Norma O’Brien, Debbie Fisher and the “Chateauguay Killer” (Part 1)

IMG_0447Norma O’Brien and Debbie Fisher were two young girls who went missing in the town of Chateauguay, a community off the island of Montreal known as “The South Shore”. The incidents happened one year apart in 1974 and 1975. In each case the girls were missing for a very short period – approximately 24 hours – before their bodies were found. This is a case where the assailant was actually caught and convicted, but as we will see the outcome was less than satisfactory, and has led to many questions to this very day.

Because the incidents occurred during new moon or full moon cycles, the press dubbed the perpetrator,  Le Maniaque Pleine Lune or Full Moon Killer.

I don’t care a whole lot about moon theory and criminal behavior. It was very de rigueur in the early 1970s.  Many believed The Zodiac – or “Sam” as he liked to be called – who was active in the late 60s early 70s, to be a moon phase killer. Later on in the 1970s David Berkowitz – or the “Son of Sam”  – reputedly killed 5 of his 8 victims during a full moon.  It wasn’t just a matter of people getting up to all sorts of mischief under a full moon’s influence, common lore said that if you did the profile right you could  predict when a murderer might kill again. We see this cliche play out in dozens of films. There must be at least one Dirty Harry movie where Callahan is in a race against time before the moon starts waxing full.

The Quebec press was crazy for moon murders in the 1970s. Here’s an insert from Allo Police, June 1978:

7 meurtres

It basically says the following: Lison Blais was murdered June 4th in Montreal. Soon after a taxi driver in Rimouski was killed. A man who disappeared the previous September was found attached to a cinder block in the Ottawa river. In an apparent crime of passion, a secretary died in Montreal. Some guy at a restaurant was shot in the head. A prisoner was stabbed 120 times. A biker was beaten to death in Trois Rivieres. What do these seven murders have in common? The previous weekend was a full moon!

All of this is very poetic, but not very true. Debbie Fisher did indeed disappear during a Full Moon, June 23, 1975. However, Norma O’Brien disappeared July 9, 1974 – a large moon, but waning with about 80% visibility.

Police displaying their superior evidence handling technique.

Police displaying their superior evidence handling technique.

 

 

 

Connecting two points on a map isn’t correlation or causation, it’s just dots.

Norma O’Brien

IMG_043812-year-old Norma O’Brien went missing on Tuesday evening, July 9, 1974. She left her home at 94 Rue Lucerne in the evening to play water polo at the Seignory Park Pool on Saint Francis Boulevard. When she arrived she discovered the pool was closed for repairs. She decided to walk home. It was about 8:30 pm. She was reported missing that evening. The family insisted that Norma was not a runaway.

Chateauguay Park Pool 1974

Chateauguay Park Pool 1974

The following day around 3:45 pm her naked body was discovered in a field close to the pool, about 1,500 feet from the road, by Charles Baranowsky, the manager at the Seignory pool. On seeing the body Baranowsky put his hands to his head and cried, “Non, non, non!”.

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At the crime scene were Chateauguay Police Chief Roger Gagnon and detectives Ferdinand Yelle, Agent Picard, Michel Lajoie and Jean-Jacques Gauthier. Also present were Surete du Quebec inspectors from Montreal, Claude Chabot, Daniel Duchesne, Yvon Fauchon, and Gaston Rioux.  O’Brien was found on her back. She had been beaten. She was raped. The cause of death was asphyxiation, most likely caused by her hair brush which was shoved down her throat. Police used scythes to search the area where the body was found but no evidence was recovered that would lead to a suspect. The case went cold.

Debbie Fisher

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Less than a year later – Jean Baptiste Day weekend 1975 – 14-year-old Debbie Fisher is coming home from her Uncle’s house at 6 rue Saint Luc. It is about 6:30 pm on Monday, June 23, 1975. She is on a red bicycle with a banana seat. Her home at 167 rue Viau is about 10 minutes away.  She never makes it home.

IMG_0424Given the location of disappearance – about 10 minutes from where Norma O’Brien was found – police immediately put a helicopter in the air hoping to find Fisher quickly, possibly in the same field off Boule Saint Francis. Fisher is found the day after her disappearance, Tuesday, June 24th by three neighbors of the Fishers who decide to search the surrounding wooded area for the young girl.  Fisher is discovered in an abandoned car in the woods off rue Brisebois.  Police on the scene are Pierre Laroue, Corporal Cyr, and as with the O’Brien case, inspectors from the SQ in Montreal (Yvon Fauchon, Normand Vien, Daniel Duchesne, Gaston Rioux, Louis De Fransisco).  Fisher is found naked, but not sexually assaulted. She died from being beaten on the head with a rock.

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Chateauguay Crime Map

 

With the immediate discovery of the body police catch a lucky break. A man driving a 1970s Buick remembers almost hitting a kid driving a yellow Moped (motocyclette) near the woods where Fisher was discovered on Monday, June 23rd, 1975

Arrest of the “Chateauguay Killer”

IMG_0446Police arrest an 18-year-old man who we will refer to as, MX. At the time of the murders he was 16 and then 17. On July 15th he confessed to the murder of Debbie Fisher. He was tried as a minor, convicted and found guilty on March 21st, 1977. Because he was a minor, a publication ban was put in place barring anyone from printing his name.

IMG_0469Although 40 years have past and I feel somewhat protected down here in the States, I really do not wish to test the zeal of the Canadian criminal courts, hence the name, MX. However, anyone who would like to know his identity need only go to Coolopolis’s post on the Chateauguay Killer, and read the comments. I’m not necessarily saying he’s named there, I’m saying there’s some good information from folks who had first hand experience at that time.

And if you read the comments you will also find a lot of misinformation and rumors that have persisted these past 40 years. Some of that I would like to clear up right now:

  • MX was not the Mayor’s son. The Mayor was Joseph Laberge. MX’s father’s name was Jean Claude. I don’t know how this became an urban myth but it’s not without precedent. In Theresa Allore’s case one of the first whisperings was, “the Mayor’s son did it”, perhaps coming from the fear that power can operate above the law.
  • The yellow Moped was only a factor in the Fisher case, not the O’Brien case. MX had a 1975 model Moped. In ’74 he was still riding a bike.  Where Fisher lived some distance from MX, O’Brien and MX were practically neighbors. MX lived at 249 rue Mountain, about a 10 minute walk, or 4 minute bike ride from 94 Place Lacerne.
  • I am not MX. Just because I know a lot, that doesn’t make me the murderer. I feel sorry for the French guy over on the Coolopolis thread who offered a lot of information. Immediately readers started accusing him of being MX.  The French guy knew the best information because French papers like Allo Police had the best information. Don’t knock a guy for doing his research.
  • And concerning research: MX didn’t rape Fisher, but that was certainly his intention. How do I know? Because I have a copy of his confession. How do I have that you ask? Here’s a tip: When you make public records request you mainly get the information you are requesting. But occasionally additional stuff gets dropped in the file. Someone from the Surete du Quebec accidentally dropped the confession in with some other documents. It’s like a little Easter Egg. Here’s what his confession tells us:
car where Debbie Fisher was found

car where Debbie Fisher was found

MX was coming home from work on his Moped. It was about 6:30 pm. He sees Fisher around rue Saint Luc riding her red bike with the banana seat. She is carrying a bag with a container of milk in it. He passes her. He says “hi”, she says “hi”. He then rides ahead, stashes his Moped in the bushes, sits down on the curb and pretends to cry. When she sees him crying she stops. He says, “Come here a minute”. She does. He grabs her and begins groping her. He tosses the milk in the field. He hits her on the head with a rock. Then he hides her bike in the bushes by a tree. She is unconscious. He takes his pants off. He tries to have sex with her but, for reasons I won’t go into, he can’t. Finally he hits her on the head with all his strength with the rock. He stashes the body in an abandoned car. He rides away on his Moped, almost hitting the 1970 Buick.

 At the time he was dating a young woman named Murielle. He had never seen Fisher before. He claimed to have never had sex before, and this is why he attacked Fisher (We know this to be a lie, he raped O’Brien).

  • Finally, Did MX have access to Montreal? This is an unanswered question that has frequently come up in relation to the Sharon Prior murder, particularly due to the similarities between the O’Brien and Prior crime scenes (the level of violence). In fact, an early article on the Prior case references the question, albeit indirectly:

Police are considering the possibility of a link between the Prior slaying and the slaying of Norma O’Brien in Chateauguay last summer.

How possible could it have been that MX road his little Moped into Montreal? As improbable as it may seem, the answer is, he did it repeatedly, and into Lachine no less, which is very near Pointe Saint-Charles, where Sharron Prior disappeared.

Do I think MX murdered Sharron Prior? No. But I will save my reasons for Part 2.

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