Albert Johnson, “The Mad Trapper of Rat River”

Albert Johnson, also known as the “Mad Trapper,” outlaw (born circa 1890–1900, place of birth unknown; died 17 February 1932 in Yukon). On 31 December 1931, an RCMP constable investigating a complaint about traplines was shot and seriously wounded by a trapper living west of Fort McPherson, NT. The ensuing manhunt — one of the largest in Canadian history — lasted 48 days and covered 240 km in temperatures averaging -40°C. Before it was over, a second policeman was badly wounded and another killed. The killer, tentatively but never positively identified as Albert Johnson, was so skilled at survival that the police had to employ bush pilot Wilfrid “Wop” May to track him. The Trapper’s extraordinary flight from the police across sub-Arctic terrain in the dead of winter captured the attention of the nation and earned him the title “The Mad Trapper of Rat River.” No motive for Johnson’s crimes has ever been established, and his identity remains a mystery.

This article contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all audiences.

Albert Johnson, also known as the “Mad Trapper,” outlaw (born circa 1890–1900, place of birth unknown; died 17 February 1932 in Yukon). On 31 December 1931, an RCMP constable investigating a complaint about traplines was shot and seriously wounded by a trapper living west of Fort McPherson, NT. The ensuing manhunt — one of the largest in Canadian history — lasted 48 days and covered 240 km in temperatures averaging -40°C. Before it was over, a second policeman was badly wounded and another killed. The killer, tentatively but never positively identified as Albert Johnson, was so skilled at survival that the police had to employ bush pilot Wilfrid “Wop” May to track him. The Trapper’s extraordinary flight from the police across sub-Arctic terrain in the dead of winter captured the attention of the nation and earned him the title “The Mad Trapper of Rat River.” No motive for Johnson’s crimes has ever been established, and his identity remains a mystery. This article contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all audiences.



Aftermath and Legacy

A postmortem was performed on Johnson’s body in Aklavik, and he was buried in the local cemetery. At the time of his death, Johnson possessed $2,410 in Canadian currency, $10 in Americancurrency, five pearls of low value, and a small amount of gold that included pieces of dental work. No clue to his identification was found on his person or in his cabin. His fingerprintsmatched none in Canadian or American police files. Johnson’s real identity remains a mystery.

The “Mad Trapper” has been the subject of numerous films, books and articles, including a novella by Rudy Wiebe. Canadian author Dick North presented a strong case for Johnsonactually being an American fugitive named Arthur Nelson in his book Trackdown: The Search for the Mad Trapper (1989).

Johnson’s remains were exhumed by a forensic team and submitted for DNA analysis for the television documentary Hunt for the Mad Trapper, which aired in 2009. Results of the scientific testing suggest that Johnson was either American or Scandinavianand in his 30s when he was killed. The results put several claims and theories regarding Johnson’s identity to rest.


Further Reading

  • Dick North, Trackdown: The Search for the Mad Trapper (1989)

  • M.A. Macpherson, Outlaws of the Canadian West (2003)

  • Dick North, The Mad Trapper of Rat River: A True Story of Canada’s Biggest Manhunt (2003)

  • Harold Horwood and Edward Butts, Pirates & Outlaws of Canada (1984)