Plumber Rapist – William Fyfe and Theresa Pearson / WKT4 #8
“Reviewed, it seems
As if someone were watching over it
Before it was
As if response were based on fact
It was soon there
Squared to it, faced to it
It was not there”
When Theresa Pearson was murdered in a LaSalle parking garage in the 1980s, serial killed William Fyfe was living a five minute drive away.
That’s it. That’s really all I got today. I’m your host, John Allore, have yourselves a great, great day.
I want to talk mostly about Fyfe today, specifically those years in the 1980s where he was believed to have been the plumber rapist who terrorized downtown Montreal. For this episode, I’m assuming you’re all acquainted with Canadian serial killer, William Fyfe – I’m not going to cover all aspects of his story except to say that it took a long time – we’re talking BTK time – before Fyfe was caught. Before we get there, a reminder of the Theresa Pearson Case.
This is Who Killed Theresa.
[ Many thanks to the Quebec researcher, Annie Richard for her assistance with this story. ]
19-year-old Theresa Pearson went missing on Wednesday, May 18th, 1983, one week before she was due to graduate from a secretarial course at LaSalle High School. Pearson was last seen getting off a city bus after school near the corner of boulevard Lasalle and 90th avenue. She lived with her parents in a duplex at the end of a cul-de-sac at 9339 Terrace Greenfield, a two minute walk from the bus stop.
Pearson’s body was found around 4:00 p.m. in the garage of an apartment building at 9379 LaSalle boulevard, the garage faces towards the back yard of Pearson’s home. She had been struck in the head ten times, possibly with a tire jack bar. There were no overt signs of sexual assault. Her schoolbag and books were found nearby. The bag contained only $2. Her purse, which police believed contained no money, was missing.
School finished around 3:00 p.m., so the body was found very quickly, within approximately 15 minutes of the murder. Whoever did it was either well prepared, extremely lucky, or both.
In an earlier podcast I suggested that the easiest and safest way home would have been to walk from the bus stop down 90th avenue to Lasalle boulevard, both are main roads with lots of traffic. I later learned that this was probably not the case for Theresa that day. A relative – possibly Pearson’s grandmother – lived in the apartment building where she was found, and she visited regularly. To get there, Pearson would have cut down a back route, rue Centrale and approached the apartment entrance from the back alley. This provided the reason why Pearson was in the area to begin with. After visiting her grandmother she would have cut through some adjacent apartments and hopped the fence into her backyard which, as we said, faced the garage entrances – as kids do. However this never occurred as she probably met her offender while approaching the entrance down the alleyway who then dragged her into the garage and attacked her.
In the early days of the investigation, police were looking for a red car that was spotted in the alley beside the garages on LaSalle blvd. Police later discarded the lead when they were able to track down the owner, questioned him, and became convinced of his innocence.
Police later apprehended another man and subjected him to a lie detector test after concluding, “We didn’t think he was giving the right answers to our questions.” This lead ultimately went nowhere.
William Fyfe’s Early Murders
Reports of a plumber-rapist first begin to circulate in the Montreal area as early as 1979. In February of that year, The Gazette reports that, “Elderly women in Montreal’s northeast sector are being robbed and raped by a man posing as a plumber…”. The article continues that in this latest of 14 attacks, a woman in her mid-sixties was raped and robbed of $30, after a man claimed water was leaking into neighboring apartments. MUC police disclose that they have been working the case of a plumber rapist since December of 1978, and that, “The only pattern we can see is that he strikes in the afternoon or evenings” and that he must, “research his victims”. Police admit they do not have a good description of the rapist but that he is “around 30 years of age, has light brown hair and stands around five feet nine inches tall”.
On October 17, 1979, 62-year-old Suzanne Bernier is murdered in her north-end apartment at 1800 de Salaberry Ave. Police say the motive was robbery. Twenty years later, William Fyfe would confess to her murder. At the time of the murder, Fyfe was serving a sentence at the nearby Bordeaux jail. Fyfe was let out on a day pass to work that day, but as police later would say, “he didn’t go to work, he committed this murder”. The apartment is under a mile from Bordeaux.
The naked body of 26-year-old Nicole Raymond was found in her apartment under a month later on November 11, 1979. Raymond was stabbed several times in the throat and chest in apartment 503 at 80 Lakeshore Road in Pointe Claire.
Fyfe later confessed to this murder as well ( he presumably was no longer serving at Bordeaux at that time). We don’t know precisely where he was living at the time of Raymond’s death, but two years earlier in 1977 Fyfe shows up at 3450 rue Victoria along the lakeshore, and a direct 5 miles from Raymond’s apartment.
Fyfe’s last known murder from this era is the March 1981 stabbing of 53-year-old Hazel Scattolon, and again, as with the other cases, he’s not hunting far from where he’s living. Scattolon is found in her apartment at 35 Glengarry Ave. in the Town of Mount Royal. In 1981 Fyfe was living about a mile away at 1231 rue Chameran.
Again, Scattolon is the last of Fyfe’s known murder victims from this early period. He is not known to have murdered again until 1987. Interestingly, these “missing years” from 1981 to 1987 coincide with the rise of the plumber rapist cases in Montreal. Crimes for which Fyfe has long been the suspect.
The Plumber Rapist
The plumber rapist story surfaces again in Montreal in May of 1981. Just months after the Scattolon murder, Montreal police announce that a, quote, “‘Plumber’ attacked 20 women”
Montreal police describe a man with curly hair, sometimes wearing a baseball cap, posing as a plumber to gain entry to homes. The attacks are centered downtown but police say, “We think he’s the same man who attacked women in the north end of the city last year.” The victims range in age from 20 to 65. The man is described as “very active and violent” about five feet nine inches tall, approximately 165 pounds and speaks English, and French with an accent.
Two weeks later, facing pressure from women who complain police are “”deliberately holding back information” on the rapist and endangering women”, a police sketch of the suspect is released. Police complain that with all the media attention, the rapist has been “scared away” and the attacks have stopped, inhibiting their ability to catch him. The sketch looks very much like a young William Fyfe:
It appears that Montreal police got their way. Throughout the summer and fall of 1981 the story goes cold, with the media presumably muzzled to provide police the opportunity to ‘smoke him out’. It didn’t work. On November 30th MUC police announce efforts to ‘step up their hunt’ following three assaults in downtown Montreal that month. Reports are consistent that the ‘plumber rapist’ is five feet nine inches tall, weighing about 165 pounds, but police drop the age to 25 (Fyfe was 26 at the time). Police say they are willing to “re-establish a 12-member team to investigate the case” – apparently that had been dropped – if more women will come forward.
Considering all this activity in 1981, it might be tempting to consider the murder of Roxanne Luce as a potential Fyfe victim. Luce was found bludgeoned in her home in Longueuil on April 1, 1981, but Fyfe as the assassin is doubtful. William Fyfe preyed on victims far afield in downtown Montreal, the north end, the west island, the Laurentians, possibly Laval, but never the south shore. The Plumber Rapist had a similar path – the west island, north end, central Montreal, possible the Ste Therese – Rosemere districts off the island, but was never reported in the Longueuil area.
‘Plumber’ rapist strikes
It’s almost a full year before we hear again about the plumber rapist. On August 19th, 1982 a young man posing as a plumber gains access to a 22-year-old woman’s apartment in Dollard-des-Ormeaux (part of Montreal’s west island community) and rapes her armed with a knife. The man matches earlier descriptions, and the police sketch obtained from the woman’s recollections again looks very similar to a young William Fyfe:
At the close of 1982, after three years and no success in capturing the plumber rapist, police announce that this Montreal sexual predator may have a copycat.
Theresa Pearson and the Plumber Rapist
Two-and-a-half years pass, and there is no mention of the Plumber rapist. Remember that the Theresa Pearson murder occurs during this time, in the spring of 1983. We can’t be certain where William Fyfe is in the spring of 1983, but this much is known. 1984 and 1985 probably provided Fyfe with some years of stability where he may have ceased engaging in sexual attacks. On December 27, 1983 Fyfe marries. Fyfe had a child with the woman, but it is known to have been a rocky union. Fyfe routinely beat his wife. In November 1985 the couple separate. She files for divorce in 1986, and by 1988 the divorce is granted with full custody for their son.
By 1985 and 1986, we know Fife is living at 410 rue Bergevin, about a mile from Pearson’s home in LaSalle. He may, in fact have been living here in 1983 when Pearson was beaten to death, but there are no documents to verify that.
During this time, police revise their m.o. of the plumber rapist. The headline of a June 1985 piece penned by Eddie Collister and James Mennie announced, “Elusive rapist preys on teenaged girls”:
“Police reports indicate that the rapist, who usually strikes between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, waits around schools, parks and small convenience stores and follows his victims home from there.”
At first, you’re tempted to think that this is the copycat, but too many things are similar to the Fyfe plumber rapist. The suspect focuses on the downtown area and the west-end. He’s suspected of attacking 12 girls between the ages of 13 and 18. Now there’s a common misconception that Fyfe attacked ‘old women’. Sometimes he attacked elderly victims. Nicole Raymond was 26. In the earliest accounts of the plumber rapist from 1981 – a man who is undoubtedly Fyfe – police say the victims are between 20 and 65. In terms of choosing his victims, Fyfe is clearly an equal opportunity offender. He, “gains access to the house by posing as a plumber or a repairman or by saying he has to leave a message.” He “carries a black leather bag containing a dagger and wears black leather racing gloves.” described as “a white francophone male about five feet 11 inches and weighing about 150 pounds”. Fyfe spoke French with an accent. The height and weight roughly match his appearance.
There is one final account of Montreal’s Plumber Rapist. In the summer of 1986 two young woman are attacked in Montreal’s north end. Recall that by now Fyfe is separated from his wife and she has filed for divorce. The first woman is a 21-year-old from the St. Michel district, the second is another young woman from neighboring St. Leonard. Both were raped in their homes by a man claiming to be a “city water inspector or plumber”. The suspect is again, in his 20s, five feet seven inches tall, 165 pounds, is French-speaking and wears glasses and gray gloves. The composite sketch provided by the women this time looks a little different because of the glasses and new haircut, but the mouth still looks like Fyfe:
What’s interesting about these rapes is that they occur adjacent to the neighborhood of Parc Extension, William Fyfe’s childhood neighborhood in the 60s and 70s. Fyfe was raised by his aunt – he grew up in an apartment at 1380 rue Ouimet – and it is here that he apparently returned. Once the divorce was granted in 1988, Fyfe was using apartment #27 on rue Ouimet at least as his mailing address. And Fyfe was known in this era to have ventured door-to-door selling “copper fittings” and offering to do “small plumbing jobs”.
After 1986 there are no more reports of a rapist operating under the ruse of a plumber repairman in the Montreal area. This roughly corresponds to the time when William Fyfe relocated to the Laurentians north of Montreal. In 1987 he begins murdering in this area; first Louise Blanc-Poupart in Sainte Adele, then Pauline Laplante in 1989 in Piedmont. For a while he sought treatment for drug and alcohol dependency at a local rehabilitation centre. It is in this period that Fyfe earns the nickname from locals, “Bill Anglais”, because he speaks French with an English accent.
Fyfe’s last four known murders were all committed while he was living with his mother in Innisfil south of Barrie, Ontario, and demonstrate his accelerated, reckless behavior. Fyfe travelled hundreds of miles to commit murders back in the Montreal area – in Laval, Senneville, Saint Agathe and Baie d’Urfe. With his final murder – Mary Glen on December 15, 1999 – Fyfe got sloppy. No longer wearing gloves for protection, he left a single fingerprint on a kitchen doorframe. Fyfe was swiftly apprehended back in Barrie, shortly after disposing of blood evidence in a church dumpster.
Interviewed for a profile on Fyfe in the Gazette in 2001, psychiatrist Gilles Chamberland of the Philippe Pinel Institute for the criminally insane- and if you’re keeping score, yes, that is the same Gilles Chamberland who just this week testified for the Crown in the sentencing hearings of convicted murderer Ugo Fredette -offered the following:
“These are people who are well organized. They have a world in their heads they won’t show to anyone else… They are adept at arranging things so that they can continue to (commit their crimes) by leading what looks like a normal life.
These (sadistic) acts are demonstrations of power; to show that ‘I’m powerful, I’m in control. I have the power of life and death over you.
For these people there is a type of pressure to commit these acts that starts as an idea and becomes more and more obsessive. They will begin to organize and plan until the crime is committed and then there will be a relaxation of the aggressivity and a calm for a certain time before, unfortunately, it begins to build again.”
Here’s the case for why William Fyfe may have murdered Theresa Pearson:
- Around the time of the Pearson murder Fyfe is living in LaSalle, a five minute drive from the garage where her body was found.
- Throughout the 1980s, Fyfe’s murders and the plumber rapist’s sexual assaults mostly occur close to places where Fyfe lived, often within a mile of his residence.
- Most of Fyfe’s victims were stabbed to death, but they were also beaten. Police noted after sentencing that Fyfe’s victims were, “beaten to the point of disfigurement. Some were smashed with heavy objects”, perhaps, for instance with a tire jack bar.
- If you look at the building where Pearson was attacked at 9379 LaSalle boulevard, it resembles the type of building where Fyfe committed his early murders, and the plumber rapist conducted his sexual assaults; a blockish 3 – 5 story apartment building resembling public housing. Fyfe often lived in such places. It is the type of apartment unit where he grew up on rue Ouilet.
- Theresa Pearson is the very model of the victim described in the 1985 article above, “Elusive rapist preys on teenaged girls”: a 19-year-old, coming home from school around 3 p.m., we can well imagine her wandering into the corner convenience store, undoubtedly a Perrette’s for a freezie on a hot spring day, her assailant stalking her a few steps behind. Perhaps he’s followed her many times, to get her travel patterns exact.
What if on Wednesday, May 18, 1983 he doesn’t follow her. Fyfe is already in place at the apartment garage because he knows that’s where she’ll be. The encounter begins in the alleyway. He says he’s doing some work on a water heater in the garage, but he’s locked himself out, he needs to get back upstairs to talk to his client. Can Pearson let him in through the garage entrance? Perhaps he intended to assault her. Perhaps she was just a vehicle, and his prey was someone inside. It’s also about money, but not a lot of money – drug money. The woman from 1979 was raped and robbed of $30. Pearson was found with $2, but her purse was missing. Whatever the circumstances, the encounter didn’t take long and he was probably interrupted. She was found 15 minutes after she died. Newspapers reported that she was not sexually assault. This was almost certainly not the case. Friends of the Pearson family shared that Theresa’s despondent mother did not want those details in the papers. Fyfe was known to have sexually assaulted victims post-mortem.
Perhaps the most compelling indicator that Fyfe is the murderer of Theresa Pearson is in the consideration of who he is not.
Fyfe did not murder Sharron Prior, Jocelyne Houle or Denise Bazinet; three Montreal victims who were transported and dumped. Fyfe’s victims were found in or next to buildings, they were not found in fields, or at the side of a road. Fyfe was what Holmes & De Burger (1988) referred to as a geographically stable offender, one who kills victims and disposes of their bodies in areas that overlap where they live or where they spend their time. Prior, Houle and Bazient were murdered by a geographically transient offender.
Although they are geographically stable – meaning no body transport – Fyfe is probably not the murderer in the Montreal cases of Lison Blais, Katherine Hawkes or Francine Da Silva. These murders were committed after dark. Fyfe – and the plumber rapist who he is presumed to have been – preferred to operate in the light of day, usually in the late afternoon.
Whether Fyfe killed Pearson or not, all of this wouldn’t have been news for Quebec police. Fyfe’s capture in 1999 triggered a mass review of all unsolved murders in the Montreal docket, they would have known he was living in LaSalle very close to where Pearson was murdered. Was William Fyfe the second man interrogated by the Montreal Police in 1983? Recall that after suspect number one was let go – the red car guy – police apprehended another man and subjected him to a lie detector test because they “… didn’t think he was giving the right answers to our questions.” Was this suspect the plumber rapist? Was it William Fyfe?
Theresa Pearson’s Coroner’s Report was signed August 9, 1983. It contained this curious statement:
“To date, despite all the research done by the investigators,
it is impossible to reconstruct the circumstances of this crime and
to identify the culprit (s). A public inquiry would be of no use.”
A neighbor remembered that the case was dropped very quickly. No one in the neighborhood was ever questioned.
Wasn’t a public inquiry exactly what was required? Up to the point of the Pearson murder there had been dozens of reports of a serial rapist operating in the Montreal area. There were three unsolved murders – Bernier, Raymond, and Scattolon – all with a similar m.o. Police had been spinning their wheels for years. Women had been complaining that the police were “”deliberately holding back information” on the rapist and endangering women”.
A public inquiry may have stopped Fyfe. It may have saved Theresa Pearson’s life. Instead Fyfe preyed on women for another 16 years.
This is Who Killed Theresa.
For an interactive map of today’s story click here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=1i9Q0sHhPWK-l7vF4VxwMHnNapFUZTZcK&ll=45.50779221830829%2C-73.74434669256499&z=12
“Renewed, it fought
As if it had a cause to live for
Denied, it learned
As if it had sooner been destroyed
It was soon there
Squared to it, faced to it
It was not there”
I knew Billy, as a young boy, I lived in Park ex, he hung aroung with a group of other boys in the neighbourhood. I did not hear about this until 2000 a friend of mine told me all about what he had done, I could not believe it at frist but then I thought about it and I remembered that in the summer of 1972, I went out with a girlfriend of mine, I did not ususally go out on the town but it was my birthday and since my boyfriend had plans, I went out with my friend and while we were bar hoping we ran into Billy and his friend Domonic, we laughted and danced together, Billy knew my boyfirend and also knew I had a son who was 6mths old so I did not think anything of it at the time. But the next day I got an obsceen phone call. I knew it was Billy and I thank God I told him where to go and never heard or saw him again
That must have been quite scary. Thanks Dianne.
I lived in Park Ex till 67 and then came back in 68 for a year. I went to St Roch or St Francis as it became till high school.