Monday, 10 October 2011

Violence in Small-Town Hotels

Illustration by Eric Deschamps, 2003 Image source

My friend Ruth asked me when I was going to post an article about barroom brawls and other violent incidents that occasionally happen in small-town Saskatchewan hotels. Here's a sampling of some of the sad and sordid stories I've come across in my research.

Murder-Suicide at the Commercial Hotel 

The bodies of A. Willis Armstrong and his wife Hannah, owners of the Commercial Hotel in Blaine Lake, were found by their daughter Dorothy in their living quarters at the hotel on June 20, 1925. Mrs. Armstrong had a bullet hole behind her right ear. Her husband had shot her with a .45 calibre revolver and then turned the gun on himself.   

The Commercial Hotel in Blaine Lake, 1919.  Nicholas F. Zbitnoff photo Image source
The coroner’s jury concluded that the tragedy was caused by the effects of homebrew obtained from a bootlegger. “Being of the opinion that the late A. W. Armstrong might have kept sober and thus refrained from committing this awful crime … we feel that public opinion demands a searching investigation into the matter of the source of homebrew in this district….  Should the investigation bring to light the party or parties who supplied the homebrew to the late Mr. Armstrong, we ask that they should be prosecuted.”  “Home Brew is Death’s Cause, Opines Jury,” June 23, 1935, p. 1.   Click to read full story

Dorothy and her brother Leslie (about 10 years old) went to live with relatives in St. Catherines, Ontario. 

Jealousy at the White Fox Hotel

At 9:10 PM on April 10, 1959, White Fox hotel keeper Albert Boscher was shot dead by Frank Schoenburger. Albert left behind his wife, Isabel and their five children, Jeanine, Denis, Anita, Rita, and Terry. Mrs. Edith Schoenburger, estranged wife of the killer, was severely wounded during the incident. She had been living and working at the White Fox Hotel. She and Boscher, her employer, were sitting together in the hotel dining room when her husband, a labourer in town, burst in and shot them both with a heavy calibre rifle.

John Wankel, an engineer boarding at the hotel, was sitting in the hotel lobby reading the paper when he saw Schoenburger walk in carrying a rifle. Wankel said the man ripped out the wires of a pay telephone, and then disappeared into the hotel dining room.

Boscher was shot first. As Mrs. Schoenburger struggled with her husband for possession of the gun it fired again, shattering her right arm. “That wasn’t meant for you, Edith,” Schoenburger said after the bullet struck his wife. Her arm later had to be amputated above the elbow.

L. J. Vickers was drinking beer in the hotel beer parlour at about 9:00 PM when he heard the sound of gunshots. Vickers opened the door between the beer parlour and the hotel lobby only to run smack into Schoenburger who was carrying a rifle. “Get out of here or I will shoot you, too,” Schoenburger said. “Accused Seen Carrying Rifle,” Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, October 30, 1959 

The killer then disappeared into the bush surrounding the village of White Fox. RCMP searched unsuccessfully for him all night. At 645 the next day, a nervous and haggard Schoenburger turned himself in to the RCMP at Nipawin, saying he couldn’t remember anything about the night before. He denied knowledge of having killed a man and asked to see his wife.

Testifying in court in November, 1959, Schoenburger described a week of drinking in beer parlours and of hearing insinuations involving his wife and Boscher before the night of the shooting. On November 6th, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged on January 26, 1960 at the provincial jail in Prince Albert. The hanging was delayed when an appeal was launched.

Over 30 grounds for appeal were listed by defense lawyer D. L. Tennant of Melfort during a two-day hearing in February 1960. Schoenburger’s conviction was quashed on appeal, and a second trial was opened in June, presided over by Mr. Justice Stewart McKercher.

During the retrial, Mrs. Schoenburger described her 22-year marriage, during which her husband would go on drinking binges that lasted several days. He would do things during these binges that he could not remember later. Eventually, Mrs. Schoenburger left her husband and went to live in the White Fox Hotel, where she also worked. Her husband had tried to get her to stop working at the hotel, mainly because of the rumours about her and her employer, Mr. Boscher. “Pitiful Tale is Related,” Regina Leader-Post, June 20, 1960:   

Frank Schoenburger was convicted of manslaughter for the murder of Albert Boscher on April 10, 1959, and sentenced by Judge McKercher to eleven years in the Prince Albert Penitentiary. Click here  and here and here to read more.

Fight at the Pennant Hotel 

21-year-old William Zeller of the Pennant area was charged and found guilty of stabbing and wounding Arlyn Jamieson, 29, of Cabri during a fight outside the Pennant Hotel.  Jamieson had been drinking in the bar for almost eight hours prior to the fight, and had consumed at least twelve drinks. 

The trouble started when Jamieson repeatedly used an accent to pronounce the name of Zeller’s brother Raymond, who was sitting at the same table. Zeller became angry, and after about three quarters of an hour they went outside to fight. The men wrestled on the ground in front of the hotel and Jamieson was quickly pinned to the ground by Zeller, who had been in the hotel for about two hours. After being allowed back on his feet, Jamieson wanted to continue fighting. Zeller pulled out a knife and said "I’m going to get you, boy." He cut Jamieson on his left forearm, his chin and his left armpit. Zeller testified that he pulled out the knife because he wanted to scare Jamieson away from the hotel, where he was "being a nuisance.” “Men Sentenced in Swift Current,” Leader-Post, June 10, 1980, p. 20 Click here for full story

“I Think I’ve Killed My Wife” 

Arthur Charles Colton, 63-year-old owner of the Village Inn hotel in Candiac, was charged with the second-degree murder of his wife, Doris Colton, 54, on August 29, 1981. He later told the RCMP he “just grabbed a goddam knife and let her have it.” 

Colton and his wife had been arguing and fighting during the early morning hours. She left their bedroom in the hotel for a while but came back again and started arguing all over again. Colton finally got out of bed and found his wife in the hotel bar pouring another drink. That’s when he "went nuts" and grabbed the knife. 

A transcript of a taped telephone conversation quotes the caller as saying, "RCMP, this is the Village Inn at Candiac, ah, better send the police down here and an ambulance. I think I’ve killed my wife." The caller went on to explain, "Well, I, she’s been drunk all night and she just kept on pestering and pestering. And I got so god dam mad that I just, well, I lost my temper. And I think I stabbed her to death." 

Shirley Fayant of Lebret, a guest at the hotel, testified she discovered the body on the floor of the beverage room in the middle of the night. She had been sleeping but got up and went into the nearby beverage room in search of a washroom. When she saw Mrs. Colton's body, Fayant backed into the kitchen and found Colton there, holding the telephone receiver in his lap. "Officer Says Man Told Police He ‘Let Wife Have It’ With Knife,” Regina Leader-Post, June 19, 1982, p. A5 Click here to read full story

Death at the Broadview Hotel Bar 

Matthew Troy McKay, age 18, was stabbed to death during a barroom brawl at the Broadview Hotel on the night of October 30, 2009.  Jordan Lee Taypotat, 20, received severe lacerations to his face during the same incident. McKay was from the Ochapowace First Nation, while Taypotat is from the Kahkewistahaw First Nation, both in the Broadview area. An argument apparently broke out which got out of hand. A 20-year-old man turned himself into the Broadview RCMP detachment a few days later. Click here and here to read more.

Broadview Hotel.  Image from Google Street View, 2011

© Joan Champ 2011

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