the murder of Lena Faust.
*A Small Note: I found several different spellings for Emile Plasky. His first name was spelled as both Emile and Emil, and his last name was written as Plapsky, Plaski and Plasky.
Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Oct 1, 1929, Oct 2, 1929 and Oct 3, 1929.
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Let me begin this post by saying that sources on this case were deeply conflicted. Names, spellings, and genders varied wildly. I did my best to verify as much information as I could, and I apologize for any inaccuracies. I’ve tried to note differences where I found them.
On the evening of Wednesday, April 5, 1916, the bells of the Greek Orthodox Church in the middle of a small settlement near Wakaw began to ring, calling members of the community to church to celebrate a religious holiday from their old home in Galicia. (Galicia was the largest and northern most province of the Austrian Empire, located in what is now southeastern Poland and western Ukraine.) What happened at this meeting is unclear. The priest did not arrive, so according to witnesses, they held their own celebration/mass.
Sources differed on when the meeting at the church let out. Some said midnight, others said 11:30, and I saw one article that said as early as 10:30. I don’t think anyone was being purposely untruthful about this, only that no one was exactly sure and they gave their best approximation. Getting clear answers on timelines and everyone’s activities was difficult, as there was a sizeable language barrier. Many in the community didn’t speak English and the police often needed an interpreter. Witnesses agreed, however, that the Mamchur family went straight home after the meeting.
The Mamchur Family
Prokop Mamchur was believed to be about forty-six or forty-seven years old, as was his wife, Mary. (She was listed as Maria on the family tombstone, but in all articles she is referred to as Mary, so that’s what I’ve gone with here.) The couple came to Wakaw a few years after his father, John Mamchur, emigrated to Saskatchewan and they settled on land right next to his, about twelve miles west of Wakaw. A few years later, Prokop’s sister and her husband, Steve Makohn (also saw it spelled Makahone), arrived and set up right next to Prokop. Each house was about three hundred yards from the other.
Prokop Mamchur spoke fluent English and was a recognized leader of the Galician community. He was spoken of as a man of fine character and as one who had the respect and trust of the whole community. Again, sources differed on how many children they had and what genders they were. Their eldest daughter was Pauline (sometimes spelled as Paulena, sometimes as Pawlena, but I’m going with the spelling found on her grave), she was twenty. Their second was Antonia, who was fifteen. (It was also spelled Antoza, Anoso and Antona and they were referenced sometimes as a boy, other times as a girl, but most often as a girl and again, on the grave the name was given as Antonia, so that’s what I’m going with.) The smallest child was two-years-old and initially referred to as Pauline’s, but later when Prokop’s father testified he said the child was Mary’s, so I’m going with that. Her name was Olga.
Living with the Mamchurs was Mary’s brother, John Michayluk (also saw it spelled Mycheluk, and Lylechuk).
The Mamchur’s home was described as a comfortable log house, partly built from stone, partly from wood. It measured about 18 x 35 feet and was plastered inside and out with mud and whitewashed. From the front door, a passageway about 8 feet wide led to the back wall of the house. On each side was a room of about 15×15 feet. To the right was the living room, with a large bed in the northeast corner. A built in davenport of homemade construction ran along two sides of the room and was used as seats during the day and a bed at night. To the left was the stove and kitchen area and a sleeping area for Michayluk.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, April 6, 1916, John Mamchur woke up suddenly and saw a reflection through the window. Fire. He got up in a hurry, put clothes on and went out from the house where he saw that the granary, two stables and Prokop’s house were burning. He noticed his son-in-law, Steve Makohn’s barn was burning as well. Knowing Steve was away, he ran there first. All the horses were out except one that had burned to death, so he ran back to his son’s place to help. (He believed at this point it was about half past one, but there’s no way to be sure. I’m sure when he woke up and saw the fire he didn’t think to check the clock.)
Mrs. Steve Makohn, Prokop’s sister, told a similar story. She’d woken up and saw from the house the fire in the granary, which seemed to have started from the ground. She tried to put it out with her coat, then noticed the fire in her barn. She’d rescued all the horses but one.
Back at the house, John Mamchur called out several times, but received no answer. He checked again at Makohn’s place, but his daughter said they weren’t there, then went to the granary, thinking he might find them inside, but it was empty. The roof of the granary and the house were falling in, and he couldn’t go into the house with all the smoke. He saw one of his neighbours, Ivan Sarchuk, on the scene. Sarchuk broke a window and saw someone lying on the bed inside. (The police asked John if one of the panes was already broken before this, and he thought it must have been.) Sarchuk told John he could see Michayluk’s feet hanging over the bed. He climbed in and handed the body out to John. As this point, they didn’t realize that Michayluk was already dead.
In the same room, there was a cellar door, open at the foot of the bed. John closed it with a stick and the two men threw snow on the floor, thinking the rest of the family must be sheltering in the cellar. After the fire burned down, they made a gruesome discovery. They found the body of Mary and two-year-old Olga in the cellar. (In early editions of the paper covering these murders, it was Pauline who was said to be in the cellar holding baby Olga. Later it was usually described as Mary, but it isn’t certain.) Mary had been shot twice in the left arm, the shots going through and piercing the lungs of Olga, whom it appeared she was trying to protect. It looked as though she’d attempted to take refuge in the cellar and had either fallen or been pushed down the stairs. She’d hit her head against a stone step at the bottom and died instantly.
They found a rifle on the floor beside Michayluk’s feet, an empty shell in the chamber, eight loaded shells in the magazine. John Mamchur visited his son once or twice a week and told police that he’d never seen the gun before.
At the other side of the house, they found the remains of Prokop Mamchur, Antonia Mamchur and Pauline Syroishka, all burned beyond recognition.
News spread quickly, and by 11:30AM, RNWMP Constable Dey of Wakaw sent a telegram to Superintendent W.H. Routledge in Prince Albert. “Six people reported dead near here. Murder suspected. If possible send help.” Immediately Corporal Fowell and Constable Williams of Vonda were dispatched, followed by Inspector A.W. Duffus of Saskatoon. The following day they were joined by Detective Sergeant Pryme.
Suspicion immediately fell on Mike Syroishka, son-in-law of Prokop Mamchur and estranged husband of Pauline. (Mike Syroishka’s last name was spelled in so many different ways, I won’t bother to list them. This spelling seemed to be used most often, so that’s what I’ve gone with.) Community rumors and gossip attributed the murders to a family feud. The story was that Mike had beaten and mistreated his wife, so Prokop took her home and refused to let her go back. Some said Mike had suspected Pauline of being unfaithful, with his own brother no less, who was the secretary treasurer of the Rural Municipality of Fish Creek, and that it was these suspicions that had led to the beating that saw Prokop coming to collect his daughter.
Mike Syroishka was farming two miles away from the Mamchur home, where he was staying with his sister, brother-in-law and his mother. Mike had a bad reputation in the district and it was well known that he’d made threats, saying that if his wife didn’t return to live with him, he’d kill everyone in her family.
Police immediately took him into custody and interrogated him for four hours, during which he remained completely calm, stopping to roll cigarette several times while answering questions. He admitted to the threat but that was all.
Neighbours reported that at the examination of the bodies pulled from the wreckage, Syroishka had been one of the most interested observers, although his bearing apparently did not betray the slightest sign of inward excitement.
The post-mortem examinations revealed that John Michayluk had been shot in the chest near the heart and in the head. Prokop, Antonia and Pauline were all shot through the heart. (In other sources, it said they were shot in the head as well as the heart, but I wasn’t able to verify if that was true.) Each shot had been fired in cold blood, with unerring accuracy.
The working theory of the police was that the perpetrator had approached the house by stealth in the early morning hours of Thursday, April 6th. They believed the first shot was fired from the exterior of the house throught the window, and after one man was killed, the murderer shot down the other as they went to the door. They’d killed the two girls as they cowered in a distant corner of the home, by the stove, before shooting Mary, as she fled to the cellar. Next, they had slaughtered the animals in the barn, then coolly and deliberately set fire to the two barns, the granary and the house.
As police looked further into Mike Syroishka, they found that four years ago, Prokop Mamchur had sworn out a warrant against Syroishka. He’d charged him with carrying concealed weapons. Police had fined Syroishka and a revolver was found on his person. It was believed to have been confiscated, but Syroishka later said it wasn’t, but that he’d lost it. At the time, Mamchur stated that Syroishka had threatened on several occasions to shoot his wife and her family.
There was only one problem. Mike Syroishka seemed to have an alibi. When John Mamchur testified at the coroner’s inquest, he told the jury that only Mary, Antonia and Michayluk went to the church meeting. Prokop, Pauline and the baby had stayed home. He reported that he’d seen Mike Syroishka at the meeting and that afterwards, Mike had gone with Michayluk and another man to the home of Mike Serabaska. John Mamchur had gone as well. He didn’t know what time it was when he left, but said he’d asked Michayluk to go home with him. Michayluk had told him he would stay a while yet, so John Mamchur went home alone. He believed it was about midnight when he arrived at his house and went to bed. Apparently, a little while later, Syroishka, Michayluk and another man left together, parting ways to go to their separate homes. Syroishka said he got home at midnight, and in fact knew it was midnight, because when he got there everyone was asleep except for his mother, who asked him what time it was. He looked at the clock and told her it was midnight.
Mike Syroishka testified at the inquest, and said that as he walked home, he heard two shots. After he told his mother the time, he ate some supper. When he was done, he saw the fire in the direction of Mamchur’s and told his mother he’d go see what it was. He walked about 100 yards, but couldn’t figure out exactly where the fire was and decided it was probably only a straw stack and went to bed. In the morning he heard about the fire and he and his sister went to a few neighbours’ houses, where they heard about the murders and eventually made their way to the Mamchur home. The place was still burning when they arrived.
“Did you cry when you saw your wife?” they asked him.
“No, but I felt bad.”
He told them he stayed until the doctor arrived, then left.
When questioned about his marriage to Pauline, he told them they’d had trouble. He said that on several occasions he went to church on Sunday evenings, but told his wife she had to stay home and do the chores. She’d refused and followed him to church. Her father had written him a letter, saying he had no right to stop her from going to church or elsewhere. Syroishka had written back that he had no right to dictate to him. He never mentioned the rumours about an affair, saying only that she’d left him and went home to her father’s.
He told the court he’d gone to see her a few times, but on the last occasion her father had threatened to shoot him like a dog if he ever came on the place again. He hadn’t been back since, but he and Prokop had exchanged words when they met on the road, and at one time he’d run into Pauline. She said she’d go back to live with him as soon as he had a home. That was the year before, but she’d never come back.
When asked about what guns he owned, Syroishka told the court that he had purchased a .22 calibre rifle at Rosthern and a shotgun at Wakaw. He told them that about a month previous he’d traded the rifle to Peter Michayluk, but didn’t get anything in exchange. When pressed, he said he’d received a 32-40 rifle and thirty shells. (I’m not sure if the newspaper screwed up and printed Peter Michayluk when they really meant John Michayluk, or if Peter was a different person who happened to have the same last name.) Syroishka told the court that he’d taken the gun home and put it in the granary.
If Mike Syroishka’s story was true, it didn’t leave a lot of time for him to sneak up to the Mamchur place after Michayluk left, murder the family, shoot the animals, then set fire to all the buildings before returning home for midnight. He let them examine the clothes he wore that night and they found no blood or trace of smoke.
The police asked the doctor to go back and look at the body of John Michayluk one more time. They had another theory.
John Michayluk had made an arrangement with Prokop Mamchur. He’d agreed to work for his brother-in-law for three years, for which he was to received the sum of $700 and some stock. It would appear, however, that Mamchur did not fulfill his part of the agreement. For although the three years had expired some time ago, Mamchur had made no settlement with his brother-in-law. It was well known on the settlement that there had been words between the two, and Michayluk was said to have threatened on several occasions that he’d “clean up the whole Mamchur family” and that he would do it “so quickly that they would think that lightning had struck them.”
The rumors in the settlement were that Prokop Mamchur was holding back payment and had threatened to throw Michayluk from the house, because of the attentions he was paying his daughter, Pauline. It was also rumored that he’d been paying a little too much attention to Steve Makohn’s wife, Prokop’s sister.
Two weeks before the murders, Michayluk purchased the rifle found by his dead body. It was the only rifle of that calibre in the neighbourhood that police had been able to find. Mr. F.J. Johnasik, the hardware merchant in Wakaw, was able to produce the invoice for the winchester rifle of the same number and calibre as the one found by the body, proving that it was indeed the one purchased by Michayluk. John had purchased a box of fifty shells as well. Apparently, he’d kept it in an outbuilding and told no one that he’d bought it. (Although he must have told someone, if they were able to find out where he kept it.) They’d found a nearly empty box of cartridges for it in the sheepskin coat Michayluk had been seen wearing in the house.
Initially, the doctor told police that the chest wound on Michayluk’s body had been enough to kill him instantly. When police asked him to look again, they specifically wanted to know if it was at all possible for the shot to have left him alive. The doctor admitted that it was possible, but unlikely.
The police presented their new theory at the inquest. It was John Michayluk who had perpetrated the horrible crime. He had come home from the meeting, shot the family, then gone out, shot the animals, set the buildings on fire, and returned to the house, setting it on fire before shooting himself in the chest. When it failed to kill him, he shot himself in the forehead, above the eye.
On April 14, 1916, the jury at the coroner’s inquest named John Michayluk as the murderer of the Mamchur family.
But if you thought this was where the story ended, you’d be wrong.
On Saturday, December 7, 1918, Mike Syroishka was arrested for murder.
After the Provincial Police took over for the RNWMP, Detective Sergeant George Harrick, working under the direction of Inspector Collison, the head of the detective department of the Provincial Police, kept Mike Syroishka under surveillance.
It had never sat quite right with the Provincial Police that John Michayluk was named as the murderer. They believed it was a physical impossibility for a man to first shoot himself in the chest, close to the heart, then send a bullet through their own forehead, especially as the rifle was found on the floor with no props and the body was in such a position as to indicate that the shots were fired by another party standing up. The bullets found imbedded in the wall behind him were in a straight line, about five feet from the floor.
Further more, John Michayluk wasn’t wearing shoes or socks. When Mrs. Makohn gave her statement, she’d said the Mamchur home was caving in from the roof being all on fire when she went to save her horses. If John Michayluk had done it, the last fire to be set would have been the house, but given the level of fire in all the buildings, they believed the Makohn stable was the last to be set ablaze.
Mike Syroishka was taken to Wakaw for a preliminary hearing (he’d since moved to the Sokal district), and then was taken to Prince Albert to await trial.
On June 2, 1919, the murder charge was dropped and replaced with a charge of arson. It seems likely the crown didn’t believe they had enough evidence on the murders, but believed they could get him for starting the fires. Most of the crown’s evidence was circumstantial, showing that the accused was on bad terms with his wife and her family, as well as establishing the threats he’d made before the event and some foolish statements he’d made after the fire.
(I do not know what these statements were. I really wish I did, but alas, the papers did not elaborate.)
There was also the question of his alibi, which was never as strong as the RNWMP believed it to be. Witnesses at the time gave inconsistent statements about the timelines of events and by Mike Syroishka’s own testimony, he had been the one to tell his mother the time, not the other way around. What was to stop him from giving her a false time and securing an alibi?
The jury deliberated for fifteen hours and on July 5, 1919, they found him guilty of two charges of arson. He was sentenced to six years of hard labour on each count, to be run concurrently.
The police stated that in light of the conviction, they would in all likelihood bring a murder charge.
But they never did. Mike Syroishka spent only fifteen months in prison. He was released on parole on Dec 7, 1920. His paltry jail time was attributed to one of the chief witnesses against him, George Worobetz of Wakaw, being convicted on a charge of conspiracy to defraud a grain elevator and sentenced to four years.
And that is the story of the mysterious murders of the Mamchur family. The family was buried together in the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery in Sokal, Saskatchewan. I was unable to find the location of the grave for John Michayluk.
Information for this post was found in an article written by Carol Baldwin published on SaskToday, and the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: April 7, 1916, April 8, 1916, April 10, 1916, April 12, 1916, April 13, 1916, April 14, 1916, April 15, 1916, April 17, 1916, Dec 9, 1918, Dec 11, 1918, Dec 17, 1918, Jan 8, 1919, Jan 9, 1919, June 2, 1919, June 5, 1919, June 25, 1919, June 30, 1919, July 5, 1919, Dec 7, 1920
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It was about 5:00AM on Thursday, January 14, 1915 that Michael Penno heard a team come into the yard and went outside to see what was going on. He assumed he’d find his brother-in-law, Henry Jeskie (also spelled Henry Gesky in some articles) and his friend, Andreas Neumann. They’d left the previous morning on the cutter sleigh with the intent of going out to buy some hogs, and at the sound of the team, he figured they’d returned from their errand.
But the team of horses in the yard were pulling an empty sleigh. He found the inside of the box spattered with blood, Neumann’s coat inside, also spattered with blood and a gun that seemed to have been recently discharged. There was blood on the outside of the box and sleigh as well. He called the Royal North West Mounted Police, and the investigation began.
The two friends had left Jeskie’s home in Laird on the morning of Wednesday, January 13th and had stopped briefly at John Klassen’s farm about three miles north of Laird. That was the last anyone had seen of them. Stories differ on who organized and sent out the search parties; some say Constable Kirk of the RNWMP was in charge, others say it was H. D. Epp and Michael Penno. In either case, the search began.
It wasn’t until Saturday evening, January 16, 1915, that a gruesome discovery was made. Two men, Henry Letkeman and a fellow referred to as Jacob M., were getting a load of wood on a quarter section of land (some sources said it was about nine miles southeast of Hague, others said it was north of Laird, given the direction Neumann and Jeskie were headed when they left Laird, the latter seems more likely to be true), when they came across the burnt remains of a body in a partly burned haystack. The body was still burning when they found it, the head wrapped in a horse blanket.
The body was unrecognizable, but given the height differences between Andreas and Henry, it was established that the recovered remains were that of Henry Jeskie. Up until this point, the community believed someone must have murdered both men and taken the money Andreas had for the hogs. But now, they’d discovered the body of Jeskie and Neumann was still nowhere to be found. Police began to suspect that Neumann had committed the murder and fled. Adding to their suspicions was a note found in the pocket of Neumann’s coat, that had been left in the sleigh. It read: “Last words of your son to father and brothers, greetings to all.” It was signed Andreas Neumann. The police interpreted it as a final farewell.
An inquest was held at Rosthern on January 19, 1915 and Andreas Neumann was named as the believed murderer of Henry Jeskie. A warrant was issued for Neumann’s arrest, and his description was sent out across the province. The search for Neumann lasted over two weeks.
He was traced to Saskatoon, then a man was found who recognized Neumann on a train between Saskatoon and Regina. The police intially believed he might have escaped into the United States, but towards the end of January, word reached them that a man answering Neumann’s description had been seen in the vicinity of Lemburg, Saskatchewan. He was arrested at the house of some friends he knew from the old country. He had hired on with a farmer in Lemburg under an assumed named and shaved off his moustache.
Andreas Neumann was commited for trial at a preliminary hearing at Rosthern and taken to Prince Albert.
He admitted that he’d killed Jeskie, but told police it was an accident. He said that he and Jeskie had started out from the Jeskie home to buy hogs that morning, and Jeskie had taken his gun along to shoot coyotes. As they drove across the prairie, they drove into a small flock of chickens. Neumann jumped from the sleigh to take a shot. As he touched the ground, the chickens flew up and circled back over the sleigh where Jeskie sat, holding the team. While watching their flight, Neumann claimed that as the birds passed over Jeskie’s head, the gun was accidentally discharged and the heavy load of bird shot entered Jeskie’s back, killing him almost instantly.
Neumann was terrified and decided to try and conceal Jeskie’s body and make a getaway. He dragged the body to a nearby haystack and set the hay on fire, before fleeing.
The trial began in April of the same year. Several witnesses were called and Neumann took the stand in his own defence. As it turned out, the jury had very little difficulty believing his story. Neumann and Jeskie were good friends and as far as everyone knew, there’d been no quarrel between the two. Of the two of them, Neumann was the one carrying money, while Jeskie had nothing on him, so robbery wasn’t a motive.
After only twenty-five minutes, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty and Andreas Neumann was acquitted.
And that, my friends, is the story of the untimely death of Henry Jeskie.
Please note, I’ve found in my research that this time period was insanely bad for newspapers getting people’s names wrong. For pretty much all the names in this story, I found multiple spellings, and sometimes first names were changed completely. I used my best judgment. This appears to be a product of the times and lack of easy communication, so if any of these names or spellings are not completely accurate, I apologize.
Information for this post was found in the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Jan 18, 1915, Jan 20, 1915, Feb 1, 1915, Feb 2, 1915, Feb 5, 1915, Feb 24, 1915, Feb 27, 1915, April 15, 1915 and April 16, 1915
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On August 15, 1906, Richard Koch, a farmer from Sedley, was driving to Regina with one of his neighbours, Benjamin Dick. As they came upon the farm of Josiah Gilbert, some twelve miles south-east of Regina, they saw a man running towards their buggy, waving his hands and shouting for them to hold on. Behind him ran Josiah Gilbert with what looked like a gun in his hand.
They stopped the buggy near the gateway and the man, covered in blood, ran to them, yelling, “he shot me and will shoot me again. Hold on boys, hold on.” He climbed into the buggy, took hold of the whip and reins and tried to urge the horses ahead. Koch stopped him, and instead got out and waited for Gilbert.
Josiah Gilbert was a man of about sixty-nine to seventy-five-years-old. He was below average height and had a short, bushy grey beard and grey hair. He’d been farming in the district for about twenty-five years and was well known in the neighborhood and in the city of Regina. Koch knew him well and when Gilbert reached the buggy, he asked him if he had a rig at his place to take the shot man to town, as their team wasn’t in a condition to get him there quickly. Gilbert said there was, that the man’s rig was still in his yard.
Benjamin Dick drove into the yard with the injured man, while Koch and Gilbert followed on foot. Gilbert told him the man’s name was Barrett Henderson and that he’d accidentally shot him when the gun had caught and gone off as he was coming out of the barn. Koch said it was funny that Mr. Henderson was so frightened of Gilbert if it had been an accident, to which Gilbert replied that he couldn’t understand it himself, he was trying to help him. When Koch pointed out that it was a mistake to carry the gun so long when Henderson was obviously frightened, Gilbert told him he didn’t know he was still carrying it until he saw them.
They found the buggy standing by the barn, the dashboard covered in blood. They took the buggy and followed Dick, still driving with Henderson, to his own shack, where they transferred him to his own rig and two of his hired men came out to help and take him to the hospital. One of those men, Russell McKinnon, testified that Henderson had seen Gilbert as they were getting into the buggy and he’d cried “don’t let him knife me!” He said Henderson was frightened to death of Gilbert.
Barrett Henderson was taken to Regina and brought to the Victoria Hospital, arriving shortly after noon. Richard Koch, Benjamin Dick and Josiah Gilbert followed behind in Koch’s buggy. As they started out, Gilbert told them his wife was sick at home and he hadn’t checked on her since he’d left the house in the morning and wanted to go home, but they convinced him that he should probably go with them to Regina. They first went to the police, but found it closed, so Gilbert went and put his case in the hands of a lawyer.
Meanwhile, Henderson was in the hospital. He’d been shot in the face, the ragged wound starting at the angle of his mouth on the left side and extending outward in line with the lower lobe of his left ear. He was almost completely drained of blood and a large number of blood vessels and arteries had been destroyed or injured. The wound was described to be of such a nature that one could put one’s fist in it. He was operated on, with three or four slugs removed from his face, but died a little before 3:00PM.
Gilbert voluntarily surrendered himself to police, and by about 5:00PM, he appeared before the magistrate and was charged with murder.
The police spent most of the next day engaged in investigations at the Gilbert farm. Despite searching the entire property, aided by Richard Koch who believed he’d seen where Gilbert had dropped the gun, they were never able to locate the weapon. Inspector Heffernan was in charge of the case, assisted by Sergeant Wilkinson.
If it was indeed murder and not an accident, what was the believed motive for the crime?
Barrett Henderson had left behind a wife and three children near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and arrived in the district in the spring of 1906. John Boyle of John H. Boyle & Co had negotiated the sale of Josiah Gilbert’s farm to Henderson. The final closing of the Gilbert farm deal had occurred at the farm house on June 26, 1906, when Henderson made his first payment. The next payment was due in sixty days.
Boyle testified that on the day before the shooting Henderson told him that he was going to make his second payment that Friday, an amount of $2480 (that would be over $78,000 today). He also told Boyle that the Gilberts were crazy to get the farm back, that they’d offered him $3000 to sell it back, but he wanted $10,000. Henderson had told him that on account of his wife’s ill health and constant entreaties that he return home, he might take $7000.
On the day of the shooting, Boyle received word that Henderson was asking for him at the hospital. He arrived before the operation and found Henderson still awake. Henderson reached for him, squeezed his hand and said, “goodbye, Boyle. I am out here among strangers.”
Boyle testified that Gilbert himself had never said anything to him about wanting to get out of the deal, it was only Henderson that had mentioned it.
The trial began on November 13, 1906. Representing the prosecution was J. A. Allan and Norman Mackenzie for the defence.
The first day was given entirely to the testimony of the doctors who’d attended Henderson. They described the gun shot wound, the operation in which they’d removed three or four slugs from his face and his subsequent death. Henderson had told them upon arrival that he’d been shot by Josiah Gilbert, who he said had tried to kill him. They believed that the exertion of running from Gilbert had sped up the loss of blood and he was described as being almost completely drained of blood at his autopsy, during which the coroner had found another two slugs.
Richard Koch and Benjamin Dick both testified, retelling the events of that morning.
James Brooks, whose farm was next to Gilbert’s, testified that Gilbert had told him he’d heard that Henderson was going to fail in his payments and asked him what he should do. Brooks told him that a bargain was a bargain and that he had better see a lawyer.
Brooks’ niece, who was staying with him, testified that she heard the shot between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning. She looked out toward Gilbert’s farm (apparently the houses were not far apart) and saw two men running between the barn and the granary, the one ahead being a little taller. She told the court that Gilbert had visited her uncle’s on one occasion and she’d hear him say something about “if he could close and take the place back.”
The police testified about being unable to find the gun and about doing experiments with their closest approximation of the gun and ammunition to try and determine the range the shot was fired at. They believed it had to have been less than ten feet. About three feet in front of Gilbert’s barn, they’d found blood marks on the ground. There were blood spots on woodchips about 10 or 11 yards from the barn and they’d found marks made by bloody hands on the east door of the barn.
It was time to hear from Josiah Gilbert.
He took the stand, refusing to sit and instead leaning against the rail while answering questions. He spoke so low, the stenographer sitting next to him often had to ask him to repeat his answers. He told the court he’d sold his farm because he was played out and couldn’t work anymore. His wife’s illness had been another motivating factor. (By the time the trial took place, she’d passed away.) He testified that he was satisfied with the deal and didn’t complain to anyone, denying that he’d ever talked about wanting to close and take the place back. He said that Brooks had told him he was selling too cheaply, but he explained he was played out and his wife was sick. He said that he and Henderson were on friendly terms and had never been otherwise.
On the morning of the shooting, he told the court that he saw Henderson at about 5:00AM and that Henderson had told him he’d be around after breakfast to go round the wheat and see when it would be ready to cut. If Gilbert was ready, he could join him.
Gilbert gathered some ammunition and placed the gun behind the north-east door of the stable, facing the house, intending to take it with them to shoot gophers. He was “petting round the colts”, waiting, when he looked out and saw Henderson driving in the yard. He went out, yelled for him, and Henderson came round to the stable door. Gilbert went into the stable to get the ammunition and the gun, picking it up and holding it just above the trigger. He stumbled at the door sill and said the gun seemed to strike the side of door and went off. The horse gave a jump and Henderson fell out of the buggy.
He told the court he’d dropped the gun, gone and helped Henderson up and left him standing while he went to grab the horse and pull him out of the way. Meanwhile, Henderson walked away. He thought Henderson didn’t know where he was going or what he was doing. He saw Henderson going around the barn, but said he didn’t realize how badly he was hurt. He picked up the gun, he testified, to explain to Henderson how the accident happened. According to Gilbert, it was he who yelled for Koch and Dick to stop, not Henderson. He said he dropped the gun because he was weak and the weight was too much for him.
The jury didn’t buy Gilbert’s story that it was an accident. They found him guilty on November 16, 1906 and he was sentenced to hang on January 18, 1907.
He didn’t though.
Reverend G. C. Hill and Mr. James Balfour went to Ottawa to meet with the Minister of Justice to try and secure a commutation of Gilbert’s death sentence. He was granted a reprieve while an appeal was filed and in March of 1907, his sentence was changed to life imprisonment.
And that, my friends, is the story of the shooting of Barrett Henderson. Was it an accident or was it murder? The only one who ever knew for sure was Josiah Gilbert.
Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Aug 17, 1906, Aug 22, 1906, Oct 24, 1906, Nov 14, 1906, Nov 15, 1906, Nov 16, 1906, Nov 17, 1906, Jan 17, 1907, Feb 23, 1907, Feb 26, 1907 and March 25, 1907.
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On the morning of Monday, June 20, 1904, Frederick L. Stewart was in the fields, doing some ploughing on the homestead of his daughter, Edna Goodpasture, near Eagle Creek, west of Saskatoon. He was not a welcome visitor there.
A few months previous, on April 4th, his wife, Manda Stewart, had separated from him. She was living on her daughter’s homestead with her other two children, Blanche, who was fifteen, and Howard, who was ten. Edna was eighteen. Manda had separated from on account of the abuse she suffered at his hands. He’d knocked her around, kicked her, choked her, and at times, threatened her and the children’s lives. He’d asked her several times to live with him again but she refused.
Since the separation, Frederick had been staying on what was described as the Falkner Place. I’m not sure if that was the homestead of someone named Falkner, a landmark, or something else entirely. The sources I consulted did not elaborate. Two weeks before the day in question, the family met him on their way to town and he declared his intention of pitching his tent on Edna’s homestead. They forbade him, but he said he could do as he damn well pleased. When they returned, the tent was pitched, he’d taken possession of the barn and was gone to town.
They lived together in uneasy company until Monday, June 20th. Edna called Frederick for lunch at about noon, and at two o’clock he returned to the yard. He asked Edna if she called him, to which she replied that she had. He said he hadn’t seen it (they always hung a cloth out to signal meal times), and ate his lunch. Edna and Howard went into the tent, which was pitched in front of the shack, and Manda joined them.
At some point, an Englishman from William Wood’s homestead came down looking for eggs. Frederick visited with him in the shack while Manda gathered the eggs, which she gave to him with a jar of buttermilk. The man left and she went back into the tent to take off the butter she’d churned before lunch. Frederick followed her into the tent and sat down on the trunk, telling her it was ‘a nice lot of butter’ she’d taken off. He told her, “Manda, the next wife I get, I don’t intend she shall work very hard.” Then he asked her, didn’t she think he was good looking enough to catch almost anyone?
It’s unclear if he didn’t like the answer she gave, or she took too long to respond, but at that point he grabbed her by the throat and shoulder and threw her over onto the bed. He wrapped both hands around her throat and put his knee on her chest. He wasn’t choking her very hard, and she was able to tell him, “Fred, I want you to let me up.” When he wouldn’t, she threatened to yell for Blanche, their other daughter, and she did.
Howard, meanwhile, grabbed the butter ladle and started striking his father with it. When that had little effect, he ran for Blanche and told her to come quick. Edna shoved Frederick off her mother, saying she’d ‘had enough of this foolishness.’ He turned on Edna, striking her. Manda was able to get away from him and the two ordered him off the property. It was Edna’s land and she wanted him to take his tent and go.
Obviously, Frederick Stewart did not comply, or give any pretense of complying. Edna began cutting the ropes on his tent and he threatened to smash up her shack. She told him to go ahead. So he did. He picked up an old gun barrel started smashing windows. Done with that, he knocked Edna down and kicked her. Blanche had came out with an axe during this time and was also pulling up the tent ropes. When he struck her sister, she hit him with the axe (it read as though she did not struck him with the blade, but most likely the flat side). He jerked the axe from her grip and knocked her down(with his fist). She got up and ran a short distance from him while he turned and raised the axe over Edna’s head, saying, “I’ll kill you.”
At this point, Manda was between the house and the tent. She looked over, and on the front step of the shack was Howard with a single barrel shot gun, raised to shoot. She ran and caught the gun, but he pulled the trigger, shooting his father in the neck and killing him instantly. In her testimony, Manda stated that the gun was level and aimed low when she grabbed for it, and blamed herself for the shot going higher and catching Frederick in the neck, instead of his legs as the boy intended.
A post mortem was done by Dr. Stewart (no relation as far as I could tell) on June 22, 1904. Howard was allowed to stay home with his family until his trial, which opened at Rosthern on November 14, 1904, with Judge Prendergast residing. After being out for only fifteen minutes, the jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide and Howard Stewart was acquitted.
And that is the story of the shooting of Frederick L. Stewart.
Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: June 24, 1904, June 29, 1904, July 1, 1904 and Nov 25, 1904.
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