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  • Canada.

  • The great white north.

  • While this vast country has several major population centers and thriving cities, its

  • northern territories are among the most sparsely populated areas in North America.

  • But the massive northern regions of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories were once anything

  • but quiet.

  • In 1931, a chain of events began that led to the largest manhunt in Canadian history.

  • And it all started over furs.

  • This is the story of the Mad Trapper of Rat River.

  • Fort McPherson wasn't a hotbed of activity, a Northwest Territories hamlet in between

  • the larger towns of Inuvik and Whitehorse in the Yukon.

  • Primarily populated by First Nations Canadians, it was heavily involved in the fur trapping

  • and trading business in the 1930s and was a common stopping point for traveling trappers.

  • So it was no surprise when a raft carrying a newcomer came down the Peel River in July

  • 1931.

  • A quiet, clean-shaven man with a vague Scandinavian accent, he called himself Albert Johnson and

  • seemed well-supplied with money.

  • He built himself a cabin along the Rat River and set out to work in the trapping trade.

  • There was only one problem.

  • Albert Johnson didn't have a trapping license.

  • There was a growing tension in the north, as the Great Depression in America and more

  • urban areas had led many people to head up north for a more reliable income.

  • That meant that traditional Native trappers were seeing more and more competition in their

  • hunting grounds, and some local trappers weren't happy to see another outsider coming in to

  • set up shop.

  • Still, at first Johnson seemed happy to keep to himself, and he became just another face

  • in the Canadian north, using the land to survive.

  • That is, until the sabotages began.

  • Native trappers started noticing that their traps weren't set up the way they left them.

  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the primary law enforcement agency in the area, started

  • receiving complaints that someone was deliberately triggering traps and damaging them - likely

  • to eliminate the competition for the animals in the area.

  • When the local department received a complaint that identified Johnson as a possible suspect,

  • they decided to investigate the new arrival and headed to the cabin on Rat River.

  • But none of the officers were prepared for what awaited them.

  • Constable Alfred King and Special Constable Joe Bernard were detailed to make the trip

  • to Johnson's cabin on December 26th, 1931.

  • This was the dead of winter in the Canadian north, which meant a sixty-mile journey in

  • freezing cold to the north.

  • They intended to question Johnson, but didn't view the case as a serious threat yet - only

  • a minor trapping dispute.

  • When they finally made their way to the cabin, they saw smoke confirming Johnson was home.

  • However, as soon as they made contact with Johnson, he became belligerent.

  • He pretended not to see them, and covered up his windows when they looked inside.

  • The two officers decided to head to the local Aklavik station for a search warrant.

  • When they returned, things would massively escalate.

  • This time, King and Bernard didn't come alone.

  • They brought two other officers with them, and were prepared to force the door open when

  • Johnson refused to open it.

  • They gave a warning, and King stepped up to enter - just as a shot rang out.

  • Johnson had shot the officer through the door, and King collapsed.

  • The officers returned fire, but they didn't manage to kill Johnson.

  • The officers were forced to retreat to get King back to the base, where they were able

  • to save his life.

  • But the manhunt for the man who would be known as the Mad Trapper was just beginning.

  • This time, the officers would come prepared for war.

  • They gathered nine men, forty-two tracking dogs, and a pack of dynamite in case they

  • needed to blow the cabin up to force Johnson out.

  • But Johnson was prepared too.

  • When the officers arrived, there was no sign of Johnson.

  • They threw a single lit charge inside the cabin, which seemed to destroy the building,

  • and they moved to enter the rubble to find Johnson - or his body.

  • And that's when the shooting began.

  • Johnson had been hiding in a dugout under the house, lying in wait for the attack, and

  • an extended shootout began.

  • The officers held out for fifteen hours, avoiding being shot but never managing to shoot Johnson.

  • They eventually retreated back to Aklavik, hoping to get more manpower.

  • But by the time they were able to return with reinforcements - after waiting out a blizzard

  • - they discovered that the cabin had been abandoned.

  • Albert Johnson was in the wild, and the manhunt was about to escalate.

  • The hunt for the Mad Trapper had now been broadcast across Canada and beyond by radio,

  • and the mounted police were seeking tips.

  • It would be several weeks before they would catch up with Johnson again, finding him in

  • a thicket of trees.

  • They cornered him, but Johnson returned fire - and this time, the officers would not be

  • as lucky as last time.

  • Constable Edward Millen was hit in the heart and died instantly.

  • The officers were forced to retreat, and Johnson disappeared into the wild again.

  • The hunt was no longer for a trapping fugitive.

  • The officers were now seeking a murderer.

  • It became clear that the Mounted Police would need an edge if they wanted to track the experienced

  • outdoorsman.

  • That edge came in the form of local Inuvialuit and Gwich'in natives who knew the region

  • inside and out.

  • Based on the direction Johnson was traveling, it seemed likely he was trying to escape the

  • Northwest Territories for the Yukon, and the police quickly ordered the two main passes

  • blocked, hoping to intercept him at official crossings.

  • But they had underestimated the Mad Trapper of Rat River once again.

  • The Richardson Mountains were dangerous terrain, so most travellers went through the now-blocked

  • passages.

  • But Johnson took the harder route, secretly climbing a seven thousand foot peak and disappearing

  • once again into the wild - crossing the border into the Yukon.

  • The Mounted Police had been embarrassed by the rogue trader once again, and they needed

  • specialized talent.

  • Fortunately, there was a war hero looking for a new gig.

  • WilfredWopMay had received great acclaim for both his heroic airfights in the First

  • World War and for his work as a pilot for Canadian Airways.

  • He had even been involved in the final dogfight that claimed the life of the legendary Red

  • Baron.

  • Now his skills would be called on again, as the manhunt took on a new dimension - in the

  • air.

  • His monoplane was able to cover much more terrain than the Mounted Police could on foot,

  • and he spotted Johnson's tracks on the Richardson Mountains.

  • Coming off the mountains, May was able to see Johnson's trail following Caribou footprints.

  • The savvy trapper had used their footprints to disguise his own, but there was still evidence

  • of the times he made camp.

  • Finally, the police were back on the trail of Canada's greatest fugitive.

  • It was February 17th when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their posse finally caught

  • up to the suspect.

  • The final showdown was to be on the Eagle River in the Yukon territory.

  • With May's eyes in the sky, the officers were able to locate Johnson less than a mile

  • in front of them.

  • The frozen landscape didn't leave much room to hide if you weren't in the woods.

  • Johnson made a run for it, but he had made a fatal error - he didn't have his snowshoes

  • on.

  • Slowed down, he did the only thing he could.

  • He turned around and aimed at his pursuers - one last time.

  • Johnson fired on the officers, wounding one seriously.

  • But this time, the officers had better aim.

  • One bullet found its target, entering Albert Johnson's pelvis and passing through his

  • vital organs and severing his main arteries.

  • He bled out quickly, and the reign of the Mad Trapper of Rat River came to a sudden

  • end.

  • But the officers' attention was on their wounded colleague, with Wop May landing and

  • loading the man into his plane.

  • He flew him to safety, saving his life and ending Johnson's reign of terror with only

  • one dead.

  • But the Mad Trapper had some surprises in him from beyond the grave.

  • An investigation after the shooting revealed some shocking facts.

  • Johnson had traveled over eighty-five miles in the Canadian winter over his month-long

  • time as a fugitive, far more than an average person would be capable of.

  • Doctors estimated he must have been burning ten thousand calories a day with very little

  • resources.

  • Additionally, he had never been heard to say a single word - only a single twisted laugh

  • as he shot the unfortunate Constable Millen.

  • The only thing more shocking was what they found on his body.

  • Most traveling trappers in the Canadian North were working to make a living and sold their

  • wares to powerful trading companies.

  • But Johnson wasn't poor.

  • He had over two thousand dollars in both Canadian and American money on him, and his teeth had

  • expensive gold fillings.

  • He was carrying several weapons, pieces of gold, a dead bird and dead squirrel, and oddly,

  • some laxative pills.

  • He had been well-prepared, but what triggered this surprisingly wealthy man to launch his

  • reign of terror in the Canadian north?

  • Who was Albert Johnson?

  • Maybe the better question is - was there ever an Albert Johnson?

  • This notorious fugitive seemed to come out of nowhere, and there was never any record

  • of the man in any official documents.

  • This led most experts to assume that he was a pseudonym, someone taking on a new identity

  • and maybe trying to stay ahead of those looking for them from their old life.

  • Of course, Johnson had no problem making new trouble in his new identity.

  • Shortly after his death, the Mounted Police sent out pictures of him around the country

  • and its southern neighbor, hoping to identify him.

  • And that's when the suspects began emerging.

  • Initially, many people thought a traveler by the name of Arthur Nelson could be their

  • mystery man.

  • He had visited British Columbia, had similar guns, and worked as a trapper before heading

  • to the Yukon.

  • Decades later, a Yukon author would propose that these two men were both aliases of the

  • North Dakota criminal John Johnson, a past resident of San Quentin and Folsom Prison.

  • While the two looked alike, it was deemed unlikely that John Johnson would have expensive

  • gold fillings, and decades later DNA testing would debunk this theory.

  • It seemed like the Mad Trapper would fade into history.

  • The story had been notorious in its time, but soon the only remnant in the area would

  • be on a tributary of the Rat River, now named for the late Constable Edgar Millen.

  • The story generated a good number of books speculating on the identity of Albert Johnson,

  • including a Nova Scotia claiming he might have been their relative Owen Johnson.

  • And of course, Hollywood eventually came calling.

  • A number of songs and three films based on the story were released - most controversially

  • the 1981 Charles Bronson film Death Hunt - which angered many Canadians who knew of the story

  • by changing Johnson to a sympathetic antihero, Millen to an aged drunk who wanted to hunt

  • him down at all costs, and Wop May to a renegade pilot who irresponsibly shot his own men.

  • But almost seventy years after the manhunt, the story of the Mad Trapper had one more

  • surprise.

  • It was 2009 when the mystery was dug up again - literally.

  • A television program had arranged for Albert Johnson's body to be exhumed so DNA samples

  • could be taken.

  • The Discovery Channel exhumed the body in 2007 and compared his DNA with samples from

  • all the most popular suspects, including Norwegian draft-dodger Sigvald Pedersen Haaskjold, who

  • had emerged as a suspect decades later.

  • The program aired the reveals of the DNA tests one by one - and every single one showed the

  • same thing.

  • None of the DNA tests matched, proving that the true identity of Albert Johnson was none

  • of them.

  • In fact, he wasn't Canadian at all, with the isotopes in his teeth showing that he

  • was either from the American midwest or Scandinavia.

  • More than seventy years after the manhunt, the Mad Trapper of Rat River was still doing

  • what he did best - leaving his pursuers puzzled and without answers.

  • For more on current manhunts, check outScariest Criminals on US Marshals' Most Wanted List

  • or check out this video instead.

Canada.

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B1 johnson albert canadian yukon mounted mad

Fugitive's Insane Run from Police Leads to Canada's Biggest Manhunt in History

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    Summer posted on 2021/05/30
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