6:30 p.m. – December 15, 1987 – a woman has locked her keys inside her vehicle outside the medical clinic where she works in Laval, Quebec. The woman re-enters the clinic. She tells a nurse she’s waiting for her husband to return who met her by chance outside the vehicle. She then instructed him to take a taxi – presumably back home – and get a second set of keys. Eventually she leaves the clinic and makes her way back out to the parking lot.
The husband tells a slightly different story. The man says he met his wife after his car wouldn’t start, which was parked a half a mile away in another parking lot. He arrived to find his wife outside her car with the keys inside in the ignition. The man then makes the half mile trek back to the first lot to retrieve a second set of his wife’s keys located in his own car.
Thirty minutes later, the man burst through the doors of the medical clinic screaming that his wife is “covered in blood”. A doctor on duty rushes to her aid, only to find the 45-year-old woman dead – seatbelt fastened, slumped over in her vehicle – in the clinic parking lot behind a local depanneur.
This is Who Killed Theresa.
The Murder of Michelle Perron
The notices on this case were so slight that I’ll simply read them to you.
“A woman found dead in a car in Pont Viau district of Laval had been struck repeatedly on the head with a sharp object, police said yesterday. The victim was identified by Laval police as Michelle Perron, 45, of Duvernay district. Sgt. Pierre Valois said police got a call during Tuesday night’s snowstorm about a woman hemorrhaging in a car outside a depanneur on Concorde Blvd.”
That’s from The Gazette, and the blurb from La Presse wasn’t much different, though it did add that she may have lost her keys in the snow from the storm, and that her purse was found a couple of meters from her car, possibly indicating robbery as a motive.
There’s no further mention of this case in the press until fourteen months later when police charge her husband, Gilles Perron with murder. The trial opens in 1989 two years after the incident. The motive suggested is that Gilles Perron was having an affair at the time of the murder and wanted to leave his wife.
Gilles Perron was a 49-year-old television producer with Quebec’s Radio Canada known for such television shows as Star d’un soir ( a sort of Quebec American Idol of the 90s), La semaine verte ( think environmental fair like The Nature of Things), and the sitcom, Demons du midi (think of any bland, really forgettable variety show).
Gilles Perron was also quite the lothario. A brisk two months after his wife’s murder, he moved in with a Quebec chicken restaurant heiress. This incurred the wrath of the chicken heiress’ brother who decided to see to matters himself.
Jean-Pierre Leger – then vice-president of the chicken restaurant franchise, St. Hubert Barbecue, recently its CEO – was so incensed by his sister Claire Leger’s affair with Gilles Perron – and by the lack of police effort – that he began conducting his own murder investigation. Leger placed a full page add in newspapers in Montreal, Laval and Sherbrooke offering a reward of $100,000 for any information that would lead to an arrest for the murder of Michelle Perron. This lead to the discovery that Gilles Perron had a mistress in Quebec’s eastern Townships, Monique Sirois. Madame Sirois kept a diary. And in this diary she revealed that Gilles Perron was intending to leave his wife, and make his 12 year affair with Sirois a permanent arrangement. But after Michelle Perron’s murder, Gilles Perron dumped Sirois and began a relationship with the chicken man’s sister, Claire Leger.
The diary provided the motive police desperately needed. With it, they were able to charge Gilles Perron with the murder of his wife, Michelle.
At the trial, Gilles Perron story didn’t add up. Michelle Perron was found strapped in her seatbelt, slumped in the driver’s seat of the Mercury Lynx hatchback. Perron had received eight deep knife wounds to her head that almost completely obliterated her face. One blow to the head was so devastating it dislodged one of her dentures, which was found on the floor of the car in a pool of blood. The blow that killed her severed an artery in her throat.
Pathologist testified Michelle had no defensive wounds on her hands or arms. While a police photo showed no keys in the ignition, the doctor that first attended Michelle testified that the keys were in the ignition. Further, a nurse from the clinic observed Gilles Perron emerging from the driver’s side of the vehicle – the door was found ajar – after police had been called to the scene. Later, Perron told investigators that his wife might have had a second key to her car in her pocket, though no additional set of keys were ever recovered. Perron stated it took him 30 minutes to make the return trip from his car to his wife’s. Testimony revealed on foot the trek took a police officer approximately 18 minutes round trip: Perron could not account for the missing 12 minutes.
Gilles Perron lied to his first mistress, Monique Sirois, telling her he was in Ottawa at the time of the murder and had been unaware of his wife’s death. He lied further when he explained to Sirois that his frequent absences were the result of his being an agent with the RCMP’s security branch in Ottawa. Perron ended their relationship by telling her he was a homosexual and had found a male lover.
After her funeral, Perron tore up every single photo of his wife. Exactly one month after her murder, he began the process of collecting his wife’s life insurance. The policies were valued at $72,000. At the time of her death Gilles Perron had debts exceeding $68,000.
Perron’s relationship with Claire Leger – the St. Hubert BBQ lady – was discovered when a neighbor observed Gilles Perron emerging from the chicken heiress’ apartment in the spring of 1988. Perron then disclosed to the neighbor that he had moved in with Claire. At this point he launched into an explanation of how he had found his ex-wife slumped in the back seat of her car (it was a hatchback) and how he “took her into his arms and took her into the clinic” (Gilles Perron entered the clinic alone when he burst in shouting, “my wife is covered in blood.”). The neighbor recalled that Perron insisted on giving a very grisly, detailed account of his wife’s murder. In the weeks leading up to the trial, as early as 1988, even before his arrest, Perron was planning to write a book about the murder and had contacted an associate to work as his ghost writer.
In closing arguments the Crown argued that Perron attempted to stage the perfect murder, disguising the scene to make it look like a robbery. On December 22, 1989 Gilles Perron was convicted of first-degree murder in the brutal stabbing death of his wife – and mother of his three children – Michelle Parron. At trial Perron appeared stunned by the verdict which came after four days of deliberation by the jury. Gilles Perron was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for a minimum of 25 years.
St-Hubert BAR B-Q
Before going forward, perhaps a look back at the history of the Quebec chicken franchise, St-Hubert BBQ. It doesn’t really have anything to do with this case, but it tells you a lot about how power operates in the province of Quebec.
From its humble beginnings on St-Hubert street in Montreal, St-Hubert BBQ was always a “mom and pop” outfit. Founded in 1951 by Helene and Rene Leger, St-Hubert started as just a chicken stand, but with it’s “secret BBQ sauce” and a fleet of yellow Volkswagen Beetles, by 1965 they had pioneered home delivery service (at no extra charge) in Canada.
With Canada’s Centennial in 1967, and Montreal hosting the world’s fair, the Legers saw an opportunity and decided to open two restaurants at the Expo 67 site – recall that Expo had opening day crowds of over 300,000 – and used radio and television ads with the catchy jingle “ring, ring, ring, St-Hubert BBQ”.
The 1970s and 80s saw a period of rapid expansion for the chicken franchise. They introduced a single dial in number for all Montreal phone orders. They branched into an ill-conceived venture of upscale Italian restaurants ( these were eventually sold to the American, Georgio restaurants). They began an expansion into Ontario and the Maritimes. By this time even Celine Dion is appearing in their TV commercials. Eventually times and tastes change. A series of Resto-Bar lounges fail. They never really establish a foothold outside of Quebec. By 1992, their first store at 6555 St-Hubert Street closes because it’s losing money. In 2016 St. Hubert BBQ is sold to Cara Foods, the owner of Ontario Chicken rival, Swiss Chalet.
Now I have never eaten St-Hubert BBQ, but I have had Swiss Chalet. It’s awful. For Southerners, It is the culinary equivalent of eating at the K&W Cafeteria ( translation = it’s were old people eat). Just to look at it, no American would ever call it barbeque. If I brought that slop to East Carolina or Kansas City… or Texas? I’d be roasted on a pig spit.
We can’t leave our memory tour of St-Hubert without a discussion of the mascot. And this is a fascinating story in itself.
The Chicken Mascot
The St-Hubert BBQ mascot / logo is a cartoon rooster. If you see shades of Woody Woodpecker, that’s no coincidence. The original mascot was designed by Jack Dunham, an animator who worked on the early Oswald the Rabbit shorts for Walter Lanz. He later joined Disney Studios where he contributed to Snow White, Bambi, Alice In Wonderland, Pinocchio, Fantasia, among others.
Dunham also created some of St-Hubert’s earliest television commercials. Born in 1910 in Bismarck, North Dakota, Dunham ended up in Canada making commercials for Dow beer, Belevedere cigarettes and Lowney chocolates in Toronto and Montreal. Dunham’s life ended rather tragically on the streets of Montreal. Down on his luck, The Gazette columnist Mike Boone – best known for his hockey coverage of the Montreal Canadiens – was asked to do a profile piece on Dunham and his misfortunes.
According to Boone, in 2006 Dunham and his wife of 51 years, the former fashion model Dorothy Stewart, were evicted from their St. Marc street apartment. The two ended up at St. Luc Hospital while social services searched for a new place for them (Dunham was 96 at the time). Dunham died on August 16, 2008. Where he finally ended up is not known.
Don’t Fuck with the Chicken Man
The defeat in 2016 which saw St-Hubert’s sale to Ontario rival, Cara Foods was the ending to a battle that had been waged for nearly forty years.
In April 1979, in an article titled, “Chicken war starting to heat up”, The Gazette revealed that part of St-Hubert’s expansion efforts were to counter an attack by Cara Foods which was planning to spend over $25 million to set up 25 Suisse Chalet BBQ restaurants in Quebec (Cara also owned the hamburger restaurant, Harvey’s which at this time was also in a fast-food war with rival, McDonald’s ). St-Hubert countered with its own expansion – though not saying how it managed to finance that expansion – with plans to add 24 franchise locations by the end of 1979. A St-Hubert executive scoffed at Cara’s efforts, “We’re number one in chicken… we’re the top here and we’re going to remain the leader.”
The rivalry even extended south of the border. In February, 1979 Cara Foods opened its first Swiss Chalet restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Three months later St-Hubert countered, opening a St-Hubert “fine dining” establishment within miles of the Swiss Chalet location. Presumably these were vanity restaurants for the winter snowbird families to enjoy while escaping the harsh Canadian winters.
Here’s a photo of Helene Leger and her son, Jean-Pierre ( the overly protective brother of diary-writing Claire Leger) receiving the key to the city of Fort Lauderdale after their grand opening in June, 1979:
“Thank you for your warm welcome and acceptance of our unique roasted chicken. Thank you for the opportunity extended to us to introduce St. Hubert Roasted Chicken to South Florida. We promise to be good neighbors and look forward to a long association with our many new friends.”Mrs. Helene Leger, President, St-Hubert Roasted Chicken
Today that American flagship location sits vacant. It last housed a vegan / vegetarian place called Sublime which was shuttered in 2018.
Though mother, Helene Leger was president of the chicken business, daily operations were controlled by the brother and sister tag-team of Jean-Pierre and Claire.
In 1982, the company made it official with an announcement to the media of the “top-level appointments” by Helene Leger, president of “Jean-Pierre Leger and Claire Leger, both of whom lave long been associated with the company, each assum[ing] the title of Assistant to the President as part of a reorganization oriented towards future growth”. The announcement goes on to point out that “Rotisseries St-Hubert now operates 69 outlets in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Florida.”
A profile of Claire Leger in The Gazette in 1982 revealed that she got her start working as a waitress at St-Hubert and later went on to become a restaurant manager. After studying business and taking time to raise her son, she returned to the company and focused on the administration, identifying her brother as the risk-taker and more like her father, Rene. She was a cultured woman, studying art and the piano, taking time during her hiatus to take up sculpture and the flute. She was also a bit of a practical joker, often playing pranks on the workers, but also a tough executive:
“When I was in school, women in my kind of job did not exist in Quebec. It was not done. It’s still rare that women are given a chance – outside a family firm.
The 1980’s will show whether women will be able to make it in the market place”The Gazette, March 1, 1982
Later that year, Claire Leger addressed the Montreal Chamber of Commerce. It’s short, so I’ll just read the puff-piece that was written in the papers, as it reveals a lot about the Leger character:
“When it comes to backing business don’t be chicken, Quebecers told”
“If Quebec society esteemed businessmen as much as it esteems politicians, professional people and its popular singers, then many small Quebec businessmen would be on the way to becoming big businessmen.
So says Claire Leger, vice-president and boss-lady of her family’s St-Hubert barbecued-chicken restaurant chain, which now has annual sales of $110 million, branches in Quebec, Ontario and Fort Lauderdale and plans for a big expansion in the U.S. market.
Leger was addressing the weekly luncheon meeting of Montreal’s Chambre de Commerce. The menu: Scallops in white sauce and Brussels sprouts.
There are tens of thousands of entrepreneurs in Quebec, she said, able to grow as the Leger family has done – if only they benefited from a climate of encouragement and optimism.
She attributes the success of the St. Hubert rotisseries to the use of TV advertising as well as to “QSC – quality, service, cleanliness,” but also to the willingness of the older generation – her parents – to give the new generation -herself and her brother – its head.
“They could have been satisfied with 17 profitable restaurants.” Instead, in the 1970s. they et her and her brother build another 49 outlets, 10 of which are outside Quebec. The firm now has 5,000 employees. One challenge has been to bring into the firm senior executives who are not members of the family and to learn from them.
The five Toronto restaurants are now among the most profitable of the group, she said. In expanding, she and her brother considered many scenarios and retained the most aggressive, which has paid off, Leger said.”The Gazette, October 28, 1981
I doubt it was just hard-scrapple encouragement and optimism that built the Leger’s chicken empire, we never really learn where their financing came from, but it no doubt saw some muscle from elite power families of Quebec – we’re getting to that.
For an idea just how powerful the Leger family had become, listen to this announcement from The Gazette in 1984. It’s to hail Claire Leger’s appointment as Director to Laurentian Mutual Insurance, but it goes on to reveal that she is already serving on the boards of Hydro-Quebec ( personally appointed by Quebec Premier Rene Levesque), Radio-Quebec ( then a provincial television station similar to TV Ontario), the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, and the publishing and printing giant Quebecor – personally appointed by Pierre Péladeau. Today Quebecor is run by Péladeau’s son, Pierre Karl. Quebecor is one of the most dominating media forces in the province, with controlling interests in the Journal de Montreal, TVA, Videotron, Canoe, Qub Radio, and Archambault books and music.
I think the murder of Michelle Perron needs to be considered in the context of the Quebec rich and powerful. And for me, there’s something very Shakespearean in the story, something very Measure for Measure, something very Claudio and Isabella.
Claire sits on the board of the media giant Quebecor – so the Journal de Montreal and TVA. And who are their rivals in Quebec? In terms of newspapers and television that would be La Presse and Radio Canada. And who works for Radio Canada?
Take a look at this 3/4 page ad for Hydro Quebec from 1996 in The Gazette – and if you’re listening I’ll just describe it to you. It’s a portrait of JP – his smug face glaring at the reader – with a plate of St. Hubert – the BBQ, fries, special sauce – at his side. The headline reads, “Jean-Pierre Leger keeps a close eye on everything he consumes.” Yes, the ad is ostensibly about HydoQuebec, and how he likes to keep energy costs down, but I also don’t think we’re just talking about chicken. There’s something downright creepy about the Leger eye-of-Sauron surveying the landscape of all he consumes ( by the end of the century JP had bought out his sister and was the sole shareholder of St-Hubert). And his sister’s welfare would definitely fall within that landscape. The Legers’ were not going to be made to look foolish by some Radio Canada gigolo.
The machinations of Jean-Pierre Leger in the police investigation of Michelle Perron’s murder went will beyond offering a $100,000 reward. Prior to becoming a police suspect, Jean-Pierre Leger secretly met with Gilles Perron in a Laval hotel room. This was in 1988, just months before the trial, Perron by this time was engaged to his sister, Claire. At the meeting Leger urged Perron to break it off with Claire Leger stating, “It would be best if you left her.” Perron quickly retorted, “you can forget it.”. Unknown to Perron the entire conversation was recorded by Laval police, with Leger permitting them to bug his room.
A week before the trial started, Gilles Parron filed a $1.1 million lawsuit against Jean-Pierre Leger, charging he was the victim of a smear campaign. During the trial, in dramatic fashion, Claire Leger called off the engagement one week before their wedding date.
It’s interesting that all through that 1989 trial the Quebec media refused to name the Legers or their business, only ever mentioning that Gilles Perron was “engaged to the heiress of a restaurant chain”. When your rich and powerful you can manage to keep your name out of the papers. When the Legers were eventually mentioned it was only in the most delicate fashion (Newspapers outside of Quebec like the Ottawa Sun and Calgary Herald are only too happy to name St-Hubert and the Legers.)
The rest we know, Gilles Perron is found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison, and that’s the end. Or is it?
Gilles Perron filed an appeal. It was at this second trial that everything began to unravel. Because for all their power, for all their connections and influence, for all their intelligence and determination, there is one thing the Legers did not account for: the incompetence of the Laval police force.
Doughnuts, they’re for the police!
Now there were a number of things wrong with the Laval police investigation that came up in the second trial and I’ll just highlight a few. Police attempted to interview Gilles Perron’s 15-year-old son without prior knowledge or permission from Perron. When Perron intervened and told detectives to go through his lawyers, the Laval police charged him with obstructing a police investigation. Police never bothered to conduct “knock and talks” with residents in a nearby row of homes who had a clear view of the parking lot where Michelle Perron was murdered. They never bothered to review the video camera footage from the adjacent depanneur, nor did they conduct interviews with patrons and staff of a nearby brasserie and strip club. The police fingerprint technician had learned his trade through a mail order correspondence course – the sort of thing in that era you’d find on the back of a matchbook. Police also failed to take blood samples from the interior of the vehicle. Finally, when police conducted their preliminary interview with Perron they failed to turn on the tape recorder. For these, and many more reasons, Perron’s defense attorney called the process “a mockery of justice”.
Gilles Perron was acquitted on May 15, 1992. One of the reasons he was set free was the sudden appearance of a surprise witness who came forward and stated she saw two suspicious characters in the parking lot a half-hour prior to Michelle Perron’s murder, despite the fact that when asked to describe the weather that evening, the witness said she could not recall. ( There was a very memorable snow storm the evening of December 15, 1987.)
But the main explanation for the acquittal were the police blunders. As they so often do, the Quebec police asked for forgiveness, promising reforms, yet nothing changed. A year after the acquittal the Laval police union – ever resourceful to exploit an opportunity – had the nerve to claim that the explanation for their incompetence with the Perron case was because the Laval murder squad was over-worked and understaffed:
It should come as no surprise that playing out all during the events after the murder and the two trials was unending contract negotiations spearheaded by the Laval Police Brotherhood which involved strong-arm tactics like a stoppage in giving out speeding and parking tickets, and the refusal to answer service calls. There’s plenty of blame to spread around here, and we should not exclude bureaucrats. Indeed the Laval force had been working without a contract since December 31, 1987 – that’s a slim two weeks after the Perron murder, barely enough time to canvass a neighborhood let alone process blood samples.
By the Summer of 1991 they were still without a long-term contract, with the Laval chief and police union head exchange barbs about understaffing and public safety ( at the time Laval had the highest paid police officers in the province).
“The police are doing their work to the best of their abilities but their efforts are being sabotaged by the fact the department is understaffed, and it takes hours to answer calls of a less serious nature.”, whinged brotherhood president Andre Nadon. Chief Jean-Marc Aurele countered, “It’s evident we could do more with more men, but citizens have no cause for concern. We have an excellent police force doing a good job.” Metrics backed up that the in 1991 Laval did indeed have a low crime rate.
Things didn’t improve when later that summer, Culinar, Inc. announced a new ad campaign for their Joe Louis snack-cakes with posters emphatically proclaiming, “Doughnuts, they’re for the police!”. The ads were quickly removed from bus shelters and subway stations.
December 24, 1991 and still no contract. The union orders police officers to ignore traffic infractions. Some officers are ordered to “continue to do nothing as they have been since mid-month”. Despite these pressure tactics, city of Laval administration states, “there will be no disciplinary action taken”. The situation continued into the new year. In July of 1992, the union rejected a contract offer and continued its dereliction of duties. By the Fall parties finally signed a four-year labor contract, but before that, Marie Eve Lariviere was found murdered in a Laval rail yard. At the end of 1992, Lariviere’s murder was still unsolved and the Laval police were facing two lawsuits; a new $1 million action from Gilles Perron for investigative negligence in the matter of Michelle Perron’s murder, and a $400,000 suit from the family of Danielle Andre who were claiming they had to conduct their own investigation in the matter of her death. Not knowing when to take a seat Gilles Perron was also calling for a royal commission to look into the injustice brought upon him in the matter of his wife’s murder.
Despite the new contract, union leader Andre Nadon continued to grouse, claiming the Laval force now needed even more officers, including its own SWAT and electronic-surveillance units.
“It’s very dangerous to forget” – Omar Mohammed
In September 2000, Gilles Perron lost his lawsuit against the Laval police and crown prosecutor in his wife’s murder trial. Throughout the 1990s Perron conducted a smear campaign against the prosecutor, Yves Berthiaume. This had a great impact on his personal and professional life. Perron was ordered to pay $260,000 to Berthiaume for defamation of character. A month later – his former employer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation long having parted ways with him – Gilles Perron declared bankruptcy.
Gilles Perron died at the age of 75 on Saturday, December 5th, 2015 after a “long illness”, almost 28 years to the day of Michelle Perron’s murder in that parking lot behind a Laval depanneur.
Over those 28 years he and his family always maintained his innocence. “Gilles never killed my sister, I always said it,” remarked Nicole Valiquet, the sister of Michell Perron.
Gilles Perron always vowed to find the real assassin. In a 1995 interview with Andy Riga of The Gazette he was emphatic:
“I never, never gave up on finding the real killer.”Man hopes new leads in wife’s slaying will clear name, Andy Riga, The Gazette, September 27, 1995
But there were never any other suspects. Not those alleged winter storm assailants, stabbing her eight times in the face for purse money, when it would have been much simpler to snatch the purse and run away. There was only Gilles Perron.
In the same article it was disclosed that the Montreal Urban Police ( the SPVM) had been chosen to conduct a full review of the Laval force’s investigative practices. Montreal Police chief Jacques Duchesneau remarked that he was “unaware of another occasion when one police force’s homicide squad was asked to re-examine the investigation of another.” Curiously, an article on the same page of that edition revealed that the Surete du Quebec had just suspended four officers as part of an investigation into evidence tampering. This was the beginning of the unraveling of the Matticks Affair. Among many things, Matticks became the mother of all internal probes by the police of its own, exposing police corruption at a systemic level, and ultimately leading to the Poitras Commission full blown public inquiry.
With the exception of Madame Perron there are no innocents in any of this. The behavior of all parties is equally appalling and reprehensible. Gilles Perron, the Legers, the newspapers, the police.
If you’re rich and powerful in Quebec you can get away with anything. If you’re a Leger you can say anything, you can do anything. You have all the resources at your command to influence an outcome. If you’re a Pelideau you can amplify or silence a voice, with impunity. There is no consequence.
This is Who Killed Theresa.