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If you didn't know we have criminal merchandise available on our website, you can get T-shirts, tote bags and stickers and every now and then we've limited edition merchandise available to head did. This is criminal dotcom slash shop to get criminal merch now that this is criminal dotcom slash shop. Thanks very much for your support. We had a spate of freezing deaths in the month of January 2000 over the space of a couple of weeks, we would get these sort of sadly typical news releases from the city police that went along the lines of, you know, 28 year old person found frozen.
These were the general circumstances. We aren't naming them because it's not a violent death and that's just how they handled it. Dan Zakuski is a reporter for the CBC in 2000, he worked for the Star Phoenix newspaper in Saskatoon, Canada.
So that particular month it was the post Christmas newsroom doldrums. So I was assigned to take a look at one of these freezing deaths. There was a body found out by the city landfill, which is in sort of the southwest section of the city. It's a real, relatively isolated for the city. And I was assigned to put together sort of a best practices story on, you know, don't get drunk and try to walk home and develop a little bit of a feature on the individual who was frozen to try to put a human face on it.
So I had begun to do my research, and it started off by, first of all, trying to find out the individual's name. And it turned out to be a fellow named Lawrence Wagner, who was a social work student here in town and was reaching out to his family and trying to find his background while I was in the process of researching that my city editor hadn't gotten at the time, what seemed like this absolutely improbable tip that city police had been dropping people off on the outside of town, First Nations people.
Lawrence Wagner was the 30 year old First Nations member. His body was found frozen to death on February 3rd. But as Dan Zakuski learned, he'd gone missing three days earlier. Dan wanted to know who would last in Lawrence Wagner. He started knocking on doors and one of the doors that I knocked upon was a woman named Eliza Whitecap. And I knocked on her doorway and I said, you know, I had you heard anything about this?
The woman said that she did know Lawrence Wagner. He was her nephew.
And she goes, well, as a matter of fact, the night that he had gone missing that evening at freezing cold evening, he had knocked on my door way and my daughter had answered it. And he was clearly under the influence of some sort of intoxicant because he was basically in his shirt sleeves and jeans and he was yelling, pizza, pizza. So I had called the police, I being Iliza. And when she called the police, they said the nine one one operator told her that somebody else had already called about him and police had been dispatched.
So that was really the sort of terrible aha moment because I had a clear connection involving the police and Mr. Wagner. He had come into contact with the police the night that he had died.
Lawrence Wagner was found in a remote industrial area by a power plant, a place nobody walked, especially in the winter.
And when Dan started looking into things, he noticed that another freezing death had been reported in the same area.
A First Nations man named Rodney Anestis had been found there on January 29th. Two men's bodies, both frozen to death, found in the same place in the same week and then on February 4th, a man came forward and said he'd been dropped off on the outskirts of town, but he had made it back alive. I'm Phoebe Judge. This is criminal. Darrell Knight was the First Nations man, he was 33 at the time, Dansa Kreisky says the Saskatoon police knew Darrell well.
He was getting picked up frequently by them. Intoxicated, aggressive abuse of would be put in a cruiser, would be taken downtown, spend the night and the drunk tank released the next day. And then it was sort of shampoo, rinse, repeat.
In the early hours of January 28th, Darrell Knight had been at his uncle's apartment. They'd fought. And around dawn, two police officers found Darrell Knight outside the apartment intoxicated and yelling. Darrell Knight later said the officers handcuffed him and put him in the back seat.
His account was his put into the back of this cruiser. And he knows almost immediately that he's not being driven to the police station because it's the opposite direction. And I recall speaking to him and he said the car got real quiet. You know, he he realized something was up. I think he was, you know, concerned that I was just going to lead to a beating. Was he going to be shot? He didn't know what was going on.
You know, you're in this cruiser and you think the cruiser should be going north and it's going south. And instead of heading towards the bright lights, you're heading out into the darkness and you've got these two police officers in the front seat who aren't talking to you. They're just driving you was a terrifying experience for him.
Darrell Knight later said that the police drove him to a remote area and told him to get out of the car. He told the police he thought he would freeze to death. And according to Darrell Knight, one of the officers said, that's your problem. And the police car drove away.
He later said, I thought I was dead. All those rumors I heard in the past, they were all coming true when we first started reporting on this phenomena of what was happening.
I can remember a First Nations guy telling me, oh, it's just a Starlight tour.
And we'd heard versions of this in the past. You know, the idea being that police would pick a person up who was intoxicated. They don't want to take him into the station because that involves a lot of paperwork. This fellow was thrown in jail. So they'll think, oh, look, instead of taking you into the police station and charging you, we'll just take you somewhere and you can walk it off. So was kind of an open secret.
What's problematic is if you're dealing with somebody who's really intoxicated and it's 30 below and you take them somewhere, they might not make it back. So the scenario that was presented to us, the tip was that police had, in fact done this, taken a person to the edge of town in really cold weather and dropped them off and they never made it back in.
When we're talking really cold weather in Saskatoon in January, what temperature are we talking?
It would be, I guess, you know, simply for comparison purposes, 40 below, which is, you know, 40 below Celsius and 40 below Fahrenheit are the same.
So 40 below freezing cold. You can die. You know, if it's windy out, you'll get frostbite on your face in a matter of minutes. So this is full on Parker Parker weather. Yeah, it's the type of weather where if you're not careful, you can die whether you're intoxicated or not. So at this point, the police. Was it the idea that the police, most of the police department is just finding out that, wait a second, there are some officers have been doing this or was it?
Oh, no, we've always known this and now everyone else knows it, too.
I think within the service back in around 2000, it was I think I would characterize it as a mature police service, you know, in the sense that the average age of the officers and the years of experience was a little bit older.
You know, they ran there and they did their business the way they did their business. They weren't under a lot of scrutiny. So just within the police service, they were trying to figure out, well, who was working that night, who was in that particular sector of the city. Is it conceivable that they would have dropped them off? How widespread is this?
On February 7th, two constables for the Saskatoon Police Force, Dan Hachiken and Ken Munson, admitted that they had picked up Darryl Knight, driven him to a remote area and left him there. Three days later, they were suspended with pay. And then the Saskatoon police chief announced he was ordering a homicide investigation into the deaths of Rodney Anestis and Lawrence Wegner and another investigation into the claims made by Darryl Knight. The Saskatchewan Justice Department called in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to take over the investigations.
Dansa Kreisky remembers feeling like the whole thing was starting to explode.
I can remember driving home in my car and seeing police cars and being nervous thinking, are they following me because I'm doing this story? Have we uncovered this this horrible practice that's been going on? It was an awful experience and and trying to think, how far back did it go? I mean, even something as simple, as simple as maybe the wrong word.
But when I was doing the research on Lawrence Wagner, you know, trying to do the death by misadventure story, going back on our files and finding out about Rodney Neistat, which had happened like right at the same time. And I had just never connected the dots because it just seemed like another freezing death. And then all of a sudden you have to First Nations guys found frozen right in the same area of town, right on the same weekend with Daryl Knight.
It was terrifying. Like it just seemed like we went from nothing to anything was possible.
Is there any thought about how many people were taken on these Starlight tours? My gosh, once we broke the story, the phone lines just lit up from people in the First Nations community calling and not just within Saskatoon from around the province are saying, oh, yeah, this happens all the time. But nobody ever believed us when we told people, you know, were socially and economically disadvantaged First Nations, people being taken out by the state, by the representatives of the state.
You know, who's going to believe us? White reporters aren't going to believe us. That was just sort of their world.
Dan Zakuski remembers that one day his colleague Less Perreault was going back through the newspaper's archives looking for mentions of freezing deaths or First Nations men found in remote areas.
I remember vividly sitting at my desk in the star Phoenix newsroom and lo and behold, he got back to 1991 and I'm sitting there and he just sort of makes this noise of great surprise. And I turn and look at him and he goes, Neil Storen child, and he turns around and holds up our scrapbook. And there was the page one story on, you know, family concerned with teens, suspicious death. And it was all there, all the elements of the concerned families.
The disturbing set of facts were all there basically a decade earlier.
While the Saskatoon Police Service was under scrutiny, there was one man inside the police service who was doing a sort of investigation of his own and the northern Ontario kid very respectful of the court and and its power, its very powerful thing that it just bugged me, like how did this kid end up there?
And I thought, well, when I get back to work, I'll find out what's going on.
This is Arnie looted at the time. He was a constable for the Saskatoon Police Service when you started with the Saskatoon Police Force.
How many First Nations officers were there?
There was two ahead of me. I was the third one. So.
And what percent would you say that was of the full force of one percent? There's about 350 officers. I think when I started and it was the same pretty much across the board. I think was maybe 10 or 15 women at the time with sustained. And I got hired. There is one Asian Canadian. There was one African Canadian. And that was about it for us. The guys were white guys, lots of farmers, lots of farmers, kids, lots of hockey players.
And I chose to work in the places and them where the first Asian population was really high and just became an identifiable person.
You didn't have to like me, but you knew who I was.
And that made such a difference. So I end up pretty much taking a patrol for my entire career.
Only it was familiar with 17 year old Neil Stone child and his 14 year old brother, Jake. They were both of First Nations members. The Stone Child brothers had had multiple run ins with the police for petty theft, drinking and breaking probation. Both boys had spent time in youth detention centres. Ernie found it very odd that Neil Stone child would be found by himself in such a remote area wearing only one shoe when the temperatures were so far below freezing.
The local paper reported that his blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit and his cause of death was listed as hypothermia. He was last seen five days before his body was found. Ernie wanted to see what was in the Saskatoon police file, which he wasn't supposed to be looking at because he wasn't a detective, he looked it up anyway.
It went back to the police station and found the file number on the computer and against regulations. Had the girls pulled the file because I had no no involvement in it.
The girls from Central Records of the Ladies Society Records, and they pulled it for me and I because it wasn't my fault.
We caught reading a detective's file, especially on a Sunday, because, you know, sudden homicides were supposed to be really not not perused by patrolmen because in case you learned something you didn't didn't weren't supposed to learn, whatever, Ernie made a photocopy of the file and took it home with him.
And I read this report, it was 26 or I can't remember how many pages, 27 wasn't wasn't very long. And most of it's just your initial responding officers and all stuff like that. And they get to the investigation of it.
And it was concluded it the investigator concluded that the Elstone child had wandered.
It was going up to the adult correctional centre to turn himself in on some outstanding warrants he had.
And I knew right off the bat that that was that was ludicrous. It was for when he was a young offender in Canada, young offenders at 18 and under. And there they don't get housed at adult institutions.
So basically said that he was walking to the wrong facility to turn himself in and he froze to death.
Basically, that was the conclusion Ernie went to see Neil's mother, Stella Bignall.
The last time Stella had seen Neil was the night of November 24th. Five days later, the police showed up at her door and told her his body had been found. She told Ernie that she couldn't get any updates from the police and that she couldn't get anyone to give her back her son's belongings. She felt like no one was listening to her. Ernie says he made up his mind that he was going to try to help. First, he went to a staff sergeant.
He says that didn't go well. He was told to speak with Sergeant Keith Jarvis. Sergeant Jarvis had been with the Saskatoon Police Service for 24 years and he had been in charge of the investigation into Neil St. Child's death, he'd close the file and I went in to certain services office and it went bad.
From the minute I walked in the door, you could tell I was I was the last person he wanted to see.
What did you say when you walked in? I said, I have information about the destiny of St. Charles. And he was instantly angry. He you know, he says, what are you doing meddling in this kind of thing?
And that went on for 45 minutes and basically told me I didn't know what I was talking about, that I shouldn't be meddling in things I don't know anything about, nothing.
I can remember what that meeting was even remotely good. There is no thanks for bringing this information in, you know, looking into it, blah, blah, blah. Nothing.
Just 45 minutes later, if he knew what my concerns were, he pretty much told me that that would keep my nose out of it, that the things get out to me.
And and that's such an open statement, right, that things can happen to you. And when you're covered, it could be a lot of things. It could be you could be sidelined into a front desk position. You could be you know, I'm not right. Anyway, it was so I left there and I was I was incredibly frustrated.
I thought, well, you know, there's no way they could not do something. Now, I've given him all the information I had, you know, whether it was hearsay or not, it was still worthy of of having to look at it.
And there's I thought there's got you know, they're going to contact Steller and at least reopen us or take a second harder look at or at least a supervisor would.
But I went back and seen Stella my next shift and she said no one had been this year at all and that nothing had changed.
And I said to her, I said, if I was a white kid, I said, ah, the son of the mayor. I said, I'm sure this won't be closed. And you know, whether you'll be treated better than I was. I was just it was such to me. It was such poor, poor policing. A few months after Neil St. Charles body was found, the star Phoenix ran a story with the headline Family Suspects Foul Play.
Police say every avenue investigated. That was the article that Dan and his colleague Les Perot found a decade later when they were digging through the paper's archives. They decided to put Neil Stone child back in the newspaper on the front page. Nearly ten years after his death, they put his picture and his story just above a story about the suspected role of Saskatoon police officers in the deaths of Rodney Anestis and Lawrence Wagner.
Inquests were just getting underway into those cases, and juries would end up concluding that the men died of hypothermia but failed, quote, to determine the circumstances leading to the death. In the case of Daryl Knight, the man who had survived being dropped off by police, an all white jury, seven men and five women found constables Dan Hachiken and Ken Munson guilty of unlawful confinement. They were sentenced to eight months in a low security correctional facility. With all this going on, there was a lot of renewed interest in the circumstances surrounding Neil St.
Charles death. Federal police started looking into it. But there is a problem no one could find the police report from the initial investigation in 1990, the file had been purged.
That was it was a rumor at first. And I didn't pay attention to it because we were just there were so many rumors going around at the time. So I heard that the file had been purged in a routine purge of files 10 years or older and assisting police service when they were trying to free up space in our old police station.
So I got interviewed a whole bunch of times because I by then they'd learn that I had information about it. So I had my notes, all the notes I had, and they showed it to them, shown to them, and got interviewed by the RCMP several times. And all during this while this was going on, of course, last police became the kind of focus of the national attention in Canada. And of course, there is accusations of racism and murder and all these things.
The RCMP is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada's federal law enforcement agency says he was willing to talk to them. The case have been bothering him for years.
He remembered his conversations with Neil Stone, child's mother and brother, and remembered thinking that something didn't seem right. And then one day in 2001, Ernie was looking for something in his basement going through old boxes. When he opened a box that he hadn't opened in 10 years and it was sitting there with a copy of Neil St.George Report. You had forgotten that you saved it? Yeah, I had it made possible associates call our ticket box for so long and I took it out and just brought it home and I put it in my very box and it was the only report in existence.
And I called the RCMP guy right away and I called our deputy chief and the sustained police service and got a gun in my truck, drove downtown, gave it to them and they photocopied it.
What were you thinking? Were you thinking, you know, thank God I saved this? Or are you thinking I'm going to get an even more trouble now?
Or, you know, I thought I thought I was going to be in trouble, actually, because, you know, you weren't supposed to take reports for this one. Always bug me. So I always kept it.
Yeah, I you know, I kind of felt jeopardy there. There's a few times through this whole course of all this, I felt Jeopardy just for breaking the rules or whatever the case was. But this one here, I knew when they filed a report that it was going to change things for for me, it was going to change things for a lot of people.
But I was happy in one respect that I was trying to articulate what my concerns were to the RCMP and stuff like that. And there it was in black and white.
Reporter Dan Zakuski Ernie was able to produce original documentary evidence that just showed how badly the police service had had screwed up that investigation. He played an incredible part and he had an insight into how it wasn't handled.
In February 2003, Saskatchewan's justice minister announced there would be an official inquiry into the death of Neil Stone child. The inquiry started in September. There would be 43 days of testimony and 63 people would testify. So a lot of work in the inquiry went into trying to establish or come up with a set of facts on what happened the evening that Neil Stone child went missing.
And again, this was, you know, happening at a time in the police service when, you know, we didn't have in-car cameras, we didn't have GPS units in the cars. So it was difficult to have kind of an objective standard of, you know, who was where and when.
According to the original investigative report, the one that Ernie had photocopied and had been filed by Sergeant Jarvis back in 1990, no member of the police force had any contact with Neil Stone child on the night of his death.
But during the inquiry, Neil's friend Jason Roy testified that he'd seen Neil in a police car that night, Jason said Neil had been yelling, Help me, these guys are going to kill me.
Jason Roy testified. He told Sergeant Jarvis about seeing Neil in a police car, but none of this made it into the report.
Several of Neil's family members testified that they'd seen gashes and bruises on Neil's face at the funeral and marks on his wrists. Only LeWitt testified for two days.
What did you say when you testified?
I was. So I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I was soundly criticized assisting police in their investigative procedures and how, you know, how Neil St. Charles in particular was investigated. I talked about the environment back then and the way his death was investigated was.
Was awful and the way his family was treated was awful. Did anyone say, you know, your turncoat or do you don't do that to. I'd say. Most everybody that I worked with, like my generation of officers, were supportive. All right, some of the older cops were not. But I don't want to paint all those guys with the same brush. There is a lot of good police officers back there. And just I hardly, I suppose, because where I was working, I, I dealt with more of the ones that weren't.
But yeah, lost, lost friends, made friends, even. You know, I think that self-preservation thing kicked in. A lot of police just didn't want to talk about it. Right.
And and even years later for me now, there's still police officers retired that say he should quit talking about this Neil St. Charles thing. Right. And for a while, you know, I think are they right or should I stop talking it? And then I thought about it. No, it was an important story.
And I at the end of the inquiry and kind of skipping to a head here, but at the end of the inquiry.
The justice right, who had overseen the inquiry, released his report, which five months after the inquiry ended and my wife and I were sitting at home and the prime minister was releasing it and and just as right. Stated that he believed that to sustain police constables had Neil St. Charles in their custody on the night that he died. And it was shocking. Here's Dansa Kransky, they lost their jobs, there was never enough evidence to lead to criminal charges, but they were tagged as the guys who had, for lack of a better expression, killed Millstone child.
And not everybody believed it. You know, the police association, the chronology that was put together, it was a tough set of facts all around. But these fellows, you know, we look back on it. They paid for the sins of the Saskatoon Police Service in Neil Stolen Child's Death. I think the really damning part of the stolen child inquiry, though, was when the family came forward, how the investigation was just blown off. There was no investigation, and that became a real systemic issue.
Justice Wright called Sergeant Jarvis's investigation superficial and totally inadequate. He made a series of recommendations to the Saskatoon Police Service.
They included in-depth training about race and that the province, quote, established an introductory program for Aboriginal candidates and candidates from minority communities for police services. Do you think that the deaths would have been investigated earlier if it hadn't been First Nations people? I don't know, it's it doesn't. In all probability, I'm hesitating because it doesn't speak well for media as well, certainly within the First Nations community.
There was a sense that, oh, you're just waking up to this now was an eye opener for a lot of people, myself included.
I think this will be the first time that most people in the United States will have heard about this.
In June of 2003, then police chief Russell Sabo apologized on behalf of the Saskatoon police force.
He also said, quote, It's quite conceivable there were other times he said that in 1976, an officer was disciplined for driving a native woman to the outskirts of town and abandoning her there in 2016.
Dan Zakuski was contacted by a college student trying to write a paper on the Saskatoon Police Service.
The student told Dan he couldn't find anything about the Starlight Tours on the Saskatoon Police Services Wikipedia page.
And when he checked back, he found out that it had actually been edited out. Apparently, that's one of the features of Wikipedia, as you can see the edits. And he did some digging. And we verify this, that the Starlight Tours section had been edited out by somebody at the police station. Now, what we were able to determine was the police were sort of caught dead to rights.
You know, they acknowledged that, yes, the IP addresses as to where these edits were done trace us back to the station. But they were never able to determine who or where in the station happened. Their Internet logs were wiped every 30 days just because of the amount of traffic. So they admitted that somebody in the station, for whatever reason, had decided to take that particular part of their history out. And it was very embarrassing for them because, you know, you're 16 years past the inquiry and all that stuff.
And yet there was clearly still people within the station who just didn't want that to be known. We contacted the Saskatoon Police Service for the story and received the following statement from the current police chief, Troy Cooper. All recommendations made as part of the inquiry into Neil St. Child's death were implemented by the Saskatoon Police Service. There's been a great deal of change within the service over the last six years, including training, recruiting and relationship building with members of the indigenous community.
We continue to look for ways to strengthen those relationships. The majority of our officers currently serving were hired after the 2004 inquiry and after the changes were implemented. Our service supports calls for an independent oversight body.
Criminalist created by Lauren Spor and me, Naomi Wilson is our senior producer, Susanna Roberson is our system producer, audio mix by Rob Byers. Special thanks to Michele Harris. Julian Alexander makes original illustrations for each episode of Criminal. You can see them at This is criminal. Com. We're on Facebook and Twitter at criminal show. Criminal is recorded in the studios of North Carolina Public Radio WNYC, where proud member of Radio Topia from PUREX, a collection of the best shows around, including brand new shows like This Day in Esoteric Political History.
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