A Yukon mystery

 

What happened to Ronald Bax?

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Woman is shot; RCMP hunt for murder suspect
— Whitehorse Star headline, March 3, 1992
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Background

Late on March 1st, 1992, Ronald Jeffrey Bax entered Krystal Senyk's home on Tagish Road near the small town of Carcross. 

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Armed with a high-calibre rifle Bax was intent on harming Senyk, who had just visited Bax's soon-to-be ex-wife at a women's transition home in downtown Whitehorse that evening. 

Some people believe Bax directly blamed Senyk for his marital problems and impending divorce. 

What the public knows is that at some point in the early hours of March 2nd, Bax pointed his rifle at Senyk's chest and fired, killing her and triggering one of the largest RCMP manhunts in Yukon history. 

Bax, 30 at the time, was charged with first-degree murder on March 5th. 

He was never found. 

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Aftermath

In the days and weeks following the incident, local media outlets - particularly Whitehorse Star reporter Sherryl Yeager - did an excellent job gathering information via interviews with police, friends and acquaintances of both Senyk and Bax. 

By March 3rd, Yukoners already knew that

  • The RCMP's emergency response team was called out around 12:30 p.m. to Senyk's home
  • There were domestic problems involving the marriage break-up between Ron and Lynn Bax, his former wife 
  • Senyk and Lynn Bax were friends, and had met at Brock University in 1985
  • Police were protecting 16 people "involved in the dispute"
  • Around 6 p.m. on the evening of March 2nd, police stormed the Bax residence, also on Tagish Road
  • Both of Bax's vehicles were parked in his driveway, meaning he was either alone or in the company of someone else with a vehicle
  • Helicopters, planes and 25 officers were searching for him

2015

January 1st, 2015 is when I first became interested in this story. At the time I was a reporter with the Yukon News, one of two newspapers based in Whitehorse. I was looking for a long-term project to work on and I think I Googled something to the effect of "Yukon unsolved mysteries," which led me to this link

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Needless to say, I was instantly hooked. I had no idea there was a Yukoner on the RCMP's Most Wanted list, let alone someone who had lived in Carcross, which is just 45 minutes away from Whitehorse. 

Although my initial Google searches about the incident yielded very little, I did find a trove of archival material on microfiche at the Yukon Archives. 

After collecting information at the Archives, I contacted the Whitehorse RCMP detachment to see if they could put me in touch with the officer in charge of the file. Soon after I connected with Cst. Craig Thur of 'M' Division Major Crime.

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Sept. 2016

Cst. Thur had been working on the Bax file for years. Considered an open investigation, he followed up on leads from all over the world. Despite being very busy with other cases, Cst. Thur was helpful and willing to answer my questions from the start. 

One of the first documents he shared with me was the 1993 Judgement of Inquiry authored by British Columbia Chief Coroner Larry Campbell. 

 

The document reveals some important information:

  • The cause of death was "gunshot wound to chest"
  • Police arrived at Senyk's home at 11 a.m. on March 2nd, after she failed to show up at work (meaning Bax had a lengthy head start to escape Carcross)
  • Senyk was at Kaushee's Place, a Whitehorse women's transition home, visiting a friend the night before she was murdered
  • She had been in contact with the Whitehorse RCMP
  • The document states "that Ms. Senyk was fearful for her safety" - more on that later 

From Vera Campbell, Krystal's mother, I learned that Krystal was likely standing at her cellar door when Bax shot her, because of how the bullet went through her and ended up in some coats at the back of the house. 

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March 2016

In March 2016 I started making a list of people to interview and the first person I called was Vera, at her home in Alberta. Here's an excerpt: 

In March 1992 Vera was on holidays in Florida when she received a call from her son Gord telling her Krystal had died. "Gord said Mom, you have to come home, Krystal is dead. I said, dead? Was it a car accident? He said she'd been shot. That's when I went right out of my mind. All I know is that my girlfriend put me on an airplane, that's all I can remember after that."

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March 9th was the first time the police publicly acknowledged they were working on three possibilities in the case: that Bax had gone into the bush and committed suicide; gone to the bush to hide; or fled the area entirely and was in hiding somewhere. All three are possible although I will focus on two I believe are more likely.  

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There was, however, never any evidence to support that Ron BAX was in fact alive
— e-mail from Cst. Craig Thur
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Theory 1: Bax escaped and committed suicide

There is a lot of evidence to support this theory. 

In the Nov. 17, 2016 e-mail from Cst. Thur, he did concede that he always worked under the impression that Bax was alive. However, he adds:

"The probability that Ron BAX committed suicide in the bush is certainly higher than it is of him escaping the Yukon and now living in Mexico, South America, Spain or anywhere else. In the absence of certainty though we must carry on."

A few reasons to support this theory: 

  • About six weeks before the murder, Bax killed his dog, Kato. He told a close friend Kato "didn't feel a thing" and that he couldn't stand seeing him on a chain. During the manhunt for Bax, Kato's remains were found in the bush east of Carcross. He was shot to death in a manner that he would have died instantly.

  • Bax had extreme mood swings, according to Thur. He was described by a close friend as being increasingly "despondent." Bax threatened to commit suicide a few weeks before the murder, and a friend intervened. The friend had witnessed Bax putting a gun to his head - he tried to grab the firearm and a struggle occurred. For fear the firearm would go off, the friend ceased and was not able to take it from Bax's possession.

  • At the time of the murder, Bax was essentially broke, Thur adds, and his truck, wallet, ID, and outdoor gear - as well as what could be regarded as a suicide note - were found in his home.

In early 2018, I submitted an ATIPP request with the RCMP in order to obtain the synopsis of the case. To my surprise it was only one page, but it did contain some interesting information. 

"As part of the ongoing investigation at the time, a profile of BAX was obtained through interviews with various known associates and presented to Force psychologists, Dr Meuser and Dr Roy. They were of the opinion that BAX was a very dangerous and irrational individual, and suggested there was a seventy percent chance that he would have committed suicide. This opinion was reiterated in a report written by Cpl. BW Roberts of "K" Division DCAS, upon completion of his analytical review in May of 1992, Cpl. Roberts also stated that the offence was "well investigated" and there were "very few recommendations' he could make in regard to the investigation."

In March 2018, I submitted another ATIPP request: this time I asked for a copy of the profile, a copy of the analytical review, and a copy of Bax's suicide note. 

My request was denied based on the following:

16 (1) The head of a government institution may refuse to disclose any record requested under this Act that contains

  • (a) information obtained or prepared by any government institution, or part of any government institution, that is an investigative body specified in the regulations in the course of lawful investigations pertaining to

    • (i) the detection, prevention or suppression of crime […]

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Theory 2: Bax escaped and is in hiding

Ronald Bax was very familiar with the bush and weapons, and had worked as a big game guide. In a March 4, 1992 article, police admitted to knowing that Bax had taken some gear from his home.

Even though an all-points bulletin had been issued across Canada and Alaska, and border crossings had been alerted two nights prior, Bax still had a head start on police. In a disturbing coincidence, the following page in the March 4 issue of the Whitehorse Star was a full-page advertisement for camping gear, and the headline read: "Plan your escape with:"

In a March 5 article, RCMP Sgt. Bill Cameron told Yeager Bax was "very proficient with firearms" and had good knowledge of the Carcross area from his experience as a big game guide. 

I began asking Cst. Thur for his personal opinion on what happened to Ronald Bax. In a Nov. 17, 2016 e-mail to me, Thur said: "I have always operated on the premise that Ron BAX is alive. I have investigated tips to their reasonable conclusion and thought of investigative avenues that may result in developing information because it is really all that I am able to do for Krystel SENYK and those who loved her."

If you look at the RCMP's page on Ronald Bax, it quotes an episode of Unsolved Mysteries: "Bax has family in Michigan and there is a strong possibility that he is hiding somewhere in the U.S." If you do a quick search for "Bax" living in Michigan on Facebook, there are dozens and dozens of them. I tried contacting some of them in 2015 but never got a reply from anyone. 

Further to that theory, I once heard from a colleague of mine - someone who was indirectly involved in the incident at the time - that Bax had an older, wealthier brother who lived in Michigan, and that's where he may have gone. He said Bax's brother had been in the Yukon the week before Krystal was murdered, which, if true, is an interesting coincidence.

This same colleague of mine also told he he'd heard that Bax may have escaped to New Mexico because of his connections in the sculpting industry. He is said to have had hunting connections in South Africa, Austria and Germany, too, in his past life as a big game guide in the Yukon. 

As far as Cst. Thur, he told me on May 28, 2017 that "Ronald BAX's family in Michigan and Ontario have denied having had any contact with him since prior to the murder." 

In an interview for the Whitehorse Star that was published on March 24, 2016, Cst. Thur told the reporter that he receives "four to five tips a year about Bax's whereabouts."

That being said, Cst. Thur is no longer in charge of the Krystal Senyk case for the Whitehorse RCMP. In an e-mail Feb. 24, 2018, he told me:

"In August 2017 after 13 years on the Major Crime Unit I transferred from MCU to the Whitehorse Detachment General Investigation Section. The Krystal SENYK homicide is no longer in my control to be able to provide you with information. I do not expect that anyone in MCU would have had the time to review it given all that has occurred in the Yukon over the last few years."

This was especially disheartening to hear because Cst. Thur had been so helpful to me since our initial contact in January 2015. 

Then, in early March, CBC Yukon published an article that caught my attention:

 

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I contacted Whitehorse RCMP spokesperson Coralee Reid to find out more about the unit and whether she could tell me who would be taking over the Senyk case. We'd been in touch over the previous months after I'd requested her help to track down the former RCMP officials who were around in early 1992. 

According to the CBC article, "The Yukon government announced this month it would provide RCMP with an additional $422,000 annually for the next three years, to establish a Historical Case Unit to investigate unsolved homicides and missing persons cases. Three new officers will be hired."

According to the Yukon government, there have been 35 homicide investigations in the territory since 2000, and 12 remain unsolved. So I have a bad feeling they might be putting fewer efforts into solving cases from the early 1990s, but I could be wrong. 

As of May 30 they hadn't assigned anyone to the Senyk case. 

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We got a lead, and we’re looking into the lead
— Sheriff Charles Jones, Coahoma County

Leads

As Cst. Thur once told me, he's followed up on leads from all over the world. One of them was in March 2015. A woman living in Rena Lara, Mississippi called CrimeStoppers about Bax, or at least someone she thought was Bax. She said her husband had let a man move into their home but wouldn't kick him out because of his connection to drugs. She had found an "information card" of his with the name Ronald Jeffrey Bax on it. 

The report was enough to get the Coahoma County Sheriff's Office to look into the matter, and to get in touch with the RCMP. A set of Bax's fingerprints were sent to Clarksdale, Mississippi but they didn't match the individual in custody, whose name was Barry Spencer Clark. Clark apparently spoke with a "northern accent," according to Cpl. Thur, who contacted the woman in question. The man also lacked proper identification and talked about being a taxidermist and sculptor - Bax was proficient in both. 

Video courtesy of Tanya Carter/NBC affiliate WTVA in Saltillo, Mississippi, and Coahoma Sheriff’s Office

I wondered - how did the RCMP have Bax's fingerprints on file? Apparently he was fingerprinted by London, Ont. police on July 22nd, 1983 as a result of a theft investigation. 

I followed up on this in the summer of 2018 by requesting the fingerprint comparison report from the FBI, but a few weeks later I received a letter from them stating the following:

“You have requested records on one or more third party individuals. Please be advised the FBI will neither confirm nor deny the existence of such records pursuant to FOIA exemptions (b)(6) and (b)(7)(C), 5 U.S.C. 522 (b)(6) and (b)(7)(C). The mere acknowledgement of the existence of FBI records on third party individuals could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. This is our standard response to such requests and should not be taken to mean that records do, or do not, exist. As a result, your request has been closed.”  

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In March 1992, Yukon RCMP were looking for a truck similar to this one

In March 1992, Yukon RCMP were looking for a truck similar to this one

On March 30th, 1992, the Whitehorse Star reported that Yukon RCMP had sought to question a second suspect in the murder of Krystal Senyk, but hadn't notified Yukon media outlets. A circular with descriptions of Ronald Bax, but also of 32-year-old Nick Cannell, had been distributed up and down the Alaska Highway during the month of March. The circular said Cannell may have been traveling with Bax in a brown 1975 Dodge 4x4 pickup truck, not unlike the one pictured above. Cannell was quickly found however, interviewed and cleared as a suspect, according to Sgt. Gary Williams of the Whitehorse RCMP. 

I was always curious about this - how did Cannell get caught up in this? Was he a friend of Bax's? I tracked down one of his siblings on Facebook and gave her my number. She said she'd passed it along to Nick, but he never called me. 

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Local reaction

The Yukon Territory is huge. At roughly 482,000 square kilometres, it's almost as big as Spain but its population is very low. Back in the early 90s, the population would have been around 27,800. Needless to say it's like living in a small town where everyone knows everyone. Carcross probably had under 200 people living there at the time, so you can imagine what the reaction would have been to an incident of this magnitude. 

Over the past three years I have interviewed a number of people who lived in the area at the time of the murder, and who were acquaintances with either Krystal or Ronald. 

In early 2017 I interviewed Claudia McPhee, a longtime Yukoner whose daughters used to babysit Bax's sons when they were younger. She told me that everyone was on edge after the murder took place, especially because they couldn't locate Bax. 

At the time people living in the area were connected to a party line where you could partially hear other people's conversations. According to Claudia, an RCMP officer got on the line and warned people not to leave their homes and not to approach Bax if they saw him. 

"It's like a pond and someone threw a rock in there, the ripples keep moving out and it affects everything," she told me. 

A few months later I interviewed Marilyn Buchanan. At the time Marilyn and her husband Chuck founded the Museum of Yukon Natural History, better known as the Caribou Crossing Trading Post, and Bax worked for him for a while. Bax "did not leave on good terms," according to the March 3 article. 

She said road blocks quickly went up after Bax escaped, and many Cacross residents were questioned. She mentioned the "list" that prompted RCMP to put 16 people into protective custody - apparently Chuck was on the list. 

"I guess Chuck was taking it fairly seriously," she said. 

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Who was Ron Bax?

Born in November 1961 in London, Ontario, Ronald Bax spent most of his childhood on a 1,500-acre crop farm, run by his parents and grandparents. 

In 1983, Bax moved to the Yukon. A skilled sculptor, he began carving in bone, horn and mammoth ivory, and eventually discovered the world of bronze sculpture. 

Photos from the Fourth Annual Yukon and Northern BC Juried Visual Art Exhibition - 1991

Photos from the Fourth Annual Yukon and Northern BC Juried Visual Art Exhibition - 1991

Bax ran Northern Sculptures from his home in Carcross with his wife, Lynn. 

His parents have always declined to be interviewed by the media, but we do know thanks to the Whitehorse Star they were based in Walkerton, Ont. at the time. 

He's been described to me as someone who thought he was "God's gift to women," "macho" and "a loud mouth jerk." 

"I didn't find him very appealing," someone told me. 

Robin Charman was a friend of Bax's who happened to have coffee with him the morning of the murder. 

In our brief interview on April 27th, 2017 Charman said he first met Bax in the early 80s through some mutual friends, when Bax first moved to Whitehorse. "We chummed around, were good friends over the years, until the mid-80s when we kind of drifted apart a bit because I moved out of the territory with my job, and at the same time he got married," Charman said. 

"When I moved back we'd get together now and then for a cup of coffee. He was friendly and outgoing, very much into the outdoors, hunting, loved taxidermy and art."

Charman said for years he racked his brain trying to figure out if he missed anything that Bax might have said.

"Did I miss something?" he added. 

"And I finally came to the conclusion that I didn't."

Gerry Mussgnug moved to the Yukon in 1982 from Toronto. He met Ronald Bax at a bar one night, and they hit it off. They shared interests in photography and the outdoors, and moved in together with some friends about a month later.

“Ron was a private person in a sense - he would be open one minute and shut down the next,” Mussgnug told me in Aug. 2018.

“But he was a good guy in general. He really knew his stuff and you could tell.”

After the murder and Bax’s disappearance, three police officers - two in uniform, and one in plain clothes - showed up at Mussgnug’s home in Whitehorse. Turns out that he had been mentioned on a list Bax left behind. He told the cops to track down Nick Cannell, who is mentioned a bit earlier on this page. Cannell was Bax’s best friend a the time.

When asked if Bax was a lady’s man, as some people have mentioned in the past, Mussgnug said Bax once bought some guy’s girlfriend flowers, and didn’t seem to care about the consequences.

“There is no way Bax killed himself,” he said, quite confidently.

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Who was Krystal Senyk?

Krystal Senyk was, by all accounts, an extremely tough woman.

She competed nationally and internationally in arm-wrestling competitions, and the local Rendezvous flour-packing contest. 

Krystal's mother Vera described her as a "very private lady," and someone who respected her friend Lynn's privacy too. Lynn and Ron used to fight all the time, according to Vera, and Krystal "was always there for Lynn."

Following the tragic incident, rumours began floating around that Krystal had been having a secret relationship with Lynn. One rumour went even further and implied that Ron had found out, hence the murder. 

"Krystal was not that kind of person," Vera said, referring to her daughter's sexual orientation. "She loved her men, boy."

Vera described her daughter at bubbly, someone who loved to sing and make the people around her happy. "From a young age we'd sing together," Vera told me. "Music was a big part of our life. She had a voice like an angel."

On March 11, 1992 the Whitehorse Star reported on her funeral service, which had been held the day before. Over 200 people attended.

Rev. Don Lewis of the Whitehorse United Church cited Senyk's "involvement in sports, her love of the outdoors, her work as an engineer and with native land claims, and her community involvement."

Tim Koepke, a negotiator who worked with Senyk at the federal land claims office, spoke of her "physical, mental and moral strength."

Senyk had a great sense of humour, according to the same article, a loyal friend, a person who loved children and dogs, someone who renovated her own home and played music. 

In our correspondence, Cst. Thur referred to Krystal as a "strong, independent woman. She was, in fact, defiant of Ronald Bax."

She was also a very hands-on person, according to Jan Forde, who ran the women's transition house (Kaushee's Place) where Lynn was staying in March 1992. "She did everything herself, she even hauled in a big wood burning stove into her home all by herself," Forde said. 

Senyk moved to Carcross in 1991 but had been involved in the area for longer, according to the Whitehorse Star. Senyk and Bax's ex-wife were both from St. Catherines, Ont. They first met at Brock University in 1985, and became good friends. Bax's ex-wife Lynn had previously worked in the Yukon and returned in 1986, where she met Ron. Senyk came to the Yukon around 1988, was offered a job as a city engineer and decided to stick around. 

In January 2019 I interviewed Krystal’s step-brother Gord for the first time. He spoke so fondly about growing up with Krystal on a farm in Fenwick, Ontario, a small community about 25 minutes from St. Catherines. “That was a good time in our lives,” he told me.

Krystal, or Krys as Gord calls her, was seven years older than Gord. A lot of their time was spent with horses, going to various horse shows and competitions, and Krystal was very much involved in all aspects of their care.

“My dad had all those horses, border horses, we had a big place, and that’s where my sister got a lot of her hard work and independence from,” he added. On her father’s side, they had orchards and she worked really hard there too, he said.

Gord remembers a time when Krystal and their mother Vera often sang and performed together, whether it was at home with company or on stage.

“You could close your eyes and they’d harmonize back and forth and you couldn’t tell who was who, it was just amazing when they’d sing together,” Gord said.

Krystal convinced Gord and eventually Vera to move up to the Yukon in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Krystal took part in the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous flour packing competition and won, lifting about 750 pounds on her back and carrying it further than anyone else. She also arm wrestled professionally, carried out renovations on her own home,and loved spending time with kids, Gord recalls.

“She loved to learn, she would have these lists of things that were going on, what she was planning to do, and she loved kids, oh my,” he added.

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Unknowns

As you can imagine with a case like this, there are a lot of unanswered questions floating around:

  • Biggest of all: what happened to Ronald Bax? was he helped out of Carcross, did he escape on his own or did he kill himself nearby? Cst. Thur once told me "there were not any credible leads that Ronald BAX was assisted by anyone. The investigators and criminal analysts believed that Ronald BAX hiked to an isolated area and committed suicide. This being said, every lead was pursued and investigators went to great lengths to extend the search across North America."
  • Krystal allegedly told her father, Philip, that she was scared of Bax, that he was threatening her and blaming her for the breakup of his marriage (Whitehorse Star, March 6, 1992). Philip told his daughter to go to the police, and she told him she would. The police investigation revealed Bax did make threats to Senyk - some might wonder, why didn't the police do anything? This one was answered by Cst. Thur in an e-mail. He told me that Criminal Harassment was not in the Criminal Code in 1992. Moreover, while Uttering Threats was in the Criminal Code at the time, "threats would have needed to have been clear and specific and they would have had to have been reported to the police in order for charges to be laid."
Krystal Senyk's headstone at the Grey Mountain Cemetery in Whitehorse 

Krystal Senyk's headstone at the Grey Mountain Cemetery in Whitehorse 

  • Did Krystal Senyk ask to be escorted home by an RCMP officer the night of the murder? I have heard all kinds of answers for this question. Vera believes Krystal did, but that the officer there that night declined to bring her home, saying "they didn't provide that anymore." Forde said staff at Kaushee's Place Staff "were trying to encourage her to stay but she was determined to head home, so she left and that was the last anyone saw her." Sherryl Yeager, the former Whitehorse Star journalist, told me Krystal asked for an escort home, but they told her it wouldn't be a good use of police resources. When I asked Cst. Thur, he referred me back to the Judgement of Inquiry, which stated: "From my investigation, it was obvious that the RCMP became aware that Ms. Senyk was fearful for her safety. Further, the RCMP felt that the transition house was a safe place for Ms. Senyk. In addition to this, some information was exchanged between the deceased and the police officer regarding a restraining order. Krystal Senyk asked the police officer to do a number of things that in the opinion of the police officer would not have been prudent. When the citizen is in a position of safety (note: reference to the women's transition home), as was the case with Ms. Senyk, it would have been irresponsible to take her from the safety and expose her to a perceived danger (i.e. escort her back to her home on Tagish Road)." This is another interesting angle: the RCMP denied the escort because they felt Krystal would be safer at the transition house, than at home. Krystal would be murdered later that evening.
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Next steps

 

Aged photo of  Ronald Jeffrey Bax

Aged photo of Ronald Jeffrey Bax

Aged photo of  Ronald Jeffrey Bax

Aged photo of Ronald Jeffrey Bax

I started looking into this in January, 2015, and it’s already January 2019. Time flies.

In early July 2018 I made contact with a Canadian author (Eliza Robertson) who is also very interested in this incident. We are now collaborating on a project that is quickly gaining steam and taking us in wildly different directions. I will have more to share in the near future. 

I can be reached at myles.dolphin@gmail.com