In the quiet little cemetery of Little Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, you will find a headstone for the Peterson family. After more than fifty years, the horror and the fear that surrounded the tragic massacre is still a raw, open wound for the community of Saskatchewan.
What an incredibly sad time in our province’s history. At nine years of age, I have some fairly vivid memories of the absolute shockwaves that pulsed through rural Saskatchewan in August of 1967. Nine members of the Peterson family were dead, the killer still at large.
Fear gripped the countryside. Loaded guns sat propped beside doors never before locked. Four days would pass before the RCMP could make an arrest — twenty-one-year-old Victor Ernest Hoffman of Leask, Saskatchewan. It would eventually be learned that Hoffman had absolutely no connection to the Petersons, and that they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and would spend most of the rest of his life in mental institutions in Ontario. He died in 2004.
Four-year-old Phyllis Peterson, sleeping between two of her sisters, was the only survivor of the atrocity, and was raised by the oldest sibling, who was married and living away from home.
Peter Tadman wrote a very comprehensive account of the ordeal. The book is titled simply, ‘Shell Lake Massacre’.