Eliza Robertson planned to write her new manuscript during a residency at Dawson City’s Berton House. Instead, she ended up reading from the published book there this summer.
“The residency I was supposed to be doing was going to be April 2020,” Robertson says over the phone from Dawson in July, days before the end of her two-month stay. “So obviously, that didn’t happen … but it has been really a full circle, and gratifying in some ways, to be able to come here after that book was written and to be able to do events in Dawson and in Whitehorse. It feels that’s just apt as well.”
The reason it feels that way is that Robertson’s true crime book, I Got a Name: The Murder of Krystal Senyk, is a Yukon story.
The book is about Krystal Senyk, a woman in her 20s who was living in Carcross in the ’90s when she was murdered by Ronald Bax. Bax was the abusive husband of a friend. Senyk had helped the friend leave the relationship, which infuriated Bax. Though he made threats against Senyk, the RCMP brushed off her requests for help, including on the night she was killed. After her murder, Bax disappeared. He’s never been found.
Robertson, who currently lives in Montreal, first heard about the case in 2015. She was visiting the Victoria, B.C., home where she’d grown up. One day she found an envelope on the doorstep with her name on it.
Inside were printouts of writing Senyk had done on a work computer in the Yukon before her death. Robertson’s neighbour had lived in the Yukon and worked with Senyk. She left the notes for Robertson.
“She said that for whatever reason, my name just kept coming to her. And she knew I was a writer,” Robertson says. “As a writer, coming home and finding an envelope with my name on it, it’s something you don’t ignore.”
It’s something Robertson didn’t ignore anyway. She already had an interest in gender-based and intimate partner violence. She started looking into the story, eventually collaborating with then-Whitehorse-based researcher Myles Dolphin, who’d also been digging into the case.
Robertson’s motivation was three-fold. She wanted to highlight that this kind of violence from 30 years ago is something that’s still an issue today.
“One of the saddest parts is hearing stories from people that are much more recent and seeing how little has changed,” Robertson says. “That’s been rather dispiriting although not surprising. Which itself was dispiriting.”
Then there’s the fact that Bax was never apprehended. She spoke to a number of Senyk’s relatives as part of her research. They believe Bax is still alive. Robertson says the highest aspiration would be for the book to lead to information about him, however unrealistic that expectation may be.
Her primary reason though, was to preserve Senyk’s legacy in a way.
“Krystal’s family itself is pretty divided,” says Robertson.
They’re geographically separated, throughout Alberta and Ontario and some of them don’t speak to eachother anymore. A lot of the older generation, including Senyk’s father, have died. Her mother has dementia. The memories of Senyk are dispersed. Robertson knows gathering them can’t offer closure or resolution to the people who do remember Senyk, but she hopes they can offer something.
“Just to be able to take these pieces that exist in recorded interviews or photo albums or yearbooks, or home videos and just put them all in one place. Like a way to kind of reconstruct some version of who she was or create some kind of, monument is a big word, but something like that to kind of make permanent who she was on some level.”
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org