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.
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.
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.
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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
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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 to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He served in World War I from 1914-1921, including through the important engagements of Ypres Salient, the Somme and Vimy Ridge.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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?
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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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.
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 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.
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.
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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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It was a typical Sunday on the Steberl farm, just 12 miles northeast of Yorkton near Rhein, Saskatchewan. Gustav Steberl and his wife Rosie had gone into Rhein that day with their hired man, Henry Suppes, before returning to the farm around supper time.
Earlier that day Henry and Gustav had gotten into a minor argument about the horses. Gustav didn’t like how fast Henry was driving them. But it hadn’t lasted long and both men seemed to have forgotten about it.
After supper, Gustav sat on the front steps of the house, nursing the baby, while Rosie milked some cows nearby. He’d only recently been released from the hospital and was still convalescing at home. Hearing a sudden noise and the crying of the baby, Rosie turned and saw Henry Suppes standing behind Gustav, striking him over the head with a hammer. She screamed and ran to her husband. Suppes dropped the hammer (later found to be a blacksmith’s hammer) and ran into the bushes.
Gustav, even though he’d been attacked, hadn’t dropped the baby. Instead his unconscious form had slumped over the infant. Rosie grabbed the baby from his arms and ran to the neighbour’s farm, belonging to Amos Burkell. They called for medical assistance and notified the RCMP.
Constable M. V. Novakowski of the Yorkton detachment went straight to the Steberl farm. After learning of the seriousness of Gustav’s injuries, he called Corporal Charles Harvey to let him know what had happened on the farm and went to Henry Suppes’ home near Rhein and arrested him.
Gustav Steberl was taken to the Yorkton hospital at 11:15PM. He died three hours later, having never regained consciousness.
Henry Suppes, Hired Man
A coroner’s inquest was opened the following day on June 5, 1933, led by Coroner C. J. Houston. Henry Suppes was charged with murder the same day. The jury viewed Gustav’s body and adjourned for one week before returning a verdict on June 12, 1933 finding Suppes responsible for Gustav’s death. Suppes was taken to Regina by Constable J. Timmerman on June 6, 1933.
The preliminary hearing was held on June 13, 1933, before magistrate W. B. Scott of Regina. Rosie Steberl was the first to testify. Henry Suppes also testified on his own behalf. He’d only been working for the Steberls since May 12, 1933, not even a full month. He told the court that on June 4th he’d been to Rhein with the Steberls and when they returned he’d unhitched the horses. After putting them in the barn he suddenly became tired of farm work and decided to quit, so he left and walked to his home at Rhein. He denied striking his employer with the hammer and told the court he hadn’t even held a hammer that day. He was committed to stand trial at the next court of the king’s bench, to be held in Regina.
But he never stood trial. In the early morning of Tuesday, July 25, 1933, Henry Suppes was found dead in his cell. He’d ripped his bedsheet in half, wound it into a cord, tied one end around his neck and suspended himself from the grating near his window.
An inquest into Suppes death began at 6:30PM on July 26, 1933. Dr. C. E. McCutcheon viewed the body at Speers funeral home the night before, where it was being held pending completion of funeral arrangements. The post-mortem was performed by Dr. J. G. Wright.
W. Watson, the guard on duty that night, testified that he’d made his usual rounds of the jail at midnight and 1:00AM and reported everything in order to Alex Bruce, the night-keeper. At 2:00AM, Alex Bruce made the rounds and at about 2:20AM he found the suspended body of Suppes in his cell.
No heartbeat or pulse was found and efforts at resuscitation had no effect. Bruce immediately notified Charles Gleadow, the warden, and arrangements were made to notify relatives.
Suppes had been in the Regina Jail since June 13th and at all times the warden described him as a quiet, model prisoner. He caused no trouble. Even the prisoners near his cell reported that they hadn’t heard anything unusual during the night of his death.
The verdict of the coroner’s inquest was as follows: “That the deceased came to his death from strangulation by hanging by his own hand between 2:00 and 2:30AM at Regina Jail on July 25, 1933.”
None of Henry Suppes’ relatives claimed his body. Services were held for him at 4:00PM on July 27, 1933 at Speers funeral chapel, officiated by Reverend H. Kroeger of the Lutheran Church. He was interred at the Regina Cemetery.
Both men were in their early thirties.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: June 5, 1933, June 6, 1933, June 7, 1933, June 13 1933, June 14, 1933, June 16, 1933, July 25, 1933, July 26, 1933 and July 27, 1933
If you’re interested in more Saskatchewan historical murder cases, please give these a read:
Greetings everyone. It is my very first blog-iversary, which is like an anniversary, only embarrassing.
Telling people you have a blog is like telling people you’re starting a podcast, only worse. Blogs reached the end of their heyday a solid decade ago, whereas podcasts may have a fully overstaturated market, but at least are still popular.
When I tell people I have a blog, (and by ‘tell’ I mean hurriedly whisper it confession style before changing the subject) one of two things will happen. Either they go completely blank in a ‘please don’t give me any details’ expression, or they break into a barely contained smirk that screams prepare to be roasted. Because telling people you have a blog is basically the same as wearing a shirt that says I want attention.
I don’t. (Yes I do.) But I did want an excuse to produce a (mostly) finished piece of writing every week and prove to myself that I could stick to a schedule.
And here I am! A year in, never missed a week, still in a pandemic and basically still functionally sane. (Debatable.) And writing this blog has taken me down roads I never thought it would.
I never saw myself researching historical murders (although I should have, it’s very on brand for me), and I definitely didn’t see myself doing multiple radio interviews. I figured I’d write a blog that nobody read and that would be that.
(You’re not nobody, Mom. I didn’t mean it like that.)
But here you are and here I am and it turns out murder abounds in this province, so aren’t we lucky? (Don’t answer that.) Seriously though, I’m grateful for each and every one of you and I hope you’ll stick with me for another year of murder stories, book recommendations and demented humor. Because who knows what that will bring?
Thanks for reading and happy blog-iversary! (I’m not saying I need a cake, but I’m also not saying I wouldn’t eat a cake, should I be presented with one.)
Still here? Love it! These are a few of my favourite posts from the past year:
As those of you who’ve been reading along already know, my fall down the rabbit hole of Saskatchewan murder started with the Kerrobert Courthouse. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a moment and read this. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you.
Done? Okay, great.
As I was saying, it was nearly a year ago that I began hunting for the owner of the mysterious skull said to be kept in the basement evidence room of the courthouse. And I was having absolutely no luck.
When CBC Radio reached out to interview me last week (a very surreal moment for this little nerd), they were able to give me a new lead. Their associate producer had much better luck getting in touch with the town of Kerrobert than I had (I believe that’s what you call ‘pull’), and sent me a scan of a Kerrobert history book that gave a few more details about the haunting and the skull that was allegedly to blame.
According to the history book, the skull kept in the evidence vault came from a Beechy murder, and was used as evidence in the homicide case of R.V. Schumacher. The case was never tried at the Kerrobert Courthouse (hence why I had no luck in tying it to the Kerrobert haunting) and was also not defended by John G. Diefenbaker.
The name Schumacher rang a bell, and as soon as I started digging, I knew why. It was one of the first cases I came across when I started investigating the skull, and the only reason I didn’t write about it then (it’s a fascinating case), was because it had already been written about, so I figured the internet didn’t need me adding my thoughts as well. Well, now that I know that this is the skull, you better believe I’m going to tell you the story.
Prepare yourselves for the Beechy Murder.
The Beechy Murder
On the evening of December 10, 1930, Professor Henry Gladstone “Mind Reader” was doing a show in a little theatre in Beechy, Saskatchewan. A former Vaudeville headliner, he was travelling around Saskatchewan doing performances.
During the show, Gladstone pointed at a member of the audience, a man named William Taylor, and said, “The man you are thinking of was murdered. There was foul play and the body will soon be found.”
The audience was in shock. William Taylor admitted he’d been thinking about his friend, James ‘Scotty’ McLachlan, who’d been missing for almost three years. Constable Charles E. Carey of the Beechy RCMP detachment was also in the audience. He reached out to Detective Corporal Wood, who agreed to allow Gladstone to consult on the case.
The Missing Man
James Stewart McLachlan, known to his friends as “Scotty” had moved to the district with his wife fourteen years before his disappearance. She’d died six years later and their two children became wards of a family named Moore in the Herbert district, although they later moved to Swift Current.
Scotty lived alone and continued to work the farm, but it was not prosperous. He was described as well liked in the community, but as his fortunes continued to worsen he became more and more quick to anger, especially if he’d been drinking. The farm was eventually put up for sale for taxes and was bought by Olaf Evjen, who allowed Scotty to stay on as a renter.
In the spring of 1927, McLachlan took on John F. Schumacher as a partner on a crop share basis. When winter arrived, Olaf Evjen approached Schumacher and told him that he’d decided to cancel McLachlan’s lease in favour of giving it to Schumacher, who appeared much more able to turn a profit than McLachlan. After he’d spoken to Schumacher, Olaf told McLachlan, who was, of course, pissed.
In mid-January, 1928, Scotty went to a neighbour’s and made arrangements to be driven to Herbert later in the week. He stayed the night and set out on foot for home the following day. A few days later Schumacher told the neighbours that Scotty had up and left, selling his equipment to Schumacher. He told them Scotty had most likely headed for British Colombia, where he’d gotten work before. No word was heard from Scotty and the community, although suspicious, carried on.
The next year’s crop did well and Schumacher, only in his early twenties, got married and had a baby.
A few days after the show, Constable Carey, along with a plain clothes officer and Professor Gladstone, went out to the farm of John F. Schumacher. Schumacher wasn’t home, but his young brother-in-law was. They told him they were water finders and asked if they could look around.
With the brother’s permission, they checked out the property. As they took a look around in the barn, Gladstone stopped, sniffed the air and said, “there’s been a killing here and the body is nearby.”
On their way back from the farm, they were almost sent into the ditch by a truck coming down the road with no lights. Carey turned the car around and pulled it over, only to find that it was Schumacher behind the wheel. They asked him to return to town and answer some questions about McLachlan.
Corporal Wood and Constable Carey questioned Schumacher for a while, with Gladstone mostly watching except for the odd question. They weren’t getting very far, when Gladstone flicked his fingers and said, “the barn. Yes, I’ve got it. Now, gentlemen, I’m going to tell you just what took place out there.”
Gladstone told them that there’d been a fight in the barn. McLachlan was struck over the head and was killed. He’d been buried nearby, most likely near an old well.
John Schumacher said nothing for a few minutes, then broke down and started crying, saying, “oh my wife, oh my baby, will they hang me?” Gladstone left the room and Schumacher, still sobbing, made his confession.
According to Schumacher, Scotty had come home from the neighbour’s while he was in the kitchen, eating. They’d spoken a bit and he’d finished up and gone out to the barn to clean out the stalls. After a short time, Scotty had come out to the barn and started an argument, hurling abuse at the young man before picking up a shovel and going after him with it. Schumacher told the officers that he’d been holding a pitchfork and when Scotty came at him with the shovel he’d swung it once, as hard as he could, out of fear. Scotty had chased him once before with a frying pan, and once at a party had chased another man with a knife, only stopping when Schumacher stopped him and led him away.
He’d run back to the house in a panic, not sure what to do. After about an hour to an hour and a half, he’d gone back out to the barn to find Scotty laying as he’d left him, dead. Fearing that he’d be hanged for murder because no one was there to witness the argument and still in a panic, he’d dragged Scotty out of the barn and down the slope out to a spot near the well. He’d covered him with straw and then manure, adding to it from time to time.
The next day, Dec 14, 1930, the officers took Schumacher back out to the farm, where he was kept under guard in the house while a group of volunteers began to dig. Schumacher had told them where the manure pile was, but after an hour of digging in the snow they brought him down from the house and he pointed to the spot in the manure pile where they would find Scotty.
And find him they did. He was lying with an arm by his side, the other folded across his chest, wearing a waistcoat, khaki shirt, heavy breeches, woolen underwear and four pairs of socks on each foot. The left side of his skull was broken into 12 fragments and he had a broken rib. His remains were no longer recognizable, but his neighbours immediately identified him thanks to his Mackinaw pants. He was the only man in the district who wore them.
Dr. W. S. Lindsay, pathologist from the University of Saskatchewan, performed the autopsy and further identified it as Scotty. The body belonged to a man between forty and sixty, who was five foot, five inches tall and had an old, healed ankle fracture. Scotty was five foot, five, about forty eight years old, and had a previous ankle fracture.
The trial began on March 24, 1931 in Kindersley, Saskatchewan. A multitude of witnesses were called, including Professor Gladstone.
Gladstone couldn’t explain his gift for mind reading, saying only that it was “nothing magical, but merely a highly-developed sensibility to thought transference.” This wasn’t the first time he’d predicted the location of a body. In 1924 he’d been in Red Deer River, Alberta and predicted that the body of Alexander McDonald, an old miner who’d disappeared six months previous would be found at the bottom of the river. Investigators had floated bars of soap down the river and followed them to an eddy where they found the body.
Testimony from Dr. Lindsay, as well as Dr. Frances McGill, Provincial Pathologist, stated that McLachlan had been killed by an extremely heavy blow to the left side of the skull. Neither had seen a skull so badly fractured outside of shell explosion wounds. The skull was indeed produced as evidence in court, as well as a plaster replica of an intact skull, and jury members were shown all of the injuries. It was agreed that the damage, both to the skull and the rib, could have been done with a single blow of a four prong pitchfork, given the strength of Schumacher, who was over six feet tall and well over two hundred pounds, especially if one accounted for him being in fear for his life.
John Schumacher also took the stand, telling the court about how he kept a succession of young men working at the farm because he was scared to stay there alone. He’d been afraid to leave and afraid to stay, knowing what lay beneath the manure pile on the farm. He swore he didn’t murder McLachlan, but had only acted out of fear for his own life.
He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years of hard labour.
The skull of James ‘Scotty’ McLachlan was kept in the basement evidence vault at the Kerrobert Courthouse until 1996, when it was interred with the rest of his remains in Beechy. It’s certainly understandable why some would believe the courthouse is haunted. The whole thing is reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow. I picture the restless spirit of Scotty McLachlan wandering the courthouse, looking for his missing head.
And that, my friends, is the story of the haunted skull of the Kerrobert Courthouse. And although my hunt has reached its end, please let me reassure you that I am now completely hooked and will continue to bring you the fascinating tales of murder in historical Saskatchewan.
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