The Lennoxville massacre, or Lennoxville purge, was a mass murder which took place at the Hells Angels clubhouse in Lennoxville, Quebec on March 24, 1985. Five members of the Hells Angels North Chapter, were shot dead. This event divided rival outlaw motorcycle gangs in Quebec, leading to the formation of the Rock Machine club in 1986, a rival to the Hells in the 1990s.
In the 1960s-70s, one of Montreal’s more prominent biker gangs were the Popeyes, who were led by Yves Buteau. In the 1970s, the Popeyes had successfully fought against the Devil’s Disciples and Satan’s Choice biker gangs, and as a journalist at the time noted, “The violence that ensued cemented Quebec’s reputation as one of the most dangerous places for organized crime to do business in North America.” The journalist James Dubro wrote that: “There’s always has been more violence in Quebec. In the biker world it’s known as the Red Zone. I remember an Outlaws hit man telling me he was scared of going to Montreal.” The Hells Angels, who had been looking to expand into Canada, decided that the Popeyes were the best gang to take into their organization. On 5 December 1977, the Popeyes “patched over” to become the first Hells Angel chapter in Canada.
As the Hells Angels continued to grow, in September 1979 the Montreal chapter was divided into two, with the Montreal North chapter based in Laval and the Montreal South chapter somewhat confusingly based in Sorel. The North chapter consisted mostly of former Popeyes members, and still retained Popeye attitudes, in contrast to the South chapter headed by Réjean “Zig Zig” Lessard, who were more disciplined.
The head of the North chapter, Yves “le Boss” Buteau was gunned down in September 1983. In contrast to Buteau, the man who succeeded him, Laurent “L’Anglais” Viau, had a more tolerant attitude towards violence and drug use. The Laval chapter, which had often chaffed at and had broken Buteau’s rules about not using drugs, swung out of control under Viau’s leadership as Viau himself was addicted to cocaine, alcohol and prostitutes. The rest of the chapter followed his example.
Other Hells Angels felt that the North Chapter bikers were too wild and uncontrollable. They often used drugs they were supposed to sell and were suspected of skimming drug profits that were meant for other Hells Angels chapters. The North chapter had taken at least $60,000 dollars that were meant for the other chapters for themselves, while their lazy aggression frequently led them to being arrested for minor offenses, which put the entire Hells Angels operations in Quebec at risk. Noted one local reporter. “At that moment [in 1985], the Hells Angels were doing a cleanup to become a real criminal organization. Before that, they were disorganized and unruly. They were like a street gang…The [Laval] guys weren’t following the steps the others were taking. They fit the traditional image of bikers…It was going against the new philosophy of the Hells Angels. The other Hells Angels wanted to be businessmen.” The other organized crime groups that the Hells Angels did business with such as the Mafia and the West End Gang had been pressuring the Angels to bring the Montreal North chapter under control. The Hells Angels assassin Yves “Apache” Trudeau later disclosed that relations between the Montreal North and Montreal South chapters of the Hell’s Angels were “ice cold” by the beginning of 1985.
In March 1985, at a secret meeting in Sorel, the Montreal North chapter were declared to be in “bad standing” with the Hells Angels and were to be liquidated. The plan called for two members of the Laval chapter to be forced into retirement, another two members to be given a chance to join the South chapter and the rest to be all killed. A party was announced at the clubhouse of the Sherbrooke chapter in March of 1985. It was attended by the Sorel, Laval, Halifax and Sherbrooke chapters, which were all of the Angels’ chapters in eastern Canada at the time. The four Hells Angels chapters in British Columbia did not attend the party.
At the Lennoxville “bunker” the Angels planned to ambush the Laval chapter as they entered the clubhouse, but the plan failed when most of the targets failed to show up. The party was now extended for a second day, and participation was mandatory. Most of the North chapter now showed up with the notable exceptions of Yves Trudeau, who was in rehab being treated for his cocaine addiction, and Michel “Jinx” Genest, who was in the hospital recovering from a failed assassination attempt by another biker gang. The founding member of Hells Angels Canada and president of the North Chapter, Laurent “L’Anglais” Viau, and four of its members: Jean-Guy “Brutus” Geoffrion, Jean-Pierre “Matt le Crosseur” Mathieu, Michel “Willie” Mayrand, and Guy-Louis “Chop” Adam attended. When the five North Chapter members arrived, they were forced into the center of a room in the clubhouse, where they were all shot dead.
Three members of the Laval chapter who attended the party; Gilles “Le Nez” Lachance, Richard “Bert” Mayrand, and Yvon “Le Pere” Bilodeau were ordered to remove the bodies and wash away the blood. Mayrand and Bilodeau were given the option to retire from organized crime or be killed. Lachance was offered membership in the South chapter, which he accepted. Together with Jacques “Le Pelle” Pelletier and Robert “Snake” Tremblay of the South chapter, Lachance went to see Genest to inform him that he could either join the Sorel chapter or be killed; he chose the former.
Over the next few days, the Laval clubhouse was looted of all the money and drugs stored in it along with the six Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Despite the original plan to kill Trudeau at the Sherbrooke clubhouse, he was contacted at the clinic he was staying at in Oka and told he was expelled from the Angels. Trudeau could rejoin if he killed three people whom the Hells wanted dead.
Pierre de Champlain, a former RCMP officer and a specialist on biker crime stated, “The police noticed that the Laval chapter’s garage that served as their bunker was closed. The girlfriends of the guys who’d disappeared were approached and asked, ‘Have you seen your boyfriend lately?’ and things like that. Then they realized that these people had disappeared, but they didn’t know they were dead.”
In June 1985, a fisherman on the St. Lawrence caught part of the decomposing body of one of the dead bikers. At the bottom of the St. Lawrence River, police divers located the 5 victims wrapped in sleeping bags and tied to weightlifting plates. Also found was the skeleton of Berthe Desjardins, who had been missing since February 1980. Desjardins was the wife of a Hells Angel liquidated by Trudeau as a possible police informer, and while he was at it, Trudeau killed her to ensure her silence.
The name that the media gave to the massacre, the Lennoxville massacre, is a misnomer; the killings took place in Sherbrooke, and the misconception that the killings took place in Lennoxville arouse from the fact the victims stayed and partied at a motel in Lennoxville before going to the Sherbrooke clubhouse.
Turning Crown’s evidence
Gilles Lachance, who was profoundly troubled by the massacre he had witnessed, contacted the Sûreté du Québec to state his willingness to work as an informer and to wear a wire. One of the participants in the killings, Gerry “La Chat” Coulombe, a prospect with the South chapter, was so troubled by the massacre that he also turned informer and wore a wire for the Sûreté du Québec. Yves “Apache” Trudeau, the Hells Angels from the Montreal North chapter who did not attend the Lennoxville meeting, while in prison, realized that he would probably be killed by the Angels, so he cut a deal with the Crown. For testifying against the Hell’s Angels, the Crown treated the 43 murders Trudeau committed between 1970-1985 as manslaughter. He served 7 years for his crimes. As result of Trudeau’s testimony, 90 murders were solved and 19 Hell’s Angels were convicted. Given that Trudeau committed 43 murders first as a Popeye and then as a Hell’s Angel, his lenient sentence attracted much controversy.
Several members of the Hells Angels were present and played a role in the slaughter, but only four – Jacques Pelletier, Luc “Sam” Michaud, Réjean “Zig-Zag” Lessard and later Robert “Snake” Tremblay – were convicted of first-degree murder.
Pelletier, Michaud, Lessard and Tremblay were given life sentences for the murders with no chance of parole before 25 years. They were all granted parole nonetheless on the faint hope clause and ended up serving between 17 and 22 years each. Of the men convicted of the massacre:
- Robert “Snake” Tremblay was granted full parole on the 30 August 2004 and is living in Montreal. Tremblay told the parole board: “I sincerely deplore having taken the life of another person. I am very aware that I have to watch out for who I associate with and that I have everything to lose if I return to the criminal world.”
- Luc “Sam” Michaud was granted full parole on 6 May 2005, denying killing anyone, but stated he regretted his involvement with a crime that put him in prison for 20 years. Michaud, described as a zealous Hells Angel at the time of his conviction, returned to Roman Catholicism while in prison and was expelled from the Angels in 1993. He is living in Montreal at present.
- Réjean “Zig Zag” Lessard, the leader of the plot behind the massacre converted to Buddhism while in prison and left the Angels in 1989. Lessard was granted day parole on 3 February 2006, telling the National Parole Board that he had become a vegetarian, a pacifist and a Buddhist, saying: “You can’t be a Buddhist and be in that milieu.” Lessard was granted full parole on 11 August 2010 and is living in Montreal.
- Jacques Pelletier was granted full parole on 6 May 2013, but he was sent back to prison in 2014 after he violated the terms of his parole by associating with Hells Angels.
CODA: May 1980
I’m not really interested in The Hells Angels, and the Lennoxville Massacre, that’s not my turf.
I would like to know how Robert “Snake” Tremblay who is quoted as saying “I sincerely deplore having taken the life of another person. I am very aware that I have to watch out for who I associate with and that I have everything to lose if I return to the criminal world.” in 1980 apparently got away with the murder of Sylvie Michaud: