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The Missing Widow: Part 2 (5 photos)

In this week's Remember This, Mary Harris tells the story of a serial bigamist whose wives often died mysteriously, the last one disappearing without a trace

One hour after part one of this story was published, something extraordinary happened.

I was contacted by the daughter of Edith Mary Hurst who had married Duncan McKenzie, son of the missing Christina McKenzie, in 1937. The first thing Lea Ellen Yarmill told me was the family has never stopped searching, even though more than 80 years have passed since the widow lady’s disappearance.

Christina Cook married William Donald McKenzie in Collingwood in November 1911. Christina was then 18 years old while her groom was 30, and both came from farming families of Grey County.

The newlyweds began their married life together on Lot 37, Concession 11 of Collingwood Township, and it was there that their first son, Donald William, arrived in March 1912. Another son, Duncan Edward, always known as Mike, followed in 1916.

The ever-expanding railway industry, and the constant need for more workers, drew many families to Allandale from other towns and outlying rural areas. In 1930, William McKenzie joined that number and got work as a gate man with the Canadian National Railway. He brought his wife and younger son with him and they settled at 104 Tiffin St.

Only four years after their arrival, William died suddenly from a suspected heart attack. He was 51 years old. This left his widow, affectionately known as Tini, nearly alone in an adopted town. A year after her loss, Tini made a decision that would forever change her family. She placed a lonely-hearts advertisement in the Toronto Star.

I can only imagine that the now-notorious George Roediger would have been scanning the newspapers every day for suitable female targets. Likely, Tini received some very flowery and flattering letters from her would-be suitor, and hesitated little when he asked if he might be so bold as to take a train up to Allandale to meet her in person.

Once in her presence, he would have used every trick in his con artist’s bag to woo the lady, and soon Tini would have come to believe that the prayers of a lonely widow were being answered.

They married in August 1935, although the family says that no proof of an actual ceremony has ever turned up.

George immediately whisked Tini away for an American honeymoon and he wrote a number of postcards, detailing all the fun adventures they were having in New York State, and sent them to Tini’s family. What no one knew was that George was well familiar with that area.

After the suspicious death of his first wife in 1926, George had crossed the border and started again. Charming and unknown to anyone in New York, he was free to tell any tales that he liked to unsuspecting women, and to take the ones with a healthy bank account to the chapel as often as he liked.

Things went sour for George when he married Martha Stender in 1927. She wisely left him two years later, after which he married another woman in 1930, who vanished suddenly but turned up lying in a well in Catskill, N.Y.

George’s next wife was Bessie Schmidt. Poor Bessie had the bad luck of suffering an epileptic seizure in her bathtub and drowned. The victim’s family insisted on further investigation and Bessie was exhumed from the cemetery, but the verdict was again fixed as natural causes.

George probably thought he was pretty smart by this time, but he was outsmarted yet again by Martha Stender. She read in the newspapers about the inquest into the death of Bessie Schmidt and realized that George had married Bessie while still a married man. Martha reported George for bigamy and he did two years for it at Clinton Prison in Dannemora, N.Y.

Upon his release in 1933, George returned to Ontario, but not exactly a reformed man. He continued to woo, wed and perhaps dispatch women for the next two years until he answered Tini McKenzie’s newspaper ad in 1935. Police knew of some 10 so-called marriages in the span of about 12 years, but agreed there certainly could have been more.

Where and when Tini met her end is still a mystery. Even though neighbours of the rented house on Vaughan Road in Toronto, where George and Tini lived after their honeymoon, reported seeing Tini there, the question remains – was it actually Tini that they saw?

At the same time, evidence was found that George had sent for a bride from Germany. Who was she, had she ever arrived and was it she that that the neighbours saw?

By the time the police started looking for Tini in earnest, good old George had skipped west. He was found married again and attempting to sell the ranch of his new bride in Saskatchewan. This time, he would be sentenced to nine years for bigamy and theft, which he served at Stony Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba.

While he was locked away, various Canadian police agencies began trying to piece together the trail of murders that they believed he committed. He was questioned extensively about Tini McKenzie. At first, he claimed never to have met her, and then admitted that he had indeed married her, but she had left him. In fact, he produced a photostat of her goodbye letter, which turned out to be a fake.

The cellar and the yard of the Vaughan Road house were dug up, but no sign of Tini was ever found. Poison, of the same variety that killed George’s first wife, was discovered. The fact that George had asked his son, Gerhardt, to get him a very large shipping crate from his workplace was equally disturbing, but not proof of anything nefarious.

In 1946, George Roediger, then aged 60, was given a 20-year sentence for the attempted murder of a stepson, which he served at the British Columbia Penitentiary in New Westminster.

The widow from Allandale is still missing.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.


Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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