Ten years ago today we posed a question to Canadians through the medium of its national newspaper, The National Post: Who killed my sister, Theresa Allore? The point of those series of articles – written by Patricia Pearson, and featured on the front page of the paper over three consecutive days, August 10th weekend, 2002 – was not only to find an answer to that question, but to suggest that many things – while perhaps not killing Theresa – but certainly many things led to her disappearance and murder, and then later hindered a proper investigation, leaving the case unsolved to this day. The police, legal and justice systems in Quebec “killed Theresa”. The education system in Quebec “killed Theresa”. We killed Theresa because we failed her when she needed us most. Just as we killed Isabelle Bolduc, Julie Bosivenu, Julie Surprenant, Marilyn Bergeron, and on and on and on.
So here are some thoughts on those articles written ten years ago. You can find the original articles here (in English and French). If you need a primer on the case I started a Wikipedia page on it here . Also, if you’re more visual, CTV’s W-5 did an hour on the story in 2005 I believe, and you can find the video here. (I no longer like to talk to directly about the murders; it disturbs me).
So, how did it come to be that this case got dragged out of obscurity and placed on the front page of a national newspaper? Well, I knew the writer, Patricia Pearson quite well. She was my first girlfriend in high School. We later attended university together in Toronto, so we were very close and she had lived through the death of my sister. I remember I had been visiting my parents in Saint John, New Brunswick, this would have been about a year before the articles were published, and I was thinking about re-investigating the case, and about several media avenues where to present it. I was on a plane and there was a copy of The Post. Patricia had written this funny little piece on shaving cream warmers. Remember those little devises you could stick on the top of a shaving cream can to warm the stuff before it went on your face? Stupid, right? Well she thought so too, and she wrote this piece about it. I remember thinking, that Patricia might be a good choice to do the story. I wouldn’t have to do a lot of back filling about how nutty my family was because of Theresa’s death; she had lived through that. And, she had covered the Holmolka – Bernardo case in Toronto, so she had that “going” for her.
She was not however my first choice. My first choice was Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point had just been released, and Malcolm was another friend with whom I’d gone to college. (I went to school at Trinity College, University of Toronto… pretty tony. I would routinely breakfast, lunch and dine with Patricia, Malcolm, Atom Egoyan, Andy Coyne, Kate Zernike, Bruce Headlam, Pam Mackinnon, and on and on and on… (and no, don’t ask me what the hell I was doing there)). Anyway, Malcolm turned me down. He had been in the States too long and felt ill equipt to do an investigative piece on a Canadian murder, let alone what that involved sticking his nose in the politics of Quebec.
In the days before the story went to press, Patricia was out of town, she was up north at her cottage in Peterborough, so that left me to work out the final details with the Post’s editors. I really can’t remember who came up with the title Who Killed Theresa? Normally that sort of thing isn’t provided by the writer, an editor contributes that, but I believe in this case it was in fact Patricia. Anyway, it stuck. I do remember in the final days they came to me with the bi-line for the final installment, “Pattern Points to a Serial Killer”. They were quite concerned that this might be a bit too sensational, that it might upset my family too much. I thought it just fine; if it brought readers to the paper, the more the merrier.
The key to the stories was getting the endorsement of Kim Rossmo, the now famous geographic profiler who broke the case of Robert Pickton and the missing women from Vancouver’s downtown Eastside. Without Rossmo, the story would have been simply an antique love letter full of pain and regret. Rossmo suggested that someone could have been responsible for three unsolved murders, and that even after 25 years the cases were still solvable, if the Surete du Quebec would simple show some initiative and do their jobs. Patricia and I were two amateur sleuths, but with Rossmo’s buy-in we had to be taken seriously; it was like having Sherlock Holmes the guest star on The New Scooby-Do Movies.
When those stories broke, they did and did not have a profound impact on the case. Initially I received a lot of response from friends. August is the time to relax and go to the cottage. I had friends at their places in the Muskokas or the Eastern Townships and they were just trying to get away and do a little light reader, then they had this murder mystery thrown at them where they knew the main players.
It did cause a stir, but it played best in Upper Canada and points west (people love to point at shit in other people’s’ yards), in Quebec it did very little. It would take years more work, me having to learn the French language and then courting the French media before the story met with deserved outrage in the Quebec papers.
I trace the emergence of vicitms advocacy in the arena of homicide like this in Quebec: Marcel Bolduc laid the foundation, myself, Michel Surprenant and Pierre Hugues Boisvenu converged at just the right time in a perfect storm of victim outrage. Pierre took the torch and ran with it. There is always room for improvement, but looking back, the relationship between the police and victims advocates has never been better in Quebec.
So ten years later… where are we? Patricia is still in Toronto, we email from time to time. Pierre Hugues Boisvenu is of course in the Senate (don’t be too hard on Pierre… some say he’s sold out, but Pierre keeps his cards close to the vest. He always has a plan, he will have the last laugh). Kim Rossmo is using crime mapping to make sure soldiers don’t get hurt in Afganistan; is there a better use of his talents? The last time we communicated Clifford Olsen had contacted him claiming responsibility for my sister’s death (Olsen always was a blowhard, and completely full of it). Kim and I are Facebook “friends”, but WTF am I supposed to say to him, “Hey Kim!,I like your new profile picture! LMFAO!”
So where are we? Well I think if we had had a man like André Noël at the helm we might have gotten some answers. Ten years later…almost thirty-four years later, I still don’t know who killed Theresa. Though I’m pretty confident I know where to find the answers. The National Post stories made the locus all of Canada (and over the years I have been urged to promote the case on America’s Most Wanted: pointless, trust me). We slowly moved the focus to Quebec, then narrowed the focus to Sherbrooke and the Eastern Townships. Now bring that focus still closer. Go to the town of Compton, Quebec where Theresa’s body was found (population 3,000). So, 3,000 people… maybe 1,000 households. Knock on each one of those doors and ask them, “do you know who killed Theresa?”. You’ll get your answer.