EDMONTON - Advanced technology that helps police crack cold murder cases has helped TV producers prove that one of Canada's most notorious criminals wasn't actually Canadian.
"A lot of people thought that he might be Canadian and we know that isn't the case," Carrie Gour of Myth Merchant Films said Monday.
Myth Merchant is making a documentary on attempts to discover the true identity of the Mad Trapper of Rat River, who entered Arctic lore when he died in a gun battle with police after a brutal mid-winter manhunt that cost the life of an RCMP constable.
Police began chasing the man they later identified as Albert Johnson in January 1932 after he shot and nearly killed an officer who wanted to ask him about complaints that someone was interfering with traplines near Fort McPherson, N.W.T.
RCMP responded by dynamiting Johnson's cabin, but the wily bushman survived and led police with dogs on a spectacular two-week chase that was followed across the continent on the then-new medium of radio. When officers eventually reached him, Johnson shot one of them dead and escaped again.
Despite travelling on foot and not being able to build a fire or hunt, he somehow crossed the Richardson Mountains in the middle of a blizzard. It took the first aerial search in Canadian history - by First World War flying ace Wilfred (Wop) May - to eventually find him.
Trapped, Johnson died in the ensuing gun battle. His pockets held more than $2,000 but no identification. His fingerprints revealed nothing. Nobody claimed the body.
In August 2007, Myth Merchant got permission from the town of Aklavik, N.W.T., to exhume the body and try to use DNA sequencing to identify him.
Gour won't talk about the DNA testing. But she will talk about what the body's teeth revealed using a leading-edge forensic technique that identifies different oxygen isotopes in tooth enamel.
"When they grind down the tooth enamel, they can then place the teeth, generally speaking, where the person was raised," Gour said.
"We know his age, which is between 30 and 40, and we were able to track to where he was most likely raised from 12 or so on. We know that he was either from the midwestern United States or northern Europe, in particular the Scandinavian countries."
That fits some of the oral history, said Gour.
Old-timers who met Johnson recalled that he spoke with a Scandinavian accent. And author Dick North, whose book on Johnson is a standard text on the tale, has fingered a man named Johnny Johnson, a Swedish-Norwegian immigrant farmer.
Gour isn't saying much else, hoping to save the surprise for the May 21 broadcast of the documentary on the Discovery Channel.