From her high school graduation photo Melanie Cabay looks tall and statuesque, maybe even a bit stiff and stuffy. She wasn’t. Cabay stood 5 feet tall, barely weighed 100 pounds. If you look at candid photos of her, the picture changes. She appears casual, confident, mischievous.
Melanie was independent. On the early morning of her disappearance – June 22nd, 1994 – she was at a friends watching a Robert Altman movie. Around 1:45 a.m. she left with a former boyfriend. At the corner of rue Fleury and Basile Routhier, along the eastern face of park Ahuntsic, she asks for his sweater – it was cold that June morning – before walking south west to catch a late night bus at the corner of Fleury and Berri back to her mother’s place. In July she planned to move in with her father in Pointe Aux Trembles. She was going to travel with a friend to Virginia that summer. She had purchased tickets to the July Montreal jazz festival.
“Melanie is 19 years old,” said her father, Phillipe Cabay, “She could go where she wanted whenever she wanted.”
Standing there at the bus stop at Berri and Fleury, across from Ahuntsic park, in her Yes t-shirt and former bo’s grey sweater, at age 19, she was every inch a young 1990s version of Theresa Allore – star voyager, the last of the independents.
Melanie Cabay was found 2 weeks later in a wooded area by an off-road motorcyclist near Mascouche, about 25 kilometres northeast of Montreal. She was found naked, the body too decomposed to make a positive identification on a Tuesday afternoon, July 5th, 1994. The motorcyclist, Michel Chartier said he was on a dirt road when he detected a foul odor around 1 p.m. The smell lead him to a pile of roofing shingles.
“I noticed a white piece of material sticking out from under a pile and i thought it might be a dog or a big raccoon.”
He lifted up the shingles with a stick and discovered a body lying face down, clad only in a pair of white socks. The body was found about half a kilometre from a road near highway 640 at Montée Dumais, and surrounded by other construction materials like bricks and wood.
Cabay was strangled and had been struck on the head with an object. Due to the state of decomposition, it was not possible to determine whether she had been sexually assaulted.
Later it is reported that Mascouche police are investigating another assault in the area. On June 23, the day after Cabay disappeared, a man sexually assaulted a Montreal woman at the same location. The woman got a lift from a man headed toward Mascouche around 11:30 p.m. A verbal fight ensued and the man abandoned her on the highway. She tried to hitchhike home, but was picked up by a second man. He took her to the same wooded area where Cabay was found and sexually assaulted her. It is noted that this is an area in Mascouche known as a “lovers lane”.
The woman provided a detailed description of her assailant and the police drew up a sketch. The man was described as between 30 and 40 years old, standing 5’7″ and weighing between 200 and 240 pounds. He had blue-green eyes, medium length light brown hair and big hands with short fingers:
On September 21, 1988 Melanie Temperton went to visit a friend in Ahuntsic. She vanished and has not been seen since. Melanie – who was 20 at the time and had just started work as a secretary – had called home to say she was spending the night at her friend’s apartment.
When Melanie failed to show us the next night at the family’s home in St. Laurent, a neighboring community near Cartierville, her mother, Gwen Temperton called the police . In some accounts she was supposed to return to the family’s summer cottage in Mascouche, about 10 minutes from where Cabay’s body was found. The family sometimes stayed here, though in some seasons they rented the place out for extended periods.
It was only later that the family learned that on the night she disappeared Melanie didn’t stay with her friend, but at the Metro Motel at 9925 rue Lajeanesse in Ahunsic, two blocks from the bus stop where Melanie Cabay was last seen. The Metro was known as the sort of place where prostitutes frequented with clients. This is not to suggest Melanie Temperton fell into prostitution, she just may have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Her mother always suspected Melanie’s ex-boyfriend, though there has always been something in Gwen’s retelling of the events over the years to suggest she was holding back something, and not appearing completely forthcoming.
Go here to view an interactive map of the Cabay / Temperton geographic points: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=1DkeL1T9nL-Nya7fe4aAjXK-H8Zc3subZ&ll=45.554364403115315%2C-73.6625844765324&z=17
On July 20th, a “concerned Montrealer” offers a $15,000 reward for “information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the murder of Melanie Cabay.
On July 27th another reward notice is published, this time in the amount of $10,000. It’s not known why the amount was reduced, nevertheless the poster states that the reward expires December 31, 1994.
The same day, The Montreal Gazette publishes an article titled, “Rewards don’t help nab murder suspects”
Though I agree with the sentiment, I question the timing of the article, at the peak of when public assistance could have benefited the case.
“It’s becoming a familiar pattern. A young woman or girl is killed, her body found a few weeks later by the police. Then reward posters spring up on telephone poles across the city.”
Now stop there for a moment, because I think any community should begin to question itself at the complacency of such a statement. In my community, if such a thing were to happen, it would not be familiar, it would be jarring and disturbing. But this has been the norm in Montreal for at least half a century. The article continues,
“But a Montreal Urban Community police homicide detective and a Montreal criminologist say they doubt the reward system works in cases of sex slayings or killings of young woman and girls.”
The article goes on to say that in the case of, say bank robberies, reward posters are libel to work because their are witnesses. Also, a robber might likely boast of their holdup to a friend or someone in a bar. Not so with a sexual murderer who is by nature introverted. Their crime stems from a personal pathology where it is unlikely they would brag about it at the local tavern. The exception might be a gang member, where members share a similar pathology, but it would be rare where a loner would divulge the details of such a crime.
The article mentions the offering of rewards by the Sun Youth organization for information leading to arrests in the cases of Melanie Cabay, Marie-Chantal Desjardins (who went missing and was found murdered in Sainte Therese at this time) , Tara Manning (murdered in her home earlier that year). Sun Youth, criminologists and the police acknowledged it was rare for rewards to lead to arrests in such cases.
While I admit it is unlikely for a sex killer to boast and brag, it is still possible for a concerned citizen to respond with critical information. They might observe a neighbor with odd proclivities. Perhaps strange odors emanating from an adjacent apartment. If you tell the public rewards don’t work, the message they will receive is, ” why bother to engage in the matter?”
I think by this point in the process – three weeks into the investigation the Cabay family probably felt that the forces that were supposed to help were working against them. If the english press wasn’t helping matters, neither was the french media.
I often praise Allo Police for their coverage in this era, but I should clarify this praise has nothing they deliberately did or intended on behalf of victims. In taking a very pro law enforcement stance in their coverage of crimes, we are grateful in retrospect of the attention to detail in the documentation of these crimes. Allo Police often provide the names of investigators, of medical legal professionals, of others involved at the time in the Quebec justice system. They provided precise addresses – intrusive at the time to publish the addresses of families – but very helpful 30 to 40 years later in trying to establish a geographic imprint of criminology / victimology.
But to grasp the full impact of their indifference to the families and friends of victims, you need go no further than to the stories published when Cabay went missing, and later found.
On July 10th, Allo Police publishes an in depth story on the disappearance of Melanie Cabay, “Disparition Fort Mysterieuse”. At the top of the article are three photo booth pictures of Melanie. At the bottom of the page? Two advertisements for phone sex line services, one, highly pornographic:
Imagine how Melanie’s family felt seeing such a thing. Imagine the subliminal message it sent to readers: there’s something unseemly about sex workers, therefore there’s also something inappropriate about Melanie Cabay. Now take a look at the July 17th edition of Allo Police:
The headline reads, “Naked, face down on the ground!” We see a photo of Melanie’s mother holding a picture of her daughter with the heading, “She believed her daughter was alive right up to the last minute.” Beneath the headline? It’s a picture of a topless woman in a corset, another ad for phone sex line – 514-976-4400.
Allo Police is a useful tool today, never forget in it’s day Allo Police typified the sort of yellow journalism found in American publications like William Randolph Hearst’s New York World, the clickbait of its era.
A real #MeToo moment
On Saturday September 17th 1994, 1,000 women take to Montreal’s downtown streets in the 14th annual Take Back The Night march. The marchers formed a quarter-mile stream, waving banners and chanting slogans to protest violence against women.
A few weeks ago we talked a little about the Chantal Brochu case, and the Quebec serial killers Serge Archambault and Agostino Ferreira. It’s important to remember that all of this was playing out in within the contexts of these other events.
The crowd marched with placards of Brochu, and Melanie Cabay, Marie Chantal Desjardins and Tara Manning.
“Tonight, with the crowd, we will feel safe walking in the streets and I just wished it felt like this the other 364-days of the year,” said Michelle Issa who had participated in the event for the prior 8 years.
March organizer Mary Ann Davis added, “We are people who are fed up with not being able to go out at night to the corner store without being afraid of being sexually or physically abused.”
Early December, a glimmer of hope for some of the murdered young women. Robert Leblanc had been charged with the murder of Chantal Brochu, an arrest was imminent in the Tara Manning case.
Late December, more bad news. Reports of three missing women in the Montreal area; Angelique Desjardins, Nancy Dufour, and Sonia Fitzack.
On the first anniversary of the discovery of Melanie Cabay’s remains people march to denounce violence. The event is repeated a year later when 130 march in silent protest. Joining Melanie’s mother, Mireille is the family of 9-year-old Joleil Campeau, murdered in Laval the previous summer. A fundraising car wash is held to raise money for a non profit foundation in Melanie’s honor to support families and friends of victims of violence, an early precursor of Quebec’s AFPAD foundation.
By July 1997 the marches are becoming a familiar, if diminishing pattern. 50 people gather in Ahuntsic parc to remember Melanie Cabay. By the end of the decade the event would all but cease, taken up in the early 2000s by some other march remembering some other woman who was the victim of violence.
Women’s March, January, 2019: Marchers gathered at Place Émilie Gamelin in the bitter cold as they did in Berlin, Washington, New York, Los Angeles and beyond: https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/montreal-womens-march-to-be-held-downtown-saturday
Music for the episode: Quite simply, this is what Melanie Cabay would have heard had she lived and attended the 1994 Montreal Jazz Festival. The line up from June 30th through July 8th included Cassandra Wilson, Charlie Haden, Kind Sunny Ade, Holly Cole, Dr. John, Joshua Redman.
Next time, Who Killed Melanie Cabay?