'To him, they were expendable': Columnist says Saskatoon serial killer exploited racism when targeting victims

·2 min read

It was the early 1990s and First Nations women were going missing on Saskatoon's west side.

The kind of women, Saskatoon Indigenous affairs columnist Doug Cuthand says, who were not a high priority for police.

"These were women that were marginalized inside the Aboriginal community itself. To him, they were expendable," Cuthand, who is a member of the Little Pine First Nation, said in an interview.

"A lot of them were just unfortunate, lost souls ... this just stunk of racism, right from the very beginning. The police force hadn't taken it seriously. They just let it kind of be, dismissing women, marginal women."

This changed in 1994 when a hunter made a grisly discovery southwest of the city.

The skeletal remains of 30-year-old Eva Taysup, 22-year-old Calinda Waterhen and 16-year-old Shelley Napope were discovered in a stand of trees near a golf course. Taysup had been missing for three years when her body was discovered.

Police arrested John Crawford in January 1995 and charged him with three counts of murder.

John Crawford died this week at the Regional Psychiatic Centre.

"Of all the things I accomplished in my 25 years as a Crown prosecutor, taking John Crawford off the street is what I'm most proud of," said former prosecutor Terry Hinz.

Saskatoon Police Service
Saskatoon Police Service

Warren Goulding worked in Saskatoon at the time and went on to write a book about the case, Just Another Indian: A Serial Killer and Canada's Indifference.

Today, he says it's still amazing that Crawford got away with killing people as long as he did.

"He had already been convicted of murder and served the better part of a 10-year sentence. This guy should have been a known commodity, should have been on the radar," Goulding said.

Crawford had killed a woman in Lethbridge, Alta., in 1981 and went to prison for manslaughter. He was released in 1989.

In 1992, a Saskatoon woman named Janet Sylvestre told police that Crawford had raped her. He was arrested and held in remand, ultimately getting released into the custody of his mother.

Sylvestre was murdered in 1994. The case remains unsolved.

At the time of his death, Crawford had been serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder since May 30, 1996, according to the Correctional Service of Canada.

As in all cases involving the death of an inmate, CSC said it will review the circumstances.

Since the time of Crawford's arrest, the image of serial killers as some sort of dark criminal masterminds has taken hold in movies and books.

Doug Cuthand says John Crawford is proof that this characterization is simply wrong.

"In the light of day, you find a pathetic, weak little man," he said.