The Mad Trapper: The Incredible Tale of a Famous Canadian Manhunt


134 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55153-787-7
DDC 364.152'3'097191




Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
British Columbia.


This is an excellent short history of the police pursuit of the “Mad
Trapper,” one of Canada’s most famous and enigmatic criminals (the
man’s true identity is still contested, but he is commonly assumed to
be Albert Johnson). In 1931, trappers in the Northwest Territories
reported that a mysterious recluse was tampering with their traplines.
When RCMP officers went to interrogate the man, he shot one of them,
initiating a seven-week pursuit over hundreds of kilometres of frozen
terrain. The resourceful fugitive killed one officer and seriously
wounded another before he was finally gunned down in a dramatic

Katz does an excellent job of conjuring the excitement of the manhunt,
which eventually involved hundreds of searchers and intense media
scrutiny, and her detailed narrative clips along at a lively pace. The
murkiness surrounding the Mad Trapper’s motivations, as well as his
genuine identity, makes for fascinating reading. A fiercely anti-social
man whose origins remain undisclosed, he seems to have been suffering
from some kind of paranoid disorder, yet managed for weeks to elude his
pursuers while surviving extremely hostile conditions in the Arctic
wilderness. One of the most interesting aspects of Katz’s book is its
demonstration of how this case pushed the limits of, and prompted
changes in, the use of crime-fighting technology. As the author notes,
“This hunt was the first time that a two-way radio was used to keep
contact between an RCMP detachment and officers chasing down a
suspect,” while the “support of an airplane turned out to be the key
factor that finally gave the RCMP the edge it needed to catch

This book includes a number of black-and-white photographs, maps of the
Canadian North, and a short bibliography of related reading.


Katz, Hélèna., “The Mad Trapper: The Incredible Tale of a Famous Canadian Manhunt,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 28, 2024,