Saskatchewan’s most prolific yet largely anonymous serial killer died at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon on December 16, 2020.
John Martin Crawford, who would have turned 59 in March, has been in custody since January 1995 when he was charged with the murders of three Saskatoon women: Eva Taysup, Calinda Waterhen and 16-year-old Shelley Napope. He was convicted in June of 1996 and sentenced to three concurrent life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years. As is almost always the case, Correction Service Canada refused to provide much in the way of details surrounding the death of the man who also killed a woman in Lethbridge in the early 1980s. Crawford was just 19 when he murdered Mary Jane Serloin who was from the Peigan reserve near Fort MacLeod.
In fact, after the deputy warden refused to respond to questions, a media relations and outreach advisor stepped in and invited questions. Several days later she responded with a message that essentially said we can’t answer your questions.
So, unable to secure any answers about the circumstances surrounding the death of a 58-year-old man who violated dozens of women in the most horrific and obscene manner for more than two decades, in the name of protecting his privacy, we are left to speculate about how this beast departed this life to meet his maker.
But there are many other questions related to serial killer John Crawford that are left unanswered, although that’s not the fault of the Correction Service Canada minions.
At least two come to mind immediately; the unexplained disappearance of Shirley Lonethunder and the brutal murder of Janet Sylvestre. I devoted a chapter to each of these cases in Just Another Indian: A Serial Killer and Canada’s Indifference. There are likely other cases of missing women in Saskatchewan that Crawford may be responsible for, but there’s little or no chance a connection will ever be made since Crawford has left us, the RCMP won’t talk about it and anyone who may have direct knowledge of these crimes is not about to bring attention to themselves. Hello Bill Corrigan et al.
I found the mystery of Shirley Lonethunder chilling. A crime reporter at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix at the time, I still remember sitting down with Shirley’s uncle Elmer Lonethunder and sister Lorna at a coffee shop in Carlyle, one night in the winter of 1995.
Within minutes my head was spinning.
Elmer began to tell me about an encounter he’d had with a medicine man from Montana. He’d met Clifford Youngbear at a pow wow and the medicine man picked up on the fact that Elmer was troubled. When Shirley’s uncle explained that the family was worried about one of their relatives, Youngbear promised to ponder the circumstances. He did and a few months later he again chatted with Elmer Lonethunder.
This time he had a terrible story to tell. He spoke of a vision he’d had. He’d seen Shirley being picked up and driven to an area south of Saskatoon where she was murdered. Her body would be found in an area near a moon-shaped lake or slough, Youngbear said. The medicine man drew a crude map of where her body was lying.
The map was so similar to the layout of the Moon Lake area in which Crawford had dumped the bodies of Eva Taysup, Calinda Waterhen and Shelley Napope that it was mind-boggling.
Remember, Clifford Youngbear told Elmer of his vision months before the three bodies were found. He would have had no knowledge of the circumstances or location of these crimes.
Who would believe it?
Elmer Lonethunder was perplexed; he knew he should go to the police with this information, but he was wise enough to know that his chances of being taken seriously were slim. Fortunately, he found a listener in the person of a young First Nations RCMP officer who heard him out, wrote a report and awaited a response. Nothing happened.
After I came away from my meeting with Elmer and Shirley, I believed Elmer’s tale and what the medicine man had told him, but I feared I would have my hands full convincing my editor at the StarPhoenix that I had a story worthy of being printed. Elmer’s words had rattled around in my brain for several hours. So had Lorna Lonethunder’s comment: “A white person doesn’t know what we know,” she had reminded me.
To the credit of the city editor and any other editors who may have been involved, the story ran the next day, prominently featured with no major edits. We told it like it was: a medicine man is advising that the area around where three bodies were found should be re-visited based on a vision that indicated other women were buried there.
The response was predictable. The RCMP laughed the story off as National Enquirer style reporting. The electronic media in Saskatoon piled on, enthusiastically reporting the cops’ disdain for the provocative story. Only one of the Mounties, Al Keller, would go on record as saying there could be other bodies near John Crawford’s Moon Lake dumping ground and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do some type of excavation, but that story took a few days to emerge.
To this day, the Lonethunder family has had no closure and Shirley remains one of hundreds of missing Indigenous women.
I invite you to check out the Chapter Twelve: The Medicine Man’s Vision in Just Another Indian for the full story.
Stay tuned for my comments on the murder of Janet Sylvestre, another case that remains officially open, but has little chance of ever being closed.