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While the massacre that killed 11 people in the James Smith First Nation and Village of Weldon is Saskatchewan’s worst mass murder, the killing of five children in Moose Jaw in 1918 is this community’s worst massacre.
Newspaper clippings from the Moose Jaw Daily News and two books by community author Bruce Fairman — “Moose Jaw: 1905-1930” and “Moose Jaw Murders and Other Deaths” — tell the gruesome tale of a father who slaughtered his five kids because of job problems.
Walter Edward Bromley and his family immigrated to Winnipeg from England in 1911, where he acquired a job with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). He worked hard and was later promoted and transferred to Kenora, Ont.
CPR bosses again promoted him in April 1918, gave him a substantial raise and transferred him to Moose Jaw, where he rented a two-storey home at Ominica Street East. The Friendly City was then a main point for the CPR and the freight shed was a busy place requiring an efficient and organized mind.
Bromley’s promotion came at the right time because he and his wife were proud parents of twin girls born in August 1917. They already had two other girls, ages seven and five, while their oldest child Norman, 9, was partially handicapped.
The end of the beginning
In early September 1918, Bromley’s bosses called him into the office, demoted him, and cut his pay significantly.
“In truth, the demotion was not really a complete surprise for Walter. He had been struggling in his new position since he had arrived in the city,” Fairman wrote. “He just could not seem to get a handle on it. He no sooner solved one problem when two more appeared.”
Boxes were piled everywhere in the office, while many shipments were lost entirely. Bromley’s bosses regularly expressed their disappointment in him, which affected his mind and confidence.
The pay cut hit Bromley hard and he became depressed. He became concerned that his reduced income would be insufficient to cover his large family’s living expenses — including food.
A bloody night
On the evening of Sept. 17, 1918, Bromley sent his wife to the movies, the first time she had been away from the kids since they moved to Moose Jaw. She was pleased to take a much-needed break.
Bromley later went upstairs and methodically killed each of the children. First, he killed Norman in his bed. Then he went and did the same to daughters, Dulcie, 7, and Ivy, 5. He then brought the twin babies, Doris and Joan, aged 14 months, into Norman’s room and murdered them.
Bromley’s wife returned around 11 p.m. to find her husband outside with the front door locked. He calmly advised her that he had killed the children and refused her entry into the home.
“Mrs. Bromley started running back and forth along the length of the veranda, screaming at the top of her lungs that her husband had killed their babies,” Fairman said.
Call the police
Her screams awoke neighbours William and Jessie Stephens, prompting Mrs. Stephens to look out the window and inquire about the situation. While Mrs. Bromley was agitated — she repeatedly screamed, “He has killed my babies!” — Mr. Bromley was quite composed.
Another neighbour, Ben Kite, came and asked if he could help. Mrs. Bromley repeated her words to him, prompting him to ask Mr. Bromley if it was true that he had killed their babies.
“You can believe it if you like,” Mr. Bromley calmly replied. When asked if he refused to let his wife enter the home, he said, “I guess it is.”
When Kite asked if he could enter, Mr. Bromley remarked, “It’s too late now. One of the children made me mad and I must have gotten excited and killed them all.”
When Kite asked Bromley whether he should call the police, the latter said, “Suit yourself.”
To the police station
The Bromleys walked downtown and entered the police station around 12:30 a.m., where Mr. Bromley handed the housekeys to duty officer Const. J.H. Wensley and calmly said that he had murdered his five children.
The officer took Bromley into custody and found the weapon used in the murders — covered in dried blood — in his back pocket. Safely in a cell, Bromley gave his statement to the police chief and admitted his guilt.
Police advised coroner Dr. Hourigan of the situation and sent him to the home. There he found the children dead and sent the bodies to the Broadfoot Brothers Funeral Home, where Dr. G. Bawden could examine them.
Bawden confirmed that the children were killed with a sharp instrument.
“Wm. Bromley confesses to having committed murder,” a headline blared from the Sept. 18 Moose Jaw Daily News, while the sub-head read: “Terrible murder of family of five little ones thrills city this morning; mother was at picture show at time of crime.”
Police took Bromley to court on Sept. 18 and charged him with murder. A preliminary inquiry was held on Sept. 20, which determined he was fit to stand trial.
A quick trial
During his trial at Court of King’s Bench, Bromley’s defence was that of insanity, while he attempted to show that such mental illness ran in the family. The plea was unsuccessful, however, and the jury quickly found him guilty.
When asked if he had anything to say, Bromley replied, “No.”
The judge sentenced Bromley on Aug. 16, 1919, to hang in Regina on Aug. 21. The sentence was later changed to life in prison at the Prince Albert Penitentiary after the Crown prosecutor convinced the judge that Bromley “had some attributes of a person suffering from mental delirium.”
The Bromleys’ five children lie in one unmarked grave in the Moose Jaw Cemetery in Block 32, Lot 4.
In the official cemetery record books, a handwritten comment for the entry to the gravedigger says, “Dig deeper. Two coffins are going into the grave.”