The Police Magistrate was absent at the time, and I, being a Provincial Justice of the Peace, took the information at the request of the police. A warrant was issued, and the accused was remanded in custody for three days. He sent for me, saying he wanted to make a statement.
I gave him the usual warning and took his statement down in writing. After I had read it back to him, he signed it in the presence of two members of the Alberta Provincial Police. The substance of this statement was that he, the accused, had quarreled with Wynnichuk and in the heat of the argument had shot and killed him. Realizing what he had done, he loaded the body into a wheelbarrow and disposed of it in the Beaver Lodge River, which was in flood at the time.
During my investigation of the six murders at Grande Prairie earlier in the year, I learned that Swerodoski had been a frequent visitor at Patten’s and had purchased some live fowl on the same day as the murders took place. Naturally I was very much interested in this case. Accompanied by Detective Irvine, I visited the scene of the crime and carefully examined the pillow. A bullet which had fallen from the pillow was found and in the wheelbarrow were bloodstains and pieces of human hair, evidently that of a male. The river had receded to its normal level by this time (Wynnichuk had been killed about two months before), and its course was searched from the shack to where it entered the Smoky River, but there was no trace of a body.
Returning to Grande Prairie, I found that Inspector Piper was in town on a tour of inspection. He visited the scene of the tragedy with Detective Irvine but did not ask me to accompany them. Towards evening, I was entertaining Mr. Wm. Innes, the bank manager, in my room at the hotel, which was directly opposite the police barracks. During a brief lull in our conversation I happened to glance out of the window in the direction of the barracks and saw two men struggling. One of them broke away and ran around the corner of the building, then south towards the bush.
I suspected that the prisoner had escaped and asked Mr. Innes if his car was available. He assured me that it was and at my disposal. Running downstairs to the rotunda, I notified Inspector Piper, who was surrounded by an inquisitive crowd, that the prisoner had got away. Mr. Innes was right behind me all the way, and jumping into the car, we drove away from the hotel in a southerly direction. We were both familiar with the surrounding country and drove south for two miles then we cut across a field to where a section line had been cut through the bush. I felt sure that we were to the south of the direction that the escaped man had taken, and I supposed that Piper and Irvine would cover the other sides.
While Innes watched in one direction, I watched in the other. I was positive that no one had passed us up to the time the crowd reached us. Neither Piper nor Irvine was with them, and I suggested that we form a line and work back towards town, searching the bush on our way. I asked Mr. Innes to drive Constable Weaver back to town so that he could secure firearms and saddle horses. I was confident that the prisoner was hiding in the bush until it was dark enough for him to make his escape. We searched for hours, and it was late when I noticed the lights of several autos on the road about half a mile away. Making my way towards them, I was surprised to find three cars filled with civilians. Everyone was excited and doing a lot of talking, but no one seemed to be very active. Disgusted with the crowd, I went on to the hotel for the firearms, where Weaver joined me.
Nervously he told me that he had taken the prisoner’s supper to him from the hotel, and that Irvine and the other policeman had immediately left the barracks to get their own supper, leaving him alone with the prisoner. Weaver, being a recruit and having no experience with prisoners of this category had, instead of passing the meal through the opening in the cell door, opened the door and entered the cell. As his hands were filled with dishes, the prisoner had no difficulty in jamming him against the wall with the door, thus making his escape. I had been doing a considerable amount of traveling in the district and was familiar with most of the settlers and the roads. I felt it was my duty to offer my services to Inspector Piper, and I assured him that I would do all I could to help them recapture the escaped man.
He did not offer me the use of the police car; so I hired one for my own use, and accompanied by two volunteers, one of whom was the driver, drove to Clairmont, five miles north. Mr. Harris, the other volunteer, was instructed to stay there and warn the citizens of the escapee and also to watch along the railroad tracks in case Swerodoski should pass. I drove west through the foreign settlement where I met Mr. McDonald who was driving into Grande Prairie. I gave him a description of the escaped man and asked him to keep a lookout for him.
It was close to midnight when I called at the homes of Mr. Clesse and Mr. Barr, whom I knew well. From there I drove into Sexsmith and stayed there until 6 a.m. Swerodoski had several friends of his own nationality around the district, and I visited most of them, including Tonishak, Durda, Ellis, and Hoble. Circling back over the dirt roads, I reached Grande Prairie at 8:30 a.m. Immediately I reported to Inspector Piper and told him that I intended driving out to Swerodoski’s homestead. He asked me to pick up Constable Vazari at Beaverlodge and bring him back to the detachment. I did this, and along the route we warned the settlers to keep and eye open for the fugitive. We dined at Hythe, and I advised Corporal McLean of that detachment to watch Salouski’s place, as Swerodoski might call there for supplies. From there we drove back to Grande Prairie by the south road, through the German settlement by Lake Saskatoon, and arrived at our destination at 8:30 p.m. Piper had not yet left so I retired for a much-needed rest.
Prior to the escape of this prisoner I had made plans to return to Edmonton, having fulfilled my errand in connection with the Snyder and Patten murders, and had wired the Attorney General that I was leaving on October 4. I notified the different section gangs along the railroad of Swerodoski’s escape and gave away a number of printed descriptions of him, together with a photograph in profile. Also, I made inquiries at various stations along the route. On reaching Spirit River I was paged and handed a telegram from the D.A.G. instructing me to remain and assist the police to the limit of my ability. The other murders were still unsolved, and the settlers throughout the entire province were in an ugly mood. This man had to be captured quickly.
I hired a car and drove through the Austrian settlement, notifying everyone I met that all expenses would be paid for any assistance rendered in apprehending this man. I heard of a car that was leaving for Grande Prairie at 2 p.m. and managed to secure transportation, arriving there at 6:30 p.m.
The next day was Sunday, and Mr. Innes was free to help me in my search so I asked him to drive to Lake Saskatoon, Beaverlodge, and Hythe. We called in at Wynnichuk’s, where we learned that Corporal McLean and a civilian had been sleeping at Swerodoski’s in hope that he would return.
Mr. Innes was a wonderful help to me and never complained during the whole search. He drove me all over the Peace River country, from Hythe to Valhalla and Laglace. We went on to Adair’s farm, where the escaped man once worked as a hired man, and down the Emerson Trail to Barr’s Ranch, where we were excitedly informed that a strange man had slept in the hayloft the previous night. Evidently the hired man had seen someone answering to the description of the murderer leaving the barn in the early hours of the morning. We searched the vicinity as well as we could and then we returned to Grande Prairie. Most of such reports must have been false, for only a ghost could have been in so many different places within such a short time. The latest news was that he had been seen traveling from Sexsmith towards Spirit River.
Again I hired a car and drove down to Spirit River. There I met another car with policemen in it. We drove back together as far as Sexsmith, where we found Sergeant Irvine’s car deserted in the middle of a wood trail. It was in good running order, and we concluded that he had got a trace of the wanted man and was hot on his trail. As there was nothing we could do at that point, we continued to Grande Prairie. I worked alone for a few days, and then secured the help of Corporal Allen. Together we searched the surrounding country and called at many farms, but found no trace of the fugitive. Many settlers reported having seen him but we couldn’t get a glimpse of him, although I believe that between us we searched every house and barn between Spirit River and Grande Prairie.
I arranged with Sergeant Irvine to meet me at the hotel on the morning of October 10 but, instead of keeping the appointment, he drove north past the hotel at 10 a.m. I learned later that he had received information that the wanted man had been seen in the Austrian settlement at Spirit River.
That day I received a telegram instructing me to make a personal report to the District Attorney General’s department at Edmonton, and I returned by train the following day. Swerodoski was arrested shortly after this and was found guilty of murder. The sentence of death passed at the time of the trial was later commuted to life imprisonment.
The Attorney General’s Department detailed me to assist the Crown Prosecutor in preparation of the evidence. We could not produce the body of Wynnichuk, owing to the conditions of the creeks and rivers at the time of the murder. The prisoner’s own statement, together with the evidence I gave regarding my search of the river when the water was low and the probability of the body’s having been washed down stream in the Smoky River, was enough to earn the decision of the jury. I understand that this was the first, if not the only, case in the history of this Dominion in which a party has been found guilty of murder and sentenced to death without the Prosecution producing the body at the trial.