Sexual assaults in the Eastern Townships from 1977 to 1980

This information is from 2002, and summarizes my attempts to chronicle numerous reports of sexual assault in the Sherbrooke area from 1977 to 1980.

One of the first people to contact me was Caroline Rowell. Rowell had been a writer with the Bishop’s college paper, The Campus, in 1978. At that time, there had been a series of sexual assaults on campus. Rowell had covered these stories. She had been one of the only journalists in the area to repeatedly warn that there was a growing problem of sexual violence against women. For the most part, the mainstream papers like the French Tribune and the English Sherbrooke Record ignored the situation. After speaking with her, Rowell found some of her old writings in her attic, and sent them to me.

The trouble in Lennoxville had started long before the night of November 3rd, 1978. As early as January ‘78, Carolyn Rowell had reported of three separate incidents of sexual and verbal assaults on women. The Lennoxville police force failed to take the situation seriously. When then police chief, Kasimir Kryszak justified the police’s inaction by arguing that in the five years since he had been police chief there had only been one reported incident of sexual assault, Rowell did some quick research and discovered that at least eight rapes had occurred in Lennoxville in the course of that one year. Many of the attacks had been quite severe. One student was dragged to the ground and beaten on the head with a board.

In February of 1978, the Champlain student paper, the Touchstone, picked up the story. Girls were being molested by a short man in jeans and a green parka. Other women described a different short man – a man with a beard and black hair. Girls had complained to officials both at Champlain College and Bishops’s University. They had also made reports with the police. The girls were scared to walk home at night. Many classes didn’t end until after dark. Lights that were supposed to illuminate the campus had burnt out. Students were scared and anxious. The police and the schools did nothing. The Bishop’s University nurse commented that the situation had, “all been blown out of proportion.” A Champlain councilor, Melanie Cutting, tried to justify the School’s lack of response by commenting that one of the stories had been fabricated.* By this time, former police chief, Kasimir Kryszak, was fired by the town of Lennoxville, but his replacement, Leo Hamel, did nothing to improve the situation. Concerning the attacks, Hamel commented to the Touchstone newspaper, “everyone was making a mountain out of a molehill.”

For the remainder of the year the hysteria quieted down on the University campus. Then by the fall of 1978, reports of a sexual predator reemerged. . In early October 1978, a short man in a ski mask harassed a female student in an empty campus hallway. Then two weeks later on October 30th, a girl was walking to the University at night when she was confronted by a naked man standing by a tree. “I’m certainly not going to walk after dark anymore. I was scared half to death”, she said. Chief Hamel brushed off the incident, commenting that such things were to be expected at a university where so many women congregated. In her editorial in the Campus on November 3rd, 1978, Carolyn Rowell sounded off again, protesting that authorities were not taking the situation seriously. Rowell chided Chief Hamel for his comments, and reminded students that it was he who made the comment the previous year that sexual assaults on campus were “a molehill”. Rowell further complained that the campus lighting that had been broken the previous winter still had not been fixed. The campus was neither safe nor secure, and women were being forced to walk about late at night in the dark.

In addition to the articles she kept from her years at Bishop’s University, Carolyn Rowell also remembered the names of some women who had suffered attacks. One woman, Rowell recalled, was attacked while jogging by a man who tried to force her into his car. Another girl, had suffered a large gash to her head when she jumped from a moving car driven by a would-be attacker. Rowell also related her own encounter with a possible predator.

One afternoon she was hitchhiking between Sherbrooke and Lennoxville when a guy in a beat-up car stopped to pick her up. Rowell got in, and they were headed down the road when suddenly the guy turned two or three times quickly onto some side streets. Alarmed, Rowell asked where he was going. He replied – in French – that he had to go someplace to check on something. The man pulled into a vacant lot and stopped. He then turned to her and stared. The man said nothing. Rowell did nothing – she was determined to stare him down. After a minute, the man started the car and drove her out to the main road. Rowell asked that he let her out at the corner. The man stopped the car. She moved to open the door, but couldn’t. The man turned to her and said smiling, “you can’t get out. I have to open the door for you from the outside.” He did so, and then sped away. Rowell was left to ponder how close she had come to putting her life in jeopardy.

I tracked down one of the other women Carolyn Rowell had mentioned to me. Woman A was now living out West. Her assault occurred in October 1980, two years after my sister’s disappearance. At the time she was a student at Bishop’s, but living near North Hatley. Also, she was a brunette, but not short, she stood 5’10”. One afternoon she was out jogging on route 143. Recall that route 143 is the same main road that leads south out of Lennoxville. It is the road to get to Massawippi, where Manon Dube’s body was found. Woman A was jogging down the highway. She was at a point about one mile south of MacDonald road – the road where Theresa’s red wallet was found – when a man jumped out from behind some bushes and attacked her. The man darted out and, grabbed Woman A by the neck. He then repeatedly beat her on the side of her head with his other hand. Woman A was fit. She had recently run a marathon. She took self-defense classes. She commented that this training did her no good. She felt helpless. He seemed experienced at this kind of thing. “A professional”, she suggested. Woman A fought back. She scratched his face and bloodied him. She was amazed that motorists were passing by, but no one was stopping. Finally, the man overpowered her. Before passing out, Woman A spied a big gold car behind the bushes where the man had come from.

When she regained consciousness, Woman A found she was lying prostrate on the back seat of the gold car. She was bleeding badly. She had been stripped down to her bra and panties. The man was looming over her, preparing to rape her. When she opened her eyes, the man began beating her about the head again. Woman A believed she was about to die. She cried out, “God save me!” At this point the man stopped. He dragged her out of the car, dressed her, and let her go. Out on the road, two women stopped their car and drove her to the hospital. Doctors later stated that it was a miracle she was still alive; she had been beaten so badly.

Woman A eventually recovered from her injuries. When she got better, she was determined to track down her attacker. She created a composite drawing of the man. Her brother posted the drawing throughout Lennoxville and Sherbrooke. Unlike some victims, Woman A was not intimidated, and wanted to find the man and prosecute. Buoyed by her determination, police were initially motivated to find her attacker. The investigator assigned to her case, Detective Fillion, confided to Woman A that there had been a “wave” of such incidents in the area. Woman A remembered some details of her assailant. The man spoke French; he might have worn black army boots. When police checked the bushes where Woman A was attacked, they found a large tool – maybe an ice pick or a file. Over time, the investigation lost momentum. Police were never able to track down her attacker. A year after the incident, a reporter from the Sherbrooke Record confided to Woman A that there was a rumor going around town that the police chief’s son was a sex offender, and my have been the one responsible for her attack. Slowly, Woman A became convinced that the incident was swept under the rug for “political” reasons.

Woman A had no difficulty talking to me about what had happened to her. I expected her to struggle with her account, but she was calm and possessed. I apologized for being intrusive. Her only comment was that she wanted to help. Woman A stated matter-of-factly that the assault changed her life. She felt that God had intervened when she cried out to him. Afterward she became a devote Christian.

Woman A had read our story in the National Post. She remarked, “the way you described the encounter with the girl in the apple orchard: that’s it.” That was how the guy attacked her. Two weeks after talking with Woman A I was able to track down Detective Fillion, the man who had investigated Woman A’s attack. I asked him to comment on his remark about the “wave” of attacks that had been reported against Township women. Fillion stated that he was now retired. He didn’t remember much from his police days. Besides, he said, Roch Gaudreault was in charge back then. If I had questions, it would be best to communicate with him. It appeared that all roads led to Roch.

Carolyn Rowell had mentioned a second Bishop’s student, Woman B. Woman B was the victim who had suffered a gash to the head when she jumped from a moving car she had been forced into. Both myself and Rowell attempted to contact Woman B on several occasions. She never returned our calls or emails. Apparently, she did not wish to talk about the event. All that is known is that she was attacked sometime in 1978.

Another email came through the website. A woman wrote to tell me the anonymous story of “Woman C”. Woman C was a Champlain student who had been violently raped in the fall of 1978. . When I tracked her down and asked for her to speak with me, Woman C was like Woman B. She did not wish to revisit the event. The memory of it haunted her. When I told her who I was, and what I was doing, she agreed to talk.

In the fall of 1978, Woman C was a first year student at Champlain. She was living in off campus housing on chemin Bel-Horizon, just up the street from the Champlain / Bishop’s campus and the Lion pub. One day her roommate brought home a young man she had picked up in a bar. “J.R.” – as he was known – liked the girls’ apartment and decided to invite himself to stay. JR turned out to be a brutal, violent man. For three weeks he virtually held Woman C hostage. He began to rape her at will. Woman C went to the police. She told them what was happening. The police explained that if she pressed charges, J.R. would be placed in jail – but there was still a possibility he would be out on bail. Other than this, the police said there was little they could do. In fear that if she prosecuted, JR might return and inflict far worse treatment, Woman C did nothing. “There was the police’s way, or my way, and my way was the alive way.”, she said. Defeated, Woman C went home and the rapes continued.

One day J.R. brought home a revolver and raped her at gunpoint. Later, J.R. confided to her that the gun had been used in a local murder. He said he had to get rid of it. JR forced her to accompany him to the Sherbrooke prison where he conferred with a prisoner about the gun. The prisoner advised J.R. to dump the gun in the river. To the best of Woman C’s knowledge, that’s exactly what JR did.

After three weeks, J.R. lost interest in Woman C. He stopped coming around to the Bel-Horizon apartment. Woman C said to me she had lived in fear all her life, wondering what had ever become of J.R. His real name was XXX XXXXXX. She knew this because one day she dared to rifle through his wallet and saw his driver’s license. JR stood for junior. Woman C said that she wanted to help because she knew that other women had suffered. Maybe her coming forward could make a positive change.

Another former student – this time a Bishop’s alumni – also informed me of harassment problems in 1978. She too lived in an apartment on Bel-Horizon. A man used to stalk the hallways late at night whispering, “Here, Kitty, Kitty.” She rented her apartment from a Bishop’s professor. The professor used to make excuses to come and check her heating system. She could always tell when he had been there because her panty drawer was disheveled. She lodged a complaint, and the School asked the professor to stop.

More emails. A woman named Woman D wrote about an incident that happened to her in August of 1980. Woman D was followed to a Caisse Populaire at the corner of Union and Belvedere. The same Caisse Populaire where Manon Dube had been playing when she disappeared on the night of January 27, 1978. The man ran after Woman D. In French, he offered her a lift. Woman D stated that she was not interested, and moved on. Later the man cut her off in his car. He exited the car and stood in her way, ordering her to get in the car. She refused. He began shouting expletives, demanding her to get in the car. She was defiant, and yelled back. The man turned red with rage, clenching his fists. She thought he looked like he was about to punch her. A crowd gathered. Seeing the people, the man backed down. As he drove away, Woman D noticed a baby seat in the back of his car. Seven years later, Woman D’s sister-in-law had a similar encounter with what she believed was the same man. Again, the man was French. He had a baby seat in the back of his car. This time, the sister-in-law took down the license plate number. She kept the number on a piece of paper in a drawer for over fifteen years.

Finally, there is the story of Woman E. Woman E’s brother contacted me after reading the story in the National Post. In the summer of 1977 – months after Louise Camirand had died – Woman E stood hitchhiking at the corner of Portland and Jacques Cartier. The location was one block North of the corner where Camirand was last seen by the convenience store owner. It was the middle of the day – twelve noon – when a car stopped to pick her up. The man driving was short and French. He said he was an electrician. Before taking Woman E to her destination – the Carrefour shopping mall – he explained he needed to stop somewhere to do something. The man headed off course, toward the north edge of town. On Beckett Street, he pulled in beside a small electrical house and stopped. The man got out of the car and said he needed to retrieve something from the trunk. Confused and apprehensive, Woman E remained seated and lit a cigarette. She could hear him in the truck, rummaging through what sounded like a toolbox. Suddenly he came at her through the driver’s door brandishing a very large screwdriver. Panicked, Woman E stuck the cigarette in his face and kicked him in the groin. She jumped over him, ran out to the street and flagged down a passing milk truck. Woman E reported the incident to the police and gave a detailed statement. She referred to her attacker, then and now, as “military stupid”. He looked like he might have served in the army. She stated that the incident related in the National Post – about the women chased on MacDonald road through the apple orchard – sounded like the same man that attacked her.

When you put all the stories together, the chronology went as follows:

1. March 1977, 9:30 p.m. Louise Camirand goes missing at the corner of King Street and Jacques Cartier. Body found face down in snow near Austin. Car used to transport her to location. A tool of some sort is inserted in her vagina, mutilating her. Strangled with a “military bootlace”. Possibly her own bootlace. Police investigation.

2. Summer 1977, 12:00 noon. Woman E is picked up at the corner of Portland and Jacques Cartier, one block north of King. Driven to a remote location by a Short, French man, described as “military stupid”. Man attacks her in the car with a large screwdriver. Woman E reports incident to police.

3. 1978. Woman B is forced into a car. She suffers a gash when she jumps from the moving car. Details unknown.

4. January 1978. Reports of sexual assaults on the Bishop’s / Champlain campus. Reported to Police.

5. January 1978. 7:30 p.m. Manon Dube disappears from the area of the Caisse Populaire at the corner of Union and Belvedere. Body found faced down in stream near Massiwippi, off route 143. Cause of death unknown. Car used to transport her to location. Police investigation.

6. February 1978. More reports of assaults on college campus. Short man in jeans and green parka sited. Reported to the police.

7. Spring 1978. Daytime. Carolyn Rowell is picked up somewhere on Belvedere. She is driven to a remote location. Man lets her go. Rowell does not report the incident.

8. October 1978. Woman C is raped over a series of weeks in her apartment on Bel-Horizon. Attacker uses gun alleged have been used in a murder. Bel-horizon runs between Belvedere and route 143. She reports the assaults to the police.

9. October 1978. Evening. The daughter of M. & Mrs. XXXXX is chased through an apple orchard on MacDonald road. MacDonald turns into Belvedere, and connects with route 143. The attacker has a vehicle. He is described as short. The girl files a police report. The man is brought in for questioning.

10. October 1978. Assault in a Bishop’s / Champlain facility. Short man in a ski mask sited.

11. October 1978. Another assault on the School campus. Man tries to jump woman at night. Reported to police.

12. November 1978. 7:30 p.m. Theresa Allore may have been hitchhiking at the corner of Bel-Horizon and route 143. Later alleged to have been seen in Compton facility at 9:00 p.m. Body found face down in brook outside Compton. Car used to transport body to location. Cause of death unknown; most likely strangled. Police investigation.

13. November 1978. Theresa Allore’s red wallet most likely tossed shortly after her death on MacDonald road, a short distance from where girl was chased near apple orchard.

14. August 1980. 12:00 noon. Woman D is almost forced into a car near the Caisse Populaire at Union and Belvedere. Man has dark hair. Drives a car with a baby seat in the back. Years later, sister-in-law has similar encounter with man with a baby seat in the car. Sister-in-law takes down license plate. Incidents not reported.

15. October 1980. Afternoon. Woman A is attacked by man on route 143, one mile south of MacDonald road. She is placed in the back seat of a gold car. Man is French, might have worn black military boots. Woman A draws sketch. Police find a tool, a file or an ice pick in the bushes.

16. Winter, 1981. After midnight. Nicole Couture is attacked in a downtown Sherbrooke parking garage. Her attacker, xxx xxxxxxxxx, uses his hands and attempts to choke her. xxxxxxxxx confides to her that he has raped 4 or 5 women previous to Couture. xxxxxxxxx is French. He is a short man with dark hair. He was recently kicked out of the military. He sometimes worked in construction as a roofer. At the time he was 21 and possibly still living with his mother in a home along the Magog river, just across the Jacques Cartier bridge where Louise Camirand was last seen.

A single person is not responsible for all of these events. For instance, xxx xxxxxxxxx could not have been the man who attacked Woman D’s sister-in-law in 1987; by that time xxxxxxxx was already out west. As well, the baby seat in the back of the car is a common tactic used by many predators to lure their victims into a false sense of security; even Guy Croteau is alleged to have used this ploy. The gun used by JR against Woman C – if JR’s story was to be believed – was possibly used in the shootings of Raymond Grimard and Manon Bergeron, the two victims who found south of Lennoxville in July of 1978. These shootings were virtually the only two recorded in the Townships in 1978. Recall that xxxx-xxxxxxxx and Jean Charland later stood trial and were convicted of these crimes, although Bob Buellac maintained they were inocent.

However, some of these incidents were undoubtedly related. The trick is figuring out which ones match up. More to the point, this chronology is the result of responses to one story in the National Post. The National Post is English; and not widely read in Quebec. Most of the victims who came forward to me were English-speaking women. There is a whole sector of the population in the Townships who have probably not come forward, because they are unaware of the investigation. Also, many people don’t report sex assaults. As the Minister of Justice said in 1977, the then reported number of 228 rapes in the province could easily be doubled, to account for those that went undocumented. In light of this, these 16 events are probably just the tip of the ice-burg. The magnitude of related predatory cases in the Sherbrooke area from 1977 and 1981 is quite likely staggering.

Again, as early as the first of 1978, students at Champlain College and Bishop’s university were aware of the problem, and voiced their concerns to the police, school authorities, and to the Eastern Townships public in accounts in local newspapers. The majority of these incidents were documented, and on file with the police. Contrary to former Champlain administrator, Tom Cavanagh’s protestations, violence was definitely on the “radar screen”. The Eastern Townships community did nothing. This wasn’t making a mountain out of a molehill. The mountain was in plain sight.

On September 19th, the day after police announced they would not reinvestigate the cases, former police chief, Leo Hamel used the web site to contact me. I later spoke with him on the phone. He wanted me to know how sorry he was. However, he took no responsibility for what had happened. He blamed everybody but himself. The town didn’t fund the department. He had to pay for expenses out of pocket. It was really Roch Gaudreault’s investigation. Hamel stated that his health was failing. He was about to undergo triple-bypass surgery, and the impeding operation had prompted his contacting me. He expressed that now, he would help in any way he could. After our conversation, I emailed him on several occasions with questions. I never heard from him again.

I never received much assistance from the political organizations I had lobbied with either. On appeal, The Ministere de la Securite Publique had sided with the Surete du Quebec on my request to gain access to my sister’s file. On the question of police conduct, The Ministere referred me to the Commissaire Deotologue Policier in my bid to lodge a formal complaint against the Surete du Quebec. The Commissaire was like Internal Affairs for the Surete du Quebec. When I petitioned the Commissaire with a complaint against the Quebec police force, I was told that the Commissaire’s mandate was to watch-dog the ethics of police work, not to monitor the quality of police investigations. For complaints about “quality”, the Commissaire referred me right back to the Ministere de la Securite Publique. This finger pointing went back and forth until both institutions finally admitted that in the Province of Quebec, there really wasn’t such a thing as quality control of police organizations. The police were free to conduct as poor an investigation as the public would tolerate.

I did eventually hear back from the Governor General of Canada, the right honorable Adrianne Clarkson – or rather her secretary. She wanted me to know how moved she and the Governor General were by the story, and she offered the following advice: Contact the Minister of Justice: Thirty dollars would buy me a half hour of time to talk with a government lawyer.

Jean Charest, the leader of the opposition party in Quebec, did contact me, at my home in North Carolina. Mr. Charest was plain spoken. He made no promises: he would do what he could to use his influence to gain me access to my sister’s file. I respected him for his candor and his honesty. At least he had the decency to return my phone calls.

On October 5th, Radio Canada aired their profile of the three murders of Louise Camirand, Manon Dube and Theresa Allore on the French television news magazine, Justice. The show was a simple presentation. Offspring of Louise Camirand, Manon Dube and Theresa Allore (myself) were interviewed about the crimes. In addition, the show presented information about the attack of the girl on MacDonald road.

Three murders and one attack. But by now the investigation had grown to include twelve additional incidents; four of these were rapes or attacks of haunting brutality.

When the show ended, Justice host, Simon Derivage, interviewed a media representative from the Surete Du Quebec. Jean Finet once again presented the Surete du Quebec’s position – no new information had come forward to justify a reinvestigation. Finet also implied that the girl on MacDonald road’s alleged encounter was not to be taken seriously; the police had in their possession the original report filed by the girl from the incident; Finet suggested she was making a mountain out of a molehill. The show concluded quietly, and for a brief time it seemed as if the matter was closed.

Patricia Pearson had begun her article in the National Post by making the astute observation that, for the casual observer, unsolved mysteries were like a parlor game. For the majority of Canadians who read the series of articles on my sister over the course of those three days in August, that’s exactly what this was. Summer reading for their vacation at the cottage. Fodder for water cooler discussions. Something to give us pause for thought, to hug our children a little longer and more often, and then get on with our lives. When summer ended, Theresa Allore got put away again – stored on the shelf in the cedar closet along side Ramoli and the cribbage board.

For me, it’s a little different. It’s not a game, it’s kind of an addiction. I feel like I’ve experienced a very long run at the slots. I walk out of the casino, spy the sun breaking over the purple sky, and decide to go back inside and give it one more try. From the moment I got on that first plane back to Canada, I knew it would be this way. That is probably why I was so reluctant to make the trip in the first place. Once you start, you can’t stop. You come so far, then you hit a wall. You think about stopping. You’ve done enough. You’ve done your best. She got her picture in the paper. What could be a finer tribute? I have higher expectations, for her and me. For twenty-three years Theresa lay face down in the water. Maybe I helped. Maybe I dragged her out of that pond. But I’ll not leave her lying at the side of the road. I can do better.

* It eventually turned out that one student did in fact make up a story about having been sexually assaulted. However, one false report was no reason to discount all of the alleged attacks.

3 thoughts on “Sexual assaults in the Eastern Townships from 1977 to 1980”

  1. I was there as a student with your sister. It was a very scary time in Lennoxville. There was a very creepy man named Byron Lusk who used to prey on young girls, myself included.

  2. went to bishops 1987. heard nothing about this – no warning, nothing. bishops didn’t care. there was plenty creepy – weird place – pervy profs, hells angels in the dining hall??? 2 montreal officers on bridge in middle of night situ taught me what to expect early on. our cohort was perhaps a bit smarter than usual, we lasted 1 year before most transferred (5 french exchange students incl). we were so bored, wish we could have helped you somehow

    sending best wishes and much admiration – quebec is so corrupt i can’t see them ever acting on anything but your message of love is loud and clear and it means something

    btw – the drug thing is nonsense

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