by Bruce Cherney (part 2)
The “sensation” sprung by Simeon Czuby, during the December 28, 1898, Winnipeg Police Court (corner of King and James) preliminary hearing into the brutal murders of Wasyl Bojeczko and his four children, was his accusation that Wasyl Guszczak had accompanied him to the Stuartburn-area farmhouse and participated in the crime. In fact, Czuby named Guszczak as having devised the scheme to rob Bojeczko of $60.
In addition, Czuby said Guszczak had bought the .32-calibre revolver — still missing at the time Czuby implicated the other man — that he then used to kill at least two of the four children, who were aged between three and 10 years old. Guszczak then attacked the two boys and two girls with the axe later found at the crime scene. Czuby only admitted to twice striking Bojeczko with the axe. Despite using just two blows, Bojeczko’s head was nearly severed from his body.
Furthermore, Czuby admitted he had stolen money from Bojeczko.
Of course, Guszczak denied being involved in the October 14,1898, slaying of the father and his children.
Since Czuby was representing himself at the preliminary inquiry, he asked Guszczak: “Did you come to me after $25, part of the money?”
“I did not come for $25.”
“Did you say unless you give me $25 I will put all the trouble on you?”
“No, I did not.”
“Did you tell me that you wanted a part of the money that I had stolen?”
“No, I never spoke to you about the money.”
Czuby subsequently denied having purchased the revolver from Guszczak, and told Howell to ask about its whereabouts from Guszczak, “for he has it.”
With the end of testimony, Czuby was told he could make a statement to the court, although he was also warned that it could be used against him in any subsequent criminal trials. He began by saying Guszczak had bought the revolver and then plotted to kill Wasyl Bojeczko.
“Wasyl Guszczak came about the middle of the night on Friday (October 13) and knocked on the door. I came out of the house and took my clothes and went both of us to Bojeczko’s house and I started fighting with Bojeczko. While I was fighting the old man, Guszczak shot at the three children (there were actually four). After he shot them he took an axe and started chopping the children. After he got through killing the children he handed the axe to me and I struck the old man twice with the axe. Before the fighting started Bojeczko gave me the money; there was $50 wrapped up in a paper. As soon as we went through with the murder I went in my direction and Guszczak went in his direction.”
According to the Telegram (December 30), Guszczak went deathly pale as Czuby read out his statement, “and sweat could be seen standing upon his brow.”
When cross-examined by prosecutor Hector Mansfield Howell, Czuby elaborated on his statement, saying he had taken off his clothes and burned them in the bush about a quarter mile from his house and then walked home naked.
“We were crazy to kill those children,” he said.
With the conclusion of the inquiry, Guszczak was arrested, charged with the murders and taken into custody.
Philip Seel, the Pinkerton detective from Chicago who spoke Ukrainian and was instrumental in breaking the case, remarked to reporters following the preliminary inquiry that he had long suspected Guszczak was involved in the crime, but couldn’t obtain enough evidence to have the man arrested.
Although Guszczak was suspected by Seel, only Czuby initially confessed to his role in the murders and was charged and brought to Winnipeg where he was arraigned. In Winnipeg, Guszczak was merely a witness at the hearing with few suspecting that he was more deeply involved in the crime until the “sensation” sprung by Czuby.
It was alleged in local newspapers that Czuby only implicated Guszczak after the younger man lied at the inquest. It was claimed that Czuby was willing to be known as a mass murderer, but not a liar. Yet, Czuby had himself lied when he made his first confession in mid-December, by saying he was the sole participant in the crime. Whatever loyalty Czuby may have felt he owed Guszczak — they came to Canada together — ended when the latter testified in Winnipeg and told the hearing that he sold the revolver to Czuby before the murders were committed.
Guszczak would spring his own “sensation” when he confessed to the crime and then implicated his uncle, Ivan Pistenczak, in the murders. Guszczak actually made two confessions: one while in custody and another at a preliminary inquiry on January 16, 1899, in the Winnipeg Police Court. In both instances, he named Pistenczak as a murderer. It was after the first confession that Pistenczak was taken into custody in Stuartburn.
“True to precedent,” reported the January 17 Free Press, “Pistenczak is not at all backward in maintaining that he had nothing whatever to do with the affair. Against Guszczak’s statements, therefore, there are at present the confessions of Czuby and the protestations of Pistenczak himself.”
The newspaper was not convinced that the last accused was not complicate in the crime, alleging that Pistenczak would probably weaken and also confess, as had been the case with Czuby and Guszczak.
According to Guszczak’s confession, he and Pistenczak went to Czuby’s home on the evening of October 14 where they said to Czuby, “Shall we go to Bojeczko?”
They knocked on Bojeczko’s door and when he answered, he greeted them with, “Glory to Jesus Christ,” and not suspecting foul play asked them to share a “smoke.”
Once in the house, Czuby asked Bojeczko to lend him $10, but the man replied that he was not rich but a poor man who only had $25 to his name.
Next, Bojeczko was asked about the whereabouts of his wife to which he replied that she had gone away and he wasn’t sure where she was. At this point, Czuby was alleged by Guszczak to have told Bojeczko that he should beat his wife three times a day to keep her in line.
“Bojeczko replied that Czuby should not talk as he had killed one wife in Galicia and had married another one and everyone in the neighbourhood knew it” (Free Press, January 17, 1899).
They came to blows, with Czuby slapping Bojeczko’s face, according to Guszczak. In turn, Bojeczko grabbed a small stool intending to strike Czuby with it, but it was snatched away from him by Pistenczak.
“Bojeczko then took an axe and made use of a vile epithet. The axe was taken from him by Pistenczak who struck Bojeczko on the head with it and the latter fell to the floor.
“People what are you doing with me?” Guszczak claimed Bojeczko then cried out.
Pistenczak hit him again with the axe and then was alleged to have told the men to kill the children, and then emptied the revolver when firing at the children and then hacked them to death with the axe.
The revolver was finally recovered by the Manitoba Provincial Police (MPP) on January 6 after Guszczak was taken to Stuartburn and showed the police where it was hidden.
According to Guszczak, Czuby grabbed the money and they left the house. But Bojeczko was heard to be gasping for air, so Czuby returned to the house and finished him off with the axe.
On the way to Czuby’s farm, the three men divided the money they had stolen, “which consisted of three $20 bills and some change.” Guszczak claimed Czuby kept the change, while each man received a $20 bill.
Guszczak said he slept in Czerman’s haystack and went to Magistrate J.W. Yeo’s Stuartburn store to buy some tea, sugar and tobacco before going home in the morning.
When Pistenczak was questioned, “he obstinately denied any knowledge of the murders and maintained he had not seen Guszczak at all on the night in question.”
Guszczak’s parting comment was, “We three killed that family and I don’t want to ask any more questions as we all must die anyway.”
Pistenczak appeared before Winnipeg Police Magistrate Dawson on February 19, 1899, where he made a statement claiming to have had nothing to do with the crime.
“Whatever Guszczak says is not true,” he protested.
Pistenczak told the magistrate that on the night of the murders he had been working on the roof of his house until it was “so dark I could scarcely see.”
“We then had supper and I said my prayers and we all lay down to sleep.”
During the night, it began to rain and water came into the house from a window covered only with a board. The next morning, his wife told him to go to the store in town in order to buy a window pane to keep any future rain out of the house.
At Yeo’s store, he said he didn’t attempt to change a $20 bill as was alleged, claiming, “I never had a $20 bill in my life.”
After he saw the carnage in the Bojeczko home on Sunday, he said he went to Czuby’s house to see if he had also been killed, but he saw that Czuby was alive and well and in the company of Guszczak.
“I never went to Czuby’s after the murder for money. I borrowed $10 from Simeon’s son to buy some flour after the murder; this would be four or five weeks after the murder; I had $13.25 the day I went for the window; I paid $1.10 for what I bought at the store that day.”
He said he later bought 12 sacks of flour for $1.10 and two sacks of cornmeal for $1.40, a sack of oatmeal for $1.30, as well as potatoes for $3.
At the time of his arrest, he had just $1 on his person.
The only evidence alleged to link him to the crime was a red spot on a coat that was obtained from him on November 19, 1898, by interpreter Phillip Harvey. It was alleged that the spot was blood which Pistenczak had attempted to unsuccessfully scrape off.
(Next week: part 3)