Winnipeg's First Serial Killer

by George Siamandas

During the summer of 1928 Winnipeg was in the grip of fear as a serial killer remained on the loose after committing brutal murders on two Winnipeg women. On June 30 1928 two women were raped and strangled in Winnipeg. One was 14 year old Lola Cowan on Smith St and the other was Emily Patterson. Both women were found dead under their beds. The police knew they had something to worry about.

In the weeks to follow the suspect was dubbed the "Gorilla Man" by the newspapers. There was panic in the streets. Children ran home from school. And repairmen and delivery men took time off work because women were unwilling to open their door.

Earl Nelson was an escaped mental patient from the US who had gone on a strangling spree throughout the US. He arrived in Winnipeg on June 29 1928. He found a rooming house on Smith St and apparently impressed the landlady with his religious convictions. The two Winnipeg murders resulted in the greatest manhunt and mass hysteria. 1,000 transients were taken in for questioning. Nelson initially fled to Saskatchewan but returned to Manitoba through Boissevain and was arrested in Killarney by local police.

While being held for pick-up by the Winnipeg police, the Killarney constable stepped out for just a minute to get tobacco for his pipe. When he returned Nelson was long gone. He had escaped by using a file to pick the double padlocks that restrained him. Once again the manhunt was on. Nelson fled along the train tracks and jumped aboard what he thought was a freight train. Ironically it turned out to be a special train that was full of men on a hunt for him. it was full of members of the Manitoba Provincial Police force. Nelson was tried for murder. The trial lasted for months. They expect he may have killed as many as 20 women. He was hanged in January 1929.

The MPP which had served for 60 colourful years was disbanded in 1932 due to financial restraints and since then Manitoba has contracted for services from the RCMP.


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