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An old photo of Dead Man's Flats with a newspaper clipping covering an axe murder
The Historical Marker Database

How Dead Man’s Flats Got Its Eerie Name

There are many stories, but the one involving an ax murder, voices and a whirring electric machine stands out from the rest

No one can say for sure how Dead Man’s Flats got its name. Some believe the tiny hamlet was named after a gruesome murder that took place on May 12, 1904.

It was an ordinary day like any other, except for Jean Marret, who ended his day by getting hacked up by an axe.

The culprit? His own brother, Francois Marret.

Francois and Jean lived in Canmore, Alberta, in 1901. The pair were originally from France but came to Canmore looking for work. Before long, Jean had established himself as a dairy farmer along the flats.

Francois worked for Jean for 15 months before trying his hand at other professions in 1902. For a while, Francois worked in the Canmore mines.

On occasion, Francois would visit his brother and help him with his work on the dairy farm. On one such occasion, Francois decided to murder his brother.

Yeah, probably not the help Jean was looking for.

Fearful that Jean’s ghost might haunt him, Francois disposed of his brother’s body in the Bow River.

But what was Francois’ motive? Surely he must have had a good reason, right?

a newspaper clipping covering the axe murder at Dead Man's Flats
An old newspaper clipping covering an axe murder in Canmore, AB | The Historical Marker Database

Apparently not. One witness claims that Francois killed Jean because he hadn’t paid him for his work on the dairy farm. That’s one of the more reasonable explanations for Francois’ bloodlust.

According to Francois himself, the voices of his dead parents told him to murder Jean.

“I wanted to kill my brother because Jean tried to kill me with a whirring electric machine…I never saw the machine, but I heard it several times,” Francois testified to the jury.  

To Francois, it was kill or be killed. He was a force of good, and Jean was an evil that had to be exterminated. That was all the motive Francois needed to murder his brother in his sleep with an axe.

Experts at the time believed Francois’ hallucinations were caused by a brain disease he developed during his time in the French Foreign Legion in Africa.

Whether it was a brain disease or PTSD, anyone could tell that Francois was insane. Just two weeks after Francois put an axe in Jean, he was cleared of his brother’s murder on the grounds of insanity.

Instead, Francois was made to spend the rest of his days at an asylum in Brandon. Manitoba. He died on October 7, 1909, at the age of 31. Many believe Francois took his own life. Or maybe the electric machine finally caught up to him…

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