The bodies of two men were found in the ashes of the farmhouse just northwest of Grande Prairie. A few days later, four more bodies were found on a neighbouring farm. They had all been murdered, and the weapon was the same.
It was June, 1918. Grande Prairie at the time was smaller than Spirit River now, but so many people were new in the area, just arrived from eastern Europe, that many residents were near strangers to each other. That was the case with Stanley Snyder, his uncle Joseph, James Wudwand, Charles Zimmer, and Frank Parzychowsky, all shot, and Ignace Patan, who had had his throat cut.
Who killed them? Why?
At the second farmhouse there was evidence of a drinking party. Zimmer was thought to have sold his homestead and to have about $2000 in his pocket. Patan and Wudwand were supposed to be going to Fort Vermilion with Zimmer, having just visited the bank and added $3000 to the collection. Did they get plastered to celebrate their plans for the future, only to be murdered while they were too drunk to defend themselves? Some money was found at the scene, but nowhere near $5000. Patan seemed to have died some time after the others. Could it have been murder-suicide?
No one knew for sure what had happened, but there were lots of theories churning. Plenty of suspects were questioned but there was no hard evidence and no one was charged. After two years, the reward for information rose to $5000.
Eventually there were arrests, two trials… and a verdict of not guilty. The case was never solved. Although it remains the biggest unsolved mass murder in Alberta’s history, it has largely been forgotten.
If you’d like to read more about this unsolved mystery, there’s a periodical on thefreelibrary.com.