Mary Steinhauser

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Mary Steinhauser
Mary Steinhauser 1971.jpg
Mary Elizabeth Steinhauser

August 25, 1942
DiedJune 11, 1975(1975-06-11) (aged 32)
New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada
EducationBA in Psychology, Simon Fraser University; MA in Social Work, University of British Columbia
OccupationPsychiatric nurse, social worker, prison classification officer, Canadian Peace Officer
Known forPrison Justice Advocacy
RelativesMargaret (sister), Louisa Franz and Erica Franz (nieces

Mary Steinhauser (August 25, 1942 – June 11, 1975) was a Canadian social worker and prison classification officer who was killed during a hostage-taking at the B.C. Penitentiary in 1975.[1][2] On June 9, 1975, Steinhauser was one of 15 people that were taken hostage by three inmates, Andy Bruce, Dwight Lucas and Claire Wilson, who were attempting a prison breakout.[3] Prior to the hostage-taking and her death, Steinhauser was an outspoken advocate against solitary confinement.[4][5]

A bursary was opened in Steinhauser's name and benefits Simon Fraser University Aboriginal Undergraduate Students in Arts & Social Sciences.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Steinhauser was born in Duncan, British Columbia, Canada, on August 25, 1942. Mary was the elder daughter of August Steinhauser and Johanna Reisner's two children. Mary Steinhauser's father emigrated to Canada in 1925 from Ravensburg, Germany. He began farming in Edmonton, Alberta, and subsequently moved to Lake Cowichan, BC where he worked in the sawmill. Mary Steinhauser’s mother immigrated to Canada in 1939 from Vienna, Austria. Mary's parents married in 1941.[7]

Steinhauser grew up in Lake Cowichan until age 5, when she moved with her family to Burton, British Columbia, a small town in the West Kootenays, where her parents had purchased a farm. Upon graduation from secondary school in Nakusp, BC, Mary began her training as a psychiatric nurse at Essondale, BC. After working at Essondale for 2 years, she moved to Toronto, Ontario and worked for one year as a nurse at the Queen Street Mental Health Hospital. Following this, she returned to BC, taking up nursing duties at Tranquille School for the mentally handicapped in Kamloops for 2 years.[8]

Steinhauser then began work as a psychiatric nurse for the Matsqui Institution, a newly opened medium-security prison in Matsqui, BC. From 1967 to 1970, Steinhauser studied psychology and sociology at Simon Fraser University in BC, where she graduated in 1971 with a BA (Honours) in Psychology and Sociology.[9] Immediately after attaining her bachelor's degree, she began graduate studies at the University of British Columbia in social work; Mary was awarded her Master of Social Work degree in May 1973.[7]

Mary Steinhauser graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1973.

Hostage-taking incident[edit]

On the day in question, inmates Bruce, Lucas, and Wilson made an unsuccessful attempt to escape from prison and took 15 people hostage.[10][11][12][13][14] Steinhauser, who was taken hostage at knifepoint, volunteered to be the principal hostage, which meant that she was held in a room outside the vault area where all the other hostages were kept.[4] The three inmates demanded several things, including medical examinations for Lucas and Bruce, access to hot and cold water in isolation cells, and restoration of recreation yard privileges for segregated prisoners.[15] They also demanded safe passage out of the country.[16]

The hostage stand-off lasted for 41 hours.[5] During this time, the inmates kept their hostages in the penitentiary's vault, with the exception of Mary.[5] At approximately 1 A.M. on June 11, one of the hostages tried to overpower the inmates in an attempt to escape, after which point all of the hostages except Steinhauser retreated to the vault, where they locked themselves inside.[17] Soon after, a tactical squad of prison officers attempted to rescue the hostages and fired upon the hostage-takers, fatally shooting Steinhauser, who was being held as a human shield in front of Bruce.[5]

Police Chief Rod Keary initially informed reporters that prior to her shooting, Steinhauser had been stabbed by the inmates, per reports from the other hostages.[5][17] This was proven to be erroneous by the coroner's report, which stated that Steinhauser had received two bullet wounds and also had abrasions, bruising, and recent needle marks in both forearms.[5]

After the shooting an inquest was opened, which alleged that prison guard Albert Hollinger (who was identified by Bruce) was the officer who shot Steinhauser.[10][18] The inquest also alleged that Hollinger had deliberately switched up the tactical team's guns in an attempt to keep from being identified as the shooter while claiming that he was collecting the guns in order to keep them away from prisoners.[19]

In January 1976, Andy Bruce appeared in a New Westminster provincial court where he gave his account of the hostage-taking situation to Judge Philip Govan.[11] Bruce said that after the prison tactical squad arrived all of the hostages except for Mary Steinhauser shut themselves inside a vault in the penitentiary. According to Bruce, the other hostages "acted out of fear; their only concern was to get that vault door shut and keep it shut."[11] Andy Bruce went on to allege that, after being shot twice in the jaw by a prison guard he identified as Albert Hollinger, Mary Steinhauser crawled in front him, where "she screamed, 'Don't shoot him.'" After this, according to Bruce's testimony, Hollinger shot and killed Mary Steinhauser.[11]

Government Response[edit]

In an interview on June 11, 1975, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau commented on the hostage-taking incident. Trudeau stated how "very sorry" he felt about Mary Steinhauser's death and he discussed the federal government's commitment to not letting the inmates escape: "To make sure these guys wouldn't get off with anything...we would hound them wherever they were."[5]

Legal consequences[edit]

In July 1976 a jury ruled that the shooting was not intentional and that the guards, including Hollinger, were acting under the belief that Steinhauser's life was actively being threatened by the inmates.[20] The jury further recommended that future, similar incidents be handled by outside teams that have been trained in hostage situations.[20]

In media[edit]

  • The play One Tiger to a Hill by Sharon Pollock is loosely based on the incident.[21][22]
  • The incident was fictionalized in Christian Bruyère's play Walls and its film adaptation Walls.[23] The Steinhauer role in those works was given the name Joan Tremblay, and was played by Andrée Pelletier in the film.
  • In 2014 a stage performance entitled Brave: The Mary Steinhauser Legacy was held at the Terry Fox Theatre in Port Coquitlam.[24]


  1. ^ Hunter, Don (June 12, 1975). "Secrecy cloaks prison; hostage shot to death". The Province. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  2. ^ "Who killed Mary Steinhauser?". The Province. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  3. ^ "This day in history: June 11, 1975". Sun. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  4. ^ a b Harrison, Tom. "Remembering Mary Steinhauser". Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Hunter, Ian (June 11, 1975). "Gunfire Kills Woman Hostage" (PDF). The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  6. ^ "Brave: The Mary Steinhauser Legacy". SFU. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  7. ^ a b Verzuh, Ron (November 2012). "Mary's Song". AQ Magazine. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  8. ^ "Social worker slain in prison drama: 'She always gave everyone a chance'". The Globe & Mail. June 12, 1975. ISSN 0319-0714. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  9. ^ "Official Report of DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY". HANSARD. March 24, 2014. p. 2280. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  10. ^ a b Poulsen, Chuck (January 21, 1976). "Guard named in prison shooting" (PDF). The Province. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d "Guard named in prison shooting" (PDF). The Province. January 21, 1976. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  12. ^ "3 B.C. Pen inmates hold 14 hostages" (PDF). The Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, BC. June 9, 1975. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  13. ^ "Woman hostage killed as jail siege ends" (PDF). The Daily Telegraph. London, U.K. June 12, 1975. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  14. ^ "Hostage Dies as Prison Guards Recapture 3 Canadian Inmates" (PDF). The New York Times. New York, NY. June 12, 1975. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  15. ^ "Knife at Throat". Ottawa Citizen. Feb 20, 1976. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  16. ^ "Victim had planned to quit prison job". Eugene Register-Guard. Jun 17, 1975. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  17. ^ a b "One Dies; Seige Ends". Sarasota Journal. Jun 11, 1975. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  18. ^ "Penitentiary Case .Murder Accused Wants Guard Tried". Ottawa Citizen. Aug 19, 1975. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  19. ^ Still, Larry (January 21, 1976). "Inmate names guard in Steinhauser death" (PDF). The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  20. ^ a b "Guards Cleared Of Prison Hostage Death". Eugene Register-Guard. Jul 8, 1976. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  21. ^ Zimmerman, Cynthia (1994). Playwriting Women: Female Voices in English Canada (Canadian Dramatist). Dundurn. p. 71. ISBN 9780889242586. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  22. ^ Nothof, Anne F. (2000). Sharon Pollock (Writers Series 1). Guernica Editions. p. 50. ISBN 9781550711080. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  23. ^ "Looking at crime through the eyes of the criminals". The Globe and Mail, February 1, 1985.
  24. ^ Deutsch, Jeremy. "Event to celebrate 'Bravery and sacrifice'". The Now News. Retrieved 14 November 2014.

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