I am honoured to receive the Senate Sesquicentennial Medal “in recognition of my valuable service to the nation.”
But fortune is a wheel…
Music / Let Them Be Hunted Soundly – WKT2 #28
I was originally also going to use Depeche Mode and Queen’s Get Down Make Love. I cut way back.
The music is De Natura Sonoris from The Shining, because it references so much we’ve used / talked about: Beatles Day In A Life, Pedro The Lion Winners, Pat Metheny, ELO, Genesis’ Revine (which references Ken Burns’ Vietnam), Syd’s I’ve Got A Bike (then Floyd’s Time).
I wanted to go back to something simpler, not so polished… my old (not-so-confident, stuttering ) self. Where you’re not completely sure where the soundtrack will come in = tension:
This is the full editorial in today’s Sherbrooke Record I wrote for 16 Days of Action to End Sexual and Gender-based Violence:
There’s a case of an unsolved murder of a 19-year-old CEGEP student from Jonquière, Quebec. On the morning of April 28, 2000, Guylaine Potvin was found dead in her basement apartment near the college campus. Elements of the investigation have shown certain similarities with another file concerning an event in Sainte-Foy in July 2000, in which another student living alone was assaulted in her apartment. This student – who was left for dead – was more fortunate, she survived.
Last Spring the survivor of the second assault reached out to me. She had heard that I had a website and podcast where I regularly feature obscure and forgotten Quebec cold cases and illuminate them. She asked if I would consider doing a program recounting the events of her own sexual assault, and the murder of Guylaine. Like many survivors, after 18 years, she was still looking for answers.
I spent many weeks considering the matter. I made many excuses and arguments about why this was a bad idea. My podcast is in English, its largest audiences are in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Too much time had passed, the cases couldn’t be solved. She countered that none of that mattered. The cases had been featured in the French media, but largely ignored in Quebec English communities. Besides, police had once been tracking a suspect who resided in the United States; we might get lucky. She continued that she’d given up with the usually channels of investigation; discouraged by the apathy of police, tired of endless interactions with social services intake “specialists”, she’d take her chances with me.
One more obstacle. I took the matter to Kathryne Owen of the Lennoxville & District Women’s Centre. I explained the situation, my reluctance to become involved, the very real fact that I have absolutely no training in the interaction with sexual assault survivors. Kathryne argued that she wasn’t surprised that the victim approached me given my history of championing cold cases. I didn’t need training, just the willingness to offer a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear.
So that’s what I did. Over the summer we got to know each other. I’d ask questions, if something was too personal, we mutually agreed that she did not have to respond. We started with a name. I call her Isabeau, though that’s not her real name. After a painstaking and graphic, iterative process, one day Isabeau sent me a poem describing her experience. She offered, “you can read it on the podcast if you like.”.
The poem is a stunning expression of the survivor experience. I insisted that I could not read it, she must record it. After many refusals, she eventually did:
Je me souviens d’une voix de femme : « Reste avec nous ».
Qui est-elle ?
Pourquoi me dit-elle ça ?
Où suis-je ?
Je me suis ouvert les yeux, une pièce inconnue, l’hôpital, un médecin.
J’ai demandé une seule question : « Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé ? »
Comme seule réponse : « Tu es arrivée avec des policiers, tu leurs parleras plus tard ».
« Non, tout de suite ».
Épuisée, désorientée, j’ai flanché.
Un homme, debout près de moi : « Je suis policier »
« Dis-moi qu’est-ce qui s’est passé ? »
Une réponse, celle que je ne voulais pas : « Je ne le sais pas »
« Comment on va faire pour le savoir ? »
Je me souviens de la feuille de déposition, du crayon, de la tablette improvisée.
Je me souviens de ma question : « Tu veux que j’écrive quoi ? »
J’ai écrit, peu.
Je dormais dans mon lit, dans ma chambre.
Je me souviens de tes mains sur ma gorge.
Je me souviens de ton odeur.
Je me souviens de toi.
Épuisée, désorientée, j’ai flanchée.
J’ai ouvert les yeux.
Une nouvelle pièce : où suis-je ?
Qu’est-ce qui s’est encore passé ?
Devant moi, un policier, le même.
Ses yeux bleus, muets.
Sur la table du lit, une boîte blanche.
« Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans la boîte ? »
J’ai cru qu’on m’emmenait une réponse,
Une trousse médico-légale.
Un nouveau policier pour prendre des photos de mes blessures.
Je n’arrive pas à bouger, lui a photographier.
“Place-moi comme tu veux, je ne peux pas t’aider”
“Tu me dis si je te fais mal” ; j’ai rien dit.
Épuisée, j’ai flanchée.
Je n’arrive pas à bouger.
Une médecin, enceinte, à genoux sur le pied du lit.
“Ok, vient, on va le faire comme ça”
Elle me tire par les jambes.
Épuisée, j’ai flanchée.
Un appel du policier
« J’ai des collègues qui veulent te parler »
Un espoir : on t’a trouvé.
On m’a montré une photo.
Jeune, belle, souriante.
Tu l’avais choisie elle aussi.
Elle ne se souviendra jamais, elle, de tes mains, de ton odeur.
J’ai compris : on te cherchait déjà.
L’espoir, les jours, les cris, les pleurs.
Des amis questionnés, partis.
Le désespoir, une promesse : « On se boira du porto ».
Des maladresses : « Dans l’autre cas, au moins on a une autopsie »
Des départs, un cold case.
Et la vie, encore la vie.
18 ans déjà.
Je me souviens de chacune des nuits de rage.
Je me souviens d’elle, de chacune de ses photos :
son gâteau d’anniversaire, son chat.
La couleur de son carnet de téléphone, ses gribouillis, son écriture.
Je me souviens des yeux du policier : bleus, muets.
Je me souviens de ma question.
Je me souviens de ton odeur.
To hear the poem recited by Isabeau listen to the podcast here:
L’histoire originale du Nouvelliste / l’assassinat de Mélanie Descamps par Stéphane Lévesque: WKT2 #27:
Mélanie Decamps : souvenirs douloureux et révélations inédites
Une foule de bénévoles ainsi qu’un hélicoptère dans le but de retrouver Mélanie Decamps.
Crédit photo : Société d’histoire de Drummond, fonds de La Parole
(Par Stéphane Lévesque, collaboration spéciale)
JUSTICE. Camping du parc des Voltigeurs, 9 août 1983. Une mère s’absente quelques minutes. À son retour, sa fille, Mélanie Decamps, est disparue. Douze jours plus tard, la fillette sera retrouvée morte, bâillonnée et attachée à un arbre. Retour sur ce tragique événement survenu il y a 35 ans.
Le mardi 9 août 1983 est une belle journée ensoleillée à Drummondville. Elle va cependant s’assombrir rapidement.
«J’étais au travail quand l’appel est entré», se souvient Gilles Thériault, le responsable du poste de la Sûreté du Québec (SQ) à Drummondville à cette époque.
Sans tarder, des patrouilleurs se rendent au terrain de camping du parc des Voltigeurs pour rencontrer les parents et effectuer, en vain, des recherches aux alentours. Le périmètre de recherche s’agrandit et une demande d’assistance est adressée au niveau du district. C’est maintenant les crimes contre la personne qui s’occupe de l’affaire.
«On avait une disparition ou un enlèvement. À ce moment-là, on ne le savait pas encore», fait observer M. Thériault.
«Je faisais des vérifications régulières au poste de police», se rappelle Gérald Prince, journaliste à La Tribune pendant 27 ans et dans de nombreux hebdos qui ont jalonné l’histoire de Drummondville. «Ce jour-là, j’appelle et on me dit qu’une petite fille est disparue au parc des Voltigeurs. J’ai tout de suite envoyé un texte à La Tribune. Ç’a passé le lendemain matin dans le journal.»
À la recherche de Mélanie
Rapidement, l’équipe de la SQ en provenance de Trois-Rivières s’installe au poste de Drummondville. Barrage routier, plongeurs dans la rivière Saint-François, fouille complète du parc et des environs, tout sera déployé pour retrouver la petite Mélanie. C’est Michel Beaudoin qui est responsable de l’opération.
L’enquête s’amorce. «Premièrement, nous avons rencontré à nouveau Jacqueline Decamps, la mère de Mélanie. Elle m’explique qu’elle est allée au dépanneur du camping pendant 15 minutes en laissant sa petite fille sur une balançoire. À son retour, l’aînée de ses trois enfants n’était plus là. Après, on a fait le tour du parc et des environs. Rapidement, on a diffusé une description de la petite fille», se rappelle Michel Beaudoin.
Dès le lendemain de la disparition de la fillette de cinq ans, un témoin rapporte qu’il a vu, le 9 août, une petite fille tenant la main d’un homme à proximité du pont de fer qui enjambe la rivière Saint-François. Sur la base de cette observation, un portrait-robot est établi et diffusé. À la vue de celui-ci, un informateur déclare : «Ce gars-là, il ressemble à Michel Déry».
Ne faisant ni un, ni deux, Michel Beaudoin charge un de ses enquêteurs de rencontrer l’homme de 24 ans demeurant à Drummondville. Le policier revient faire rapport à l’enquêteur en chef : «Oublie ça, c’est pas lui pantoute. C’est un p’tit nono religieux qui parle de la Bible, pis toute sorte de patentes», avait-il lancé.
Gilles Thériault, dans les jours suivant la disparition, croisera également la route de Michel Déry au poste de police de Drummondville. «Une journée, je me rappelle, je sors de mon bureau, je vois un jeune homme assis-là. En passant, je demande : “Qui s’occupe de ce monsieur-là? Est-ce que c’est un visiteur. Quelqu’un qui vient pour une plainte?” Puis, un policier de Nicolet arrive. “C’est notre client. C’est une arrestation pour un vol d’auto. On monte avec pour le faire comparaître”. C’était un jeune homme qui avait l’air d’un enfant. Il était très petit. Ça reste de même. Il a comparu et il a été libéré. C’était Michel Déry, mais il n’était pas connu de la police à ce moment-là», se souvient-il avec précision.
Le vendredi 12 août, une conférence de presse avec Daniel et Jacqueline Decamps, les parents de Mélanie, s’organise. Gérald Prince et des journalistes de Montréal y étaient.
«Dès que les gens voyaient un homme avec une petite fille, ils le signalaient à la police. C’était devenu une vraie folie. Il y avait même des diseurs de bonne aventure qui se prononçaient. Ça dépassait la raison. C’était vraiment une période où il y avait beaucoup de stress dans la population. Je le sentais», indique le journaliste drummondvillois.
Beaucoup d’appels sont acheminés aux autorités policières. M. Beaudoin cite en exemple : «”La petite fille est icitte, mais je veux deux billets pour Diana Ross pis 200 piastres”. Des ostie de patentes de même», dévoile-t-il dans son langage coloré. Bien que non crédible à première vue, chacune des informations recueillies est analysée. «On était à peu près 100 qui travaillaient là-dessus. À Drummondville, mais aussi à Montréal, à Chibougamau, partout à travers la province, c’était le dossier de l’année. Des enlèvements d’enfants de même, il n’y en avait pas tous les jours.»
Malgré les efforts déployés, on n’a toujours pas de nouvelles de Mélanie Decamps. C’est un hasard, mais surtout un enquêteur de talent qui va résoudre l’affaire : Jean-Paul Prince. Dans l’après-midi du 20 août, il roule dans les rues de Trois-Rivières, après avoir été dépêché sur une scène de crime à Louiseville, avec un collègue trifluvien. «J’allais le reconduire à sa résidence. En descendant, un moment donné, mon confrère me fait remarquer qu’il y a un gars qui ressemble à Michel Déry qui fait du pouce. Il est sur le boulevard des Chenaux à Trois-Rivières. On s’est arrêté. J’ai ouvert ma fenêtre et je me suis identifié. C’était bien lui.»
Jean-Paul Prince invite Michel Déry à bord et une conversation s’amorce, en route vers Drummondville. «Je lui parlais de filles pour voir qui il était. Je lui racontais toutes sortes d’histoires. Je lui ai dit que j’avais déjà arrêté du monde qui avait commis des meurtres, mais que ces individus-là, ce n’est pas toujours de leur faute. S’ils ont tué c’est parce qu’ils sont malades», révèle M. Prince.
En lui faisant des confidences sur le plan personnel, il tente de l’amadouer. «Il m’a confié qu’il avait été battu par ses parents. Il se faisait jeter dans la cave. Il m’a dit qu’il était resté à Saint-Léonard-d’Aston et qu’il était demeuré un moment donné sur la Rive-Sud de Montréal». Une information qui ne tombe pas dans l’oreille d’un sourd et qui sera utile ultérieurement.
Progressivement, peu avant la sortie 181, Jean-Paul Prince se met à parler de la petite Mélanie Decamps. Puis, le policier se dirige vers le parc des Voltigeurs. Il y avait là une clôture brisée où l’équipe d’enquêteurs présumait que le suspect s’était esquivé avec la fillette. Arrivé devant, c’est à cet instant que le policier dit : «C’est ici que la petite fille a été enlevée et qu’elle est sortie par-là». Rapidement, il constate que Déry est nerveux. L’homme sur lequel l’étau se resserre ne se sent vraiment pas bien dans sa peau. Jean-Paul Prince revient à la charge en lui demandant s’il l’a enlevée et tuée.
«Il a répondu faiblement : “Oui, mais je l’ai pas tuée, pas tuée!”» relate M. Prince.
L’enquêteur tente de se faire rassurant en lui évoquant la possibilité qu’elle soit encore en vie. L’ayant convaincu qu’elle n’était pas décédée, Jean-Paul Prince amène Michel Déry au poste.
D’autres détails fusent en chemin vers le lieu où se trouverait Mélanie Decamps. Michel Déry explique aux enquêteurs qu’au départ, il avait amené jouer la fillette dans un parc et qu’ensuite, il l’avait amenée chez lui, dans son appartement du 285 rue Brock où ils ont dormi. À ce sujet, les différentes discussions avec Déry et l’état dans lequel a été découvert le corps n’ont pas permis de conclure qu’il y avait eu agressions sexuelles sur l’enfant. Toujours selon ce qu’a rapporté l’homme de 24 ans, le lendemain, le 10 août 1983, il souhaitait ramener Mélanie au parc des Voltigeurs. En voyant les hélicoptères déployés par la SQ dans le ciel, il a eu peur. Il est entré dans un bois, près du chemin Hemming, ramassé des rubans servant à identifier des arbres puis a attaché la jeune Decamps à un arbre, à quelques kilomètres au sud du pont Curé Marchand, près des tours d’Hydro-Québec, à environ 300 mètres de la fin de la rue Reid.
En raison de la noirceur, la recherche ne trouvera pas son aboutissement. Le lendemain, à 5 heures du matin, les recherches reprennent avec d’autres policiers en renfort et l’escouade canine. Des équipes arpentent la forêt, secteur par secteur. On quadrille systématiquement la zone de forêt indiquée par Michel Déry. En raison de forts vents qui nuisent à la détection des odeurs, c’est seulement en soirée, à 21 h30, que Mélanie Decamps est retrouvée morte attachée à un arbre avec ses bas enfoncés dans la gorge et un bandeau sur la bouche. Ces informations viennent en contradiction avec la rumeur voulant que Déry l’ait attachée pour «jouer» et qu’il l’ait «oubliée» où il l’avait laissée. Pour Jean-Paul Prince, il est très clair qu’il l’a attachée et étouffée. «C’est sûr qu’il l’a étranglée.»
La vue de la fillette attachée, gonflée par des journées d’exposition à la chaleur, n’est pas sans provoquer des réactions de rage et de colère.
«Ça marque quand tu vois ça sur place (…) Pour tous les policiers qui sont allés jeter un coup d’œil, au moins 80% sont revenus avec la larme à l’œil. Moi, le premier», témoigne avec émotions Gilles Thériault.
Le 22 août 1983, Michel Déry est amené au Palais de justice de Drummondville sous forte escorte policière pour sa comparution où il est formellement accusé de meurtre au premier degré, de l’enlèvement et de la séquestration de Mélanie Decamps. Le procureur de la Couronne, Me Alain Perreault, recommande au juge Yvon Sirois que le prévenu subisse un examen psychiatrique. Déry est jugé apte à subir un procès. L’homme de 24 ans, par l’intermédiaire de son avocat, Me Yves Bolduc, opte pour un procès avec jury.
Le journaliste Gérald Prince se rappelle que des gens l’attendaient à l’entrée du tribunal et l’invectivaient. À l’intérieur, dans la salle de cour, M. Prince rapporte que Michel Déry avait l’air absent.
Cette absence, cette folie, cette aliénation mentale supposée sera au cœur des débats présidés par le juge Pierre Pinard. Différents spécialistes, psychiatres et psychologues témoigneront sur la capacité de Michel Déry à distinguer le bien du mal. C’est finalement pour la thèse de la non-responsabilité qu’optera le jury après moins de quatre heures de délibération, le 28 mai 1984.
Déry revient dans l’actualité le 12 juillet 2001 lorsqu’il a réussi à fausser compagnie aux gardiens de l’Institut Pinel, dans le cadre d’un programme de réinsertion sociale. Il a vite été retrouvé et ramené à l’établissement.
Cet acquittement pour aliénation mentale, 35 ans plus tard, laisse toujours un goût amer chez les intervenants rencontrés, dont Jean Fortier. «Je n’ai jamais cru ça l’aliénation. Pas assez fou pour mettre le feu, mais pas assez fin pour l’éteindre. Il était entre les deux», souligne celui qui a couvert l’entièreté du procès pour l’hebdomadaire Allo-Police.
Bref, la disparition et la mort de Mélanie Decamps ont profondément marqué la population. Tant pour Michel Beaudoin que pour Jean-Paul Prince, c’est le dossier le plus marquant de leur longue carrière dans les forces de l’ordre. «C’est l’enquête qui m’a le plus touché. Ça m’a marqué parce que c’est un enfant. Quand tu côtoies les parents comme on les a côtoyés, on vit leur peine. Ça fait 35 ans et j’y pense encore», dit Jean-Paul Prince d’une voix basse empreinte d’émotions.
Soulignons en terminant que l’auteur de ces lignes a tenté en vain de joindre les parents de Mélanie Decamps. Seule une cousine a été informée de la publication de cet article.
Michel Déry, un récidiviste?
Bien que Michel Déry soit détenu, les enquêteurs de la Sûreté du Québec, Michel Beaudoin et Jean-Paul Prince, continuent d’investiguer. C’est ainsi qu’on apprend qu’au parc des Voltigeurs, deux ans auparavant, une petite fille était disparue, mais avait été vite retrouvée.
«La femme qui s’est fait enlever son enfant n’a pas porté plainte à la police parce qu’elle était avec son amant au camping! En portant plainte, elle aurait été obligée de dire avec qui elle était. Michel Déry, c’est lui qui avait enlevé cette petite fille-là», affirme sans ambigüité Michel Beaudoin.
Jean-Paul Prince se rappelle également avoir été rencontré Michel Déry à la prison de Sherbrooke durant le procès. «On a fait sortir tous les cas non élucidés dans la région et les environs. Il y a un autre cas qui est ressorti à Saint-Hubert : Chantal de Montgayard».
Une discussion amènera Déry à avouer que c’est lui qui avait enlevé la petite fille de quatre ans alors qu’il était adolescent. Selon ce qu’il a indiqué aux enquêteurs, le 4 juin 1972, il l’avait amenée dans un petit bois derrière une église à Saint-Hubert, l’avait attachée après «un ti n’arbre», mais ne l’avait pas tuée, selon ses dires. À l’exception du lieu, c’est un scénario qui ressemble à s’y méprendre à celui de Mélanie Decamps.
Les policiers d’expérience que sont MM Beaudoin et Prince ont évidemment validé la véracité de cette confession. Il faut savoir que dans ce type de dossier criminel, il y a des informations qui ne sont jamais communiquées aux médias. Une de celles-ci, dans le cas de Chantal de Montgayard, c’était la couleur de ses sous-vêtements.
«Il nous a donné la couleur des petites culottes de Chantal de Montgayard et c’était exact. Quand l’enquête a été effectuée à l’époque, en 1972, il n’avait pas été rencontré, car les parents de Déry étaient déménagés à Saint-Léonard-d’Aston quelques jours plus tard. Le corps n’a jamais été retrouvé. Effectivement, il y avait un petit boisé en arrière de l’église, mais ç’a été déboisé pour construire des maisons. On a parlé au procureur de la Couronne, mais comme il a été acquitté dans un cas, ça n’aurait pas donné grand-chose de l’accuser dans un autre. Et à part sa déclaration et sa connaissance de la couleur des sous-vêtements, on n’avait rien pour corroborer», divulgue un Jean-Paul Prince qui croit que Michel Déry a minimalement deux meurtres à son actif.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes:
How a Dismembered Montreal Sex Worker Became a Sensation, Then a Ghost, and Now a Fading Legend
Why Mary Gallagher’s brutal murder became a Montreal ghost story.
There’s nothing to see at the spot where 242 William Street once stood: just an empty lot, across from the modern École de technologie supérieure, in Montreal’s Griffintown district. The odd row of narrow duplexes and brick mixed-use buildings lining nearby side-streets are only shadows of what used to be a bustling, crowded, chaotic working-class, largely Irish neighbourhood that grew north of the Lachine canal in the 19th century.
Griffintown was not an atypical 19th Century industrial slum. It was filled with warehouses, flour mills, smelting works, taverns and stables, and populated by a countless number of families, labourers, transients and prostitutes. And none of them would go on to achieve more notoriety than Mary Gallagher, an aging drunken woman who would end up with her head in a bucket and her body in a wash of blood one June morning in 1879.
The story of Mary’s murder has long outlived both her and the neighbourhood in which she lived and died. It’s unique in Montreal lore, a legend that grew out of all its component parts: the ghastly nature of the crime itself, the sensation it created at the time, the vividness with which the local Irish population recounted the story to new generations—all of these were the building blocks of an industrial-era folktale borne out of the streets. The same streets Mary was said to prowl every seven years, searching for her missing head, if the ghost story is to be believed.
The crime itself was unusual for several reasons, not least of which was its brutality. It was also rare: according to one authority on the case, the last murder committed in Montreal was committed in 1877, two years prior.
Adding to the story’s longevity is the identity of the murderer: not an outraged husband or lover, or a violent thief or john, but a friend and fellow prostitute named Susan Kennedy (sometimes known as Susan Kennedy Mears or Myers) with whom she’d spent the morning drinking whiskey.
Here’s what happened.
Sometime between 6 and 7 AM on June 27, 1879, Mary Gallagher and a companion, Michael Flanagan, arrived at the home Susan Kennedy shared with her husband, Jacob Mears (sometimes spelled Myers or Meyers) at 242 William Street, at the corner of Murray. Kennedy said the two had been drinking but didn’t appear to be drunk.
Mary was in the habit of dropping in on the Mears’, Kennedy would testify later, but rarely with company. Jacob Mears was said to be furious at her showing up with a man in tow and left, leaving Kennedy alone with Gallagher and Flanagan. Kennedy soon went out to procure a bottle of whiskey. The home was on the second floor of a two-storey building, and consisted of two rooms: a front bedroom facing William Street and a back room with chairs, table and slop bucket.
Before long, Kennedy returned with a bottle. The three went through most of it and Flanagan, feeling woozy, went into the front room to lie down. Kennedy went in after him, where, Flanagan told the coroner’s inquiry, they talked for about 15 minutes until they were interrupted by Kennedy’s husband, Mears.
“Oh, you are in a room with a man!” he yelled at his wife, per Flanagan. “Shut your mouth, I am only talking to him,” she barked back. He said he would not be in a house where whiskey is being drunk and stormed off once more.
The Montreal Weekly Witness described the happy couple this way: Mears was “an inoffensive man who is rarely, if ever, under the influence of liquor” and “would be rather handsome if behind [his face] intelligence shone instead of stupidity.” His wife, however, is “a tall, powerfully built woman and when under the influence of liquor talks in a silly manner, and some believe her to be insane.” She is “evidently regarded with terror” in the neighbourhood and is well-known to police. “Several policemen stated she was a most difficult character to arrest.” As to her looks, “her countenance, although now defaced with drink, has from appearance not been altogether devoid of beauty.” At the time of the murder, Kennedy was in her mid-twenties.
Flanagan testified that he and the two women then finished what was left of the whiskey before he collapsed in the front room. He said that at the time he turned in the second time, the conversation between the two women remained friendly.
That’s when everything gets hazy.
Flanagan said he woke up a few hours later, around 2 p.m., and asked for a drink of water. Kennedy fetched him one. He then asked her if they should go out for a beer. They argued briefly about money, and Flanagan got up to leave. On his way out, he says he saw Gallagher in the other room, “lying upon her breast. Her feet were turned towards me.” He saw no blood, either on the floor or on Kennedy, and hurried off without speaking further to her, being “in too great a hurry to get something to drink.” He said Kennedy seemed calm but quiet.
Kennedy told a different story. She said she went into the bedroom after Flanagan, and fell asleep on the floor beside him. At some point, she heard Gallagher invite another man into the house, and the pair drank some more. Kennedy said she vaguely knew the stranger, but could not recall his name. After falling back asleep, she woke up and heard the two arguing: “He called her an old grey-haired rot. He said she took him to an ( sic) hotel one night to sleep, and that he had thought her a much younger woman,” Kennedy told the coroner’s inquiry. (Although initially believed to be around 60, Gallagher’s estranged husband said she was in fact only 38.)
Kennedy went back to sleep. When she woke up, the young man was gone and Gallagher was dead.
“When I saw her I got such a fright that I fell upon the floor,” she said. “She was lying on her breast. Her body was next to the door with the feet pointing to the street. Her head was in the tub, also one of her hands. (pause) I am not sure but that this hand was on the floor. I went to call the police but I was too weak.” She added that Flanagan saw the body after he’d woken up and ran off.
Her husband arrived soon after, saw the gore and then fled to get the police.
When the police arrived, Kennedy, whose clothes were stained with Gallagher’s blood, swore she was innocent. She said she tried to clean up the blood that had pooled on the floor but slipped and fell in it. She also insisted Flanagan was innocent.
According to a policeman quoted in the Weekly Witness, Kennedy told them that “a man came into the house Friday morning and gave her (Kennedy) some money, which, arousing the jealousy of the deceased, the latter and the man had a quarrel and the man killed her. She said she saw the man wash the blood from his hands and clear out. Before going he warned her not to tell the police. She did not know the man’s name, and was glad he had escaped because he was a good-looking fellow.”
By then, a crowd had formed outside the house and police struggled to manage it. The Weekly Witness reporter eventually got inside 242 William and saw a “repulsive sight” that “will never be forgotten.”
“The headless trunk lay prostrate on the breast. The jags in the neck showed that a score at least of blows had been struck by some clumsy hand before the head had left the body. The maimed arm lay underneath the body, while the legs were extended in a perfectly natural position. A thin cotton dress with apparently little underclothing were on her. In a large bucket or wash tub nearby were the ghastly head and severed right hand. The grey hair could hardly be distinguished owing to the clots of blood on it, while several gashes across the forehead would indicate that she had received the first blow to the head. The blood had evidently been washed up.”
Police eventually found Jacob Mears’ hatchet, which he usually used for cutting firewood, covered in blood and bits of flesh and hair, inside the apartment. Flanagan and Kennedy were both arrested and tried for murder.
Following a trial by jury, well-attended by the public, Kennedy was found guilty. The evidence against her was pretty strong: one witness said the two women were heard arguing between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., while Flanagan was passed out. Kennedy, the witness said, had been standing by the window “insulting passers-by.” When Gallagher tried to pull her away from the window, Kennedy said words to the effect of, “If you don’t leave me alone I’ll split your head open with an axe.” The Mears’ downstairs neighbour said she also heard what sounded like a body falling to the floor, chopping sounds and Kennedy saying, “I’ve wanted revenge for a long time, and I finally got it.”
After deliberating for an hour and a half, the jury pronounced her guilty though recommended clemency. That did not sway presiding Judge Monk, who said Kennedy “should not expect any pity on the parts of men.” He urged her to beseech God and beg forgiveness for her crimes, and sentenced her to hang on Dec. 5 of that year.
Kennedy, however, did not die that day. Her death sentence was commuted, and she was released from prison after 16 years. No one knows what happened to her after that.
Flanagan was not so lucky. In an extraordinary coincidence, on Dec. 5—the day Kennedy had been sentenced to hang—Flanagan was working aboard a boat in the Peel Basin when he missed his footing and fell into the water. He disappeared beneath the ice and drowned.
As for Mary Gallagher, she was buried in a pauper’s grave. But she lived on in the imaginations of generations of working class Irish who grew up in Griffintown, and remains a linchpin in the memory of the Griffintown Irish community.
Alan Hustak, a former reporter for the Montreal Gazette and author of The Ghost of Griffintown: The True Story of the Murder of Mary Gallagher, says it is not only the particularly gruesome facts of the case, but also the time and the place within which the murder took place that has helped the story survive for so long.
“This murder was extremely unusual,” he says. “Men murder women and women murder men, but the idea of one woman chopping off the head of another… you really can’t forget that, right?”
The fact that both perpetrator and victim were alcoholic sex workers probably added to the public interest. Not that they would have been unusual for the time, says Mary Anne Poutanen, a historian at McGill University who has studied 19th Century prostitution in Montreal.
As in most industrial age cities, urban prostitution was common, especially, though certainly not exclusively, in crowded slums like Griffintown. “Prostitution is all over the city,” she says. “From the streets where judges lived to every part of every class of neighbourhood. It’s everywhere.”
There was no official red-light district, Poutanen says, but there were areas where brothels and street-walkers were concentrated. They were often in poor and immigrant-heavy neighbourhoods, where men, unattached by family and without close acquaintances, could find temporary companionship in the arms of a woman, and a partner with whom they could enjoy a drink.
“There was a lot of alcoholism” among 19th Century sex workers, says Poutanen. “But you have to think about the importance of alcohol culturally, in daily life. It was safer to drink than it was to drink the water. But clearly … some women had huge problems with alcohol.”
So, says Hustak, “You had the shock value, and then you have the whole Irish tradition of banshees and ghosts. You have a cultural element to it.” Flanagan’s coincidental and untimely death accentuated the supernatural part of the story. “The whole story took on a whole different ghostly [aspect] within the Irish community.”
It did not take long before locals began swearing they saw Mary Gallagher’s ghost wandering around the intersection of William and Murray, looking for her head. Everyone in the tightly-knit neighbourhood knew the story of the murdered prostitute, and Irish parents would use the story as a way to threaten their children: eat your cabbage, or Mary Gallagher will come and get you. Eventually there arose a tradition that Mary would appear every seven years on the night of her murder, headless.
One Griffintown Irishman, Denis Delaney, told Hustak that as a child he was regularly warned against Mary’s ghost. If he was going by William and Murray, he’d walk on the opposite side of the street where 242 William once stood because Mary Gallagher might get him. Despite his precautions, Delaney told Hustak that he’d seen her ghost three times over the course of his life, the first when he was four years old.
“Denis was a real character and over beers one time he told me he had Mary Gallagher’s necklace,” he says. “He told me that one night [in 1956] he was walking down the street and this apparition appeared and it pointed to a tree. So he went to the tree and he pulled out this necklace and when he turned around, the apparition was gone and he knew immediately that it was Mary Gallagher’s necklace. I have to tell you that Denis drank a lot and had a great imagination and was Irish.”
There are next to no Irish left in Griffintown these days though, and most of the row houses and duplexes that were home to thousands of families, workers, soldiers and prostitutes have been knocked down or left to rot. Griffintown’s relentless decades-long decline is blamed on Montreal’s autocratic mayor Jean Drapeau, who revolutionized the city in the post-war years and decided that Griffintown, like other low-income, inner-city neighbourhoods, had to go. The area was re-zoned and starved of oxygen, until it withered almost to extinction.
But in the past few years Griffintown has been undergoing a radical rebirth, with glass tower condos mushrooming into the sky. New industries, including hip, expensive boutiques, are moving in. But Griffintown still lacks any kind of street-level warmth or sense of community. Mary Gallagher’s world is receding ever further into the past—but it hasn’t been entirely forgotten just yet.
“Mary’s story has survived because you could still stand on the corner [of where the murder took place,]” says author and musician Gern Vlchek. “But I don’t know how much longer it will.”
Vlchek wasn’t born in Montreal but spent two decades living in its southwest, an area encompassing Griffintown and other traditionally Irish and French-Canadian working class neighbourhoods like St-Henri, Little Burgundy, Point St-Charles and Verdun. His keen interest in his adopted city’s history, though, informed the song-writing of his previous band, the United Steelworkers of Montreal; they even recorded a song called The Ballad of Mary Gallagher. (Vlchek didn’t write that song, though. Their guitarist discovered the story on a custom placemat at one of Montreal’s Irish pubs and decided to put it to music.)
Griffintown, he says, “was a very historically present place. The history, up until about eight years ago, would slap you in the face, it was there. You didn’t, but you could almost expect to see the blood of Mary Gallagher on a sidewalk 100 years later, y’know?”
When asked if he thinks people will still remember Mary’s story in 50 years, Vlchek says, “It’s hard to say. Normally, these kinds of things would be enshrined in some local bar, but there are no local bars down there.”
The final part of Canadian Timber Trilogy, focusing on the death of The Allore Lumber Company, which rose out of the ashes of The Gilmour Lumber Company.
Includes an interview with my cousin, Paul Allore, who witnessed the downfall of the business.
The story of the Canadian lumber barons, a foundational Canadian painter, and a hundred year old murder mystery:
(There’s a wonderful Freudian slip at 28:20 that I refuse to edit.)
Maps provided by a friend:
Music from Canadian Timber Trilogy: How could it NOT be The Band? They clearly were the reincarnation of The Gilmour Fire Brigade Band:
Across The Great Divide:
There’s an incredible piece of investigative journalism by Nicolas Berube in today’s La Presse on the 1975 murder of Diane Thibault. Recall that Thibault was covered in the Who Killed Theresa? podcast, Intro To Loco Part II. What follows is an English translation of the article. You can read it in French by visiting La Presse’s website ( here ):
WHO KILLED DIANE THIBEAULT?
The body of a 25-year-old woman found in flames on a vacant lot in downtown Montreal. An ex-lover who confesses to having committed the crime. A passionate about unresolved issues who wonder why, more than 40 years later, the murder of Diane Thibeault remains unsolved.
MONTREAL, AUGUST 1975 A BODY ON FIRE
Jean Brisson is on his bike near his home in downtown Montreal, when he sees a box on fire in the dim light, in the middle of a vacant lot.
“I wanted to stop it,” he said. There was an abandoned house not far away and I did not want the house to catch fire. “
Laying down his bike, the 16-year-old sneaks into the hole of an old fence, at the corner of St. Dominique Street and Dorchester Boulevard, and approaches the flames.
“I fired at the boxes. This is where I saw the legs. In panic, the teenager goes to warn the police.
Smoke still emerges from the corpse upon the arrival of Agent Roy and Agent Lemieux of the Montreal Police. The body of the victim, a woman, is naked from the waist down, and the police find that a piece of burning wood is embedded in her vagina. It is 4:30 in the morning, Saturday, August 2, 1975.
The victim is Diane Thibeault. She is 25 years old, hair dyed black, skin pale. She is wearing a partially burnt blue sweater with yellow stripes on the sleeves. Close to the body, the police found a jute hat, two scattered shoes, a comb and a purse containing $ 26.40 in cash (the equivalent of more than $ 125 in today’s dollars). Diane Thibeault has essentially the constitution of a child: measuring 1.5 m and weighs 37 kg.
According to police officers, the victim was beaten to death before someone set fire to the body. “The victim was sexually assaulted,” says Agent Roy in his report. “Bruises to the face. Strangulation mark on the neck. “
It was daylight at 6:10 am when J. Fortin, an employee of Alfred Dallaire, arrived with his truck to pick up the corpse.
The investigators assigned to the case of the murder of Diane Thibeault do not make any arrests in the last months of 1975. Neither in 1976. Nor in 1977. In 1978, more than three years after the crime, the police will meet a suspect.
MONTREAL, APRIL 2018
The murder of Diane Thibeault was the subject of a recent episode of the Who Killed Theresa? Podcast, which focuses on unresolved crimes in Quebec.
In this episode, facilitator John Allore explains the details of the investigation into the death of Diane Thibeault, for whom he had requested and received a copy of the coroner’s report, archived at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ).
“Where and when Diane Thibeault was killed is not clear,” says Allore in his podcast. But the investigators deduced that the killer returned to the scene, around 4 am, to set fire to the body. “
For John Allore, the unsolved crimes have a personal resonance: his sister, Theresa, was missing and found dead in the Eastern Townships in 1979, at the age of 19, an unsolved crime. John Allore was 14 years old when it happened. He has since become interested in these tragic stories, often forgotten by the media and the general public.
In reviewing the documents on Diane Thibeault, Mr. Allore realized that in 1978, three years after the murder, a man named Edmond Turcotte, a former Diane Thibeault lover, confessed to the police officers being the author of the sordid murder. But 42 years later, the crime remains unpunished. The person who killed Diane Thibeault was never sentenced.
Wanting to learn more about the murder of Diane Thibeault, La Presse wrote to Mr. Allore to ask him if he was ready to share the coroner’s report.
A few hours later, a 61-page PDF document appeared in our inbox.
It describes the smallest details about the state of the victim when she was found. Her neck has “significant marks of traumatic violence in the form of ecchymotic erosion,” wrote on August 2, 1975 Dr. André Lauzon, forensic pathologist. Burns on the body “would have been inflicted after the death of the victim, or in the agonic period,” he notes.
The document also contains all the statements that Edmond Turcotte made to the investigators, a story that reads like a macabre play narrated by his main character.
Coincidentally, it says that the detective sergeant who questioned Turcotte was Jacques Duchesneau. Detective Sergeant, 29 years old at the time, Mr. Duchesneau later became Director of the Montreal Police, then Member of Parliament for Saint-Jérôme from 2012 to 2014 under the banner of the Coalition Avenir of Quebec.
I do not know why this testimony did not lead to the conviction of Edmond Turcotte,” writes Mr. Allore.
“SEEKING EDMOND TURCOTTE”
It was not the investigators who found the witness, it was the witness who found the investigators.
In November 1978, more than three years after the violent death of Diane Thibeault, 47-year-old Roger Moreau, who works as a laborer at the Miron quarry, sits down with investigators from the Montreal police. We do not know why he decides to speak at this moment.
He explains that he is the brother-in-law of a man named Edmond Turcotte, and recounts having met Diane Thibeault four weeks before his death.
“The first time I saw her was at my mother’s house,” says Moreau. My mother said to me, “This is Diane, my tenant.”
Mr. Moreau remembers Diane Thibeault shaking his hand. The young woman was “petite” and had “red-red” hair.
During this first conversation, Diane asks him if he knows Edmond Turcotte.
“Yes, yes, it’s my brother-in-law,” says Moreau.
Diane asks him. “If you see Edmond, don’t tell him I’m here because he promised me he was to give me a beating …” Mr. Moreau promises to say nothing.
Then, a few days later, Edmond Turcotte arrives at his brother-in-law’s place, at 6225, Chambord Street, in Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie.
“[Edmond] was pretty hot,” recalls Moreau. The two men go out to the tavern.
While drinking, Mr. Turcotte asks him if he knows Diane Thibeault. He adds, “It looks like I got her pregnant, and the damn thing, if I see her, she’s going to catch one, she’ll remember it for the rest of her life…”
Roger Moreau says he saw Diane Thibeault one last time a week later. It was in Saint-Hubert Street, near Saint-Zotique Street. She was with Edmond Turcotte. The two were kissing each other.
“Diane said to me,” Hello, Roger. “I said,” Are you all right, you two? “They kissed again and continued [to walk]. […] I never saw her again, and I never saw Edmond Turcotte either. “
In the days following the murder, Roger Moreau sees Diane Thibeault’s photo in the newspapers. After a moment’s hesitation, he decides to call the police from a payphone.
“I called at post 18. I said,” Sir, if you’re looking for Diane, look for Edmond Turcotte. “” Then he hung up.
“THAT IS A SPECIAL”
Although more than four decades have passed since the murder, Jacques Duchesneau remembers Diane Thibeault’s record.
“I remember pictures,” he says. It was abominable. Even though I’ve been to homicides for a long time, that’s a special thing … “
On the phone, Mr. Duchesneau explains to me how the investigation of Edmond Turcotte took place. To refresh his memory, he has in front of him his notebooks, notebooks which he has meticulously preserved throughout his career. “The investigators, we have what are called” diaries “. We write everything we do every day. I searched, and I found it. “
At the time, few police were assigned to the homicide division, he recalls. “I look at that, the days before, the days after, I had a murder, I made an arrest in another murder, we had a policeman who had shot someone, it’s me who did investigation. We were pretty busy … “
Mr. Duchesneau and his colleague Bernard Gagnon arrested Edmond Turcotte in November 1978.
“Turcotte was a cook at New Spiro’s restaurant at 175 Peel Street. It was in a basement, a small restaurant in a factory. That’s where we went to stop him. Then he showed us places, addresses. He had come with us. “
At approximately 9 pm on November 15, Jacques Duchesneau and Bernard Gagnon drove Turcotte to the Sûreté du Québec headquarters on Parthenais Street in Montreal. He was then subjected to a polygraph test.
“At 1:15 in the morning, Parthenais call us to tell us that Turcotte has made a statement. He is brought back to the office and interrogated the next day. “
Edmond Turcotte decides to tell everything.
“The meeting lasts all morning,” said M. Duchesneau. It was a free and voluntary declaration. Then the coroner asked the questions … [Turcotte] was never beaten, he never had any promises, he was just afraid of the police … He asked for a coffee, he was given a coffee. He was very cooperative. “
“I CONTINUED TO STRIKE HER”
In his testimony given to the police on November 16, 1978, Edmond Turcotte spares no detail.
Edmond Turcotte is 29 years old. He lives in an apartment on Larante Street in LaSalle. He says that on Friday, August 1, 1975, the day before the murder, he went to “drink a large 50” at Cabaret Rodeo, on Saint-Laurent Boulevard.
“I got there in the morning, around 10 am, 11 am,” he says. I was sitting at a table all day. “
The Rodéo cabaret was a well known place in Montreal: it was there that Michel Tremblay set the action of his play Sainte Carmen of the Main, published in 1976, about a Quebec singer who returns to sing in French in cabarets from Montreal after visiting Nashville.
Towards dinner time, Diane Thibeault arrives at the Rodeo and sits at Edmond Turcotte’s table.
According to Turcotte, Diane Thibeault drank “six or seven” big Labatt 50 beers during the evening. Edmond Turcotte explains that he himself drank “strong drinks, such as [gin] Beefeater, cognac, these things”.
People sit at their table, but Edmond does not remember them anymore. “I had too much drink. Because when I take too much drink, I mix, and I see no more. That’s why afterwards, if I do things, I do not realize it. “
Detective Sergeant Jacques Duchesneau asks him, “Do you remember how Diane Thibeault was dressed that night when she came to sit at your table? “
“I just remember her hat, there, and her shoes. “
Around 2 am, Diane Thibeault and Edmond Turcotte leave the Rodeo.
“We left to get a room for the night. It was towards St. Catherine Street. Then we rented the room. “
In the bedroom, a fight breaks out.
“We bickered about the child. Because she said that the next day she wanted to go see her child [at her brother’s in Saint-Jerome], and I wanted to go with her. And she said no. She wanted to hit me with the lamp, but I took it away, but trying to take off the lamp, there was a glass on the desk, I hit it, and it broke. There, I took the glass and I gave her a blow in the neck, with the glass. She fell, and I continued to hit her. The more she tried to defend herself, the more I hit her with fists and kicks. “
Edmond Turcotte explains having then “descended [the body] down”.
“I think that when I transported her, she was dead, she was quite soft. I think that when I took her down, her top was torn. Outside, I dropped her somewhere, I do not know where … and I took some branches, a pebble or a stone, to put them into her vagina. Because I calculated that she had done enough for me. There, I told myself she will do no more trouble to anyone. […] However, I do not remember setting fire to her. “
Turcotte says he then left “in another direction”.
The week following these statements, Turcotte returns to his confession. He says he lied when he told the police about the murder. The coroner, who was laying criminal charges at this time, does not let this new development influence his decision.
He declares :
“Monsieur Turcotte, do you want to get up? After hearing the evidence before me this morning regarding the death of Diane Thibeault, I have no other verdict to make the following verdict: Diane Thibeault died a violent death on August 2, 1975, death for which you, Edmond Turcotte, must be held criminally responsible. “
“THAT IS, LIFE, EH? “
On the phone, Jacques Duchesneau says he does not know how the case progressed after the confession of Edmond Turcotte.
“I do not know if he was charged … I would have to dig deeper into my notes. In my opinion, he was charged. Otherwise, sometimes, it has nothing to do with police action, sometimes it’s with the body … You should go see the books at the court, you could see that … By the way, what angle did you want to take [with this story]? “
The plumitif is the register of the court. Anyone who has been charged is registered.
In the case of Edmond Turcotte, born September 17, 1949, there are five charges for various offenses, the most recent of which is a charge of theft in Joliette, in 1997, for which the decision was withdrawn.
There is also one count for murder, filed on November 24, 1978.
The lawyer who defended Edmond Turcotte is called Réal Charbonneau, and he still practices today.
On the phone, Mr. Charbonneau explains that he no longer remembers the appearance or personality of Edmond Turcotte. But he remembers the trial very well.
“Chance helped me a lot,” he says. The judge was Judge André Biron, a good lawyer. I had an incredible chance. I will remember it all my life! “
The case was based on Edmond Turcotte’s statement to detective sergeants Duchesneau and Gagnon.
“My cross-examination focused on the police conduct in obtaining this statement,” says the lawyer.
It is a comment by Judge Biron that changed the course of the trial, he recalls.
Mr. Charbonneau wanted to have a psychiatrist testify. “The psychiatrist had put in the file that Edmond Turcotte was slightly deficient – that’s my term. He was a little light at the intellectual level. “
Before the judge, Crown Attorney Christiane Béland, skeptical, had launched: “Well, yes, yes, deficient, deficient, deficient …”, remembers M Charbonneau.
The judge replied: “You do not know that, you, the defectives. I know that. I took care of that, defending those people who are used in freak shows … “
At that time, there was exploitation of the intellectual handicapped in shows in cabarets, says Me Charbonneau. “I do not know the exact term, but they called it freak shows. “
In his experience, Judge Biron was not convinced that Turcotte had made incriminating statements freely and voluntarily. He had refused to admit them into evidence.
At 9:35 am on May 14, 1979, Edmond Turcotte was acquitted of the murder of Diane Thibeault.
In his article on the acquittal, two days later, La Presse writes:
“Clearly mental deficiency, Turcotte was led to” confess “after prolonged detention during which he would have eaten only toast or sandwiches and during which he would also have been tested with a polygraph. At first, he would have denied everything, but put in front of some “reactions” of the machine, he would have changed his version. “
Le Devoir writes that Judge Biron reproached the police officers “for having established the instruction that the accused should not receive any telephone call or visit without their consent with, as a result, that Turcotte’s lawyer a triple refusal to see his client during the same day. […] Unlike the law of coroners, Turcotte had not appeared within 24 hours of his arrest and the investigators had taken advantage of a coroner’s warrant to question him. […] The judge considers that these statements [are not admissible], whether or not they reflect the truth “.
At the end of the line, Mr. Charbonneau explains that things sometimes turn so in a court.
“That’s it, life, huh? I do not think that the police put eight investigators to find another accused after that … He was acquitted, he was acquitted … If he had been another judge, who had not had that experience, he might have had a different attitude on the perception of facts. All this is chance. It is providence. “
Contacted again for comments on the acquittal of Edmond Turcotte and the judge’s remarks about his work and that of his colleague, Jacques Duchesneau did not call La Presse.
“I NEVER FORGOT THIS”
The last known address of Edmond Turcotte is located on Adam Street, in Sainte-Julienne, near the city of Rawdon, in Lanaudière. Listed in the court register the address dates from 1997, the year of the last charge filed against him.
There is no rue Adam in the small municipality of Sainte-Julienne, but there is a street Aram. The address is that of a well-kept mobile home with children’s toys on the ground. Nobody was home when we were there. The neighbors with whom we spoke had never heard of a man named Edmond Turcotte. His name is not found in the register of residents of the municipality of Sainte-Julienne.
Jean Brisson, the teenager who discovered Diane Thibeault’s corpse more than 40 years ago, still lives in downtown Montreal.
Today, aged 58, Mr. Brisson explains that if he was cycling on the night of August 2, 1975, it was because his father had died the year before, and that there were no rules at home.
“I was out late at that time,” he said. At home, we did not have what we wanted. “
The land where he found Diane Thibeault’s body is no longer vacant: an apartment tower was erected there. Even the boulevard has changed its name: Dorchester Boulevard became René-Lévesque Boulevard in 1987.
The atmosphere is no longer the same in the neighborhood, he says.
“At that time, there was a lot of action … When people had problems, it was dealt with in the street, bing, bang …”
Mr. Brisson says he sometimes thinks about the body he saw under the burning cartons in the summer of his 16th birthday.
“I was so nervous … It’s not something you forget. I never forgot that. “
804 UNRESOLVED HOMICIDES SINCE 1980
Since 1980, 2023 homicides have occurred on the territory of the island of Montreal. Of this number, 804 are unresolved.
Pascal Côté, commander of the major crime section of the Montreal Police Service (SPVM), explains that it is generally after three years that an investigation into a homicide becomes a “cold case”.
“After three years, a homicide case is not closed, but there are no active proceedings, unless we have scientific evidence that is brought to us, or that a witness decides to collaborate with the police, he says. Then we will assign investigators to the file, we will reactivate the investigation. “
THREE CASES DISPLAYED ON THE SPVM WEBSITE
Of the 804 unsolved cases in Montreal, only 3 cases are posted on the SPVM website. “We have a fourth in preparation. We do not want to flood the site with files, we try to target those who are most likely to succeed, “says Commander Côté.
There are several reasons why a homicide may be unresolved. “In Montreal, there is a large floating population. A little less than 2 million people live on the island, but it rises a lot on weekdays and some evenings on the weekends. “
“There are also several murders committed by organized crime. We are talking about seasoned killers, and it is sometimes more difficult to arrive with accusations. “
– Pascal Côté, commander in the major crimes section of the SPVM
Investigative techniques have also evolved considerably, so that the oldest crimes are more difficult to resolve as the years go by. “The requirements of the preservation of evidence at the time were not the same as today. Just in terms of DNA, in the 1960s, we did not even talk about that. As a result, the samples and evidence were not retained. “
A RESOLUTION RATE OF 72%
As for the homicide resolution rate, compiled by Statistics Canada from police data, it has actually been 72% in Montreal since 1980, says Commander Côté.
“When an unsolved crime is solved, it changes the resolution rate of the current year, not the year the crime occurred. In summary, from 1980 to 2018, we have a solution rate of 72%. “
The number of homicides is in constant decline in Montreal: 22 murders occurred on the island last year, the lowest number since the statistics for the whole island began to be compiled, he 46 years ago. In the early 2000s, there were often more than 50 murders reported in a year in Montreal, and frequently more than 80 a year in the 1980s.
The Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) have an amaaaazzzing 1970s photo essay about the then state of the art Medical-Legal crime lab at the Surete du Quebec.