Sharing a notorious killer’s last name caused turmoil for my family

What’s in a name? I’m sure I’m not the first person who has speculated about the meaning of a name. Do those letters, which then form a word, really define who we are as individuals?

 What if another person who bears the same last name has tainted that name? Does this too define who we are?

On March 3, 2005, my uncle, James Roszko, shot and killed four Royal Canadian Mounted Police who were executing a property seizure on his farm near Mayerthorpe, Alta. After ruthlessly killing those four men, my uncle committed suicide. He was 46.

James Roszko’s past was violent. He was a convicted pedophile who bullied and manipulated others for fun. He was known to hate cops and adore firearms. He faced multiple charges for firearms and sexual assault violations. Bailiff Brenda Storm told CTV News that my uncle was likely to shoot anyone he found on his property. She also mentioned he was “known to have booby-trapped land and used a spike belt to discourage vehicles.”

I never knew James Roszko. My father protected us from his brother, and his story. But on March 3, 2005, the details were made public for all to see.

At age 12, James’ mother left, leaving his father Bill Roszko to raise eight children. James was caught with marijuana in his room at age 14. Over the following years he faced charges for breaking and entering, and possession of stolen property.

After working in the oil patch as a driller, James bought some land and attempted to raise cattle. But as most of the world now knows, cattle were not exactly his passion. He terrorized a male acquaintance of his at gunpoint, forcing him to perform sexual acts in front of a camera. He threatened to kill a man’s family and has tried to convince another man to kill for him.

The list goes on…. When does it ever stop?

Protected from a violent world

To this day, I still have never met James Roszko. He will forever remain an unknown entity. I share a last name with my uncle, James Roszko, who murdered four Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constables. He does not define me or my family, but unfortunately people make assumptions based on my last name.

Photo by: Derek Neumeier.

Growing up in the small town of Cochrane, Alta., my father never felt the need to introduce his brother to my younger sister and I. Even after the event occurred, my father still does not like to talk about it. I never even knew James Roszko existed until the day he shot and killed those four constables. My father has always mentioned James was prone to violence, but was never specific and prefers to keep it that way to this day. So I look to news reports for information regarding my uncle.

After what occurred I admit I appreciate my father’s decision to permanently ignore his brother’s existence. The day after the shooting I remember receiving too many phone calls. I never once asked who was calling or why; I figured I’d avoid the entire situation all together. My parents moved on in a deceiving fashion.

But how could either of them move on? How could my younger sister and I move on? James Roszko was everywhere. He was on the television, he was in the newspapers, and every second phone call we received regarded him. His picture was exposed every hour on the hour.

My temporary escape

I will never forget looking into his eyes and feeling uncomfortable.

I did not know him, and yet, just from his picture, I could tell what kind of man he was. It was as if the Grim Reaper himself had consumed James. His eyes haunted me; I had nowhere to run. There was no escape it seemed.

During this time I was attending classes at St. Timothy School in Cochrane, Alta. Luckily, in my case, no one I knew at school had felt the need to bring him up. It was that, or they didn’t know anything had occurred in the first place. School was the only time I had away from the confines of James Roszko. Unfortunately, like most good things, it came to an end.

Homeroom was a delicious time of morning. Everyone discussed the latest news. I listened closely. Still, there was no mention of my sick and twisted uncle.

All was going well until my Grade 8 homeroom teacher decided to silence the class and single me out. He leaned over slowly and asked me without a single ounce of sympathy if the man who had murdered those four Constables was of any relation to me.

I was only 13. How was I supposed to respond to such a personal question? Not to mention that I was in front of a large group of my fellow students who I got along with so well. I simply answered, unwaveringly, “Yes.”

Since then there have been many situations throughout my life where my last name has permitted others to judge me before even getting to know what kind of “Roszko” I am — one mother of a previous boyfriend I dated assumed I was crazy and violent because of my last name. A name spoiled by the actions of one man.

Anyone in a similar situation would find it unbelievable to hear someone claim that you are something you’re not. I believe that no one is confined to the limitations of their last name. If anything, we should be defined by our actions and words.

It’s demeaning to be labelled as something you are not, especially when individuals who do not understand that one man who was the perpetrator, not the entire family as a whole, formed those labels.

My family, my crutch, my foundation

Is it too much to assume that every family has a relative who has in some way shamed them, or given the last name of their family a negative connotation? It is my belief that not every family is perfect.

After all the struggles a family may experience, it is important to remember that no one in that family should be judged by acts one relative committed. During an experience such as the one I experienced, it is vital that all family members support one another.

I don’t think there was a day where my family and close friends didn’t support me, or listened to my thoughts and concerns regarding my uncle. I rarely asked for guidance from my parents. I felt it was an untouchable subject at first. But over the following months from the initial incident I began to voice my concerns. My main worry was how to avoid conflict when meeting new people who discovered what my last name was.

I remember my mother telling me, “Just tell them you’ve never met him; that you’re not him. You are your own person and will always be Jessica Roszko.”

Moving forward

Now it is has been just over six years since all of it happened. My family rarely discusses it anymore. Things do appear greener on the other side.

I still worry about what people will say when I introduce myself by my full name. I always wonder what they’ll ask or if they’ll even notice that my last name is what it is. Will they make the connection? Will I have to answer a few questions, or go into a long drawn out story about how I never knew the guy?

Luckily I never doubt who I am anymore as a person, but it still hurts to have to think that for the rest of my life, wherever I go, people will always question who I am because of my last name.

Without the support I received, I wouldn’t have felt the need to keep strong and ignore unnecessary comments that my family and I weren’t deserving of. If there’s anything to learn from a situation like this, it’s that the support of a family and confidence in oneself is a crucial attribute towards persevering.

So, I ask again, what’s in a name? Letters? A word? A significant meaning?

You determine your worth. You determine who you are and who you will be.

A name is a name and nothing more.