Joyce Milgard, David with his young children in Calgary
September 4, 2023
There has been a lot in the news about DAVID MILGAARD [Canada’s ‘poster boy’ for wrongful murder convictions] who died suddenly in Calgary, Alberta in May 2022. Seven years before, there was considerable media coverage surrounding the death of LARRY FISHER — the guy who should have gone down for murder.
Every news item briefly mentioned the victim, 20-year-old GAIL MILLER. In January 1969, the native of Laura, Saskatchewan, was a nursing assistant in Saskatoon when she was sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed.
On an overcast August 31, 2023, I delivered some white roses to Gail Miller’s grave near Laura, then thought I should do a blog story about the young woman, the crime that cut her life short, where she was raised, where she died — and where she’s buried.
Here we go …
A portion of this post is explicit. You may want to avoid two chapters. Your choice. See ‘CAUTION … reader discretion advised.’
Gail Olena Miller was born in 1948 in the village of Laura, alongside Highway 7, about half an hour’s drive southwest of Saskatoon. Gail came from a large family … she was one of nine children of Jean and Milton Miller. Gail had five sisters and three brothers.
Her middle name was in memory of her grandmother, Olena, who passed in 1934.
Before the Great Depression, Laura was a bustling pioneer farming community. In 1954, the village was downgraded to hamlet status.
Farm life was not for Gail, and so in the fall of 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year, she enrolled in a nurses aide program at Kelsey Campus, a Saskatoon trade school [now called Saskatchewan Polytechnic]. Her grandmother put up the money for her post-secondary education.
The young woman lived alone in a rooming house on the same side of town. Gail did not own a car and to get around, she either walked or used public transit.
A CRIME BEYOND SENSELESS
On a bitterly cold morning on Friday, January 31st, 1969, ice fog hung in the air in Saskatoon with the temperature minus 41 degrees Fahrenheit [roughly the same as Celsius]. Gail left her one-room apartment at 7 a.m., locking the door behind her. An hour and a half later, her battered body was found two blocks away, lying face down in the snow in a back alley … near a funeral home.
Police rushed to the scene and turned over Gail’s body, revealing the victim wore a white nurses’ uniform with a name tag that read Ms. G. Miller. Under her body was the murder weapon — a bloodied six-inch paring knife — minus its handle. The attack had been so frenzied that the handle fell off.
The victim’s purse was also missing.
A few days later, investigators found Gail’s purse plus the knife handle in a garbage can. Saskatoon Police Superintendent Wood told reporters that Miller’s purse was “all full of stuff that one would expect a woman to carry.” By that, he meant the keys to her apartment, a comb, etc. The purse also contained a pair of surgical scissors.
No one witnessed the attack. Police saw no tire tracks, indicating the assailant had been on foot.
CAUTION: Reader discretion is advised …
Gail Miller suffered an extremely violent death. An autopsy revealed a dozen deep stab wounds — four to her chest, four in her back, three just under the collar bone and one to her side. Two cuts were fatal. The victim’s face and throat were cut and bruised. Her knees were also bruised. A pathologist determined Gail was attacked around 7:30 a.m. and dead for an hour before her body was discovered.
The killer was a rapist who ripped open his victim’s winter coat, pulled her uniform down to her waist and yanked her panties and nylons down to her ankles. End of explicit material.
After a trial, the victim’s panties ended up in a cardboard box in the basement of the [Federal] Department of Justice building in Ottawa.
Gail’s underwear contained semen from her attacker. It was like leaving behind one’s photo ID. At the time, DNA testing technology had not been developed. Once a DNA test was done, in the 1990s, it was apparent the killer was serial rapist Larry Fisher, who was then serving time in a federal prison in British Columbia. Fisher was behind bars for a similar sexual assault. In this case, the female victim — badly wounded — managed to crawl to safety.
The DNA test sealed Fisher’s fate. It also exonerated drifter, petty thief and pot-smoker David Milgaard. ‘Shuffles,’ as he was known by fellow prisoners, spent nearly 23 years in the joint for a crime he had nothing to do with. That’s not a misprint. 23 years.
Because of the nature of the crime, DAVID was often attacked by other inmates. He once tried to kill himself.
David was finally exonerated by the new evidence in 1997 — although thanks to the Supreme Court, he had been freed years earlier, awaiting a new trial that never came.
LARRY FISHER’S DEMISE
Larry Fisher was finally convicted of Gail Miller’s murder in 1999 — three decades after the murder. In June 2012, the lifeless body of the killer rapist left a B.C. prison on a gurney after cancer finished him off. Fisher never showed remorse for raping and murdering the young nursing assistant, nor to teen David Milgaard for stealing a good chunk of his life.
Fisher came across as an asshole who had a deep emotional hate-on for women. If the man had any remorse for his crimes, he took it to his grave.
Oh. This is important. Long before the DNA evidence became public, Larry Fisher had confessed to a fellow con that he had killed “that nurse.” If I can get wind of that confession while working a prison beat, where the hell were the authorities?
And yes, I did share that information with David Milgaard, but he dismissed it because the inmate who heard Fisher’s confession was, in his words, a “skinner.” That’s prison jargon for sexual offender.
David Milgaard was 17 when a jury, duped by bullshit evidence, declared him guilty of raping and murdering Gail Miller. One memory David shared with me of that fateful day was glancing at his father, Lorne, in the gallery and seeing tears running down his face. “I’d never seen Dad cry before,” he said.
David’s mother, Joyce, would fight long and hard for her son’s release. I once asked Joyce what made her sure David was innocent. “I know my own son,” she replied, “and he would NEVER do something like that.”
An angry David also shared with the Author that if he ever caught Fisher, he’d kill him. I guess that’s understandable.
Like spokes on a wheel, a series of crimes stemmed from the death of Miss Miller. First, her knifepoint rape and brutal murder … second, a wrongful conviction that sent an innocent person to prison for more than two decades … third, the incompetence and dishonesty of Saskatoon Police that coerced frightened teenagers, acquaintances of David, to change their testimony and throw their buddy under the bus … and, finally, the sleaze of a heavy-drinking Crown Prosecutor who, when told by a lawyer in his office that it looked like the kid didn’t do it, remarked, “Fuck him.” Nice. Just the clowns we need running our judicial system.
And so the system screwed David Milgaard — and that includes some politically-appointed members of Canada’s Parole Board. When an early Board told prisoner Milgaard that he was guilty of the murder, his response was “fuck you!” Shuffles also complained that the pot in the joint was poor quality.
None of these criminal justice creeps ate prison food. They all got away with it. Mind you, this was the same police force that dumped off troublemakers on the outskirts of town in minus-40-degree weather and removed their footwear, knowing full well they could freeze to death. Some did.
David Milgaard eventually got a hefty financial settlement — courtesy of Saskatchewan taxpayers. He gave money to his parents and siblings, paid his lawyer, blew a wad on the stock market, travelled to Australia and Europe, bought a house in Calgary and lived off the interest of the money remaining [about one million dollars].
Towards the end, David volunteered his time to help people he felt were wrongly accused. He was always calling with information about the wrongfully convicted so I could do new stories on them.
GAIL’S BURIAL SITE
They’re all gone now … David Milgaard died suddenly in Calgary in 2022 [his health began to fail after taking his third COVID ‘vaccine’].
David Milgaard’s ashes were scattered in the Canadian Rockies, his favourite hangout.
David’s lawyer, Hersh Wolch, died of a heart attack in 2017. He was 77. Lorne and Joyce Milgaard have both passed away. Killer Larry Fisher died from cancer when he was 65.
The first victim of this sordid mess, Gail Miller, was 20 when she died at the hands of a stranger, alone and pleading for her life in a back alley.
Gail was laid to rest in a rural cemetery several miles from where she grew up.
A MOSS-COVERED GRAVE
Gail Miller’s name is almost obscured owing to a covering of moss on her headstone.
David Milgaard could never visit Gail’s grave for fear of those who still doubt his innocence accusing him of “feeling guilty.” But David is gone now, and so half of those white flowers you see in the photo are in David’s memory also.
Gail and David were both victims of Larry Fisher … plus a criminal justice system that just didn’t work very well, to put it nicely.
Laura is no longer a nice hamlet. It’s close to being another ghost town, and I’m told there are plenty of those around Saskatchewan.
Few people now call Laura home. Today, it’s an eyesore with a scattering of buildings, many deserted and boarded-up homes that once had manicured lawns but now have discarded appliances, bicycles and knee-high grass.
The hamlet is actually depressing … although I did come across a tidy yard at the end of town, home to 65-year-old Larry Adams who proudly pointed out that Laura once had lovely homes and roads, a church, a school … and a grain elevator.
He also revealed that Gail’s brother [Jim] had pulled out of Laura a few years ago and now lives in Northern Saskatchewan.
It was Larry who gave me precise directions to the Laura Cemetery, and I thank him for that.
GAIL’S GRAVESTONE …
Can that moss be removed? Apparently so. According to a video I watched on YouTube, the tombstone can be significantly restored with the help of a plastic scraper, a gentle solvent and a water sprayer.
I should try it out next time I’m around with flowers … and a new solar light. Gail Miller deserves a proper tombstone.
What was I thinking about as I stood over her grave? I’ll tell you what was going through my mind … I thought about the life the young woman never had. She would have no marriage, no home of her own, no children, grandchildren, no vehicle, travels, retirement, none of that — all because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man … and living in a city with a broken criminal justice system.
Gail Miller is in a moss-covered grave in a cemetery in the middle of nowhere. None of this makes sense.
When it started to rain, I bid farewell to Gail Olena Miller and scooted to my Elantra parked outside the cemetery gate. It had been a sobering visit; I left teary-eyed and it wasn’t because of the downpour. To get my mind off things, I played some music from my iPhone and left a trail of dust as I headed towards a paved highway to Humboldt, Saskatchewan … and to another story.
[A hat-tip to the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, True Crime Canada, Toronto Star, Canadian Press, reporter Lisa Joy and Larry Adams.]