The Ghosts of Crowsnest Pass
At 4:10 a.m. on April 29, 1903 the inhabitants of a small bootlegging and mining community named Frank heard a distant roar. It was located in a place known as Crowsnest Pass and sat at the base of the Turtle Mountain in Canada. Little did they know that within less than two minutes, a landslide brought down over 80 million tons of debris that obliterated the eastern end of the town, including many inhabitants that have remained entombed until this day. Little wonder that the area has ghosts that haunt the area.
Ninety person lost their lives, and only eighteen had their remains recovered because they were buried under shallow debris. Most of the bodies were inaccessible due to the immense weight of the rubble.
Although the site is nothing more than boulders and rocks, below the surface lay the remains of the unfortunate ones, and above the surface their unsettled spirits continue to roam. It is not surprising that this area has a reputation of being very haunted. Spirits are said to be wandering the debris field, searching for their lost friends and loved ones. Some visitors have reported feeling uncomfortable in the area, followed by cries in the wind and unexplained lantern lights traversing the boulders at night. How many souls have remained, who they are, and why they stay is a complete mystery.
However sudden and violent death would visit Frank again only within a scant few years.
Like many mining frontier towns, Frank had a thriving tenderloin area where prostitutes plied their trade. Many men came a pursuing a job in the mines, some of them were very violent, and others were downright criminals.
It was a man like this that crossed paths with a local madam named Montie Lewis, who was renowned for her love of extravagant jewelry. His real name was Maxime Polypczuk, an immigrant from the Ukraine, however by the time he had reached Frank, he had anglicized it to Mike Phillips.
The discovery of Montie's body was sheer coincidence. A constable testified he had gone to at least 3 other brothels and the Sanitarium Hotel looking for a man who had committed an offense. He visited Montie's house in which all the lights were out. He went to a side door, knocked several times, the doors were locked and he left. He came back two hours later, and the light were on inside, and he found a side door open. Searching through the house he found it was empty except for something that lay across the bed in one of the rooms.
When he drew back a bloodied quilt he found Montie lying on her bed dressed only in a wrapper and stockings. Her throat had been slit, her head hacked and stabbed, and she had several wounds above her eyes. She had also been stabbed in the chest, and she had defensive wounds on her hands and forearms. A doctor later determined that her death had been caused by a skull fracture inflicted during the attack.
The constable went and got the local police sergeant who came with the coroner and they proceeded to search the property.
They found a long carving knife and a hatchet covered in blood under the kitchen table. These items were later identified by the cook as ones he usually used when preparing meals. The remains of lunch were still there, and the bedroom was strewn with clothing that had been pulled from the bureau and a nearby trunk.
On January 30, based on testimony the police eventually caught up with Mike Phillips in Pakan where his wife and her family lived on their farm. He had arrived on December 19th, claiming he had to walk back after being robbed in MacLeod and he had no money left. He was arrested and went to trial on May 1908.
The most damaging testimony came from Montie's cook, Mah Sing, who said that Mike Phillips had been staying at the house for two days previous to the murder.
Monty was doing well in the flesh trade, and was having a new house built. Two painters working on it, also gave testimony that they had seen Mike Phillips at the house the day of the murder as well as two days previous to that. Other miners which had visited Montie's brothel had also seen Mike Phillips there.
Frankie Harris, a prostitute who had been staying there until only three days before the murder also told the court how she had seen Mike Phillips as well as Mr. Green coming to the house to visit Montie. Green though had a solid alibi as he had been working on bridge chain gang and was working in a coal chute when the murder was committed.
Frankie also said she knew that Montie had $200 on her, which she never deposited into the bank as she regularly did every month according to the testimony of the local baner. Montie's jewelry was still there, however the money was never found, and robbery was the motive given for the murder, especially as after having stayed there 3 days, the $103 Phillips had just received in wages the prior Friday, would have been spent during those 72 hours being entertained by Montie.
Mike Phillips desperate for a character reference even sent for his father-in-law, John Oreczuk who was a Galician himself, and who traveled from Pakan. Phillips had married his daughter only a year before, but had never supported her only sending $14 back home to her. Little did Oreczuk understand the true nature of the man he vouched for.
Despite all the evidence and testimony, on May 11, 1908 the jury acquitted Phillips, based on the doubt created by the defense attorney that the victim's lifestyle allowed access to other men who could have committed the crime.
Too bad for Mrs. Phillips that her husband was acquitted because by March 1912, a reward of $200 was being offered for his capture. He had killed her in 1910, and two years later they had been unable to arrest him.
What became of Mike Phillips is lost to history, however Montie’s spirit is believed to still wander through the town, bemoaning her early death and luring lost hikers away from the safety of the trails. Crowsnest Pass’ long, and sometimes dark history, yields many more folkloric tales, and stories of spirits and hauntings, and residents continue the tradition of recounting the tales to visitors who dare to ask.
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer