Deadmonton

Deadmonton, by Edmonton's Pamela Roth, features true crime stories from the perspective of victims' families and friends, and detectives. (University of Regina Press)

Five killings in a single week. A pair of bodies found in a bullet-riddled SUV at a remote south-side cemetery. A dying man's desperate call to police. Another family torn apart by the sudden violent death of a loved one.

It was a bloody year in Edmonton's history. And it wouldn't be the last.

By the end of December 2011, the death toll had reached a staggering 48, and Edmonton would be named Canada's murder capital — the second time the city had claimed the dubious distinction.

A new book, Deadmonton, Crime Stories from Canada's Murder City, explores the dark, violent underside of Alberta's capital city.

"They're very powerful stories," said author Pamela Roth, who began penning the collection during her time as a crime reporter in Edmonton. "I thought they were ones that needed to be told.

"I was searching for cases that involved regular people, like you and I, that were going about their daily routine and then suddenly came into contact with the wrong person. And their lives are just suddenly snuffed out." 

The collection explores more than 20 homicides. Some have been solved, and some have grown cold, the case files gathering dust, the killers never brought to justice.

The victims' stories have left a permanent imprint on the author, but Roth said some cases were more haunting than others. 

Of all the cases she explored, the 1975 murder of Karen Ewanciw left her feeling the most rattled.

Karen was 11 years old when she went missing. She and a friend had snuck down to play in the ravine that bordered their Forest Heights neighbourhood. That afternoon she was pulled into the woods and savagely assaulted, her body abandoned at the bottom of a steep embankment. 

Her killer was not found.

Roth returned to the crime scene with the police officer who investigated the case, and still shudders whenever she drives by the scrubby section of river valley. 

"She just disappeared," Roth said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "Her friend couldn't see her anymore, and the next day she was found.

"Just the sheer brutality of it. Just the sheer violence of some of these acts, it just makes your head spin."  

Roth acknowledges that retelling these stories may be difficult for the victims' families, but she hopes the book won't cause further pain, but instead act as a "collective memory of lives taken too soon." 

"A lot of the families don't want their stories to be forgotten," Roth said. "They're in the headlines 10 or 20 years ago, but then they just kind of fade away.

"I really wanted to shed a light on some on some of the lesser-known tragedies, and put a human face on some of the true crime in Edmonton."