The Murder of Sarah Mulvihill

On the morning of August 22, 1918, Sarah Mulvihill (also known as Sadie Mae) decided she would walk from her family home in Prince Albert out to the homestead where her father and brother were working near Sturgeon Lake. After making a few purchases in town, she started her walk, crossing the bridge over the Saskatchewan River and taking the northwest road. Her sister, Irene, accompanied her as far as the packing house before returning home and leaving her to complete her journey alone.

Sarah carried her knitting bag with her, made from a flowery material, and wore a brown coat and crocheted hat.

On Sunday, September 1, 1918, her father and brother went to town, only to be told that Sarah had started out for the farm on the 22nd. They had no idea about the plan, so when she never arrived at the farm no alarm was raised.

A search was immediately organized to look for the missing girl. Sarah was only eighteen, a collegiate institute student who wanted to be a teacher. She was well known and very well liked in the community.

The same morning that the search was organized, a woman named Mrs. Hutcheson heard about Sarah. Her property was near the Sturgeon Lake Trail, the same trail Sarah would have been on, about nine miles north of Prince Albert. In the afternoon she went out for a stroll, and as she was passing along the trail she was hit with a strong odor. She’d smelled it the previous Wednesday while berry picking and assumed it was a dead horse. Now, knowing about the missing girl, she decided to investigate. There, at the bottom of a small hill, hidden by a pile of brush close to the road, were the remains of Sadie Mae.

Sep 4, 1918 – Sskatoon Daily Star

Constable Garry Tynen was the first of the provincial police to arrive on the scene. He testified that her body was lying slightly on the left side, her left arm doubled under her body and her left hand under her face. Her right hand was caught in the twig of a tree. Her skirts were pulled up over her stockings and her garters had been torn from the corsets. She was badly decomposed. The flesh on the lower half of her body was badly discoloured, while the flesh from her hips upward had disappeared, with no flesh whatsoever left on her skull. Her hair lay in a coiled mass beneath her head. A hole could be seen in the base of her skull, from which numerous cracks radiated. As soon as the skull was touched, the lower jaw crumbled and dropped off. Two clubs, one covered in blood, the other with pieces of hair matted to it, were found close to the body. Her hat was never found.

It was clear that Sarah had been murdered, and mostly likely raped. But by who?

As the police investigated, they found several witnesses who had seen Sarah on the trail that day. A man named Knute G. Soderstrom said he met Sarah on the road while driving a team to the city. Another witness, Miss Atta Miller of Sturgeon Valley, had passed Sarah while driving in a Ford car with her mother and brother near where the Wild Rose Trail joined the Sturgeon Lake Trail. Sarah had stuck in her memory, as she’d thought the clothes she was wearing were pretty. As they passed, there were two other rigs on the trail as well and she’d commented at the time “perhaps that fellow will give the girl a ride”.

Mrs. Bertha Wilson, who lived on a farm along the trail, told the police she’d looked out the window shortly after lunch and seen the girl pass by.

A man named William Foster had been driving a team of oxen on the trail the day of Sadie’s disappearance and had passed a girl and a man in a buggy. The buggy was hitched to a very peculiar looking pinto, described as being white with brown ears and blue spots. The girl wore a brownish coat and a crocheted cap. She looked shy, he said, with her eyes cast down to her feet where there was a bag made out of a flowery material.

Albert Cowan had also described an encounter with a pinto. He’d been walking the trail and had come upon a pinto of the same description hitched to a tree. A girl was sitting in the buggy and a man was pacing up and down the road with his hands in his pockets. They’d spoken briefly as Albert passed by. This was an especially important encounter, as it was right by the site where Sarah’s body was later found.

The man in the buggy with the unusual pinto immediately became a person of interest.

As the police continued their inquiries, they found a man named William Jefferson. On the day in question, he’d been cutting brushwood near the trail, which ran along his farm. Just before noon, he’d noticed a man in a buggy with a strange looking pinto heading towards Prince Albert. The driver had stopped to ask for directions to Shellbrook. He remembered it clearly because he’d never seen a horse like the one the man was driving. When the man mentioned that he was from Saskatoon, the horse stopped dead. The buggy had a black body and red gears and he’d made particular note of how the shafts were magnificently put together. He also noticed something unusual in the way the man held the reins. He didn’t hold them like a man accustomed to horses.

Another man, Alexander Beauchamps, had also encountered the strange pinto on the trail. On August 22nd he was hauling hay. Between 12:00 and 1:00 the buggy and pinto had passed him at a walk. He hadn’t noticed much about the driver, aside from the odd manner in which he held the reins, he’d only had eyes for the horse. A white pinto with brown ears and blue spots. A little while later, he’d seen the same horse and buggy trotting fast in the opposite direction.

With a description of the horse, buggy and driver, the police continued to track the movements of the mysterious man with the pinto, finally catching up with him at Zelma, Saskatchewan on September 8, 1918. The man’s name was Albert “Shorty” Roberts. He was from Saskatoon and had recently returned from England after joining the 65th Battalion. He’d been discharged from his unit before they moved on to France and sent home in June of 1918. In August, he’d purchased the pinto and buggy and gone on a trip north to look for work. They arrested him for vagrancy and held him as a material witness.

Sep 10, 1918 – The Regina Leader-Post

On September 9th, Roberts was moved to Prince Albert, where he and his police escort were met at the station by an enraged mob intent on lynching him. Sarah’s brother, Edward was watching at the train station and pounced on Roberts as he was being escorted between two police officers. He grabbed Roberts by the throat and started choking him. It took three men to pry him loose. Seeing the danger Roberts was in, the officers fought back against the crowd and Roberts was spirited away in the waiting police car.

Sep 24, 1918 – the Saskatoon Daily Star

After the inquest into Sarah Mulvihill’s death, Roberts was committed to stand trial for her murder. In Saskatoon, there was some skepticism about Roberts’ guilt, as well as a lot of sympathy for his wife, Mrs. Lillie Roberts, who was in poor health with three small children. The Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers League took up a collection to aid the distressed family.

On April 28, 1919, the trial began. It garnered more than the usual amount of women spectators, who turned up to show sympathy and solidarity with Mrs. Mulvihill, the mother of the murdered girl. It was presided over by Justice Elwood. Prosecutors for the crown were P. E. Mackenzie of Saskatoon and F. L. Halliday of Prince Albert. Representing the defense was T. A. Lynd of Saskatoon and Gilbert H. Yule.

April 29, 1919 – the Saskatoon Daily Star

The prosecution had their work cut out for them. Their evidence was highly circumstantial, albeit very suspicious, without any direct evidence linking Roberts to the murder. After his arrest, police had seized a washer boiler and some clothes of his and had them and the wash water tested for blood. None was found, although it was theorized that he wouldn’t have gotten a lot of blood on him, as the trauma to Sarah’s head was at the point where her hair was tied. They believed that would have limited some of the blood spatter. And although the shoes on Robert’s pinto matched the horseshoe prints around the scene, the shoes the pinto was wearing were not uncommon.

They focused on the large number of witnesses that had seen Roberts and his pinto on the trail, and especially the two witnesses who had seen Sarah in his buggy. William Foster had recognized Albert Roberts as the driver he’d seen in the buggy with Sarah and William Jefferson had positively identified Roberts as the man driving the buggy he’d given directions to, having recognized him by his bad teeth. Alexander Beauchamps’ memory of the pinto was so good that even when the defense tried to trip him up by taking him outside and showing him two similarly peculiar pintos, he was able to pick out Roberts’ horse without hesitation.

April 30, 1919 – the Saskatoon Daily Star

Sarah’s skull was also entered into evidence. During Constable Garry Tynen’s testimony a box was produced and shown to the jury. Inside, it contained her hair, still stuck to some turf and sticks, and her skull. When it was brought out, several women became too upset and had to leave. Sarah’s mother stayed.

Albert Roberts took the stand in his own defense. He told the court that he’d gone up north looking for work, specifically at a farm managed by C. W. Clinch located five miles northwest of Shellbrook. On August 22nd, he’d left Prince Albert at 10:00AM to go to Shellbrook. He didn’t know the road and got turned around. At about noon he stopped and asked Jefferson for directions. He maintained that he’d never encountered Sarah on the trail, nor had he given anyone a ride. When he got to the bridge at the fork in the road, he stopped and took a nap. At around 3:00PM he saw a man driving an English surrey rig from the bridge. He arrived at the Clinch farm after supper and was given a job shocking wheat. He’d worked all the following morning before giving up, saying the work was too much for his strength and moving on.

The crown worked hard to trip him up in their cross examination, pointing out every inconsistency in his current story from the one he gave at the inquest.

To support his testimony, the defense called James R. Clare, who testified that on August 22nd he was in Prince Albert. He’d found out that his son had been severely wounded in France and left for home the same day at around 2:00PM. He took the Sturgeon Lake Trail and within about an hour and a half he reached the fork in the road where Roberts was allegedly sleeping. He told the court that he hadn’t met Albert Cowan on the road, whom he knew quite well, and hadn’t seen Sarah or a horse and buggy in the clearing where she was killed. He was driving an English surrey rig, the same one Roberts claimed to have seen from the bridge.

Eager to discredit this witness, the crown called Mrs. Hutcheson back to the stand. She testified that on August 22nd, she saw Mr. Clare going home and he was sound asleep in his buggy. She’s sent her boys out to unhitch his team and put the horses in her stable. Seeing how deeply he was sleeping, they didn’t wake him. He woke up a while later and came into the house, staying at her place until about 8:00PM when he left for home.

The prosecution also pointed out that Roberts could have seen the rig from the clearing and used it as an alibi later, claiming to have seen it from the bridge instead.

On May 3, 1919, the case was given to the jury, who found Albert “Shorty” Roberts guilty of murder. He was sentenced to hang at Prince Albert jail on August 6, 1919.

“And I will die innocent,” Albert cried in a clear voice upon hearing his sentence.

May 5, 1919 – the Saskatoon Daily Star

The next day, Roberts made a statement before Sheriff David Seath, Warden Thomas McGregor and his wife, Lillie Roberts. He told them that he lied. He had picked up Sarah Mulvihill on the road just past Bertha Wilson’s farm and given her a ride. They had passed William Foster as described and driven on to the place where the tragedy occurred. He’d parked the buggy and tied up the horse then had his lunch.

Afterwards, a man in a red sweater came along. The man asked him for the “makin’s” and he’d given him a half dollar and a cigarette, after which the man had shared some of his weird tasting beer with him. They got to talking and the man asked him where he was going. He told him he was going up to Paddling Lake Country. The man told him it was all bush up there and said there was some land available near his place. He gave Roberts the numbers of the available homesteads, which Roberts took down on a piece of paper and put in his pocket. He later put the paper with the man’s name and the description of the land in his trunk. Roberts gave him his own name and address as well.

While this was taking place, Sadie was in the buggy. He went to her and asked if she thought she had better walk on. She asked him how long he’d be there and he told her he was going to give the horse another hour. She told him she didn’t like walking the road alone and was afraid the man might follow her.

Roberts hitched up the horse and when he came back to the buggy the man was talking to Sarah and she seemed scared. He tried to keep Roberts from hitching the horse up to the buggy, but Roberts told him he had to be going, as he had a long way to go. The man pulled Sadie from the buggy and she called for help. He went and tried to protect her, but the man pushed Roberts back and he fell over a stump. Sarah fell over a tree. He picked up a club (the one that was produced in court in two pieces) and hit the man with it. Sarah was lying over by a tree to the right of the buggy.

His pinto started off and he stopped it, asking the man what he intended to do. The man told him: “If you say a damn word about this, I will go back to Saskatoon and blow your whole family up.”

Roberts picked up another stick and tried to defend himself as best he could, but his horse started away again. It went around by the fire guard and stopped down at the bottom. He went after it, jumping in his buggy and driving on. Sarah was lying on the ground when he left her and that was all he knew about it.

Sheriff Seath searched Roberts trunk and his entire house with the help of Lillie Roberts but they could find no trace of the mysterious paper with the man’s name and the available land.

When asked why he lied and said he’d never seen Sarah, Roberts said he was worried about his family and that he wouldn’t be believed.

No clemency was given to Albert Roberts and he was hanged on August 6, 1919. His final words were “I am innocent. I commend my wife and children to the keeping of the Almighty.”

And that it the story of the murder of Sarah Mulvihill.

Aug 7, 1919 – the Regina Leader-Post

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

Information from this post was found in the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Sep 4, 1918, Sep 10, 1918, Sep 20, 1918, Sep 24, 1918, Sep 26, 1918, Oct 19, 1918, April 14, 1919, April 25, 1919, April 29, 1919, April 30, 1919, May 1, 1919, May 2, 1919, May 3, 1919, May 5, 1919, May 9, 1919, May 10, 1919, Aug 2, 1919, Aug 6, 1919, Aug 7, 1919

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

A Fire Near Tisdale: The Mysterious Deaths of William Robson and Mary Swanson

A Brief History of the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw

Beneath the Horses’ Hooves: the Murder of Ralph Warwick

A Fire Near Tisdale: The Suspicious Deaths of William Robson and Mary Swanson

It was a quiet Thursday evening on May 24, 1928 near Tisdale, when Joe Morrell decided to visit a nearby neighbour. He left the home of his employer, William Robson, between 7:30 and 8:00PM. When he started the walk home at about 11:30PM, he noticed flames issuing from the top story of the house.

Alarmed, he ran home and called for Robson, but received no reply. As he went to open the door, the top story caved in, crashing out two of the walls. He retreated to the nearby storehouse and set to work rescuing its contents in case the fire spread. He was joined by the hired man of one of the neighbours, and when they finished Morrell spent the night at their place. He returned early the following morning, the house burned to the ground, and discovered the bodies of William Robson and the housekeeper, Mrs. Mary Swanson.

They were not in their beds, which had been on the second story of the house and after the collapse were found in the cellar. Instead, Robson’s body was found lying on Morrell’s cot, which had been in the corner of the living room, with Swanson at one end, her head also lying on the cot.

Dr. M. A. Mackay, coroner of Tisdale, investigated the deaths and decided no inquest was necessary, believing they were most likely caused by fire. But Constable Jennings of the Provincial Police didn’t agree. Some ugly rumors had been circulating in the Pontrilas district where Robson’s estranged wife was living and those rumors led Jennings to arrest a man named Ernest Olson on the night of May 28th, four days after the fire.

The Regina Leader-Post – May 30,1928

In light of the arrest, an inquest was held on May 30, 1928. Dr. McQueen of Tisdale made an examination of the bodies, but they were so badly burned and so little was left of them that he could offer no clue to the cause of death, aside from fire. The inquest was put on hold until June, so that the Provincial Police could continue their investigation.

With no physical evidence pointing to murder, aside from the odd location of the bodies, Constable Jennings relied on Ernest Olson’s history with the Robsons, and the testimony of Nellie Robson, William Robson’s estranged wife. Ernest Olson had previously worked for Robson, but two years ago he was fired after he “became too friendly” with Mrs. Robson. After he lost his job, Mrs. Robson left her husband, taking the children with her, eventually ending up in Pontrilas where she worked as a housekeeper.

When the inquest resumed on June 13, 1928, she testified that on the evening of May 28, 1928, Ernest Olson had confessed the murder to her. According to Mrs. Robson, Olson told her that on the evening of the fire he’d gone to the house and waited there until the hired man left, then went and knocked on the door. Robson came down from upstairs and he hit him with an axe. Apparently hearing the noise, Mrs. Swanson came running downstairs screaming. “What was I to do then?” he told Nellie. So he killed her too. He put them on the hired man’s cot in the living room, poured coal oil over them and over the beds upstairs and set them on fire. He thought he heard someone outside so he ran away.

The Regina Leader-Post – June 14, 1928

The whole time Mrs. Robson testified, Olson stared at her in amazement. He vehemently denied her statement and said that on the night of the fire he left the home of his employer, Roy Snider, just after 9:00PM and went north a short distance for a walk. Then he turned east and after walking for a short while he went back to the Snider farm, stopping at the stable before going to bed.

The jury at the inquest returned an open verdict, listing the cause of death for both Robson and Swanson as at the hands of a person or persons unknown. Ernest Olson was sent for a preliminary hearing and committed to stand trial for murder, but only of William Robson.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – June 15, 1928

His trial opened on October 30, 1928 in the town hall of Melfort, which was converted to a courtroom for the occasion. The seriousness of the situation was slightly undercut by the decorated lights and Hawaiian lagoon pictured on the back of the stage.

The prosecution built its case almost entirely on the testimony of Nellie Robson. She’d married William Robson on October 1, 1919 when she was only fifteen years old and he was forty seven. She and her husband had not gotten along well and he’d often abused her. In 1924 she’d had him arrested for abuse but nothing much had come of it. In 1926, she’d separated from him and gone to keep house for Olson at his shack in Nipawin. She denied having more than ordinary friendship with Olson. Once, in January of 1927, Robson had gone to Nipawin and asked her to return to him but she refused.

She kept house for Olson until March of 1928. She quit, she said, because he wasn’t paying her the $15 per month that was supposed to be her wages and there often wasn’t enough food in the house. He drank a lot and she didn’t approve. After leaving Olson, she went to work for Albert Knuth as his housekeeper in Pontrilas.

Nellie Robson testified that on Sunday, May 27th, Olson met her and Albert Knuth while they were driving in a buggy. He’d said good morning and told her that he was going to Ridgedale. He asked her if the police had been to see her and she told him that Constable Jennings had. She asked him the same and he said yes. When she asked him where he was that night he told her “up and down the road from Snider’s.” Knuth remarked that unless he could explain where he was, he’d put his foot in a trap.

The next day, she saw Olson again at Knuth’s. He pleaded with her to come back to him and be his housekeeper, but she told him she “was through”. A little later, when she was standing with a few other people, he tapped her on the shoulder and said he wished to speak to her alone. At that point he gave his confession. She told Knuth the following morning and the police were called.

In addition to this alleged confession, the crown produced a witness, George A. Clark, who told of a conversation he’d had with Olson in which Olson said he’d get even with Robson for some statements he’d made about him, saying he’d “clean up” William Robson.

Albert Knuth also testified, stating that on May 27th, he’d talked with Olson and Olson told him that he knew more about the fire than Knuth expected.

Finally, a man named William Hill was put on the stand. He testified that on May 26th Olson offered him money to say that he was at his place on the night of the fire. He refused. He stated out right that he didn’t like Olson. He didn’t respect a man who would go around another man’s wife. (Although I guess his moral outrage didn’t go so far as to condemn a forty-seven-year-old man for marrying a child.)

Roy Snider testified that on the night in question he’d seen Olson leave at about 9:30, headed north. At about 11:00, his wife made him go see if Olson was back yet. She felt as though something was perhaps wrong. He went to the barn to see if Olson had taken a horse, but they were all there and everything was in order. His bed had not been slept in and he wasn’t home. When they got up at 5:00AM the next morning, Olson was back, doing the chores.

(This also confirmed Olson’s story of going out after 9:00PM, which conflicted with Nellie Robson’s testimony that he’d gone to the house and waited for the hired man to leave, who’d left between 7:30 and 8:00PM.)

Joe Morrell also testified, telling the story of the night of the fire. When asked if he’d seen anyone else that night, he said he noticed Nicholas Stranchuk, a woodcutter, going to the house with a little pail and a stone jug. Stranchuk was called to the stand and he explained that he was scrubbing for Robson some distance away and had called for water and milk. He’d found Robson and the housekeeper downstairs and all seemed to be well.

Had the prosecution effectively proven that Ernest Olson committed the murders? Had they even proven the murders occurred at all?

On October 31, 1928, the jury left the courtroom at 3:00PM and returned at 5:20PM. They found Olson guilty of murder and he was sentenced to hang on February 15, 1929. On hearing his sentence, Olson trembled violently, nearly tottering over. His sandy hair was in wild disorder, his face an ashen grey. He protested multiple times that he was innocent.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Nov 1, 1928

He was thirty-one-years-old. He’d immigrated to the U.S. at five and did not attend school beyond grade two. He’d come to Canada in 1910.

On November 2, 1928 he was taken to Prince Albert to await his sentence. An appeal was filed and on February 1, 1929, his sentence was commuted to life in prison.

And that is the story of the (maybe) murder of William Robson and Mary Swanson.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Feb 1, 1929

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, and you don’t want to miss any in the future, please subscribe!

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: May 26, 1928, May 29, 1928, May 30, 1928, May 31, 1928, June 7, 1928, June 13, 1928, June 14, 1928, June 15, 1928, Oct 31, 1928, Nov 1, 1928, Nov 2, 1928, Nov 7, 1928, Nov 29, 1928, Feb 1, 1929, Feb 2, 1929

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

A Brief History of the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw

Beneath the Horses’ Hooves: The Murder of Ralph Warwick

Murder at Elstow

A Brief History of the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw

Last week you may remember that I told the story of the murder of Ralph Warwick. (If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.) And in that story, there is a suicide at the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw, which of course, made me raise an eyebrow. For those of you who don’t know, there is another very famous Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles built in 1924 that is believed to be incredibly haunted, thanks to the myriad of horrible and mysterious things that have happened there. It made me curious about the one in Moose Jaw. Did it have an interesting and sordid history like its famous counterpart? Yes, yes it did. So, without further ado, here is a brief history of Moose Jaw’s Cecil Hotel.

The Cecil Hotel, Moose Jaw –

The Cecil Hotel first opened on November 14, 1907 and quickly became a landmark on River Street in Moose Jaw; a street that grew to be considered one of the most colourful and gaudy tenderloin districts in Western Canada. In 1909, a banquet to celebrate the opening of the new Saskatchewan Flour Mills was held at the hotel by the president and staff of the Board of Trade and was attended by one hundred of Moose Jaw’s most prominent citizens.

And then things took a turn. On the morning of May 15, 1911, James McCarthy, the chief steward of the Cecil Hotel, died by suicide in the hotel cellar, blowing his head to pieces with a double barreled shot gun. He had a homestead in Manitoba and a wife in Winnipeg. At the time, domestic troubles were given as the believed cause, although obviously now we know things are much more complicated than that.

The next gruesome incident happened in 1912, when sometime during the night of Sunday, December 8th, Stanley Price also met his end in the Cecil Hotel. He’d fled to Moose Jaw after the suspicions of the RNWMP landed on him for the murder of Ralph Warwick. He cut his own throat in his hotel room, cutting so deep the newspapers alleged he nearly cut off his own head.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Dec 11, 1912

On July 28, 1916, Mrs. “Buster” Harris was arrested in her room at the hotel, but she refused to get dressed and go to the station, instead staying under the bed covers… naked. Chief Johnson was called, but she just burrowed further under the blankets, so in desperation, he rolled her up in a sheet and carried her out. She was driven in a police car through the business sector to the station, wearing only the sheet. She was charged with breaking and entering with intent to rob.

The Regina Leader-Post – July 29, 1916

On January 17, 1922, the Cecil Hotel played a small role in a liquor bust. At the time, the Saskatchewan Temperance Act was in effect, which made it illegal to sell liquor in the province, although it wasn’t illegal to manufacture and sell liquor to other countries. An undercover operation was launched by the Liquor Commission to catch a company called Southern Exporters Ltd in the act of selling liquor locally. Their base of operations during the sting was the Cecil Hotel. It was also included in multiple liquor raids in the city. At the time, the side of the building facing River Street had iron galleries that women used to whistle from to get the attention of men on the street below. It was also believed to have been frequented by prohibition-era gangsters when they needed to “stay out of circulation for a while”.

On August 10, 1924, the Cecil Hotel almost fell victim to fire after the nearby burning Woolworth building experienced an explosion that shot flames across the alley and struck the wall of the hotel, shattering nearly every pane of glass at the rear of the building. Unfortunately, the alley was also where a crowd of curious onlookers had gathered to watch the fire, leaving eight people burned, two of them nine-year-old children who were so badly burned it was unlikely they survived.

In March of 1933, the hotel played host to wrestlers and boxers in town for the Maroon’s card. The participants went through a workout at the hotel, with a fair-sized gallery of fans there to watch.

On January 29, 1968, a man was found dead in his room and remained unidentified for eight days. He had registered at the hotel on January 28th as N. Kargohs and when his body was found the next day, he had no identification papers on his person or in the room. Eventually he was identified as Nick Hrytuik, a sixty-year-old caretaker at the Ukrainian Federation Hall in Regina. His cause of death was not listed, nor any theories as to why he might have checked in under a false name.

The reign of the Cecil Hotel came to an end in the early hours of Saturday, July 26, 1975, when it was destroyed by fire. The fire was first called in at 1:50AM and quickly became a roaring inferno of flame and dense smoke. By the time dawn broke, the hotel’s interior had collapsed into the basement and all that remained standing was the brick facade facing River Street. As firemen sifted through the wreckage, they came upon the burned remains of a man who was eventually identified as forty-one-year-old Russell Stefura, a resident of the hotel. On August 1, 1975, the body of a second victim of the fire was found, believed to be that of Albert/Franklin Webb, who was about seventy two. He was difficult to identify, having gone by the two different names and because he told people he came from different places in Eastern Canada. Both deaths were caused by asphyxiation. The fire was believed to have been caused by a short circuit in wiring within a false ceiling, which contained the smoke until the blaze had become well established. Peculiar burns were found on the outside of the main circuit box and the condition of the wires within indicated a short circuit had occurred. What was left of the building was too hazardous to leave standing and was torn down.

The Regina Leader-Post – Aug 1, 1975

And that is the story of the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw.

Information for this post came from the following editions the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Jan 27, 1909, May 16, 1911, Dec 11, 1912, July 29, 1916, Aug 11, 1924, March 29, 1933, May 13, 1967, Feb 7, 1968, July 26, 1975, July 28, 1975, July 29, 1975, July 30, 1975, July 31, 1975, Aug 1, 1975, Aug 2, 1975, Aug 12, 1975, Sep 11, 1975

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe and share it with friends! If you’d like to read more about Saskatchewan’s history of true crime, give these a try:

Beneath the Horses’ Hooves: The Murder of Ralph Warwick

Murder at Elstow

The Shooting of Peter Champagne

Beneath the Horses’ Hooves: The Murder of Ralph Warwick

It was on the evening of November 18, 1912, that Amy Warwick showed up at her neighbour’s house, distraught. She’d gone out to the stable and found her husband, Ralph Warwick, trampled beneath the horses’ hooves in one of the stalls. The horses were still agitated and upset and she’d been too frightened to go in the stall.

John S. Reid and Jas. Irving went back with her. They found the body in the last stall of the stable, lying on its back on the floor with the legs crossed, arms outstretched and the head turned to one side so the face was almost against the floor. His hands and face were covered with blood and manure, but strangely, the soles of his shoes were perfectly clean, even though their own shoes were dirty as soon as they walked in the stall. John Reid also noticed that there was blood all the way down the south passage and quite a large stain in the stall next to the one where the body was found.

The Regina Leader-Post – Dec 16, 1912

It all read as suspicious, but at the inquest into his death, the jury came to the conclusion that Ralph Warwick died after being trampled by the horses. This verdict didn’t satisfy the Royal North West Mounted Police, who were also suspicious, and they continued to investigate, despite the verdict.

Ralph Warwick was quite a well-to-do farmer in the district. He was a homesteader north of Invermay, a settlement halfway between Moose Jaw and Lumsden and his estate was valued at between $12,000 and $13,000 (about $205,000 – $220,000 today). He was born in England and had come to Canada twelve years previous from Derbyshire. He’d married Amy only about three months before his murder. His bride was a great deal younger than him, enough so that newspapers referred to her as his ‘girl bride’. He was fifty while she was barely out of her teens.

After Warwick’s death, Amy went to stay with her friend, Mrs. Martha Alice Trodden, and her husband. Mrs. Trodden noted several things in the weeks following Warwick’s death. Stanley Price, a man Amy used to keep house for, came to visit her several times. He brought her the news about the inquest into Warwick’s death and told Amy, “you see, he was killed by horses.” Amy apparently threw it on the floor, exclaiming, “I don’t believe it.”

Mrs. Trodden didn’t like Price, she was frightened of him. He always had a gun on him and seemed fully capable of using it. And since Warwick’s death he’d been saying strange things. At one point, Price had told Mrs. Trodden, “I’ve heard news enough these last two or three days to make me open my eyes and begin to think.” Another time, he told her, “If Amy don’t carry this thing through right I’ll swing for this yet.”

As news traveled that the police were still investigating the death, Price got nervous, admitting to friends that he feared the police suspected him, before fleeing to Moose Jaw.

On December 10, 1912, Moose Jaw police received a warrant for Stanley Price’s arrest, but it was too late. Some time during the night on Sunday, December 8th, Stanley Price cut his own throat in the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw, apparently going so deep with the razor that he nearly cut off his own head.

The Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw in 1910, from

When Amy Warwick found out, she was nearly hysterical in her distress. She told Mrs. Trodden that she kept seeing Stanley come into the room with his throat cut. That night, as Mrs. Trodden lay in bed with her, Amy told her about Stanley’s last visit and the confession he’d made to her.

She told Mrs. Trodden that on the night of the murder, Price claimed he’d left home at 5:30PM, arriving at their place at 8:30PM. There was no light on in the house, so he broke the door in. Seeing that they weren’t home, he went back outside and sat behind a pig pen and waited.

He watched them come home, saw Warwick put the horses in and go into the house, then go out to the stable with a lantern. He followed. Warwick had already hung up the lantern and was coming out of the little hall at the end of the stable with a pitchfork.

Seeing Price, Warwick asked, “What are you doing here at this hour of the night?”

“I’ve come to kill you.”

“What for, what are you going to hurt me for?”

Warwick started backing up. He could see Price meant business and started jabbing at him with the pitchfork. Price took the pitchfork from him and struck him on the head with it, knocking him to the ground. He kicked Warwick in the face and while he was kicking him, their little white dog, Flossie, attacked and bit him.

Price left the stable to get a piece of two-by-four scantling. When he came back in, Warwick was up on his knees, wiping the blood off his face with his handkerchief. When he saw Price, he begged for his life.

“I have come to kill you and I am going to finish it.”

Price hit him with the two-by-four, then hit him again. When he was finished, he took Warwick by the shoulders and dragged him under the horses’ feet and made them jump on him, chirruping at them until they did. Next, he went outside, got some gravel and covered up the place where he killed him. He forked some straw over it as well, then took the two-by-four and went and waited behind the pig pen. He heard Mrs. Warwick go out to the stable, singing, then scream when she saw Warwick. He stayed, watching as she took a horse out of the stable and hitched it to the buggy and left. Only then did he go home, where he burned the two-by-four.

This was the story he told Amy, which she told to Mrs. Trodden.

An inquest into Stanley’s death was held on December 11, 1912. Amy Warwick was brought to testify. The police believed she was involved, that she had conspired with Stanley Price to murder her husband. They questioned her so forcefully that her testimony at the inquest was not allowed at her trial, as the judge ruled it was not given voluntarily and though she was technically under arrest at the time (despite no warrant being issued), she wasn’t given a warning.

On December 24, 1912, Warwick’s body was ordered to be exhumed and an autopsy performed by Dr. Charlton. It was taken from its resting place in the cemetery by the Stony Beach townsite and brought to a nearby vacant farm house where it was laid out on a pine door supported by stacks of shingles.

Dr. Charlton found two large skull fractures, both severe enough to cause death and neither of which were likely caused by a kick from a horse, in his opinion. There were also broken ribs, a broken finger and crush injuries to the chest that he believed did come from the horses, as well as some of the cuts to his face and head. It was his conclusion that Warwick was murdered, his death caused by at least two heavy blows to the head.

The Regina Leader-Post – Dec 25, 1912

Amy Warwick’s preliminary hearing was held on January 2, 1913. She was charged with complicity in murder and her trial began on February 2, 1913.

The Regina Leader-Post – Feb 4, 1913

Mrs. Trodden of course testified to the story told above. As did John S. Reid and Jas. Irving about finding the body. Mrs. Howd of Dilke, Saskatchewan was another witness. She kept a store at Bethune and on the day of the murder, Mrs. Warwick had been in at about 5:00PM. She chatted with Mrs. Howd for about an hour, during which, she told Howd that Warwick was often cruel to the animals on their farm, saying that sometimes he beat them until tears came to her eyes. She told Mrs. Howd that someday he’d be found dead under their hooves. She also told her that her husband was often drunk, and that currently he was in the hotel so drunk that he could hardly stand. But a few minutes later, Warwick entered the shop, perfectly sober. Howd had seen him again before he left for home and he was still perfectly sober.

What else came out at trial was Amy Warwick’s true identity. William James Newman, a cousin of Stanley Price, testified that he’d met Amy in the later part of July in 1911. But when she started working for him on his farm near Belle Plaine, she went by Lizzie Swain. She’d met Stanley Price while she was working for him and Stanley had taken her on drives a couple of times. Amy had worked for Newman until March of 1912, when she told him she was going to Regina. Two months later, however, when he visited Price, Amy was living with him, ostensibly working for him as a housekeeper. At this point, she’d changed her name to Amy Christina Johnston.

It was alleged by the prosecution that while Amy was living with Price, he’d proposed that she marry Warwick and get him to turn all his belongings over to her and have him make a will in her favor. Whether it was on this advice or not, she had clearly married Warwick, and it didn’t seem to be a very good marriage. She’d left him for a while to live with various people and Warwick was heard to blame Price for the desertion. And although she’d returned to him, about two months before his death, Warwick had told neighbours he wanted to make a will, and that in the event of his death he wanted an inquest, no matter what the cause of death was supposed to be.

There was also the fact that Amy was clearly in love with Stanley Price. After his suicide, a suicide note of her own was found in her possessions a few days later. It was addressed to Will and Ethel Newman and stated that this would be her last letter because the boy she loved had gone to his everlasting place and her love lay with him. It went on to say that her life was nothing for her now that her dear Stanley was gone and ended with: “Stanley killed Ralph. I killed Stanley. May you all pray for me and Stanley.”

But did she collude in a plot to kill Ralph Warwick?

Amy Christina Johnston, aka Lizzie Swain, had come to Canada twelve years previous from Newcastle, England. She was described as slightly built and rather pretty. Her brother, Jack Swain testified that she was struck over the head with a pointer when she was quite young and had been strange ever since. Even during the trial, despite the courtroom being warm, she wore a heavy, fur-lined coat with a black scarf covering her head.

Mrs. Trodden was called back to the stand by the defense and she told the court of Stanley Price’s hold over Amy. Mrs. Trodden had often told neighbours that he seemed to have her hypnotized and that she clearly lived in fear of displeasing him. He had a strong influence over her, one look from him was sufficient to make her be quiet when he seemed to think she was talking too much.

Amy Warwick took the stand in her own defense, telling the court that there was no collusion. She’d never been part of any plot to kill her husband. She hadn’t told anyone of Stanley Price’s confession until after he died because she was afraid of him. It was true, what Mrs. Trodden said, that Price had a hold over her and she was terrified of displeasing him. At one point, before her marriage, Stanley had told her she should marry Warwick, that he was old and wouldn’t have many years left but she’d laughed it off thinking he was joking.

Why she’d chosen to marry Warwick when she had feelings for Price was never made clear.

On February 4, 1913, with instructions on the definition of complicity, the jury was sent away and after two hours of deliberation, they found Amy Warwick not guilty. She was free to go.

Did she plan the murder of her husband with Stanley Price? Or was she a star-struck young woman caught up in the sway of an obsessive man? Only she could say for sure.

The Regina Leader-Post – Feb 3, 1913

And that is the story of the murder of Ralph Warwick.

Thank you so much for reading! If you enjoyed this post and don’t want to miss future stories of murder, please subscribe! And send it to your friends!

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Dec 11, 1912, Dec 12, 1913, Dec 13, 1912, Dec 14, 1912, Dec 16, 1912, Dec 17, 1912, Dec 21, 1912, Dec 25, 1912, Jan 3, 1913, Jan 4, 1913, Jan 30, 1913, Feb 1, 1913, Feb 3, 1913, Feb 4, 1913, Feb 5, 1913.

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

Murder at Elstow

The Shooting of Peter Champagne

The Murder of Henry Kinakin

Murder at Elstow

On March 28, 1918, Katie Morowski came home from school and found her father, Mike, at the kitchen table counting his money. He had recently sold his farm at Colonsay, moving his family to his small shack at Elstow. He’d sold the farm for $1200 and had also organized the sale of their shack in Elstow for $200. His plan was to move his family down to the United States where his brother was living.

Katie helped her father count out the twelve hundred dollars, and as they were doing so, George Stanko came in. He’d worked on their family farm and come with them to Elstow, although he wouldn’t be joining them in their move to the States. He was an imposing man, described as blond and heavy, and was considered part of the family, a second father to the girls; Katie, who was fifteen, Nellie, who was thirteen, and Helen, who was nine. Their mother had left the family about eight years previous.

Mike Morowski finished counting his money and put it in his belt. They had supper together and then Morowski had gone downtown to the pool room. Stanko went out as well a short time later and the girls cleaned up the dishes and went to bed. Katie woke up at about 11:30PM to go to the bathroom. Neither Stanko or her father had returned home yet and she went back to bed and fell asleep.

When Katie woke again, it was to the sounds of yelling in the front room. She went to the bedroom door, but found it locked from the outside. She climbed up on a trunk and looked through a stovepipe hole in the wall. By this point, the yelling had stopped. She saw her father sitting on a chair, head down, taking his boots off. He was acting as if nothing had happened. Stanko stood by him with a hammer in his hand and without warning, struck Morowski in the head with it, causing him to fall forward onto the floor.

He tried to get up, to scramble forward to the front door, but Stanko grabbed him by the hair and hauled him back, throwing him onto the couch and choking him. At this point, the other girls were awake and also looking through the stovepipe, the three of them screaming. Stanko yelled at them to keep quiet or he’d do the same to them. They watched their father gradually grow weaker until he stopped struggling and became still.

Stanko then removed Mike Morowski’s coat and bundled the body into a sack, weighing it down with scrap iron. He loaded it into a sleigh and the girls watched from the bedroom window as he dragged the body to a well a ways from the house and dropped it inside. He then meticulously boarded up the opening. When he came back in he burned their father’s coat in the stove.

The following morning, he brought the girls breakfast but kept them locked in their room until about 1:00PM when he took them to the train station and they boarded a train to Winnipeg. None of the girls spoke much English, and had no way of signaling that they were in danger. He took them to the Savoy Hotel and gave them each some money. Then, he left Katie and Helen with a woman they’d known in Colonsay and took Nellie with him to Prince Albert to get a passport and train tickets to the United States.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – April 9, 1918

It’s unclear if he took Nellie as insurance that the other girls would keep their mouths shut, but if it was, it didn’t work. Katie immediately told the woman looking after them what Stanko had done and when he returned to collect them he was arrested.

Constable Whybrow was immediately sent to Elstow, where, with help from the community, he managed to climb down into the well and retrieve the body of Mike Morowski. Morowski had three cuts on his head, one on the bridge of his nose, one on his cheek and another on his forehead. There was a blue mark on his throat and while his skull was not fractured, his brain was described as badly congested. The coroner believed the cause of death was either the concussion of the brain or that he’d drowned in the well. Water was found in his lungs, which of course could be attributed to drowning, or possibly found its way in from the damage to his throat.

George Stanko was, of course, committed to stand trial for murder, which was held on June 4, 1918 before Justice Elwood. The crown prosecutor was P. E. Mackenzie and Beaton H. Squires was assigned to the defense.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – April 15, 1918

Throughout the proceedings, Stanko sat with a cynical smile on his face. His defense was that Katie had asked him to do it. He said that Morowski was often cruel to the children, abusing them, and that recently he’d been pushing Katie to hurry up and get married to a man living at Floral and she’d been very vexed by it.

All three girls appeared on the stand to tell the story of what they’d seen the night their father was murdered. All of them denied the story that their father had ever abused them or that they’d gone to Stanko for protection. Katie said that while her father had been pushing her to get married and she was vexed, she’d never approached Stanko to kill him.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – June 4, 1918

The motive seemed clear. Stanko wanted the money Morowski had made from selling his farm. The constables who’d arrested him and escorted him back to Saskatchewan testified to Stanko confessing multiple times to the killing.

The jury was only out for fifteen minutes before finding him guilty. He was sentenced to hang on September 4, 1918. As he was being transported to the train station to be taken to Prince Albert jail to await his sentence, he told the officers, “it’s this way. No money, no fun; lots of money, lots of fun. If I’d have had money, I would have lived for many years yet. But a life for a life, I suppose, and I’m not worrying.”

He was hung on September 4th, as sentenced.

The most tragic part of the story is what happened to Mike Morowski’s daughters. Even though Morowski had another daughter, Annie, who was a little older than her sisters and was married and living at Blucher, Saskatchewan, none of the girls were sent to live with her. Katie was sent to work on a farm near Saskatoon and Nellie and Helen were put in a children’s shelter in Saskatoon.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – June 5, 1918

And that is the story of the murder of Mike Morowski.

Thank you for reading! As always, if you’d like to support this blog, please subscribe and send it to your friends!

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Regina Leader-Post: April 9, 1918, April 10, 1918, April 15, 1918, May 20, 1918, June 3, 1918, June 4, 1918, June 5, 1918, June 6, 1918, June 7, 1918, Sep 3, 1918, Sep 5, 1918

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

The Shooting of Peter Champagne

The Murder of Henry Kinakin

The Murder of Kosto Surkin

The Shooting of Peter Champagne

It was just after 5:30PM on Sunday, August 14, 1927 when Anthime* Bourdin burst into the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Fortunet Tessier. Both parents were out, but his granddaughter, fifteen-year-old Irene Tessier, was home looking after the other children. He’d run over in his stocking feet, his shirt opened and his throat red. He told her to go and get the neighbours, that he’d shot Peter Champagne but he wasn’t sure if he was dead. He told her that Champagne had attacked him, choked him, gone for his shotgun and after he’d managed to fight him off had picked up the axe. All the while he kept glancing out the window, as though expecting Champagne to have followed him.

She summoned one of the neighbours, Henry Guignon, and he and another neighbour escorted Bourdin back to his farm about a half mile away to see what had become of Champagne. Guignon later testified that at his arrival, Bourdin had seemed a little drunk, and confirmed that his throat was red and he’d complained of a bump on his head.

Cautiously, they approached the house, only to find Peter Champagne dead in a hole about three to four feet across and about eighteen inches deep just outside the kitchen door. An axe lay on the right side of the body, a little over ten feet away.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Aug 15, 1927

After they confirmed that there was nothing to be done for Champagne, they went back to Tessier’s and called the provincial police. Constable Flannagan received the call to go to the farm at about 10:30PM. When he arrived he found the body as previously described, and also located the gun. An open box of cartridges was found on a trunk in the bedroom. Champagne had a gunshot wound under his right collarbone and some surface wounds about his head. The gun appeared to have been fired at close range, with Champagne dying within a minute of the shot.

Flannagan was forced to take Bourdin’s statement through an interpreter, as he spoke very little English. When it became clear that he’d shot Champagne, Flannagan placed him under arrest.

An inquest was conducted by Dr. R. G. Scott of Wakaw. As witnesses were interviewed, some strange details came to light. On the day of the shooting, Joseph Donohue described coming across Bourdin lying in the road about a mile from his house. He’d proceeded on to the farm of Norman Morrison and after explaining what he saw, Morrison drove back to where Bourdin was lying by the roadside, wrapped in a robe, with Donohue following behind in his own car.

It was raining quite heavily, and Bourdin’s shirt was torn, his buggy badly smashed up. Morrison pulled the robe off Bourdin and asked him if he was drunk. Bourdin replied that he was “waiting for his man”, but wouldn’t elaborate on who that man was. Morrison and William Jobin, who’d come along on the outing, got Bourdin into the car and drove him to his son’s house. When they arrived, Peter Champagne was there. Bourdin got out of the car, and then a few minutes later, got back in, despite Morrison telling him that he couldn’t drive him home. Champagne got in as well, and Morrison drove them both to Bourdin’s. Champagne offered to pay for the ride, and when they refused he went and got a jug of alcohol from the house, insisting that they each have a drink, before he took a drink of his own so long that Morrison told him to stop.

Morrison later testified that he didn’t really want the drink. He was anxious to get away, admitting that he didn’t like to see Champagne drunk because he was afraid of him. He said that the two men seemed quite friendly when he left.

Following the inquest, a preliminary hearing was held and Anthime Bourdin was committed to stand trial that September in Prince Albert.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Aug 22, 1927

The trial opened on Tuesday, September 20, 1927, before Justice J. F. L. Embury. John G. Diefenbaker and J. E. Lussier appeared for the defense, and J. H. Lindsay KC represented the Crown.

Lindsay submitted his theory that Champagne was killed by a shot fired deliberately from inside the house, while the deceased was found outside a few feet from the back door. He entered the screen door into evidence, which showed a bullet sized hole, fired at close range from inside the house. He called witnesses that testified that no trace of a struggle was seen in the house, that no blood was found on the ground or about the premises and that the screen door was found closed and latched. Both Professor Edmonds of the University of Saskatchewan and a gunsmith and mechanic testified that the shot was fired from inside the house at close range.

Diefenbaker and Lussier had a two pronged approach to Bourdin’s defense. First, they brought in witnesses to testify to Champagne’s bad temperment and violence while drinking. William Jobin testified that the previous year, Champagne had come to his house drunk and he and the others at his place had been afraid of what he might do. Champagne had gone to the granary to get an axe, and Jobin, at the suggestion of his mother, had fired a shot at the granary to scare him away. He told the court that Champagne had a bad reputation, and that the women in the community were scared of him.

Another stated that Champagne had gone to his house while intoxicated and insisted on fighting him. He’d run into the house to get away from him.

Mrs. J. Donohue testified that Champagne was very bad tempered when under the influence, and on one occasion had come to their house and demanded a gun to shoot Tessier with. She was frightened and hid the gun, saying he’d looked very angry.

The owner of Hoey poolroom also testified, telling the court about the time Champagne had cut up his arms and hands after drunkenly smashing the window with his fists.

The second part of their approach was to show what an upstanding citizen Anthime Bourdin was. Bourdin was a very prosperous farmer in the district, having lived there for thirty-three years. He was about sixty-eight years old and quite active for his age, but was said to have very poor eyesight. His wife had been in Montreal at the time of the shooting, visiting relatives, while his children were all grown up and moved out. Meanwhile, Champagne was about forty-six, had lived in the district for twenty years working as a farm labourer (including working for Bourdin occasionally), and had a bad reputation in the district.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Sep 21, 1927

Their final move was to bring Anthime Bourdin to the witness box to testify. The statement achieved by Constable Flannagan was a non-sensical mess (probably due to a lack of ability by the interpreter and Bourdin still being a little drunk at the time), so now they wanted to set the record straight and let Bourdin tell his story.

He told the court that he’d owned the shotgun for some years but had never used it, having originally purchased it for an employee who could shoot game. The trigger on it, he said, was hard to raise.

On the day in question, he was out doing his chores. When he went inside, Champagne was in his house, getting drunk on liquor Bourdin had bought from the liquor store a little while ago. He told the court that if he’d known Champagne was coming over, he’d have locked it up because Champagne turned ugly when he was drunk. Champagne asked him for more liquor and he’d felt obliged to give him some. When he did, he noticed the gin was about a third gone. He’d joined Champagne in partaking of the alcohol and had “a drink or two” before lunch. At this point, he noticed Champagne was getting pretty drunk, now asking for wine.

They had lunch at about 1:00PM and to prevent Champagne from getting more liquor, Bourdin testified that he put him in an old buggy to drive him to his son’s house. On the way, Champagne slid out of the buggy, catching Bourdin as he fell and dragging him out with him. Bourdin lay down beside the road and sent Champagne to his son’s place, where the horse had gone. Here he was found by Norman Morrison, who took him to his son’s and then brought both men back to his house, where Champagne, having secured the liquor, gave Morrison a drink.

After Morrison left, they went into the house and Champagne became quarrelsome. He caught Bourdin while he was sitting down, threw him to the floor, and according to Bourdin, choked him and kicked him in the side. Champagne told him he would kill him and went to the bedroom where the gun was. Bourdin heard him putting shells in it and as Champagne came out of the bedroom he caught the gun barrel and managed to push Champange out the back door of the kitchen and fastened the screen. Champagne took the axe from the wood box and came back, evidently to break down the door. Bourdin told the court that he’d put the gun under his arm and with both hands tried to hold the door. The gun went off, although he had no recollection of raising the trigger. The shot hit Champagne, who fell backward onto the ground and Bourdin had run out the other door to get help.

With that, the jury was dismissed and after between three and four hours of deliberation, the jury found Bourdin not guilty of murder. The defense’s approach had worked.

And that is the story of the unfortunate shooting of Peter Champagne of Domremy.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Sep 22, 1927

*Anthime Bourdin was also seen spelled as Anthony, Antime and Antoine. Last name was also seen spelled Bourdon.

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

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Aug 15, 1927, Aug 20, 1927, Aug 22, 1927, Sep 20, 1927, Sep 21, 1927, Sep 22, 1927

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

The Murder of Henry Kinakin

The Murder of Kosto Surkin

A Double Murder Near Kennedy

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, Amaniuk 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