In the summer of 1976, friends Jocelyne Beaudoin and Renee Lessard planned a glorious camping excursion. The two would set out from their homes in Montreal to explore the north shore region of the Saguenay. They set out on foot, July 4th, 1976; packs and sleeping rolls, freedom and the open road, each carrying $250 in American Express travelers cheques. Their means of transportation was the thumb, they would hitchhike.
The plan was to head north to Quebec City, then on to Ile-d’Orleans. At the mouth of the Saguenay river at Tadoussac they would turn inland, following the river into the interior of Quebec.
On July 7th, 1976 – six years to the day that the parents of Margaret Coleman received her last postcard – Renee Lessard sent postcards to her parents and grandparents. “We are presently on a boat along the Sanguenay near Chicoutimi. … the weather is excellent… see you soon.”
There last sighting was on July 10th at a campground at Saint-Felicien, along Lac Saint Jean, where the Saguenay river comes to an end. It would be over a month before the newspapers picked up the story.
Montreal Gazette – August 17, 1976 / Search continues for campers
The Quebec Police Force is searching for two Montreal women missing since July 10 when they left a campsite in St. Felicien, 164 miles northwest of Quebec City. Jocelyne Beaudoin 20, is 5’2″ tall, 115 lbs, has blue eyes and long dark brown hair and Renee Lessard, 23, is 5’2″ tall, 115 lbs, has brown eyes, long brown hair and a scar on her right knee. Anyone with information is asked to contact the QPF at 395-9120 or MUC police at 872-1313.
Renee and Jocelyne had known each other for two years, and were described as inseparable. Renee was older, and had a degree in education. She lived in an apartment not far from her parents. She had a boyfriend named Yvon Charest. In 1973, Yvon and Renee won a contest on the Radio Canada television program, Sprint. Sprint was a quiz show in which young people had to answer questions about the Olympics – recall that the summer games were held in Montreal in 1976. Their prize was an all-expenses paid trip to Greece.
Jocelyne lived with her brother, Claude. On weekends she worked at the Simpsons department store in downtown Montreal. She was saving money for college. Jocelyne had completed studies at the CEGEP in Old Montreal, and was planning to start a degree in education in the Fall of 1976.
In late August the Saguenay paper, Progres-Dimanche made one of the first accounts of the missing travelers. They reported that Joceylyne and Renee had exemplary reputations, and everyone the paper talked to that knew them were unanimous on this subject.
Despite this, Progres-Dimanche planted seeds of doubt. The newspaper suggested they could have been runaways. Or maybe they wandered into the woods and got eaten by a wild animal. They were hitchhikers? Perhaps they met with a “bad opportunity”:
“Are the two young girls alive? If yes, why are there no signs of them? If they are dead, what happened, and where are the bodies?”
Renee’s boyfriend, Yvon Charest was having none of it. They weren’t runaways. While everyone did nothing, Charest rented a small airplane – twice – and began to search the rugged interior of the Saguenay region. He found nothing.
On August 29th, it is reported that Jocelyne and Renee had been spotted in a restaurant at Hebertville-Station one week after the campground siting at Saint Felicien. Jean Fortin – chef and owner of Chez Loulou – says he saw the two girls in his establishment around July 17th, drinking coffee and writing postcards. He describes camping equipment that matched the description of equipment the two girls were carrying. They tell him they are hitchhiking through the region, and ask where they may find a post office to send the postcards to their parents.
The siting seems credible because it is consistent with their travel plans. You see, with the help of Renee’s boyfriend, Yvon Charest, the girls had meticulously written out their journey. Everything had been mapped to the last detail. From Montreal they would travel along the North shore of the Saint Lawrence river to Quebec City, cross into the island of Orleans, through Baie Saint Paul, la Malbaie, then Tadoussac, where the Saguenay river meets the great Saint Lawrence. From Tadoussac they would follow the Saguenay inland, visit Port Alfred, Grande Baie, Chicoutimi, Arvida, Jonquiere, Kenogami, until they reached Alma. Alma is near where the Saguenay ends, and Lac Saint Jean begins. It is the last point to cross the Sanguenay if you want to visit the North shore of Lac Saint Jean, which they did. Jocelyne and Renee crossed the Saguenay and head to Peribonka, on the northeast side of Lac Saint Jean. From here they headed for the very far reaches of the Lake, through Mistassini, Dolbeau to Saint Felicien, where they were sighted on July 10th at the campground. Once at the back of the Lake, the rounded back along the southwest edges through Roberval and Val-Jalbert.
The plan was to end the vacation around July 20th. They would return to Montreal via La Toque, along an inland route that follows highway 155. Jocelyne had tickets to attend the Junior Olympics in Montreal in late July. Renee planned to vacation with her family around July 21st at Ile aux Coudres, a town along the Saint Lawrence South of Tadoussac. The siting at Hebertville Station around July 17th is at the right place, at the right time; between the previous last siting at Saint Felicien and their intended destination, home in Montreal via La Tuque. They would have four days to get to that final destination, a reasonable amount of time.
Although Jocelyne and Renee were reported missing in early August, it took the Surete du Quebec until August 31st to broadcast a press release requesting public assistance. On September 5, 1976 police announce that they will organize a search party to find the two missing women.
The affaire is under the command of caporal Yvon Martel of the Chicoutimi detachment of the Surete du Quebec. Martel had traveled to Montreal to get his orders from the SQ’s central headquarters. One of the objectives of his trip was to verify the usage of the travelers cheques the two girls had with them. Martel confirms that none of the cheques had been used since the girls’ departure from Montreal on July 4th. Now Martel was back in the Saguenay with instructions to find the two missing Montrealers.
Also in September, some additional information comes to light:
A motorists says that he gave Jocelyne and Renee a ride from Saint Felicien to Mistassini around July 11th. The date and location is consistent with what is known, or thought to have been known, but it has them moving in the wrong direction, backward toward Mistassini. Nevertheless, it’s a short trip, perhaps they had reason to go back.
M. Charles Arthur Tremblay comes forward to say he spotted Jocelyne and Renee at Desbiens around July 20th, Desbiens being between Saint Felicien and Hebertville Station, and back in the right / consistent direction.
And more information is disclosed about the Hebertville Station sighting at Chez LouLou. A waitress, Johanne Girard states that she also saw the two girls writing postcards at the restaurant around July 20th.
Despite now having two witnesses corroborating the sighting at Hebertville Station, caporal Martel decides to focus his search around the Saint Felicien – Mistassini area, where just one motorist claimed to have seen them, and at an earlier date and an early geographic point on their itinerary. Martel enlists the assistance of the public, local radio stations and a local hand-radio club to assist in his efforts.
On September 12, Progres-Dimanche does a profile piece on the families of Jocelyne Beaudoin and Renee Lessard. At the Beaudoin home, a heartbroken mother and father await the harmful news that their child has departed this world. Jocelyne’s bedroom is empty, a white bed with her dolls resting on the pillows. M. Rene Lessard states that he would like to aid in the search, but he cannot leave his home where he must attend to his ailing wife, and 14-year-old son.
“It’s not normal for a father of a disappeared girl to stay at home, but my wife is sick, and I have a child to take care of. Maybe Renee was seen for the last time at Mistassini or perhaps Peribonka. I hope the police find my girl. It’s possible they both got lost in the forest.
I understand the police, who at first, thought they were dealing with a simple matter of a runaway. But we insisted for a long time to the authorities to understand that these two girls were not the kind to runaway. We are simple people without the means to move the powers that be. One thing is certain, if I was a government minister, the army and all their resources would have been called in to assist in this matter… I call on the deputy minister, Marcel Leger to demand in the National Assembly to send the army into the Mistassini sector to assist in the search. “
In the same edition, Progres-Dimanche runs a small article where the Surete du Quebec tries to assure the public they are not abandoning the case:
“At the Surete du Quebec of Chicoutimi – the detachment responsible for the investigation into the disappearances of the two young girls from Montreal – we affirm that everything was done last weekend to search the area of Mistassini, the place where the two young girls were seen for the last time.
Under the direction of caporal Yvon Martel, more than 100 square miles were covered, but nothing was found, no new indication to point the way.
All the woods and valleys were searched, but in vain.
For our next searches, the representatives of the SQ cannot specify what kind of work will be undertaken. We want to emphasize that our research has not been abandoned!”
In early October 1976, Quebec police disclose that they now believe Beaudoin and Lessard had left the Chicoutimi – Saguenay region by July 12th, putting the sighting by the Saint Felicien – Mistassini motorist in question, and rendering their search of that region in early September a pointless effort.
Yvon Martel now states that the travelers cheques the girls had been carrying – the cheques Martel traveled to Montreal to verify had not been used since July 4th – had, in fact, been exchanged in Riviere-du-Loup on July 12th, a day after the last sighting at the St. Felicien campground.
The Surete du Quebec go on to state that the sightings in Heberville Station at the restaurant Chez LouLou were most likely false memories. Caporal Yvon Martel states that if further verification prove correct the case is no longer his responsibility and all search efforts in the Chicoutimi detachment region will be abandoned.
Montreal Gazette, October 6th, 1976
“One of two Montreal women missing since July 10 has been found dead in a wooded area at St. Jaques Le Mineur, 20 miles south of Montreal.
Police believe Jocelyne Beaudoin, 20, of 2208 St. Donat St., was murdered shortly after she was last seen.
The badly decomposed body has been sent to the Quebec Medico-Legal Institute where pathologists will try to establish the cause and time of death.
Meanwhile, the Quebec Police Force is searching the same area for Renee Lessard, 23, of 966 18th avenue, Pointe aux Trembles.
Investigators fear that Lessard was also slain as she was traveling with Beaudoin….
The Beaudoin woman’s body was found near the area where Margaret Peggy Coleman, 19-year-old California hitchhiker was murdered in July 1970.
Her traveling companion Margaret Jones, then 20, also of California, spent several weeks in hospital recovering from a concussion and other injuries after being pushed from a moving car.
Coleman’s killer has never been caught.”
On October 10th, the Surete du Quebec publishes a second notice reassuring the public they are not abandoning the case:
“We know that investigators discovered the body of the traveling companion of Renee Lessard – Jocelyne Beaudoin, victim of a murder – last week… we are lost in speculation at this discovery that places prior suspicions as much at the media as the police.”
I don’t know what that last quote really means, except to say that it is evident the Surete du Quebec was feeling extremely defensive, and questioning their efforts. I do know, when you want a straight answer, you go to Allo Police. Here’s what they reported:
The woods where Beaudoin was found were next to a hunting or gun club. They were skeletal remains and Beaudoin was fully clothed. This may lead you to think she had been there far a while, but I wouldn’t be too quick to conclude that. Quebec summers can be brutal. In July 1977, Johanne Dorion had been left outdoors for less than two weeks, and there was nothing left of her either.
Beaudoin’s purse was recovered in the area, containing her Vieux Montreal student CEGEP card.
She was wearing the shirt seen in the last photo of her taken with Renee by some tourists on a ferry crossing to Riviere du Loup. This is how police were quickly able to make a positive identification.
I have seen the crime scene photos. Jocelyne was shot in the back of the head, right behind the left ear. Professional… execution style.
It didn’t take long for police to come up with a theory. More and more, the police believed that Jocelyne Beaudoin – and most likely her friend, Renee Lessard, still missing – were murdered by bikers.
Where Allo Police speculated it, by January 1977 the police were publicly disclosing it in the local papers:
“The Two Montrealers: The answer is with bikers”
“… Renee Lessard and Jocelyne Beaudoin were probably abducted by bikers while in the area of Rivieres du Loup.”
Police reveal that bikers were in that area that summer attending an event in the Gaspe region, just east of Rivieres du Loup. As well, witnesses described seeing two young women matching the description of Beaudoin and Lessard in the company of these bikers, but could not make positive identification. The bikers in question were from a club from the LaPrairie region, where Beaudoin’s remains were found.
What no one could explain was what Beaudoin and Lessard were doing in Riviere du Loup in the first place; a town not on their planned itinerary, and on the other side of the Saint Lawrence river, the only bridge crossing two hours south at Quebec City, or a ferry ride across from the north to the south shore. A photo taken by tourists confirm that Jocelyne and Renee took that ferry to Riviere du Loup – the last photo ever taken of them – but why they deviated from their plan? No one can say.
Nevertheless, Quebec police were firm in their belief that the two young girls were in Riviere du Loup at that time, and that they used their travelers cheques to stay there in a local motel. The proprietor of the motel later stated that they checked in around 5:30 pm the evening of July 13th. Police also speculated in the newspapers that it was possible the two girls were brought to the motel by the ferry, against their will by bikers. If this is so, then why did the tourists who took the photograph not call attention to what would have been an unsettling passage? In the photo, Jocelyne and Renee appear to be just average travelers, nothing seems out of the ordinary.
Ten years after the gruesome events of the summer of 1976, Allo Police publishes an anniversary article:
Gerard Beaudoin describes the event as a “nightmare”:
” I am lost in sad memories. I do not want them to kill others. I want to know – finally – what happened. Did she suffer? I know nothing of these affaires except what I read in the newspapers at that time. If in that time the murderer had been caught, I would have bought a gun on rue Saint Laurent and shot him down in plain sight. Now I just want to know what happened. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.”
In the article – 10 years after the affairs of that summer – Allo Police reports that the remains of Renee Lessard still have not been found.
In May of 2019 – nearly 43 years since the events of that summer – the Surete du Quebec lists the cases of Jocelyne Beaudoin and Renee Lessard on their cold case website as unsolved murders.
Police disclose definitively that they were last seen on July 12th, 1976, and that the motel in question where they stayed was the motel d’Amour in Riviere du Loup, which still exists to this day. They also report that the two girls were not reported missing until August 2, 1976.
Police also reveal that Renee Lessard’s remains were found:
“The body of Renée Lessard was found by chance by passers-by who had stopped in Parc de La Vérendrye for a picnic. Some clothes were found. The bones were scattered over a rather large area, having likely been moved by animals. No jewelry or ID was found. The young woman was not formally identified until June 2018.”
If the remains were not identified until 2018, then when were the remains recovered? Up until a few years ago, people were still discussing Renee Lessard as a missing person on message boards. Some speculated that Renee could have been the female Jane Doe discovered in Sumter County, South Carolina in August 1976.
So I contacted the Surete du Quebec and asked them about this. I also asked them where Parc Verendrye is, because there is actually a a small Verendrye Park in Montreal along the Lachine canal, doubtful Lessard was found here, but I wanted to be sure.
The SQ confirmed that the Verendrye parc in question was the wildlife preserve 300 kilometers northwest of Montreal, but they ignored my question about when the remains were found.
No matter, I eventually found my answer – or rather I thought I found my answer:
” La Gatineau, July 29, 2005:
“A father and his son made a strange discovery while fishing at The Domaine in Parc Verendrye on July 22nd. The young boy was playing with some rocks when he found some bones. The father recovered the bones and gave them to investigators from the Surete du Quebec. They will be sent to the Parthenais laboratory to determine if they are human remains.”
So these must be Renee Lessard’s remains, right? How many sets of remains could possibly recovered in a remote region such as Parc Verendrye?
As it turns out? Two.
A Remarkable piece of Police Work
I wanted to be sure the 2005 remains were in fact Lessard, so I contacted the Quebec coroner’s office. Renee Lessard was actually recovered in the spring of 1977. It took 41 years for police to make a positive identification.
Now before you jump to a sense of outrage – as I initially did – consider the facts. It turns out – and this is one of the few times I can remember giving Quebec police a compliment – but it turns out, this was in fact a remarkable and tenacious piece of police investigation and forensics work.
The Coroner’s Investigation Report – which is dated a little over a month ago, April 12th 2019, 42 years after the date of recovery – reveals the following:
- On April 29, 1977 agents from the Surete du Quebec discovered human remains close to chemin du Lac Burt in Parc La Vérendrye.
- “In the absence of specific information”, the presumed date of death is noted as August 25th, 1976.
- An autopsy was performed on May 3, 1977 at the Laboratory of Forensic Sciences and Medicine in Montreal. Only skeletal portions and pieces of clothing were available. The autopsy could not determine the most likely cause of death.
- The remains were discarded on March 8, 1979, but bone samples were preserved.
- In 2010, a DNA search on the clothes and bone pieces was done, but
- the quantity and / or quality of the DNA from the samples analyzed was insufficient to obtain a genetic profile.
- In 2016, additional analyzes were performed on sliver bone pieces, and a valid DNA profile was obtained.
- In 2018, a DNA comparison of family members was able to establish a link between Ms. Lessard’s family members and the DNA of bones found. By deduction, it was concluded that the bones were those of Renée Lessard.
Getting back to the murders of Jocelyne Beaudoin and Renee Lessard. So who murdered these two young girls? First, consider the geography. That’s a vast amount of Quebec territory covered. From their departure from Montreal to Tadoussac, into Lac Sant Jean, back to Riviere du Loup, down to LaPrairie where Beaudoin is found… North to Parc Verendrye where Lessard is found…
I think Bikers is the best explanation, and I think the Surete du Quebec knows this to this day, and are hoping that someone will finally break and provide information. Consider some facts:
- Beaudoin is shot professionally behind the left ear. Bikers kill like this.
- Beaudoin is found fully clothed. This is not a sexual murder, she is dumped like trash. Bikers do this.
- For the entirety of their trip they stayed at campgrounds. Then suddenly they show up at the motel d’Amour in Riviere du Loup. I have visited there. It is not unlike the Paysanne motel in Lennoxville, where Hells Angels stayed the night before they were massacred at the bunker in 1985. Bikers stay at these kind of motels. They did then, and they still do to this day.
- Witnesses said they saw two girls matching the descriptions of Beaudoin and Lessard with bikers in the vicinity of Riviere du Loup in July 1976.
- There was a biker chapter in the vicinity of LaPrairie where Beaudoin was found. Most likely they were a chapter of the Popeyes who controlled the Montreal and Sorel region, and were eventually patched over into the Hells Angels in December of 1977.
- I don’t think because Jocelyne Beaudoin was found in the same area where Margaret Coleman was found in 1970 means that bikers murdered Margaret Coleman. I think it is most likely a clever trick played by the murderers of Jocelyne Beaudoin trying to make police believe that she was killed by the same person who killed Coleman.
There is one other piece of information. It may be nothing, but it is worth mentioning. In August of 1976 another witness came forward claiming to have seen only Renee Lessard. Police most likely discounted the information because at the time, I did not fit the theory they were pursuing: that Lessard and Beaudoin were in the vicinity of St. Felicien and Mistassini.
Mmn Leger Turcotte, a server at Brasserie du Sportif, claimed to have seen Renee Lessard at her establishment in Saint Jerome, Quebec. Saint Jerome is far from Saint Felicien and Riviere du Loup. It is between where Beaudoin was found in LaPrairie and where Lessard’s remains were found at Parc Verendrye, 60 kilometers north of Montreal.
So what happened? I don’t know, but here are some areas where I speculate. Beaudoin was killed first, and shortly after being brought to the motel in Riviere du Loup in July 1976. Lessard was kept alive longer, possibly much longer than the police’s speculation of August 25th, 1976, which they note is, “in the absence of precise information”.
Unlike Jocelyne, who was shot in the head, there is no definitive cause of death for Renee. We know she – like Jocelyne – was found with clothing, but the remains were recovered much later, 9 months later. Jocelyne’s remains were skeletal, Renee would have decomposed to a much greater degree.
The second set of remains, the remains found in Parc Verendrye in 2005, who is that? We don’t know. I have made an inquiry to the Surete du Quebec, but they most likely won’t answer my question.
[Update: May 27, 2019: The Surete du Quebec confirmed that the bones found at Parc Verendrye in 2005 were animal bones.]
In the Allo Police file on Jocelyne Beaudoin there is a second photo of remains taken from the era of the late 1970s. It is not a photo of Jocelyne because the shoes are different, It is most likely a photo of Renee, but not identified as such because there would not be a positive identification until June 2018.
It is strange. The photos are almost identical. Bodies laid out on dead leaves and underbrush. You can see the remnants of clothing, the bleached bones, the shoes in both photos almost perfectly in tact. Two friends laid out 300 kilometers from each other. No one to shelter them.
So let’s talk about this photo:
Because it was brought to my attention over night that it is odd.
And it IS odd. We first learn of Renee Lessard and Jocelyne Beaudoin’s disappearance on August 8th, in the Saguenay paper, Progress Dimarche. The photo doesn’t appear until August 22nd, again in Progress Dimarche, but we are only told it is “the last photo of them”.
The police don’t get involved until August 31st when they send a press release asking for the public’s assistance.
As you can see, the photo is truncated. The middle has been cut out to bring the two subjects closer together, but clearly that is Renee’s hand extending into the frame of Jocelyne’s picture. They seem to be on a boat, you can see the guard rails and what appears to be water in the background.
Let’s first clear up the timing of when the photo was taken. The October 5th 1986 Allo Police article states that this is a photo of Jocelyne and Renee on the ferry from Saint Simion to Riviere du Loup. This is most certainly wrong. If authorities knew them to be in the Riviere du Loup area when the photo was first published in August 22nd, there would have been no need for the 100 square mile search of the St Felicien – Mastissini area in early September.
In the first Allo Police article from the era of the event the paper identifies the photo as being taken at a ferry crossing at Tadoussac. This is the correct identification. The Tadoussac crossing would have taken place earlier in their journey, between July 4th and July 10th.
And we would therefore need to say that Allo Police, unfortunately just got it wrong. There was no suspicion the girls crossed the Saint Lawrence in the company of bikers.
But that still leaves questions about the photo. Who takes a photo like this at random? It’s not a posed photo. Renee and Jocelyne may not have been aware it was being taken. Who takes a photo like this of two complete strangers? If the photographer even was a stranger to them. It’s the sort of a question you wish the boyfriend, Yvon Charest would weigh in on, because you know the police will never tell you. Maybe someone can contact Progress Dimarche and see if they know anything.
And it still leaves the question, why did Jocelyne and Renee go to Riviere du Loup?