A new novel tells the story of a Saskatchewan murder that happened 73 years ago through the eyes of a young boy who witnessed it.
In 1947, 30-year-old William Hislop was trimming a hedge in the town of Canwood, Sask., when 74-year-old William Young — also known as Rabbit Foot Bill — walked by.
The two got into an altercation and Young stabbed Hislop with a pair of shears.
Hugh LeFave, a young boy at the time, witnessed the murder. LeFave's life story is told in Rabbit Foot Bill, written by Helen Humphreys.
Humphreys lives in Kingston, Ont. She became interested in the story after meeting LeFave in person at the Sage Hill Writing Experience.
"He knew Rabbit Foot Bill when he was a boy," Humpreys told CBC Saskatchewan's The Afternoon Edition. "So it was his story and he told it to me and he actually wrote a version of it himself. Then we decided I would also investigate and write a version."
Humphreys learned William Young was a man who lived outdoors, did odd jobs and sold rabbits feet. He got his nickname from what he sold, but also because he lived in a kind of burrow he made for himself in a hillside near town.
Young was arrested after the murder and convicted. He died in prison soon after.
Witnessing the murder impacted LaFave. The young boy grew up to be the superintendent of the Weyburn Mental Hospital in Weyburn, Sask.
Humpreys based her book on the true crime story of the murder, but used creative licence on some other aspects of the book.
"The boy in the book doesn't fare as well as the real boy fared," Humpreys said. "So he goes to the hospital and has to confront his own past even though he's supposed to be there helping other people with theirs."
Humpreys said what LaFave told her didn't always line up with what she found out through researching. She decided to keep the facts straight in the parts where LaFave was a child and stray more into fiction when he was older.
"In the end, I just stuck to Hugh's version of things which didn't mirror reality completely, but that actually made it a much more interesting story," she said.
For example, LeFave told Humpreys that he had met Rabbit Foot Bill while working at the Weyburn Mental Hospital — even though he had died decades earlier. Humphreys noted that LeFave was in his 80s when he was recounting the tale and now is in his 90s with dementia.
Humpreys said it's difficult writing someone else's story. It took her more than a decade and has become a part of her story too.
"I liked this idea of trying to save yourself from trauma — which is kind of what the book is about," she said. "Clearly [Rabbit Foot] Bill … he had used this way of living as a solution to this by taking himself out of society and taking it to himself away from people. This was his solution to the trauma that he had suffered.
"It was a creative solution and actually one that mostly worked up until the up until the murder," she said.
Humpreys said she hopes readers understand that how people heal is profound.
"It's sort of a universal experience I think to try to heal ourselves or fix things that have gone wrong."