Investigation leads CBC Saskatoon to alleged killer
Teen in 1963 cold case came from broken home on city’s west side
Police say the killer was 17-years-old when he shot Richard Hartz twice at close range, once in the small of his back and once in the head.
He was close enough to his victim to leave powder burns from the .22 calibre gun on the dead man’s body.
The killer came from a large west-side Saskatoon family — five boys and five girls — but by October 16,1963 his parents had divorced and his brothers and sisters had moved on, or were in foster care.
That’s the Wednesday night city police said the teen fatally shot the 53-year-old caretaker at the Saskatoon Golf and Country Club.
It happened during a botched break-and-enter to the clubhouse where Hartz lived and worked. Police said Hartz, killed in his pajamas, likely surprised the youth who was stealing a cashbox containing little more than $41.
Police said later the same night the 17-year-old also broke into a west-side welding shop and stole cash and a truck. He smashed open the shop’s private gas pump, fuelled up and then took off west out of the city.
He abandoned the truck when it ran out of gas and then wandered on foot into a small town.
It was a week later that he was arrested in Kenora, Ontario, trying to steal another truck there, and returned under warrant to Saskatoon.
The teen, in law enforcement jargon, was known to police before the Hartz murder. But it would take 50 years before investigators finally connected the dots between the teen, a matchbook in the stolen truck and the golf course murder.
Police are not identifying the man who they say killed Richard Hartz because he died in October of 2009. They will not name him because he has never been arrested and charged with Hartz’s killing, so he cannot answer to the accusation.
But that does not lessen their conviction that they’ve identified the killer.
"I’m confident if he were alive, we would be arresting him," said Sgt. Grant Little with the Saskatoon Police.
Saskatoon police were convinced enough that they’d solved the case that they invited media from across the city — and surviving members of Hartz’s family — to a news conference at police headquarters last week. Little, a major crimes sergeant, fronted the event, surrounded by blown-up black-and-white historical photos from the crime scene and the investigation.
Little detailed how police finally concluded the five-decade investigation, stopping short only of identifying the killer.
CBC took this information and then, going back over original reports from 1963, figured out who police believe killed Hartz. Police would not confirm or deny this conclusion, but the teen’s family confirmed that he is the same youth identified by police as their prime suspect all along.
Killer’s wife had no idea of his criminal past
Then CBC News contacted the teen`s surviving relatives. They spoke with CBC News, but did not want to be identified because the man is not alive to answer to the charges.
None were aware that the man was the prime suspect in a Saskatoon homicide investigation. His younger brother was 10 years old and living in a foster home at the time of the death. Now 61, he said that he recalls hearing through the family grapevine later that his older brother had been in some trouble, but that he had been cleared.
The suspect went on to marry, seven years after the homicide. The couple were together 39 years, until he died in 2009, and they had two children, a boy and girl. He had a successful business career, and his obituary states he loved sports and history.
His wife said she had no idea that her husband had a criminal past — much less that he was the prime suspect in a high profile investigation. She knew only that his parents divorced, he came from a large family and that he didn`t talk about his childhood.
Saskatoon police did not contact the suspect`s family with their findings. His widow had seen the stories last week about police cracking the 50-year-old murder case, but had no idea they were talking about her husband as the killer.
Little said the teen – their original suspect -- never fell off the police radar.
``He was the prime suspect, right from the get go,`` he said.
``When you compile it [the evidence] all together, it creates a very clear picture.``
Little said the first break in the case came the very night of Hartz`s death.
There were only two break-ins that night in Saskatoon, and police were automatically suspicious that they may be connected. The second break-in was at Industrial Welding on Avenue P South. Cash was stolen, and a company truck.
That truck was abandoned near the town of Kyle, southwest of Saskatoon, later that same night. People in the small community told police about seeing the young stranger walking into the town early in the morning.
New stories at the time describe the frantic police hunt for the `young man` seen abandoning the truck, that he was a `specific individual` and they wanted to question him in connection with the theft and the murder. Fingerprints and DNA evidence were recovered from the truck.
The teen was tracked from Kyle to Swift Current, then Moose Jaw, Regina, Winnipeg and, finally, Kenora, Ontario.
He was arrested there — a week after Hartz`s death — trying to steal another truck.
The 17-year-old had no weapon, but he had loose .22 calibre bullets. Over the years police examined more than 20 handguns and rifles, but the shooter's weapon was never recovered.
Evidence from the crime scene and getaway truck
Police had DNA from the scene, and they also had three partially-burned paper matches found at the country club. They believed the matches came from a book found in the truck stolen from the welding shop.
The 17-year-old pleaded guilty in court to breaking into the welding shop and stealing the truck. When asked about the matchbook, Little said ``he claimed it to be his and described it for investigators.``
But the teen denied breaking into the country club and killing Hartz. That's where the case went cold.
Police reinterviewed the young man again in the late 1960s, but he stayed with his story. They continued to re-examine the evidence as scientific advances allowed for more precise testing.
Investigators tested the crime scene DNA using modern techniques in 2009. It didn`t conclusively link the teen to the scene, but it did exclude one other major suspect.
In 2012, Little said police sent the burnt matches and the matchbook to a laboratory in Illinois that specializes in hair and fibre analysis. That lab ruled the matches from the clubhouse were ``indistinguishable`` from each other, and the matchbook discovered in the truck.
Concluding the investigation
All these elements, taken together, convinced police they`d identified the man responsible for killing Richard Hartz.
Hartz had only worked at the country club for two months when he died, he’d moved into the city after farming for years near Beaver Creek, south of Saskatoon.
Richard Hartz’s cousin Ernie came to the police news conference last week.
"It’s nice to hear that they had a suspect all along, because that wasn’t public knowledge at the time," he said.
"This is good news, we are really happy with the police work that’s been done and we’re happy that the police didn’t give up."