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Victor Ernest HOFFMAN






"The Shell Lake murders"
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Released from a mental hospital just three weeks before the murders
Number of victims: 9
Date of murders: August 15, 1967
Date of arrest: 4 days after
Date of birth: 1946
Victims profile: James Peterson, 47, his wife Evelyn, 42, and their children, Jean, 17; Mary, 13; Dorothy, 11; Pearl, 9; William, 5; Colin, 2; and Larry, 1
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada
Status: Found not guilty by reason of insanity in February 1968. Put under the custody of the provincial Health Ministry and sent to a mental institution. Died under custody on May 21, 2004

The Shell Lake murders is the name of a single mass murder incident committed by Victor Ernest Hoffman (b. 1946, d. May 21, 2004) in Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, during the early morning of August 15, 1967.

Nine people, all members of James Peterson's family, were shot in the head by a man who was later called "Canada's worst random mass murderer."

Victor Hoffman was 21 years old at the time and had been released from a mental hospital just three weeks before the murders. In the morning of August 15 he entered the Peterson's farm armed with a .22-calibre Browning pump-action repeater rifle.

He then proceeded to shoot all members of the Peterson family, seven of them children, at close range around the four-room house. According to police 28 shots were fired in total, of which 27 found their target.

Mr. Peterson was shot in the kitchen, while his wife Evelyn and her one-year old baby were found in the backyard. The other six children were shot while sleeping in their bedrooms. Their ages ranged from 2 to 17 years old.

Phyllis Peterson, then 4 years old, was the lone survivor of the massacre. She was sleeping under the bedclothes between her two sisters and thus was not noticed by Hoffman. However, Hoffman later declared that he spared her because "she had the face of an angel."

The bodies were found by a neighbor who was to help Mr. Peterson with farm duties later that morning. He had to travel 6 km (3.7 mi) to the next telephone post before he could report the incident to the police. The police immediately started an extensive manhunt on the surroundings of the house.


On August 19, 1967, Hoffman was arrested by the RCMP without putting up resistance. He was found at his parents' home in Leask, about 65 km (40 mi) southwest of Shell Lake. After his arrest he told the police that he had fought the devil before the murders and described him as being "tall, black and having no genitals." He was remanded to a mental hospital in North Battleford where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Hoffman was found not guilty by reason of insanity on non-capital murder charges in February 1968. During the trial Crown prosecutor Serge Kujawa called Hoffman "the craziest man in Saskatchewan." He was put under the custody of the provincial Health Ministry and sent to a mental institution.

He remained most of the time in an Ontario-based institution until December 2001, when he was granted supervised access to the towns of Penetanguishene, Port McNicol and Midland in Ontario. This decision was not without controversy since the hospital was only required to inform the local police of Hoffman's release.

Canadian journalist Peter Tadman wrote a book about the murders in 1992 and had the chance to interview Hoffman several times. According to Tadman, Hoffman felt no guilt about the murders and reported that he still saw the devil that compelled him to commit them.

Hoffman died of cancer under custody on May 21, 2004.

Further reading

Tadman, Peter (2001). Shell Lake Massacre. Calgary: Detselig Enterprises. ISBN 1550592289.


Leask man charged in mass murder

By Don Harvey - Saskatoon Star Phoenix

August 21, 1967

NORTH BATTLEFORD (CP) - The RCMP announced Sunday that Victor Ernest Hoffman, 21, of the Leask district has been arrested in the slaying of nine members of the James Peterson family and will be arraigned in district judge's court in North Battleford today.

Inspector Brian Sawyer, in charge of the investigation, said Hoffman surrendered without a struggle at his home about 5:30 p.m. CST Saturday, some three hours after the funeral of Mr. and Mrs. Peterson and seven of their nine children at Shell Lake.

The family had been shot to death in their farm home near Shell Lake, 65 miles northeast of here, early Tuesday.

Inspector Sawyer said police found a .22-claibre Belgian Browning pump-action repeater rifle Friday and that tests at the RCMP ballistics laboratory in Regina "positively identified it as the murder weapon."

The inspector said Hoffman will be formally charged at today's hearing with the murder of Mr. Peterson, 47. He said the accused would probably be remanded to the Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford for mental examination.

Other victims of the slaying were Mr. Peterson's wife Evelyn, 42, and their children, Jean, 17; Mary, 13; Dorothy, 11; Pearl, 9; William, 5; Colin, 2; and Larry, 1.

Four-year-old Phyllis, sleeping under the bedclothes between her two sisters, was unharmed.

The inspector said no motive had been established for the slaying.

"The arrest was the culmination of a very casual conversation that one of our members had with an individual and we decided it would be wise to check the Hoffman residence."

Leask is about 60 miles southeast of Shell Lake, a mixed farming community of about 250 persons.

Sawyer said the RCMP has advised Hoffman's parents to retain a lawyer for their son.

The inspector described Hoffman as single and of average build, about five feet eight inches tall and weighing about 165 pounds.

He said Hoffman "was not a bit scared" and behaved normally since his arrest.

Inspector Sawyer paid tribute to all the RCMP men who had worked on the case.

"This makes me very, very proud of being a member of this force, "he said. "Credit goes to the 75 men we had in the area as well as to many more at other detachments elsewhere."

He said most of the men in the immediate area had put in at least 18 hours a day since Tuesday. A few had worked as much as 36 hours without a break.

The mass slaying was discovered about 9 a.m. Tuesday by a neighbor who called at the isolated four-room house to ask Mr. Peterson for help with his haying.

Police said Mr. Peterson's body, clad only in undershorts, lay facing the kitchen door. The bodies of Mrs. Peterson and the baby were found in the yard and the remaining children were in bed. Each had been shot at least twice with .22-claibre bullets, many of them at close range.

Police said 28 bullets were fired, of which 27 found their mark.


Girl lone survivor of mass shooting at Shell Lake

Nine in farm family slain

Saskatoon Star Phoenix

August 16, 1967

SHELL LAKE - Fourteen shots from a .22-calibre weapon snuffed out the lives of nine of 10 members of a family here sometime Monday night.

The mystery killer gunned down James Peterson, 47 years, his wife Evelyn, 42, and seven of the eight children who were at his home. The children were aged one to 17 years.

Bodies were found on the front porch, the back yard and in the home. Nearly all of the children were killed in their beds.

The dead children are: Larry, 1 1/2 years; Colin, 3; William, 6; Pearl, 9; Dorothy, 11; Mary, 13; Jean, 17.

The lone survivor of the massacre was four-year-old Phyllis.

Phyllis, according to one report, was lying in a bed between her brothers and sisters and may have slept through the entire blood bath.

The RCMP officers in numbers described by one officer as "One hell of a lot" are combing the area for the killer or killers.

RCMP set up roadblocks and brought in the dogs to search nearby bush. Inspector Brian Sawyer said a search party of up to 250 persons was "ready to go."

The only confirmed clue turned up so far are five spent cartridge casings. An unconfirmed report told of a .22-calibre weapon being found by youngsters but this has so far been denied by police.

A neighbor, W. J. Lange, discovered the lonely farm house killings when he called on Mr. Peterson to begin haying operations at about 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Mr. Lange opened the door to the Peterson home to kid Mr. Peterson that he had slept in when he saw Mr. Peterson's body by the kitchen door. The house was not ransacked.

Mr. Lange found the keys in the Peterson family's 1957 station wagon and drove the car to the nearest telephone at Shell Lake, four miles away.

Coronor Dr. Calvin S. Lambert estimated the time of death at "possibly 2 a.m." A coronor's jury, called to the scene to view the bodies, estimated 14 shots had been fired.

Ed Simonar, who operates a garage at Shell Lake, said powder burn indicated the victims were shot, at close range.

RCMP said there was no apparent motive for the slayings, and the coronor said that, because no weapon was found, "I don't think there was a suicide."

The bodies of Mrs. Peterson and 1 1/2-year-old Larry were found in the back yard under an open window.

At the scene Tuesday night, RCMP officers were on their hands and knees going through long grass of the farm yard looking for anything.

A non-commissioned officer on the scene said point blank, as he stood over a child's headless doll, "This is the worst I have ever seen."

More officers were inside the tiny, white, five-room homestead. Chickens pecked in the front yard and pink pigs roosted in a pen behind the house.

The family dog, a black mongrel with white markings cowered under the back porch while police searched for clues as to who killed its masters. The dog never wagged his tail.

A neighbor had taken the rest of the stock---otherwise the tiny home looked like it always has on a hot summer afternoon. A boy's bicycle was in the dirt yard, a wash rag was hanging on the clothes line, and an old washing machine held blooming pink flowers.

Inside the home was death.

Through the garden, under the clothesline and through the pines another officer with a tracking dog searched.

One officer hinted at a major clue that had not been mentioned previously but would not be pressed on the point.

Overheard from another tight-lipped constable was that one of the children had been shot three times in the head and "didn't move a muscle," as she lay in bed.

The house so far is out of bounds to all but police officers.

The neighbor who found the bodies had to go four miles to the nearest phone to inform the RCMP in Spiritwood, 16 miles away. Since that time officers from all over the province have been called in on the manhunt.

The little survivor is being kept at the home of an uncle, Helmer Helgeton, 3 1/2 miles away from the death house. Another daughter, Mrs. Kathy Hill, 20, is en route from British Columbia.

RCMP Inspector Brian Sawyer of North Battleford, in charge of the investigation, described the area as slightly rolling with newly developed prosperous although small grain farms. The area is interspersed with long stretches of heavy scrub bushland.

The wooded areas were comlicating the investigation by more than a dozen RCMP personnel. More were being readied to move into the area early Wednesday to expand the area of inquiry.

"There are countless hundreds of inquiries to be made," Inspector Sawyer said in an interview from North Battleford, 80 miles southwest of Shell Lake. The tiny community is 50 miles west of Prince Albert, the nearest city.



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