The Murderous Valley of the Headless MenMystery
The Northwest Territories of Canada are beautiful. They are remote, untouched and for the most part, inaccessible. They are home to the Nahanni National Park which is in turn home to the Nahanni Valley which is only accessible by boat, plane or foot. It boasts deep canyons, hot springs, whitewater and a huge waterfall.
The first human occupation of this land is said to have been around 10,000 years ago by the Naha tribe. These people, among any other tribes that inhabited the area, are said to have disappeared rather rapidly.
The Nahanni Valley has some other, more colourful, names that it has been awarded over the years largely around the gold rush of the early 20th century such as Deadmen Valley, Headless Creek, Headless Range and the Funeral Range.
The McLeod Brothers
In 1906 two brothers, Willie and Frank McLeod were prospecting in the Valley for gold, over the 2 years that the brothers were exploring the valley, rumours of a gigantic gold mine began to surface, though this, along with the brothers, would ever see another living soul.
The McLeods started their prospecting days in 1904 in British Columbia and Southern Alaska. When they had made their way to the Nahanni Valley they encountered the Dogrib Indians who had coarse gold nuggets in their possession. This lead the McLeods to set up camp and continue their search in the area although it seemed that all worthwhile gold deposits had already been plundered by the native tribes.
Over the course of their stay, the brothers found around 10 ounces of gold – this spurred them on to take the journey down the river to see what else they could discover in the valley. After sinking one boat and hastily crafting a second they made there way 110 miles down the Flat River and 80 miles up the Liard River to Fort Liard. By 1905 the brothers had decided to continue their search of the area for more gold and set up camp in ‘Deadman’s Valley’ on the left bank of the Nahanni. This camp included a message carved into a broken dog sled runner reading “We have found a fine prospect.”
In 1908 a second expedition happened across two dead bodies tied to a tree, both had been decapitated and were identified by Charlie McLeod, the third brother, who was in the second prospecting party. Charlie dug the brothers a makeshift grave and planted a cross to mark his brothers final resting place.
After investigating, it turned out that a few hunters and trappers in the area had allegedly seen the brothers with an unidentified third man, who possibly cut the brothers heads off (which seems hugely over the top to me. Also, if you saw a guy hacking your brothers head off or even just attacking him, wouldn’t you try to intervene or run away?). This third man had eventually been tracked down by the Mounted Police in Vancouver. He had around $8,000 in gold nuggets upon his arrest. Though he was a prospector so I suppose it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he just found the gold…
In 1915 Trapper, John O’Brien, was found frozen next to his campfire, matches still in his hand.
In 1917, Martin Jorgenson joined the hunt in the Nahanni Valley. He had sent letters home claiming to have struck gold in the area, shortly after his cabin was found burned to the ground and his headless body was found among the ashes.
In 1942, after years of silence, an unnamed miner from Ontario was found headless in his sleeping bag in the valley.
Angus Blake Mackenzie
In 1962, a light aircraft pilot crashed in the area and somehow survived. He set about building a camp and lived off of the puppies carried in his plane. Fortuitously he had been on a supply run so he was well stocked following the accident. He was fairly certain of his rescue and kept a diary of his experiences in the Valley, which documented his sightings of planes passing by without landing to save him. He was 6 miles from his final destination but was likely unaware of his exact location and so, for 50 days, awaited rescue which never came. Six months later his plane was stumbled upon as well as his campsite and diary, no trace of Angus was ever found. It was surmised that he only spent a total of 50 days at the campsite due to the notches carved, as a sort of tally, at the campsite.
In 1963, the last group of gold prospectors in the area from Europe vanished without a trace.
So throughout the years and the many deaths there have been a variety of suspects. Some of the deaths have been put down to miners and prospectors getting scurvy and dying, others have been suspected attacks by the natives, grizzly bears and other prospectors. We will probably never know though.
The Mad Trapper of Rat River
If there was going to be a serial killer or some shady character in this story, that would be their name.
About forty miles from Nahanni lived an unnamed prospector in a log cabin dubbed, Albert Johnson. He was on the hunt for the McLeods lost mine too and seemed to be really quite protective over it.
In December 1931 the RCMP had received reports that Albert had been setting off other trappers traps and hanging them on trees. On the 26th of December Constable Alfred King and Special Constable Joe Bernard, trekked 60 miles to Johnsons cabin to question him about the accusations. Upon arriving at the cabin, Johnson refused to speak to them so they were forced to return to Aklavik and get a search warrant.
The following day, the officers made their way back to the cabin where they were told to go away for the second time. King decided to force the door and Johnson shot through it. A firefight broke out and King was shot though he survived the attack.
This was followed by a 150 mile chase on foot leading to a shootout resulting in Johnson being mortally wounded and dying on the Eagle River, Yukon.
For some unknown and very bizarre reason, Johnson had in his possession some gold teeth extracted from mouths of prospectors found dead in the Headless Valley.