The Corpse Bride of Sokal, Saskatchewan

If you’ve been reading along, you know that I’m currently on a deep dive researching murders in Saskatchewan in the 1930s. (If you only just stumbled on my blog and would like to know what I’m talking about, read this and this.) Over the course of my research I’ve come across a lot of weird stories, but this one, while not a murder, was truly wild and I knew I had to share it with you.

Photo by Alain Frechette on Pexels.com

In mid-November, 1931, RCMP officers arrested a man after they found him inside the opened coffin of a dug up grave, kissing the decayed face of his wife, who’d passed away in January of the same year. The man, Dmytro Stefaniuk, was charged with unlawfully interfering with the dead.

Dmytro told the officers that he’d heard “her voice, asking me to come to her” and admitted that this was the third time he’d dug up the grave to give his dead wife some affection.

At the time of his arrest, the officers found candles that he’d brought to burn for the repose of her soul, holy water to spinkle on her remains, and various articles of food, clothes and household effects, as well as a prayer book. He told them that he’d felt guilty for not providing her with those comforts in life and for not taking her to church, so he tried to give them to her in death.

His defense council, none other than John G. Diefenbaker himself, had Dmytro’s sanity tested and mental authorities found him fit to stand trial. Diefenbaker argued that Dmytro’s mind had been clouded by grief and he’d suffered temporary insanity as a result of his lasting affection for his wife.

Taking into consideration that Dmytro had already spent a month in prison since his arrest, the judge suspended his sentence, warning him not to heed the mysterious voice should he hear it compelling him to dig up the grave again in the future.

There was only the single article for this story, but upon reading it I had so many questions. Who was his wife? How did she die? And how did the RCMP know to find him in the graveyard? Did someone see him going in with his bag of supplies and a shovel and call the RCMP?

The article mentioned that Dmytro lived in the Sokal district of Saskatchewan, so I did a Google search for cemeteries in the area. I only found two listed, one was for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the other was the Holy Trinity Ukranian Catholic Cemetery. Bingo.

There were 157 graves listed for this cemetery on Find a Grave (a website that is exactly what it sounds like). I started scrolling through the list, looking for a woman with the last name Stefaniuk, whose year of death was 1931. And I found Zofia. Zofia Stefaniuk, born 1900, died 1931, buried alongside a Dmytro Stefaniuk, born 1893, died 1970. The entry included a picture of the tombstone, although I doubt it’s the original. It’s looks like it was replaced later to include Dmytro.

photo credit – FInd a Grave, uploaded by user DotM

Another interesting item I found while scrolling was the tombstone for one William Stefaniuk, who lived for only three days in January, 1931. Born January 3rd, died January 6th.

photo credit – Find A Grave, uploaded by user DotM

Given that the wife of Dmytro died in January of 1931, could this be the reason why? Had she given birth to a son named William, and both died from complications of childbirth? I was unable to find an obituary for Zofia, so there’s no way to know for sure. Nor is there any way to be one hundred percent certain that Zofia was the woman to inspire such an unhinged level of devotion, but it seems likely.

Now I can’t help but wonder. Was it Zofia’s ghostly voice murmuring to Dmytro, demanding that he visit? Or was it as Diefenbaker said, a mind clouded with grief and guilt? I suppose we’ll never know.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Information for this post was found in the Dec 18, 1931 edition of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Thanks for reading! For more wild stories of murder in 1930s Saskatchewan, as well as some more lighthearted and sarcastic content, make sure to subscribe! And don’t forget to share this post!

3 Great Books I’ve Read Lately

In this neverending pandemic, especially now with cases numbers blowing up in my province thanks to these fabulous new Variants of Concern and the turtle-slow rollout of vaccines, I find myself in need of escape. I read a very wide variety of books, but lately anything contemporary and based in reality is not appealing at all.

If you’re in the same boat, and would like a ticket to far different realities, I would like to present the following options. These made it into my tbr pile recently and I loved them.

A DEADLY EDUCATION – NAOMI NOVIK

If this is your first time reading Naomi Novik, congratulations, I’m very jealous of you. I’ve read all three of her books and will read every book she publishes from now until forever. Her characters are fantastic, her premises are fantastic, and I love her writing style. A Deadly Education is no different. I love everything about this book. The best part? It’s the first of a series (her other two books are stand alone) and the sequel comes out in June, so you won’t have to wait long for the next one. And in the mean time you can read her other two novels, Uprooted and Spinning Silver.

PIRANESI – SUSANNA CLARKE

Don’t ask me to say the title out loud, because I doubt I could get the pronunciation right, but this book is amazing. The best way I can describe it is it’s like one of those really strange dreams, filled with meaning, that you struggle to remember in the morning. The main character, Piranesi, spends the book puzzling out who he is and what his relationship is to the house he lives in, and its sole other occupant. It’s lyrical, hypnotic and really out there in the best way.

MEXICAN GOTHIC – SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA

I loved this book. It starts slow and grows more and more creepy and unnerving with an ever-expanding ball of dread in your gut, until you get near the end and everything jumps to hyper-speed and you’d rather cut your own eyelids off than stop reading. It’s strange and awful and beautiful and the writing is gorgeous. And the characters! Silvia Moreno-Garcia knows how to craft an insanely imaginative story and give you some truly repugnant characters. Magnificent.

There you have it! May these books serve you well in the coming weeks. Remember: stay in, read books, see no one.

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Seed Update – Part II

We are fast approaching spring, so I decided it was once again time to update you on my precious plant babies. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this and this.)

Yes, I know that according to the calendar we are technically already in spring and I’m sure for a lot of you, it’s going wonderfully. But I live in Canada, and as I write this it’s currrently snowing outside my window, despite it being sunny and 13 degrees Celsius yesterday.

That’s just the way it goes here. Winter is like a bad ex-boyfriend. You thought you were pretty damn clear about the end of the relationship but it still just keeps showing up unexpectedly, accusing you of stealing its favourite sweater and asking if you’re seeing anyone. Oh my God, Winter! Just move on already! I’m with Spring now!

First off, I have a lot of Basil. And I’m still thinking of starting more. I’ve made pesto once already and it was so refreshing and delicious I’m thinking I should raise an army of Basil plants so I never have to go without. More basil, more pesto. More pesto, more better. Yes? Yes.

My butternut squash are doing reasonably well, as are my rosemary. I even got to harvest a squash blossom already, and there are plenty more blossoms on the way. (Stuff them with ricotta and herbs, dip in a little batter and fry. So good!)

For flowers, I’ve got an Ageratum mix and some Peppermint Stick Balsam, both doing super well. The rest of my flower seeds are direct sow, which I will hopefully be doing soon. (No, you didn’t forget your keys here, Winter. Ugh.)

Ageratum
Balsam

That’s it for now! And if Winter tries to ask you for my new number, tell it to get bent.

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Seasons of Candy

Easter is officially behind us, taking with it my favourite candy season of the year. I know some of you may have thought Halloween would be my favourite, but you’d be wrong. It’s Easter. Still more of you may have been thinking “candy season? What the heck is that?” and we, sir, are just too different.

In my personal, expert opinion, Easter has by far the most superior candy. Halloween offers an excellent variety of bite size treats, a plus for a fickle snacker such as myself, but it’s the same stuff available year round. Whereas Easter has in its retinue: Eggies, Mini Eggs, Mini Creme Eggs, Robins Eggs and large peanut butter varietals such as these:

Yes, one of them is an empty wrapper. I’m not made of stone!

How could any other season compete? Not Christmas, with its horrible boxes of Pot Of Gold chocolate, candy canes, After Eights and Ferrero Rocher, which I know some people love but they’ve honestly never filled me with excitement.

Summer is pretty good with its zany collection of twizzlers, nerds, fun dip, gobstoppers, popsicles and smores. (And before you go telling me that smores suck, you’re just not making them correctly! The key is to have a little grill for the fire, so that you can warm the graham cracker and chocolate while you’re toasting the marshmallow.) Everything is bright, colourful and vaguely fruit flavoured. Summer basically provides everything you need short of cocaine to keep you buzzed all day and long into the night.

The worst candy season by far is Valentine’s. For a season that celebrates romancing your partner with chocolate, the selection is abysmal. Unless you like heart-shaped boxes of tooth-crackingly hard chocolate filled with the worst flavours known to humankind. They take things that should be delicious, like caramel and coffee cream and make them so bad you won’t touch them unless you’ve reached a level of desperation that can only be described as ‘nuclear’.

So am I a little sad that Easter is over and the drugstores have already cleared their racks of the good stuff? Yes. But if it means summer is almost here I’m happy to snort a pixie stick and wait until next year. I like candy, but I love sunshine more.

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They Sure Like Their Strychnine, Don’t They?

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

A few weeks ago, I told you about my search for the mysterious skull that Kerrobert claims is behind their haunted courthouse. (If you haven’t read it, you can do so here.) I haven’t given up my quest, and have spent the last few weeks wading through what I can only describe as a lot of archived newspaper articles from the 1930s. It turns out old timey Saskatchewan really loved its murder. My access to the 1920s is limited, so I’ve focused on the 30s for now.

I already have so many interesting murders to tell you about, but so far none of them have taken place in Kerrobert. Not the murders themselves and not the trials that followed. The skull continues to evade me, but I must confess, I’m thoroughly enjoying the hunt.

One thing I’ve learned thus far is that strychnine seems to have been a murder weapon of choice. It turns out gopher poison was rather easy to come by, and unfortunately for the murderers, very easy to test for. So much for the perfect crime.

The first murder I’ll tell you about was committed by Kateryna Tracz. She mixed strychnine into her husband’s “home brew” (in some articles this was referred to as whiskey but in most just as home brew so we’ll assume it was some kind of alcohol and leave it at that), and served it to him with supper.

Unfortunately for Kateryna, her husband took several hours to die and spent those hours accusing her of murder.

Their son, William came in just in time to see his father fall from his chair, and on his father’s request went to fetch the school teacher and his wife, as well as several other neighbours and finally the doctor. (I’m sure Kateryna was less than thrilled by this abundance of witnesses. Especially with her husband in agony, suffering convulsions and rigid limbs.) Soon after William returned with the doctor, his father was dead.

This death was obviously very suspicious, so the R.C.M.P. sent the bottle of home brew and Yacam’s intestines out for testing. Surprising absolutely no one, it came back positive for strychnine. Not that the testing was really necessary, Kateryna had already admitted to her parents that she’d poisoned Yacam.

According to Kateryna, their neighbour, Theodore Oleskiw had given her the poison and told her to do it, saying that he would marry her when Yacam was dead. Theodore, of course, denied all allegations. He told the R.C.M.P that he was in fact engaged to another woman and wasn’t interested in Kateryna at all. He was charged as an accessory but was found not guilty.

Now, before you go assuming Kateryna was a soulless monster, by all accounts their marriage was not a happy one. They had eight children and according to her neighbours, Kateryna had complained often about how unhappy she was and that she’d been forced to marry Yacam against her will by her parents at age fifteen. She was, of course, found guilty and sentenced to death but her sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

The second murder I have for you is not a murder at all, but an attempted murder.

On July 2, 1931, Agnes Longeuil and her family came home from a district picnic to their farm in Aberdeen to find a back window broken. Some articles inside the house had been moved around and a padlock had been taken from the garage door but nothing else appeared to be missing.

The following day, Agnes Longeuil served lunch to her two children, her visiting niece and a hired man who worked on their farm. They noticed a strange taste to their tea and threw it out. Agnes also threw out a stale pudding from the cupboard and a few potatoes that had gone bad. One of their dogs got into the stale pudding and became violently ill, stiffening in the joints and had to be shot. The pigs they’d fed the potatoes to also became violently ill. Agnes, convinced someone had tried to poison them, called in the R.C.M.P to investigate. They sent the tea caddy away to the University of Saskatchewan for analysis and it came back positive for strychnine.

Not only was there strychnine in the tea, there was enough to kill at least nineteen people. Soon after, the R.C.M.P. arrested Reinhold Drews, her neighbour, who admitted that he broke into the family home on July 2nd and sprinkled gopher poison on food in the kitchen cupboard.

Don’t worry though. He had a great reason for trying to kill Agnes and her entire family. It turned out he wanted revenge for a judgement Agnes had secured against him in February for $305 for the loss of her hay the previous fall when fire spread from a strawstack he was burning. That would be about $5200 today. So as you can see, his response was perfectly reasonable.

Reinhold plead guilty to the crime and received a sentence of fifteen years. It is unclear if Agnes ever got her $305 dollars.

I have many more murder stories to tell you, but we’ll leave it here for today. And remember, if the tea tastes funny, throw it away.

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10 Signs My Husband and I Are Childless

1. My husband spent several weeks doing a deep dive into which new TV would best suit his gaming needs.

2. We get 8-10 hours of sleep. Per night.

3. The closest thing to a primary colour in our house is my turquoise china cabinet.

4. We leave our candy and chocolate out in the open.

5. Our Netflix queue is exclusively murder related.

6. Our weekends never involve zoos, play dates, jungle gyms or screaming.

7. The grocery store is a chore, not an escape.

8. None of our furniture decisons were based on stain resistance.

9. There’s a rig and anti-gravity yoga hammock set up in our living room.

10. We’re smug as fuck. (For real. When I told my husband I was writing this list, he literally asked me “Oh, is ‘we’re happy’ number one?”)

In all seriousness, to my lovely breeding friends, I know you love your kids and your life with them. At least, I sincerely hope so, because I cannot for the life of me fathom why you would subject yourselves to it otherwise.

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Full Slug

The amount of inactivity I’ve experienced during this pandemic has been… intense. To be perfectly honest, I’ve gone full slug. After a few brief attempts at home workouts in the beginning – in which I discovered that I don’t enjoy cardio of any kind and having my muscles burn and go wobbly does not fill me with any of the prophesied euphoria touted by fitness gurus – I gave up.

Call me crazy, but if the fitness activity doesn’t serve an identifiable purpose, I find myself incapable of caring. Yes, fitness has an obvious purpose on its own – to remain fit (it’s in the name. I get it), but I’m talking more about the applicability of that fitness.

I enjoy exercise where I’m learning a skill. Dancing, for example, or knife fighting. I come away with a fun or useful talent, and as an added bonus I’ve taken care of my body. (I suppose running could be rebranded as chase practice, in case you’re ever being chased by a murderer, kidnapper or band of rabid zombies, but frankly I don’t think it will take off.)

Pre-pandemic, I was taking aerial silks and anti-gravity yoga. In case I ever needed to forgo my identity and join a traveling circus. Just kidding, it was entirely because it made me feel cool and badass. When that was no longer available, I made do going for long walks to get gelato (applicable fitness) until winter arrived and I was, for the most part, housebound.

Did you know you can get injured sleeping on your couch all day? Because you can. It turns out being a slouchy, comatose slug isn’t good for your neck. Or back. Or hip flexors. You get headaches and you’re sore and miserable and according to my husband, whiny. (Disagree). And then sometimes your entire neck gets fed up and goes into full spasm and you need to book immediate emergency massage and acupuncture appointments and it takes several weeks before you can fully turn your neck again.

There was only one clear, logical solution to my slug problem.

Buy a rig and antigravity yoga hammock!

Sure, some might find it odd to rearrange their house and set up a rig in their living room. But those people aren’t visionaries. And they’ve clearly never known the bliss of hanging upside down after a long day. And yes, you can also take naps in it. Well deserved naps after a hearty workout!

Is it an extreme solution? Maybe. Have I installed a large tripping hazard in an area of the house we use daily? Ahem, perhaps. But does it make me feel amazing, and have I used it almost daily since I’ve set it up? Yes and yes!

So, I guess what I’m saying is, do whatever badass thing makes you feel great. And realize that coming to my house sometimes means getting kicked in the head. I swear, it’s for fitness.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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The Mystery of the Haunted Skull

Photo by Renato Danyi on Pexels.com

A few months ago I was reading up on the most (allegedly) haunted places in Saskatchewan, as one does, and came upon a haunted courthouse in Kerrobert.

According to the town website, “there are rumours that the courthouse is haunted. People have heard whispering voices in otherwise empty rooms, and footsteps ascending the main stairway.” They attribute the ghost to an old skull that was kept locked in the basement Evidence Room, apparently dating back to a 1931 murder trial defended by John G. Diefenbaker. (Canada’s 13th prime minister for my non-Canadian friends.)

Of course, my brain working the way it does, I immediately went on the hunt to uncover the details of said murder. (What can I say? If you mention murder around me, I will ask for the details.)

Those details, however, proved elusive. After doing some googling and research of my own, I reached out to my local library to see if they had any information on the subject, hoping they might be able to dig up something from their archives.

First of all, the librarian who helped me was amazing. Seriously, God bless librarians and libraries everywhere. She informed me that she only found one murder trial in Kerrobert in 1931, but it didn’t involve Diefenbaker and sent me all the newspaper articles she found on the murder and its subsequent trial.

The murder involved two well known farmers in Rosetown who got into a scuffle after a unity league meeting. During the fight, one of the farmers produced a knife and stabbed the other, who died in the hospital four days later.

It didn’t seem like the type of crime where a skull would be produced as evidence.

Figuring that perhaps they got the date wrong, I concentrated on the only other detail listed on the town website. John G. Diefenbaker.

More googling later, I found a paper written by a law librarian (Librarians! For the win!) at the University of Saskatchewan on the legal career of Diefenbaker. And although he indeed defended some interesting murder trials, it didn’t appear that he’d been involved in any murder trials in Kerrobert.

In a last ditch effort to get some answers, I emailed the Diefenbaker Center for their thoughts and the town of Kerrobert, asking them to pass on my email to their historical society to see if they’d be able to shed some light on the mystery, or send me some news articles about the supposed murder trial.

Several months have passed now and I’ve heard nothing back, but my curiosity hasn’t abated. Plus, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I don’t really have much else to do.

So, I emailed my lovely, local library again and asked them to send me any news articles they have on murder trials in Kerrobert between 1925 and 1935. If there’s any mention of a skull, I’m going to find it.

And yes, you better believe I’ll be keeping you apprised of any interesting murders I find along the way.

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Birthday Extravaganza

It’s March, aka the month of my birth! Oh yes my friends, I am one of those lunatics who loves celebrating their birthday. And I’m very good at it. Let me show you what I mean (and feel free to take note of anything for yourself, wink wink nudge nudge).

The celebrations generally being a full month in advance, when I start treating myself to things I want. There’s a gift with purchase for a skincare line I like? Getting it! A book releases that I’m excited for? Buying it! And it only intensifies as I get closer to my birthday.

I always book my birthday off from work, and generally add an extra day or two as well to turn it into a long weekend. Why? Because I’m sorry, but I can’t be bothered to care about something as dumb as work on my birthday! I will, however, bring treats the day before so we can all properly celebrate how much better their lives are with me in it.

Birthday celebrations are not limited to a single day but are spread out over three or four days. I should probably just stop calling it my birthday and call it my birthweekend or something, but nah. Why do I do this? It takes the precious off making a single day super amazing. Instead, I pencil in one or two lovely things a day all weekend.

I always book a massage and/or a spa treatment. I’ll see a movie if there’s something I’m excited about that’s out and my husband and I will eat out a lot. No treat is forbidden. When it comes to birthdays, we fully embrace the parks and rec “treat yo self” mentality.

Is it fabulous? Yes. Do I always have a great birthday? Yes. Because I’m in charge. And if you take away anything from my birthday extravaganza lifestyle, I hope it’s this: don’t put it on other people to make sure your birthday is amazing. After all, who knows how to make you happy better than you?

Treat yo self! Treat. Yo. Self.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the birthday girl desires freshly baked peanut butter cookies and you better believe I’m getting that Queen what she wants. (It’s me. I’m the queen.)

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I’m Jealous of Geek Culture

No one who knows me well tends to describe me as ‘normal’. (I talk about murder a lot, okay?) I’m quirky, dark, definitely a little weird, and probably not who you want to invite to a dinner party if you’re trying to impress someone. (Unless that someone is looking to debate the merits of the theory that H. H. Holmes was Jack the Ripper and came to America after his killing spree in London. He wasn’t. There is catalogued proof that Holmes was in the middle of building his murder hotel while Jack was on his reign of terror and… Ahem. But I digress.)

I know what it’s like to have your interests considered strange. And yet, I’m not a true geek. I love geek culture as a concept and as a community, but I’m not a part of it. Because there’s not really anything I love as hard as they do.

I one hundred percent ruined the only role playing game I ever participated in. I knew immediately I’d made a big mistake when the first hour of the game was dedicated to designing our characters. I couldn’t possibly have cared less who my character was.

(But Mel, how could you hate that? Don’t you literally write novels? Yes. I do. And the experiences are not comparable for me. I don’t fill out interview questionnaires for my characters. They arrive fully formed and pissed off in my head, okay?)

It turns out I hate role playing. Or any sort of playing pretend, really. And yes, I sucked every ounce of fun out of the room that night. I know you don’t need me to tell you this, but I wasn’t invited back. Same goes for the one and only murder mystery party I was ever invited to. Total buzzkill.

I also don’t buy into fandoms. I will watch or read a thing, but I never become obsessed with it the way true geeks do. I don’t know why, I just don’t.

For example, I read Harry Potter when it first came out as a child and loved it. But I never felt compelled to figure out what house I belonged to, or wear a gryffindor scarf or buy a bobblehead Hermione. I didn’t need to know what my Patronus was. (This is something I’m grateful for now, as the author turned out to have some wildly problematic opinions.)

I will watch and love movies and TV shows without every decrying myself team so-and-so, or calling a character my boyfriend. My adoration of a story, character or universe will never make its way into my bio, onto my clothes or even to the background of my phone or laptop. Not because I think doing so is wrong or too much, but because my brain doesn’t work that way.

This isn’t to say that I don’t love a lot of stuff, I just don’t feel the need to love it outside of its original medium. My fandom is limited to recommending it to people I love.

It looks like fun though. How enjoyable to immediately recognize your tribe on the street because they’re also wearing a gryffindor scarf or have a tardis keychain. How exciting to exchange that knowing glance when you pull out your wallet covered in manga stickers and make that inside joke with someone you just met knowing full well they’ll not only get it, but find it hilarious.

Instant connection.

That’s what I’m jealous of.

Maybe one day I’ll find something I love that hard, but in the meantime I’ll stick to binge watching Lucifer for the eight hundredth time and shoving book series I love down other people’s throats.

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