The mysterious Albert Johnson who outran the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1931

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The mysterious Albert Johnson who outran the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1931

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

To date they still don't know who he really was.

Albert Johnson arrived in Fort McPherson after coming down the Peel River on July 9, 1931. He was questioned by RCMP constable Edgar Millen, but provided little information. He had a Scandinavian accent, generally kept himself clean shaven, and seemed to have plenty of money for supplies. Soon after arriving he built a small 8 × 10 ft (2.4 × 3.0 m) 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. At that time many northern native traditional trapping areas were invaded by outsiders fleeing the Great Depression and the complaints may have been intended to remove him.

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 26, 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 it. They eventually decided to return to Aklavik and get a search warrant.

They returned five days later as a party of four. 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 wooden door. 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 lb (9.1 kg) of dynamite which they intended to use to blast Johnson out of the cabin. After surrounding the cabin they thawed the dynamite inside their coats, eventually building a single charge and tossing it into the cabin. After the explosion collapsed the building, the men rushed in. Johnson opened fire from a foxhole he had dug under the building. No one was hit, and after a 15 hour (Ending at 4:00 A.M.) standoff in the −40 °C (−40 °F) 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 14, delayed because of almost continual blizzards, Johnson had left the cabin and the posse gave chase. They eventually caught up to Johnson on January 30, surrounding him in a thicket. In the ensuing firefight, Johnson shot Constable Edgar Millen through the heart, killing him. Once again they were forced to retreat. The posse continued to grow, enlisting local Inuit and Gwich’in 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 did not stop Johnson, who climbed a 7,000 ft (2,100 m) 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 14 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 walked in order to give them better visibility of approaching predators. Walking in their tracks hid his own footprints and allowed him to travel quickly on the tramped-down snow without having to use his snowshoes. He only left the trail at night to make camp on the river bank, which is the track May had spotted. May radioed back his findings and the RCMP gave chase up the river, eventually being directed to Johnson by February 17.

The pursuit team rounded a bend in the river to find Johnson only a few hundred yards in front of them. Johnson attempted to run for the bank, but did not have his snowshoes on and could not make it. A firefight broke out in which one RCMP officer was seriously wounded and Johnson was eventually killed after being shot in the left side of the pelvis at an acute angle. It is believed that the bullet passed through important tissues, bowels, and main arteries, and caused his death. May landed and flew the officer to help, being credited with saving his life.

After Johnson's death, RCMP officials realized that he had traveled over 85 miles away from his cabin in less than 3 days, burning 10,000 (ten thousand) calories (approximately). 75 years later (2007), forensics teams found that his tailbone actually was not symmetrical, causing his spine to curve left and right slightly. In addition, one foot was longer than other.[citation needed]

An examination of Johnson's body yielded over $2,000 in both American and Canadian currency as well as some gold, a pocket compass, a razor, a knife, fish hooks, nails, a dead squirrel, a dead bird, a large quantity of Beecham's Pills and teeth with gold fillings that were believed to be his. During the entire chase, the Mounties had never heard Johnson say a single word. The only thing they heard was Johnson's laugh after he shot Constable Edgar Millen. To this day people debate who he was, why he moved to the Arctic, or if he was actually responsible for interfering with the trap lines as alleged.


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By netchicken: posted on 7-10-2010

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