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Serial killer who roamed Saskatoon met with indifference by police, media: Journalist-author accepts award for book about slain aboriginal women

The Edmonton Journal
Chris Purdy

Saturday Nov 26, 2003

EDMONTON - Everyone has heard of Paul Bernardo. But John Crawford?

The serial killer murdered four poor aboriginal women and was suspected of killing at least three others in Saskatoon in the early '90s. But his trials and the lives of his victims have garnered little interest by the police, the press and the public.

Larry Wong, The Journal

Saskatchewan journalist and author Warren Goulding was honoured Friday night by the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women. Goulding wrote a book about a serial killer in Saskatchewan who targeted prostitutes

Saskatchewan journalist Warren Goulding covered the case and wrote a book about it, Just Another Indian: A Serial Killer and Canada's Indifference.

He believes society's indifference has continued, despite the recent high-profile cases of murdered aboriginal women in Edmonton and Vancouver.

"I don't really think things have changed that much," Goulding said Friday while in Edmonton to receive an award.

"I don't get the sense the general public cares much about missing or murdered aboriginal women.

"It's all part of this indifference to the lives of aboriginal people. They don't seem to matter as much as white people."

The Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women has honoured Goulding for his book, which was published in 2001, and presented him with its social justice award at a reception Friday night.

Muriel Stanley Venne, the Edmonton-based group's president and founder, agrees attitudes towards female aboriginal victims still need to change.

"We're really on a long journey here," she said.

In his book, 53-year-old Goulding reports that nearly 500 aboriginal women were reported missing in Western Canada between 1990 and 1994.

Earlier this month, Alberta RCMP announced it would form a task force to investigate 83 cases of murdered and missing women, many of them aboriginal, dating back to 1982. The remains of nine of the women, who led high-risk lifestyles which sometimes included prostitution, were found in rural areas outside Edmonton.

In Vancouver, Robert Pickton has been ordered to stand trial on 15 counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of 15 missing prostitutes, many of them aboriginal. Another 48 women are still missing.

Crawford met his first murder victim, Mary Jane Serloin, in a Lethbridge bar two days before Christmas in 1981. He was convicted of the killing and released from prison in 1989 and three years later murdered Shelley Napope, Eva Taysup and Calinda Waterhen in Saskatoon, Goulding said.

Crawford is serving three concurrent life sentences in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert.

cpurdy@thejournal.canwest.com 

A story that no one wanted told - Sept 30, 2005

Just Another Indian, A serial killer and Canada's Indifference
By: Warren Goulding

Just Another Indian-By Warren Goulding

JUST ANOTHER INDIAN
A Serial Killer and Canada's Indifference

John Martin Crawford disaster waiting to happen

The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)
Saturday, April 21, 2001

Warren Goulding

Following is an excerpt from Chapter Four of Just Another Indian. The chapter is entitled Resume of a Serial Killer. The excerpt is published with the permission of the author and the publisher, Fifth House Ltd., a Fitzhenry & Whiteside Company.

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``Their only way of relating is through humiliating and destroying their victims.''

-- Elliott Leyton

By any of the accepted definitions, John Martin Crawford qualifies as that most heinous of multiple murderers, a serial killer.

According to one definition, a serial killer is any murderer who commits more than one random slaying, with a break between crimes. Other authorities speak of a string of random killings with an emotional cooling-off period between each crime. The most common and widely accepted definition, and the one usually credited to the FBI, characterizes a serial killer as someone who commits three or more unrelated killings separated by a cooling-off period and involving sadistic sexual violence.

The crimes John Martin Crawford has committed over the past two decades place him in the company of such notorious killers as David Berkowitz, New York City's ``Son of Sam,'' the charming and deadly Ted Bundy, New Brunswick's Michael Wayne McGray,* and Canada's worst offender, the child-killer Clifford Olson.

Crawford's resume begins in Lethbridge, Alberta, where he killed 35-year-old Mary Jane Serloin in 1981. Just 19 at the time, Crawford was originally charged with first-degree murder, but was sentenced to a mere 10 years in prison when he agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter. The young killer was given day parole after five years, broke the terms of his release, and was promptly returned to prison. There he stayed until March 23, 1989, when he was again set free, this time under what was known at the time as mandatory supervision.

While living at home with his mother, Victoria Crawford, John managed to avoid prison, but he didn't stay out of trouble. In December 1990, for example, he was fined $250 for trying to hire a prostitute. By 1992, the year his ten-year sentence expired, he was a walking time bomb. He sniffed solvents, went on drinking binges, and regularly took intravenous drugs. It was not uncommon for him to consume 24 beer and a 26-ounce bottle of hard liquor over the course of a day. That was the year he murdered Calinda Waterhen, Shelley Napope, and Eva Taysup. The RCMP suspect he may also have killed two other women, either that year or late in 1991: Shirley Lonethunder and Cynthia Baldhead have not been seen for almost nine years. Crawford must also be considered a suspect in the 1994 death of Janet Sylvestre.

That John Martin Crawford has not become a household name even in his home province of Saskatchewan is somewhat perplexing. This is, after all, a man who savagely raped and killed at least four women, yet he remains virtually unknown in the world of crime. He is an enigma -- a multiple murderer who shuns the publicity that his criminal colleagues usually crave.

Crawford does, however, share many of the other traits common to serial killers. FBI Special Agent Robert Ressler has identified several general characteristics of serial sex-murderers: over 90 per cent of them are white males their families often have criminal, psychiatric, and alcoholic histories; they are commonly abused -- psychologically, physically, and sexually -- as children. Sometimes, the abuser is a stranger. Sometimes, it is a friend. Often, it is a family member. Many of them have spent time in institutions as children and have records of early psychiatric problems. They have a high rate of suicide attempts.

The list, contained in Schechter and Everitt's Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, also suggests that many serial killers are intelligent, with lQs in the ``bright normal'' range. Clearly, John Crawford does not fit this criterion. References to his low intelligence and learning difficulties appear in a number of professional assessments. It is a criterion that (Canadian anthropologist) Elliott Leyton (author of Hunting Humans: The Rise of the Modern Multiple Murderer) disputes, in any case: ``People think of these people as being clever,'' he says. ``They are very rarely that. Their only way of relating is through humiliating and destroying their victims.'' Dr. Leyton has observed, further, that serial killers often take out their anger against a specific social class, preying on the most vulnerable members of that class.

Virtually everything journalists know about John Martin Crawford has been gleaned from court records -- bulging file folders and cardboard boxes filled with psychiatric reports, affidavits from the killer and his mother, witness statements, and other documents prepared in advance of bail hearings or other court appearances.

Court testimony provides the merest glimpse of the man behind the murders. His, lawyers, Mark Brayford and Hugh Harradence, opted not to present any evidence on behalf of their client at his triple-murder trial in 1996. Crawford did not utter a word prior to his sentencing. This silence was interpreted by the trial judge, Mr. Justice David Wright, as evidence of a lack of remorse on the part of a heartless killer who would offer no explanation for his actions. John Crawford and his mother have both consistently rejected requests for interviews.

Many of the early psychiatric reports are based on the briefest of interviews that took place as Crawford was moved from one facility to the next. He has been assessed dozens of times over the years, and appears to be candid only when it serves his current purpose. On occasion, he has described his childhood as happy; other times he has talked of miserable years struggling with his studies and fighting with other children on the playground.

John was born in Steinbach, Manitoba, on March 29, 1962. The birth was difficult, but mother and son survived with no lasting physical damage. The mother was 21 and unmarried. In 1964 she married Al Crawford, and a stepbrother was born. A sister arrived in 1967 after the family had moved to Vancouver. Al was a taxi driver with alcohol problems. He and Victoria were divorced in the mid-1980s, while John was serving his sentence for manslaughter in the death of Mary Jane Serloin.

When John was four years old, he suffered burns to his upper chest, neck, and arm as the result of playing with a cigarette lighter. He spent several days in hospital and emerged with extensive scarring that left him open to teasing from other children. The incident occurred while young John was in the care of a babysitter. It was by no means the only trauma he suffered while under the care of babysitters; notably, he was sexually molested at the age of four, and again at age seven.

As a five-year-old attending kindergarten, John was told that he was stupid, and his teachers recommended that he be transferred to another school for Grade 1. Sometimes quiet and withdrawn, sometimes hyperactive and disruptive, John, to no one's surprise, failed Grade 1. At home, Victoria was fighting a self-admitted addiction to bingo while her husband, Al, fought his own losing battle with alcohol and regularly gambled away his earnings as a cab driver. Beginning at the age of three, John ran away repeatedly. The police were often called to find the youngster and bring him home.

The Crawfords realized eventually that their troubled son needed professional help. He was sent to psychologists at Vancouver General Hospital as a result of his behavioural problems and poor academic performance. The boy was experiencing nightmares as well, and he was deathly afraid of the dark. By the time he was 12, he had developed into a bully, often picking on smaller children. He had also found a way of dealing with his mounting personal problems: he became a glue sniffer.

In a secluded place in a park or in the country, he would settle down to a ritualistic, almost spiritual session of substance abuse. The ritual included food and drink. John would talk to himself, to the glue, to the bag he was going to squirt it into to get more comprehensive coverage while inhaling, and to any other paraphernalia he might find necessary as the occasion demanded. He discussed his expectations both with himself and with the inanimate objects around him, anticipating visions of green grass, swaying trees, majestic mountains, and placid lakes. Baptized a Catholic, John later became disenchanted with a religion based on ``how much money a person can make.'' Nonetheless, he occasionally had religious experiences, particularly when he was away from the city. He once told an addictions counsellor that his most meaningful religious beliefs were the traditional Native ones.

``I don't feel so alone when I offer up a token to the Indians' god,'' he said in 1992.

The glue sniffing, which Victoria remembers occurring on a daily basis, led to other problems. He ran away from home, he stole cars, he fought with the police. As he entered his teens, he began to drink and use street drugs such as marijuana, LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and prescription medications including Valium, Ritalin, and Talwin.

At the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in 1996, he told a staff member from the Mental Health Unit of his first sexual encounter, which he shared with two other boys and an 11-year-old girl. They paid the girl $5 to have sex with them. He was just 13 at the time. Later he recalled visiting ``sex booths'' to watch ``sex shows.'' Sex, he came to understand, was something women provided for a fee. He had no reason to believe otherwise.

In a 1998 interview with Stanley Semrau, a Kelowna forensic psychiatrist, John admitted that he had begun hearing voices at about the age of 16, voices that continued to torment him. A report prepared by Dr. Semrau prior to Crawford's appeal in 1999 contained the following description of the voices:

Most of the time he just heard voices, but he recalls on one occasion having an apparent brief visual hallucination of two green ladies, naked from the waist up, whom he believes were the source of the voices. He says that the voices would often tell him to do bad things such as ``kill that person, they're bothering you'' or to do other things such as commit property crimes. He recalls the women's voices also simply advising him on his behaviour such as ``you should get dressed--you shouldn't be naked'' or ``you shouldn't go out with that girl -- she isn't attractive.'' The voices would sometimes tell him to hurt people or to kiss women and he recalls once acting on that advice and being charged with assault.

According to a rationale that was uniquely his own, John determined that the voices came from UFOs or other planets. He generally heard their commands while he was intoxicated, but occasionally he heard them even after he had been clean for several days. When they did speak to him while intoxicated, he felt like ``a stronger, better person,'' more capable of engaging in aggressive behaviour.

Crawford admitted to Dr. Semrau that he had lied to Saskatoon psychiatrist Karl Oberdieck when he said that he had not heard the voices for two years. John had disliked the powerful antipsychotics he had been taking and hoped Dr. Oberdieck would not prescribe any more if he were no longer hearing the voices.

During four hours of interviews conducted over two days at the penitentiary in Prince Albert in 1998, Dr. Semrau pushed hard to learn if the voices had been a factor in the 1981 killing of Mary Jane Serloin or in the three murders of 1992. But ``even with repeated careful questioning in this area,'' the doctor wrote, ``he was adamant that none of these homicides were in any way associated with hearing voices or any other apparent psychotic symptoms.''

In the early years of his 10-year sentence for manslaughter, John Crawford had difficulty coping. He felt threatened in prison, and his anxiety led to self-mutilation and other bizarre behaviour. Originally sent to the federal institution at Drumheller, Alberta, he was later transferred to Prince Albert, and was several times sent from there to the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon. One such visit took place in April 1984, a few months after he had slashed a wrist in the hope of being placed in segregation. At the psych centre, a staff psychiatrist reviewed Crawford's history and concluded that the ``cheerful'' man before him was ``quite co-operative and friendly . . . and does not show any evidence of formal psychiatric disorder.'' The doctor determined that Crawford was of average intelligence but seemed to experience difficulty reading and spelling. As for the murder of Mary Jane Serloin, ``He denies having raped the victim and I do not see him as a sex offender.'' The psychiatrist presumably had some difficulty reading as well, otherwise he could not have failed to note that Mary Jane's breasts had been mutilated by deep bite marks -- indisputably inflicted by Crawford -- during an event that Lethbridge police immediately labelled a sexual attack.

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* McGray has been convicted of three murders at the time of writing but claims to have killed 16 people.

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016