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Futility Closet

Dec 16, 2019

In the winter of 1931, a dramatic manhunt unfolded in northern Canada when a reclusive trapper shot a constable and fled across the frigid landscape. In the chase that followed the mysterious fugitive amazed his pursuers with his almost superhuman abilities. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the hunt for the "Mad Trapper of Rat River."

We'll also visit a forgotten windbreak and puzzle over a father's age.


Korean soldier Yang Kyoungjong was conscripted successively by Japan, the Soviet Union, and Germany.

In 1978, Arnold Rosenberg examined idioms to trace a path to the most incomprehensible natural language.

RCMP constable Alfred King is at far left in the photo; constable Edgar Millen is second from right. Sources for our feature on Albert Johnson:

Dick North, Mad Trapper of Rat River: A True Story of Canada's Biggest Manhunt, 2005.

Barbara Smith, The Mad Trapper: Unearthing a Mystery, 2011.

Richard C. Davis, "The Mad Trapper, by Rudy Wiebe," Arctic 35:2 (1982), 342.

Leslie McCartney, "'You Need to Tell That True Albert Johnson Story Like We Know It': Meanings Embedded in the Gwich'in Version of the Albert Johnson Story," Canadian Journal of Native Studies 37:1 (2017), 201-235.

"Who Was the Mad Trapper of Rat River?", Forensic Magazine, June 6, 2018.

"Lawbreakers: More Hustlers, Rustlers and Wild Men," Canada's History 96:2 (April/May 2016).

Jay Merrett, "Caught by the Mad Trapper," Canada's History 93:1 (February/March 2013).

Bob Butz, "Bad Guys Gone 'Wild,'" Outdoor Life 213:6 (June/July 2006), 19.

Alan Phillips, "Who Was the Mad Trapper of Rat River?", Maclean's, Oct. 1, 1955.

Barbara Roden, "The Mad Trapper Part 4: The Quest to Identify Albert Johnson Begins," [Ashcroft, B.C.] Journal, Sept. 17, 2019.

Barbara Roden, "Golden Country: The Mad Trapper Part 5," [Ashcroft, B.C.] Journal, Oct. 3, 2019.

Marc Montgomery, "Canada History: Feb 17, 1932: The End and Beginning of the Mystery of the Mad Trapper," Radio Canada International, Feb. 17, 2017.

Michael Gates, "Dick North: Farewell to Yukon's Great Storyteller," Yukon News, Oct. 4, 2013.

"Hunt for the Mad Trapper -- The Story Ends," [Swan Hills, Alberta] Grizzly Gazette, March 13, 2012, 5.

"Hunt for the Mad Trapper," [Swan Hills, Alberta] Grizzly Gazette, Jan. 10, 2012, 4.

Josh Wingrove, "Feb. 17, 1932 / Mounties Get the Mad Trapper," Globe and Mail, Feb. 17, 2011, A.2.

Joe McWilliams, "Mad Trapper Story Still Fascinates," [High Prairie, Alberta] South Peace News, Dec. 15, 2010, 6.

Darah Hansen, "Tooth Enamel Reveals Mad Trapper No Canadian," Edmonton Journal, May 23, 2009, A.5.

James Adams, "DNA Tests Prove Mad Trapper Still a Mystery," Globe and Mail, May 13, 2009, R.1.

"Mad Trapper Not a Canadian, Scientific Tests Discover," CBC News, Feb. 20, 2009.

Jeff Holubitsky, "Fugitive Could Live All Winter in Deep Bush, Outfitter Says," Edmonton Journal, Oct. 10, 2007, A18.

Erin Hitchcock, "The Mad Trapper, Unmasked," [New Westminster, B.C.] Record, Sept. 15, 2007, 3.

"Trapper Almost Evades Capture," Guelph Mercury, Aug. 16, 2007, A6.

"Filmmakers Exhume Mad Trapper's Body," Nanaimo [B.C] Daily News, Aug. 15, 2007, A2.

Keith Bonnell, "Mystery of 'Mad Trapper' Nearly Solved," Vancouver Sun, Aug. 15, 2007, C10.

"Mad Trapper's Remains Surface in Historic Dig," CBC News, Aug 13, 2007.

Katherine Harding, "Hunt for the Mad Trapper Is Back On," Globe and Mail, May 29, 2007, A.3.

"Remains of Mad Trapper of Rat River Could Finally Lead to Identification," [Prince Rupert, B.C.] Daily News, May 7, 2007, 11.

"Mad Trapper Mystery May Finally Be Solved," Winnipeg Free Press, May 5, 2007, A.13.

Ian Mcinroy, "Tracker of Mad Trapper Remembered," [Barrie, Ontario] Examiner, Jan. 13, 2006, A3.

Tom Hawthorn, "He Hunted the Mad Trapper," Globe and Mail, March 15, 2003, F.11.

Bob Gilmour, "Frontiersmen Pay Tribute to Trapper's Victim," Edmonton Journal, Sept. 28, 1997, A.10.

Kerry Powell, "Glory Days; Mad Trapper's Nemesis; Signal Success," Edmonton Journal, Aug. 6, 1995, B.3.

"Group to Retrace Mad Trapper Route," Hamilton Spectator, March 5, 1994, A8.

Rudy Wiebe, "Trapper Identification Fails to Convince Author," Edmonton Journal, Sept. 2, 1989, E6.

Garth Hopkins, "Sequel to The Mad Trapper of Rat River Fascinating Piece of Work," Vancouver Sun, July 29, 1989, D4.

Alan Hustak, "a.k.a. the Mad Trapper," [Montreal] Gazette, May 13, 1989, K12.

Lynne Van Luven, "Hobby-Turned-Obsession Led to Mad Trapper Solution," Edmonton Journal, May 13, 1989, D3.

"Hunt Resumes for Elusive Mad Trapper," Ottawa Citizen, May 9, 1987, H15.

"Mad Trapper Film Sparks Furor," Globe and Mail, April 2, 1980, P.16.

"Royal Police Get Insane Trapper -- Dead," Las Vegas Age, Feb. 18, 1932, 1.

"A Most Bizarre Case: The Mad Trapper of Rat River," Whitehorse Star, Feb. 17, 1932.

"Mad Trapper Eludes Cops," Las Vegas Age, Feb. 10, 1932, 1.

"Plane Nears Aklavik in Hunt for Trapper," [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Feb. 5, 1932, C-5.

"Canadian Trapper Slays Policeman," Bismarck Tribune, Feb. 1, 1932, 2.

"'Mad Hermit' Flees Canadian Police," [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Jan. 27, 1932, A-7.

"10 Men Off to Take Barricaded Trapper," [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Jan. 20, 1932, B-5.

"Canadian Trapper Has Defied Police," Bismarck Tribune, Jan. 14, 1932, 1.

"Arctic Trapper Defies Officers," [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Jan. 14, 1932, A-16.

"Constable Millen's Cairn Territorial Historic Site," Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (accessed Dec. 1, 2019).

Edward Butts, "Albert Johnson, 'The Mad Trapper of Rat River,'" Canadian Encyclopedia, Jan. 22, 2008.

Leslie McCartney, "That Albert Johnson Story: Aboriginal Oral History Inclusion in Canadian Archives," First Nations, First Thoughts Conference, University of Edinburgh, May 2005.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Anna Sorokin," (accessed Dec. 4, 2019).

"A Fake Heiress Bilked NYC Socialites for Years. Then the Elaborate Hoax Unraveled," CBS News, March 27, 2019.

Emily Palmer, "A Fake Heiress Called Anna Delvey Conned the City's Wealthy. 'I'm Not Sorry,' She Says," New York Times, May 10, 2019.

"Anna Sorokin: Fake Heiress Apologises as She Is Sentenced," BBC News, May 9, 2019.

Jonathan Allen, "Fake Heiress Who Dazzled New York Elite Gets 4 to 12 Years for Fraud," Reuters, May 9, 2019.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Dust Bowl," Dec. 12, 2019.

"Dust Bowl,", March 14, 2019.

Adam Wernick, "Trees That Helped Save America's Farms During the Dust Bowl Are Now Under Threat," Public Radio International, Feb. 3, 2018.

Wikipedia, "Great Plains Shelterbelt" (accessed Dec. 2, 2019).

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Paul Bigler. Here's a corroborating link (warning -- this spoils the puzzle).

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!