Just Another Indian – Chapter One

“I Thought Her Name Was Angie . . .”
“John, for Christ’s sake, what did you do?”
—Bill Corrigan

In the spring of 1992 Bill Corrigan was in his early forties. He was a diminutive character with a slight pot-belly and an extensive criminal record, mostly for minor offences such as fraud and passing bad cheques. He wore cowboy boots to boost his stature, and he was rarely without his buck knife with its gold handle and Oriental decorations. He craved respect, but on the street he was known as a man who could neither hold his liquor nor back up his bravado with his fists.

He did have a few violent crimes to his credit, including armed robbery. It was this latter transgression, the most serious of his career, that earned him a ten-year sentence in the federal corrections system. Armed with a rifle, he had attempted to rob a store in Brandon, Manitoba, his home town. Like most things in his life, it went wrong, and he eventually wound up in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, where he shared accommodation with some of the country’s most notorious felons.

It was in Prince Albert that Corrigan met John Martin Crawford. Housed in a unit with thirteen other inmates, Crawford and Corrigan became friends, insofar as either of them was capable of friendship. What it amounted to was trading lurid stories and making plans for the day they would be paroled. For Crawford, who was also serving a ten-year sentence, that day came in September 1987 when he was granted day parole and released into the custody of his mother, Victoria Crawford, who operated a group home for indigent men in Saskatoon. Within five months he was back inside and didn’t see the light of day again until March 1989, when he was at the two-thirds point of his original sentence and automatically eligible for the same type of parole. Bill Corrigan, on his release in 1991, was anxious to be reunited with the companion of his confinement; to Corrigan, Crawford was a man who offered the promise of adventure. Consequently, Corrigan made Saskatoon his new home. He spent thirty days in the Salvation Army Hostel for men before moving down the street to the Albany Hotel.

The Albany is a neighbourhood pub where old friends gather for a beer and to share jokes with the barmaids, many of whom have been working there for years. It is also the watering hole of choice for much of the city’s criminal element. It faces the Barry Hotel across 20th Street West in the heart of what passes for skid row in Saskatoon. Both hostelries have seen their share of stabbings and shootings. In 1990 Jake Badger, a popular bouncer, had been stabbed to death in the beverage room of the Albany by the brother and sister team of David and Margaret McDonald. In 1992 a healthy underground economy continued to thrive. Clothes, jewellery, and food liberated from stores in the nearby mall were continually on offer in the beverage room, and pimps and drug dealers went about their business virtually unimpeded. It was the kind of place to which Bill Corrigan would naturally and habitually gravitate. He moved into Room 2, and soon talked his way into occasional work such as cleaning, unloading the beer trucks, and other odd jobs.

Thirty-year-old John Crawford was a regular visitor. Arriving in his mother’s early 1970s-vintage, green Chevy Nova, he would check at the registration desk to see if Corrigan was in. He almost always was. Despite the macho image he tried to present to the world, the older man rarely strayed from the security of his hotel room. Crawford would give Corrigan enough money to buy a case of beer, then the pair would be ready for their version of a good time.

The pattern rarely varied. They cruised the streets, looking for women. Crawford knew many of the hookers who worked the area, which included the strip on 20th Street and the quieter seven or eight blocks of 21st Street that had become known as the city’s official “stroll.” But Crawford was known as a bad trick. He abused the girls and did not like to pay the going rate. Even so, there was usually someone willing to go with him: a newcomer who hadn’t heard of him, or a girl so drunk or stoned she was unable to resist him. There were others, too: young women who were not professionals in the sex industry but were willing to go for a ride if the offer included alcohol or drugs.

Shelley Napope was such a girl. Born into the One Arrow First Nation, she had been living in the city for almost eight of her sixteen years. Her parents had moved to Saskatoon after their house on the reserve, located eighty kilometres north of the city, was vandalized and demolished.

Shelley was a pretty girl, and popular among the 20th Street crowd. At sixteen she had developed a network of friends that supplied her with drugs and booze. As a consequence, she also had a record as a young offender. Outgoing and gregarious, she regularly made the rounds of the bars, but rarely stopped in any one place for long. On one of these flying visits early in 1992, she had met John Martin Crawford. When she ran into him again one evening that summer, she stopped for a chat. He was with Bill Corrigan in his mother’s car in the parking lot behind the Albany Hotel.

Crawford recognized her immediately, and asked what she was up to. Shelley replied, “Not much,” and asked the two men for a ride to Confederation Park, a west-side neighbourhood of modest ’70s-style family homes and duplexes. “I’ve got to see some people out there,” she said.

“No problem,” Crawford responded. “Jump in.”

Corrigan, according to routine, got in the back seat. Shelley sat in the front beside Crawford. When the trio arrived at Shelley’s destination, the girl ran into the house while the men waited in the car. Crawford drummed his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel as he waited for her to return. He had earlier injected himself with methylphenidate hydrochloride, commonly known as Ritalin, a drug prescribed largely by psychiatrists for the treatment of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, mostly in children and adolescents. Through the same reckless experimentation that someone years ago had discovered that Talwin, an oral painkiller, provides an incredible “octane boost” when you dissolve a tablet in water and inject it into your arm, Ritalin was gaining popularity on the street as the intravenous drug of choice for many users. Crawford was feeling its effects, and was eager to begin the evening’s activities.

Five minutes later a smiling Shelley Napope emerged from the house and got back into the car.
“What took you so long?” Crawford demanded. “I haven’t got all night!”