About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Diefenbaker for the Defence by Garrett Wilson and Kevin Wilson

Diefenbaker for the Defence by Garrett Wilson and Kevin Wilson – John George Diefenbaker was a defence counsel in rural Saskatchewan for over 35 years before he became Prime Minister of Canada in 1957. 

The biography, while covering his life until he became P.M., is focused on his trials in the courts of Saskatchewan.

Last year I read the Moonlight Murder Mystery: An Adventure of the Young John Diefenbaker by Roderick Benns. I followed up with a post on my personal contacts with Dief the Chief. (My last post was a review of Garrett Wilson’s legal fictional mystery, Guilty Addictions, and information on his life.)

After a somewhat mysterious medical discharge from the Canadian Army in WW I Diefenbaker was able to use a soldier’s exemption to accelerate his articles so that he became a lawyer at 24.

His first office was in Wakaw which is 85 km down the road from my home in Melfort. (Readers of the blog will recognize Wakaw as the real life town featured in the small town Saskatchewan mysteries of Nelson Brunanski.)

Diefenbaker, while frail in appearance as a young man, had piercing eyes, a powerful voice and a commanding formal presence that served him well in the courtroom.

When his legal career began most of the residents of Saskatchewan, other than First Nations peoples, were immigrants from all the nations of Europe. Around Wakaw a majority of the newcomers were either Slavic or French.

Soon in demand Diefenbaker defended cases throughout our region. It was interesting to read of cases that took place in courthouses in which I have argued cases, including Melfort where I live.

An early prominent case arose on Christmas Day of 1929 when Antena Kropa died after being shot in her home in Humboldt. Beside her was the wounded Alex Wysochan. Her husband, Alex, claimed that a drunk Wysochan had threatened them. As Alex fled the house through a window to get help he heard 3 shots fired. Wysochan retained Diefenbaker to defend him. The most obvious defence was to plead drunkenness. If successful, the defence could not produce an acquittal but would reduce the conviction from murder to manslaughter. Diefenbaker, for reasons not clear in the book eschewed the drunkenness defence and went for an acquittal claiming Kropa had shot his wife and Wysochan. It is hard to know whether Antena and Wysochan being lovers helped or hurt the defence. I think Diefenbaker, an aggressive counsel, was overconfident of his ability to convince a jury, even if the facts for his defence were weak. It proved a fatal decision for Wysochan. The defence was unsuccessful. Wysochan was convicted and hung.

The case illustrates when I am grateful, as a lawyer, Canada does not have the death penalty. The decisions made by a defence counsel in a capital case can have life and death consequences. I am not sure I could defend someone with that responsibility upon me. Diefenbaker does not seem to have been excessively traumatized. He carried on with his legal career.

While immediately a successful lawyer Diefenbaker was an unsuccessful Conservative Party politician for almost two decades. His political career was adversely affected by the presence of the Klu Klux Klan. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the Klan had a loud, though fortunately non-violent presence, in Saskatchewan. While not a member of the Klan, Diefenbaker did not effectively distance himself from the Klan when it was actively supporting the Conservative party

Justly famed for his criminal defence work, Diefenbaker also took on civil cases. When the famed naturalist, Grey Owl, died in northern Saskatchewan the public learned he was an imposter. Archie Belaney was not Indian but an English immigreant. Diefenbaker became involved in a court case over his estate. Belaney had lived a complicated family life. Publicly he had lived with Anahaero and she had borne them a child, Shirley Dawn. He had also gone through a marriage to Yvonne Perrier. After death it was determined he had never divorced his first wife, Angle Belaney. Diefenbaker unsuccessfully sought to eliminate Angle’s claim on the basis she had been unfaithful after Archie deserted her. The Court dismissed the argument justly pointing out Archie had left her, neglected her and their children and lived with other women.

The book is at its best analyzing Diefenbaker’s conduct of trials. His skill in final arguments drew full courtrooms to hear him. By the time I graduated from law school in the mid-1970's Diefenbaker had spent a generation away from the courts of Saskatchewan but he was still highly regarded as a defence lawyer. (July 29/13)


  1. Bill - What an interesting insight into Diefenbaker's life and mostly, his courtroom history. There are some people who have such a courtroom presence and such skill there that they do draw crowds and it seems that he was one of them. And it must be even more fascinating to you, not just because you are an attorney, but also because those cases were argued in your own back yard as the saying goes. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Very interesting post, Bill. I found the information about the Wysochan case interesting. Also about the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Canada. I had no idea.

  3. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I wished I could have heard him argue in court. I did hear speak as a politican. He was a striking political speaker.

  4. TracyK: The Klan is not a subject of which Saskatchewan is proud. I am grateful they disappeared from our province by WW II.

  5. I have studied the case of Alex Wysochan from all of the primary sources; the police reports and the original transcripts of the Coroners Inquest, the preliminary inquiry and the trial itself and I have written about the case. Antena Kropa's husband was Stanley Kropa and the couple had a three year old son. Alex Wysochan was Antena Kropa;s lover and he was determined to take her from her husband. And, yes, Diefenbaker could have gotten Wysochan's charge reduced to manslaughter because there was adequate testimony to support the fact that he was drunk when he shot Antena Kropa. Stanley Kropa did not shoot his wife, Alex Wysochan did. Wysochan then turned the gun on himself, wounding himself superficially. He botched his own suicide because he was drunk and he passed out while trying to reload. Read the documents. All of this is in there. This is not my interpretation, these are the facts contained in the documents from the original sources mentioned.

    1. Stephen: Diefenbaker, as stated in my post, tried to prove Stanley shot his wife and was unsuccessful. That the defence failed is not surprising. It was an implausible defence. The evidence you referred to in your comment was and still is more convincing.

  6. Correction Alex Wysochan did not kill Antenna Kropa, her husband Stanley admitted to the murder on his deathbed, in Humboldt in the late 1930s. the previous researcher was wrong..Dief knew his client was not guilty that is why he refused the drunkenness defense. My father actually knew these people. contact me if you wish. Nick Reifferscheid, 306 672 3897