Aklavik, N.W.T.

One of northern Canada's most enduring mysteries is closer to getting solved, as a documentary film crew spent the weekend exhuming the remains of the Mad Trapper, Albert Johnson.

Residents in Aklavik, N.W.T., along with crew members with Edmonton-based Myth Merchant Films, spent more than 24 hours digging up the remains under a tent erected over Johnson's grave site.

The public was not allowed to view the exhumation as it took place.

In hisbook, The Mad Trapper of Rat River, Yukon author Dick North concludes the man buried as Johnson was in fact an American with a criminal past named Johnny Johnsonwho moved to the backwoods of Canada.

North had proposed exhuming Johnson's remains 15 years ago in a bid to determine Johnson's real identity, but the Aklavik hamlet council rejected his request.

Myth Merchant producer Carrie Gour told CBC News that the Aklavik crew dug a hole through the icy ground Saturday, only to realize they were in the wrong spot. By Sunday they had found the casket in question, she said.

"Really, all that was left was bones," Gour said Monday.

"There were some things that were quite remarkable under the circumstances. For instance, his hair and his beard were still there, which is incredible for the scientists, as well as fingernails."

The film crew took bone and tooth samples before putting the remains into a new coffin and returning themto the earth. Now, Merchant Myth hopes scientists can match the DNA to people who believe they are related to the mystery man.

Johnson, who lived on the Rat River in the Mackenzie Delta area, rose to notoriety in the early 1930s when he killed a policeman who came to his cabin making inquiries, then led police on a five-week manhunt through the Arctic wilderness in the dead of winter before he was shot nine times and killed. Johnson was buried in Aklavik in 1932.

Elders and hamlet councillors in Aklavik, a community of 600 people about 60 kilometres west of Inuvik, had long opposed any previous proposals to exhume Johnson's remains, arguing the dead should be shown respect and left alone.

Respect for the dead

But in March, the council voted to allow Myth Merchant's request because the filmmakers promised to conduct the exhumation in a very respectful way, including priests and a ceremony.

Aklavik Mayor Knute Hansen said although some opposition still exists today, most people in the hamlet have embraced the idea.

"Our council now, they're a lot younger. They took a more broader look at the reasons for doing this," Aklavik Mayor Knute Hansen said Friday.

"I think, overriding too, was the fact that we would like to know who Albert Johnson is …we're just as much in the blue as anybody else in the country."

Myth Merchant's exhumation of the Mad Trapper's remains will be seen in a one-hour documentary scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel sometime next year.