Wednesday 24 August 2011

The murders of Canadian Aboriginal women

When a person thinks of monsters it is usually the werewolves, the bogeyman, Dracula or Frankenstein that comes to one’s mind. The world is full of monsters and sadly they are not famous for being in the movies. Unfortunately all of these monsters are of the human kind and they have become infamous for the horrific crimes they committed against others. When I think of monsters, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer & John Wayne Gacy come to mind. The following are two Canadian monsters who raped and killed aboriginal women.

During the early 1990s, Canadian serial killer, John Martin Crawford went on a raping and murdering rampage in the province of Saskatchewan. His four victims were Canadian aboriginal women. His case is a testament of the fact that systemic racism still rules in Canada. This is witnessed by the fact that at the time of his trial, two other killers, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were on trial for murdering two Caucasian girls in Ontario. Their deaths were held in notoriety by Canadians whereas Crawford’s murders were unknown by most Canadians and for the most part, unreported by the media.

I would be less than honest if I didn’t mention however that there was a factor in the Bernardo/Homolka murders that intrigued the minds of Canadians that was hard to ignore. The two young girls were abducted and then raped in the home of the two murderers over a period of days before being killed. Further, their rapes were videotaped. The four Indian victims were raped and then immediately thereafter murdered.

Now please don’t get me wrong. The crimes against the four Indian women were just as bad as those committed by the evil duo in Ontario. It is just that one of the criminals who was responsible for the deaths of the two girls in Ontario was a young woman. That is a factor that intrigued everyone, men and women alike and that is why that case had so much publicity.

This article is about two Canadian murderers and their victims.

John Crawford had already served time in prison for manslaughter for brutally killing 35-year-old Mary Jane Serloin in Lethbridge, Alberta in 1981 when he was only 19 years of age. In the Serloin case, the judge found that "one of the most troubling aspects of the attack was Crawford's callous disregard" for his victim. After killing Mary Jane, Crawford immediately returned to the tavern for pizza and beer.

Mary Jane's family in Brocket, Alberta said that they were ignored by investigating authorities up to and including Crawford's June 16th, 1982 sentencing. Her sister Justine English said, "They didn't even have the decency to let me know what was going on. I really would have wanted to see him, to see what the guy that killed my sister looked like."

Now here is a disturbing piece of information. This piece of human filth received only ten years in prison for murdering Mary Jane and would you believe it, some soft-headed parole board members felt that five years was sufficient time for him to be in prison so they ordered his release in 1989.

Did these twerps know that three years after they released him, he would be raping and killing more women? No, they didn’t. Should they have suspected that he would rape and kill again? Of course they should have. Did they really believe that someone like that man after being in prison for only five years would come out of prison as a gentleman who would treat women with the respect that they deserve? Give me a break.

He was later tried for the 1992 murders of Shelley Napope, age 16 who was stabbed to death; Eva Taysup, young mother of four children and Calinda Waterhen, age 22 in Saskatoon who were both strangled to death.

I also blame the police for this fiasco. Unfortunately, the police in the past were notorious for paying little or no attention to the concerns of native people. I remember when I was living in Winnipeg in the late 1950s, seeing a young native man lying unconscious in the snow bank on a major street one very cold winter night. When I brought this to the attention of a nearby police officer, he just laughed and said, “It’s just another drunk Indian.” and then he walked away.

After Crawford was let out of prison, his almost nightly habit was to cruise the dilapidated areas of town in his mother's car looking for prostitutes. He was frequently in the company of drinking companion and former fellow inmate Bill Corrigan who witnessed some of Crawford's crimes.

Let me say right from the onset, Corrigan didn’t actually rape and murder the three women. In fact, he actually later reported the crimes to the police and with his help they were able to trap Crawford into admitting that he had committed the crimes while he was surreptitiously being recorded in Corrigan’s home. He was however in the car when Crawford picked up the woman and standing outside the car when Crawford raped the women and later murdered them.

In 1992, a young native prostitute was taken to a remote place by Crawford and Corrigan and nearly choked to death by Crawford.

On May 9th, 1992, Janet Sylvestre reported to police that Crawford had raped her across the street from the group home for men that Crawford's mother operated. The next day, police found Crawford near death on a beach, apparently from a combination of sunstroke and substance abuse. Crawford was arrested and remanded in custody until June 18th 1992 when his mother put up $4,000 bail for his release into her custody.

A similar tale in the summer of 1992 emerged from yet another woman who was raped and nearly strangled to death by Crawford.

On October 2nd, 1993, Crawford was charged with attempted murder in the beating death of a Saskatoon man over the refusal of a cigarette and he subsequently ended up in the Saskatoon Correctional Centre. He was later released.

When the first set of human remains were discovered southwest of Saskatoon, Crawford finally became a suspect. For four months in 1994, the RCMP followed him everywhere he went. It was during this period of intense surveillance that Crawford picked up Theresa Kematch, beat and raped her and left her on the street. The surveillance of Crawford by the police at this time diminishes the meaning of the word ‘intense’.

Testimony later given in court suggests that two officers who were supposed to be keeping an eye on Crawford may have been close to the Crawford vehicle while the sexual assault took place. Their surveillance of Crawford diminishes the word, ‘surveillance’.

What is known for sure is that when the police picked up the injured woman later, she was arrested. What the hell were they doing? Does anyone with a brain really believe that the fact that she was an aboriginal woman didn’t have anything to do with them arresting her? To make matters even worse, at Crawford's preliminary hearing in the summer of 1995, two of the officers gave conflicting evidence about whether Theresa had been injured or not.

Nearly six years later, after receiving psychiatric help, Theresa got a lawyer to file a claim "alleging that the RCMP was negligent in its duty to protect her from a man they knew to be a sexual offender and who had been convicted of manslaughter and they were supposed to be watching him. The police maintain they did not know Theresa was at risk and they had not raised a public alarm because they were building a case and did not want Crawford to disappear.

There was a case in Toronto many years ago when a woman was raped by a serial rapist that the police knew was on the prowl. They too didn’t warn the public of the rapist’s MO. She sued the police and was awarded a substantial sum for damages.

In the case of Calinda Waterhen, her father, Steve Morningchild, brought his daughter’s lengthy absence to the attention of the RCMP in May 1993 and again in October 1994. Twice he was assured she was living in Saskatchewan and that her health card was being used. Because she was over 18, though, they would not reveal her whereabouts. The facts were, however, that she was actually dead and Calinda's remains were discovered in October 1994 and in January 1995 the RCMP finally admitted that she was dead.

I ask my readers this rhetorical question. If the missing woman had not been an aboriginal woman, do you really believe that her father would have been treated thusly by disinterested police officers?

Crawford was attracted to his victims for four reasons: one, they were young; second, they were women; third, they were Native; and fourth, they were prostitutes. This human filth treated them with contempt. He left three of them naked and lying on the ground dead. Two were strangled to death and the third was stabbed to death. There is a kind of ferocity in these actions which is the same that you would expect from wild animals.

Crawford has shown no remorse, absolutely none, no regrets, there's been no effort to explain his actions and, in fact, we know from the tapes that he laughed about the killings.

John Crawford is serving three concurrent life sentences with no chance of parole eligibility for 20 years in the penitentiary at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. The deaths of these three native women are not the first incidences that the police have bungled their investigations into their mysterious disappearances and their murders.

Helen Betty Osborne was abducted and brutally murdered near The Pas, Manitoba, early in the morning of November 13, 1971. The high school student, with dreams of becoming a teacher, and who was originally from the Norway House Indian Reserve, was 19 years old when she was raped and murdered.

Several months later, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers concluded that four young men, Dwayne Archie Johnston, James Robert Paul Houghton, Lee Scott Colgan and Norman Bernard Manger, were involved in the death. Norman Manger was never charged.

The background of the murder is as follows;

While walking along Third Street in The Pas on that cold Saturday morning, Betty Osborne was accosted by four men in a car. Houghton, who was driving, stopped the car and Johnston got out, attempting to convince Osborne to go with them to "party." She told them that she did not wish to accompany them. She then was forced into their car and driven away. In the car Osborne was assaulted by Colgan and Johnston as Houghton drove. Johnston ripped at her blouse and Colgan grabbed at her breasts. In spite of her screams and attempts to escape, Osborne was taken to a cabin belonging to Houghton’s parents at Clearwater Lake.

At the cabin she was pulled from the car and beaten by Johnston while the others stood watching and drinking wine they had stolen earlier. Osborne continued to struggle and scream and, because her assailants were afraid they might be heard, she was forced back into the car and driven further from town to a pump house next to the lake. While there, some of her clothing was removed by her assailants in the car. At the pump house she was once more taken from the car by one or more of her assailants and the beating continued. Her remaining clothes, those which had not been removed earlier, were taken from her. Wearing only her winter boots, she was viciously beaten, and stabbed, apparently with a screwdriver, more than 50 times. Her face was smashed beyond recognition. The evidence suggests that two people then dragged her body into the bush. Her clothes were hidden. The four men then left, returned to The Pas and went their separate ways.

By the end of 1972, although rumours were circulating in The Pas as to the identity of those involved in the killing, the investigation had stalled. Between 1973 and 1983 only intermittent checks were made on the case. In July 1983 an extensive review of the file was begun by Constable Robert Urbanoski, of the Thompson RCMP detachment. Many of the original informants were re-interviewed. The suspects were contacted again. In June 1985 the RCMP placed an article in the local newspaper, requesting the assistance of the public in solving the murder. The result was that several people came forward to recount comments about the murder made over the years by Colgan and Johnston. It was the disclosure of those remarks that finally led to charges of murder being laid against the two in October 1986.

Before the beginning of their preliminary hearing in March 1987, Lee Colgan was granted immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony. On the strength of Colgan’s evidence, Houghton was arrested and charged on July 5, 1987. At the preliminary hearing later that month, both Houghton and Johnston were committed to stand trial. The Attorney General’s department brought the case to trial in December 1987. Houghton was acquitted.

Sixteen years after the murder, a jury found Johnston guilty of the murder of Betty Osborne. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility for parole in 10 years. He was, in fact, released on full parole on October 10, 1997. Why this killer was only sentenced to prison for ten years boggles my mind.

Many people in Canada asked rhetorically why it took 16 years to bring people to trial for this brutal murder. It was suggested that many people in the town of The Pas learned the identity of those responsible, some within a very short time after the murder, but chose to do nothing about it. It was suggested that because Osborne was an Aboriginal person, the townspeople considered the murder unimportant.

Allegations of racism, neglect and indifference, on the part of the citizens of the town, the police and of the Attorney General’s department, were made. Those hoodlums who stood by while the physical assault against Betty Osbourne took place, while sexual advances were made and while she was being beaten and stabbed to death showed their own racism, sexism and indifference to fellow human beings. Those who knew the story and remained silent must also share their guilt.

The subsequent police criminal investigations were either late or flawed; the media ignored the slaughter or under-reported it; public reaction was apathetic or non-existent; some crimes were not punished and accomplices were not prosecuted.

The pervasive discrimination against Aboriginals that existed in both The Pas in 1971 and in Saskatchewan in 1992 shows the need for increasing the involvement of the Aboriginal peoples in the institutions of mainstream Canada. Would the cases have come more quickly to a conclusion if more Aboriginal persons were in the RCMP? I think they would have. I am convinced that it is conceivable that had there been Aboriginal persons involved in the investigation and prosecution of these cases, the cases would have been solved much earlier.

Despite the inquiry into Betty Osborne’s murder and subsequent media attention in regards to this brutal murder and the way it was investigated and prosecuted, there is an estimated 500 First Nations women reported missing in Canada, largely from our western Provinces. Admittedly, some of these missing women are those who left their communities, who were hoping to find work and a better life in larger cities. Others may be runaways. But even runaways eventually contact someone in their families, or are likely to show up at Indian pow wows or friendship centres across the country. How many of them were actually murdered and left buried in unknown places?

Should murderers such as John Crawford who has brought about the deaths of three aboriginal women and serving a life sentence for those murders have the right to apply for early parole, based primarily on good behaviour?

Every murderer serving a life sentence has the right to a hearing before the National Parole Board for a release after they have served their minimum sentence of 25 years. Even Clifford Olson, (who murdered 10 children) and is one of Canada's most infamous serial killers, will be able to apply for a hearing. One can hope that no member of the parole board would allow someone like Olson to be released from prison, but anything is possible when you get namby pamby people serving on parole boards. Even if he does not succeed in convincing the parole board that he is a changed man and deserves a chance for early release, the very idea that Olson can apply is disturbing to many people. Victims are traumatized again as they relive the tragedies that have caused them so much anguish. It would be equally disturbing if society were to learn that John Crawford was being released from prison because he behaved himself while in prison.

Serial killers should never be released from prison. The government of Canada is hoping to bring in a law that will make it possible for consecutive sentences to be given to criminals who kill more than one person. Had that law been in force when Crawford was sentenced, he would have to serve 75 years in prison before he would be eligible to apply for parole. A man such as him who was responsible for the deaths of five persons should never ever be released from prison.

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