August 15, 1967
Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada
Victor Ernest Hoffman murders nine members of the Peterson family in a random attack
Hoffman had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was released from a mental health facility — where he was given electric shock therapy and medication — a few weeks before the murders. Hoffman claimed during a taped confession that, as he was driving aimlessly down rural roads, voices told him “This is it. This is where you have to go and do it” as he approached the Peterson’s farmhouse.
The bodies of the Peterson family were found by Wildrew Lang (alternatively spelled Lange), one of the Petersons’ neighbors, who had come to work with James Peterson (47). Seeing Peterson’s body in the kitchen, Lang immediately drove four miles to the nearest phone to report the murder.
Police found the bodies of nine family members scattered through the house and yard. Evelyn Peterson (42) and her son Larry (1) were found in the backyard under an open window; it was surmised she had leapt with the toddler through the window to escape Hoffman while her husband struggled with the intruder. In the bedrooms, Hoffman had shot six more of the Peterson children as they slept, killing Colin (3), William (6), Pearl (9), Dorothy (11), Mary (13), and Jean (17). A total of 27 shots were fired in the home, 26 striking their targets; James was hit with 11 of them.
A sole survivor of the murders, 4-year-old Phyllis, apparently slept through the shootings. In an interview with CBC News in 2002, Phyllis recounted she remembered knowing someone was in the house, but did not remember hearing any of the struggles or shootings. She was found hidden under blankets by the police, tucked between two of her sisters. Hoffman later stated he didn’t know why he left Phyllis alive, but then changed his story to claim he spared her because she had “the face of an angel.”
Hoffman was arrested without incident four days after the murders. He claimed a devil, described as “tall, black and having no genitals,” had ordered the killings. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and placed in the custody of a mental health facility where he died of cancer in 2004.
Phyllis was raised by her sister, Kathy, who was a 19-year-old newlywed at the time of the murders. The sisters chose to remain in the Shell Lake area, in part because they found the community to be more accepting and less intrusive of the violence from their past.