Tag Archives: Canadian


AA3Albert Johnson, known as the Mad Trapper of Rat River, was a murderer and a fugitive from the largest manhunt in the history of Canada, leading a posse of Mounties through the Arctic on a six week, winter wilderness chase in 1932. He killed one Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and wounded two others before dying from police bullets in a firefight on a frozen river. Today, the Mad Trapper tale is symbolic of the North American frontier. He is an icon. A legend. But was he really Albert Johnson? Find out what modern forensic science tells us.

AA14The story began on July 9th, 1931, in the Northwest Territories when a stranger arrived in Fort McPherson. Constable Edgar Millen of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police routinely questioned the newcomer who identified himself as ‘Albert Johnson’ but provided no other personal information. Millen satisfied his responsibility to ensure Johnson was equipped for survival in a frontier land with sufficient money and supplies but thought it odd that Johnson declined to buy a trapping license. He noted Johnson was slight of stature, clean in appearance, and spoke with a Scandinavian accent.

Albert Johnson ventured far into the McKenzie Delta and built a small, log cabin on the banks of the Rat River where he reclused. Come the winter, local natives found their traps being raided and concluded the only suspect was Albert Johnson. They complained to the RCMP in Aklavik, causing two Mounties to dog-sled 60 miles through waist-deep snow, arriving at Johnson’s cabin on December 26th, 1931. Johnson was there but refused to speak, forcing the police to return to Aklavik and get a search warrant.

On December 31st four Mounties returned to Rat River. As they attempted to force into Albert Johnson’s shack, he shot at them with a 30-30 Savage rifle, seriously wounding a constable. The police retreated to form a larger posse.

AA1They came back with nine, heavily-armed men, forty-two dogs, and twenty pounds of dynamite. Johnson again opened fire, causing the police to hurl in explosives which blew the cabin apart. Rather than himself also being in pieces, Johnson emerged from a foxhole under the cabin and blasted back with his rifle. A 14-hour standoff, in -40F temperatures, took place until the posse backed-off to Aklavik for more help.

A severe blizzard delayed the return, but on January 14th, 1932, a huge squad of police and civilians arrived to find Albert Johnson long gone. The pursuers caught up with Johnson two weeks later far up the Rat River where Johnson opened fire from a thicket of trees on the bank and shot Constable Edgar Millen dead. Again the police retreated.

AA11By now the news of the manhunt had reached the outer world through an emerging medium called radio. Listeners all over Canada, the United States, and the world, were fixed to their sets to hear the latest on the cat and mouse game between a lone, deranged bushman and the might of the famed Canadian Mounties who ‘always got their man’. It was like the OJ Simpson case of the time.

The ‘Arctic Circle War’ represented the end of one era and the beginning of another as the police turned to technology to capture Albert Johnson. They embedded radio into another new tactic – the airplane. World War One flying ace W.R. ‘Wop’ May and his Bellanca monoplane were hired to find Johnson from the air and radio his position to the dogsled and snowshoe team on the ground.

On February 14, May spotted Johnson on the Eagle River in the Yukon Territory, confirming Johnson had traveled an incredible 150 miles, crossing a 7,000-foot mountain pass in white-out conditions, in temperatures with windchill hitting 60 below Fahrenheit. He’d eluded his trackers by wearing snowshoes backward and mingling with migrating caribou herds.

AA7The police overtook Johnson on a river bend on February 17th, 1932. It ended in a mass of bullets leaving another Mountie seriously wounded and Albert Johnson, the Mad Trapper of Rat River, dead on the snow.

They sledded Johnson’s body back to Aklavik where it was examined, fingerprinted, and photographed. Remarkably, dental examination showed sophisticated, gold bridgework which indicated this man, age estimated at 35 – 40, came from an affluent background. In his effects was $2,410 in Canadian money (worth $34,000 today) but absolutely no documents on his identification. An extensive investigation ensued to find his true identity. His death photos and description were circulated word wide, causing some leads to come in, but nothing definite. No one came forward to claim the body and ‘Albert Johnson’ was buried in a perma-frost grave near the village of Aklavik.

Here are the GPS coordinates for significant Mad Trapper locations.

These latitudes and longitudes can be plugged into iTouch Maps for satellite viewing. https://itouchmap.com/latlong.html

  1. Cemetery / Gravesite at Aklavik:   +68.222979N   -135.010579W
  2. Trapper’s Cabin on Rat River:  +67.713444N  –135.127873W
  3. Settlement of Fort McPherson:  +67.436700N  -134.88100W
  4. Richardson Mountain Pass:  +67.278236N  -136.122161W
  5. Eagle River Death Scene:  +67.165926N  -137.172716W

AA12The Mad Trapper case was of enormous public interest, many sympathizing how a loner – almost super-human – could endure the environment, living off the land for forty-eight days and outwitting some of the most bush-wise and toughest people of the time. As with the mystery of Albert Johnson’s identity, so was the question of his motive.

Over the years, a number possible identities were offered for who ‘Albert Johnson’ really was.

AA8The most widely accepted theory was Arthur Nelson, a prospector who was known to be in British Columbia from 1927 to 1931 and had left for the Arctic. Photos of Nelson appeared to be a dead-ringer for ‘Albert Johnson’ and descriptions of Nelson’s effects (rifle, pack, and clothing) were identical to those recovered from Johnson.

Another promising lead was a man known as John Johnson, a Norwegian bank robber who’d done time in Folsom Prison. Again, the physical description was similar and the Scandinavian accent noted by Constable Millen seemed to fit.

The Johnson family of Nova Scotia identified the Mad Trapper as their lost relative, Owen Albert Johnson, who was last heard of in British Columbia in the late 1920’s. Again all the pieces fit – physical appearance, personal effects, and disposition.

AA6Sigvald Pedersen Haaskjold was suggested as being the real ‘Albert Johnson’. Haaskjold, who was last seen in northern British Columbia in 1927, was a recluse who was paranoid of authorities because he’d evaded conscription in the First World War. He’d built a fortress-like cabin near Prince Rupert before disappearing. Once more the looks, age, accent, and mentality fit the Trapper’s profile.

As with advances in 1930’s technology like the radio and the airplane which tracked ‘Albert Johnson’ down, forensic technology in the twenty-first century came into play for a once-and-for-all attempt at solving the mystery of who the Mad Trapper of Rat River really was.

AA10In 2007, seventy-five years after his death, ‘Albert Johnson’ was exhumed for another look. As part of a Discovery Channel documentary, a team of eminent scientists including forensic odontologist and DNA extraction expert Dr. David Sweet, forensic pathologist Dr. Sam Andrews, and forensic archeologist Dr. Owen Beattie, examined the skeletonized remains.

This forensic story is every bit as exciting as the hunt for the Trapper himself.

It took a pile of wrangling to get legal approval for exhumation, then obtain the consent of native peoples who laid claim to the land in which the Trapper was interred. Due to permafrost, there was only a slight window of time when the archeological dig could be made. And the exact location of the grave was in doubt.

AA9Perseverance came down to the last available day when the team and film crew zeroed-in on a shallow grave with a rotten, wooden casket. Using archeological skill and precision, the forensic scientists carefully detached the lid and exposed a perfectly preserved male skeleton. There were no longer traces of flesh or fabric, but what gleamed in their faces was gold bridgework from a sneering skull. Dr. Sweet used dental records made in 1932 to positively identify the ghostly remains as that of the Mad Trapper.

The team cataloged the bones, making three interesting observations. One was a deformity in the spine which led to questions as to how the man could have performed the physical feats described in legend. Second was that one foot was considerably longer than the other, again questioning his mobility. And third was the entry and exit marks of a bullet path through the pelvis which was consistent to the reported fatal wound.

AA13The team had the right remains but were no further ahead in determining identity. Dr. Sweet sectioned the Trapper’s right femur and extracted bone marrow samples as well as pulling four teeth for DNA examination. The remains were replaced in a new casket and re-interred in the original grave.

Back at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Sweet and his colleagues developed a perfect DNA profile of the Trapper. Extensive field investigation located relatives of the primary suspects – Arthur Nelson, John Johnson, Owen Albert Johnson, and Sigvald Pedersen Haaskjold. Descendant DNA profiles were developed for these men and compared to the known biological signature of the Trapper.

And guess who’s DNA matched?

AA4No one’s.

All four suspects were conclusively eliminated by modern forensic technology as being the Mad Trapper – as were a number of other remote possibilities. One sidenote is that oxygen isotopes developed from the teeth enamel indicated that the Trapper originated from either the mid-western United States or from Scandinavia.

So who really was Albert Johnson, the Mad Trapper of Rat River?

The mystery of who lies in the Aklavik grave remains unsolved.

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Here are links to the fascinating made-for-television documentary on the forensic exhumation of the Mad Trapper’s skeleton.



And author Barbara Smith wrote The Mad Trapper – Unearthing a Mystery which documents the forensic adventure.  Click Here


“Surround yourself with other authors who are reaching for the same things you are,” advises award-winning author Steena Holmes, whose novels have sold over one million copies and landed her on the New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon Top 10 BestSeller lists. I’m so pleased to have Steena Holmes, a fellow Canadian writer, as a guest on DyingWords.

AE2At lot has changed since 2011 in the realm of publishing. So much that if you’re still reading blog posts dating back to 2011, you should realize that they are old and outdated. The publishing world has changed so much that it’s almost hard to keep up.

There are a few constants in the publishing world, however, that remain the same.

  • Write a good book.

  • Ensure that book is edited and has a quality cover.

  • Social media is a necessity in today’s world – you no longer can hide under that rock and assume others are going to market for you.

  • Brand is important. Essential even.

  • Your readers want the same thing they have always wanted. Your next quality book.

AE17There are things that have changed. How we can market ourselves. Amazon’s algorithms, where to sell your books, where to promote, where not to promote and… do we need a pen name still.

Honestly – whether you have a pen name or not is up to you. Some people need them – they write a genre that wouldn’t be acceptable in their line of work (teachers writing erotic anyone…). Some people have also found that creating a pen name and starting over has given them a fresh breath of life with their books and you’ll find names skyrocketing the markets today that you never heard of before.

It’s up to you.

There’s really no right or wrong answer to this question.

AE11I used to have a pen name. I don’t anymore. Everything I write is under my name, my brand, and everything I write is part of my brand. Yes, our brands change, they should…it means your writing is growing. It means you’re understanding yourself, your writing, your readers a little bit more than before, and that’s a good thing.

AE10Can we all just agree to stop arguing about this. If YOU feel that a pen name is necessary for YOU and YOUR brand…then go for it. If you don’t, then don’t do it. Regardless, you will still need to brand yourself, you will still need to find your readers, you will still need to write your books.

You can do searches and find blog posts and website articles dedicated to this one subject. If you are a writer in a writer’s group, you can ask this same question “do I need a pen name” and you’ll get a multitude of responses. Everyone has an opinion and everyone’s opinion is different and their own.

Think about this: Why do you need a pen name?

What is the reason for it? Is it because you’re writing in different genres that you don’t think will mesh together? Are you worried about your fan base, if your readers will follow you from one genre to the other?

AE15Remember this…no matter what book you write, you will still need to promote you and your brand.

Everything you do, everything you write should be under that brand you’ve created. It’s up to you to decide if your readers can handle you writing YA and Horror at the same time (I’m sure they can), or even sweet romance and erotic romance.

AE3Maybe the real question isn’t whether you need a pen name but whether you know how to brand yourself.

Just my thoughts…from someone who has been there, done that, and had to wear multiple T-shirts because she couldn’t decide what she was going to do or how to do it. 

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AE1Steena Holmes is the Top 10 New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon million-selling author of nineteen books including four series.

Steena, like me, grew up in a small Canadian town where there wasn’t much to do but ride your bike, hang out with friends, and daydream. She always wanted to write but never dreamed it was something she could do as a career. She loves to travel and fell in love with the sheep covered hillside, old castles, and romantic history of Scotland and England.

AE4Steena dreams about waking up in Tuscany and touring small town shops in the south of France with her husband, of placing her toes in the ocean, and experiencing history first hand. As a mother with three daughters, she says she’s learning that teaching them to pursue their dreams is a lasting legacy.

She loves to wake up to the Rocky Mountains near her home in Calgary, Alberta, will forever enjoy the taste of coffee and chocolate, and can’t imagine the day when a story doesn’t unfold in her heart. “Living a life with passion and pursuing dreams is a life well lived,” she believes.

Here’s more advice for aspiring writers from Steena Holmes:

AE18“Surround yourself with other indie authors who are reaching for the same things you are. Always be willing and wanting to learn and don’t stop writing. Stop focusing so much on the promotion and focus instead on your words…nothing sells a book better than the next book – and even though we’ve all heard that, it’s so true! And don’t forget your readers. Above all else – don’t forget your readers!”

Follow @SteenaHolmes on Twitter: https://twitter.com/steenaholmes 

Like Steena on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SteenaHolmes.Author?fref=photo

Visit her website at: http://www.steenaholmes.com/


Louise Penny is a Canadian crime-fiction / mystery writer and international BestSelling author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. Louise graciously shares her thoughts behind her phenomenal success and on what it takes to get recognized in today’s traditional publishing world.

AA1ALike most writers – I was turned down more often than I care to remember, or cared to admit to my agent. Now, when it’s too late for her to dump me, I might as well admit it. A few things would have helped had I known them earlier. This is a small attempt to make your life a little easier, if you’re an unpublished author.

First – finish the book. Most people who start books never finish them. Don’t be one of those. Do it, for God’s sake. You have nothing to fear – it won’t kill you. It won’t even bite you. This is your dream – this is your chance. You sure don’t want to be lying on your death bed regretting you didn’t finish the book.

Read a lot.

AA2ARead books on writing and getting published. I read Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton and published by Writers Digest. I also read Bestseller by Celia Brayfield and a bunch of other books including The Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published.

If this is your first time writing a book – why would you assume you know what you’re doing? Why put that sort of pressure and expectation on yourself? You might very well have an innate appreciation of character and structure and pacing. Some people do, and don’t need these books. Frankly, I’m not totally sure how much good they did me. But I know for sure they did no harm. And it was comforting to ‘listen’ to other writers and know they struggled with the same things. I felt much less alone and inept.

‘The cure for writer’s cramp is writer’s block.’
Inigo DeLeon

I suffered from writer’s block for many years. Terror had taken hold. I was afraid that, once tested, I’d prove my worst fear true – I was a terrible writer. What cured me was a sudden realization that I was taking myself way too seriously. And that I was trying to write the best book ever published in the history of the world. And if I didn’t, I was a failure.

I decided instead to just have fun with it. To write what I loved to read. And to people the book with characters I’d want as friends.

AA3Clearly we all choose our own characters – but make sure you’re going to want to spend lots of time with them. They don’t have to be attractive, kind, thoughtful. But they do need to be compelling. Look at Scarlet O’Hara. A petty, jealous, willful, vindictive character, almost without redeeming traits, whose tragedy is her failure to change. But she’s riveting.

‘Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.’
Cyril Connolly

Be true to yourself.

Write what you want – even if friends and relatives think you’re nuts. And – be very careful who you show the first draft to. Once finished, I’d strongly suggest you make a list of ‘readers’, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, who’ll read your work and critique it. This is a crucial stage. But remember, your ‘baby’ is fragile – as is your ego at this stage.

AA4Mine certainly was. I’d invested so much of myself a too harsh criticism or cruel critique (always said with a knowing smile) could have made me toss the whole thing away. I wish I could sit here and tell you I was strong and determined and centred and courageous about the first draft of STILL LIFE, but I wasn’t. And you’re probably not absolutely sure your first book is any good either.

Here’s the trick.

You need to get it into the hands of other people. You need to be open to criticism and guidance and suggestions. But you need to choose those people wisely. Some people are simply petty. Some people see it as their God-given purpose to find fault. This process isn’t about finding fault. Frankly anyone can do that. It’s facile. No book is perfect. It’s about making the book even stronger. You need supportive, encouraging, thoughtful readers. People who’ll offer critiques in a kind and constructive way and who understand the difference between truth and opinion.

‘A good writer must be willing to kill her young.’

A novel should be more than 70,000 words in length.

AA5BPublishers and agents judge length not by the number of pages, but by the number of words. Your computer will have a word count option. In Microsoft Word it’s under the ‘tools’ heading. You might aim for between 60 and 90-thousand words for a first book. There are always exceptions – some very successful debuts are mammoth, but you’re simply making it more difficult to find a publisher. Still, more than anything, you need to be true to yourself. If it needs to be 150,000 words, then go for it. But my first draft was 168,000 words. I cut it in half and it made the book much stronger. Once my ego and pride was set aside I was able to kill my darlings.

‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent you’ll receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’
Isaac Asimov

Persevere. Believe in yourself.

If you’ve actually finished your first book – well, you’re AMAZING!

AA16You’re already so far ahead of the pack they can barely see your dust! Most people never even start that first book. Of the few that do, most never finish. If you’ve actually finished, well done! Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, the pact you made with yourself, probably as a child, is complete. You wrote the book. You did it. And, if it’s never published, you should have no regrets. I’m serious.

You’ve accomplished something most people only dream of.

Still, chances are, you want to get it out there, and why not. Here’s how I did it, and my suggestions – remembering that every writer has their own story and no one of us is ‘right’ – it’s just our opinion and experience.

Make sure your manuscript is as good as you can get it. Edit. Edit. Edit!

‘Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’, otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.’
C.S. Lewis

Print out a copy for yourself. When you think you’ve finished set it aside for a few weeks then sit down and read the hardcopy. For convenience sake I print it out single-spaced, double sided and get it bound. Much easier to hold, and it feels like a real book! Thrilling.

AA6When it’s time to send it out, print double spaced, in 12-point, on white paper, single sided and do not bind the manuscript. Print your name and a key word from the title on the top of each page, in a corner. Eg. Penny/Still. There’s an automatic function for that on your computer as well. You don’t have to do it manually.Number the pages from the first page to the last. Don’t start the numbering fresh with each chapter. Don’t worry that the manuscript will appear to be huge. Always scares me when I see it at first. Looks like a dog house.

Aim high.

AA8AMight as well be turned down by the best. Buy those huge thumpin’ bricks of Guides To Agents and Publishers in your country – read them carefully. There will be essays on writing query letters, and each listing will tell you what the agent/publisher specializes in. Don’t waste your time – or theirs – by sending them a mystery when they only deal with non-fiction.

Send multiple queries. It takes a long time for them to get back. Go to conventions and network. Enter contests.

OK, here it is. This is how I got a leading London literary agent and three-book deals with Hodder/Headline in the UK and St. Martin’s Minotaur in the US. Ready?

I entered a contest.

AA9I was surfing the web and came across the Crime Writers Association in Great Britain and noticed their Debut Dagger contest. The Debut Dagger competition is open to anyone who has not had a novel published commercially. Click here to view the official CWA website.

There were 800 entries worldwide in my year (2004). They shortlisted 14, and I was one. I knew then my life had changed. As a reward for being shortlisted, we were all invited to the awards lunch in London. My husband, Michael, and I went.

AA8BI came in second – and networked like mad. I cannot overstate the importance that award has had on my career. I met Teresa a couple of nights later, actually at a private party – but she knew my name and my submission. All good London agents who deal with mysteries read all the shortlisted CWA submissions.

‘There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’
W. Somerset Maugham

Now – I did something else that was crucial to my success.

Before the awards I did my homework and found out who were considered the top agents in London. When Teresa introduced herself at the party I was able to look her in the eyes and truthfully tell her I’d heard of her and she was considered a top agent. I think that made an impression. If nothing else it showed a degree of work and commitment on my part.

In my experience you get out what you put in.

AA10The harder you work, the more research you do, the more knowledge you have, the better your chances of success. Which isn’t to say some people don’t walk in totally unprepared and have great success. And why not? I have no problem with that at all. Anyway that works is fine with me. But for myself, the more prepared I am, the calmer I am, the better my brain works. Again, it’s giving myself every chance of success, instead of handicapping myself through either fear or laziness.

There are other awards out there.

AA11The Crime Writers of Canada has the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Mystery. It’s very exciting. The website for more information is: www.crimewriterscanada.com. Another important and exciting one for writers of traditional mysteries, like STILL LIFE, is given out by St. Martin’s Press and Malice Domestic, which is a fan run convention in Washington. Very prestigious. Very knowledgeable and sophisticated people. The great thing about this prize is that St. Martin’s agrees to publish your book if you win. You’ll find information on it at: www.minotaurbooks.com . You have to kind of root around in the site to find it, but it’s there.

There – my brain is empty.

If any of you have other suggestions for unpublished writers, please go to the contact me page on my website and send them to me.

AA17For instance Elizabeth Kimmel, a very successful writer of children’s books, wrote with a fabulous tip. She suggested that after you send out your first book to agents and publishers, while you are waiting for their response, instead of fretting – you might consider starting your second book. That way you pass the time doing something constructive and creative. Elizabeth did exactly that, and while her first book actually didn’t sell, her second – the one she wrote while waiting – did!  And launched her career. Brilliant idea, Elizabeth. Thank you.

We need to support each other.

Isabelle Allende once said that the end doesn’t justify the means, the end is decided by the means. If we’re petty and greedy and shallow and put our need to win ahead of our humanity, then nothing good will come of our careers.

Others have helped me and I consider it a real privilege to help you by sharing this on DyingWords.

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AA18Louise Penny is a prominent Canadian crime-fiction/mystery writer and a #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail BestSelling author. She’s best known for her series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec mystery novels.

AA18Louise has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger, an Anthony Award, the Agatha Award (five times), and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Her work has been published in 23 languages. 
In 2013, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada “for her contributions to Canadian culture as an author shining a spotlight on the Eastern Townships of Quebec” where she lives with her husband.

Here’s a look at Louise Penny‘s books:

Visit Louise Penny’s website at http://www.louisepenny.com/