The Murder of George White

Govan, Saskatchewan

In the early morning hours of June 3, 1913, George White was found dead in the neighbourhood stable. He was lying on his stomach with his left hand up by his forehead and his head towards the door, close to the horses’ hooves. Blood pooled beneath his head from what appeared to be two wounds. He was the local drayman, a person who delivers beer for a brewery, and known to be a drinker himself.

His wife, Doris, had been married to him for three years and together they had a small child of about two and a half years old. The two had apparently quarreled almost constantly, and within three days she and their hired man, John Goldspinks, were arrested for his murder.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – June 10, 1913

The preliminary trial took place at Govan and both were committed to stand trial in Saskatoon in the fall.

During her trial, Doris White took the stand and gave her version of events. She told the court of the constant abuse she was subjected to in the two years leading up to the murder, during which she was beaten, choked multiple times, had miscarriages after he ‘trod on her stomach while pregnant’ and while she was convalescing from just such a miscarriage, he set fire to the house while she was inside in bed and locked the door. Their child was also in the house at the time. And he had threated her life multiple times.

On the night in question, she testified that George had come home at about ten o’clock and had been drinking. She was sitting on the chair, holding their two-year-old son when he came in, carrying two bottles, one empty and the other about half full. He offered her a drink and when she declined he told her she might as well be drunk. He had a drink himself and told her, “it’s been on my mind all week, Doris. You will have to give up your life tonight.”

He told her that he was going to kill her and then poison himself and the baby. According to her testimony, she told him that he could kill her but only if he agreed to give the baby to a good home. He refused. She tried telling him that the baby hadn’t done anything wrong and why should he have to die, but George was obstinate. They began arguing, George insisting that she go put the baby down in their bed so he could kill her and she refusing. At some point, they started fighting and Doris put the baby on the bed in the bedroom. She tried to get past him to run to the neighbors, but he grabbed her dress. Goldspinks came in through the front door and George released her. She ran to the bedroom door and yelled for help. Goldspinks retrieved the shotgun from under his bed and came in, handing it to Doris. He grabbed George around the waist and Doris said she remembered hitting him twice in the head with the butt of the shotgun. Goldspinks told her to take the baby to the neighbor’s.

She ran to their neighbor’s home, belonging to Andrew Koch and his wife. The family was asleep, but she managed to knock on the window and wake up Mrs. Koch, who let her in. Andrew Koch testified to this as well, saying that Doris had shown up with the baby, staying only about five minutes. She left the child there with them and went after Goldspinks, who told her George was dead. She told him they needed to call the police and she would take all the responsibility, but according to her, he said not to, that it would bring trouble on both of them.

Goldspinks had carried George’s body out to the kitchen when Victor Koch came to the door, sent by his father, to tell her the baby was crying. She left with him to retrieve the baby. When she returned, Goldspinks had taken the body down the stable. He’d gathered up the sheets, pillows slips and the bedroom rug and buried them in ‘the nuisance ground’. She testified that she spent the night sitting on the bed with the baby, crying, unable to believe that he was dead, thinking that at any moment George was going to come home and go after her.

John Goldspinks denied pretty much all of Doris White’s testimony. According to him, he was in bed when he saw Mrs. White carrying a stick of some kind into the bedroom she shared with George. He heard noises that sounded like blows and jumped up in bed. Mrs. White poked her head through the curtains in the door between the two rooms and said, “I have fixed him this time.” He told the court that he could see George’s feet on the floor but didn’t think anything of it, as he would come home drunk all the time and pass out all over the place. He laid down in bed again and went to sleep. Later, Mrs. White shook him awake and told him they’d have to take the body to the stable. He denied doing anything with the bedclothes or having anything to do with it aside from helping to move the body. He denied handing her the shotgun and insinuated it was an axe handle she’d hit him with, not the butt of a gun. He testified that he was pretty sure the shotgun in question was at the White farm, five miles from Govan, although apparently police did find a rifle under his bed.

So which was it? The police did find an axe covered in bloodstains soaking in a pail of water in a shed on the property, but it was never established if it was human or animal blood on the axe. Andrew Koch and his wife were able to verify the part of Doris White’s story in which she fled with the baby, but as for the rest of the events that night, the only two people who know for sure are Doris White and John Goldspinks. As for Doris’s abuse, that was corroborated by various neighbours in the area, as well as a previous hired man who worked for them. On one occasion George had sent for neighbours, the McKays, after striking Doris with a pitchfork, believing he’d killed her. When they arrived, they found her unconscious on the kitchen floor and it took a while for her to come to. When she did, she had no memory of how she’d ended up there.

On September 27, 1913, Doris White was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years in prison. The judge told the jury that there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest she was innocent and killed him in self defense, since according to her testimony Goldspinks had arrived, interrupting the assault, and she could have taken the baby and run to the neighbours.

The Regina Leader-Post – Sep 29, 1913

John Goldspinks was acquitted of being an accomplice but was immediately arrested again, this time on a charge of aiding and abetting after the fact and was found guilty. He was sentenced to five years.

And as for the child? Doris White’s son was put in the care of her parents after her arrest, but during the trial they brought him to the courthouse and asked an officer to take charge of him. The officer called up the authorities in charge of such cases and he was turned over to them.

And that, my friends, is the murder of George White.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Oct 2, 1913

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Regina Leader-Post: June 10, 1913, June 18, 1913, June 20, 1913, Sep 29, 1913, Sep 30, 1913, Oct 2, 1913 and Oct 3, 1913.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe and share! And if you’d like to read more historical true crime stories of Saskatchewan, check these out:

The Hitchhiker With the Revolver

A Crimson Coloured Spade: Murder Near Wakaw

The Mystery in the Well

The Hitchhiker With the Revolver

Winnipeg, 1938

It was around 8:30PM on November 9, 1938 that sixteen-year-old Bert Taylor and his mother noticed a strange car parked in front of their house at 672 Furby Street. It was an attractive, 1938 Chrysler grey coupe. They contacted the police about it but were told it hadn’t been reported stolen. The next day, when it was still there, they contacted police again. This time, they sent officers to look at the car, but when Bert pointed out that there was blood on the running boards of the vehicle, the police wrote it off as hunting season and left.

The following night, on November 11th, their neighbour, James Stewart from 678 Furby Street, noticed two men go to the car, unlock it, climb in and drive away.

The car was finally recovered on November 12th, at 754 Garwood Street, Fort Rouge, Winnipeg, when Mrs. R. Aldiss called in about a car parked in front of her house that didn’t belong. The police began looking into it and found out that the car belonged to a man named J. A. Kaeser, a sixty-five-year-old Moosomin farmer who’d been in Regina for the past few weeks and had left for home on November 9th, traveling alone in his car. With the car now in Winnipeg and Kaeser missing, all indications pointed to foul play.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 21, 1938

The Investigation Begins

Kaeser had been traveling with two club bags. One was dark brown leather with a smooth finish and the initials J.A.K. on it. The other was smaller with well-worn dark leather. Neither bag was in the vehicle when it was recovered. They knew Kaeser had left Regina on November 9th and had stopped that same morning at Balgonie to see Mrs. Delia M. Scharif and deliver some groceries that her son had sent along for her. Delia confirmed that he was alone when he visited. This was the last time anyone had seen Kaeser.

RCMP had men out on the No. 1 highway searching sloughs, outbuildings, clumps of trees and bushes from Regina to Winnipeg. On November 14th, they released a broadcast with a description of Kaeser and his car.

Mrs. Percy Trout heard the broadcast and remembered that five days before, a car like Kaeser’s had driven up a side road near their farm, just two miles east of Sintaluta. She’d seen a man get out and walk around the car, although she couldn’t see what he was doing, and after about fifteen minutes it pulled away again. She sent her husband to call the RCMP and went along the road to investigate. There, in a clump of willows near a slough, she noticed a boot. As she got closer, she saw the ankle and the cuff of a man’s pants. It was Kaeser, his body covered with a blanket and left in the willows. It looked as though someone had emptied his left trouser pocket.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 16, 1938

The post mortem examination was conducted by Dr. Frances McGill, the provincial pathologist. She found four bullets in his body, plus an injury to his elbow that may have been from a fifth bullet, or caused by one of the previous four. The bullets were from a .38 caliber revolver, fired at close range. One had entered through his left temple, another through his forehead. Two were found in his back above the waistline, one hitting the spinal column.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 16, 1938

Kaeser was known to carry cash and pick up hitchhikers. It was believed that when he left Regina he had about $200 in cash on his person that was now missing, the equivalent today being between $3500-$3700. The RCMP believed Kaeser had most likely picked up a hitchhiker and been robbed. They started canvasing every filling station between Balgonie and Winnipeg, while police in Winnipeg continued their own investigation.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 17, 1938

A name and description emerged through their investigation and on November 15th, the RCMP quietly issued a warrant for the arrest of a twenty-four-year-old man named Harry Heipel. But Heipel was no longer in Canada. He’d crossed into the States from Emerson, Manitoba on a 48 hour visitor’s permit, telling the border officials he was going to Crookston, Minnesota to buy a radio for his mother. He was traced to Illinois, where police believed he was headed to his mother’s place in Myrtle. He was caught in Oregon and arrested by Sheriff Delos Blanchard, who’d seen the warrant and knew him as a former convict of the Joliet Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois where he’d served fifteen months for forgery and been released the previous March.

Harry Heipel was promptly returned to Canada and taken to Regina to face the murder charge of J. A. Kaeser.

Harry Heipel

Harry Heipel was born in Manitoba in 1914 to Mr. and Mrs. John Henry Heipel. His parents divorced when he and his brother Jack were young, and the two boys ended up living with neighbours or relatives for most of their childhood. Henry and Jack had sold newspapers on Winnipeg streets when they were between ten and thirteen to help make ends meet.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 21, 1938

After his stint in Joliet Penitentiary, Harry had been deported back to Canada and was working on his uncle’s farm (R. J. MacFarlane) at Arcola. However, he’d left on October 29, 1938 and gone to Estevan. He hoped to get a job working on a government dam there, but found out he’d need to apply at Regina. While at Estevan, he tried with several acquaintances to sell a .38 revolver, one he claimed to have received from his uncle but was later proven to have been stolen from a neighbour. Unable to sell the revolver, Harry set out for Regina on November 7, 1938 and managed to hitch a ride. He left Regina on the 8th or 9th, heading East.

When arrested, Harry told police that he had no idea who Kaeser was, and didn’t have anything to do with the murder. He said he’d been hitchhiking and found the coupe on the highway with the keys in it and taken it.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 23, 1938

However, that didn’t explain the human blood stains they found on his coat, and when the police talked to his brother Jack and his friend Arnold Graham, they heard a different story.

When Heipel arrived in Winnipeg, he immediately joined Jack where he was staying. Jack told police Harry had two bags with him, one marked J. A. K., and a pocketbook with J. A. Kaeser printed on it. Jack had learned years ago not to ask a lot of questions, but Arnold was more nosey. He asked Heipel how he got to Winnipeg and Heipel told him by car, adding with a laugh that he’d stolen it. Arnold asked Heipel if he could borrow the car and Heipel reluctantly agreed, handing over the keys and giving them the address on Furby Street where he’d parked it. Jack and Arnold went and got the car and were driving around in it when they noticed bloodstains all over the inside of the car and on the seat. There was even a wrench with specks of blood on it. Nervous, Arnold threw the wrench out the window and asked Jack to let him out. He walked back to their rooms while Jack parked the coupe on Garwood. Arnold immediately asked Harry about the bloodstains and he said he was picked up hitchhiking and had hit the driver on the head with the wrench and dragged him to the side of the road.

The police recovered the wrench in Winnipeg, based on Arnold’s testimony of where he’d thrown it and indeed found blood on it, although it’s unclear whether it was from blood spatter during the gun shots or if it was used to strike Kaeser at some point during the attack. Kaeser did have an abrasion on his head, but Dr. McGill attributed it to his head hitting the dashboard rather than from a wrench.

Further adding to suspicion, Heipel had been identified by a number of people at filling stations and cafes along the route to Winnipeg, driving Kaeser’s coupe. James Woodland, another hitchhiker from McGregor, Manitoba, picked Harry Heipel out of a line up as the man driving a coupe just like Kaeser’s that had picked him up at Brandon and taken him to Winnipeg on November 9, 1938. He’d also noticed the blood in the car at the time and when he asked about it, Heipel had told him he’d been hunting, but Woodland hadn’t seen any evidence of hunting; there were no animal remains or rifle.

The Trial

Heipel went on trial on January 17, 1939. Every day the courtroom was packed, with people being turned away to wait outside for news. The court heard testimony from Dr. Frances McGill, Mrs. Percy Trout, James Woodland, and although the revolver hadn’t been recovered, a gun expert testified that bullet casings recovered on the road near Kaeser’s body matched the casings provided by Heipel’s neighbor in Arcola, from whom the revolver had been stolen. They even heard testimony from a young boy from Arcola, who used to help out Harry Heipel with chores. Heipel had shown him the revolver numerous times. And the description given by the boy matched those of acquaintances in Estevan he’d tried to sell it to. Jack Heipel and Arnold Graham also testified.

The defense argued that Harry hadn’t killed Kaeser at all, but had been picked up in the coupe by the real murderer and had then struck him on the head with the wrench and stolen the car, taking with him the bags and J. A. Kaeser’s billfold.

It was a weak story and the jury was out for only nine hours before they found Harry Heipel guilty on Jan 21, 1939. He was sentenced to death by hanging.

The Regina Leader-Post – April 25, 1939

Despite appeals, his sentence was carried out on April 26, 1939 at the Regina jail.

Just two and a half months later in July, 1939, Heipel’s revolver was recovered, found hanging in a tree near Fleming. After he’d been found guilty and was waiting on his execution, he’d admitted to police that he’d thrown the revolver out of the car near where it was found. It matched the description given by the boy from Arcola and the people in Estevan he’d tried to sell it to.

And that my friends, is the story of the murder of J. A. Kaeser.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Nov 16, 1938

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Nov 16, 1938, Nov 17, 1938, Nov 19, 1938, Nov 21, 1938, Nov 23, 1938, Nov 24, 1938, Dec 1, 1938, Dec 7, 1938, Dec 8, 1938, Dec 9, 1938, Jan 6, 1939, Jan 17, 1939, Jan 18, 1939, Jan 19, 1939, Jan 20, 1939, Jan 21, 1939, Jan 23, 1939, Feb 8, 1939, April 25, 1939, April 26, 1939 and July 25, 1939.

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If you’re itching for more historical Saskatchewan true crime, give these a try:

A Crimson Coloured Spade: Murder Near Wakaw

The Mystery in the Well

A Deadly Quarrel: Murder Near Nipawin

A Crimson Coloured Spade: Murder Near Wakaw

Content Warning: The following true crime story deals with the murder of a child. If reading about this will cause you distress, please skip this post.

In researching this story, one thing became clear. Reporting in 1913 was not always the best. Multiple variations of names emerged over the course of the articles I read and I was unable to verify which ones were correct. In the case of the murder victim, her name was given as Julia Genik, Julian Janiks and Julia Jennings. I went through every death certificate on the Saskatchewan Genealogy website for 1913 but was unable to find her. So, we’ll refer to her as Julia Jennings, as that was the name used during the news coverage of the trial.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Julia Jennings was a young girl of eight or nine, living on her family’s farm west of Wakaw. On the evening of June 21, 1913, she didn’t return home as expected. Her family, obviously worried, launched a search for her. They found her body the following morning in a clump of bushes, the injuries to her head and face horrific in their violence. There was a deep gash across her forehead, her nose was broken, the right side of her face beaten to a pulp and her skull was fractured. It appeared one hand must have been raised to try and ward off blows, as it had several deep gashes and broken bones.

Who could have committed such a horrific act against a child?

Sergeant Thomas of the Mounted Police left Saskatoon on Tuesday, June 24, 1913 and arrived at Wakaw the same night. He met with Constable Cook, who was stationed at Wakaw, and the two immediately went to work on the case. After gathering evidence they were soon able to make an arrest and by noon the next day they had their suspect in custody. As with Julia, the newspapers published multiple versions of her name (Kate Simon, Katherine Simons, Kathleen Olka Simon), but I’ll go with the name published during her trial, which was Kathleen Olga Simon. She was approximately thirteen years old and only spoke a smattering of English.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – June 27, 1913

It didn’t take her long to confess. During the preliminary trial, she told the court through an interpreter that on the morning of Saturday, June 21, 1913, she left her father’s farm and walked towards Preston’s farm about a mile and a half northeast to pick Seneca roots. Passing the Jennings’ farm, she saw Julia out with her grandfather herding cattle and invited her to come along and dig roots. They arrived at the Preston’s place at around 9:30 and began digging. They continued digging until about 11:00, when Julia, either out of teasing or malice, threw a dead chicken at Kathleen. She also started throwing sticks and chunks of earth at her. Kathleen, enraged, rushed at the girl and grabbed the spade Julia had been using. She knocked Julia down and beat her savagely with the spade until she was dead.

Perhaps even more upsetting, after murdering her companion, Kathleen went back to digging roots. She returned home at about 5:00 with nearly three and a half pounds of them and said nothing of what had happened. When asked in court why she didn’t say anything sooner, she said she’d forgotten all about it.

Along with her confession at the preliminary trial, two pieces of evidence were introduced. Kathleen’s blood stained skirt that she’d been wearing the day of the murder, and the “crimson coloured spade” found near Julia’s body. Kathleen was committed to stand trial at the next session in Prince Albert.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 29, 1913

At her trial in November of 1913, the argument was made that Kathleen committed the murder during a moment of insanity, but the jury didn’t buy it. On Dec 6, 1913, she was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years at the Prince Albert Penitentiary. Justice Brown, who presided over the trial, told the court at sentencing that he had thought at first of committing her to the reformatory, but concluded that given the level of violence in the case (Julia’s face was described as nearly chopped away), it would be inadvisable to have her among other young girls, especially since they would at times be unsupervised.

An appeal was made to the Minister of Justice by the Attorney-General of Saskatchewan to have her formally committed to the care of the Superintendent of Neglected Children, S. Spencer Page. If granted, she’d be placed in an institution.

It’s unclear whether it was on the basis of the above mentioned appeal, or a later one, but after approximately one year, Kathleen was paroled and sent to a children’s home in Winnipeg. The timeline of how long she was at the children’s home is unclear, but it couldn’t have been more than a month or two, when one day, while walking with the matron, Kathleen managed to give her the slip and escaped.

She was on the lam for at least three months. At one point, she was found destitute and starving by a kindly older couple who took her in and nursed her back to health. She convinced them to take her to the countryside where their son lived on a farm north of Winnipeg, but it proved to be her undoing. While working on the farm a visitor recognized her and wrote to Ottawa about her whereabouts. They sent an official to bring her into custody, but he must not have read the part in her file about how she’d already escaped custody once. He informed her that she was under arrest and very calmly, she told him she’d go get her things. While he waited she escaped again.

She was caught five days later when hunger forced her to go to a farmhouse in the area, where she was immediately recognized and held to be taken back to prison. The family she worked for immediately made a strong plea for her release, asking for her to be paroled into their custody.

It’s unclear whether the request was granted. I couldn’t find any follow up articles on what happened to Kathleen Simon, whether she was returned to prison, sent to an institution, or paroled to the family who pleaded for her freedom. For now, her story ends there. But if anyone knows more about her, I hope they’ll reach out.

Thank you for reading! Please subscribe and share.

Information for today’s post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, the Regina Leader-Post, the Edmonton Journal and the Sunday Telegram from Clarksburg, West Virginia: June 26, 1913, June 27, 1913, June 28, 1913, Nov 29, 1913, Dec 6, 1913, Dec 10, 1913, Dec 11, 1913, Dec 19, 1913, May 10, 1915 and May 23, 1915

If you’re interested in more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan, give these a read:

The Mystery in the Well

A Deadly Quarrel: Murder Near Nipawin

The Unsolved Murder of Annie and Metro Zurawell

The Mystery in the Well

Photo by Filipe Delgado on Pexels.com

Gull Lake, Saskatchewan – October, 1913

J. F. Royer was having a problem. The water in the well adjoining his livery barn didn’t taste very good. The water was becoming more and more putrid until, finally, the horses refused to touch it. So, on Tuesday afternoon, October 14, 1913, he rounded up his men and they set about cleaning the well.

Someone would need to go down into the well, and Bill Christonson was that deeply unlucky fellow. It was 38 feet deep and about 8 feet across with about 15 feet of water in it. As Bill made his way down, he saw what looked like a man in the water. And when he took a stick and managed to turn it over, his suspicion was confirmed. There was a body in the well.

They tied a noose around the dead man’s neck and hoisted him from the well. He was wearing a sweater, overalls, pants and a coat. A torn red sweater was also recovered, which had been wrapped around the man’s head. Despite the gashed up scalp and broken nose, the men were able to recognize enough of the man’s features to identify him as John Burns, a well-to-do homesteader from the Shaunavon district, about 45 miles away. He’d moved to Shaunavon from Carrington, North Dakota and had been at Gull Lake since the spring, working for different people. He was about forty-five-years-old.

The coroner from Maple Creek was called out and he opened an inquiry on Oct 15, 1913. A man named Dr. Gibson performed the post-mortem and testified that in his opinion, John Burns was dead before going into the well. He observed a large scalp wound running backwards from the left eye that was about 5 inches long. There were no injuries to the skull itself but he found clots of blood on the brain that he believed to be due to a concussion from a blow or blows.

The well was thoroughly examined and no blood smears were found anywhere inside to indicate that the scalp injury occurred during a fall into the well, and that, along with the sweater that was allegedly wrapped around Burns’s head, led police to agree with Dr. Gibson’s assertion that John Burns was most likely murdered.

Fred Sinclair had known the deceased and employed him on several occasions. He testified that Burns had come up in the spring with two men, “Hagan and Verpy”, who used to come around the barn and ask for him, but they hadn’t done so since Burns had been missing. Two bartenders from the Lake View Hotel also testified that Burns had stopped showing up around the beginning of August.

People had started noticing John Burns’s absence on August 7th, but he was a bachelor with a homestead 45 miles away and no connections in Gull Lake, so everyone assumed he’d simply gone back to Shaunavon. Police believed that theft might have been a motive, as he was known to carry a considerable amount of money with him and when his body was recovered he was missing sixty dollars believed to have been on his person. Adding to the gossip and mystery, a man employed by the hotel-keeper to haul brick had left town on August 7th without telling anyone where he was going. He had four days pay coming to him but had made no effort to collect. The coroner’s inquiry was adjourned to allow the police time to investigate further and locate the witnesses in question who might know more about the demise of John Burns.

Regina Leader-Post – Oct 18, 1913

And that, unfortunately, is where the trail ends. I could find no follow up articles on whether anyone was ever charged with his murder. It’s unclear if they were ever able to track down “Hagan and Verpy” or the man employed by the hotel-keeper. I contacted the coroner’s office to try and find out the results of the inquiry, but their records only date back to 1918. Was it even murder? It certainly seems that way, but given that forensics and our understanding of decomposition, especially decomposition in water have come a long way since then, it’s possible that Dr. Gibson’s findings weren’t completely accurate. We’ll never know for sure. But that, my friends, is the story of the man found in the well at Gull Lake, Saskatchewan.

I was only able to find two articles about this case. The first was the October 16, 1913 edition of the Swift Current Sun and the second was the October 18, 1913 edition of the Regina Leader-Post. If you have more information about this story, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Thanks for reading! Please subscribe and share!

Would you like to read some more historical true crime? Try these:

A Deadly Quarrel: Murder Near Nipawin

The Unsolved Murder of Annie and Metro Zurawell

A Deadly Obsession: The Murder of Myrtle Beckler

A Deadly Quarrel: Murder Near Nipawin

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In January of 1934, RCMP officers made their way out to a lonely trapper’s cabin about thirty miles north of Nipawin. It was bitterly cold, the temperatures in the minus forties, as they began their investigation. They’d been called out by Albert Yager, a shopkeeper who had a store about two miles away. He was concerned that the cabin’s owner, Oskar Schwab, had met with foul play.

Oskar Schwab, a young man of twenty-eight, had been trapping in the area every winter since the fall of 1928. He’d erected the little log cabin in a small valley near the river, returning each year after working as a farm labourer in the Bruno district during the summers. In November of 1932, he’d returned, bringing a man named Thomas Kisling with him as a trapping partner. Thomas Kisling was a forty-four-year-old farmer, married with six children. The two appeared to be good friends.

But as winter progressed, Yager saw signs of discord begin to appear. On visits to Yager’s store, each would complain about the other, both believing their partner to be lazy. Petty grievances were common in the thinly populated bush country, isolated as they were during the winter, so Yager didn’t think much of it. That is, until June, when Kisling appeared in Yager’s shop to settle up their grocery bill. He told Yager that he was going back to Bruno and that Schwab had already left for Flin Flon. Included in the money he paid Yager, there was a German coin, one that Yager had seen in Schwab’s possession as a keepsake. Yager was immediately suspicious, especially since Schwab had never left without stopping by the store to say his goodbyes.

Yager did some investigating, and when he could find no trace of Schwab in Flin Flon or elsewhere, and when he failed to return in the fall, he took his story to the RCMP in Nipawin.

The officers examined every corner of the tiny log cabin, checking the bark and moss covered log walls for bullet holes, looking for signs of foul play. Their search was quickly rewarded when they found clotted blood in the straw at the head of the bunk. Near the blood stain was a bullet hole in the log wall, as though someone had fired from the side of the bed, exactly where someone’s head would be when they were sleeping. On the bullet they removed from the wall they found blood and what appeared to be human hair.

Things were not looking good for Oskar Schwab.

The RCMP arrested Kisling on his farm near Bruno on February 16, 1934 and charged him with forging cheques. Since leaving the cabin in June, Kisling had tried to cash two cheques allegedly from Schwab, one for forty one dollars and another for a hundred. He was successful with the first one but not the second. The signatures didn’t match. Kisling had spelled Oskar’s name with a ‘c’ not a ‘k’ and the bank rejected it. He tried going back, this time with a letter from Schwab apologizing for the difficulty and a new cheque but again, the signature didn’t match, thanks to the misspelling.

The RCMP didn’t play around with Kisling. They told him that they would be adding a murder charge to the forgery. Kisling denied the forgery and the murder, stating that they had nothing on him. Then, a few hours later he told them he wished to make a statement to explain the thing, but it was filled with inconsistencies and obvious lies so the RCMP rejected it and sent him back to his cell. Finally, late in the evening, he gave them another statement, this one with the distinct ring of truth, although it’s unlikely he was completely honest. His story changed numerous times after. He told them that on the night of June 9, 1933 he had had words with Schwab, the two of them quarreling over the settlement of money earned during the winter. Schwab refused to make the settlement and told Kisling he could walk home. As things got heated Schwab made a motion for his .22 rifle. Kisling, scared, left the shack and spent the night in the woods. At dawn he returned and looked in through the window to see Schwab asleep in his bunk. He crept inside, went to the west side of the bunk and shot Schwab where he lay. He took Schwab’s purse, two money orders and forged the two cheques.

They took Kisling out to the cabin the next day, Yager meeting them on their arrival. He turned to Kisling and asked straight out, “where’s Oskar?” Kisling pointed mutely to an area behind the cabin, not more than two feet from the building. The officers began digging, and although the temperature had warmed to minus twenty, it was still slow going. It took two hours of breaking through the frozen surface of the ground to make the grim discovery; the badly decomposed body of Oskar Schwab, wrapped in a blanket but otherwise naked, the back and part of the top of his head blown off.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Feb 23, 1934

A coroner’s inquest was held and an autopsy performed by Dr. Frances McGill, the provincial pathologist. She testified that death was caused by a shot which penetrated the scalp near the base of the skill and shattered the cranium into many pieces. Based on the level of decomposition, she believed he’d been buried in the summer. Kisling was committed to stand trial at the spring assizes.

During the trial, Schwab’s former partner, Paul Hippel, testified that Schwab could have a bad temper and at one point had pointed a rifle at him. Kisling took the stand and painted a very different picture from his initial confession, saying that he hadn’t meant to shoot Schwab, only strike him, but the gun caught on a small table and went off. The jury didn’t buy his new version of events and Kisling was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Despite appeals by his defense, he was hung on Aug 10, 1934 at Prince Albert jail.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Aug 10, 1934

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Feb 23, 1934, Feb 26, 1934, Feb 27, 1934, March 2, 1934, March 23, 1934, May 8, 1934, May 9, 1934, May 10, 1934, May 11, 1934, May 12, 1934, July 4, 1934, Aug 10, 1934

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy historical true crime, please subscribe and share.

Can’t wait until next week? Read these:

The Unsolved Murder of Annie and Metro Zurawell

A Deadly Obsession: The Murder of Myrtle Beckler

The Conflicting Accounts of the Death of Adolph Ibenfeldt

The Unsolved Murder of Annie and Metro Zurawell

The Home of Annie and Metro Zurawell – Regina Leader-Post April 13, 1938

November 12, 1933

It was Sunday, and much like every other Sunday, Mrs. Annie Dutcheshen got her children ready and took them to visit her parents, Annie and Metro Zurawell, on their farm about five and a half miles south of Veregin, Saskatchewan.

A gruesome sight awaited them. The farmyard was eerily quiet on their arrival and when Mrs. Dutcheshen entered the small farmhouse she found her parents dead, lying on the floor in the kitchen. Metro was on his back, shot in the head and chest, Annie was face down and seemed to have made an effort to get to the door before she died from her own gunshot wound to the chest. The house had been ransacked, including a trunk in the bedroom, and someone had attempted to set the house on fire. The bed was burnt, coal oil from a lamp having been used as an accelerant, but the fire had burned itself out instead of consuming the house as planned. The bed was still smouldering when Mrs. Dutcheshen and her kids arrived.

The motivation appeared to have been robbery. Annie Zurawell’s daughter from a previous marriage told police that the couple kept about $300 in the bedroom trunk, but after a search of the home the only money found was about eighty cents.

Regina Leader-Post – November 13, 1933

A coroner’s inquest was held and on November 29, 1933, the jury brought in a verdict of murder by wounds from a shotgun in the hands of a person or persons unknown, on the night of November 11, 1933.

At the inquest, Steve Dutcheshen, the 21-year-old grand-nephew of the Zurawells, testified that on November 8th or 9th he’d been at Mike Kindiak’s house and Mike had given him an agreement to read over. The agreement was between Mike Kindiak, his wife Irene, who was one of the Zurawell’s daughters, and Metro Zurawell. The agreement, made in 1930, transferred a quarter of land to the Kindiaks in return for them giving 1/3 of the crop to Metro each year for as long as he lived. Steve stated that Mike Kindiak had told him that if Metro Zurawell didn’t have his copy of the agreement he wouldn’t be able to collect his share, and if Steve was willing to steal the paper, he’d pay him $25 for it. Irene added that the paper would either be in the old house or in a trunk in the new house. Steve testified that he’d refused the offer, and when Mike Kindiak took the stand he denied having ever made it in the first place.

As for other suspects, Mike Dutcheshen testified that he’d picked up a stranger on his way to Verigin on that fateful Sunday the 12th, when he was driving to notify the police, but it wasn’t mentioned in his two previous statements. There were also two men reportedly seen tramping from home to home in the area, looking for marriageable women in the days leading up to the murders. They were reported as wanted for questioning but it’s unclear whether the RCMP ever tracked them down, or the supposed man Mike Dutcheshen had given a ride to. They did, however, bring in Pete Papyrka, a local man who’d worked for the Zurawell’s and was found with a decent amount of money on him, but he had an alibi.

Complicating matters further, there’d also been a recent string of robberies in the district. Two or three farmers known to have money had been held up.

There were three clues found in the home. Two spent shells were catalogued on the scene, as well a man’s thumbprint on the lamp chimney in the bedroom. They believed that whoever lit the bed on fire had removed the lamp’s chimney to do so and left the thumbprint behind. They fingerprinted every person in the district, including the investigating police force, but no match was found. They sent the print to the FBI in the United States and the fingerprint section in Ottawa, to be compared against every fingerprint on file, but still no match. An enormous search for the murder weapon was undertaken, but after searching the countryside and comparing the spent shells to every rifle and shotgun in the area, no match was found and the search turned up nothing.

The burnt remains of the Zurawell’s bed, the trunk and the lamp chimney where they found the thumbprint in the foreground. Regina Leader-Post – April 13, 1938

Unfazed, the police investigated the actions and whereabouts of hundreds of people, everyone known to have passed through or worked in the area, even going so far as to track down people who had moved back to Poland, but still no solid leads were found.

The newspapers kept the story alive, publishing updates every few years until 1948, when fifteen years had past without any new leads or clues. Despite the dogged pursuit, the murders were never solved and the slayer of Annie and Metro Zurawell was never revealed. Was it planned? Opportunistic? Was it connected to the string of robberies in the district or the agreement between Mike Kindiak and Metro Zurawell? We’ll never know, but that is the story of the unsolved murder of Annie and Metro Zurawell.

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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Nov 13, 1933, Nov 15 1933, Nov 17, 1933, Nov 30, 1933, April 13, 1938, Nov 16, 1943, Sep 11, 1945, and Nov 23, 1948

Thanks for reading! Please subscribe and share!

If you’d like to read more stories of true crime in Saskatchewan, try these:

A Deadly Obsession: The Murder of Myrtle Beckler

The Conflicting Accounts of the Death of Adolph Ibenfeldt

The Welwyn Massacre

Christmas Murder Mysteries – Week Four

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We’ve come to the end, the final week of reading Christmas murder mysteries. And for our final selection, I’ve chosen something great. Get ready for…

The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay

This is your classic, country-house Christmas murder mystery. It has a menagerie of odd and secretive family members, a crusty old patriarch, the threat of a will being changed and of course, Santa. It also gives the perspective of multiple characters, which I love, each giving you a piece to the mystery.

It’s a great story to close out our month of classic Christmas murders. I’ve loved reading these books with all of you and I hope its helped bring a little bit of coziness and fun to your own holiday season. I’m off next week, so you won’t see anything from me until the new year, when I return with more horrifying tales of historical true crime. Until then, take care and if your family is driving you crazy, read don’t kill.

Happy New Year!

Thanks for reading! Below are the rest of the Christmas Murder Mystery selections!

Christmas Murder Mysteries – Week Three

Christmas Murder Mysteries – Week Two

Murder for Christmas

Christmas Murder Mysteries – Week Three

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Welcome to week three of Christmas murder mysteries. How is everyone feeling? Are we in the holiday spirit yet? Eager to solve another murder? Then let’s get on with it! Week three’s selection is…

Murder For Christmas by Francis Duncan

Murder For Christmas by Francis Duncan

It’s Christmas time and our retired hero, Mordecai Tremaine, has been invited to an acquaintance’s for Christmas. But the invitation had a concerning note at the end and everything at the Christmas party feels… a little off. Everyone seems happy, but secrets abound and when someone gets murdered… well, Mordecai will need to figure out whose secret was worth killing to protect.

This one was FUN. It’s starts out slow, the murder doesn’t happen until near the halfway point, but there are a lot of twists and you know a good mystery needs lots of secrets, which this one has in spades.

My hope for all of you is that by the time Christmas arrives, you’re looking at all your neighbours and family members with suspicion as possible murder suspects. Because isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Thank you for reading! If you want to give me an early Christmas present, then subscribe and share! See you next week!

Murder for Christmas – Christmas Murder Mysteries Week 1

Christmas Murder Mysteries – Week 2

Christmas Murder Mysteries – Week Two

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It’s week two of our Christmas Murder Mystery Book Club and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m not going to lie, I agonized over which book to choose for the unenviable position of having to follow the incredible Agatha Christie and her masterpiece, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. (Did you miss last week? Read it here.) I narrowed it down to two choices and finally decided on:

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer

Now, a small disclaimer. I figured out who the murderer was and how they’d done it pretty quickly. But I didn’t mind, because I really liked the cast of characters and watching it all play out. My favourite character, by far, was Maud. I think you’ll get it when you read it. It’s just really fun. It’s like any ridiculously mismatched family having the usual Christmas dramatics, but there’s murder. And honestly, I really want to see if you’ll solve it too. (No shame if you don’t! It’s more fun that way anyway.)

So grab a blanket, a nice cup of tea (or whisky. No judgment!) and curl up with this week’s story of holiday murder. Can’t wait to hear what you think!

If you’re enjoying our Christmas read along, please subscribe and share! And if you’re longing for more holiday content, check these out:

How to Wrap a Present (Another Yuletide Adventure)

Christmas Movies That Have Nothing To Do With Christmas

Thanks for reading!

Murder for Christmas

Photo by Dana Tentis on Pexels.com

I know what you’re thinking, that’s a great title for a true crime story, and it is! But alas, I’m not talking true crime today. (Yes, the title is a bit misleading. Forgive me, I still wanted you to come read it. But I promise it’s murder related.) December is upon us, that twinkly-light-filled time of year when we make and eat enormous amounts of baked goods and try to put up with our relatives.

I’m not much for Christmas, but this year I’m trying to embrace the bits I do enjoy, like the aforementioned twinkly lights and baked goods. As part of my holiday celebration, I decided that I’m going to read some Christmas books. No, not A Christmas Carol, The Christmas Box or The Gift of The Magi. In keeping with my interests, they will all be murder themed. Yes, that’s right. It’s a Christmas murder mystery extravaganza!

Starting with…

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie

Oh yes, you know I had to start with the queen herself, Agatha Christie. My God, can that woman write a mystery. I literally read this all in one sitting yesterday and within the first chapter I was like, “oh yeah! I’ve read this one!” and although I knew who the killer was, I couldn’t remember how they were caught, so I kept on reading and damn! Even on a second run it was fantastic. It’s like rewatching The Sixth Sense for the first time, when you know the solution and now you get to see that all the clues were there! Agatha Christie, that genius, gives you everything you need to solve the mystery as you read. She doesn’t cheat and hold back something important. No, she gives you everything the detective, Hercule Poirot, knows and then some, all while writing an engaging story with interesting characters.

So, read it! Because every week I’m going to be reading and reviewing a new Christmas murder mystery and I hope you’ll read along with me. Think of it as a low stress, Christmas book club. We’ll all cozy up, read a good holiday themed murder and practice a little self care during this high stress time. And come the new year, I promise I’ll get back to telling you some horrifying stories of true crime in Saskatchewan.

Thank you for reading! If you feel like doing me a solid, subscribe and share!

And if you’re really missing that dose of historical true crime, here are some of the murders I’ve covered, winter themed for your holiday enjoyment.

The Haunted Skull of the Kerrobert Courthouse

Shootin’ Rabbits by Moonlight: The Murder of Hans Pederson

Murder at Lake Athabasca