The Mounties, the Mentalist, and the Murderer
Canadian history is riddled with strange stories of “mentalists” who, through the use of some mysterious inherent quality, make accurate predictions based on past events of which they ought to have no knowledge.
Last month, I wrote an article on incidents involving “Second Sight” on the Canadian frontier, most of them featuring clairvoyants of indigenous extraction.
A few days after that, I wrote another article on a case of Canadian clairvoyance, this one involving a murder which was witnessed by the brother of the victim in a vision more than 4,000 miles away.
Today, I’m pleased to bring you a similar story which was brought to my attention by my friend Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra, an American researcher with a passion for unexplained phenomena. Without further ado, here is the incredible true story of a Saskatchewan farmer who lost his life at the dawn of the Dirty Thirties, and of the incredible clairvoyant who helped bring his killer to justice.
If you drive an hour and twenty minutes northeast of Swift Current, you’ll come to the lonely little village of Beechy, Saskatchewan. Today, this tiny community’s most famous attractions are the Beechy Sandcastles- bizarre-looking, wind-sculpted sandstone formations which overlook the “Lake Diefenbaker” section of the South Saskatchewan River. Ninety years ago, however, this strange little place in the middle of the Saskatchewan prairies was the site of an even stranger mystery involving two Mounties, a mentalist, and a brutal murder.
Professor Henry Gladstone
Our story begins on the eve of December 10, 1930, in Beechy’s little movie theatre. It was Wednesday night, and in order to help the local farmers and their families beat the mid-week winter blues, the establishment’s proprietor had brought in a mind-reader from Saskatoon. His name was Professor Henry Gladstone.
Professor Gladstone was a tall, sombre-eyed gentleman with silver hair and a piercing gaze. He stood gravely on the stage, his hands clasped behind his back, and asked for volunteers to assist him with his act. Soon, the good folks of Beechy were roaring with laughter as grey-bearded old-timers and fresh-faced farm kids performed all manner of hilarious antics under Gladstone’s hypnotic direction.
Suddenly, the elderly mentalist stopped in the middle of his act and pointed his finger at a genial rancher named Bill Taylor. “You there,” he said solemnly. “The man you’re thinking about… he was a good friend of yours, wasn’t he?”
Immediately, a hush fell over the crowd, and the colour drained from Taylor’s face. The rancher nodded slowly, mutely affirming that the mentalist had read his mind.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, son,” Gladstone continued, “but he was murdered. Brutally murdered! There was blood on the snow.”
Suddenly, the mentalist pointed at another audience member- Constable Charles Edward Carey, an RCMP officer dressed in plainclothes. “That’s him!” Gladstone proclaimed. “That’s the man.”
Constable Carey sat up in his chair, startled. His shooting hand instinctively dropped to the butt of the revolver that was holstered at his side.
“That’s the one,” Gladstone continued, “who will find the body of the murdered man. And I’ll be with him when he does!”
The Disappearance of Scotty McLachlan
Constable Charles Carey knew from the moment Bill Taylor nodded his head that the man he had been thinking of- the man whom Gladstone said was murdered- could only be Scotty McLachlan, one of Taylor’s close friends.
James Stewart “Scotty” McLachlan was a local rancher who once owned a plot of land in an area known as Coteau Plains. Nearly three years earlier, he had sold his land and most of his belongings to his partner, a 23-year-old farmer named John Franck Schumacher. Shortly thereafter, in January 1928, he suddenly and inexplicably vanished.
At the behest of his relatives, the RCMP launched an investigation into Scotty McLachlan’s disappearance. Several local farmers recalled that McLachlan, in the weeks preceding his disappearance, had often spoken of leaving Saskatchewan for British Columbia. His partner, Schumacher, also informed them that, several days before his disappearance, McLachlan had packed his gear as if in preparation for a great journey. Try as they might, however, the Mounties could find no trace of Scotty McLachlan nor any evidence suggesting he had made a westward journey. Without any leads to follow, they dropped the case. The mystery of Scotty McLachlan’s strange disappearance had haunted the village of Beechy, Saskatchewan, ever since.
Following Professor Gladstone’s eerie revelation, Constable Carey phoned up Detective-Corporal Jack Woods of the RCMP’s Criminal Investigation Bureau. Woods, who operated out of Saskatoon at that time, was a hard-nosed detective who hardly believed in the possibility of extrasensory perception. A lead was a lead, though, and Woods desperately wanted to get to the bottom of the McLachlan mystery- a black mark on his otherwise spotless record. The detective shrugged into his heavy buffalo-skin coat, started up his squad car, and headed down the snow-packed Whitecap Trail for Beechy.
The following day, after a brief meeting in the Beechy barracks, Detective-Corporal Woods and Constable Carey interviewed a number of locals, starting with the visiting Professor Gladstone. Gladstone told the Mounties that he had read Bill Taylor’s mind via some sort of Second Sight, the nature of which he did not fully understand himself. He claimed that he knew Scotty McLachlan was murdered, having received a vision of his bloody corpse in the snow, but did not yet know the identity of his killer. “Allow me to accompany you,” the mentalist insisted. “I will know him when I see him.” Begrudgingly, the Mounties obliged.
Next, Woods and Carey began questioning local farmers and ranchers. After several interviews, a pattern began to emerge. Many of the sod-busters and cowhands who plied their trade in the Beechy area suspected that Scotty McLachlan’s disappearance had something to do with a pretty farm girl for whose affection he had competed with a local wrangler. Shortly after McLachlan’s disappearance, his rival proposed to the girl, and in no time the two were happily married.
The Mounties paid a visit to the cowboy in question, who told them another tale entirely. He readily admitted that he and McLachlan had not seen eye to eye, and had engaged a number of impassioned disagreements over the years. But McLachlan’s real enemy, he maintained, was his partner, Schumacher, with whom he’d often had violent quarrels. Another local farmer once told him in confidence that Schumacher “called on him one morning madder n’ hell and said he’d kill the damned Scotsman one of these days.”
Woods and Carey, accompanied by the tall, taciturn Professor Gladstone, then paid a visit to the farmer of whom the cowboy had spoken. Seated around the man’s kitchen table with mugs of steaming coffee in their hands, the Mounties asked the rustic if he recalled hearing Schumacher make death threats against McLachlan. The farmer denied having any recollection of the incident, and brushed off the cowboy’s tale as a baseless country canard.
The Mounties thanked the farmer for his time and headed for the door when Professor Gladstone spoke up from out of the shadows. “I’ll tell you what happened,” he said sternly. “You were sick in bed. Schumacher pushed through the door, told you he’d had a quarrel with his partner, and swore he’d kill that damned Scotty before he was through with him.”
Stunned, the slack-jawed farmer sank back into his chair. “You’re right,” he admitted after a long pause. “Schumacher came to my place, like you said, cussed his partner and said he’d kill that damned Scotchman yet. But how on earth did you know?”
Woods, Carey, and Gladstone left the bewildered farmer and made for the farmhouse of John Schumacher in nearby Coteau Plains. By the time they reached the gravel road that led to Schumacher’s property, it was evening. The sun kissed the horizon in the west, painting the clouds above in a glowing gradient of crimson and violet that set fire to the prairie sky.
Soon, Schumacher’s two-storied farmhouse and red barn rose up from the surrounding snow. An overall-clad farmhand greeted the lawmen at the door and informed them that Schumacher had gone to town for gasoline, and would probably be arriving shortly.
“We’re water-diviners from the Department of Agriculture,” Detective Woods lied. “Mind if we take a look around?”
“Suit yourself, boys,” the farmhand said with a dismissive wave.
The three men tramped around in the snow outside Schumacher’s farmhouse, gradually making their way across a field and up a hill towards a red-painted barn. Suddenly, when they were about half way up the slope, Professor Gladstone stopped and sniffed the air. “There’s something strange around here,” he finally declared. “A peculiar odor.”
“Sure is,” said Woods, grinning as he kicked away the snow beneath his feet to reveal a pile of frozen manure. “You’ll find it wherever there’s a bunch of cows.”
“There’s been trouble here for Scotty McLachlan,” Gladstone continued, ignoring the Mountie. “His body is around here somewhere. I can feel it.”
John Franck Schumacher
By this time, it was getting dark, and the Mounties had no time to verify the mentalist’s assertion. The three men returned to the squad car and headed back down the road to Beechy.
All of a sudden, a huge truck loomed in the car’s high beams, thundering down the road towards them without any headlights on. Woods managed to avoid a head-on collision by swerving into the ditch, nearly flipping the squad car in the process. The truck roared on past, leaving a cloud of dust and exhaust in its wake.
Without skipping a beat, Woods turned the squad car around and tore after the truck. He soon overtook it and pulled it over, and there are the wheel was John Schumacher. “You’re the guy we’re looking for,” said Woods. “We want to talk to you about your partner, Scotty!”
“OK,” the farmer mumbled, “I’ll see what I can tell you.”
That night, Woods and Carey interrogated Schumacher at the Beechy barracks, mercilessly barraging him with questions regarding the days leading up to his partner’s disappearance. Schumacher provided the same answers he had three years prior, maintaining that his partner had packed up and probably left for British Columbia. “I paid McLachlin $150 for his horse and cattle and gave him a note for another $200 for the rest of the stuff.”
Just as Woods was about to terminate the interview, Professor Gladstone, who had been standing quietly in the shadows, began to pace about the room, his hand stroking his wrinkled forehead. Finally, he snapped his fingers and turned towards Schumacher.
“The barn!” he exclaimed. “The barn!” The mentalist planted his hands on the table and fixed his eyes on the astonished farmer. “I’ll tell you just what happened,” he said, slowly working himself up into a frenzy. “Scotty left the house… went over to the barn. You followed him. Forced him into a quarrel.”
Schumacher squirmed in his chair.
“There was a fight,” Gladstone continued, perspiration trickling down his face. “Scotty fell, and you struck, and struck, and struck… Then you buried his body near the barn.” With that, the elderly Professor collapsed into a chair, exhausted.
When Detective Woods and Constable Carey satisfied themselves that the old man would recover from his outburst, they turned their attention towards Schumacher. The farmer was white as a ghost, his countenance conveying superstitious horror.
“Better tell us what you know about this business, John,” said Carey, struggling to mask his own astonishment. “It’ll make it a whole lot easier.”
After staring at the mentalist for some time, Schumacher shook his head. “I don’t know what he’s talking about,” he whispered.
“Have it your way,” said Woods. Turning to Carey, he said, “Put him in the cell. We’ll bring charges against him in the morning.”
Early the following morning, Woods, Carey, and Gladstone, equipped with shovels, escorted Schumacher to his own barn. They found the place crawling with spectators. Word of Schumacher’s arrest, it seemed, had reached the ears of the Beechy locals.
On the way to the barn, Gladstone stopped at the same place he had the previous evening. “Beneath that manure pile,” he said to the Mounties, “you’ll find what’s left of Scotty.”
Woods and Carey looked at each other and shrugged. Although neither of them could bring themselves to fully believe in the efficacy of the mentalist’s strange gift, they decided to put his theory to the test. They made good use of the bystanders by having them chip away at the frozen manure pile and the solid earth beneath with picks and shovels.
For nearly two hours, the farmers toiled fruitlessly. Finally, just as the Mounties were about to pack it in, one of the labourers let out a cry. The man plunged his shovel into a nearby snowbank, went down on his hands and knees, and wrested a woolen sock from the frozen earth.
The excavation continued at a feverish pace, and in no time, a complete human skeleton dressed in ragged winter clothing, with matted hair and dried flesh still clinging to the skull, was liberated from its icy tomb. “That’s Scotty, all right!” said a farmer who had watched spectacle unfold. “I’d know that scarf and mackinaw anywhere.”
That night, John Schumacher was subjected to another grilling by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, this time in the jail at Saskatoon. After a long, gruelling interrogation, he finally broke down and confessed that he had, indeed killed Scotty McLachlan in his barn, just as Professor Gladstone said.
On the morning of January 16, 1928, Schumacher told the Mounties, Scotty had returned to the farm after being away all night. He had packed his personal effects, and stated that he was leaving for the Pacific Coast. The two partners
engaged in an altercation revolving around the money that Schumacher owed McLachlan. The argument turned violent when Scotty lunged at Schumacher with a shovel. In self-defence, Schumacher seized a pitchfork that was resting against the barn wall and ran his partner through.
Realizing the enormity of his crime, a guilt-ridden Schumacher retreated to the farmhouse, where he spent an hour and a half contemplating his next course of action. Finally, he returned to the barn, where he checked Scotty’s pulse and found him dead. He dragged his partner’s corpse by one arm to a site about fifty metres from the barn and 150 yards from his house. He buried the body there, on the side of a hill. He threw straw over the corpse, and later covered it with manure, to which he added from time to time.
In March, 1931, John Franck Schumacher was tried for the murder of James Stewart “Scotty” McLachlan. The proceedings took place in the courtroom of Kindersley, Saskatchewan. Disagreement over the significance of triple fractures to McLachlan’s skull saved Schumacher from the gallows. Ultimately, the jury decided that Schumacher had killed McLachlan in self-defence. The farmer was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in the penitentiary at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
Newspapers indicate that John Schumacher was married, and that his wife gave birth to his first child during his trial.
And what of Professor Gladstone? An article in the February 2, 1931 issue of the Winnipeg Tribune suggests that the mentalist’s uncanny gift may have temporarily deserted him. About a month before Schumacher’s trial, an arsonist set fire to Gladstone’s apartment in Saskatoon. The elderly clairvoyant’s adventure in Beechy had made him gravely ill, and a bedridden Gladstone had to be carried from the inferno by a fireman and a police officer onto the nearby street.
Professor Henry Gladstone lost about $10,000-worth of personal belongings in the fire that consumed his apartment building. It appeared, however, that he may have also regained his mysterious ability, as he correctly predicted that a body would be found in the ashes.
- “How a Mentalist Solved a Murder”, from the January 1959 issue of the magazine Fate, by Philip H. Godsell; courtesy of American Fortean researcher Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra.
- “Mind Reader Aids to Solve Murder: Indicates Where Body of Main, Slain in 1928, Lies,” from the December 16, 1939 issue of The [Montreal] Gazette.
- “Mind Reader Leads Police to Body of Buried Man”, from December 15, 1930 issue of the St. Cloud Times.
- “Fire Destroys $150,000 Block in Saskatoon: Occupants Escape in Night Attire With Aid of Fireman, Police,” from the February 2, 1931 issue of The Winnipeg Tribune.
- “Sask. Farmer Accused of Murder Arraigned,” from the December 16, 1930 issue of the Manitoba Free Press.
- “Schumacher To Be Tried For Murder: Coteau Hills Farmer Committed on Charge of Slaying His Partner,” from the December 31, 1930 issue of the Winnipeg Free Press.
- “Mind-Reader’s ‘Murder Done’ Solves Mystery: Police Unearth Half-Garbed Skeleton of Murdered Man”, from the December 15, 1930 issue of The Ottawa Journal.
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My mother was from around that area when she was a child .
She told this story many times .
Most of this account matches her account .
According to her account Professor Gladstone was blind ,
and the manure pile was right beside the barn ,
where most manure piles usually are .
Also some other slight differences ,
but essentially the same story .
Another remarkable story, Hammerson.hidden away
It really is amazing what a wonderfully rich and colourful history that Canada has hidden away.
Thank you for bringing it to light.:)
Thanks Gerry! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Credit goes to Gary Mangiacopra, who found an old Philip Godsell article on it in an old issue of the magazine FATE.