Canadian True Crime - 149 The Murderous Mountie–Part 2

Episode Date: December 20, 2023

[Part 2 of 2] After picking up his pregnant wife from Saskatoon train station, Sergeant John Wilson drives them north to their new home. They just have one stop to make on the way to take care of some... "police business"...Additional content warning: Brief details of an attempted suicide at approx. timestamp 29:00 to 30:30. Please take care when listening.More info:The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson by Lois SimmieBooks by Toronto True Crime Author - Nate Hendley Scottish voice actor - Paul Warren Canadian True Crime donates monthly to help those facing injustice.This month we have donated to Women’s Shelters Canada, an organization that supports over 600 shelters across the country for women and children fleeing violence. You can find a shelter near you by going to sheltersafe dot ca.Full list of resources, information sources, credits and music credits:See the page for this episode at Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

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Starting point is 00:02:13 Apple podcasts, Patreon, and Supercast. The podcast often has disturbing content and course language. It's not for everyone. An additional content warning. This episode includes a brief description of an attempted suicide. Please take care when listening. This is part two of a two-part series, and because part one had a lot of moving pieces,
Starting point is 00:02:36 he is a quick recap. John Wilson left his pregnant wife Mary and young son behind in Scotland to move to Canada to make some money. He joined the Royal Northwest Mounted Police in Saskatchewan, an embarked on a sorted relationship with a 16-year-old girl named Jesse Patterson without telling her he was already married. He also forgot to stop writing home. After a year with no letters, Mary grew concerned and traveled to Canada to check on her husband, leaving their kids behind in Scotland. After surprising
Starting point is 00:03:12 John and Regina and finding him well, they moved into a boarding house together and Mary soon became pregnant again. She had no idea her husband was writing secret love letters to his mistress, Jessie, to explain his sudden absence from her life. John accepted a new job posting to Saskatoon and told Mary to wait in Regina while he set up a home for them. On September 27, 1918, John told Mary to catch a train to Saskatoon station. He would be waiting for her in his new grey dought, and they would soon be at their new home. He just had one stop to make on the way for some police business. By this point, Mary was six months pregnant.
Starting point is 00:04:02 She had no idea that in her husband's pocket was a fresh marriage license made out to himself in Jesse Patterson, and that, beside his name, was the word Bachelor. At sunrise the following morning, a fiery car crash north of Saskatoon had attracted local farm workers. One of them recognized the driver as Sergeant John Wilson of the Dominion Police, and he appeared to have been drinking. He claimed his grey dought had caught fire and crashed off the side of the road, but the details he gave were inconsistent and his story was a bit unbelievable.
Starting point is 00:04:45 Where we left off, one of the farmers had invited John for breakfast and offered to drive him back to Blaine Lake where he said he had an urgent trial to attend. In the car on the way, the farmer's daughter pointed to some blood drop stains on John Satchel. He told her that before the crash, he'd shot at some geese and had tossed one into his car. The blood must be from that. But the farmers at the crash site would tell police that when they took a good look inside the burning car, they saw no evidence of any hunting activity or of a dead goose.
Starting point is 00:05:26 hunting activity, or of a dead goose. Sergeant John Wilson thanked the farmer for driving him to Blaine Lake and paid him $10 for his trouble. Then, he made his way to the Patterson residence to meet his fiancé Jesse and her family. It had been a very eventful day so far, and John was exhausted, so he spent the rest of it lounging around to regain his strength. The following day, Sunday, September 29th of 1918, Jesse's father accompanied them both to get married. But first, they had to find a church.
Starting point is 00:06:02 While John had fantasized for months about having Jesse as a wife, he hadn't put much thought into the actual wedding. At around noon, the trio pulled up at a church about 13 kilometers north of Blaine Lake, but the minister sheepishly admitted he wasn't actually ordained, which meant he couldn't legally marry them. They exited the church, got back in the car, and drove home to blame Lake to regroup. A few hours later, John and Jesse set off again. This time with Jesse's brother, James Patterson, accompanying them to try their luck at a Presbyterian church in Saskatoon.
Starting point is 00:06:46 them to try their luck at a Presbyterian church in Saskatoon. They were thrilled that the properly ordained Reverend Wiley Clark agreed to marry 32-year-old John Wilson, who was wearing his Dominion Police uniform and 18-year-old Jesse Patterson. Before the newlyweds could enjoy somewhat of a honeymoon, John arranged for his mechanic to tow the remains of his grey dought from the crash site and inspect it back at the garage. He left his shotgun with the Patterson family and took off with his new young wife to a hotel in Prince Albert. When they returned, John learned that his car was a total ride off. He bought a new one. That fall, the First World War was winding down in Europe,
Starting point is 00:07:34 but a new horror had emerged in the form of fast-spreading influenza that could kill victims in hours, a deadly global pandemic, the Spanish flu. John came down with it first, followed by Jesse, and they recuperated at the Paterson Residence and Blaine Lake, inadvertently spreading it to Jesse's parents. Fortunately, everyone survived, and the newlyweds moved into an apartment in Saskatoon. Bidjohn had some loose ends to take care of. As you'll remember, when he first instructed Mary about catching the train to join him in Saskatoon, he told her to leave her luggage behind at the boarding house and he'll send for them later. So it was now time to deal with that situation, and he decided
Starting point is 00:08:26 that it necessitated the writing of three separate letters. The first was a letter to their former landlady where he claimed to be Mary. He wanted the landlady to forward the luggage to Prince Albert via CNR Express Train. The second letter was also to that same land lady, but this time John wrote as himself. He told a dramatic tale about his wife Mary suddenly coming down with a very serious illness. As you'll remember, her close friends and family called her Polly. that they would only allow me to go in for a short time, dearly." The letter painted John as a committed husband gallantly standing by his ailing wife, and there was more. He wrote that he had also been sick with tuberculosis, which was true, but he claimed that he was
Starting point is 00:09:39 now at Death's door, which was not. Quote, In a rare reference to his first two children back in Scotland, he added, There was no mention about how this would all pan out, given the fact that they were separated by the North Atlantic Ocean, but the message was clear. Despite being near death himself, John Wilson was a dedicated husband who only cared about helping his wife recover. And that's why he was writing this letter. John asked their former land lady if he could rent another room at her boarding house where Mary could go to recover. He added that he wouldn't be staying there himself because he didn't want to spread tuberculosis. he wouldn't be staying there himself because he didn't want to spread tuberculosis. John's third and equally ludicrous letter was back to Scotland to marry sister Elizabeth
Starting point is 00:10:52 and her husband Archie. As you'll remember, they had lost their investment in John's first greenhouse business, which went belly up thanks to his poor decision-making. And even after that, when John wrote to them from Canada asking for more money, that time to buy a house for pregnant Mary, they generously sent him another hundred pounds, and he never even bothered to write back so much as to say thank you. In this letter to Archie and Elizabeth, John wrote about, quote, The awful trouble, Pauli and I have had since the Spanish influenza broke out.
Starting point is 00:11:32 He then atomized just how much he was paying for Mary's treatment. I spared no expense on Pauli since she got laid up. I am paying $1. He added that he was not doing well health wise either. The Spanish flu had worsened his old lung trouble, but none of that mattered. His only concern was that pregnant Mary got well again. Of course, the reality was that she hadn't been seen alive since that day when he picked her up from the Saskatoon train station. This letter was already grotesque enough, but he chose to end it with a particularly Paulie did not lose the baby, and the doctor says everything will be alright, provided she is careful. While Sergeant John Wilson tried to navigate his way out of a personal shit storm of his own
Starting point is 00:12:38 making, his performance as a Saskatoon sub inspector with the Dominion Police was being increasingly scrutinized. He was already on thin ice. His colleagues had long since noticed that he was boozing openly on the job. Fines were continuing to vanish under his watch, and now expense funds were vanishing as well. In a subsequent report, a Dominion police officer wrote, Not that it mattered much when the First World War ended on November 11, 1918, so too did the Dominion Police's mandate to track down draft dodges.
Starting point is 00:13:30 John and his colleagues all lost their jobs. As a consolation prize of sorts, John Wilson reapplied for a position as a mounting, again listing Mary Wilson as his next of kin. He was again accepted into the force and told he was going to be posted to Vancouver, British Columbia, the following month. He had been assigned to a very specific new job that was top secret. About 18 months earlier in Russia, there had been a violent uprising of working-class people who experienced a drastic drop in their already-pull quality of life during World War I.
Starting point is 00:14:31 And while their lives had become miserable and unbearable, they observed the wealthy elites growing visibly wealthier. Feeling hopeless, the workers started protesting virus series of labor strikes, which turned into general strikes, then a large-scale occupation of government and other important buildings, and resulted in the total overthrow of the Russian monarchy and corrupt imperial government. This series of events became known as the Russian Revolution, and when the political party that formed the new government renamed itself to the Communist Party, communism became the new seawood for many Western governments. So what does this all have to do with Canada?
Starting point is 00:15:11 Well, ordinary Canadian workers were also growing increasingly miserable, hungry and discontent, ready to stage a revolt of their own. And the Canadian government was growing increasingly concerned that if the situation wasn't nipped in the bud, it had the potential to snowball into a threat to the government itself, just like what happened in Russia. One of the strategies employed to prevent this from happening was handed over to the Royal Northwest Mounted Police as a mandate. And that is how Sergeant John Wilson became involved. His role in Vancouver was to stop the spread of communism by investigating new immigrants
Starting point is 00:15:56 from Eastern Europe who were suspected of being communists and deal with them before they could make any trouble for the Canadian government. It was a role that required him to go undercover at times. Sergeant John Wilson got off to a strong start in Vancouver. Professionally, his bosses were pleased when he managed to get several Russians deported in a fairly short amount of time. And personally, he and Jesse seemed to be flourishing in their new city. But it would be short-lived.
Starting point is 00:16:32 They had no idea, but there was trouble brewing back in Bonnie Scotland. Behind the scenes, Mary Wilson's relatives in Scotland had become increasingly uneasy about her welfare. After she sailed to Canada to look for her husband in the spring of 1918, Mary had been writing letters home on a regular basis. Among other topics, she wrote about how she first tracked John down by calling the Mounties, and how he just happened to be at the Prince Albert detachment when she phoned. She also wrote to inform them that she and John had moved into a boarding house together in Regina.
Starting point is 00:17:18 But a few months later, Mary's letters home had abruptly stopped. And as more time went on, her family grew increasingly concerned, until eventually her sister decided it was time to take action. Elizabeth Craig sent an urgent note to the former Royal Northwest-mounted police superintendent at Prince Albert, who by this point had been promoted to Assistant Commissioner in Regina. Elizabeth's letter dated April 14, 1919 started. We had letters from her every mail up till the end of September 1918, when Mr. Wilson
Starting point is 00:18:00 got a promotion under Dominion Police and was sent to Saskatoon. Since going there, we have never received a letter from my sister." Elizabeth also mentioned her brother-in-law, John's semi-regular request for money and how she and her husband Archie had sent him £100. She then detailed a rather disturbing incident. According to Elizabeth, a friend of the family's named Mrs. Lang had also immigrated to Canada, and one of her top priorities was to track down John Wilson and confirm that Mary had fully recovered from the Spanish flu. Of course, Mary never had the Spanish flu. It was John. His secret girlfriend turned a legal wife, Jesse Patterson, and her parents who had it. The reason why Mary's family believed she had it was
Starting point is 00:18:55 of course because of that grotesque letter John wrote to Archie, telling him how much money he'd paid for Mary's medical treatment and how he was just glad that the baby she was pregnant with had survived. So once Mrs. Lang arrived in Regina, she wasted no time in phoning the Regina office of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, looking for Sergeant John Wilson, just as Mary had done. He was with the Dominion Police at the time, but by some strange twist of fate, she was somehow able to get hold of him through the Mounties. He told her that Mary had recovered from the flu, but she'd since been in a car accident
Starting point is 00:19:39 that left her badly injured. So when Mrs. Lang relayed this short conversation back to Mary's family in Scotland, they were understandably horrified. Was Mary okay? What about the baby? Did she give birth? Mary's sister Elizabeth continued in her letter to the Assistant Commissioner. No, sir.
Starting point is 00:20:02 Can you understand any man seeing his wife was dangerously ill with flu when it was an accident? This wrong information combined with no answer to our cable and knowing the treatment will send me to doubt my sister from the time he entered the mounted police has shattered all confidence we ever had in him and has greatly increased my father and mother's anxiety for their daughter. Elizabeth added that the family had realized that many of the reports John sent them about his life in Canada were basically worthless.
Starting point is 00:20:37 We have no faith now in anything he told us about my sister. He always was a plausible liar, excuse my language, but it exactly fits him." She had a request, would it be possible for the Mounties to go and check on Mary? Typically, a request like this from a woman to a man who held such a position of authority would likely have been dismissed as being hysterical. But the Assistant Commissioner took Elizabeth seriously and decided to investigate. On May 10, 1919, he wrote to the superintendent in Vancouver requesting a status report on the wife of Royal Northwest Mounty, John Wilson. He received word back that Mrs.
Starting point is 00:21:27 Wilson was living with her husband at present, which he sent back to Elizabeth with a suggestion that she write directly to the Vancouver Superintendent if she wanted more information. It may have simply been a courteous gesture, but this suggestion would soon unravel the mystery of the missing Mary Wilson. I am finding being alive fascinating. Do you want to see what the world is really like? Yes. Four things is fantastic and deliciously funny.
Starting point is 00:22:07 Better. What? Why I keep it in my mouth if it is revolting? It's an instant classic. We must experience every big bell out. Then we can know the world. I want to know the world. The world is ours.
Starting point is 00:22:22 I must go punch that baby. Poor things. Now playing go punch that baby. Poor things. Now playing into like feeders. Creating visual content for each episode used to take so much time. But since we discovered Canva for Teams, the creative process has become so quick and easy. Canva for Teams is not just a design platform, it's like an artistic sidekick, ready to help me transform my ideas
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Starting point is 00:23:51 and watch as it's magically and flawlessly removed. Are you ready to design and collaborate with Canva for Teams? Right now you can get a free 45-day extended trial when you go to slash CTC45. That's slash CTC45 for a free 45 day extended trial. Of course, Elizabeth wanted more information about her sister, so at the Assistant Commissioner's suggestion, she began writing to the superintendent in Vancouver, repeating her concerns about Mary. In one letter sent in June of 1919, Elizabeth included a photograph of Mary for identification purposes, along with a note that she asked be delivered to her. Asageant was dispatched to visit John Wilson and his wife to deliver that note. But when John answered the door, the sergeant saw that the young woman standing next to him did not at all resemble the woman
Starting point is 00:25:05 in the photo. He alerted his boss who wrote the following in a report. The photograph was that of a middle-aged person with two children, whereas the person at present living with Sergeant Wilson is quite young and it is understood that they have only been married a short time. The Royal Northwest Mounted Police were just as concerned about maintaining a proper public image as the RCMP still are now. Having a big amest and liar on the force wouldn't do, so the Mounties launched a quiet investigation
Starting point is 00:25:38 into Sergeant John Wilson's marital status. In the meantime, John had an item to get rid of and wanted to make some money. He asked a secondhand good store if they were interested in buying a shotgun, and they said yes. He brought in a 12-gauge, double-barreled shotgun and leather case, with an asking price of $25. He accepted their offer of $23. John scribbled a fake name in the store's ledger book and left with the money. A few days later, the store resold the shotgun in
Starting point is 00:26:15 case for $35. Sergeant John Wilson may have gotten off to a good start in Vancouver at the beginning of 1919, but it was now October and the situation had changed. His superiors at the Royal Northwest Mounted Police already suspected he was a bigamist, or a person who married someone while being legally married to someone else. And what's more, his sloppy work habits from his days with the Dominion Police had resurfaced. The commissioner wrote a blistering account of Sergeant John Wilson's work performance in a report. His work during the past month has not been very satisfactory to me. I have no direct charge to place against Sergeant Wilson, but many of his actions did not appear good to me. I have no direct charge to place against Sergeant Wilson,
Starting point is 00:27:05 but many of his actions did not appear good to me. His further work here would be useless. I did think of sending him up to Prince Rupert District, but I rather lost confidence in him. Hence I should be very pleased if you would wire me to transfer him to some other division. With that, Sergeant John Wilson was transferred to Regina. With that, Sergeant John Wilson was transferred to Regina. But he would still be needed back in Vancouver to testifying court about his undercover work, so the Mounties decided to put him under surveillance in Regina to make sure he would be available when needed, as they continued the investigation about his wife. Staff Sergeant Herbert Darling of Regina was given the task
Starting point is 00:27:47 of tracking down any records he could find about one Mary Wilson. He quickly located a marriage certificate for John Wilson and Jesse Patterson, but he found no documentation about Mary Wilson. It appeared that the last time Mary's family heard from her was late September of 1918, so he checked for a death certificate from around that time for anyone of the same name, became up empty-handed.
Starting point is 00:28:19 He tried City Hall with no results, and a local burial company hadn't buried anyone with that name either. Staff Sergeant Darlene scanned all the letters and reports on the file, looking for any other clues. After reading Elizabeth's note about the comments made by their family friend Mrs. Lang, he called the Regina City Hospital to ask if they had any record of treating a Mary Wilson for either the Spanish flu or a serious car accident, but there was nothing. The staff sergeant then connected with John and Mary's landlady in Regina, who spoke
Starting point is 00:28:59 about how miserable Mary had been when they were living there and how John ignored her and then left her pregnant to move to Saskatoon for a new job. The landlady said the last time she saw Mary in person was just over a year earlier when she left for the train station to join him, but she had heard from her after that. She told Staff Sergeant Dulling about Mary leaving her luggage behind, and how she received that letter signed by Mary, requesting that the luggage be forwarded to Prince Albert. The land lady confirmed that she had done just that. It didn't take long for the Staff Sergeant to confirm that Mary's luggage had never been picked up
Starting point is 00:29:46 from Prince Albert. Inside her bags, there were women's clothing, bedding, photographs, and kitchenware, ordinary items for a new household that she would have needed in Saskatoon. As part of their investigation, the Mounties were reviewing complaints against Sergeant John Wilson from his time with a Dominion police.
Starting point is 00:30:11 It was not looking good for him. And at the same time, they had become increasingly concerned about the disappearance of his first wife, Mary Wilson. In a telegraph sent to Mary's sister Elizabeth and Scotland, the superintendent wrote, "...just discovered Wilson remarried September 29, 1918. Second wife mistaken for your sister. No trace of Mary Wilson's in September 1918. Grave suspicions. Search energetically continued. Send marriage certificate." Sergeant John Wilson didn't know it yet, but his days on the force were numbered.
Starting point is 00:30:54 In early November of 1919, John was called back to Vancouver to testify about his undercover work and then ordered back to Regina, accompanied by a fellow Mountie. By this point, he had started to sense that something was up. When the train stopped in Regina, he was greeted by two more Mounties
Starting point is 00:31:17 taken to a guard house and charged with breach of discipline, based on the complaints from his time with the Dominion police. The next morning, he was informed that Mary's Scottish relatives had engaged the counties to look into her whereabouts, and then he was interrogated by two investigators. Eventually, John admitted that the woman he was living with in Vancouver was not Mary Wilson, but Jesse Patterson.
Starting point is 00:31:47 He was immediately asked where Mary was and how he accounted for his second marriage to Jesse. According to a written report, this is how he replied, My second marriage is quite legal. I secured a divorce from my first wife. The proceedings were taken in Scotland before I left and the papers were afterwards sent to me in Canada. Next, he was asked why it was that after Mary Wilson left to join him in Saskatoon, she suddenly stopped writing letters to her family. John continued to ramble. seen her since that time. I suppose she did not write home to her people because she did not want them to know about her troubles."
Starting point is 00:32:49 As for the divorce papers, he told the investigators they were in a trunk somewhere, and he would need to ask Jesse to retrieve them. The thing was, John wasn't dealing with a gullible young girlfriend anymore, but with seasoned investigators who did not buy his nonsense. He was told to start telling the truth, otherwise the Mounties would hand him over to the Saskatchewan provincial police on suspicion of murder. John took the hint and tried to become more reasonable. The Hall of Fair is a long family trouble trouble, and I can explain the hallmarker if you will
Starting point is 00:33:28 allow me to sit down and write it out. He was given paper and a pencil and sent back to the guard room, where he spent the afternoon scribbling down his thoughts in a statement. That night, in the guard house, John was unable to sleep, and evidently tried to kill himself by slashing at his own throat with a tiny pen knife that the police hadn't noticed when they frisked him. He is what he would later write about it. I guess it was about four o'clock in the morning, and I took the knife and made a cut on the
Starting point is 00:34:04 left-hand side, and then a little later I made another cut further around. I didn't feel no pain at all when I was doing it. After making a total of three cuts, John began bleeding profusely. He said it became difficult to swallow, but he didn't call for help. I did not wish to tell the guard about it until later in the morning, so I was not to get the doctor out of bed. If these sentiments seemed unusually noble, John soon lapsed back into self-pity, writing about his bad run of luck.
Starting point is 00:34:39 Everything, fate seemed to go against me all the time. After the first time when Polly came from the old country, I did not know she was coming here." Sergeant John Wilson was taken to Regina General Hospital for treatment. Newspapers would publish varying accounts as to the severity of his injuries. Anywhere from 10 to 100 stitches were needed to close his wounds. He would be charged with attempted suicide, which was a crime at the time. In the meantime, investigators were scrutinizing the statement John had written right before
Starting point is 00:35:16 his suicide attempt. It was a strange rambling mix of biographical information, odd memories and nonsensical comments. Most importantly, he was no longer claiming that he and Mary had a fight at the train station and she left. He wrote that he did pick her up at the train station and then... I was deased and I have only a faint recollection of what happened, but she died on the way. She just died on the way. This maddeningly vague account of Mary's death on the Friday night was followed by an abrupt change of tone from devastation to joy. Jesse and I were married on Sunday night in Saskatoon and from that day I'd done everything a man could do to make her happy." John Wilson wrote that a shadow of fear followed him though, and he worried constantly that police
Starting point is 00:36:11 would start inquiring about his missing first wife. He obviously had good reason to be concerned. As vague as his statement was, it was enough for the royal Northwest-mounted police, who noted in a memo, In his statement, Wilson virtually admits to having murdered his wife. Additional damning evidence was found in personal belongings left by John behind in Regina. Saskatchewan Provincial Police investigators had written a memo about two letters they found addressed to Jesse Patterson. One was signed by John's sister, apparently from the infirmary in Glasgow, writing that the doctors had given her just one hour to live, which she apparently spent
Starting point is 00:37:00 writing glowing reports of John and disparaging remarks about Mary. The police memo read, This signature appears to have been written by a person with a very nervous hand or is a deliberate forgery. The other letter investigators found addressed to Jesse Patterson was signed by Reverend Hock'swell in Scotland. This letter raised some serious eyebrows. You will note that this writer also commends Miss Patterson to the care of Wilson and
Starting point is 00:37:29 praise for their future happiness. He also gives his sanction to the crime of bigamy being committed which, to say the least, is a most unusual thing for a minister of the gospel to do. It was clear to the Mounties that both of these letters were obvious forgeries. Sergeant John Wilson was formally kicked out of the Mounties, and the investigation was turned over to the Saskatchewan Provincial Police as a possible homicide. Once the sensational story hit the media, it soon became a nationwide sensation. Newspaper coverage wasn't exactly subtle.
Starting point is 00:38:09 The front page of the morning leader, the Regina paper now known as the leader post, included a photograph of Mrs. Mary Polly Wilson with the following headlines. Woman disappears from Regina. Husband says she died in auto on Blaine Lake Trail. John Wilson after making statement in writing, attempts suicide and cuts throat, police working on assumption he murdered his wife. The problem facing police was that they believed Mary was dead and her husband had murdered her, but they didn't have a body. Obviously, the site north of Saskatoon near Waldem where
Starting point is 00:38:46 John Wilson had crashed his grey dought that fateful morning had been investigated, and the police knew all about the weird comments and strange behavior from John at the scene. But they needed to continue searching for Mary's remains. In mid-December, just over a month after John Wilson was apprehended, he suddenly gave word that he was ready to discuss his case. He was approached by the Saskatchewan Provincial Police Superintendent, who found him to be in a rather talkative mood. John said he wanted to get the matter straightened out, but only if a few conditions were met.
Starting point is 00:39:29 He wanted the charge of attempted suicide dropped, and he also wanted to be transferred to a jail in Prince Albert. In exchange, he said he would reveal where he had buried his wife's body. The superintendent was wary about this. He warned John that disclosing his wife's burial spot would likely lead to a murder charge, but John said he understood and promised to make a full statement the following morning. So on December 12 of 1919, John provided another statement just as promised. It was full of more lies and efforts to evade, but he did admit to shooting his pregnant wife the day she arrived in Saskatoon.
Starting point is 00:40:16 Only he claimed it was a tragic hunting accident. At the time, firearms were commonplace in Saskatchewan, and John's work with the Dominion Police could be dangerous, so it wasn't unusual for him to be armed. He told investigators that after he'd picked Mary up from Saskatoon station and started driving north, he stopped twice to shoot at wildlife with a 12 gauge double-barreled shotgun and hit a goose which he collected and tossed in the car. Also, he said, and as for the tragic hunting accident, he said it happened as he was holding his shotgun while also trying to get back into the car. He added that when he saw that the top of her head had been blown off, he shouted something
Starting point is 00:41:23 like, Oh God, holy! His wife was dead, along with their unborn child. I don't remember exactly what I'd done, and I went over to the left side, put my arm around her and shouted, and shouted, then I went around and jumped in the car and a hurry, and started up the car, and after the car was going a steered with my waived hand and at my right arm around her, holding her." If the grotesque image of John trying to drive while frantically gripping his dead wife's body wasn't disturbing enough, the ex-mounty continued to pile on the lies, including
Starting point is 00:42:04 his tale about how he crashed his car. John said he decided to drive to a small community outside Saskatoon, where he knew there was a coroner who could help him. But alas, he said his car lights went out, and because he couldn't see the road, the car crashed into a bank, the force of it throwing Mary's body out of the vehicle. John told investigators he tried to pull himself together. I sat there thinking for a while, wondering what I could do now, then I figured out that nobody would ever believe the story I told that it was an accident or anything else. So I went in the back of the car and I got a shovel. I dug a grave under the culvert. It took me an awful long time to dig it because I was so off for a week
Starting point is 00:42:51 and while I was digging the grave my hands were getting sore. After he finished burying Mary's body, John told investigators he sat around for a while and then set the car on fire deliberately in an attempt to cover up evidence. Then, just before dawn, he said he walked over to the nearest farmhouse. Eager is ever to portray himself in a good light, John Wilson told the investigators that he had taken off his wife's rings and still had them. I was intending to keep them for the little boy.
Starting point is 00:43:28 He was presumably referring to his son George back in Scotland. John told investigators exactly where the burial site was. It was apparently quite close to the car wreck, an area that the police had already combed and found nothing, which indicated John had done a very good job at concealing it. According to a later report, the police arrived at the spot where John said he buried Mary's body and began digging. We came upon a pair of lady's boots. They were high-heeled, laced, pointed toes. The boots had bones in them and decomposed flesh. It was growing dark by this point, and the men were exhausted from hours trying to excavate
Starting point is 00:44:16 the frozen earth. A decision was made to take a break and resume the next morning. The ground was frozen solid for about a depth of three feet and digging was very hard for the most part, the earth having to be chopped away with an axe and lifted by crowbars. At about 11 a.m., the remains lay to a certain extent exposed. An inquest to formally declare Mary's cause of death was held two days later.
Starting point is 00:44:48 At autopsy it was determined that the 32-year-old had been about six months pregnant when she died, with a male child who was 12 and a half inches long. The doctor who conducted the autopsy found Mary's skull was badly shattered. In fact, most of the upper portion of her skull from just below her eyes had been obliterated. It was determined that the 32-year-old died of gunshot injuries to the head, which wasn't surprising. What was surprising was that Mary had gunshot powder burns on her nose, which was strong evidence that she'd been facing the shotgun when her husband pulled the trigger. This was not consistent with John's version of events, which was that the gun accidentally
Starting point is 00:45:44 discharged as he was getting back into the car. It suggested that Mary's death was a deliberate and intentional action. John Wilson was of course present for the inquiry and he almost fainted as he was escorted out and taken back to a cell. The Inquest jury found that Mary Wilson had died from a gunshot wound to the head, fired at close range from a double-barreled shotgun in the hands of her husband, John Wilson. He was charged with murder. The investigation continued with the focus on finding the murder weapon.
Starting point is 00:46:27 As more evidence came to light, newspapers continued to provide in-depth coverage of the case and everything that had been revealed so far, including John Wilson's Web of Lies and his series of forged letters. A big spread in the December 2019 Winnipeg Tribune included a photograph of Mary and her two children from back in Scotland, as well as images of the wrecked gray dought. The article read, had it not been for inquiries made by her sister in Scotland.
Starting point is 00:47:02 The body of Mrs. Mary Polly Wilson might never have been discovered and a charge of wife murder would not have been laid against Sergeant John Wilson of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. Mary's friends and family back in Scotland were of course devastated and shocked
Starting point is 00:47:19 by this turn of events. They started writing letters of their own to Canadian authorities. The husband of John's supposedly dying sister sent a letter confirming that she wasn't dead. She hadn't been treated at the Royal Infirmary. In fact, she hadn't spoken to John in years. A deeply annoyed, elderly, reverent Harkswell also wrote to confirm that the letter John Santon, his name, was also a forgery, and he took the opportunity to speak of Mary Wilson in glowing terms.
Starting point is 00:47:55 Similar remarks came from a justice of the peace, who said he knew Mary for 12 years before she left for Canada, and described her her as thoroughly well-behaved in every sense of the term, most trustworthy, with a character beyond reproach. Obviously, Mary Wilson and her unborn child did not deserve to be murdered, regardless of her character. But these comments underscored the fact that those who knew and loved Mary the most couldn't believe that John had attempted to smear her good name through forged letters, especially after what he had done. Their opinion of John Wilson couldn't have been lower.
Starting point is 00:48:42 In the meantime, investigators learned that John had sold the murder weapon, his 12-gauge double-barreled shotgun, to a second-hand good store. They tracked it down to its new owner and offered him $50 to buy it back. An article in the Saskatoon Daily Star read, �Seems without a precedent in the history of the Saskatoon courthouse were enacted this morning, when the building was filled to overflowing with a struggling mass of humanity, intent upon seeing John Wilson, alleged wife murderer.� The preliminary hearing was a riotous event. Eagus spectators crammed the corridors and stairways, and the
Starting point is 00:49:26 courthouse was so packed that the hearing was moved to the nearby Masonic temple where there was more space. But even that was too small. There were many women in the crowd and some like the man stood on chairs in the back of the hall, craning their necks for a glimpse of Wilson. John Wilson practically strutted into the courthouse, pleaded not guilty, and the judge determined that there was enough evidence to proceed to trial. The ex-mounty would now face trial as a defendant in a surprise, though. Get in. Poor things is unlike anything you've seen.
Starting point is 00:50:16 A woman plotting her course to freedom. And not... Oh, it's hysterically funny. Ow. Not oh, it's hysterically funny. Oh. An incredible cinematic experience you won't soon forget. There is a world to enjoy. Traverse, so could navigate. It's the best film of the year.
Starting point is 00:50:36 We're more. One's enough and it malls too much. Poor things. Now playing in select theaters. John Wilson's Capital Murder Trial opened February 2, 1920, in the Court of Kings Bench in Saskatoon. Once again, the courtroom was mobbed by spectators. The crowd's fascination was understandable. Putting a police officer on trial was a rare enough spectacle, but a bounty on trial for murder? That was something else. There was a distinct possibility that John Wilson would be sentenced to death, making him the first
Starting point is 00:51:25 bounty ever hanged for murder in Canada, a very grim accomplishment. About 20 years earlier, another one-time member of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police named William Pippo had been sent to the gallows, but not in Canada. He was charged and hanged in Montana in the United States, and besides, many questions lingered about whether he was actually guilty. But when it came to Sergeant John Wilson, there was a mountain of evidence against him. This might be why he suddenly started acting up in court. An article from the Globe described, Symptoms of Insanity either real or cleverly feigned were very apparent, Wilson sat
Starting point is 00:52:10 huddled in the dark shivering and muttering to himself. The Crown's case was that John Wilson intentionally murdered his pregnant wife Mary, so he would be free to marry his girlfriend Jesse. He was depicted as a dishonorable cheat and a monster. Among the long list of crown witnesses was John and Mary's former land lady in Regina, who testified about him not treating Mary very well before he accepted the job in Saskatoon. The land lady also spoke about receiving a forged letter from John, posing as Mary, requesting her luggage be sent to Prince Albert,
Starting point is 00:52:53 and there it would stay until the police investigation. The jury heard about John's purchase of a marriage license for him and Jesse Patterson, just hours before he was due to meet Mary at Saskatoon Station and how he stated that he was a bachelor. The crown argued that John Wilson's actions after Mary's death were not consistent with his claim that it was an accident. Quote, he had no grief for the woman who has born him two children. He seeks no medical aid.
Starting point is 00:53:27 Instead, he buries her four feet underground, and a few hours after, Mary's Jesse, if the man had lost his wife by accident, out of decency he would have put off his second nupchewels a little while longer. The jury also heard testimony about the rest of John's lies and forgeries to make people think Mary was still alive. Quote, these telegrams didn't come from Polly. She was dead.
Starting point is 00:53:57 Polly Wilson wasn't ill with influenza. She did not give birth to a child. She was not going home. She was dead. Dead by the hands of the man who wrote intimate epistles telling of her progress to recovery. In closing arguments, the crown summarized the case. Quote, Polly came, a stranger in a strange land, leaving her two children in Scotland.
Starting point is 00:54:24 Wilson's affection had grown cold, and she tried to win back his love, a love that had been transferred to Jesse. Wilson tried to keep her presence in this country quiet, all the time paid attention to the girl in Blaine Lake. This woman in Regina was a burden to him. Polly was to give birth to a child, making it increasingly difficult for him to continue with Jesse. The accused's conduct cannot be justified in any way. Instead of telling Polly he could not live with her, he takes advantage of the fact that she is his wife, and puts her in the family way. Seeing that he is about to be burdened with an offspring
Starting point is 00:55:06 as well, he forms a definitive plan. He states in his confession, he had to marry Jesse legally. There were only two ways he could do it legally, through a divorce or through the death of his first wife. the death of his first wife. The defences case was of course that Mary Wilson had died in a terrible hunting accident. Several of John's former police colleagues were called to testify, providing generic descriptions of him as a good guy. John's lawyer had contacted Jesse to see if she could provide any other character witnesses for him. Not only was she overwhelmed and distraught, but also pregnant.
Starting point is 00:55:56 There's no evidence she participated in the trial. The defense tried to introduce very weak evidence that would suggest psychiatric problems ran in John Wilson's family, but it backfired on cross-examination, and he came across as quite reasonable and rational. John himself was supposed to testify, but the papers reported that when he was escorted to the witness box to be sworn in, it was, quote, immediately apparent that his condition would not allow him to be questioned. It appeared that John had experienced some kind of mental breakdown.
Starting point is 00:56:36 He was hustled out of the courtroom and examined by a doctor, who told the judge that his condition was too far gone for him to provide a coherent testimony. The doctor suggested giving John an injection, which the judge allowed, and it's not clear from press accounts what exactly this injection contained, but it did no good in any case. The doctor examined John again, reporting that he was still not sane or in his right mind. John never testified. Inclusing arguments, his defense lawyer spun an unlikely tale of remorse. John didn't want to murder Mary, he loved his wife and wanted them to be reunited.
Starting point is 00:57:21 His plan that day was to pick Mary up, introduce her to Jessie, explain the situation, and let Jessie down gently before bidding her farewell. And as for that marriage license, the defense argued that perhaps it had been issued long before that fateful day that John picked Mary up from the train station. It was an attempt at a defense, but no one believed it. John showed no interest in any of the proceedings, and when the jury was sent to deliberate, the press noted that he seemed oddly relaxed, but when he was taken to his cell to await the verdict, his demeanor changed. As a scatuan provincial police report stated,
Starting point is 00:58:07 He lost the vacant stair he wore in the courtroom. On going to the cell, he sat on the bed and in a quite composed manner took a pack of cigarettes from the right-hand coat pocket and borrowed a match from the guard to light it. He then went on smoking. He looked up at the guard and said some words to the effect that he guessed the dope worked on him, probably referring to the injection given by the doctor.
Starting point is 00:58:30 The jury found John Wilson guilty of murder. He was observed to be back in his zombie-like state, until Chief Justice Frederick Holten asked him if he had anything to say as to why a sentence should not be passed. John suddenly snapped out of it, jumping to his feet and speaking with force. Yes, sir. I wish to protest against the low-down, dirty methods of the police in taking advantage of the condition of my mind and body to obtain certain information from me." With that, John Wilson was sentenced to death by hanging.
Starting point is 00:59:11 He took the news of his impending execution relatively calmly. There were no more wild hand gestures or playacting. A guard asked him about it and he said he felt like a weight had been lifted. John was put on a train under guard and taken to Prince Albert, where he was placed in a jail cell to await his death. Back in Scotland, Mary's family and friends were of course pleased to see Justice served. While they now curse the name of John Wilson, Mary's sister Elizabeth Craig wrote a letter to the authorities that expressed sympathy for Jesse Patterson.
Starting point is 00:59:58 Sir, I note you ask us not to wrongly blame her. I can assure you we don't. We have nothing but pity for her. He has deceived and lied to her as he did to us and has ruined her life. But at the same time, like Wilson's own relations, I think she ought to be thankful for she has had a merciful escape. He tired of everybody and everything, and he would soon have tired of her." Jesse did not visit John in prison. She was nearly due to give birth and preoccupied, but
Starting point is 01:00:37 even if she wasn't pregnant, it's not clear if she would have come to see him or not. It appears that once Jesse realized the stark truth of her situation, she cut ties with him as she tried to put her life back together. April 22, 1920, marked John Wilson's last night on Earth. He sat in his cell with his spiritual advisor, a press battalion minister until late in the evening. For breakfast, the last meal he would ever have, John asked only for a cup of coffee. Early the following morning as a death bell told, a sheriff, guard, and the prison jailer arrived to escort John from his cell.
Starting point is 01:01:26 His hands were secured behind his back as he was marched down the hall. Assassin's Dayly star article would note, In appearance, he looked far better than he has at any time since his arrest last fall. His face was more fleshy and all signs of affected insanity, which characterized his appearance during the trial in Saskatoon had left him. It was plain he was working under a high nervous tension. His hands were continually opening and shutting, and he looked like a man that had steeled himself for a supreme test and had steeled himself well. That said, John grew more agitated as they approached the death chamber. His face was observed twitching and his mouth moved, and he had to be assisted at one point
Starting point is 01:02:13 by his Presbyterian minister. A hangman known as Arthur Alice awaited at the gallows. It wasn't his real name, it never was. People in this profession were experts and death. They knew exactly how far a person of any given weight had to drop to ensure their neck was properly broken and they died quickly. To protect their identities, all professional executioners in Canada were given the common pseudonym of Arthur Alice. John Wilson stepped onto the scaffold, he gave no statement or apology. Arthur Alice secured his feet with a leather strap, then placed a black cap over John's head.
Starting point is 01:02:59 A noose was secured around his neck, with a knot put behind his left ear. A lever was pressed and the trap door between the former Mounties' feet opened wide. John Wilson was pronounced extinct as it was noted in the report at 7.07am. If accounts of John's and I accurate, Jesse Patterson gave birth on the day of John's execution, or shortly thereafter. The baby obviously never met its father. That same year, the Royal Northwest Mounties merged with the remaining members of the Dominion Police Force to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that we know today. John Wilson remains the only bounty to be put to death for murder in Canada.
Starting point is 01:03:50 Thanks for listening. This series has been a special collaboration. Thanks to journalists Danielle Parody for pitching the case, the initial research, and finding that treasure trove of letters, telegrams, newspaper articles, and police and court memos from Library and Archives Canada. Thanks also to Toronto True Crime author Nate Henley, who sorted through all that material,
Starting point is 01:04:24 conducted additional research through all that material, conducted additional research through the news archives, put together the narrative and wrote the story, which was then adapted for this podcast. All comments and dialogue were real. Thanks to Scottish voice actor Paul Warren, who provided the voice for Sergeant John Wilson, and Jesse Hawke, our production assistant, just happens to be Scottish, and provided the voice for Sergeant John Wilson. And Jesse Hawke, our production assistant, just happens to be Scottish, and agreed to voice the letters written by Mary
Starting point is 01:04:50 Sister Elizabeth. Special thanks to them both. For more information and for the full list of resources we relied on to write this series, visit For more detail on this series, visit For more detail on this case, we highly recommend the award-winning 1995 book, The Secret Lives of Sergeant John Wilson, by Lower Simmy. There's a link in the show notes.
Starting point is 01:05:17 Canadian True Crime Donates Monthly to those facing injustice. This month, we have donated to Women's Shelters Canada, an organization that supports over 600 shelters across the country for women and children fleeing violence. You can find a shelter near you by going to Audio editing was by Nico from the Inky Paul Print, aka We Talk of Dreams, who also composed the theme songs. Production assistance was by Jesse from the Inky Paul Print, with script consulting by Carol Weinberg. Script editing, additional research and writing and sound design was by me, and the disclaimer
Starting point is 01:05:59 was voiced by Eric Crosby. We won't be releasing any more episodes over the holidays, but we'll be back in late January with a new Canadian True Crime story. See you then. you

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