It’s not a widely known fact that the gaol(jail) in Portage la Prairie was the site of four executions between 1913 and 1926 and that two or perhaps all four murderers were, and remain buried there.

In Canada, from 1892 to 1961 the mandatory penalty for murder was death by hanging.  The death penalty was removed from the criminal code in 1976, fifty years after the John Kooting was hanged in Portage la Prairie for the murder of Dymetro Czayka.

The first hanging in Portage happened on May 20, 1913.  John Baran was convicted for the murder of police officer, Charles Rooke, who knew Baran and was trying to execute a warrant for non-support in the Dauphin area.  Baran gunned the constable down and had another shoot-out with the ensuing arresting party.

According to a Winnipeg Police Service online article(click here to read the whole story from the WPS), once Baran had been executed “…the body was then removed for burial in the courtyard. A wooden coffin built in the jail was lined with quicklime and the body placed inside. It was then covered with more quicklime and the lid nailed shut. It was buried in the south-west corner of the yard only 45 minutes after the execution.”

Courthouse and GaolThrough the lens of today the act of burying the deceased criminal on the ground of the gaol may seem odd but a section of the criminal code from the 1800’s provided that, “the body of every offender executed shall be buried within the walls of the prison within which judgment of death is executed on him”.  Likely, this is how the bodies of the hanged in Portage came to rest on the grounds of our Court House and decommissioned gaol.

The next two murderers to die on the end of rope were; Tymko Nackonyshyn, for the killing of Paul Jura and Thomas Hubert Fletcher for the death of ten-year-old Gordon Rasmussen.

The last to be executed in Portage, John Kooting, had gotten away with killing his neighbour Dymetro Czayka for years.  He may have escaped punishment entirely had he not confessed to the murder, perhaps out of a guilty conscience, while bedridden with illness thinking he would die.  In the end his death was on the gallows in the courtyard of the Portage Gaol rather than from whatever was ailing him at the time of his confession.

In Dale Brawn’s book “Practically Perfect: Killers Who Got Away with Murder … for a While” the story explains how Czayka’s body was disposed of in a manure pile and Kooting’s was laid to rest on the grounds of the gaol.  (click here to read the whole story from the book)

Source: Library and Archives Canada, E00319278

Baldwin Jonasson courtesy: Library and Archives Canada

A fifth execution commonly associated with Portage was that of Baldwin Jonasson in 1945.  Jonasson killed sixteen-year-old Pearl Dell on Portage on a farm owned by Douglas Campbell 18kms north of Portage.  Glen Suggett has written a detailed account of the story for the Manitoba Historical Society on the crime at Murder Oak.  Although some sources indicate Jonasson was executed in Portage he was actually taken to Headingley Gaol and hanged there.(click here to read the whole story about the Murder Oak north of Portage)

Please click the associated links to read more about the history of hangings in Portage la Prairie.  click here to read the Winnipeg Police Service article on the history of Manitoba hangings.

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