Voltigeurs Park campground, August 9, 1983. A mother is absent a few minutes. Upon her return, her daughter, Mélanie Decamps, is missing. Twelve days later, the girl will be found dead, gagged and tied to a tree trunk.
This is Who Killed Theresa?
Today I want to discuss the 1983 murder of 5-year-old Mélanie Decamps. It’s a case that is not unknown in Quebec, in fact, just last summer, marking the 35th anniversary, the Drummondville newspaper, L’Express did an investigative piece about the murder. It is a great long form piece by a journalist I am not familiar with, Stéphane Lévesque. I only wish there were more stories about cold cases coming out of Quebec like M. Lévesque’s. Today’s story is in part a translation of that piece, including some additional information I’ve uncovered through research, however, what I’m going to ultimately suggest and add to the story has not been featured in any publication.
Tuesday, August 9, 1983 is a beautiful sunny day in Drummondville.
Gilles Thériault, the head of the Sûreté du Québec station in Drummondville at the time recalls that he, “was at work when the call came in,”
Without delay, patrolmen go to the Voltigeurs Park campground to meet the parents and search for the girl. The search perimeter is expanding and a request for assistance is sent to the district level. The case is quickly handed over to the major crimes unit.
“We had a disappearance or kidnapping. At that time, we did not know it yet, “notes Thériault.
“I did regular checks at the police station,” recalls Gérald Prince, a journalist for La Tribune newspaper for 27 years. “That day, I call and I am told that a little girl has disappeared in the Voltigeurs Park. I immediately sent a message to La Tribune.”
THE SEARCH FOR MELANIE
Quickly, the SQ team from Trois-Rivières came to the Drummondville substation. Roadblocks are established, divers search the adjacent Saint-François River: they complain that the thick pollution prevents them from examining the river bottom. A thorough search of the park and the surrounding area are completed. The SQ’s Michel Beaudoin is responsible for the operation.
“First, we met again with Jacqueline Decamps, Melanie’s mother. She explains that she went to the campsite’s convenience store for 15 minutes, leaving her little girl on a swing. When she returned, the eldest of her three children was no longer there. After, she went around the park and the surrounding area with a description of Melanie” recalls Michel Beaudoin.
The day after the disappearance of the six-year-old girl, a witness reports that he saw, on August 9, a little girl holding the hand of a man near the iron bridge that spans the Saint-François River. Based on this observation, a composite photo is established and distributed in the community. Seeing it, a man from Drummondville declares: “This guy, he looks like Michel Déry”.
Michel Beaudoin instructed one of his investigators to meet the 24-year-old man living in Drummondville. The policeman returns to report to the chief investigator: “Forget it, it’s not him. this guy’s a religious nut who speaks of nothing but the Bible.”
In the days following the disappearance, Gilles Thériault has a chance encounter with Michel Déry at the police station in Drummondville. “One day, I remember, I come out of my office, I see a young man sitting there. So I ask: “Is someone taking care of this gentleman? Is he a visitor? Someone coming for a complaint? “Then, a policeman from Nicolet arrives. “It’s our client. It’s an arrest for a car theft. ” He was a young man who looked like a child. He was very small. He appeared, and he was released. It was Michel Déry, but he was not known to the police at that time.”
On Friday, August 12, a press conference with Daniel and Jacqueline Decamps – Melanie’s parents – is organized.
Police accept offers from several hypnotists, parapsychologists, and a “radiosthesiste” who sought hints of the little girl using a pendulum, a map and a photo of her.
A Drummondville journalist commented, “As soon as people saw a man with a little girl, they would report it to the police. It had become a real madness. There were even fortunetellers who were pronouncing all kinds of things. It was beyond reason. It was really a time when there was a lot of stress with people. I felt it”.
Many calls are routed to police authorities. Mr. Beaudoin quotes as an example: “” The little girl is here, but I want two tickets for Diana Ross and 200 piastres “, reveals Beaudoin in his colorful language. Although not credible at first glance, all of the information collected had to be analyzed. “There were about 100 people working on it. In Drummondville, but also in Montreal, Chibougamau, everywhere across the province.”
Police drain a portion of the St-Francis River in the hunt for traces of Melanie Decamps.Two hydro electric dams were completely closed for several hours so police can get a closer look at the rocky river bottom.
Despite the efforts made, there was still no news of Mélanie Decamps. It is the work of an especially talented investigator who will solve the case: Jean-Paul Prince. On the afternoon of August 20, he was working the streets of Trois-Rivières, Prince was sent to a crime scene in Louiseville, with a colleague from Trois-Rivières. “I was going to take him back to his residence. While going down this road, all of a sudden my colleague points out to me that there is this guy hitchhiking who looks like Michel Déry. He is on the boulevard des Chenaux in Trois-Rivières. We stopped. I opened my window and I identified myself. It was him. “
Jean-Paul Prince invites Michel Déry aboard and a conversation begins, en route to Drummondville. “I talked to him about girls just to check him out. I told him all kinds of stories. I told him that I had already arrested some people who had committed murder, but that it was not always their fault. If they killed it is because they are sick, “says Prince.
By confiding in him, Prince tries to coax him. “He told me he was beaten by his parents. He was thrown into the cellar. He told me that he had stayed in Saint-Léonard-d’Aston and that he had remained at one point on the South Shore of Montreal “. Information that does not fall on deaf ears and will be useful later.
Gradually, just before exit 181, Jean-Paul Prince starts talking about Mélanie Decamps. Then, Prince goes to the Voltigeurs Park. There was a broken fence where the team of investigators assumed that the suspect had ducked through with the girl. Arriving in front, it is at this moment that the Prince says: “It is here that the little girl was abducted”. He quickly notices that Déry is nervous. The vice is tightening. Jean-Paul Prince asks Dery directly if he has kidnapped and killed Melanie Decamps.
“He answered weakly,” Yes, but I did not kill her, I did not kill her! “
The investigator tries to be reassuring by evoking the possibility that she is still alive. Convinced that she was not dead, Jean-Paul Prince brought Michel Déry to the police station.
Other details emerge as Dery is brought to the place where Melanie Decamps would be found. Michel Déry explains to the investigators that from the beginning, he had brought the girl to a park and then brought her home to his apartment at 285 Brock Street where they slept. On this subject, the various discussions with Déry, and the state in which the body was discovered did not lead to the conclusion that there had been sexual assault on the child. According to the 24-year-old man, the next day, August 10, 1983, he wanted to bring Melanie back to the Voltigeurs Park. Seeing the helicopters deployed by the SQ in the sky, he was scared. He entered a wood, near Hemming Road, picked up ribbons used to identify trees and then attached the young Decamps to a tree trunk, a few kilometers south of the Curé Marchand bridge, near the Hydro-Québec towers, about 300 meters from the end of Reid Street.
Due to the darkness, the search cannot continue. The next day, at 5 o’clock in the morning, the search resumes with other police reinforcements and the canine squad. Teams survey the forest sector by sector. The forest is systematically cordoned in the area indicated by Michel Déry. Because of strong winds that hinder the detection of odors, it is only in the evening, at 9:30 pm, that Mélanie Decamps is found dead tied to a tree trunk with her stockings stuffed down her throat and a banner in her mouth. This information contradicts the story Déry told that he tied her to “play” with her and then”forgot” where he left her. For Jean-Paul Prince, it is very clear that he tied her up and choked her. “For sure he strangled her.”
The sight of the bound girl, swollen by days of exposure to heat, provokes reactions of rage and anger.
“For all the police officers who had to work that site, at least 80% of them came back with tears in their eyes. Me, the first “, states Gilles Thériault.
On August 22, 1983, Michel Déry was brought to the Courthouse of Drummondville under a heavy police escort where he is charged with first degree murder, abduction and kidnapping of Melanie Decamps. The Crown Attorney, Alain Perreault, recommends to Justice Yvon Sirois that the accused undergo a psychiatric examination. Out of this, Déry is judged fit to stand trial. The 24-year-old – through his lawyer – Yves Bolduc, opts for a trail by jury.
The journalist Gérald Prince remembers that people were waiting for him at the entrance of the court and insulted him. Inside, in the court room, Mr. Prince reports that Michel Déry looked vacant.
This absence, this madness, this supposed insanity will be at the heart of the debates chaired by Judge Pierre Pinard. Various specialists, psychiatrists and psychologists will testify on Michel Déry’s ability to distinguish between good and evil. The jury opts for a verdict of non-liability after less than four hours of deliberation, May 28, 1984.
Déry is incarcerated at the Phillipe Pinel Institute for the Criminally Insane in the East end of Montreal. He returns to the news on July 12, 2001 when he manages to trick the guards at the Pinel Institute, and escape. He is quickly found and brought back to the establishment within 24 hours.
This acquittal for insanity, 35 years later, still leaves a bitter taste among the stakeholders, including Jean Fortier, a reporter with Allo-Police who covered the trial. “I never thought he was crazy. Not crazy enough to put in the fire, He was in between.”
The disappearance and death of Mélanie Decamps deeply affected the population. For both Michel Beaudoin and Jean-Paul Prince, this was the most memorable case in their long careers in law enforcement. “It’s the one that touched me the most. It struck me because she is a child. When you come in contact with the parents as we came in contact, we live their pain. It’s been 35 years and I still think about it, “said Jean-Paul Prince in a low voice full of emotion.
MICHEL DERY, A RECIDIVIST?
Although Michel Déry is detained, Sûreté du Québec investigators Michel Beaudoin and Jean-Paul Prince continue to investigate. Two years before Melanie Decamps, again in Voltigeurs Park, a little girl went missing, but was soon found.
“The woman who had her child kidnapped did not complain to the police because she was with her lover at the campsite! In filing a complaint, she would have had to say who she was with. Michel Déry, it was he who had kidnapped this little girl, “said Michel Beaudoin without question.
Jean-Paul Prince also remembers meeting Michel Déry at the Sherbrooke jail during the trial. “We have brought out all the unsolved cases in the region and the surrounding area. There is another case that came out in Saint-Hubert: the disappearance of Chantal de Montgayard “.
A discussion lead Dery to confess that it was he who had kidnapped the four-year-old girl when he was a teenager. According to what he told the investigators, on June 4, 1972, he took her to a small wood behind a church in Saint-Hubert, tied her up, but did not kill her. It is a scenario very similar to Melanie Decamps.
The experienced police officers Beaudoin and Prince have obviously validated the veracity of this confession. You should know that in this type of criminal record, there is information that is never communicated to the media. One of these, in the case of Chantal de Montgayard, was the color of her underwear.
Comments Jean-Paul Prince, “He gave us the color of Chantal de Montgayard’s panties and that was correct. When the investigation was carried out at the time, in 1972, he had not been interviewed as a suspect because Déry’s parents had moved to Saint-Léonard-d’Aston a few days later. The body has never been found. Indeed, there was a small woodland behind the church, but it was deforested to build houses. We spoke to the Crown Attorney, but since he was acquitted in one case, it would not have yielded much to accuse him in another. And apart from his statement and his knowledge of the color of the underwear, there was nothing to corroborate. “. Jean-Paul Prince believes that Michel Dery has at least two murders to his credit.
Well, maybe three. If this case sounds familiar to you, it should. Because there are stark similarities with another case from Drummondville, the 1977 disappearance of Claudette Poirier.
We’ve spoken about the Claudette Poirier case before on this podcast, but it would help if I briefly summarized the particulars. I’ve added new information that has not until this point been disclosed:
15-year-old Claudette Poirier lived with her parents at 1190 Monfette in Drummondville. In the summer of 1977 the family decided to do some camping about 7 miles south of Drummondville along chemin Hemming. On July 27th, 1977 the blond haired, 5/’5″ 110 pound girl was riding her bicycle along 3e Rang de Simpson on her way to a babysitting job on St-Charles boulevard near her home back in Drummondville.
From that point Claudette disappears. About a week after the disappearance, on August 3rd, 1977, Claudette’s bicycle is found along Rang 3e, Saint Cyrille, about 3 miles from her camp site, midway between the camp site and her home in Drummondville. The bike is off its chain. The man who owns the adjacent property states that the bike – which is in full view at the side of the road – was not there all of the previous week.
The police who investigated the case were the Surete du Quebec forces from Trois Rivieres and Drummondville. After an exhaustive search they are unable to find any trace of Claudette.
On December 8th, 1977 in a chilling article in Quebec’s La Nouvelliste, reporter Yves Champoux suggests that Poirier might have met a similar fate as that of Denise Therrien. In August 1961, 16-year-old Thierren disappeared one morning while disembarking from a bus in Shawinigan. Four years later, Marcel Bernier, confessed to her murder and agreed to guide the police to the victim’s remains, abandoned in the woods. Some speculated that for the 4 years she was missing, Thierrien was sold into child prostitution. On June 20th, 1962, La Presse featured an article about the “Montreal Paramount Booking” agency, a prostitution ring that would “recruit” 15 and 16 year old girls from Quebec and sell them into sex trafficking in the United States. In the Nouvelliste article, Champoux similarly speculated that Claudette Poirier might have met a similar fate.
9 years after her disappearance on October 9th, 1986, 2 hunters find a skull, other bones and women’s clothing about 15 meters from the road at La Reserve, Saint Lucien about 4 miles from south of the site of Claudette’s disappearance. (I have heard it reported that the bones were charred, as if her remains were burnt). The remains are analyzed by Dr. Andre Lauzon at the SQ medical lab at Parthenais in Montreal and identified as Claudette Poirier. Given the length of time that has passed the cause of death is undetermined.
Basically in the center is where she was camping and last seen, to the left is where she lived and where she was going, to the right is where her bicycle and remains were found.
So returning to the Melanie Decamps case; what do we find in common here? To begin with, both victims disappeared while camping in Drummondville, Poirier in 1977 and Decamps in 1983.
In 1977 Michel Dery would have been about 17 or 18, too young to be Poirier’s offender? Hardly. If police suspected him in the 1972 murder of Chantal de Montgayard, when Dery would have been 12 or 13, he would certainly been capable of murdering 15-year-old Claudette Poirier 5 years later.
Where is Poirier’s home? 1190 Rue Monfette is an 8 minute bike ride from the Voltigeurs campground.
Where is 285 Brock street, where Dery had claimed to have slept with Decamps? That’s a 10 minute bike ride from the campground across the Saint Francois river.
And where is Decamps body found? 5 kilometers south of Drummondville at the cross section of Chemin Hemming and Rue Reid. Where was Poirier last seen? 10 kilometers south of Drummondville, riding her bike, also along Chemin Hemming. And where are her remains found? 20 kilometers south, also along Chemin Hemming.
The emphasis on bicycles is important. Note that when Dery was first encountered he had been brought to the station for stealing a car. Later, Jean-Paul Prince picks him up while hitchhiking from Trois Rivieres back to Drummondville. In fact, Dery never appeared to own a vehicle. The story suggests when he needed one, he stole one. On August 27th, 1983 article in The Gazette about Dery makes repeated reference to his use of a bicycle:
“Dery stayed mostly in his apartment, going out only for rides on his bicycle or to get groceries.”
“[Sister Clementine] described him as a “miserable soul,” a loner who liked to ride his bicycle all over Drummondville and the surrounding area, and who was drawn to the silence of the woods.”
I think it’s very possible that Dery used his bicycle to stalk and hunt for prey. When he came upon the right victim, he would steal a car for the purposes of abduction. Or maybe he lured Claudette to follow him on his bicycle? Maybe she thought – slight and five foot tall – that he also was a child.
I spoke with former Surete du Quebec investigator, Jean-Paul Prince, the officer who cracked the case. Prince is of course now retired and living in Trois-Rivières. I asked if they ever considered Michel Dery as a suspect in the Claudette Poirier case. Prince stated that he did not recall Poirier’s case.but he imagined they probably ruled Dery out because at that time he was possibly not living in Drummondville, but still with his parents in Saint-Léonard-d’Aston.
Still, Saint-Léonard-d’Aston is only a 25 minute drive from Drummondville, the mid point between Drummondville and Trois Rivieres. Maybe Dery could have been driving by the time he was 17 or 18? If not, maybe in 1977 he had some reason to hitchhike there? In fact the day Jean-Paul Prince picked him up, he was hitchhiking from Saint Leonard-d’Aston going toward Drummondville. Of maybe he road his bike from Saint Leonard-d’Aston to Drummondville. He was said to have ridden his bike, “all over the Drummondville area”.
What is certain: at some point, something eventually brought him to Drummondville. The question is did he arrive as early as 1977?
CODA: On March 7th, 1979, at the back of their Wednesday edition La Presse discloses that like his sister Claudette, 15-year-old Bruno Poirier has disappeared without a trace: