A Canadian park ranger and his wife are gunned down inside their cabin in Riding Mountain National Park. For 90 years the suspect has eluded Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigators…and the reason may be hiding in several pages of the lawman’s diary that the killer removed from the scene of the crime.
- Travel Manitoba: Riding National Park of Canada
- Classic Firearms
- Ruthenian Definition: Dictionary.com
- The Brainerd Daily Dispatch (Brainerd, MN): Comb Canadian Area for Two Murderers.
- Moorhead Daily News (Moorhead, MN): Masked Men Kill Canadian Ranger, by UP.
- The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Manitoba Park Warden Slain and Wife Wounded in Mysterious Attack.
- The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): R.C.M.P. and Volunteers Hunting Slayers of Manitoba Park Warden, by Frank Bowness.
- Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Mystery Slayers Sought by Police, by F. H. Avery.
- The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada): Farmers Join Police Chase, by Canadian Press.
- Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Ranger’s Widow Describes Murderer by Frank Avery.
- Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Stricken Wife Aids Hunt for Killer, by Staff Correspondent.
- The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Ranger Known to Have Met Killer in Bush, by Frank Bowness.
- Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada): Lips of People Sealed by Fear, by Canadian Press.
- Star-Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada): No Progress in Man Hunt, by Canadian Press.
- Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Police Check Scores of Clues in Search for Slayer of Lees, by Frank Avery.
- The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Tireless Examination of Ruthenians Continues in Park Ranger Murder Case, by Frank Bowness.
- Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Cigarette Butts Seen as Clue in Slaying of Lees, by the Free Press.
- The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): R.C.M.P. Find Bullet That Killed Lees.
- The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Wife of Slain Park Ranger Gives Evidence. Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada): Mounties on Trail of Ranger’s Slayer.
- Star-Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada): Regina seeks “Tip”.
- Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada): Mystery Shooting of 1932 Recalled.
- Lac Du Bonnet Leader (Lac Du Bonnet, Manitoba, Canada): Warren speaks… A rural murder: file still open.
- Russell Banner (Russell, Manitoba, Canada): Murder stories top of the news, by Peter Warren.
- Swan Valley Star and Times (Swan River, Manitoba, Canada): Rural murder No. 2 remains unsolved, by Peter Warren.
- Brandon Sun (Brandon, Manitoba, Canada): Murder Mysteries and dining cruises, by Darci Clark.
- Brandon Sun (Brandon, Manitoba, Canada): The Warden’s Widow, by Charles Brown.
- Dauphin Herald (Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada): The Murder of Lawrence Lees remains unsolved, by Ed Stozek.
- Grandview Exponent (Grandview, Manitoba, Canada): Still a case of who done it 84 years later, by Jennifer Carniel.
Hi park enthusiasts,
I’m your host, Delia D’Ambra
The case I’m going to tell you about took place 90 years ago…you heard me right…90 YEARS AGO, in 1932. But even though it may harken back to another era, the details of this crime have all the makings of a modern day who done it.
A who done it that even after almost a century, remains unsolved.
The case takes place in Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, Canada. A geographical area that’s known as a juncture for diverse landscape and wildlife that’s native to prairielands, parklands and forest lands.
In the summer you can traverse close to 370 kilometers of trails inside Riding Mountain, and in the winter if you have the right gear can see the park in an entirely different way while hiking roughly 130 kilometers of snow trails.
According to Travel Manitoba, Riding Mountain is 1 of 5 national parks in Canada that has a resort townsite where people can shop, dine, golf, takes tours…you name it.
They say the best way to truly take in the beauty of the park though is to get out of town and camp in the depths of the wilderness.
In order to make sure people stay safe, Canada Parks has to employ a lot of staff and game wardens to monitor the crossover of human activity and animal activity. It’s been that way since the park opened in 1929 under the moniker Riding Mountain Forest Reserve.
In 1932, a man named Lawrence Lees was monitoring that careful balance of nature versus human interaction when two killers hunted him down and shot him to death in his rural cabin…
Theories about who the gunmen were have swirled for nearly a hundred years…and many believe that the truth may reside in just a few scraps of paper, ripped from the pages of the lawman’s journal.
This is Park Predators.
Around 10:15pm on Wednesday July 13th, 1932…35-year-old Lawrence Lees and his new wife 24-year-old Myrtez were settling in for bed at their cabin in Riding Mountain National Park.
The couple had been newlyweds for six weeks and after taking their honeymoon in Victoria Beach, they’d returned to their permanent residence, a small wooden cabin, which doubled as one of the park’s forestry stations near the town of Rossburn, Manitoba. Rossburn is in the Western section of Manitoba—about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Winnipeg.
Some sources say Lawrence was 32 years old, but most news reports say he was 35. There’s also a varying degree of reporting on how to spell Myrtez’s name. Some publications spell it Myrtle…M-Y-R-T-L-E…others say Myrtez, with a ‘Z’ at the end…and a few even say Martese…with an “S-E” at the end.
But for the sake of consistency, and the fact that I most often saw it spelled Myrtez with a ‘Z’…that sounds like an ‘S’…I’m going to refer to her throughout this episode as either Myrtez or Mrs. Lees.
According to reporting by the Winnipeg Tribune, as the couple was finishing up a late dinner at their kitchen table around 10:40pm…a gunshot rang out. Right after the blast, Myrtez saw her husband fall from his chair and collapse on their kitchen floor. Immediately, blood started streaming out of his neck and he was unresponsive.
She screamed in horror but before she could even think of what to do for Lawrence, she noticed a quick flash of movement outside their open kitchen window that had been directly behind Lawrence’s head.
Fearful that whoever had just shot her husband would come for her next, Myrtez scooped up Lawrence’s service revolver and aimed it through the open window out into the darkness. She fired two blasts…then heard footsteps along the side of the house near one of the windows.
Seconds later she ran into another room where the couple kept their telephone and dialed the Clear Lake Royal Canadian Mounted Police station—which was about an hour away from her and Lawrence’s cabin.
She told officers she needed help right away and that her husband had been shot and she believed the killers were still outside their home.
A few seconds later, while still on the phone, Mrs. Lees heard glass shatter and the front door of their cabin busted open. There, standing in front of her were two masked men. One wrestled her revolver away from her and the other fired a bullet into the back of her head, tearing open a portion of her neck and causing catastrophic damage.
After shooting her, the suspects ransacked the home’s office, Lawrence’s desk drawer and pockets and then took off out the front door, leaving Mrs. Lees fighting for her life in a pool of blood, right next to Lawrence.
Unfortunately, because the Lees lived so far outside of town from where first responders could get to them, Myrtez did not get help right away…but despite the awful wounds she’d suffered she was SOMEHOW still alive. The Brainerd Daily Dispatch reported that RCMP officers from Clear Lake arrived on scene around 12:30–1:00 o’clock in the morning—about two hours after Myrtez had first dialed for help.
When units stepped inside the couple’s house, the scene they found was horrific. Blood was everywhere in the kitchen. Lawrence was clearly dead slumped over on the floor…and Myrtez was still conscious but literally on the brink of death.
The Brainerd Daily Dispatch reported that the wound Mrs. Lees had suffered was jagged and essentially split open the side of her neck and blew off about five centimeters of her jawbone—making it difficult for her to speak. It was an absolute miracle that she was still alive.
Lawrence on the other hand had been a victim of a much more straightforward wound. He’d been shot by a single a rifle round in the back of his upper chest while he’d been sitting upright at his kitchen table. The shot killed him immediately, but the bullet had not lodged in his body.
The Winnipeg Tribune reported that authorities on scene saw an entry hole in the screen of the couple’s kitchen window, the back of Lawrence’s chest and an exit wound near his collarbone. Not only that, but there was also a single bullet hole in an exterior wall across the cabin from where Lawrence had been sitting which indicated the shot had passed through the window screen, through body, traveled across the house, through the wall and then exited and landed somewhere in the couple’s front yard.
Now—1932 was not the era where any kind of thorough forensic examinations or crime scene processing procedures were in place. But to be honest, the scene authorities were dealing with was not that complicated…plus they had a living eyewitness, Myrtez.
The problem was, she was in no shape to give detectives a detailed run down of everything she’d seen and experienced. She’d been critically wounded and until she recovered at Shoal Lake Community Hospital, RCMP wasn’t going to be able to get specific information from her about the two mysterious gunmen they should be looking for.
The only words Mrs. Lees had been able to relay to police before being transported from the cabin for medical care, were that the two men who she believed kill her husband and who had tried to kill her looked like quote— “foreigners”—end quote.
Shortly after arriving on scene, RCMP spread out officers around the cabin and alerted Lawrence’s fellow park rangers in Riding Mountain National Park to set up roadblocks and begin organizing horse posses to patrol roads and trails in the area.
By sunrise the next day– July 14th— law enforcement had removed Lawrence’s body from the scene and sent it to a local physician’s office for an autopsy.
The criminal investigation got underway and dozens of law enforcement officers from across Manitoba had joined in to help search for Lawrence’s killers and scour the rural farmland around the Lees cabin for clues.
Search groups fanned out over the countryside to cover what was known as the Rossburn Northern district of Riding Mountain National Park. RCMP strongly suspected that whoever the killers were…they wouldn’t go back to a town to hide. Detectives believed they’d more than likely set off into the forest to take cover and lay low until they could make an escape.
A few hours into the manhunt on the 14th, no sign of the suspects had surfaced and RCMP brought in an airplane to fly over the forest and hills to look for signs of an encampment or just two men walking alone in the woods.
A big issue that arose with that effort though was the fact that Lawrence’s murder happened in mid-July…the lushest time of year for trees and vegetation in the park to be growing. So, unless the airplane flew over open expanses of prairieland…pilots couldn’t see a whole heck of a lot.
Next, RCMP officials turned to canvassing the area for nearby residents who might have heard or seen anything suspicious…but that effort kind of fell flat too because the closest home to the Lees was several miles away—so canvassing their neighborhood, if that’s even what you could call it, was pointless.
By Thursday morning July 15th, RCMP was hitting a wall. They needed more information and clues to kick the investigation into gear.
Mrs. Lees was recovering at the hospital, but her doctors refused to let detectives interview her. On the night of the crime detectives had found minimal clues at the couple’s cabin that helped them identify their suspects. The only physical evidence they’d collected from the cabin had been a handful of unfired .45 caliber bullets they knew had belonged to Lawrence’s service revolver. They’d also collected two spent rounds of that ammo from the couple’s side yard. But again, they knew to expect that since Mrs. Lees had already told them she’d fired the gun at the suspects.
Lawrence’s revolver itself though was missing from the cabin. RCMP speculated that after the shooting, the suspects had taken it with them for some reason.
According to the Winnipeg Free Press, authorities also considered it might be at the bottom of a quicksand pit not far from the Lees’ cabin. At the time, they didn’t have any way of searching that pit to prove that suspicion one way or the other.
By the end of the day on Thursday, detectives decided to return to the Lees’ home and dig around a little more…
What they found, or rather DIDN’T find, threw an entirely new theory into the mix as to why Lawrence Lees had been brutally executed.
When authorities arrived back at the Lees’ cabin around noon on Thursday July 15th, they spent the remaining hours of daylight searching the couple’s yard inch by inch and combing through the mess of items that had been ransacked inside their house.
One group of officers’ hard work paid off because they found a shell casing for a rifle round partially buried in the ground next to a fence post directly behind the window of the cabin where Lawrence had had his back turned.
Along with the casing, investigators found a small pile of cigarette butts in the grass.
Detectives felt certain that the spent casing and the cigarettes belonged to whoever had killed the park ranger. Just the fact that those items were there at all, suggested that whoever had pulled the trigger had laid in wait for the right moment to take out Lawrence.
All the news reports on this story say the shell casing belonged to a .38-55 caliber Winchester rifle round which at the time was kind of a rare size of ammunition. According to Classic Firearms website, that particular round was produced in the late 1800’s and wasn’t commonly used by hunters.
Once authorities knew the rough size of the rifle round they were looking for, they put a news alert out urging residents to be on the lookout for anyone with that type of ammunition. Police also wanted citizens to keep a sharp eye out for Lawrence’s .45 caliber service revolver, which was still missing.
The rifle casing being on the ground next to the fence post caused RCMP officials to theorize that perhaps the shooter had rested his rifle on the top wooden board of the fence to stabilize his shot before pulling the trigger. The area of the fence where the casing had been dropped was only about 100 feet from the cabin and had a direct line of sight to the Lees’ kitchen window which police knew had been wide open the night of the crime.
Searchers and neighbors combing the couple’s front yard attempted to find the actual bullet that had passed through Lawrence and the house, but nothing turned up.
Inside the cabin’s office, authorities parsed through the couple’s personal belongings that the suspects had rifled through, but nothing of any value was missing. RCMP realized that whoever the men were…they hadn’t come there intending to rob the couple. The ransacking indicated they’d been looking frantically for SOMETHING…but what that something was, authorities couldn’t figure out.
After another hour or so of trying to account for everything, one detective who knew Lawrence personally spoke up and said that he’d noticed that the last few pages of a logbook that Lawrence always kept on him, were missing.
This logbook wasn’t Lawrence’s like daily planner or anything…it was more like a diary or journal that he wrote in every day detailing of all the things he’d come across while on-duty in the park. It was his personal accounting of any suspicious activity he’d seen that he wanted to follow up on.
The journal pages being missing though was a big ‘AHA’ moment for homicide investigators. They surmised that perhaps Lawrence had written something down in the journal that incriminated someone or explained an incident of illegal activity in the park that he’d been investigating.
News reports at the time stated that in the early 1930’s poachers had been running rampant inside Riding Mountain. For months in 1932, tensions had been growing between park rangers like Lawrence and outlaws who were hell bent on killing animals out of season by unregulated means.
In just the two short years he’d been a ranger, Lawrence had earned a reputation for being tough. He often busted people who he caught illegally hunting protected species or overhunting certain kinds of wildlife. He also had a zero-tolerance policy for bootleggers or people transporting illegal contraband on trails in the park in an effort to avoid detection on highways.
According to an article by The Winnipeg Tribune, Lawrence was meticulous about writing down the circumstances surrounding arrests he’d made. He also kept a running tally of people he suspected were conducting illegal activities in the forests or prairies. Basically, his journal doubled as a rolodex of people he didn’t have enough proof to arrest yet…but definitely thought were breaking the law.
The Tribune reported that Lawrence had such a militant view of his job duties and operated with such strict standards because he’d fought in World War I and he was used to following rules and ensuring that others did the same. After he’d retired from the military, he’d joined the parks service as a forest ranger in 1930—just two years before he was killed.
He was originally from the town of Neepawa, Manitoba and personally loved the outdoors. Until he got married in June of 1932, he’d lived with his father in his hometown—which was less than an hour Southeast of Riding Mountain National Park.
The longer RCMP worked the case, the more and more the theory that Lawrence had been killed by a revengeful poacher or someone who didn’t want to get busted for illegal activity started to take root in investigators minds.
By Friday, that idea was solidified for detectives after they spoke with Mrs. Lees who by that point had started to make a miraculous recovery.
From her hospital bed, Mrs. Lees told investigators a lot of the same information they already knew…BUT there were a few details she mentioned that authorities had not known.
For one, Mrs. Lees now told authorities that she believed there had only been ONE shooter in her house the night of the crime…not two.
According to the Winnipeg Free Press, Mrs. Lees explained that between the moment she’d seen Lawrence get shot…but before she’d made it to the telephone…the shooter had spoken to her through the open kitchen window. She thought the guy’s voice sounded kind of familiar and that he’d had a slight European accent. She said that he told her quote— “I had good reason for shooting your husband. He had it coming. He should have been shot long ago”—end quote.
It was after hearing his voice that Myrtez said she snatched up her husband’s revolver and fired two shots at the assailant…but she’d been unable to really see where she was aiming because the guy was in the darkness outside.
After that, she said the suspect spoke to her again near one of the cabin’s front windows and demanded she give him the gun. According to reporting by The Winnipeg Tribune, she specifically said that the man whispered quote— “give me that gun your husband had this afternoon, and I won’t kill you.”—end quote.
In an attempt to get the gun from her, the guy smashed the windowpane and grabbed at it. After she refused to hand it over, that’s when Mrs. Lees said she’d ran into the other room to dial the police.
As far as getting a better description of the suspect, authorities had to settle for the vague memories Myrtez was able to pull together. She told detectives that the man she’d seen had been wearing a mask, blue-colored overalls, and a grey sweater. Right before shooting her, he once again demanded she give him Lawrence’s revolver. After that, everything went black.
According to The Free Press, Myrtez went on to tell detectives that the shooting may have had something to do with an incident Lawrence had responded to earlier that afternoon inside the park.
She said that when Lawrence got off his shift late in the afternoon, they’d heard gunshots off in the distance that seemed to come from within the boundary of the park. Lawrence had armed himself with his service revolver and left briefly to investigate. When he returned, Mrs. Lees said he mentioned that he’d had a run in with a man he suspected was poaching but hadn’t made an arrest. Instead, he wrote down the details of the incident in his journal. Apparently, logging that information had taken him longer than he’d expected and that’s why the couple had eaten dinner so late that fateful night.
With that information in hand, RCMP circled up and went over everything they knew so far in the case.
The fact that Lawrence had mentioned having a run in with a man in the park just mere hours before his death stood out as an important detail for investigators. That information, combined with the fact that Mrs. Lees had said the killer said he wanted Lawrence’s revolver he’d seen him quote—‘carrying earlier that afternoon’, made detectives even more sure that the killer was familiar with Lawrence’s comings and goings on the day he died.
According to all of Lawrence’s co-workers, most of the time when he went patrolling, he did NOT carry his service weapon. They said he was just brave like that. So, the fact that the shooter had asked Mrs. Lees for Lawrence’s service weapon that he’d been carrying “that afternoon” felt like a dead giveaway to police that the shooter had seen Lawrence in the park not long before coming to the cabin.
All signs were pointing to a possible revenge killing…but not by a stranger. Police wholeheartedly believed that whoever committed the crime had to have known Lawrence’s routine. Things like when he got off shift, where the couple’s kitchen was in their house, and where he lived in general.
Mrs. Lees’ recollection that her shooter had a slight European accent made the pool of suspects police needed to be looking at somewhat narrow but, not THAT much smaller.
The Winnipeg Tribune reported that in the early 1930’s the rural communities around Riding Mountain National Park had experienced an influx of Ukrainian and Central European immigrants. Like, a BIG influx. Many of these new citizens had different hunting practices and preferences than what Canadian laws permitted at the time.
The newspaper reported that on several occasions Lawrence had arrested people from these communities and charged them with poaching crimes. In reported acts of retaliation, defendants and their families had made it extremely difficult for rangers to perform their duties.
For example, it was reported that several times Lawrence had gone out on patrol and found large stones or boulders rolled into the designated roadways that led further into the park. Roadways that Lawrence often caught bootleggers hauling liquor. There were also several arson incidents that Lawrence investigated that made him even more determined to stop vandals from operating in the park.
The Saturday after his death, the district’s coroner officially ruled that he’d definitely died from the single gunshot would he’s sustained. The bullet had torn through his chest and severed his spine, which instantly killed him. He never stood a chance.
After the coroner filed his report, Lawrence’s body was released for burial and on the Sunday after his murder, his father, co-workers and several battalions of military veterans laid him to rest in his hometown of Neepawa.
Unfortunately, because she was still healing from her wounds, Mrs. Lees was not able to attend her husband’s funeral. Which—talk about stacking trauma on top of trauma. Poor Myrtez had her husband’s life literally ripped away from her in the most violent way, without the chance to say goodbye…and THEN, he’s buried in a memorial service that she can’t even attend because his killer injured her so badly, she couldn’t leave the hospital. Truly devastating.
Frank Bowness reported for The Winnipeg Tribune that for a brief few hours after the funeral authorities thought they might have had a suspect within reach. Someone reported a sighting of a man wearing blue-colored overalls walking alone in the park just south of the Lees’ cabin. When officers arrived and questioned that man though, they quickly learned that he was a local resident who actually lived within the boundary of the park and he had no connection to the crime. He was immediately cleared, and investigators were forced to move on.
Following that, another possible clue emerged that gave detectives a glimmer of hope. Someone had found a Winchester rifle on the ground just a few miles away from the Lees’ cabin…and it was the kind of firearm that could shoot .38-55 rifle rounds. The Winnipeg Tribune didn’t follow up on this information after publishing its first article about it, so I’m not sure if the gun ended up being a dead end or if it was considered a real piece of evidence or not. There’s just no further information out there on it.
The Monday following Lawrence’s funeral, RCMP and local police were unable to hit the streets at all or search more in the woods thanks to torrential rainfall coming through the area.
By Tuesday July 19th— almost a week after the crime– RCMP officials felt like they were kind of back to square one in terms of apprehending a suspect. However, with the little bit of information they’d gathered in the first five days of the investigation, they felt confident in the theory that Lawrence had been murdered by someone local—most likely the same mysterious man he’d had a confrontation with inside the park the afternoon before his death.
The Winnipeg Tribune reported that everyone involved in the criminal investigation moved into the Lees’ cabin and set up a command post of sorts. Officers and detectives removed all the couple’s furniture and set up cots for staff to sleep on. They literally took over the Lees’ home to work the investigation from the crime scene.
I’m not sure how this would fly now…but I guess at the time is seemed appropriate.
Investigators told the Times Colonist that Lawrence’s missing journal pages were going to be the key to identifying the perpetrator. Up until that point, all interactions and conversations they’d had with citizens who’d immigrated to the area or lived within the boundary of the park had been dead ends.
NO one had come forward offering information that might identify the man Mrs. Lees had described.
RCMP publicly announced that they believed the ranger had written about his interaction with the mystery man in the most recent pages of his journal and intended to take that information to his superiors…which would have resulted in whoever the suspect was, being arrested and prosecuted.
Around this time, RCMP brought in a special investigator from another Canadian province who’d been personal friends with Lawrence during his military days. The Star-Phoenix newspaper reported that this new guy had been taking special courses in criminal investigation work for a few months and his expertise was reportedly supposed to help the case make headway.
I don’t know how much he helped though because no other source material reported on him, but the day after he was brought in, The Free Press reported that RCMP investigators were closely watching at least four men they felt might have had problems with Lawrence. Essentially, detectives felt like these guys had been harboring individual grudges against Lawrence and park rangers in Riding Mountain National Park in general.
And here’s where this part of the story takes kind of a strange and dark turn to me…
The closed minds of law enforcement officers during this phase of the investigation not only involved targeting a specific group of minorities …but what they did might have damaged the ability to solve the crime, forever.
The Winnipeg Tribune reported that the four men RCMP announced were possible persons of interest were part of a larger immigrant community in Western Manitoba who were mostly from the Ukraine or Eastern Slavic countries. These citizens were referred to as what Dictionary.com defines as Ruthenians.
In the weeks after the murder, law enforcement created a long list of people who lived in Ruthenian communities and one by one brought them in for questioning. The only reason police did this, it seems, is because these individuals were immigrants who were considered low-income and lived in rural areas within the park’s boundary.
They were essentially profiled.
The Tribune reported that RCMP established a system to weed out Ruthenian people they felt were quote “good” and those they deemed as quote “bad.” According to the publication, authorities deemed older Ruthenian citizens as being “good” since they were hardworking people who took care of their properties. Authorities deemed younger Ruthenians as “bad” if they allowed their homes to fall into disarray and acted stubborn when questioned or used their inability to speak English as an excuse for being uncooperative.
Now—obviously—this kind of bias and outright discrimination is unacceptable. Detectives had no real proof that Lawrence’s killer was even foreign. Sure, based on what Mrs. Lees had told them, there was a high possibility the shooter could be non-Canadian… BUT STILL—to go around rounding up immigrants and questioning them with no probable cause is just terrible.
But we’re talking about the 1930’s…An entirely different time than 2022. There was discrimination going on between ethnicities and races all over the place. Including the United States. There’s no excuse or justification for it. It was just flat out wrong.
While this was happening, allegations were being tossed around that Lawrence himself may have dealt more harshly than he should have with Ruthenians living in and hunting in the park. According to the same news article, several older Ruthenians had complained that Lawrence treated them in a quote— “brusque manner”—when talking with them and trying to enforce Canadian park laws.
If Lawrence ever got too aggressive with people though, is unknown. There are no documented incidents in which he was cited or disciplined for crossing the line while on-duty.
Like I said earlier though, tensions between park rangers and locals had been building throughout the late 1920’s and early 30’s. In fact, two years before Lawrence’s murder a warden in the park had been attacked and beaten over the head by a group of men. In that incident, the warden was left for dead on the side of a road… but had survived.
The men responsible for attacking him were eventually found and brought to trial but during the proceedings witnesses testified and provided alibis for all the suspects. The men were all eventually acquitted—a verdict that only deepened the growing divide between Canadian law enforcement and immigrants who’d moved into the province of Manitoba.
After a full month had gone by since Lawrence’s murder and police were no closer to making an arrest…they really started grasping at straws.
I mean—don’t get me wrong…I think they were trying to do their jobs, but they were desperate and really trying to make progress however they could. Which included entertaining wild rumors and even stopping people to check what brand of cigarettes they smoked. Yeah, I’m not joking about that last part.
According to the Winnipeg Free Press, a tip came in that said someone from town had parked their car near the Lees’ cabin on the evening of the crime. When authorities tracked the owner of that car down, they questioned them and demanded the person show them what brand of cigarettes they smoked.
Apparently, the person did smoke the same brand as the cigarette butts found outside the crime scene… But that kind of thing is far from a smoking gun and this person was released after being detained for a brief period of time.
After that, rumors started to swirl that maybe Lawrence had a girlfriend on the side. A jealous lover who might have been involved. Apparently, Lawrence did have several female friends in town but after detectives questioned all those women, they found no evidence to support that he was cheating or had any kind of extra-marital relationship leading up to his death.
On September 2nd, 1932…two months after the crime…the first real break in the case came. A group of RCMP officers who’d been walking through the front yard of the couple’s cabin found the rifle round that killed Lawrence.
The Winnipeg Tribune reported that while kicking around some grass and soil about 200 feet from the home’s front window, an officer unearthed a badly mushroomed rifle bullet that appeared to be a .38-55 caliber round.
The find was helpful, but ultimately did nothing to tell investigators WHO had shot it.
After that, things in the case went quiet for a few months. Then in December, RCMP dropped a bombshell and announced that investigators were working the case with an entirely new theory in mind.
Detectives told the Edmonton Journal that they’d abandoned the assumption that the shooter was foreign.
Authorities now said they believed the responsible party could have been anyone local and that two different guns had been used in the shooting. They were also no longer considering that Mrs. Lees’ memory of only seeing one gunman might to be accurate and said instead that there was evidence to support TWO shooters were present during the crime.
Now I know this seems strange— to flip flop back and forth like this—but you’ve got to remember…Mrs. Lees memory after recovering from her injuries was SUPER fuzzy. Some of the things she said she remembered had to be taken with a grain of salt.
Newspapers had reported that between July and September of 1932 she’d gone back and forth about what exactly the murderer had said to her through the open window and what he’d whispered to her while trying to get her to give up Lawrence’s service weapon. At one point she told investigators that she even remembered speaking with her husband after he was shot…which the coroner confirmed was literally impossible because Lawrence had pretty much died immediately.
Authorities’ new theory was that a hunting rifle had been used to inflict Lawrence’s wound…and another type of gun, that WA NOT Lawrence’s service revolver, had been used to shoot Mrs. Lees.
I guess RCMP worked this theory for a while without getting anywhere, because it wasn’t until July of 1935—three years after the murder—that news of the case showed up in newspapers again. No new updates had come out explaining WHAT exactly law enforcement was pursuing or what they’d gathered to prove their new theory, but a short article by The Star-Phoenix newspaper advertised that a five-hundred-dollar reward was being offered for information that led to the capture of whoever killed Lawrence.
Despite that generous amount of money dangling out there…no one came forward to claim it or help and the case went cold.
The 1940’s, 50’s 60 and 70’s passed with no updates in the case. Literally, nothing. It remained one of Manitoba’s most baffling unsolved murders.
According to an article published in July 1988 by the Lac Du Bonnet Leader, Mrs. Lees was still living in Manitoba waiting for answers in her husband’s case. By that time she was 80 years old, living in a suburb of Winnipeg and reportedly had never remarried. News outlets reported that during all the years following Lawrence’s death, she continued to received $40.00 a month as a benefit of being a spouse of a deceased public servant.
That year, RCMP announced it WAS NOT officially closing the Lawrence Lees murder file and the agency still considered it an open investigation.
In early 1988, a group of new investigators had come onboard to evaluate the case and had followed up on several leads after reviewing old reports. Those detectives’ conclusion was the same theory law enforcement in 1932 had landed on, which was that there had to be a connection between Lawrence’s killer and the missing pages from his journal.
If only law enforcement could know what was written down on those pieces of paper…they might be able to narrow down a suspect.
Unfortunately, that NEVER happened, and Mrs. Lees died in June of 1991 at the age of 83. She never got answers about who killed her husband.
Like I said though, rumors about who could have pulled the trigger have ranged widely over the years.
To this day, the strongest theory that remains is that Lawrence ticked the wrong person off inside the park on July 13th, 1932, and he documented it and that person came back to kill him and remove evidence he’d logged about their activities in the park.
Some source material says over the past 90 years law enforcement investigators have considered everything from a mob hit related to the illegal liquor trade…to a possible colleague conspiring to kill Lawrence over a promotion…to Mrs. Lees being involved herself.
But all those theories, at least according to law enforcement, have been disproven.
The identity of the person who REALLY killed Lawrence Lees and attempted to kill his wife…remains a true mystery. Soon, it’s going to be a century-old crime…and may forever be a haunting tale that Canada can’t escape.
Park Predators is an audiochuck original show.
So, what do you think chuck, do you approve? *howl*