For the Lakeside Leader
In September of 1904, Edward Hayward and Charles King, set up camp on the Sucker Creek reserve at the west end of Lesser Slave Lake. Hayward was friendly but King kept to himself. On their third night there, Joseph Keesaynees heard a gunshot coming from their camp.
The next morning, Sophia Cardinal, went to the camp to deliver a pair of moccasins Hayward had asked her to make. King was throwing sticks on a large fire and made motions for her to leave. Sophia, who had experience cooking moose meat over a fire, recognized the smell of burning flesh – and the absence of Hayward. She left, probably as fast as she could.
Later that day, King was seen on the trail alone. People were getting the idea that things were not good for the missing Hayward. They went to the campsite to look around and in the ashes of the campfire they found burnt pieces of clothing and other suspicious items. The most telling of these were three bones that fit together, and formed what looked to be part of a human skull. Chief Moostoos, took these bits of evidence home and put them in a baking powder tin.
When he told Sergeant Anderson of the Northwest Mounted Police, that they thought Hayward had been murdered, Anderson thought the story to be a fabrication based on the ‘superstitious nature’ of the Indigenous residents. Bones that look like they came from a skull are hard to ignore, though, and soon the camp was being searched for more evidence. After more gruesome finds were made, Charles King was arrested and charged with murder.
In Edmonton, the preliminary hearing took place on February 20th, 1905. The crowd of onlookers was so big that they had to move the proceedings from the police barracks to City Hall. After this hearing, King went on trial, where he was found guilty. He then appealed to the Supreme Court, and again, was found guilty. For each of the court proceedings the witnesses from Sucker Creek were brought to Edmonton to testify, often through an interpreter.
King’s first date with death was May 10th, 1905 but it was delayed for the retrial. His second scheduled date to hang was August 31st. The inauguration for the new province of Alberta was to be the next day. It would ‘never do’ to have a hanging discolour the festivities and the hanging was delayed again. On September 20th, the hanging finally took place.
King’s body was placed in a rough coffin, facedown. The death warrant was put on his back with his hands over it. His coffin was carried to the southwest corner of the fort enclosure by three other prisoners. After he was buried they levelled the spot, leaving no mound to mark the spot.
Had the residents of Sucker Creek not reported the suspicious circumstances, assisted with collecting the evidence, and offered clear and unwavering testimony in the trial, King may have easily gotten away with murder.
Sheila Willis is a historian and storyteller from Smith, Alberta. This story is taken from articles in the Edmonton Bulletin in 1905 as well as other sources. The names of the people involved were spelled multiple ways, and the story offers what is hopefully, the correct spelling. More information about Sheila’s stories can be found at https://www.ingon.ca/the-mag