BOOK REVIEW – Champions of the Dead
By Andrew Maksymchuk
By Andrew Maksymchuk
Author: Andrew F. Maksychuk
Reviewer: Morley Lymburner
I received Andrew Maksymchuk’s new book,
I will treat you to an excerpt from a particularly gruesome murder which occurred toward the end of World War II. A small reminder that niether criminals nor their pursuers were in short supply inspite of all the wartime headlines.
The Hot Stove Murder
While members of the armed forces were fighting and dying in the overseas battlefields, criminals continued to engage in, and even increase, their lawless trade within the homeland. During this time of war, one of the most outrageous extortion attempts, which could have come right out of an Alfred Hitchcock horror movie plot, occurred in a tiny shack near a place in northwestern Ontario rather ironically called Flanders. The bizarre case, referred to as the Hot Stove Murder, was also an excellent example of the importance of fingerprints in criminal investigations.
On the evening of June 10th, 1944, Provincial Constable William A. Parfitt stationed at Fort Frances was advised that Viola Jamieson had just been brought into the local La Verendrye hospital. Jamieson was suffering from third degree burns over 30 per cent of her body, inflicted when she was attacked in her log home near Flanders some 100 kilometres east of Fort Frances. Jamieson’s common-law partner had been away at work that afternoon when she had returned from town with her sons Arthur, age ten, and Harold, age twelve. As she had entered her house she was attacked by four strange men who subdued her before locking her two boys in a root cellar some fifty metres from the dwelling.
Based on rumours that Jamieson kept her savings hidden in her home, the men demanded from her the location of the treasure. Their questioning proved unsuccessful, so they tortured the petite 42-year old woman by burning her hands and feet with lighted newspapers. Apparently the gossip was true and 700 dollars belonging to Jamieson and her common-law partner was hidden somewhere near the premises. But the mother of nine children was either unaware of the exact location of the money, or managed to hold out on her assailants.
The unsympathetic foursome was undeterred. They lit a fire in the kitchen stove and ripped off Jamieson’s clothing. When the stove got hot, they held the horrified, nude woman on top of it, burning her arms, breasts, back and hips. They even forced a hot poker inside her.
When frying her body didn’t provide them with the information they were after, the fiends carried the scorched and moaning Mrs. Jamieson to the cellar. After fruitlessly digging up its dirt floor, still in search of the loot, they locked her inside with her boys before departing in vain. As their mother lay in agony, partially buried with shovelled dirt, the terrified boys frantically dug a hole under the wall with their fingers. When it was large enough for Arthur to squeeze through, he scurried off toward Flanders to get help. On the way, he came across a road crew and breathlessly told them what had happened. The workers rushed to the Jamieson’s home and broke into the root cellar. Rigging a mattress on boards in their old truck, the men took Mrs. Jamieson into Flanders where she was treated as best they could by local housewives, until a freight train was arranged to convey her in the caboose to the hospital in Fort Frances.
The Commissioner assigned Chief Inspector Albert H. Ward to the case. Ward, who had led the CIB since replacing Chief Inspector Albert B. Boyd in 1940, took Inspector Frank C. Kelly along to assist. By the time the two detectives arrived from Toronto by train, Constable Parfitt had already gathered up important physical evidence at the scene. Mrs. Jamieson’s unknown attackers had ransacked the cabin and dug up the root cellar in their search for her money, but the experienced Parfitt, aware of the importance of fingerprints, managed to secure some items he believed to be suitable for identification purposes. Noticing that it appeared as if the ruthless thugs had helped themselves to food and taken time to eat, Parfitt gathered up some open jars of preserves from the kitchen table, along with a coal oil lamp chimney. Packaging them with extreme care so as not to smudge any possible prints, he sent the potential court exhibits off to the RCMP’s National Repository of Criminal Records in Ottawa for fingerprint examination and comparison with records kept on file there.
Two latent fingerprints suitable for comparison were lifted from Parfitt’s shipment-one from a preserve jar and the other from the lamp chimney. After classifying the lifted fingerprints into a general category by using a magnifying glass, the Fingerprint Identification Officer checked them against the fingerprints of the Jamieson family which had been voluntarily obtained by Parfitt and sent along with the exhibits. In those pre-computer days, once it was established that neither of the lifted fingerprints belonged to anyone living in the Jamieson home, the examiner had a tedious time-consuming task ahead of him. A manual search and comparison had to be made with prints on file collected from persons across Canada that had been charged with a criminal offence. The only way this tedious search could be hastened would be for the investigators to provide the examiner with the names of possible suspects whose prints might be on file.
Sometimes the examiner’s painstaking search could all be for naught. If the lifted fingerprints belonged to someone with no previous criminal record they would not be on file. In such circumstances the examiner would be required to hold them in abeyance until investigators provided prints for comparison from possible suspects. These were not always easily obtainable since persons merely suspected of a crime and not under arrest were not required by law to provide fingerprints solely for comparison purposes.
Chief Inspector Ward and Inspector Kelly arrived at the La Verendrye hospital in time to re-interview Mrs. Jamieson just before she died of infectious toxemia resulting from her burns. She was unable to provide any additional information on her attackers so the detectives set about gathering as much information as possible from people connected to the family. Aware of the need for the names of suspects for fingerprint comparison, they also used the gossip mill to spread the word about the fingerprints found on Constable Parfitt’s submitted items. The latter produced a big break in the case.
A Fort Frances resident approached Inspector Kelly and told him of overhearing three men in a Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) cafe, 365 kilometres northeast, discussing the matter of the fingerprints in concerned hushed tones. He identified them as the Skrypnyk brothers and a man named Eino.
When the names of brothers Anthony and George Skrypnyk along with Eino Tillonen were proposed to the fingerprint examiner, he found the Skrypnyk brothers’ prints already on file. When he compared them with those lifted from the exhibits, George’s matched the one on the jar, and Anthony’s was on the lamp chimney. Bingo! Within six weeks of the attack, arrest warrants were issued. Wanted for murder were brothers Anthony, 21, and George Skrypnyk, 24, both known troublemakers from Atikokan, and Eino Tillonen, 18, of Port Arthur. The manhunt was on!
From their temporary base in Fort Frances, Inspectors Ward and Kelly followed leads that took them to Port Arthur and as far as Winnipeg. Manitoba, four hundred kilometres in the opposite direction. Most of the travel by the inspectors was done by rail because the entire area of OPP jurisdiction east of Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border was being policed by 32 members with only a dozen vehicles distributed amongst 18 detachments. By the end of July, all three suspects were arrested and interrogated. On August 5th the name of the fourth suspect was provided to police by an acquaintance and a week later the RCMP in Morris, Manitoba arrested William Schmidt, 28, of Fort Frances.
At the conclusion of their trial, all four were convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged at Fort Frances. Local authorities requested the place of execution be moved to Kenora as the jail at Fort Frances had no proper gallows, but the request was refused on the ground that the murderers must die where they had committed their crime: the Rainy River District. Prior to the execution date, word came through that Tillonen’s sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment. Mainly because of his age, the eighteen-year-old had been recommended for mercy by the jury at his trial.
At the Fort Frances jail, the hangman used his ingenuity to construct a makeshift gallows by having a hole cut in the floor above the basement and another above it in the ceiling through which two ropes could be suspended from heavy beams. For added assurance, the ends of the ropes were tied to the legs of a heavy steel bathtub in an adjoining upstairs room. In this make-do execution chamber, in the early morning hours of March 1st, 1945, the sentences were carried out on Schmidt and the Skrypnyk brothers. Their fingerprints had sealed their fate.