Christine Lepage – Cherchez la femme / WKT4 #12

Christine Lepage – Cherchez la femme

Wednesday, April 29, 1981

It is late evening and 55-year old Germain Derome and his 52-year old partner, Julien Bessette are retiring for bed. There is a knock at the door of their modest Brossard bungalow located in the suburbs along the south shore of Montreal. A young woman identifies herself as a surveyor for Quebec funeral homes. Derome works as the director-general for a chain of funeral parlors. Can she come in? There is a second version of the story where she comes to the door only asking for a glass of water, but leave that aside for the moment. It is 11 o’clock at night.

Julien Bessette leaves the woman and Derome alone in the living room and heads to the bathroom. Derome apparently offers her a glass of water. Then shots are fired. Bessette emerges from the bathroom to discover Derome slumped in a chair. He narrowly escapes being shot himself by throwing a chair at the woman who begins shooting at him. She then shoots their German shepherd, Santa in the ass before escaping into the night.

Germain Derome died an hour later at the local hospital from the two .22 calibre bullets in his back. Bessette, a television actor best known for playing a priest on the soap opera Terre Humaine, suffered a cut to his forehead from splintered wood that shattered when the bullet hit the chair.

“I opened the door for that woman, if you can call her that. I never saw her before. I don’t know if Germain knew her.”

Derome and Bessette were described as good neighbors. Derome had only recently begun work at the funeral parlor chain after being laid off from the shuttered and beloved department store Dupuis Frères. The woman was described as in her late teens or early 20s, about 100 pounds, with short blonde hair.

Police seek blonde as shots kill man

Christine Lepage leaving Longueuil court room

Why was Germain Derome, a soft-spoken funeral home director gunned down in the Brossard home he shared with a well known Quebec actor? Bessette took a lie detective test which cleared him of any suspicion.

For two decades the case went cold. Then in the early 2000s the police forces of Brossard and Longueuil merged. On a whim a low level crime technician decided to submit the finger print from the water glass to the Surete du Quebec and RCMP who had sophisticated analysis software. Immediately they got a match to a case dating back to 1974. In 2002 police arrested 47-year old Christine Lepage, known to police for fraud and theft convictions around the island of Montreal.

Police were hard-pressed to come up with a motive, but they were pretty convinced in this case it wasn’t robbery. At the Longueuil courthouse Lepage was charged with first-degree murder, and plotting to commit murder with a long deceased local hoodlum named Benoit Baillargeon. At her arraignment, police disclosed the even more miraculous detail that Lepage had already confessed to the murder through an elaborate Mr. Big sting operation dubbed “Projet Colleuse”.

We’ll get to the sting operation, but for a moment, let’s focus on the fingerprints. The Gazette described what happened this way:

“In 2000 a Brossard crime-scene technician sent the fingerprints to the Surete du Quebec on a whim.”

On a whim? I’m no Columbo but I’m pretty certain fingerprint analysis has been around for over a century. THAT didn’t need a merger for police to engage in a systematic process of evidence analysis. The technician, Denis Brunet, only came up with the idea when he happened to mention he had some free time and could examine evidence from old cases. To learn that police sat on evidence for nearly 20 years before engaging in one of the most fundamental foundations of police investigation is shocking, but given who we’re dealing with, not too surprising.

So You’re Mr. Big

We’ve talked about Mr. Big operations before. In season 2, episode 9, Beasts of the Forest. Police got Eric Daudelin to confess to the murder of 9-year old Joleil Campeau through a Mr. Big operation.

Basically it goes like this. Police – usually the RCMP – create a made up criminal organization then convince a suspect to join it. The point is to get the suspect to confess to a crime, usually a murder, and usually a cold case. Over time the criminal gang manages to persuade the suspect to divulge information about their criminal history, usually as a prerequisite for being accepted as a member of the organization. This is not unlike actual tactics used by the Hells Angels, recently it played out in the HBO documentary The Vow where NXIVM sex cult members coerced young women to disclose compromising information about themselves.

It’s controversial because of the potential for false confessions and entrapment, and the matter has come before the Supreme Court of Canada. In the Andy Rose case, Rose was eventually acquitted. However in the more recent 2014 Dax Mack case, the conviction of Mack for murdering his roommate was upheld with the Court concluding that the probative value of the Mack confession outweighed any prejudicial effect, adding that undercover officers displayed no abuses of power.

She would do anything for money

(The following is based on reporting from George Kalogerakis and Paul Cherry)

In the matter of Christine Lepage, undercover officers from the RCMP lead her to believe she was being recruited for a high powered criminal organization.

The sting started very simply. In 2002 Lepage was struggling to make ends meet and working as a cook at Nortel Networks in St. Laurent. In a reversal of the Derome murder ruse, undercover police now visited Lepage’s home pretending to sell cosmetics. A female undercover officer left samples with a questionnaire asking Lepage how she liked the products. For her efforts, Lepage was entered into a contest with the grand prize being an all expenses paid weekend at the Chateau Montebello resort, which of course she won.

In April 2002 Lepage travelled to the resort located on the Ottawa river between Quebec and Ontario. After gaining the confidence of several cosmetic sales associates, Lepage confessed that she wasn’t really a cook, but worked as a prostitute for a Montreal escort agency. Lepage is alleged to have stated “… she would do anything for money”.

The seduction started slowly, with Lepage doing money drops and collections around the Montreal area. She moved up to doing what she thought was a stolen jewelry pick up in Vancouver for which she was paid $50,000 – and a job in B.C. always seems to be a stop along the progression in these operations. One time she traveled with a partner to the Motel Sainte Catherine, a real shit-hole outside Kahnawake to collect money from a “biker”. While Lepage waited outside the room police staged a scuffle indoors with plates flying and eventually the front window shattering in full view of Lepage. Her partner then emerged from the room saying he got the money.

The operation culminated when officers posing as crime bosses staged a tony cocktail party at the downtown Montreal Delta Marriott where a “big boss” dubbed “Dan” pretended to be intrigued by Lepage but needed to know more about her before deciding she could be trusted further. Eager to be accepted in the outfit, Christine Lepage then confessed to the murder of Germain Derome, disclosing she had received a contract and murder weapon from her then boyfriend Benoit Baillargeon. Baillargeon paid her for the contract on Derome but did not tell her why Derome had been marked for a contract killing. Police arrested Lepage on the spot and charged her with first-degree murder.

Christine Lepage

In preliminary court proceedings, defense attorney Gilles Daudelin was having none of it, arguing that the sting operation amounted to provocation and entrapment. He noted that the RCMP had spent thousands of dollars on fine wines, hotel suites and elaborate costumes to trick a woman who had for the most part been a law abiding citizen for over two decades.

While awaiting trail Christine Lepage – who from all appearances had been a contract killer – was granted bail, Justice Lise Cote ruling she posed no threat to society.

The trial, which commenced in 2005, lead to even more troubling information. On the witness stand Denis Brunet, the technician who had submitted the fingerprint sample to the RCMP, revealed that in fact fingerprint samples had been submitted earlier both in 1981 and 1982, and then again every four months thereafter, but the SQ and RCMP failed to make a match. The RCMP later disclosed that they had only checked the fingerprint database for men, even though Brunet explicitly had stated that the suspect was a woman. It wasn’t until 1994 that the RCMP merged their male and female databases.

The point here is had the police made the match – as the could have – back in the 1980s, there would have been no need to spend thousands of taxpayers dollars on an elaborate sting operation, and the only witness to the crime, Derome’s partner Julien Bessette, would have been able to ID Lepage ( Bessette died of throat cancer in 1999).

Christine Lepage

In the RCMP taped confession played at trial, Lepage stated that she didn’t know the victim, Derome. She didn’t even know his name. “I didn’t want to know his name or anything about him. I just needed to know enough to do my job.”

Sure sounds like a contract killer.

She stated that she couldn’t recall a motive, “usually if a contract is out ( on someone) it’s deserved”. She went on to state that Derome offered her a glass of water:

“I went into the bathroom, put on gloves, came out and shot him twice. I didn’t know someone else was there. I shot at him once, then left.”

Her boyfriend, Benoit Baillargeon was waiting for her outside. She drove off, threw the .22 calibre pistol in the St. Lawrence and made their way back to Montreal. Once home she discarded her clothing and burned them, including a blonde wig she had been wearing.

Christine Lepage took the stand in her defense. She admitted having been at the funeral director’s home the night he was murdered, but not for the reasons presented by the prosecution. Lepage stated she had been hired by Germain Derome as an escort, and had been paid to have sex with him. She went on to say she “did two clients” that night, and had been to Derome’s house before. After offered a glass of water, Julien Bessette entered the room, surprising Derome who apparently did not know he was home. An argument ensued between the two men and Lepage stated that she quickly left. The implication being that it was actually Bessette that shot his partner, Derome, with Bessette conveniently no longer alive to share his version of events.

When asked why nearly twenty years later she would confess to a murder, she said she feared for her life and thought the group of RCMP agents posing as a criminal organization would kill her if she didn’t give up a compromising story.

On March 10, 2005 the jury found 49-year old Christine Lepage guilty of the 1981 murder of Germain Derome. Justice Claude Decarie handed down an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. Lepage’s lawyer, Claude Olivier said he intended to file an appeal largely based on the evidence gathered through the Mr. Big sting operation. Indeed the case became one more argument for the abolishment of the controversial RCMP tactic, but then in 2019, a surprise.

At a parole board hearing to determine if she should be granted escorted leaves from prison, Christine Lepage admitted that her statements to police in the undercover police operation were not false statements but the truth: she did in fact carry out the murder for hire of 56-year-old Germain Derome. The decision registry states that she told the parole board that,

“influenced by your spouse at the time, you decided to help him in his crimes. You have said that ( the crimes) weren’t committed for money, even though you received $10,000 after the fact. You have said you ignored your values, notably because of your drug use (at the time of the murder).”

Lepage went on to state she had suffered abuse as a young girl that later generated “murder fantasies” when she was an adult.

The parole board noted that, “recent years have been marked by a change in your openness toward your crimes after initially maintaining your denial at the start of your incarceration.”

Christine Lepage will be eligible for full parole in 2030.

Celia

If a contract is out on someone it’s deserved

I shouldn’t feel sympathy for Lepage. I doubt I would have empathy for a man in similar circumstances, abused as a child, under financial and emotional strains and stressors. But I feel some sympathy for Christine Lepage.

I never knew this, but the term cherchez la femme comes from the French novelist, Alexandre Dumas, and in film noir, in detective fiction, is general used to imply that whenever there is a problem – somehow, someway – a woman is to blame.

What was the motive for the contract killing? Lepage says that she never knew. The one person who might know, her boyfriend / spouse Benoit Baillargeon died of a cocaine overdose in the 1990s. Lepage stated, “if a contract is out ( on someone) it’s deserved”. Who would put a contract on a middle-aged funeral director? My guess is debts. Perhaps financial stress. Derome had been let go from Dupuis Frères – Dupuis Frères was a department store chain, as beloved by the Montreal French as Eaton’s was by the English Montrealers. Did he incur debt while unemployed before his employment as a funeral director? For a while I confused Lepage’s partner with a man with the same name, Benoit Baillargeon who was a trainer at the Blue Bonnet horse racing track. Still, did Germain Derome have gambling debts?

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