A Deadly Obsession: The Murder of Myrtle Beckler

March 27, 1931

It was Friday night in Beechy, Saskatchewan and an old-time dance was being held at the village hotel. Harry Payne, a local butcher, was in attendance with his wife, as well as one of their boarders, eighteen-year-old Myrtle Beckler. She’d come to Beechy only two months before, having just finished high school and then shorthand school in Saskatoon. Myrtle had gotten a job as the stenographer at the local Bank of Nova Scotia and was already popular among the villagers with her sunny disposition and sweet personality.

At midnight, Mervin Elliot arrived. He was a teller at the same bank, and had recently been promoted to ‘the cage’. He didn’t care for old-time dances, he was there to see Myrtle. He found her and the pair left the dance, walking to Myrtle’s residence at the Payne home about two blocks away.

When they arrived, Miss Frances Isley, another boarder, was still awake, reading her book in the sitting room. She later said that Elliot seemed normal. He spoke to her about the book she was reading, although he did not talk to Myrtle. After a while, she went to her bedroom to turn in. She could hear the two of them talking in low tones and then she heard Elliot leave. Myrtle walked to her room and started getting ready for bed, taking off her rings and placing them on the dresser. Just as Miss Isley was dozing off, she heard a knock at the door. Myrtle answered it and she could hear Myrtle and Elliot in conversation in the sitting room, but couldn’t hear what was being said, until suddenly Myrtle exclaimed, “Mervin, Mervin you don’t dare.”

The words barely made it past Myrtle’s lips before three shots rang out in quick succession. A fourth followed a moment later. Miss Isley sat up in bed, too terrified to leave her room. At the back of the house, the two Payne children were fast asleep, undisturbed by the gun shots. Edwin Taylor, who’d been sitting up with the children, ran into the sitting room and found Elliot and Myrtle lying on the floor. He ran to the hotel where the dance was still in full swing and sounded the alarm.

When Harry Payne got home, he found Myrtle dead. Elliot was lying on the floor, having crashed against the radio, which had crushed through the wallpaper. There was a bullet lodged in the wall and a Scott & Webley .38 revolver on the floor.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – March 28, 1931

Harry’s father and overseer of the village, George Payne, took charge of the scene immediately and posted guards at the entrances of the house to keep the throngs of people from the dance from trampling through the scene. He notified the RCMP and sent his son to fetch the coroner from Lucky Lake. Upon Coroner Leckle’s arrival, a jury was empanelled to view Myrtle’s body and an inquest was set for the following Monday afternoon.

Myrtle had been shot three times by Elliot with one of the bullets going right through her heart. She was dead almost instantly. Elliot, after murdering her, had placed the muzzle against the right side of his head and pulled the trigger. The bullet had passed right through and lodged in the wall. He was shockingly not dead, but didn’t survive very long. He was taken to hospital and died late Saturday afternoon, with his sister by his side, never regaining consciousness.

The Bank Manager, Mr. Bell, identified the revolver as one belonging to the bank. It was kept in the middle drawer of his desk and he was positive it had been securely locked. The only key he knew of was the one he carried on his person. In fact, Mr. Bell had ordered that the revolvers be kept under lock and key because Mervin’s attitude toward life made him uneasy, especially since Mervin’s older brother, Hervey had shot himself the previous July.

Too bad that caution didn’t keep Mr. Bell from saying yes when Mervin came to him the Sunday before the murder and asked for permission to practice shooting with the revolver. He’d been given the gun and some ammunition to use, but Mr. Bell argued that the gun had been safely returned.

Eager to find out what had caused Mervin Elliot to viciously murder Myrtle Beckler, they went through his trunk. There was a bible, a mass of clippings about the John Schumacher arrest for the murder of Scotty McLachlan, which had recently scandalized the district (you can read about it here), a news story about a suicide at The Pas, and a poem. Mervin, as they would find out, wrote a lot of poetry. All of it lovesick and delusional, painting himself as an unending victim of unrequited love. This particular poem ended with the line: “my heart is getting used to this, I wonder who will break it next?”

In the teller’s drawer at the bank, the manager found another poem, this one ending with “I don’t know why I feel this way, but I’ve always been the same, there’s always trouble on my mind, I’m really not to blame.”

Finally, at the murder scene, was a hastily scrawled note with a stub of pencil addressed to Edward Taylor, another accountant at the bank and fellow boarder of Mervin at another local home. It read: “Dear Ed, this is goodbye for Myrtle and myself. God bless them all.”

On the back was yet another typed poem by Elliot, titled “My Sorrow”.

Elliot, despite only knowing Myrtle for two months, believed he was in love with her and had become obsessed. Everyone at the bank could see that Elliot was very fond of Myrtle, but she’d been clear from the start that she did not have romantic feelings for him and considered him a friend. By all accounts, she was a very good friend to him as well, but instead of returning the friendship, Mervin clung to his delusion.

And on the night of the dance it seemed he had already made up his mind to retrieve the revolver and kill Myrtle, proving that he never really cared about her to begin with. If he did, it never would have crossed his mind to hurt her, especially since she hadn’t actually done anything aside from being kind to him. She was merely a prop in the tragic delusion he’d created for himself, where he was the long suffering, misunderstood hero.

The Regina Leader-Post – April 1, 1931

Myrtle Beckler’s family lived in Lucky Lake, which is where they held her funeral. Hundreds turned out for her funeral, with a multitude of floral tributes being sent to the church. Her old schoolmates were her pallbearers. She was buried in the Vera Cemetery just south of Lucky Lake. On her tombstone it reads, “God alone understands”, a testiment to the pain and disbelief her senseless killing must have caused to those who loved her.

And that is the story of the senseless murder of Myrtle Beckler in Beechy, Saskatchewan.

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If you’d like to read more historical true crime stories of Saskatchewan, start here:

The Conflicting Accounts of the Death of Adolph Ibenfeldt

The Welwyn Massacre

Confession at the North Battleford Mental Hospital

The Conflicting Accounts of the Death of Adolph Ibenfeldt

There is only one thing known for certain about the death of Adolph Ibenfeldt, and that is that on the morning of Oct 8, 1925, he was shot by his employer, Colin Feader. As to the how and why, well that’s where the stories begin to differ.

Colin Feader was a prosperous and well known farmer of the Fleming district near Moosomin. He and his family had been farming there for thirty years and he was held in very high regard by his neighbours. His labourer, Adolph Ibenfeldt, had been working for him since August 23, 1925 and was known as a good worker, likeable and not at all quarrelsome.

And yet, in the early hours of Oct 8th, Mrs. Feader told the court that she heard a shot. She called outside for her husband, and getting no response, called a doctor. Dr. Keyes arrived at the farm shortly before 8:00AM and found Adolph lying on the floor with gunshot wounds. Colin Feader was not there. He’d jumped on his horse and started riding north. Dr. Keyes assessed the wounds of Adolph Ibenfeldt and had him taken to the hospital in Moosomin. Meanwhile, two of Feader’s neighbours had tracked the horse and rider and found him five miles up the road. They told him to come back to the farm and he did so willingly.

Regina Leader-Post – Oct 8, 1925

Dr. Keyes was still at the farm when Colin Feader returned. He testified later that Feader seemed indifferent about what had happened, that maybe he didn’t fully understand what had occurred. He asked, “did he attack you, Colin?” To which Feader replied, that no, he hadn’t. Dr. Keyes asked him if he was crazy when he shot Ibenfeldt.

“I certainly must have been.”

Dr. Keyes asked Feader if he’d give him a statement, but Feader refused. “No, I’ll see a lawyer,” he told him.

Meanwhile, Adolph Ibenfeldt, while seriously injured and at death’s door, was quite conscious and being interviewed by the police. Afterward, he gave an interview to a reporter as well and this is the story he told both.

He said that at about 6:30 in the morning he and Feader had gone down to the stable together. Both were in a good mood, laughing and joking. Adolph began to milk the cows and when he’d finished milking the first one, he walked across the stable and emptied the milk into a larger pail. As he was walking back, he was shot in the right side of his chest. He crawled on hands and knees across the stable floor and dragged himself out of the building. A moment later, he turned and saw Feader standing near the stable, laughing at him. He said that Feader grabbed him by the coat collar and dragged him back to the door, then stepped back about 9 feet and shot him again. Feader then struck him three times over the back with the gun, breaking it. Laughing, he got on his horse and rode away. Ibenfeldt crawled across the yard to the house and lay sprawled on the doorstep, until the doctor arrived and he was taken away to the hospital. He told police and reporters that Colin was a good man and a good boss, and up to that point they’d never quarreled.

Colin Feader was taken into custody and brought to Moosomin where he was charged with attempted murder, until later that same night, the charge was upgraded to murder. Adolph Ibenfeldt had died of his injuries, leaving a widow and three children in Norway. He was thirty-three-years-old.

A search of the farm was done by the provincial police and Constable Gathercole found the 12 gauge shotgun in a manger in the cow barn. It had two exploded shells and was broken at the breech, as Adolph had described.

Regina Leader-Post – Oct 19, 1925

A preliminary hearing was held on Oct 18, 1925. Colin Feader was committed to stand trial at the next sitting of the Court of King’s Bench at Moosomin in November. The trial opened on November 20, 1925. It included testimony from Feader’s neighbours, attesting to his good character, as well as labourers who worked with Ibenfeldt, attesting to his.

Dr. Keyes took the stand and described the injuries to Ibenfeldt that led to his death. According to the doctor, Ibenfeldt was shot from behind as well as when an assailant stood over him. He said the pellets had entered the right side of the deceased, fracturing some of his right ribs, passing through his right lung, his right kidney and his liver. One pellet had penetrated the bowel. The trajectory was from the right armpit diagonally through the abdomen. He believed that when the second shot was fired, Ibenfeldt must have had his arm raised in the air, because there were no pellets in his arms. He described abrasions on the right shoulder blade, the left shoulder and the left forearm.

All of this seemed to support Ibenfeldt’s description of events. But Colin Feader took the stand and told a very different story. Through tears and sobbing, he described how Ibenfeldt had attacked him, coming after him with a pitchfork. He said that he’d tried to flee but couldn’t get the barn door open, so he grabbed the shotgun, trying to scare Ibenfeldt into backing off. The gun went off by accident he said, that he’d never meant to shoot Ibenfeldt. They tusseled and Colin had managed to get away, which was when he’d jumped on his horse and fled. When the prosecution asked why he’d left his children and wife behind at the mercy of Ibenfeldt, he said that he wasn’t worried about them, because Ibenfeldt had no quarrel with them.

The defence argued that Ibenfeldt’s statement was full of discrepancies and that he wasn’t in any condition to give a true statement, due to the pain medication he was given by doctors.

The jury seemed to believe the defence, and Colin Feader was only found guilty of manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to five years at the Prince Albert pentitentiary, saying that he’d given him such a light sentence because of all the evidence given to support his ‘outstanding character’.

The only ones who know what truly happened on the morning of October 8, 1925 are Colin Feader and Adolph Ibenfeldt. The evidence seems to support the story told by Ibenfeldt, but as we know, the truth is often somewhere in the middle. Did Colin Feader go momentarily insane after thirty years of being so highly regarded? Was there an argument that neither would admit to? We’ll never know.

But that is the story of the murder of Adolph Ibenfeldt and the differing accounts of what led to his death.

The Winnipeg Tribune – Nov 28, 1925

Thank you for reading! Please subscribe and share!

Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Winnipeg Tribune: Oct 8, 1925, Oct 9, 1925, Oct 16, 1925, Oct 19, 1925, Nov 21, 1925, Nov 26, 1925 and Nov 28, 1925.

Interested in more historical Saskatchewan true crime? You’re in luck. Try these:

The Welwyn Massacre

Confession at the North Battleford Mental Hospital

Murder in Moose Jaw: The Heroism of Margaret Regan

The Welwyn Massacre

A short note before we begin. Although true crime stories are, as a rule, upsetting, this story is especially so and includes the murder of children. Please consider this a content warning and skip this post if that’s something that will bring you distress.

Newspapers from this era were a little harder to come by, so while I did find a few articles, I relied on some more recent news articles for information. Specifically, a 1994 article about historian and journalist Lorna James, who documented the crime. She was born and raised in Welwyn and her grandfather lived on the same section of land as the McArthur family. He was one of the neighbours who assisted at the scene that night. Secondly, an interview with David Brindle published in 2000. Dave Brindle is a journalist who researched this case and actually traveled to Ottawa and read the case files and inquest transcripts kept at the Canada Archives. The research and information shared in both of those articles was invaluable. Finally, this blog post by Glen’s Travels shared information as well as a few news articles I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Okay, let’s get into it.

Welwyn, Saskatchewan 1916 – photo credit: prairie-towns.com

Alexander McArthur and his wife, Sarah, moved to the Prairies from Ontario in the late 1800s. At the time, Saskatchewan was not yet a province and was considered part of the Northwest Territories. They settled on land about a kilometer southeast of the village of Welwyn, just north of Moosomin. Alexander immediately become the postmaster for the town, running the operation from his house.

For the next eighteen years, he and Sarah worked the land, tended the local Presbyterian Church and had seven children. Alexander became a prize-winning stock breeder, served on the first town council and was respected throughout the community as a “progressive” man.

In 1895, the McArthurs hired a young man in his twenties, John Morrison, to work as a labourer on their farm. Morrison was a Barnardo boy, shipped to Canada at four to be raised where there were more opportunities. His father was living in Glasgow at the time and sent Morrison to Canada after his mother died. Barnardo boys were often raised on farms and were supposed to be given a full education, however some farmers were more interested in the free labour than making sure the boys got an education and many Barnardo boys ended up as permanent farm labourers. John was one of the unlucky ones, being unable to read or write.

John Morrison and the McArthurs seemed to get along quite well. John described Sarah McArthur as ‘like a mother to him’. He worked on the McArthur farm for five years, until the evening of June 8, 1900. He played with the children for a while, then went to a farm four miles away where he and some friends played football (soccer). No one thought he was acting strangely that night. He didn’t seem angry or despondent with his employer or his life. No one could have known that before he’d gone out he’d spent some time in the barn, sharpening his axe.

He left for home around eleven, jogging back to the McArthur farm where he found his revolver and tucked it into his pants. He picked up his axe, and just after midnight, entered the small, two-storey farmhouse. A light on the kitchen table still burned, shining into the bedroom just off the kitchen where Mr. McArthur slept on one bed with their son, two-year-old Henry. Across the room, Sarah slept with the two-week-old baby, Elville Scott, and their younger daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Mae).

Morrison attacked the father first, striking him on the right side of the head with the axe, fracturing his skull. There are differing accounts of who was attacked next. John told police that at first, he only intended to kill Alexander, but as he hit him with the axe, Sarah started to wake up so he went for her. The newspapers, however, reported that after striking Alexander, he went after Henry. If we assume Morrison was telling the truth, then Sarah was the second target of his rage. She was struck over the right eye and was killed. Next, Morrison went after the children, hitting the baby, two-year-old Henry and Mae with his axe.

Leaving the bedroom, he went into the living room, where four-year-old Russell was asleep on either a cot or the couch (accounts differ). He struck Russell with what they believe to be the broad side of the axe, rather than the sharpened blade, bludgeoning him. He climbed the stairs and went into the bedroom he shared with eleven-year-old Dempsey. He struck Dempsey in the back of the head as he lay in bed, killing him and leaving a horrible gash in the back of his skull. Later, neighbours found marks on the ceiling from when the axe was raised over Morrison’s head.

Finally, he went into the bedroom that fifteen-year-old Margaret (Maggie) shared with her eight-year-old brother Charlie. It’s unclear if Charlie awoke and tried to get away, or was sleeping on the floor. His body was found face down on the floor, his face resting on his palm with ghastly holes in the top of his head. At some point during the attack, Morrison drove the axe right through the floor.

This is when Maggie woke up. Morrison sat down on the bed, playing with his revolver, and told her he’d killed the rest of her family, saying that he loved her and she’d been very cool towards him lately. (Please note, he was twenty seven. She was fifteen.) He tried to rape her, but was physically unable to. He picked up the revolver, put it to her head and pulled the trigger. It clicked, refusing to fire. He put the revolver to his own head and again, it refused to fire.

Morrison left Maggie then, running down to the barn and getting the double barreled shotgun. He placed a stick through the trigger, put the muzzle against his heart and used his feet to fire the weapon.

Maggie heard the shot ring out and ran through the house, taking in the grim attacks on her parents and siblings before running to a nearby farm for help.

John Morrison didn’t die. Only one barrel discharged, missing his heart and tearing up the left side of his chest, leaving him gravely injured, but alive. They found him in the barn with the shotgun, the revolver and bloodied axe at his side.

A gruesome sight awaited them in the farmhouse. Blood spattered the walls and ceiling in each room of the attacks, the beds and bedding saturated with blood. Alexander McArthur had deep wounds in his head, his skull fractured and bits of brain protruding. He was still alive, but unconscious. Sarah was dead, but Mae, Henry and the baby were all still alive. Russell was alive, but unconscious. Dempsey and Charlie were dead.

Within days, Alexander and Russell also died, bringing the total murdered to five. The other three children remained at the hospital in grave condition. The baby, Elville Scott was brain damaged from the attack. Most accounts say he died at eight, but the grave found by Glen’s Travels has him passing away at sixteen. Henry and Mae survived, living to eighty seven and eighty five. Maggie, although physically unscathed during the attack, only lived to twenty seven, having moved to the west coast where she got married and had a son. Her son perished shortly before she did, the cause of death for both unknown.

John Morrison, despite his injuries, survived. He plead guilty to the murders and was sentenced to death. He was taken to the Regina jail and on Jan 17, 1901, he was hung on the same scaffold used to execute Louis Riel, some fourteen years earlier.

At the time of the murders, John had recently been away, although no one knows where, and had spent hundreds of dollars. Dave Brindle said in his interview that he suspected Morrison might have tried to enlist to fight in the Boer War, but was rejected and went on a drinking binge before returning to the McArthur farm. We’ll never know. What we do know, is that after his arrest, Morrison told police that as he was cutting scrub in the hot sun a few days before the murders, he started thinking about all the work he had to do, about the small amount he was paid and decided to kill himself. As he continued to cut away at the scrub with his axe, he decided that if he was going to die, “he might as well have his way with Maggie”, whom he had an unhealthy obsession with. But first, he would need to do away with her father; he couldn’t have him getting in the way. So he made his plan.

Find a Grave – photo added by Alison

The McArthur house is long gone, the property returned to farmland. The family grave in the Moosomin graveyard is in disrepair and all that’s left to tell the tale is an inscription on a pulpit in the Welwyn United Church and a roadside sign outside of Welwyn. But as Lorna James told the reporter in her interview (she passed away shortly after, in November of the same year), she didn’t believe the crime, or the McArthurs should be pushed aside like a footnote in history. And it seems she’s right, people have continued to stumble across the story and share it. All parts of our history, no matter how gruesome, need to be remembered.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, sources for this post came from recent interviews as well as original news articles. The original articles were from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Moosomin World and the Winnipeg Daily Tribune: June 11, 1900, June 14, 1900, June 28, 1900 and Jan 17, 1901.

*Side note: I have also seen these murders referred to as the Moosomin Massacre, given Welwyn’s proximity to Moosomin. In 2018, Welwyn gave up its village status and became a special service area in the Rural Municipality of Moosomin.

Thank you for reading! If you found this post interesting, please subscribe and share! If you’d liked to read about more true crime in historical Saskatchewan, then the posts below are a great place to start.

Confession at the North Battleford Mental Hospital

Murder in Moose Jaw: The Heroism of Margaret Regan

The Shooting of Rosie Schmidt

Confession at the North Battleford Mental Hospital

On December 9, 1927, a travelling inspector of immigration arrived at the North Battleford Mental Hospital. He was there to assess an inmate, Andrew Owstroski, for deportation.

Andrew had been convicted of vagrancy a few months before and deportation proceedings had been initiated. He was two months into his sentence when he, to quote multiple news articles, “suddenly became insane” and was transferred to the mental hospital.

The inspector of immigration met with Andrew and over the course of the interview, he confessed to something shocking. He’d murdered his employer, Mrs. Naisca Cavuk and buried her in the stable on her farm.

Photo by Jeff Nissen on Pexels.com

Corporal Des Rosiers of the Wakaw detachment of the Provincial Police was the officer in charge of carrying out the preliminary investigation of Naisca Cavuk’s disappearance. She was reported missing by her son and from the moment the investigation began, Des Rosiers was suspicious of Andrew Owstroski.

He first questioned Owstroski on June 8, 1927. Owstroski told him he knew nothing of Mrs. Cavuk’s disappearance, but Des Rosiers didn’t believe him. He returned on June 12, 1927 to interview Owstroski again, this time placing him under arrest and searching his home. He found a blood stain on the sleeve of Owstroski’s shirt, as well as a dollar bill with a blood stain on it, neither of which could be explained by Owstroski. The blood was later tested on the dollar bill and found to be human.

Convinced of Owstroski’s guilt but needing more evidence, the same day Des Rosiers commandeered 100 men, lined them 15 paces apart and did a thorough search of the Cavuk farm. The men walked the property until dusk but came up empty handed. They tested the ground in the stable with a crowbar, looking for soft spots where the earth had been disturbed but no trace of the missing woman was found.

Now, 6 months later, Owstroski had apparently confessed to the inspector of immigration. The man sent the statement to the provincial police, where it reached Corporal Des Rosiers. On Dec 30, 1927, the search for the body began again.

The ground in the stable was frozen solid and they weren’t making much progress. For fifteen days they dug and searched, until Owstroski gave them details on the exact spot he buried her. Then, 24 hours later, Mrs. Cavuk was found, buried six feet deep. She was identified by several neighbours.

Jan 16, 1928 – Regina Leader-Post

Mrs. Naisca Cavuk had moved to the Tarnopol district south of Prince Albert sixteen years previous. She lived alone on her farm, her only son grown and moved out. She was fifty and starting to think about retirement.

At the beginning of June in 1927, she hired Andrew Owstroski and set him to work “grubbing” the stumps and small trees on her property.

Andrew had come to Canada from Poland about a year previous, and only just moved to the Tarnopol district. He worked for Mrs. Cavuk for only three days before he killed her.

The autopsy showed that the woman’s skull had been crushed in and death was most likely instantaneous. According to Andrew’s confession, he hit her on the head with an axe, carried her body to the stable and dug the six foot deep grave. He buried her there, then erased all traces of the digging by packing the earth until it was as firm as before. He took particular care to erase all possible trace of blood or disorder, then left and went to live with an acquaintance some distance away.

The only motive the police could come up with for her murder was the $40 she had on her person, which appeared to have been taken, but given Andrew’s mental state it seems unlikely his reasons for killing Mrs. Cavuk were anything so logical.

On January 22, 1928, the jury at the coroner’s inquest into Naisca Cavuk’s death brough a verdict that the woman had been killed by blows of an axe in the hands of Andrew Owstroski.

Andrew remained at the mental hospital, showing no signs of recovery, and his case remained before the immigration department. It’s possible he lived out the rest of his days at the mental hospital, but it’s also likely he was deported. I couldn’t find any follow up articles on what happened with his deportation case.

And that, my friends, is the story of the senseless murder of Naisca Cavuk of Tarnopol.

Jan 23, 1928 – Regina Leader-Post

Thank you for reading! Please subscribe and share!

Information for this post was found in the following articles of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Jan 16, 1928 and Jan 23, 1928

If you’d like to read more stories of historical true crime in Saskatchewan, start here:

Murder in Moose Jaw: The Heroism of Margaret Regan

The Shooting of Rosie Schmidt

Arsenic in the Milk: The Poisoning of George B. Reed

Murder in Moose Jaw: The Heroism of Margaret Regan

Dr. William Brown was in good spirits when he left for his office on the afternoon of Monday, October 3, 1927. He’d just played a cribbage game with his wife, Mina, who reminded him not to hurry home that evening. She was in charge of a meeting of the Daughters of the Empire (a deeply racist charitable organization) and would be home late.

Despite being less than a week from his sixty-first birthday, they were both highly active and respected members of the community. On the previous Friday evening, Dr. Brown had held the opening night of the 1927-28 training season for his unit, the Tenth Field Ambulance in the Canadian Army Medical Corps of which he was the Lieutenant-Colonel and commanding officer.

He’d enlisted in 1914 as a lieutenant with the Frontiersmen Battalion. He’d become a Medical Officer of the Fifth Battalion on July 2, 1915 and in 1922 been promoted tothe rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He served in World War I from 1914-1921, and served through the important engagements of Ypres Salient, the Somme and Vimy Ridge.

Oct 4, 1927 – Regina Leader-Post

Dr. Brown said goodbye to his wife and made his way to the Hammond Building, where he was in charge of the provincial clinic. At about 4:00 in the afternoon he was at his desk, smoking his pipe, when a man walked into his office. That man was Alex Oshuk. He pulled a .38 revolver from his jacket, leveled the gun at Dr. Brown and said:

“I’ve come to square things up.”

He fired a single shot, the bullet entering the left side of Dr. Brown’s chest four inches below his collarbone. It passed through a lobe of the left lung and through his aorta, completely severing it from the heart, before lodging itself in the muscles of his back near the spinal column. Dr. Brown was dead almost instantly.

Alex Oshuk left immediately, hurrying past P. W. Graham, a contractor with an office in the building. He had another stop to make.

Meanwhile, Dr. J. H. Knight was in his own office near Dr. Brown’s. He’d heard the shot but assumed the sound had come from the street below his window. A few moments later, some men ran into his office, saying that something had happened to Dr. Brown. They ran to Dr. Brown’s office, where Dr. Knight found him sitting in his chair, his arms on the armrests, his head bent slightly forward. As Knight approached, one of Dr. Brown’s arms slid off the armrest and his pipe clattered to the floor. He was dead.

Seeing that there was nothing he could do for his colleague, Dr. Knight phoned the coroner and the police.

Alex Oshuk had one more score to settle. He made his way down Main Street to the Woolworth Building, where a lawyer, Oswold Regan kept his offices. Oswold had just come from his desk to the outer office, where his wife, Margaret, was transcribing. He had an error for her to correct. He was standing, looking over her shoulder at the document when Alex threw open the door and walked in.

“I have just shot Dr. Brown,” he told him, pulling out the revolver, “and I am now going to shoot you.”

Oswold dropped to the floor, cowering beneath the desk, waiting for the trigger to be pulled. Margaret did not. She stood up from her desk, stepped in front of her husband and stared Alex in the eye.

“You will not shoot him,” she told Alex. “You will have to shoot me first.”

Alex, she later told reporters, was in a very excited state. He looked terrible. He stood there, trembling, his hand shaking violently as he held the gun out.

“It seemed a very long time, looking into the muzzle of that gun, but it all happened very quickly,” she said.

Alex seemed to wilt on the spot. “No, Mrs. Regan,” he told her, “I cannot shoot you to get him.”

He walked to her desk, broke the revolver and emptied the cartridges onto her desk before sitting in a chair. Mr. Regan got himself off the floor, took the gun and cartridges and went to get the police. As soon as he emptied the gun and sat down, Alex seemed to come back to himself. Both the Regans said that he spoke normally and rationally, chatting with Mrs. Regan while they waited for the police.

Alex Oshuk was arrested without incident.

Alex Oshuk – Oct 15, 1927 – Regina Leader-Post

Why did Alex Oshuk decide to kill Dr. Brown and Mr. Regan? Back in 1925, Alex had gone to see Dr. Brown. Apparently, he’d contracted a sexually transmitted disease and went to him for treatment. He was courting a woman in Winnipeg and couldn’t marry her until he received a clean bill of health. An intensive course of treatment was conducted but months later the infection lingered and Oshuk’s eyes had begun to bother him. Dr. Brown sent him to an eye specialist.

He wanted Dr. Brown to give him a certificate that said he was cured, but Dr. Brown refused, telling him to see another doctor and pay the fee for a certificate.

Two years later the infection still lingered and his eyes were worse than ever. Oshuk had been to see multiple doctors and specialists. He told friends that the doctors had told him that the medicine Dr. Brown had given him for his eyes had burned his glands and his eyes were eventually going to burst and leak out through the burned glands. He said the doctors told him his eyes were ruined and he was going to go completely blind.

Alex Oshuk was devastated and obviously terrified at the prospect of going blind and having no way to support himself, so he went to see Oswold Regan. He wanted to sue Dr. Brown for $5000 for mistreatment. Regan was initially interested in the case, but after investigating told Oshuk that there was no case and refused to take it any further. It should be noted he was friendly with Dr. Brown and played golf with him, but whether that factored into his decision is unclear.

Oshuk reported Regan to the law society, who in turn found no basis for a case against Regan.

Were Alex Oshuk’s eyes actually going to burst and leak out through his glands? Probably not. Although eyes can rupture, this usually only occurs with blunt or penetrating trauma. It’s more likely that Oshuk didn’t fully understand the doctors’ diagnoses because he didn’t speak very much english. He required an interpreter for all of his police interviews.

The likely cause of Oshuk’s eye problems was syphilis. If he’d contracted syphilis it was possible that at some point he’d touched his genitals before rubbing his eyes, therefore contracting ocular syphilis, which can present with eye pain, eye pressure and can result in vision loss and blindness. It would also make sense for the infection to linger after intensive treatment, as Alexander Fleming only discovered Penicillin in 1928, three years too late for Alex Oshuk.

Was Dr. Brown guilty of mistreatment? It’s possible, but probably not. Shortly before the murder Alex reported he had seen a final specialist who told him it was too late to fix his eyes. He’d decided then to even things with the doctor he believed responsible for his misfortune.

On January 17, 1928 Alex OShuk was found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to hang at the Regina jail in April of the same year. Multiple appeals were made and petitions signed asking for mercy, but at 5:00AM, April 26, 1928, Alex Oshuk was hung.

Alex Oshuk – Aug 25, 2007 – Regina Leader-Post

Thank you for reading! If you liked today’s post, please subscribe and share!

Information for today’s post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Oct 4, 1927, Oct 5, 1927, Oct 6, 1927, Oct 7, 1927, Oct 8, 1927, Oct 12, 1927, Oct 15, 1927, Oct 18, 1927, Jan 19, 1928, Jan 20, 1928, Feb 9, 1928, March 10, 1928, April 25, 1928, April 26, 1928. As well as an excerpt from Sour Milk and Other Saskatchewan Crime Stories by Jana Pruden and Barb Pacholik, published in the Regina Leader-Post on Aug 25, 2007.

If you’d like to read more Saskatchewan historical true crime, see below:

The Shooting of Rosie Schmidt

Arsenic in the Milk: The Poisoning of George B. Reed

Manhunt in Dunkirk

Mostly Useless

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For the past few weeks my husband and I have been working on some home renovations and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m mostly useless. Not entirely useless, but pretty close. I’m the equivalent of an eager kid who wants to help but generally just gets in the way. Except for, you know, the eager part.

I have decent upper body strength so I’m able to help move furniture around, and I’m an excellent gopher when I know what tool you’re talking about.

I’m sorry, I don’t know the names of all the types of screwdrivers. I know Phillips. Kind of. (It’s the cross one, right? Never mind, I don’t care.) Other than that you’re going to have to describe it to me.

Like a child, I demand that he show me how to do tasks I feel could be in my wheelhouse, which I proceed to do poorly and he then has to fix. But when I try to stay out of it, (ideally by leaving the house entirely so I don’t have to hear all the grunting and swearing), inevitably he says that actually he does need me and could I come hold this random thing or shine the light this way, or crawl under that thing and loosen that other thing with my tiny raccoon hands?

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So, not only am I mostly useless and barely contributing, I don’t even get to sit and read a book. I stand around, fidgety and bored, trying to be helpful. Because I watch him suffer the whole time. Renovations suck. There’s a lot of crouching and kneeling and bending and things are heavy and take a hundred times longer than seems possible. And I know it would take half as long if I was useful.

Luckily, he doesn’t hold it against me. And I’m a very good cheerleader. Also, I’m good at keeping the work area tidy and cleaning up along behind him as he goes. To me, nothing is worse than finally completing that horrible, arduous task, only to creak to a standing position, turn around and see all the mess you have to clean up now from said arduous task. It’s enough to make you light the house on fire and walk into the woods.

That’s partnership though, balancing strengths and weaknesses, cheering each other on and not reminding your spouse when you’re both dead on your feet from exhaustion that this whole thing was his idea. Because it totally was.

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Attempted Bunnicide

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Full Slug

The Shooting of Rosie Schmidt

photo by Daryl_Mitchell on Flickr

It was close to 5:00PM on Tuesday, Dec 28, 1926 that Rosie Schmidt and her friends, Katie Tiesenbach and Agnes Fenske, stepped off the streetcar and began walking up the sidewalk towards the parliament building in Regina, Saskatchewan where they worked as charwomen (cleaners). Rosie had been lamenting her financial situation on the ride over, telling her friends: “I am so poor.”

At 42, Rosie hadn’t had a particularly easy life, especially in the past few months. She’d come to Canada from Russia with her husband, Valentine, twenty years ago and in August had finally managed to break free of him and move out on her own. Valentine was an abusive drunk, who, according to her brother-in-law refused to work, expecting his wife to earn a living for both of them.

They were approaching the pavement that led to the west entrance of the parliament building on 20th Avenue, Rosie on the inside of the group with Agnes in the middle and Katie on the outside nearest the road, when Valentine stepped out from behind a parked car about twenty feet away from them.

“Rosie, I shoot you!” he cried, pulling a 12 gauge, double-barrelled shot gun from under his coat. Katie began screaming, Rosie turning to run as Valentine pulled the trigger, the shot catching her in the left side of her back. Agnes fainted, Katie rushing to Rosie’s side as Valentine took off running, fleeing across Wascana Lake. The whole thing was over in seconds, Rosie dying almost instantly.

Dec 29, 1926 – Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

The police were called and Detective Pete Cleland headed for Wascana Park. He saw a man running and managed to sneak around and catch him, arresting Valentine Schmidt without a struggle. When questioned, he admitted to the officer that he had shot his wife. After taking him to police headquarters, Detective Cleland went back with another officer and they found the shot gun in two pieces in some bushes in Wascana Park. There were eight shells found on Valentine, as well as a stout rope with a noose and slip knot. The police believed Valentine’s plan was to take his own life after the shooting and he was placed on suicide watch in the jail.

A Dangerous Man

There were plenty of signs that Valentine Schmidt was not going to let Rosie go. Her landlord, Mrs. W. M. Morrison told reporters that Rosie repeatedly expressed her fear of Valentine. She’d told her that on one occasion Valentine had shown her a gun and threatened to shoot her, saying “he is quite capable of doing so, as he shot at my father in Russia.”

Valentine had tried to force his way into the house multiple times and needed to be ordered out. On Christmas Day, just three days before the murder, Mrs. Morrison had been at home with her husband and other tenants. They’d heard the door open and someone go up the stairs and thought it was Rosie. Rosie came home a short time later and went to her room. She’d started screaming and ran downstairs, saying, “he’s in my room.” They all went upstairs and found Valentine, very drunk and half dressed, getting out from under her bed. The room was in complete disarray. Mr. Morrison ordered him out and threatened to call the police. Valentine just laughed and said, “she my wife”, although he did leave.

The day after Christmas he’d tried again to get inside, but the doors were locked. One of Rosie’s housemates reported seeing Valentine peer in through the front window and that he’d fled when he’d been seen.

In the months leading up to Rosie moving out, there were also court records indicating that Valentine was dangerous. In April, Rosie had Valentine summoned to appear in police court because of his mistreatment, but later withdrew the charge. On May 31st, he went to jail for 3 months when he couldn’t put up the sureties required when Rosie had him summoned for threatening to kill her.

On Dec 29, 1926 a Coroner’s Inquest found Valentine responsible for the death of his wife. On December 31st, Rosie’s funeral was held at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic church and she was laid to rest in the Regina Cemetery. On the same day, Valentine was committed to stand trial for her murder.

The Trial

The trial opened on April 13, 1927. Dr Leon Beaudoin had done the autopsy and told of the ragged two inch long wound in Rosie’s back. There were numerous holes puncturing her internal organs, a laceration of the left kidney and hemorrhage in the abdominal cavity.

Throughout the inquest and the trial, Valentine remained calm. At no point did he show any remorse for his actions.

His defense pushed hard for insanity. He’d been examined by Dr. Campbell, an alienist from the Weyburn Mental Hospital, but Dr. Campbell found him to be sane. So they’d had blood samples taken and sent to Dr. Frances McGill, the provincial pathologist, to check for any signs of disease that might have affected his sanity. There were none. Finally, they called upon Dr. A. L. Roy, a doctor who had treated Valentine in May of 1926, when he’d gone to see him twice with stomach pains, complaining that he thought his wife had tried to poison him. Dr. Roy had found no signs of poison, pointing to a possible delusion.

April 14, 1927 – Saskatoon Daily Star

It was a feeble defense at best and on the evening of April 14, 1927, the jury found Valentine guilty. He was sentenced to hang on July 15, 1927.

A series of appeals followed, which resulted in a short reprieve but ultimately failed to save Valentine’s life. He was hung on Aug 26, 1927 at 6:00AM. At no point did he apologize or express any grief over the murder of Rosie Schmidt.

April 15, 1927 – Regina Leader-Post

Thank you for reading! Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Regina Leader-Post: Dec 29, 1926, Dec 30, 1926, Dec 31, 1926, Jan 1, 1927, Jan 7, 1927, Jan 10, 1927, Jan 14, 1927, Jan 19, 1927, Jan 26, 1927, Jan 27, 1927, April 14, 1927, April 15, 1927, April 16, 1927, July 6, 1927, July 8, 1927, Aug 18, 1927, Aug 19, 1927, Aug 23, 1927, Aug 25, 1927, Aug 26, 1927, Aug 27, 1927

If you liked this piece about historical true crime in Saskatchewan, please subscribe and share! If you’d like to read more, start here:

Arsenic in the Milk: The Poisoning of George B. Reed

Manhunt in Dunkirk

The Yorkton Hammer Murder

Fall Drinks and the Books That Go With Them

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It’s that time of year again. Shortening days, beautiful foliage, the hint of winter around the corner. It’s fall. And that means it’s time to get cozy and curl up with a good book and a hot beverage. And no matter what cozy fall drink you choose, I have a book to match. So let’s get into it.

London Fog

Ah, yes. A drink whose name is as wonderful as its taste. Sink into some sweet earl grey and vanilla with this atmospheric beverage that calls to mind the unfurling fogs of Victorian London. For a drink like this, I recommend a classic. The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Fall is a time for mysteries and these are so readable. I turn to them again and again, whenever I’m in need of comfort.

Want something more current? How about The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold. Incredibly well researched and beautifully written, Hallie Rubenhold does a deep dive on the women murdered by Jack the Ripper. Long thought to be prostitutes, Hallie sets the record straight and tells the real stories of these five fascinating women tied together in death. A must read.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed By Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Pumpkin Spice Latte

The drink of the season, encapsulating all the warm, cozy vibes of fall and immediately putting me in the spirit for Halloween. This drink requires books that are fabulous, cozy and feminist. It requires witches. There are quite a few to choose from, such as Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, The Witches of New York by Ami McKay or the classic Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.

I personally recommend We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry. Set in the eighties, it tells the story of a girls field hockey team who makes a pact with the darkness to gain a winning season. It’s quirky, awkward and funny. Or Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson, about a girl named Mila who brings her best friend back from the dead to help solve her murder, only to accidentally bring back their high school’s It girls with her.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

Chai Latte

What should we pair with this lovely, spicy beverage? Only the best, of course. A drink so cozy and flavourful requires books with plenty of layers and flavour of their own. My first pick is Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. This book has everything. Nikki, the daughter of Indian immigrants and a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching creative writing at the community center in London’s close-knit Punjabi community. The class, as it turns out, is made up Sikh widows, looking for a class on english literacy, not creative writing. One thing leads to another, and after one of the women finds a book of sexy stories Nikki’s friend stuck in her bag, the women begin writing their own. But they must keep their work secret from The Brotherhood, a group of young men who’ve appointed themselves the community’s moral police. The book is funny, warm, but still has elements of mystery and even murder. An all around winner.

If you’ve already read that one, then my next pick is Tuesday Moonie Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia. I love this book SO much. It has everything. Murder. Puzzles. A dead rich guy with a mysterious will. A ghost. Friendships. All. The. Things.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Hot Chocolate

You might think of this as more of a winter drink, but I argue that hot chocolate is appropriate whenever the weather is cool and you want to get cozy. For something so sweet and familiar I think it’s important to pick up a book that warms your heart. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon will definitely do that. It’s a beautiful love story brimming with optimism and light and it brought a smile to my face while reading it. Alternatively, Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong is not about romantic love, but family and it will also make your heart sing. It’s absolutely lovely and so, so well written. Either way, both books are guaranteed to make you melt into your hot chocolate.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Mocha

When you have the coziness of hot chocolate mixed with the buzz of coffee, what do you read? Something that keeps you turning the pages, obviously. Add a pinch of cayenne to make it a little spicy and you’ve got the perfect drink to sip on while you read Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It’s moody, spooky and atmospheric, perfect for Halloween and once it gets going, it really gets going. So don’t be put off by its slow start, it will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Already read that one? Then may I suggest The Whisper Man by Alex North? Talk about a page turner. This thriller will keep you up all night long reading, so it’s a good thing you’re drinking coffee. It is un-put-down-able.

The Whisper Man by Alex North

Happy reading!

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Arsenic in the Milk: The Poisoning of George B. Reed

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When George B. Reed died on Friday, April 26, 1935, it was sudden, but not completely unexpected. He was sixty years old and had been ill for two years, spending more than a year of that time at the Gull Lake Hospital, returning home six weeks before his death.

He suffered from paralysis in his legs, believed by the doctor to have been brought on by alcohol poisoning, and was mostly bedridden, although he could sometimes walk a little. He was buried on Sunday, April 28, 1935 and the family continued to work the farm, despite their grief.

But the neighbours were suspicious.

They believed that George’s death was not the result of his illness, but of poison. They contacted the RCMP and asked them to come investigate. Detective Sergeant Stretton and Constables Harvey and Krag heeded the call and made the journey out to Gull Lake to find out if there was anything to these claims of poison.

The Reeds

George B. Reed was born at George Lake, Minnesota. In 1907, he met the much younger Katherine Leighman and the two moved to Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, getting married in 1910. They built a comfortable farm home, had three children and were prosperous farmers until about 1933, when crop failures struck the district. George became ill shortly after.

George B. Reed, May 13, 1935 – Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

Katherine Reed was born in Germany, moving to the States as a child. According to her, she and George always got along all right, although there was some trouble over their farm hand, Clarence Wright. George wanted Katherine to get rid of him, mostly because Katherine sometimes went to ‘entertainments’ with him, since George was bedridden. He’d even gone so far as to contact the RCMP to come and remove him from the farm, but changed his mind by the time they arrived.

Clarence Wright was much closer to Katherine in age. He was forty while she was forty-six. He was also tall and burly and had been working on the farm for more than five years. He’d been helping run things since George’s leg paralysis had forced him to go to the hospital.

Overall, the family was well respected in the district, but after George’s death the rumor mill went crazy.

Death by Poison

On Friday, May 3, 1935, Katherine Reed was formally charged with murder and taken to North Battleford to await the preliminary hearing. Hours later Clarence Wright was also charged with murder. George Reed’s body was exhumed on May 6, 1935 and examined by Provincial Pathologist, Dr. Frances McGill. According to her, the cause of death was clear. George Reed died of arsenic poisoning.

Dr. McGill testified in court that not only was arsenic the cause of death, but that it had been administered in multiple doses over the course of two to three months, “judging from destruction of the organs”. She found traces of arsenic poisoning in the liver and kidneys, while the face and eyes bore a jaundice-like discoloration associated with the poison. There was damage to his vital organs, where normal tissue had been turned to fat.

Mrs. Reed, May 13 1935 – Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

But were Clarence Wright and Katherine Reed to blame? During the preliminary trial, the magistrate dismissed Wright, as there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest his involvement. He was subpoenaed as a material witness instead.

Clarence Wright, May 7, 1935 – Regina Leader-Post

The trial for Katherine Reed began on October 22, 1935.

According to Detective Sergeant Stretton, when he was investigating at the farm he spent some time chatting with Katherine. As they were talking, Mrs. Reed blurted out, “I must tell you. I gave it to him.” She told him she put half a teaspoon of arsenate of lead in a cup of milk and left it on her husband’s bedside table. She saw him lift the cup to his lips and she left the room. She told the officer she went into the kitchen where she cried a little, had a cup of coffee and went to bed.

Mrs. Reed told police that George had started asking her to put him out of his misery ten days before his death. Her sons also testified that they’d been asked by George as well, and Clarence told the court that about a week before George died he’d heard him ask his wife to leave poison within reach and she’d asked him to write a note. If he did, it was never found.

But if this was a case of suicide, how to explain the signs of continual poisoning Dr. McGill found in his organs? Arsenic was found in hair over an inch long, meaning he’d had it in his system for months.

Katherine Reed’s brother, Jacob Leighman, who’d spent the winter with them, claimed that George had been regularly accusing his wife and Clarence of poisoning him since February. “Sometimes he said he got it in his tea. His tea tasted funny.” Additionally, he said that while he was staying with the Reeds, George was sick and wanted to call a doctor, but Wright stopped him.

Other neighbours testified in court to the same. Neil McTaggart said that one day George told him, “Neil, they poisoned me.” John Zentgraf said that Reed had told him, “they slipped me a pill. If I could get a hold of a gun, I would blow Wright’s head off.” While he was in the hospital, George told another neighbour, Roy McLean, that he didn’t want to go home while Wright was there because he was afraid he’d be poisoned.

Were George’s suspicions correct? Or was it possible the arsenic came from somewhere else? George Reed’s illness first began two years ago. Mrs. Reed testified that there was a social event happening at a neighbour’s and George didn’t want to attend, as he wasn’t feeling well. So she, Wright and the children went and left George at home. When they got back, George was gagging and there were nail marks all over his throat and chest. They called his doctor, Dr. Mathesan, who came out to the farm to find George ill with paralysis in his feet. Mathesan suspected alcohol poisoning.

He wasn’t wrong to suspect alcohol. In fact, George’s brother-in-law admitted that he’d seen George get so drunk on home brew that he was out of his head for three days, although he refused to admit that he was the one who’d supplied it. One of the neighbour’s also testified that George “drank anything that was exhilarating.”

Could George’s illness and subsequent bouts of poisoning have come from a bad batch of home brew? Possibly prepared in unclean conditions or containers that led to arsenic poisoning?

The RCMP believed that the poisonings had been purposeful and methodical, pointing to Mrs. Reed’s relationship with Clarence. She admitted that they’d kissed a few times, but nothing more. There were also a number of detective magazines in the house containing a series that dealt with arsenic murders, ordered by Katherine, as well as a family doctor book, in which the pages dealing with arsenic and delayed menstruation were soiled. Except, Mrs. Reed couldn’t read. She’d ordered the magazines for her bedridden husband, who enjoyed the stories.

On November 1, 1935, after an eight day trial, the jury found Katherine Reed not guilty of murder. It was possible she could still be charged with abetting a suicide, but the RCMP told journalists that it was unlikely further charges would be laid.

Was George Reed poisoned on purpose by Katherine and Clarence or had he accidentally poisoned himself? We’ll never know for sure, but just to be safe, stay the hell away from home brew.

Nov 1, 1935 – Regina Leader-Post

Thank you for reading! Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: May 3, 1935, May 4, 1935, May 7, 1935 May 8, 1935, May 9, 1935, May 10, 1935, May 11, 1935, May 13, 1935, May 14, 1935, Oct 18, 1935, Oct 22, 1935, Oct 23, 1935, Oct 25, 1935, Oct 26, 1935, Oct 29, 1935, Oct 30, 1935, Oct 31, 1935, Nov 1, 1935

If you liked this story of historical true crime, please subscribe and share! If you’re eager for more tales of murder in historical Saskatchewan, check out the following:

Manhunt in Dunkirk

The Yorkton Hammer Murder

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Manhunt in Dunkirk

Thursday, January 7, 1932

It was still dark at 7:00AM when Peter Jeanotte got up and went out to the barn to do his chores. He was a farm hand on the Fitch farmstead in Dunkirk, Saskatchewan and had been working for his friend of seven years, Robert Walter Fitch, since October.

Fitch, who went by Walter, was about a half an hour behind him. He got up, lit the fires in his house, then picked up a lantern and milk pail and started for the barn. He was only fifteen feet from the barn when Jeanotte fired a single shot from within, the bullet passing through his heart and killing Fitch almost instantly.

Jeanotte, still carrying the rifle, walked to the house. Mrs. Fitch, having not heard the rifle shot, stepped out onto the veranda to check the thermometer and found Jeanotte just outside the door.

“I’ve killed your husband,” he told her. “He made me too mad.”

Shocked, Mrs. Fitch told him not to come in the house, to which he responded that she didn’t need to worry. He wouldn’t kill her.

Fearing the worst, she ran down to the barn where she found her husband, dead. She went back to the house and sent her nine-year-old son, Richard, to the neighbouring farm to get Arthur Fitch, Walter’s brother. Jeanotte left, walking towards the highway, but not before going into the house to get more ammunition.

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Robert Walter Fitch

Walter Fitch was, by all accounts, a fair man and well liked in the district. He was born in Bethany, Ontario and was a graduate of the Toronto University. He taught high school for a number of years in Toronto before moving to Dunkirk to farm about fifteen years before his murder.

He had hired Jeanotte in October of 1931 to work the winter. Jeanotte, also reasonably well liked, had been living and working in the district for seven years and had been friends with both of the Fitch brothers since his arrival. He was described by previous employers as “one of the best workers they ever had.”

Jan 8, 1932 – Regina Leader-Post

The Manhunt Begins

Informed by his nephew of his brother’s murder, Arthur Fitch called the coroner, Dr. Welch, and the RCMP at Mossbank. Then he went straight to the farm, where Mrs. Fitch was waiting.

Constable McNally arrived at the farm soon after and immediately picked up the trail, following Jeanotte’s footprints in the snow. He was joined in the hunt by Arthur Fitch and Dr. Welch, the three trekking through the snow on foot until Oscar Neilson arrived with his car. They eventually caught sight of Jeanotte, who opened fire without hesitation. The constable answered with shots of his own from his revolver.

The chase was officially on, Jeanotte dodging among the hills in all directions, sometimes doubling back, the party following behind, tracking him by his footprints.

Believing himself to be well ahead of his pursuers, Jeanotte made his way to the farm of Alex Ferrara, a friend of his, and told him he’d lost his job. Ferrara invited him in to eat, which Jeanotte accepted, unloading his gun and putting it in the kitchen. They’d only been eating for about five minutes when Jeanotte spotted the constable through the window, grabbed some food and dashed out the door with his gun, firing on the men from behind a wagon.

They fired back and Jeanotte ran out into the open, disappearing into a small ravine. The trail was taken up again but they lost him. Doubling back, they met a police car from Moose Jaw, carrying Constable de Miffonis of Moose Jaw. They were quickly joined by more officers and civilians. I found some newspaper reports stating that at this point Arthur Fitch, Dr. Welch and Oscar Neilson dropped out of the search, but the stories are unclear.

Jeanotte was incredibly tricky, leading them through the south country hills, jumping back and forth between fences, always managing to evade them. As nightfall approached, Jeanotte took shelter in some bush and once again opened fire on his pursuers. They returned fire until Constable McNally ran out of ammunition and another man’s gun jammed. Jeanotte made his escape, passing through a farmyard belonging to a man referred to as W. Scott.

W. Scott had a phone, so they called Moose Jaw and Regina for reinforcements and set up the Scott farm as their headquarters. Here they were joined by police officers and civilians from Regina, Moose Jaw, Avonlea, Weyburn and Mossbank. There were twenty-one of them in total, eleven police officers and ten civilians, all armed with rifles and revolvers.

Near the correction line on the No. 2 highway, about 12 miles south of Moose Jaw, the police threw their first cordon (a line or circle of police officers) around Jeanotte, but he slipped through. He could see the officers because of their flashlights but they couldn’t see him as he snuck by, a shadow in the darkness.

While officers trailed Jeanotte, others in cars dashed along the highway ahead of him in an attempt to cut him off. Unphased, Jeanotte went left and right, doubling back repeatedly, always escaping their clutches, until eventually he reached the town of Tilney.

The posse was almost ready to give up, when daylight broke and his tracks were found, leading from Tilney to Moose Jaw. The group scattered in all directions in Moose Jaw, looking for Jeanotte. As the cars drove up River Street West, one of the men recognized Jeanotte, leaning casually against The American Hotel. The men rushed him, but he gave up without resistance, having discarded his rifle and ammunition somewhere along the way.

He was taken into custody at 8:15AM, Friday, January 8th and charged with the murder of Walter Fitch.

Jan 13, 1932 – Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

The Coroner’s Inquest and Trial

The inquest into Walter Fitch’s death opened on January 15, 1932 under Coroner Dr. W. T. O. Welch in Expanse, Saskatchewan, to be followed immediately by Jeanotte’s preliminary trial. The coroner’s jury, unsurprisingly, came to its verdict quickly. They found that Walter Fitch had come to his death from a bullet fired from a 25-20 rifle in the hands of Peter Jeanotte.

The preliminary trial began at 6:00PM the same day, presided over by H. D. Pickett, magistrate of Moose Jaw. A number of witnesses gave testimony, including Jeanotte himself, who finally explained why he’d shot Fitch.

Peter Jeanotte was obsessed with the idea that Walter Fitch was keeping relief work money from him. When Fitch had first hired Jeanotte, he had tried to employ him under the relief work plan of the provincial government, whereby the farmer would get $10 a month for keeping the hired man and the hired man would receive $5 a month for his labours. Jeanotte believed this application had been accepted and Fitch was keeping Jeanotte’s share of the money. This was not the case. In an ultimate twist of tragedy, Fitch had only just received word from the provincial government the day before his death, with a letter to fill out to come under the plan.

For three days prior to the murder, Jeanotte had been brooding. Arguments with Fitch had kept him from sleeping for two successive nights. He described an alleged argument he’d had with Fitch over the killing and eating of a chicken he thought was diseased and unfit for food.

Jeanotte was committed for trial at the next sitting of the court of the king’s bench in Assiniboia. On March 15, 1932 he was found sufficiently sane to stand trial, despite the testimony of Dr. A. Campbell, who had examined Jeanotte and described him as distinctly delusional, suffering from hallucinations and the illusion of persecution. He told the court that people of this type could converse passably on subjects apart from their illusion and could work normally, the mental deterioration being slower than other cases of insanity.

His defense, C. H. J. Burrows, entered a plea of insanity at his trial but the jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to hang on June 17, 1932. Burrows appealed and on May 9, 1932 he was granted a new trial. As his earlier execution date grew near, Jeanotte was reported to be upset with his defense counself for appealing. Apparently he had it in his head that his execution date was actually going to be his release date and if not for the appeal he would have been back at work in the fields.

His new trial was set to begin on Oct 25, 1932, but on Oct 27, 1932 the jury found him unfit to stand trial. This time testimony by two of his doctors, Dr. Campbell and Dr. O. E. Rothwell were enough to convince the jury that Jeanotte suffered from hallucinations and persecutionary delusions, believing that his neighbours and friends were conspiring against him.

Oct 27, 1932 – Regina Leader-Post

Thank you for reading! Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post: Jan 7, 1932, Jan 8, 1932, Jan 9, 1932, Jan 12, 1932, Jan 13, 1932, Jan 14, 1932, Jan 15, 1932, Jan 16, 1932, March 14, 1932, March 16, 1932, March 22, 1932, April 15, 1932, May 4, 1932, May 9, 1932, May 10, 1932, Sep 24, 1932, Oct 21, 1932 and Oct 27, 1932.

If you liked this story, please subscribe and share! And if you’re interested in more stories of true crime in Saskatchewan, try the following:

The Yorkton Hammer Murder

The Haunted Skull of the Kerrobert Courthouse

Shootin’ Rabbits by Moonlight: The Murder of Hans Pederson