The Murder of Henry Kinakin

On February 11, 1923, Pete Bagatoff* had gone to a wedding celebration, and since that night he’d been ill in bed. By Friday, February 16th, he told his employers George and Perana Kinakin, whom he worked for as a farmhand, that he wanted to go to Saskatoon and see a doctor.

Perana talked him out of this, promising that they would take him to their son’s farm the following day for a proper Russian bath, which she was sure would get him feeling better.

The next morning, on February 17, 1923, George and his son, Nick, hitched up the sleigh and noticed when Pete came out of the house that he was dressed in his nice Sunday clothes. When they asked him why he was wearing them, he said, “if I’m going to die, these clothes will be better.”

George and his wife, Perana, along with their two young granddaughters (Nick’s children), joined Pete in the sleigh and they began the drive to their other son, Henry’s, farm. Pete had been the one to take up the reins and took them along a route that passed by the Eagle Point school. At this point, Pete stopped the sleigh and told them he was going inside for cigarette papers.

However, when he walked into the school teacher’s residence, he told him in rapid, broken English to phone the police at Saskatoon and tell them to send a man out, as there’d been a fight. He didn’t give any other details, nothing about where the fight occurred or where they should send someone. He just left, returned to the sleigh and they drove on to Henry’s farm, fifteen miles north of Asquith and 13 miles south of Radisson.

They arrived at Henry’s at 10:00AM. When they pulled up, Henry’s team was hitched to his sleigh in the yard with the rack on it. He told George he was going to switch the rack for the box to go into the woods later. As they were talking, Perana and the girls went into the house to find Gertie, Henry’s wife, and their two children. George left, continuing on with his team to check some traps he had set up near the river.

Gertie and Perana went to the bath house, a separate building some distance from the house, to get it ready for Pete’s bath, while Pete went to help Henry take the rack off his sleigh. When he was finished, he joined Perana at the bath house, bringing some hot coals. As they were standing in the bath house, Henry drove past with his team towards the house where he had the box. Perana called after him to wait, that she’d help him lift the box onto the sleigh, but Pete volunteered and went to help instead. In the box of the sleigh was a pair of mittens and a freshly sharpened axe.

Task finished, they left Pete standing by the box and Henry and Perana went into the house. Henry’s wife, Gertie, later testified that Henry had gone to the cupboard for a glass and had a drink of water, then went back outside. Perana recalled that maybe he had a box of matches in his hand, but she wasn’t sure.

Perana went out shortly after Henry with a pail for the bath house. As she came out the door, she saw Henry lying on the ground, trying to protect his face with his hands while Pete slashed at him with the axe. She started running towards them, crying, “Pete, Pete, what are you doing?”, throwing the pail at him and yelling at him to stop. As she tried to take the axe from Pete, he turned and struck her on the hand, then turned and struck Henry on the head. He slashed at her again with the axe, trying to hit her on the shoulder but the blow caught her on the arm instead. She started to run from him. As she was running she expected at any minute to fall, but when she looked back, she saw Pete had dropped the axe into the sleigh and was driving away.

Gertie had run out of the house when she heard screaming, only to see Pete chasing her mother-in-law with an axe and her husband lying on the ground covered with blood. She rushed to his side and he muttered that Pete had hit him, but that was all he managed to say.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Feb 24, 1923

Pete drove Henry’s team to the river, then unhitched one of the horses and rode it into Radisson, going straight to the provincial police department to turn himself in. He told Constable Hill in broken English that he had killed a man. He pointed to a shotgun, which was attached to the horse’s harness, and said, “Him take rifle. You no good, Doukhobor**. Me up axe and swung down rifle. Woman come with pail. Me say, ‘Get away, get away.'”

He was taken into custody and Constable Hill went immediately to the farm. He was already aware of the murder, it had been called in by Henry’s neighbour, James Atkinson, after he’d gone to Henry’s farm and found him lying between the barn and the house. Police had initially been worried that Pete was on the run and had started calling other detachments to set up checkpoints when he turned himself in.

Dr. H. C Whitemarsh was the first to arrive to see the body at about 1:15PM. He testified to finding the body lying on its back, with the hands folded across the breast. When he moved Henry’s cap, he discovered the skull was fractured.

Dr. H. A. Matheson arrived later, at around 9:00PM. At this point the body had been moved to the bath house to allow it to thaw. He found two wounds on the left arm. The first was below the elbow and completely severed the radius, leaving the arm half cut off. The second was above the elbow and penetrated about 3 inches. A blow had been struck behind the right ear and was about 3 inches deep and 5-6 inches long. It had penetrated the brain, and Dr. Matheson guessed he was mostly likely dead within three or four minutes.

Bagatoff was committed to stand trial in April, although he showed no outward appearances of being upset or in turmoil. At the end of his preliminary hearing he was smiling, and asked a group of men near him for a cigarette.

His trial opened on April 17, 1923. He was represented by T. C. Davis of Prince Albert, and a plea of not guilty was entered. The trial ended with the jury being unable to come to an agreement, and so a second trial was held on April 20, 1923.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – April 18, 1923

Pete Bagatoff testified in his own defense. When asked about his strange request of the school teacher that morning, he said that he thought someone had hit him at the wedding. He’d been so ill and his body so sore from the celebration that he thought he was dying. He told the court that he’d been given a couple of drinks at the wedding and didn’t remember what happened after that, so had come to the conclusion that someone must have hit him.

He’d lived in the Radisson district for two years and had met Henry at the last harvest, when he started working for his father, George Kinakin. By all accounts, they seemed to get along fine. On the day of the murder, he told the court that after helping Henry put the box on the sleigh, Henry had gone to the granary and returned with a gun, which he leaned against the sleigh. He asked Henry where he was going and he said to shoot some coyotes. Henry then asked him to watch the horses while he went inside to get a couple of shells. He returned a few minutes later and started putting shells in the gun, with the gun pointed at Bagatoff. According to Bagatoff, Henry had the gun pointed at him and told him, “you a no good Doukhobor.” He became frightened and seized the axe, slashing at Henry’s hand and knocking the gun to the ground. He said Henry reached down to pick up the gun, so he hit him on the head with the axe. He claimed to already be in the sleigh when Perana came out of the house, and didn’t chase her. He also stated that Henry was standing when he left.

Obviously, there were some discrepancies in his testimony, given the injuries Perana sustained trying to save her son, and the fact that the doctors all agreed Henry could never have remained standing after the injury to his head, nor could he have reached for the gun with the injuries to his arm. And then there was the complete lack of blood on the gun, when everything else had blood all over it.

Was Pete lying, or was he delusional from his fever at the time? Between wearing his Sunday clothes and the strange request he made of the teacher at Eagle Point, he certainly didn’t seem to be behaving rationally. Either way, the jury found him guilty of murder and he was sentenced to hang on July 20, 1923.

His sentence was commuted to life in prison on July 12, 1923.

And that is the strange story of the murder of Henry Kinakin.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – April 21, 1923

*Pete Bagatoff was also seen spelled Bogatoff and Bahatoff.

**Doukhobors were a pacifist Russian Christian group, said to reject materialism.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe and share it with your friends!

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star, the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Feb 17, 1923, Feb 19, 1923, Feb 20, 1923, Feb 24, 1923, Feb 27, 1923, Feb 28, 1923, April 12, 1923, April 17, 1923, April 18, 1923, April 20, 1923, April 21, 1923, July 13, 1923

If you’d like to read more historical Saskatchewan true crime stories, give these a try:

The Murder of Kosto Surkin

A Double Murder Near Kennedy

The Murder at Forget

The Murder of Kosto Surkin

Good Friday, April 14, 1922 – North Regina

It was late in the evening when Kosto Surkin and several of his friends were walking down the street in North Regina on their way to one of the men’s houses. They’d had a few drinks and were singing and shouting. when John Amaniuk, whose house they were passing, opened his front door and yelled at them to shut up. Surkin shouted back, “shut up yourself!” An altercation followed, during which threats were hurled by both sides. Eventually, Surkin and his party moved on, although not without Amaniuk shouting after them, “I’ll fix you later.”

The Regina Leader-Post – April 17, 1922

The party adjourned to the home of one of the other men, Adam Grobosky, and the party continued. When the gathering broke up, the men went in different directions, heading home. Surkin left the party alone heading down the opposite side of the street where they’d had the altercation with Amaniuk.

Joe Gabick, a member of the party that night, went outside of his boarding home at about twelve o’clock. He testified that he heard Amaniuk and his wife a few roads away, shouting that a man had died of drinking whiskey. He went over and found Kosto Surkin lying on the ground in front of Amaniuk’s house. He ran home, where Surkin’s brother, George, was also staying and told him Kosto was dead. George rushed from his bed to Amaniuk’s, where he found the man throwing water over his brother.

By this time, Annie, John Amaniuk’s partner, had gone to their neighbour, Andrew Stojak, and called him over. He testified that when he arrived at the scene, George Surkin said to Amaniuk, “my brother’s dead and you killed him.” Amaniuk replied, “I did not kill him. He came to my house and I asked him what he wanted. Then he fell over on my doorstep and died.”

John Amaniuk had already called police. Corporal Chard and two other provincial police officers arrived to investigate. They found the body on the doorstep, but as they searched the area, they found a pair of boots and socks, still warm, outside a back window. The officer who found them, Constable Beaulieu, also found footprints, made by the boots, that lead from the window to the front of the house as far as the sidewalk where the dead man was found. There were footsteps leading back to the house, made by bare feet. When asked about the boots, Amaniuk said they were his, but couldn’t explain the circumstances under which they were found.

Corporal Chard testified that when he went into Amaniuk’s house, the man took a club, which was lying in the shed, and hastily concealed it in a pile of sacks. This, along with the boots and some interviews with the neighbours, were all the police felt they needed. They arrested Amaniuk.

While in police custody, Amaniu reportedly ‘confessed’, although we’ll get to why that’s not a particularly compelling piece of evidence in a minute.

The Coroner’s Inquest was held at Provincial Police Court on April 18, 1922. The post mortem was conducted by Dr. J. C. Beatty and showed that Surkin had been struck over the head with a heavy object, fracturing his skull almost ear to ear. Dr. Beatty testified that he believed the injury would have been impossible to achieve with a fall. The coroner’s jury named John Amaniuk as being responsible for Kosto Surkin’s death and he was immediately committed to appear before a justice of the peace to stand trial for murder. Throughout the inquest, Amaniuk didn’t say a thing, just sat with his hands folded and his head slightly bowed.

The Regina Leader-Post – April 19, 1922

The trial opened on September 13, 1922. Amaniuk was represented by C. C. Owen, who put in a plea of not guilty. Among the witnesses was a man named Blasko Kryzuk. He was reportedly the last man to see Surkin alive before Amaniuk. He told the jury that he was returning from his brother’s house when he met Surkin on the road and together they walked back, passing by Amaniuk’s house towards the railroad tracks. When they were about a hundred and fifty feet south of Amaniuk’s, a woman opened the door and called to Surkin to come back. They separated and Kryzuk said he heard the door bang shut.

It is unclear whether or not the police ever looked into Blasko Kryzuk as a suspect.

Annie, Amaniuk’s partner, also testified. She went by Mrs. Amaniuk, although they weren’t married. She was separated from her husband, a man named Lupin who lived in Winnipeg, and had been with Amaniuk for eight years. She said she woke up that Friday night when the crowd of drunken men went past their house. She woke Amaniuk to get him to see what was the matter. He went out and told them to shut up. When the men left, they went back to sleep. A while later, they heard a loud knock on the door. Amaniuk went to see who it was. She heard him say, “what’s the matter?” and then he came in and told her a man was dead on the sidewalk. She went to get the neighbour, and told the court she’d locked the door behind her, forgetting Amaniuk was still inside, so he had to go out the window. When asked if she thought John Amaniuk was the best man in the world, she smiled and said, “you bet your boots.”

Stranger still, Annie testified that a police officer, who she described as big and tall, came to her house the afternoon following the death and told her that if she said Surkin had come over earlier in the day and bothered her so much that she chased him away, it would get her man off. If this was true, the confession the police claimed was ‘voluntarily given’, became a lot less likely to be so. Given that even to this day false confessions are still very much a thing, thanks to terrible police practices, it was entirely likely that the confession was coerced.

After deliberating for three hours, the jury found John Amaniuk guilty of manslaughter, not murder, and he was sentenced to seven years at the penitentiary. Amaniuk, who’d remained stoic throughout the trial, broke into tears as he said goodbye to Annie. He was twenty eight years old.

The Regina Leader-Post – Sep 15, 1922

And that is the story of the murder of Kosto Surkin.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post and don’t want to miss the next one, please subscribe! And share it with your friends!

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: April 17, 1922, April 19, 1922, April 20, 1922, April 27, 1922, April 28, 1922, Sep 14, 1922, Sep 15, 1922, Sep 16, 1922

If you’d like to read more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

A Double Murder Near Kennedy

The Murder at Forget

Bad Blood: Murder at Melfort

A Double Murder Near Kennedy

On Monday, April 29, 1918, Pierre Guilloux was very upset. As he later told police, he believed Pierre Bourhis and his sons had played a dirty trick on him. They’d done him out of a quarter section of land in the Hawthorne district that he thought he’d rented by verbal agreement for the year. But that morning, when he met with Pierre and his sons, John and Joseph, they showed him a written lease to the land in question. Guilloux had already done some plowing on the land and claimed he should be paid for it. They refused.

Guilloux went to see a Mr. Darmedy at Kennedy, who had rented him the land and learned that Darmedy had made out the written lease held by the Bourhis family. His verbal agreement was a misunderstanding.

So what did Pierre Guilloux do? He went home, drank about half a bottle of whiskey, loaded his double barreled shotgun and went out to the quarter section of land where John and Joseph were plowing in the field.

Upon arriving, Guilloux immediately began to quarrel about the leased land and threatened John. Joseph warned Guilloux to be careful with his gun, that it might be loaded and he might accidentally pull the trigger. No sooner had he said this then Guilloux fired at John, the charge entering between the 5th and 6th ribs on his right side, close to his sternum.

John fell to his knees, calling to his brother for help. Joseph started to go to him, but looked up and saw Guilloux reloading the shotgun. Terrified, Joseph ran. Guilloux walked to within four feet of John, who was begging for mercy and raised the gun. John put up his right hand to shield his face. The shot blew off his thumb and forefinger and entered his right temple, killing him instantly. John fell in a heap to the ground.

Meanwhile, Joseph had run to the barn to warn their father, telling him to jump on his horse and ride away as he was doing. Pierre was leading his horse out of the barn when Guilloux fired from twelve feet away, hitting Pierre in the right side of his chest. Pierre managed to walked about twenty five feet before falling. He was dead.

Joseph managed to get away, galloping away down the road on his horse. He rode directly to the home of Jean Guilloux, Pierre Guilloux’s brother, and told him about the shooting.

Jean walked to the farm. On the way he met his brother and asked him what happened. He replied that Pierre and John Bourhis were dead and that he’d done the deed.

Aghast, Jean replied, “you’ve done all the shooting you are going to do.”

Regina Leader-Post – May 2, 1918

Pierre Guilloux walked the two miles to his home and was arrested later that evening by Inspector Collison and Constable Kelly of the provincial police. He was taken to the Regina jail to await his trial.

Up until the land argument, the two families had been on the best of terms. Both came from the same district in Brittany, France and Jean Guilloux was even married to Pierre Bourhis’ daughter.

The murder trial opened at Moosomin on June 4, 1918. Since his incarceration, Guilloux had refused to discuss the shooting, saying only that there was no use crying over spilled milk, and that the deed was done and he couldn’t undo it. He was described as a big man, with a powerful physique and strong constitution. He’d lived in the district for about twenty years, was single, and up until the shooting had a good reputation.

The Regina Leader-Post – June 4, 1918

The prosecutor was Barrister Strang of Moosomin and Guilloux was represented by P. M. Anderson. Anderson made a strong defense on Guilloux’s behalf, pleading that his client was insane at the time of the shooting and was still insane. Four doctors were called to testify to the sanity of Guilloux. Dr. Pardis and Dr. Corbett testified for the defense, while Dr. Rothwell and Dr. Campbell testified for the crown.

On the evening of June 6, 1918, the jury found him guilty of murder after being out for only fifteen minutes. The following day, Justice Brown sentenced him to be hanged on October 3, 1918 at the Regina jail.

His lawyer made an appeal on his behalf, asking for his sentence to be commuted to a life sentence instead.

After his sentencing, Guilloux did show remorse for his crime, saying that he must have lost his mental balance, either through liquor or the stress of the land leasing matter. He was resigned to his fate, but still clung to the hope that his sentence would be commuted to life in prison. He was a model prisoner.

As his execution date drew closer, his hope was rewarded and the Minister of Justice granted his request, commuting his sentence to life imprisonment at the Prince Albert penitentiary.

And that is the story of the senseless murder or Pierre and John Bourhis.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe and share it with your friends!

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post: May 2, 1918, June 4, 1918, June 8, 1918, Sep 27, 1918, Oct 2, 1918, Oct 9, 1918

Want to read more true crime stories from historical Saskatchewan? Try these:

The Murder at Forget

Bad Blood: Murder at Melfort

The Mysterious Dr. Joseph Gervais

The Murder at Forget

On the evening of November 24, 1937, there was a dance at the home of John Btkaik*, a farmer ten miles south of Forget, Saskatchewan. The night proved to be a raucous affair, as tempers flared more than once among the partygoers, but it wasn’t until shortly after midnight that things turned really ugly, when Theodore Hartenberger** was found badly battered near the barn.

He was unconscious, having been beaten and struck with a blunt instrument. A man named John Burns took Hartenberger to the home of Harry Trapps, who in turn took him to the hospital in Lampman. He was admitted by a nurse and Dr. Corrigan, who soon discovered that Hartenberger had a skull fracture. An operation was performed by Dr. Corrigan and Dr. C. B. Stone of Arcola, but it made little difference. Theodore Hartenberger died of his injuries without regaining consciousness on November 26, 1937. He was approximately forty five years old.

Police believed they already knew the culprit responsible for Hartenberger’s injuries, and took him into custody immediately. John Btkaik, the forty-four-year-old homeowner who’d thrown the party. He’d already reported the fight he’d had with Hartenberger that night to the police. The morning after the party, he’d asked his friend, W. W. Osborne to take him to the doctor for a cut on his forehead and a bruised leg, and had asked him to telephone the police.

Btkaik told Constable Hare of Fillmore that Hartenberger had hit him with an eight inch bolt. Hare searched Btkaik’s home and had located a pair of bloodstained trousers, shirt and underwear. He’d also secured Hartenberger’s trousers.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Dec 15, 1937

The inquest into Hartenberger’s death opened on Tuesday afternoon, December 14, 1937, and was presided over by Dr. Stapleford, the coroner of Carlyle. Twenty six witnesses were heard before its conclusion on December 15th. The jury returned an open verdict, stating that Hartenberger had died of injuries received on the head from a blunt instrument in the hands of a person or persons unknown.

On December 16, 1937, a preliminary hearing was done before magistrate J. C. Martin of Weyburn and John Btkaik was committed to stand trial at the next assizes at Arcola. Approximately fifty witnesses gave evidence at the hearing. Btkaik was taken to the Regina jail to await his trial.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Dec 20, 1937

On April 16, 1938, Btkaik was given mental tests to check for insanity. He was found mentally fit and on May 3, 1938, the murder trial opened.

Bloodstained boards, stones and a neckyoke found at the spot where the alleged fight between Btkaik and Hartenberger took place were identified in court by the police. A piece of bloodstained iron, pieces of skull bone and a skull were also entered as exhibits.

The prosecution, W. G. E. Campbell of Arcola, had his work cut out for him. While the party had been very well attended, no one had actually seen the fatal blow delivered that killed Hartenberger. In fact, there had been multiple fights that night during the celebration.

Regina Leader-Post – May 5, 1938

Witness Manlay Hall told the court that during the party a fight had started between Louis Ertman Jr. and Bill Kreiger. Hartenberger had interfered and told Kreiger to leave Ertman alone. (This was confirmed by Ertman.)

Herbert Hopka testified that he saw Hartenberger assault Bkaik. Kreiger, Gerald Valley and Hopka had stopped the fight, but they’d started fighting again and Kreiger and Hopka had had to stop them a second time.

Louis Silk confirmed the above story, testifying that he’d seen the two fights between Btkaik and Hartenberger. He also said he saw Hartenberger come from the barn with a neckyoke and heard him say he was going to “fix” Btkaik and Linda Duke.

Linda Duke testified to hearing Btkaik say “Run girls, I am going to shoot” and that Hartenberger had handed her a neckyoke. Her sister, Ella, confirmed this, as did Edna Hartenberger. William Duke told the court that he heard Btkaik say to Hartenberger as he passed his buggy, “are you going to steal my neckyoke?”

(If it’s sounding as though this party was utter chaos, that is a fair assessment.)

Finally, Otto Lucht testified that he saw Btkaik’s shirt covered with blood and empty bottles in the yard the next morning.

On May 6, 1938, after deliberating for an hour and fifteen minutes, John Btkaik was acquitted. While there was evidence of fighting between the two men, there was no solid proof tying Btkaik to the fatal blow that killed Hartenberger. No one had seen it and the police couldn’t say for certain what weapon was used. He was free to go.

And that’s the story of the unfortunate murder of Theodore Hartenberger.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – May 7, 1938

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this story and would like to support me, please feel free to subscribe and share it with your friends.

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Dec 7, 1937, Dec 15, 1937, Dec 16, 1937, Dec 20, 1937, Dec 21, 1937, April 18, 1938, May 4, 1938, May 5, 1938, May 6, 1938, May 7, 1938

*Also saw it as Mtkaik

**Also saw it as Thomas Hartenberger

If you want to read more historical true crime stories, give these a try:

Bad Blood: Murder at Melfort

The Mysterious Dr. Joseph Gervais

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours: The Murder of George Legebokoff

Bad Blood: Murder at Melfort

Thomas Halcro was a well liked and respected farmer in the Royal district a few miles south of Prince Albert. He’d been farming there for forty years with his wife, had seven grown children and had even served for some time on the Royal school board. Before moving to Royal, he’d farmed in the Halcro district, which was named after him. He was described by friends as a peaceable man with a cheerful, friendly disposition.

In October of 1924, Thomas made the journey to Melfort to collect his share of the crop on a farm he owned and rented to a man named Tolf Tollofson*. Previously, he’d arranged the sale of the farm to a man named James Howard, but he’d had to foreclose on Howard the previous winter when Howard grew too far behind on his payment. Howard had remained on the farm for a long part of the summer, before moving to Edenbridge.

On the afternoon of October 25, 1924, Tollofson was getting ready to leave the farm for his home after spending the day settling up with Halcro. The grain had already been threshed and they’d been busy dividing the hay. They finished around 3:30, when they both decided it was time to go home. Halcro was going to ride with Tollofson, as he was staying with some neighbours while in the district. Tollofson was getting his team from near the straw stacks, some distance from the house, when his young son ran to him and told him James Howard had arrived. Howard drove towards Tollofson and asked where the threshed grain was. Tollofson replied that he had his share and Halcro had his. Howard became visibly upset, shouting at Tollofson to ‘crank the car’. Tollofson obeyed and Howard drove off towards the house.

Halcro was standing at the door of the house when Howard pulled up. He walked towards the car, his hands in his pockets. Tollofson heard shouting and what he called ‘some vile talk’ by Howard. He was making his way towards the house when through some bushes he saw Howard kneel in the front seat of the car and raise a shot gun, firing directly at Halcro, who was about three feet away. Halcro dropped without a word, the upper part of his head blown off. Tollofson immediately hid in the bushes, but Howard shouted at him to come out, that he wouldn’t hurt him. He told Tollofson, “well, I have done for him, I’ll now tell the police.”

Howard got out, cranked the car and drove out of the farmyard towards the Bagley store.

A. Tranberg** had been standing on a culvert at the approach to the farm about sixty yards away when the shooting took place. He watched Howard leave, stopping to pick up a man named Felix Rozmarniewick, who’d joined Howard on the drive to the farm and had run away down the road when he heard the shooting. Felix later told police that he’d had no idea Howard was going to shoot Halcro that day. He’d joined him on the ride to the farm strictly “for his own pleasure.” He’d gotten out at the gate to walk around and take in the scenery.

James Howard drove to Oscar Pearson’s*** store in Bagley. He went inside and told Pearson that there was a man up at Halcro’s farm that required the attention of police and that if the police wanted him, they’d find him at his home in Edenbridge. Howard then left and Pearson called the police. Howard was picked up at his house that night and taken into custody.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Oct 28, 1924

Word was sent to Halcro’s wife and his family arrived in Melfort the following day. On Monday, October 27, 1924, the inquest opened at 2:00PM and ran until 10:00PM that night. On October 28th, Howard appeared before Magistrate Thomas Murray of Prince Albert for a preliminary hearing on the charge of murder. He was committed to stand trial for murder at the next sitting of the King’s Bench.

James Howard was nearly 70, while Halcro was 64. Howard had no family and had come to Melfort in 1910 from the southern United States.

The Regina Leader-Post – Oct 27, 1924

Howard entered a plea of not guilty at his trial, claiming that he’d shot Halcro in self defense. He testified in his own defense, telling the court that he argued with Halcro about wages he believed were owed to him. After finding out that he wouldn’t get a share in the grain that had been threshed, he’d driven to the house and argued with Halcro about these wages. The dispute got more heated and Howard testified that Halcro had ordered him off his land. He said Halcro told him, “if you don’t go, I’ll put you.”

Halcro then approached the car and Howard got up from his seat and grabbed the gun, telling Halcro, “if you come another step, I’ll blow off your damned head.” He said Halcro reached into his pocket, as if to grab something, a weapon or a gun, so he shot him.

Howard was adamant that he had shot instead of getting shot, despite the fact that Halcro was found to have nothing in his pockets. He told the court that if he’d meant to murder him, he would have done so after the sheriff dispossessed him of the farm. “If I wanted to shoot him, I had lots of other opportunities.”

James Howard was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to serve fifteen years in the Prince Albert Penitentiary. The jury was out for only an hour and about twenty minutes.

Thomas Halcro was buried at the Royal St. John’s Cemetery. More than two hundred people attended his funeral.

And that is the story of how some bad blood led to murder.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Nov 5, 1924

Thank you for reading! If you’d like to support me and my blog, please subscribe! (And recommend it to your friends!)

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Oct 27, 1924, Oct 28, 1924, Oct 29, 1924, Oct 30, 1924 and Nov 5, 1924.

*Also saw it spelled Tolof Tollofson, Tollefson, and Tollef.

**Also saw it spelled A. Cranberg.

***Also saw it spelled as Peterson and Person.

If you’d like to read more historical murder stories from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

The Mysterious Dr. Joseph Gervais

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours: The Murder of George Legebokoff

Killed On Duty: The Murder of Constable George Lenhard

The Mysterious Dr. Joseph Gervais

The Saskatoon Daily Star – May 16, 1919

On November 15, 1918, James McKay, a bailiff for Sheriff David R. Seath, went out to Steep Creek with a warrant to seize a team of horses. Dr. Joseph Gervais had apparently purchased the horses from a neighbour, but then refused to pay for them. So, McKay hopped in his Ford and drove out to the Gervais farm, which was located about twenty-six miles east of Prince Albert, where the South Saskatchewan river flowed into the Saskatchewan. It was described in the newspapers as a “wild place, without telephone communication, and the roads … unusually bad.”

James McKay didn’t return.

On November 20, 1918, Dr. Joseph Gervais was arrested at his home on the top of the bank. But he wasn’t the only one the police were looking for. Neighbours in the community reported that Gervais had two men working for him, but they hadn’t been at the house. Their names were Victor Carmel and Jean Baptiste St. Germain. There were rumors that Gervais and his men had a series of tunnels and dugouts on the property, but Gervais denied all knowledge of this and pleaded ignorance of any such rumored stronghold.

Police called in the aid of the local C.E.F. battalion (Canadian Expeditionary Force), and together they went back out to the Gervais farm to search for the missing men. As they searched, Corporal Charles Horsley of the C.E.F. came across a trapdoor. When he lifted it, Carmel and St. Germain fired their weapons from inside and Corp. Horsley was shot down. The two men rushed out of the dugout and ran into the bush, managing to evade capture. Corporal Horsley died of his injuries.

Inside the dugout, they found the seat from McKay’s Ford, a satchel and papers, a double-barreled shot gun, and what Sheriff Seath identified as McKay’s portmanteau and coat.

Carmel and St. Germain managed to stay on the run until November 24, 1918, when they were finally captured on the farm of C.W. Young, about six miles east of Prince Albert. They’d been taking refuge in a haystack on the property and had gone to Young’s looking first for water and then returning again for food. Young reportedly hadn’t called the police immediately because he was concerned they were listening near the house and might hear it.

Now, with all three men in custody, police decided to split them up and question them separately. When they wouldn’t talk, the police kept the pressure on, subjecting them to hours of grueling interrogation until they broke. And the stories they told captured the attention of the entire province.

A Very Strange Tale

Dr. Gervais confirmed that James McKay had, as they suspected, been murdered. Not by him, of course, but by Carmel and St. Germain. But McKay was not the first man to be murdered on the property. Adolphe Lajoie had been Gervais’s partner on the farm, and in June of 1917, he’d died. The coroner had ruled it an accidental death after his shack caught fire, but Gervais now admitted that the fire had been started to cover up his murder.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Nov 23, 1918

According to Gervais, Victor Carmel and Adolphe Lajoie had quarreled. Afterward, Carmel had chosen one of his rifles, loaded it and walked right up to Lajoie. He called him a vile name and shot him in the forehead. Apparently Carmel waited for a few minutes, then threw the body over his shoulder and carried it to Lajoie’s shack, about two miles from Gervais’s house. He carefully placed the body on the bed and put Lajoie’s clay pipe between the springs so that it would look like he’d fallen asleep while smoking and accidentally lit the bed on fire. He doused the premises and Lajoie’s body liberally with coal oil, then started the fire.

Dr. Gervais told police that if they dug up Lajoie, they would find a bullet hole in his forehead.

So they did. And sure enough, he was right. They found a bullet in the center of his forehead.

Meanwhile, Carmel and St. Germain had admitted to shooting James McKay. They told police that they’d arranged to shoot any stranger who came to the place, on the orders of Dr. Gervais. They were draft dodgers and suspicious of anyone they didn’t know. In fact, the reason all three of them had grown beards, according to Carmel, was so that military police officers wouldn’t recognize them. This was apparently suggested by Dr. Gervais. The two men had assumed McKay was an officer coming to arrest them under the Military Service Act and opened fire on him.

But they didn’t assume all the blame. They said that they had no choice, that Gervais had made them do it. They were under his hypnotic spell.

The Regina Leader-Post – Nov 27, 1918

How It All Began

Dr. Joseph Gervais had been practicing hypnotism in Montreal when he met Carmel and St. Germain at a dance at St. Hyacinthe in Quebec, where he was playing violin. He convinced the two men to move to Montreal, and the three became close. Carmel consulted Gervais about his health, as he suffered from something described simply as ‘tubercular’. Gervais hypnotized him and the pains he suffered from in his chest immediately disappeared. Victor Carmel testified that Gervais then began to use him for “the most disgusting immoral practices”, which continued until the eve of the murder at Steep Creek. Now, the newspapers don’t go into any further details on this, but given the ridiculous levels of homophobia at the time, I take it to mean that the two entered into a sexual relationship. Whether it was willing participation on Carmel’s part or if he felt he’d been manipulated/groomed by Gervais is unclear. He was quite a bit younger than Gervais, so it’s entirely possible that Gervais took some advantage of him.

In August of 1917, all three came to Prince Albert when Gervais told them he could save them from military service. He rented the farm at Steep Creek, where they worked for him without pay. When the Military Service Act came into force, he advised them to go into hiding and helped them dig an underground dwelling in a steep embankment of the river, where they lived throughout the summer of 1918. Only a few of the residents of Steep Creek suspected its existence, as it was protected by forest growth and was mostly hidden from view. Gervais continued to live in his house at the top of the bank and there was an underground exit from his stable leading to a path that ran down the embankment to the dugout. Gervais supplied them with rifles, shotguns and ammunition, telling them to shoot any trespassers.

Carmel and St. Germain claimed that they were entirely under the hypnotic influence of Gervais and that when McKay appeared at the place they’d obeyed Gervais’s hypnotic instructions. When McKay had attempted to gain entry to the stable, they’d fired at him and continued firing shots into his body until Gervais, coming from a neighbour’s, had appeared at the top of the embankment and called them off.

All three men were charged with willful murder.

The Trials

At the preliminary trial, Dr. Gervais tried to get Victor Carmel to take responsibility for the murder of Adolphe Lajoie. He cried out in court, “In the name of God, Victor, tell the truth. You’re going to die.” But Carmel didn’t do as Gervais wanted. He responded, “I didn’t know anything about it until you told me.”

It wasn’t until February of 1919, during the coroner’s inquest into Adolphe Lajoie’s murder that Dr. Gervais admitted he was the one that killed Lajoie. “I shot Adolphe Lajoie, first in the mouth and the second time through the heart.” Alphonse Lajoie, the dead man’s brother, also testified that the coat Gervais had been seen wearing was, in fact, Adolphe’s.

The trial began and prosecutor P. E. Mackenzie worked hard to show that although he didn’t fire any of the shots, Dr. Gervais was equally responsible for the murder of James McKay. Neighbours testified that Gervais was constantly threatening and intimidating everyone in the community, preaching about the ‘horrible consequences’ if they trespassed on his land. He went up and down the countryside, saying not only that he’d shoot, but that his hired men had been instructed to shoot as well.

He and his men had terrorized the community. At one point, Gervais had apparently shot and killed a two-year-old steer belonging to another farmer named Phillipe, then gone to the home of a neighbour, Peter Desmoreaux, and demanded at gun point that he load the steer onto his wagon and take it to the Gervais farm.

Gervais was the mastermind behind all of it, according to prosecutor Mackenzie. He’d found in Carmel and St. Germain, two men with meagre educations and no advantages in life, servants who were willing to work his farm. He shielded them from the authorities and in return they implicitly followed his directions. He formulated the dugout scheme and supplied them with arms and ammunition. To quote Mackenzie, he “excited them until they became like a pair of hungry wolves, ready to fall on anyone who came near.”

When Gervais had returned from the neighbour’s, he hadn’t been alone. Peter Desmoreaux’s son, Joseph, had been with him. Joseph testified that after the murder, Gervais had expressed his approval and ratified the entire affair. He’d even asked St. Germain if there was any money in McKay’s pocketbook. He told Carmel and St. Germain that McKay had gotten what he deserved and that he shouldn’t have come, “poking his nose in where he had no business”.

He’d pressed Joseph into service helping cover up the murder and threatened him with death if he spoke of it. They’d carried McKay’s body down to the ice on the river, tied it to a plank and then shoved it into the current. The automobile was then hacked to pieces and buried. Then Joseph and Gervais had covered up the tracks made by McKay’s automobile.

Gervais’s defense, A. McLean Mathelson, argued that Gervais was not responsible for the murder of McKay. He didn’t pull the trigger. He didn’t give the order. And he’d only helped after the fact because he didn’t want to get dragged into the whole affair. He stated that despite the supposed threats Gervais was charged with making by his neighbours, plenty of people came and went to the farm to employ the doctor’s services. If his threats were really serious, would they have risked it?

Carmel and St. Germain clung to their mind control defense, although the judge would not allow it. So their defense focused on Gervais being the ring leader and mastermind, and they were simply following his directions.

All three were found guilty, and on May 15, 1919, they were sentenced to hang at the Prince Albert jail on September 17th of the same year. They appealed their sentence and were given one month’s reprieve while their case was reviewed. Members of the community were deeply opposed to the reprieve, especially the C.E.F. battalion who’d lost one of their members in the capture of the desperadoes of Steep Creek.

The night before their sentence was to be carried out, word came down that there would be no further reprieves. They were to be hanged. Apparently, Dr. Gervais refused to believe it when he was told. But on the morning of Friday, October 17, 1919, at 7:00AM, all three men were taken from their cells and lined up on the scaffold, side by side. They died at the same time, all three men’s necks broken in the drop.

And that is the story of the three desperadoes of Steep Creek.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Oct 18, 1919

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix: Nov 21, 1918, Nov 23, 1918, Nov 26, 1918, Nov 27, 1918, Dec 9, 1918, Feb 11, 1919, Feb 19, 1919, May 12, 1919, May 16, 1919, Sep 17, 1919, Oct 14, 1919, Oct 17, 1919, Oct 18, 1919

If you enjoyed this post and would like to support me, please consider subscribing! And sending it to your friends!

Hungry for more historical true crime? Try these:

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours: The Murder of George Legebokoff

Killed On Duty: The Murder of Constable George Lenhard

Dead in His Bed: Murder in Wakaw

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours: The Murder of George Legebokoff

Main Street, Pelly, Saskatchewan, 1902 – The Saskatchewan Council for Archives and Archivists

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.

The Regina Leader-Post – April 23, 1930

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 Regina Leader-Post – April 25, 1930

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.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – May 21, 1930

If you enjoyed this post and don’t want to miss another, please subscribe! And feel free to share it with your fellow true crime lovers.

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.

If you’d like to read more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

Killed On Duty: The Murder of Constable George Lenhard

Dead in His Bed: Murder in Wakaw

The Man on the Fence: The Murder of Michael Kaminsky

Killed On Duty: The Murder of Constable George Lenhard

The Regina Leader-Post – August 15, 1981

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 Regina Leader-Post – August 9, 1933

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.

The Regina Leader-Post – April 25, 1934

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.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post and want to support this blog, please subscribe and recommend it to your friends!

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

If you’d like to read more stories of historical Saskatchewan true crime, check these out:

Dead in His Bed: Murder in Wakaw

The Man on the Fence: The Murder of Michael Kaminsky

A Love Affair Gone Wrong: The Murder of Antena Kropa

Dead in His Bed: Murder in Wakaw

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.

The Regina Leader-Post – Feb 10, 1919

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.

The Regina Leader-Post – May 2, 1919

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.

Thank you for reading! As always, if you enjoyed this article and don’t want to miss out on new Saskatchewan murder stories, please subscribe!

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

If you’d like to read more historical true crime from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

The Man on The Fence: The Murder of Michael Kaminsky

A Love Affair Gone Wrong: The Murder of Antena Kropa

The Murder of Lena Faust

The Man on the Fence: The Murder of Michael Kaminsky

Rosthern, Saskatchewan

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.

Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer – Jan 9, 1907

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.

The Regina Leader-Post – Jan 10, 1907

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.

The Regina Leader-Post – Jan 21, 1907

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.

The Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer – June 19, 1907

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.

Thank you for reading! If you’re interested in supporting me, please subscribe to the website and tell your friends!

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

If you’d like to read more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

A Love Affair Gone Wrong: The Murder of Antena Kropa

The Murder of Lena Faust

The Mamchur Family Massacre