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The Bulldog and the Helix

DNA and the Pursuit of Criminal Justice in a Frontier Town
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Dark Ambition

Dark Ambition

The Twisted Pact of Serial Killers Dellen Millard & Mark Smich
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The Court of Better Fiction

The Court of Better Fiction

Three Trials, Two Executions, and Arctic Sovereignty
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The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side
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Starlight Tour

Starlight Tour

The Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild
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Early one January morning, a curious four-year-old wandered about his new home, scouting his surroundings. The little bungalow on Avenue J North, Saskatoon, was a modest house, but after the cramped apartment where the boy and his family used to stay, it seemed enormous.

Four people lived with the boy, whose name was Donald, although people usually called him Donny. Among them was his mother, Margaret Worme, who was thirty-eight years old. Donny loved everything about her. He liked the way she dressed, neatly and carefully, even though her life had been tough. Born and raised on the Kawacatoose reserve, southeast of the city, she’d had four children before Donny’s father had left. Donny didn’t remember him. Nor did he remember his brother Darren, born almost three years ago and given up for adoption at nine months old. Donny’s mother had made an excruciating choice with the infant Darren: she’d decided that the best thing for the rest of her children, and for Darren too, was to hand him over to a couple she knew, because the money she got from social assistance and the odd cleaning job would never stretch to feed, clothe and house them all.

Donny still lived with his other brother, Dale, a rambunctious seven-year-old who, as dawn approached, was busy getting ready for school. Their uncle Hilliard was visiting from the Quinton reserve and Donny’s seventeen-year-old sister, Pat, and her son, eighteen-month-old Kim, had moved in.

Donny, an observant little boy with cropped raven hair and intense dark eyes, knew that his sister was sad, though she was doing her best to hide it. She’d had a baby girl just four weeks ago, but had reluctantly decided to give her daughter up, thinking that surrendering her child might make it easier for her to flee from her husband, Francis Littlechief, who beat her in his frequent drunken rages. When Pat moved with little Kim to the new house, she left her husband behind, hoping it would be for good.

Donny didn’t care much about Francis, one way or the other—Francis had never paid much attention to him—but Donny did know that his mother was happy Francis was gone. Even though he was often unemployed, Francis had trained as a welder and mechanic’s helper, and in mid-November he’d left to take on a short-term mill job in Thompson, Manitoba. Margaret had hoped her son-in-law wouldn’t come back. But he’d returned to Saskatoon on Christmas Eve, showing up at the old apartment and berating Pat about giving up their newborn daughter in his absence.

Francis had showed up again, at the new house this time, just a couple of nights ago. It was a strange appearance. As the family was sitting down to supper, he had barged through the back door and stood by the table while they ate.

“I want to talk to Pat about the children,” he had insisted, staring fixedly at his mother-in-law even though his wife was right there at the table too. Donny sat watching. His big sister was having none of her husband’s strange behaviour.

“I don’t want anything to do with you,” Pat said. Francis didn’t move. When she finally retreated to the bedroom, he followed her. They stayed in there talking for well over an hour. There was no yelling, so Margaret decided to leave them be. When Francis came out, he sat with Hilliard in the front room for a bit, watching television. Then, as abruptly as he’d arrived, he said, “I have to go,” and took off.

— — —

Margaret and Pat were bustling around now, a mother and daughter getting ready to face the cold dawn and a day of cleaning houses. Even when she was dressing for menial work, Margaret wore something nice, and that morning she put on a favourite dark-brown blouse with her tan skirt and jacket.

In the past twenty-four hours the temperature had sunk to minus twenty-five degrees Celsius. A thick crust of ice had formed around the back door, sealing it shut. Not even Uncle Hilliard had been able to budge it. Donny would never forget the way the cold forced its way into that little house like something alive.

At about seven-thirty, someone knocked at the front door. Margaret’s niece, Marleen, who lived a few blocks away, had arrived to babysit Don and Kim while Margaret and Pat went to work. Nineteen years old and nine months pregnant, Marleen headed straight for a chair at the kitchen table; the slightest exertion exhausted her. Once her aunt and cousin had left, Marleen packed Dale off to school. Hilliard woke up a little later and, after picking up a few groceries for the house, headed out for the day, leaving Marleen alone with the two little boys.

Much to her relief, the children were content to amuse themselves. Pat returned in the early afternoon. Having given birth so recently, she couldn’t make it through a whole day of housecleaning. Around four o’clock, Dale came tearing through the front door with the energy of a seven-year-old who had been cooped up all day in school. Despite the cold, Dale and the little boys pleaded to work on the snowman they had been building in the front yard. Marleen bundled them up well. They lasted twenty minutes outside before they paraded back into the house, trailing snow, wet mitts and icy boots.

Marleen started supper early, frying up slices of bologna and heating some canned tomatoes to go with bread and butter. The vinegary, sweet scent of the tomatoes drifted through the house. Margaret was expected home around six.

— — —

About the same time as Marleen was laying bologna slices in the frying pan, Hilliard entered the Ritz Beer Parlour. The winter darkness had already descended. He was sitting by himself, with two glasses of beer for company, when he noticed Francis Littlechief at a nearby table. Littlechief waved Hilliard over to join him and a taxi driver named Fred Peigan. William Popowich, a bartender and a friend of Hilliard, joined them too. Each man took turns buying rounds for the next hour or so, except for Littlechief, who claimed he was broke.

Littlechief pulled a photo out of his shirt pocket and showed it around the table. “Look at her.” He pointed to Pat, who cradled the newborn girl and had one arm around their son, Kim. “See how pretty she is,” he said of his wife, slurring his words and draining his glass. “You know, I just want her back. That’s all. I just want my family back.

”Hilliard thought he sounded more concerned than angry. Littlechief had been drinking since eleven in the morning—quite a feat for a guy with no cash. Eventually, not wanting to stand him another round, Hilliard and Popowich made excuses to leave. Littlechief tried to follow his uncle-in-law out, but Hilliard had ducked into the café next door. Peeking out at the street, he watched Littlechief look around, puzzled, until he gave up and staggered away.

— — —

Donny and the other kids had almost finished supper when Margaret got home, a little after six. Donny always loved the moment when she came through the door, and he ran to her and buried his nose in the fur of her coat. Even once she’d finally shucked off her coat, she stood with it over her arm for a while before hanging it up, her head cocked the whole time as if listening closely to Donny’s animated account of his day.

Marleen, tired from babysitting but too content in the happy company of her aunt’s family to rush home, stayed seated at the kitchen table. Margaret warmed up leftovers from the kids’ dinner and had just sat down to eat when two loud knocks rattled the front door. It slammed open. Littlechief stormed into the house.

“Get out,” Pat and Margaret both shouted. Margaret rose from the table and stepped toward him. “Now!” she commanded. “You don’t belong here.” Donny backed up against a side table in the kitchen.

“I have as much right to be here as you,” Littlechief slurred back, glaring at Margaret. “I want to talk to Pat.” His voice was loud and his eyes were red from drink and lack of sleep.

“Get out. I want you out. Don’t you understand? You don’t belong here,” Margaret insisted. “Why are you here? Tell me why you’re here.”

Littlechief turned suddenly toward the basement. “I want my green shirt. I know it’s downstairs.”

Margaret blocked the way. “Stay where you are,” she demanded. “I’ll get it for you.” She went to the basement and returned with the green shirt in one hand and an axe in the other. “Here’s your shirt,” Margaret said, throwing it at him. “Now get out.”

Littlechief lunged across the kitchen and grabbed both a breadknife and his wife.

Donny tucked himself under the little side table. Someone yelled, “Call the police.” Marleen tried to get up from where she was sitting, but, pregnant and terrified, she couldn’t seem to move.

“Help me, Mum,” Pat begged as Littlechief dragged her toward the living room. Then everything became very quiet. Donny realized he was crying, and so were Dale and Kim, who was screaming uncontrollably. But, strangely, Donny couldn’t hear anything, didn’t feel anything, his senses had shut out everything but the sight of his horrified sister in her husband’s grip.

Littlechief stabbed at his wife. The breadknife bent under the force of repeated blows. When he dropped it to grab another from the knife rack, Pat crawled toward the front door, bleeding. He chased her, and Margaret ran after him with the axe. Marleen forced herself up and staggered to the phone on the wall to call the police.

Donny saw his brother following their mother and he wanted to warn Dale to stay back, but the words wouldn’t come. Pat was on the floor, her right arm raised to ward off her husband as he attacked again with a new knife. His mother swung the axe at Littlechief, but he grabbed it out of her hands, and the four-year-old boy watched in eerie internal silence as his sister’s husband smashed the axe into their mother’s head. Donny screamed, but he still couldn’t hear himself. Marleen dropped the phone and turned toward the back door. Francis started toward her and she ran, hurling her pregnant body forward with enough force to break the ice sealing the door shut and disappearing into the dark. Littlechief found his way blocked by Dale, and he hit the seven-year-old in the head with the knife. Donny watched his big brother drop in a heap.

As Littlechief loomed, wild-eyed and bloody, over Dale’s prostrate figure, he noticed Donny cowering beneath the little table and locked eyes with the boy. Sound rushed back to Donny. Kim was sobbing hysterically, but so far was mercifully untouched. “Don’t hit me,” Donny yelled. Francis turned away and vanished, out into the snow and the dark.

Donny crawled from under the table and went to Kim. Though he wasn’t much bigger than his nephew, Donny hugged him and tried to get him to walk. Nothing worked. “I’m going for help,” he finally said. Snow drifted inside the back door and the alley beyond was dark—plus Littlechief was back there, somewhere. If Donny went out the other way, three bodies lay between him and the front door: Dale, not moving; his mother, who was face down in the living room; and Pat, on her back, by the door. Somehow he steeled himself and stepped past them.

— — —

The Cumpstones were eating dinner when the little boy who had just moved in next door came flying into their house, screaming. What he was yelling seemed unbelievable—“My mum and Pat and Dale are killed by an axe. Mummy got chopped with an axe in the eye. The bad guy, he killed my mummy, Pat and Dale.

”They hadn’t heard a thing. Mrs. Cumpstone pulled the boy against her hip to comfort him while her husband called the police. “You’re okay now,” she said. “You’re safe here.”

“I hid under the table,” Donny said when he was able to catch his breath, as if he was trying to understand how he was still alive while everyone he loved most in the world was dead.

Marleen had fled in the opposite direction. She pounded on the back door of the neighbours’ house on the other side, and their little boy let her in. Barefoot and shaking uncontrollably, she almost ran him over as she grabbed for the phone, shouting, “Lock the door, for God’s sake, lock the door. He tried to kill me with the axe too. He’s coming. He’s coming. We have to shut the door.” She started to dial the police but fainted. The boy’s father ran into the street and flagged down a passing police car.

When the police entered Margaret Worme’s little house, it took a while for them to realize one small piece of good news: Dale was alive.

— — —

Two officers arrested Francis Littlechief an hour later outside a department store on 20th Street, where he was standing in a daze. When they asked him where he was headed, he held out his hands and said, “I am under arrest. I am Francis Littlechief. I killed my wife.”

The next day, the newspaper ran stories about the bloody double murder, along with a picture of Donny sitting on the Cumpstones’ living room couch trying to read a story to Kim, whose wide-eyed stare betrays his shock.

When Littlechief went to trial on second-degree murder charges a few months later, Donny, Kim and Dale were in the care of social services. Marleen was a nervous wreck, something not helped by her lack of sleep while caring for a newborn. She could barely frame a coherent account of the murders. Seven-year-old Dale had taken a long time to recover from his injuries and was able to recount what had happened that night up to the moment Littlechief hit him. But it largely fell on four-year-old Donny’s shoulders to stand up in court—unheard of in a murder trial—and describe what had happened in his house that cold January night in 1964. It was now up to this young boy to tell the truth for his mother and sister. He had lost them, but at least he could have justice. Francis Littlechief was convicted.

When the trial was over, Donny, Dale and Kim went to live with their maternal grandfather on the Kawacatoose reserve. The reserve was named after a brave warrior who went into battle armed with only a lance. More than three decades after witnessing the murders of his mother and sister, Don Worme would face a moment when he would strive to embody such courage and, if all went well, honour the warrior tradition in his own way.

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Twenty-Six Seconds

A Fateful Decision. A Dead Man. A Decade of Cover-Up
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