Thugs, Thieves, and Outlaws of Alberta

18 December 2014

Thugs, Thieves & Outlaws: Alberta Crime Stories
by Ryan Cormier
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Keith Foster
$19.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-300-4

In the decades before Canada abolished capital punishment, hanging was a popular mode of execution. It was not an efficient method. An executioner mistakenly cut down one man while he was still alive, with his neck grotesquely dislocated. As the young man struggled for breath in front of witnesses for another 12 minutes, prison officials discussed hanging him a second time.

In the 40 chapters of Thugs, Thieves & Outlaws: Alberta Crime Stories, author Ryan Cormier describes many grisly crimes and their punishments. He explains that “good people can be fascinated by gruesome things.”

A reporter for the Edmonton Journal, Cormier relies heavily on court transcripts, newspaper accounts, and his own notes. While acknowledging that “every crime has at least two sides,” he uses only the official version, the one sanctioned by the courts.

Cormier’s book covers crimes in Alberta from 1870 to 2008. Many of the stories are ripped straight from the headlines, such as the murder of four RCMP officers at Mayerthorpe in 2005.

Some stories seem beyond belief, like the banker who embezzled millions yet blamed the bank for “employing policies and practices that were inadequate to monitor” his thefts. Or imagine moving into a house and finding a corpse under the floorboards.

One businessman who was kidnapped on a Thursday and released the next day called his manager to take the day off. The manager told him to take several days off, but he was back at work Monday morning.

As unbelievable as they may sound, all these stories are true. When Peter Pocklington was held hostage in his own home, a swarm of spectators gathered outside. Some brought lawn chairs and binoculars. “It’s better than the movies and it’s free,” said one.


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