JOHNSON, Albert 1931

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9:25 PM - Jul 17, 2006 #1

Who was the Mad Trapper of Rat River?

In 1931, mysterious newcomer Albert Johnson set up a small cabin on a prime trapping spot on the Rat River in Fort MacPherson, NWT. Neighbours soon complained someone was messing with their traps.

Four times the Mounties tried to apprehend Johnson, using guns, dynamite and dogs. One officer died in a shootout as Canada tuned in to radio reports of the manhunt. Through extreme blizzards, -40 weather and up 2,100-metre-high mountains, Johnson evaded police for weeks to make his way to northern Yukon, a feat many woodsmen said was impossible. Johnson was shot nine times by police after being spotted by a search plane at Eagle River, Yukon. In a canister around his neck, he carried about $2,500 in cash and a number of gold teeth.

Fingerprints never identified Johnson, no family members ever claimed his body and no one ever heard him speak.

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11:47 PM - Jan 08, 2008 #2

The Mad Trapper of Rat River

by Jack Harley

Albert Johnson’s arrival in Fort MacPherson, July 9th 1931 on the southern edge of the Mackenzie delta (67 degrees N latitude) was by all accounts non-eventful. He was approximately 35 years of age, a very taciturn individual with cold blue eyes coupled with a stocky muscular build. These physical characteristics in men that trapped for a living in the north were nothing out of the ordinary.

What the local people considered strange, however, was the fact that Albert did not bother to obtain a trapping license even though he built an 8' X 10' cabin with a good view on 3 sides in a prime trapping location on the Rat River.

With the trapping season in full swing by early December 1931 some of Albert's neighbours began having someone disrupt their traps. The only change from last season to this one - was Albert Johnson. On Dec. 31 Constable Alfred 'Buns' King and Special Constable Joe Bernard, each of whom had considerable northern experience, decided to call on Johnson to investigate. When they approached his cabin they noticed smoke billowing up from the chimney giving the impression that he was in the cabin. But Albert wasn’t in a talking mood.

After numerous attempts to strike up a conversation in 40 below temperatures and getting nowhere with a man holed up with a gun, they decided to return to Aklavik to get reinforcements.

They returned with 2 more Mounties plus one civilian. After the initial knock on the door and without, warning suddenly a shot rang out wounding Constable King. A hasty retreat and a 20 hour dog sled ride back to Aklavik saved the life of the Constable.

On Jan 4, 1932, with 9 men, 42 dogs and 40 pounds of dynamite, a posse was determined to bring this fugitive in. Once their positions were secure on the cabin perimeter, the dynamite was thawed out by holding it under their coats close to their bodies.

The dynamite was thrown into the structure and a massive explosion ripped the roof clean off with one of the walls caving in.

As the Mounties entered the cabin to remove the corpse, Johnson stood up from a fox hole he dug firing 2 weapons narrowly missing both officers. A hasty retreat was in order again. After a 15 hr siege and food starting to run low they returned to Aklavik to contemplate their next move.

While all this was going on people in the rest of the continent were fixed to their radios listening to the first live reporting of a RCMP manhunt in Canada's north as it occurred. The whole affair was now dubbed the Mad Trapper of Rat River.

A third patrol was dispatched on Jan 14. But this time Johnson had fled his cabin fortress. For 2 weeks in near 50 below zero weather and 2 blizzards Johnson evaded his captures.

On Jan 30th he was confronted once more. After a short shootout, Constable 'Spike' Millen lay dead - shot through the heart. Johnson made his escape by climbing a sheer cliff in the dead of night.

Albert Johnson seemed to be no average trapper. The Mounties said of him to be capable of great feats and crafty beyond belief. The local Inuit said at one point in the chase that Johnson could snowshoe 2 miles for every 1 mile a dog team had to break trail.

Johnson had been back tracking in ever larger circles for the past month to evade capture. At this time hundreds of men were now tracking him. He had guns but could not use them to hunt for food - they would give away his position. He had means to light a fire to cook what food he could snare but the fire again would aid his pursuers. He also had to build shelters in snow drifts, surely his clothes must have started to get wet from perspiration and/or the elements.

When and where could he build a fire large enough to dry his clothes out or eat properly to help ward off the effects of 50 below zero weather? A tantalizing question.

Now Johnson's greatest feat was about to happen. Johnson could see that the Arctic Red River district was becoming to difficult to manage. His only avenue of escape was to traverse the Richardson mountains and head into the high country of the northern Yukon. The Mounties had already closed the door on that idea by guarding the only two passes through this range. But the quick thinking Johnson pulled another fast one on the Mounties.

During a raging blizzard he climbed over these 7,000 ft mountains with very little food and no climbing gear. With visibility during the blizzard at near zero, trying to cling to sheer cliffs of slippery ice and numbing cold, the mountain men of the area told the Mounties it would be impossible to do at this time of the year even with the proper gear and food.

A native trapper traveling through one of the guarded passes told of strange tracks on the upper reaches of the Eagle River, Yukon. Assuming that this could be Johnson on the other side of mountains, the Mounties knew they were no match in overtaking this fugitive.

In a Canadian first, on Feb 7, 1932 a monoplane piloted by W.R. (Wop) May was pressed into service to aid in the search to finally corner Johnson.

On February 17, 1932 May directed the Mounties to a hairpin turn in the middle section of the Eagle River where a gun battle eventually brought Johnson down. It took 9 bullets to Johnson's body to finally end this 5 week ordeal.

Where did he come from (his finger prints were no help)? No family member ever claimed the body. Before entering the Arctic River area no one had ever heard of him. During the entire man hunt the Mounties never heard him speak a word. And yet he had over $2,000 in cash and some placer gold in his possession.

The story of Albert Johnson is truly a Canadian Mystery that still beckons to be solved.

Ed note: You can still visit the grave of the Mad Trapper in Aklavik, NWT. See photo below.

There is a new book out on the Mad Trapper entitled: What Became of Sigvald, Anyway? I heartily recommend it. The author may have solved the mystery.


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11:48 PM - Jan 08, 2008 #3

Mad Trapper of Rat River
Albert Johnson, known as the Mad Trapper of Rat River, was a petty criminal whose actions eventually sparked off a huge manhunt in the Northwest Territories in Canada. The event became a minor media circus as Johnson eluded the Royal Canadian Mounted Police team sent to take him into custody, which ended after a 150 mile (240 km) foot chase in a shootout in which Johnson was fatally wounded.

Details of Johnson's life before his arrival in Fort MacPherson on July 9, 1931 are unknown. Soon after arriving he set up a small 8x10 foot cabin on the banks of the Rat River, near the Mackenzie River delta. Johnson did not take out a trapping license however, which was considered somewhat odd for someone living in the bush.

In December one of the local trappers complained to the local RCMP detachment in Aklavik that someone was tampering with his traps, tripping them and hanging them on the trees. He identified Johnson as the likely culprit. On December 31 Constable Alfred King and Special Constable Joe Bernard, each of whom had considerable northern experience, trekked out to Johnson's cabin to ask him about the allegations. They noticed smoke coming from the chimney, and approached the hut to talk. Johnson refused to talk to them, seeming to not even notice them. King approached and looked in the window, at which point Johnson placed a sack over the window. They eventually decided to return to Aklavik and get a search warrant.

They returned two days later with two additional RCMP officers and a civilian deputy. Johnson again refused to talk, and eventually King decided to enforce the warrant and force the door. As soon as he started Johnson shot him through the wood. A brief firefight broke out, and the team managed to return King to Aklavik, where he eventually recovered.
A posse was formed, this time with nine men, 42 dogs and 20 pounds (9 kg) of dynamite which they intended to use to blast Johnson out of the cabin. After surrounding the cabin they thawed the dynamite inside the coats, eventually building a single charge and tossing it into the cabin. After the explosion collapsed the building the men rushed in, only to have Johnson open fire from a foxhole he had dug under the building. No one was hit, and after a 15 hour standoff in the 40-below weather the posse again decided to return to Aklavik for further instructions.

By this point news of the events had filtered out to the rest of the world via radio. When the posse returned on January 14th, delayed because of almost continual blizzards, Johnson had left the cabin and the posse gave chase. They eventually caught up on January 30th, surrounding him at the bottom of a cliff. Johnson decided to fight his way out, shooting Constable 'Spike' Millen through the heart. The troops remained in position, and that night Johnson scaled the cliff to escape once again.

The posse continued to grow, enlisting local Inuit and Gwitchin who were better able to move in the back country. Johnson eventually decided to leave for the Yukon, but the RCMP had blocked the only two passes over the local Richardson mountains. That didn't stop Johnson, who scaled a 7,000 foot peak and once again disappeared. This was only discovered when an Inuit trapper reported odd tracks on the far side of the mountains.

In desperation, the RCMP hired Wop May to help in the hunt by scouting the area from the air. He arrived in his new ski-equipped Bellanca monoplane on the 5th. On February 14th he discovered the trick Johnson had been using to elude his followers, when he noticed a set of footprints leading off the center of the Eagle River to the bank. Johnson had been following the caribou tracks in the middle of the river, where they travelled to allow better visibility for preditors, leaving the trail at night to make camp. May radioed back his findings and the RCMP gave chase up the river, eventually being directed to him by May on the 17th.
The team rounded a bend in the river to find Johnson only a few hundred yards in front of them. He attempted to run for the bank, but didn't have his snowshoes on and couldn't make it. A firefight broke out in which one RCMP officer was seriously wounded and Johnson eventually brought down after being hit nine times. May landed and flew the officer to help, being credited with saving his life.

On examination over two thousand dollars in bills were found in his pockets, some gold, a pocket compass, a razor, a knife, fish hooks, nails, a dead squirrel, and a dead bird. During the entire chase the Mounties had never heard Johnson say a single word. To this day no one knows who he was, why he moved to the arctic, or what he was doing to the traps.
The event has been written about in a number of books, as well as a fictionalized account that was later turned into the movie Death Hunt, starring Charles Bronson.


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11:53 PM - Jan 08, 2008 #4


Last updated at 7:38 AM on 16/08/07

Film crew finds Mad Trapper's remains



Last updated at 7:38 AM on 16/08/07

Film crew finds Mad Trapper's remains


A film crew exhuming the body of the Mad Trapper of Rat River had to dig two holes to find him. (CP Photo)

He's been dead for 75 years, but the Mad Trapper of Rat River almost evaded pursuers one more time.

A film crew exhuming the body of the legendary outlaw in an effort to finally identify him had to dig two holes to find him - and wound up relying on the memory of a 92-year-old woman to successfully get DNA samples.

"We thought he was going to evade us one last time," Carrie Gour of Myth Merchant Films said yesterday of the Alberta-based film company's attempt to find an answer to one of the North's great enduring mysteries.

Albert Johnson slid into Arctic lore - probably under an alias - in January 1932, when he died in a gun battle with police after a brutal mid-winter manhunt that cost the life of an RCMP constable.

Police began chasing Johnson after he shot and nearly killed an officer who wanted to ask him about complaints that someone had been interfering with traplines near Fort McPherson, N.W.T.

RCMP dynamited his cabin, but Johnson survived and led police dog teams on a spectacular two-week chase that was followed across the continent on the then-new medium of radio. When officers eventually reached him, Johnson shot one of them dead.

Despite travelling on foot and not being able to build a fire or hunt, Johnson escaped again, somehow crossing the 2,100-metre-high Richardson Mountains in the middle of a blizzard.

It took the first aerial search in Canadian history - by World War One flying ace Wilfred (Wop) May - to eventually find him. Trapped, Johnson died in the ensuing gun battle.

His pockets held more than $2,000 but no identification. His fingerprints revealed nothing. Nobody claimed the body.

Myth Merchant, after receiving permission from the village of Aklavik, N.W.T., to dig up the body, is hoping to use DNA sequences to finally settle the question of Johnson's identity.



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11:55 PM - Jan 08, 2008 #5

CBC Radio (see August 14)
(see August 10)

Globe and Mail - May 2007

Hunt for Mad Trapper is back on.
More than 75 years after his death, filmmakers set to solve the case of Canada's most famous outlaw.

EDMONTON — Ole Getz hopes a clump of hair from his mother's hairbrush helps solve a 75-year-old mystery and reveal that his great uncle was the Mad Trapper of Rat River, one of Canada's most notorious outlaws.

But the Alberta man is not alone in his quest to make a genetic connection to Albert Johnson, a gun-toting trapper who led the RCMP on the mother-of-all police chases across the Arctic during the depths of the Great Depression. At least a half-dozen families are lining up to hand over DNA samples to an Alberta film company that has been given approval by a tiny Northwest Territories community to dig up Mr. Johnson's corpse this summer and conduct scientific tests to determine his true identity.

"I know what he did. But he still was tough. He's my hero," said Mr. Getz, a 61-year-old logger from High Prairie.

On Feb. 17, 1932, Mr. Johnson was finally tracked down by the Mounties after being on the run for almost 50 days. A gunfight erupted and the lanky, blue-eyed trapper was killed on the frozen Eagle River in Yukon.

During the epic manhunt, which began at Mr. Johnson's log cabin on the banks of the Rat River in the Mackenzie Delta region and spanned 300 kilometres, blizzards and -50 weather, he never said one word. Not even when police used dynamite to blow up his tiny cabin with him still inside.

Mr. Johnson had few provisions with him, but still managed to elude a small army of officers, aboriginal guides and special constables and dogs, and even scale a 7,000-foot mountain without climbing equipment. The manhunt, which still counts as the Mounties' longest police chase, made history because it was the first time in Canada an aircraft and two-way radios were used to catch a wanted person.
Before he was gunned down, Mr. Johnson had killed one Mountie and wounded two more, and had become an infamous figure around North America after newspaper and radio reporters dubbed him the Mad Trapper of Rat River and breathlessly detailed his seemingly superhuman exploits.

The story has inspired countless books and even a Hollywood film, Death Hunt, starring Charles Bronson. A lot of the intrigue has centred on the fact that no one knows who Albert Johnson was or what led him to fire at officers when they travelled to his isolated cabin in the final weeks of 1931 to investigate complaints about damaged trap-lines in the area. Police always assumed Mr. Johnson's name was an alias.

"This story captures the imagination. ... What was this white guy doing alone in the High Arctic in the 1930s? Where did he come from?" said Carrie Gour, a producer with Myth Merchant Films. The film company won approval this year from Aklavik, a community of 700 Gwich'in and Inuvialuit people 60 kilometres west of Inuvik, to exhume Mr. Johnson's body from the hamlet's cemetery and take a DNA sample, likely a tooth.

The community's approval was surprising, because it has long resisted requests to disturb the outlaw's unconsecrated grave. In the 1980s, Yukon-based author Dick North tried but failed to exhume Mr. Johnson's body after several Aklavik elders complained the dead should be left alone. Mr. North, who has researched the Mad Trapper story for more than 40 years and written extensively on the topic, is convinced Albert Johnson is actually Johnny Johnson, a bank robber and horse thief from North Dakota who was born in Norway in 1898.

The 77-year-old author approached Johnny Johnson's family, which includes Mr. Getz, with his findings and they've been determined ever since to prove the connection. Ms. Gour said while the one-hour documentary, which is scheduled to air on Discovery Channel Canada next year, is primarily about the scientific quest to identify Mr. Johnson, the film will also chronicle the long-ignored contributions that aboriginal guides and special constables made during the manhunt. "Without their help, Albert Johnson would have never been caught. I'm sure of that," Ms. Gour said.

Aklavik Mayor Knute Hansen said the majority of the community is ready to "have this mystery settled once and for all. ... We would like to know who this guy is." He said that giving permission to exhume Mr. Johnson's body was difficult, but locals are impressed with the film company's efforts to alleviate their concerns. He said people are pleased there is plan to tell the aboriginal side of the story, as well as the film company's decision to pay for a community gift that will commemorate the project. Locals still haven't decided how the money will be spent, but ideas range from a scholarship to setting up a Mad Trapper museum.

Mr. Getz and his family are also hopeful this mystery may finally be solved. He said until Mr. North's research uncovered the possible family connection, his mother Barbro and other relatives had believed their uncle had simply disappeared, and likely died of natural causes.

As a child, Mr. Getz recalls being told grand stories about his great uncle and how he had travelled Canada's North and made a small fortune prospecting for gold and trapping.

As an adult, Mr. Getz also travelled and worked in Canada's Arctic, and even climbed the same mountain range, the Richardson Mountains, that Mr. Johnson scaled during his run from the law.

"He's been in my mind since I was 10, that guy," Mr. Getz said.
"I've dreamed about what he did. I've read about it. ... He's with me, always."

Origins of the mystery
Albert Johnson (likely an alias) built a cabin along the Rat River in late 1931.
After complaints from local trappers about someone tampering with their traps, police paid a series of visits to the cabin, on one occasion blowing it up with dynamite. Mr. Johnson returned fire from a foxhole. Weeks later, a lengthy chase through extreme terrain and weather ended with a gunfight along a river. When his bullet-riddled body was searched by police, there were reports they found $2,400 in Canadian and American bills, pearls, some pieces of gold dental work, a pocket compass, a razor, nails, a knife, fish hooks and a dead squirrel and small bird, but no identification. No one ever claimed his body and his fingerprints were lost.

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12:01 AM - Jan 09, 2008 #6

Author Mark Fremmerlid’s interest in a missing relative, one who was last known in 1927 still hiding out from the World War I draft, leads to a possible solution to a great Canadian mystery. After 20 years investigation he finds the link to present what he considers the most intriguing case ever as to the true identity of Albert Johnson, the Mad Trapper as well as an explanation of his actions. He finds the number of clues appear to take this case beyond coincidence, particularly the reason he would have to take up the alias Albert Johnson.

This story documents the childhood and development of Sigvald as well as the entire Albert Johnson, Mad Trapper affair.

This book is for people who take an interest in mystery solving, in this case two mysteries and potentially one solution.

Albert Johnson aka "The Mad Trapper Of
Rat River" was a man who went to
extraordinary lengths to avoid the RCMP.
The question of who he was has plagued
authors, police and reporters alike. Now, a
new theory emerges that explains why he
shot a police officer during a routine RCMP
visit, why he was so well prepared for the
following seven week chase and why he
chose to be "Albert Johnson".

Finally, after 75 years, this true story is
revealed. After discovering a phenomenal
clue as to why Sigvald would rename
himself Albert Johnson the author
considered this story one that must be
shared. It is his attempt to explain exactly
why a mysterious man calling himself Albert
Johnson would show up north of the arctic
circle and proceed to give one of the finest
police forces in the world a battle which
challenged their reputation. While the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police got their man, his
challenge continued after death as a man
who could not be identified. The author
researched this story for 25 years. This
book is loaded with never before published,
well documented information, about Sigvald
and The Mad Trapper Albert Johnson.


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12:06 AM - Jan 09, 2008 #7

Pilot traces Mad Trapper's link to family in new book
Nick Lees, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Wednesday, August 29 2007
An Edmonton air-ambulance pilot believes Albert Johnson, "the Mad Trapper of Rat River," could be a relative.

He also has a theory about why Johnson fled from RCMP officers more than 70 years ago, killing one and badly wounding two others.

And he thinks he might know why the man used the name "Albert Johnson."

In a book due out Thursday, Mark Fremmerlid tells of his 25-year investigation into one of Canada's greatest unsolved mysteries.

"It's incredible no one has identified the Mad Trapper since the shootout at the end of a five-week chase 75 years ago," says the pilot.

He believes the Mad Trapper was far from mad and could have been Sigvald Velsvik, his grandmother's brother.

"He wasn't crazy, but cunning, resourceful and extremely fit," says Fremmerlid. "He became obsessed with the idea the authorities were chasing him."

In his book, Fremmerlid recounts that Johnson arrived at Fort McPherson in Canada's High Arctic in July 1931, and was described by an RCMP officer who interviewed him as clean-shaven and having a Scandinavian accent.

On Dec. 26, two constables were sent to Johnson's isolated cabin on Rat River, 140 kilometres from Aklavik, following complaints about trapline violations.

Johnson didn't answer his door and when four Mounties returned five days later with a search warrant, they were greeted with a shot through the door. One officer was wounded.

On Jan. 19, 1932, a well-armed, eight-man patrol used dynamite to blow up Johnson's fortress-like cabin. When they rushed in, Johnson opened fire from a foxhole he had dug under the building. No one was hit and after 15 hours the posse returned to Aklavik.

Johnson later fled the cabin. When officers surrounded him at the base of a cliff, one died in a firefight and Johnson scaled the cliff to escape.

He headed for the Yukon, but the RCMP had blocked the only two passes over the Richardson Mountains. Without proper equipment and with no food, Johnson scaled an "impassable" 2,100-metre peak. He was discovered when a native trapper reported strange tracks on the far side of the mountains.

Johnson travelled in caribou tracks, and the RCMP hired First World War flying ace Wop May to help with the search.

Johnson was spotted Feb. 17, and another officer was injured when a firefight broke out. Johnson was eventually shot nine times and died hiding behind his pack on the frozen river bed.

"The Mounties got their man," says Fremmerlid. "But nobody knew him."

The pilot believes Sigvald Velsvik came to Canada in 1913, at the age of 18, to look for his father. And he ended up in Prince Rupert.

"The First World War found him in a pool hall one night when it was raided by police looking for draftees for the trenches," said Fremmerlid.

"Sigvald was caught, but said he had previously decided to serve his country and was allowed to go home to pick up some things. That's when I believe his survival saga might begin."

Fremmerlid's grandfather later tracked Sigvald to a well-hidden cabin on Digby Island, where ropes and weights opened a hidden door.

"Sigvald explained why he was hiding," says Fremmerlid. "It was explained to him an amnesty had been declared for draft escapees. My grandfather left with the impression Sigvald was all right, except for an obsessive delusion that the authorities were after him."

Sigvald was extremely resourceful (his stovepipe was built from lard tins) and so was Albert Johnson. Johnson was found with $2,400 in his pocket, but his knife was made from a trap spring, and his chisel was fashioned from a nail.

After 1927, Sigvald was never heard from again. But Albert Johnson showed up in the Arctic in 1931.

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Font:****Sigvald and the Mad Trapper were both Norwegian, their ages are a good match, both were clean shaven, shrewd and resourceful, and built fortress-like cabins to resist arrest.

"A cousin is an expert on family genealogy and was tracing Sigvald's father's 1906 departure from Norway when up popped the name Peder 'Albert Johannes Rasmussen Haaskjold' on the ship's manifest, right after Peder."

Fremmerlid says 12-year-old Sigvald may have been jealous that his older brother had sailed off with his dad.

"Sigvald had spent his critical adolescent years obsessed and disturbed by

the idea of being left behind," the pilot says.

Peder, Sigvald and Albert had the same last name, Haaskjold, because it was traditional in Norway to use your farm as your last name.

"If Sigvald changed his name to Albert Johnson, at 32 he is totally self-sufficient but obsessed with the thought the authorities are looking for him.

"My grandfather's visit may have disturbed him into thinking his location was becoming too well-known.

"He could have spent the next four years working his way north to a remote place where he thought nobody would think of looking for him."

Early in 2008, Fremmerlid will find if he really is related to the Mad Trapper. An Edmonton-based documentary crew this month in Aklavik exhumed the remains of Albert Johnson and UBC scientists will compare samples of anyone who thinks they might be related to the Mad Trapper.

"There are a number of people who believe they might be related," says Fremmerlid. "It really doesn't matter to me, but it's been a whodunit story in my life for quarter of a century. We all like to know the answer to a good mystery."

Mark Fremmerlid will autograph books ($9.99) and chat about the Mad Trapper at the Aviation Museum on Kingsway from 12:30-6 pm. Thursday.