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Wayne Hoffman speaking at the Berney Theatre

Rena Secter Elbaze singing during the Havdallah service

Who Killed Winnipeg's Sarah Fainstein ? Journalist Wayne Hoffman gives Fascinating Talk about Investigating her murder at Event Put on by Shaarey Zedek

by Rhonda Spivak, Dec 29, 2022

Wayne Hoffman, executive editor of Tablet, and a novelist, gave a fascinating  talk about  his new book “The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer’s To Solve A Murder to some 50 people at the Berney Theatre of the Asper Campus on December 17, 2022, put on  by Congregation Shaarey Zedek and other co-sponsors.  Hoffman explained that his mother had always told him a story that her grandmother Sarah Feinstein was shot while breastfeeding her baby outside during a Winnipeg winter by a drive-by sniper in 1913.  There were many details that made no sense to Hoffman, including the notion that Sarah would be outside breastfeeding in the cold. Hoffman decided to investigate who murdered his great grandmother Sarah, thinking it would take him about two weeks. The two weeks turned into ten years.


As Hoffman related, he went on a quest to search for the truth, while at the same time dealing with his mother Susan’s deteriorating  health. His mother Susan suffered  from Minear’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, and Hoffman hoped to  uncover the true identity of the murderer and tell his mother, while she could still understand it. Unfortunately this did not happen.


Hoffman discovered that Sarah Feinstein was shot “while sleeping in her bed” on Friday, August 1, 1913 when she lived on 520 Magnus Avenue in Winnipeg's North End. One child was next to her on the bed and another was nearby. “The intruder fired a gun at her right temple as she slept,” he noted. "The police came and pronounced her dead.”


Sarah's husband, David, was away on a business trip in Kenora.  Hoffman began to piece together who had a motive to shoot Sarah in her sleep.  Arriving in Winnipeg, Hoffman tried to find 520 Magnus Ave, but it had been gone for decades. He was able to find Sarah’s grave. He spoke to many of Sarah's relatives looking for clues, and he accessed archival material from the Jewish Heritage Centre.


Hoffman, who had a grasp of all the details of the case, outlined how the police made arrests, had suspects, and how there were appearances in court, but in the end the case fell apart. Sarah’s murder ended up becoming an unsolved cold case. In trying to figure out who murdered Sarah, Hoffman tried to access police records, but unfortunately they only went back to 1914. He combed through various newspapers, where articles were written about the murder and found inconsistencies.


Hoffman related that just before the murder  Sarah  fired a 24-year-old Galician woman named Mary. Mary had tried to convince another servant Victoria to leave.  “Why do you work for the Jews,” the antisemitic Mary asked Victoria. Sarah shoved Mary off the veranda and Mary left vowing revenge. Could Mary have done it? What about Victoria?


Stefan, a man who seemed to be Mary’s suitor, was also a potential suspect.  Then there was a jilted lover from many years earlier, a Ukrainian man, from Russia, who vowed he’d get revenge even if it took a long time. Could he have done it? Could the murderer have been an antisemite?


The more Hoffman spoke, the more the appreciative audience  got interested in knowing Hoffman’s thoery of who actually had murdered Sarah, but Hoffman did not give that away. Though it seemed implausible, Hoffman considered whether David could have hired a hit man to kill his wife at a time when David was away and had a solid alibi.


Hoffman said that according to research, a person “is most likely to be murdered by an acqaintance,” as opposed to a complete stranger or someone one knows well. 

Hoffman stated that at the time of the murder the door to the house was unlocked when it was usually locked. Could the murderer have had a key? There was a key to the house that disappeared but was returned, he explained. 

According to Hoffman, it was difficult for the  police  and journalists who came to 520 Magnus Avenue to investigate the case, since the Jewish residents of the area spoke Yiddish, not English.


Hoffman spoke about the Torah portion read the day after the murder, “Masei,” included the rule that a murderer should be put to death.


Sarah's murder was a major story not only locally, but nationally in Canada, and 3,000 people came to the funeral, making it the largest Jewish funeral in Winnipeg’s history.  


Hoffman was a terrific speaker, who left his audience wanting to know who had killed Sarah Feinstein. Audience members who bought his book which was being sold at the end of the event will soon find this out.


Prior to Hoffman spaking, historian Alan Levine gave an overview about what Winnipeg's North End was like in 1913.


As well, prior to Hoffman speaking, Rena Secter Elbaze, Education and Engagement director at Congregation Shaarey Zedek led the audience in a Havdalah service.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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