MANNVILLE, ALBERTA, CANADA — On the evening of July 8, 1928, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police received a terrified phone call from a neighbor of the wealthy Booher family, who claimed that a mass murder had been committed on their farm outside Mannville, Alberta.
Police first found the body of Rose Booher slumped over the dining room table. She had been shot in the back of the head. In the kitchen investigators found another grim scene: The body of her oldest son, Fred, who had been shot three times in the face. Investigators then searched the property and discovered the bodies of two hired hands, Gabriel Grombey and Wasyl Rozak. Both had been shot dead.
Vernon Booher, 22, and his father Henry Booher were the sole survivors of the family massacre. According to reports from investigators, Henry Booher appeared to be crushed by the tragedy, but Vernon oddly showed little emotion.
At the inquest, investigators called in Austrian psychiatrist Dr. Adolph Maximilian Langsner, who claimed to be able to read people’s brainwaves. Dr. Langsner had reportedly studied psychology with Sigmund Freud in Vienna and later spent time in India, where he researched the way yogis attempted to control the mind.
He claimed that when the mind is under stress, it produces signals that another trained mind can learn to pick up. His method was to sit facing the suspect for a period of time until he claimed to get a “signal” giving him information. He had previously had success assisting Berlin police in a jewel heist — his techniques resulting in him discovering where the jewels had been hidden.
Police asked him to sit outside Booher’s cell and pose as a reporter, and then report his observations. Dr. Langsner told police he believed Booher was the murderer, and — due to the fact that he claimed to have intercepted the young man’s thoughts — he said he believed the murder weapon could be found hidden in a clump of long grass and brush just west of the farmhouse. Acting on the mind-reader’s tip, police searched the area and actually found a stolen .303 rifle near the house among long grass and brush.
Vernon confessed, and admitted to police that he’d murdered his mother because she did not like his girlfriend. He claimed that he only intended to shoot his mother, but when Fred rushed in and saw what had happened he knew he had to eliminate living witnesses. Vernon was eventually convicted of the quadruple murders and sentenced to death. He was hanged at Fort Saskatchewan Prison on April 24, 1929.
Dr. Langsner reportedly left Vancouver shortly thereafter to travel and conduct psychic research among the Eskimos.
Main photo: Vernon Booher [Glenbow Museum Archives]