PREVIOUS PODCAST: “They are treated just like pigs” – Teresa Martin #7 / WKT5
“The Incompetents: Our Detectives And Police”
Le Petit Journal was a lesser known Quebec weekly tabloid. Like Allo Police it featured garish fair in it’s 55 year run, which ended in 1978 – though it tried to stay clear of provincial politics, an almost impossible feat in a place like Quebec. In the summer of 1971, Le Petit Journal published an article titled, Votre fille: la prochaine VICTIME? (Cliquez ici pour l’article original en français). It featured what may have been the last gasp of the Teresa Martin case, and profiled the murders of 10 other young murders, including Margaret Peggy Coleman – who we’ve talked about on this podcast – and the then fairly recent murder of 14-year-old Alice Pare, whom we’ve also discussed. The other 8 murders were:
- Aline Travers – 18 ans
- Suzanne Mercier – 18 ans
- Brigitte Parker – 21 ans
- Daniele Thomas – 22 ans
- Suzanne Gilbert – 17 ans
- Denise Picard – 16 ans
- Carole Marchand – 13 ans
- Chantal Cote – 12 ans
The article focused mainly on the 1971 murders of Marchand and Cote, two school friends who went missing on a blueberry picking excursion near their homes in Cap-de-la-Madelaine, about 75 miles northeast of Montreal. Their bodies were found in the woods near their home the following day, both had been shot in the back of the neck. A young witness said he observed two men driving a black Buick speeding away from the scene. 27-year-old Ludger Delarosbil would eventually receive a life sentence for the murders. His accomplice, Michel Joly “committed suicide” in a field near Montreal shortly after the murders. At trial Ludger, of course, said it was his dead partner who did all of the shooting. In the initial hours of the investigation the Cap-de-la-Madelaine police chief blamed parents for the chaotic situation admonishing, “I will remind parents of their responsibilities”, and I guess that had something to do with the old chestnut, ‘Remind your children not to talk to strangers‘. 13-year-old Carole Marchand and 12-year-old Chantal Cote were two girls picking blueberries in a cul-de-sac in their neighborhood. Delarosbil and Joly were repeat offenders, their folie à deux spawned while serving time together in the Bordeaux jail. No parent can protect children from that, that is the job of law enforcement.
In the matter of Theresa Martin, Le Petit Journal wondered if the case might be linked to two other then recent murders from the Montreal North area. Brigitte Parker went missing in May 1971 while leaving a residence in Ahuntsic. Her body was found, May 20th, 1971 near Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines. She had been killed by a blow to the back of the head. This was reminiscent of another recent murder. Daniele Thomas’ naked body had been found the prior year, raped and dumped by a stream near Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines. She had also been struck on the head, and was last seen near Ahuntsic. At the time of publication, July 1971, the “Sadique Meurtier”, Wayne Boden had not been apprehended, so Le Petit Journal added Jean Way, Norma Vaillancourt, Shirley Audette and Murielle Archambault to the mounting number of unsolved murders and wondered how many victims would be claimed before the, “three, four, or five murderers are captured and put out of harm’s way?”
But Le Petit Journal wasn’t done. In December 1972 they published an expose, “NOS POLICIERS INCOMPETENTS? – DES MEURTRES ODIEUX QUI NE SERONT JAMAIS RESOLUS” (Cliquez ici pour l’article original en français). Penned by Gerard Asselin, the piece is so good – and pretty much lost to history – that I am going to print the whole thing:
“Can a society afford not to try, by all means at its disposal, to make child killers pay for their crimes? This is what one wonders in the face of the poor police record in Quebec in this area.
We know very well that the investigators, whether they are from the Sûreté du Québec or that of Montreal, care very little about assassinations involving the settling of scores within the criminal world. In fact, the police are doing in such cases, a little routine investigation – they open a file, then leave it in this state until it is forgotten or the culprit turns up: which is very rare. This is why more than 95% of cases are never officially resolved.
What types of murderers do our investigators deal with then? This is what we ask ourselves when we see that the killers of children in Quebec go unpunished in the majority of cases. Our research shows us, in fact, that for a little over two years, the murderers who put an end to the lives of children have done very well. Let us first clarify that we do not include as child killers parents who have practiced infanticide through nervous breakdown or insanity. In 1971, there were 13 such murders resulting in 16 victims. In 1970, there were 13 victims. In all cases, the parents turned themselves over to the police or committed suicide. So the police did not have to investigate.
On the other hand, during the last two years or so, the most villainous and the most heinous murders have had children for victims and, yet, those responsible are still not apprehended in almost all unsolved murder cases. Here are some examples:
In September 1971, the body of Gilles Leblanc was found in a wooded area in Hull. The 10-year-old child had been stabbed three times and his skull was smashed with a stone by one or more strangers who had earlier kidnapped him for a ransom of $ 3,000. The murderer is still on the loose.
Also in Hull, in mid-September 1972, the naked body of 13-year-old Lucie Dore was found in another wooded area. The murderer is still on the loose.
In February 1971, in Drummondville 14-year-old Alice Paré disappeared, a pretty girl whose body was not found until three months later in the woods. The murderer is still on the loose.
In September 1969, in Montreal-North, the terribly mutilated body of 14-year-old Teresa Martin was found on the side of a small road. The murderer is still on the loose.
In July 1970, in Saint-Lin, a citizen was horrified when he discovered the body of Danièle Thomas, aged 17, killed by a crazy sadist. The murderer is still on the loose.
Finally, the most pathetic case: last June. Chantal De Montgaillard, 4 years old, from Saint-Hubert, mysteriously disappeared. We know she’s dead. But, her murderer is still on the loose.
Before analyzing these investigations, let us look at the cases that have been solved.
From June 1969 to the beginning of 1970, four young Montrealers, Norma Vaillancourt, Shirley Audette, Marielle Archambault and Jean Way were strangled, raped and mutilated. Their murderer, “Bill”, was apprehended in Winnipeg following another similar assassination eight months ago and confessed to this crime and the four others. In Montreal. our investigators quickly shouted “we have found Bill”, even though they had been posting for months a photo that had nothing to do with the real killer. Moreover, they confessed to having questioned “Bill” following the death of Shirley Audette, but they let him go free, as a non-suspect … On the other hand, the murderers of many other young people – many girls – are still free. The murders of Aline Travers and Suzanne Mercier in June 1969 in Saint-Romuald, those of Suzanne Gilbert and Denise Picard in Saint-Simon, of Lynda Blanchette in Saint-Lazare, those of Louise Pinsonneault and Jean Eagle in Caughnawaga, and of Claudia Beauvais in Verdun. And how many others?
But, let’s move on. To make people forget these assassinations, the police will give us a few resolved cases. Among others, the murders of Chantal Côté and Carole Marchand, of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, killed in July ‘71. One of the murderers, Michel Joly, had left his prints on his car after it broke down. A quick and easy investigation.
To our knowledge, only one child murderer has been apprehended and sentenced following an investigation. This is the gravedigger who in 1960, killed Denise Therrien in Shawinigan. He was not captured until five years after the crime, and only after having murdered a second victim: his roommate.
There was indeed, at the beginning of the 1950s, the murderer of Gilles Trudeau, who had killed and butchered a child. He was caught and hanged. But the murderer had confessed his crime to a friend in exchange for “a few drinks of alcohol”.
What about the murderers of the past two or three years? Almost impossible to know. Everywhere we called we were told “the investigation is continuing”. In Montreal-North, an assistant to the Sûreté du Quebec told us – after having made us repeat the name twice – that the Teresa Martin case was open.
In Hull they declared that the files of Gilles Leblanc and Lucie Doré were open. In Drummondville, we were clearly given to understand that the murderer of Alice Paré would be captured and that the case was open. In Saint-Hubert, do not despair of getting a confession on the murder of Chantal De Mongaillard, the file is open. And the SQ will never give up on the cases of Danièle Thomas, Aline Travers, Suzanne Mercier and so many others, whose files are open. These statements should therefore of course calm the fears of the people …
Unless we explain what an open case is. Open case is simply the term used by our police forces to describe a case of murder that could not be solved in the days following the crime. After the rigorous interrogations, in fact, if the murderer has not been discovered and if the latter has not been denounced by a detainee, the police officers place statements and exhibits in a folder and file it. Investigators are then diverted to another cause. They will only resume the investigation if unexpected new information is added to the file. Otherwise, they or the murderer just has to shut their mouths and start over.
Next week, we will do an analysis of the murders actually solved by investigations in Quebec. Police forces claim that two-thirds of the murders are. But when there is a real investigation, is this percentage still too high? Are our police officers really good investigators? This is what we will see!““NOS POLICIERS INCOMPETENTS? – DES MEURTRES ODIEUX QUI NE SERONT JAMAIS RESOLUS”, Le Petit Journal, December 10, 1972
Before moving on to the follow-up article, everything we have discussed so far about the Teresa Martin case is contained in this 1972 Petit Journal article. The paper notes how Quebec police took credit for the Boden cases even though they had the wrong guy and it was actually Western investigators who cracked the case. What happened with the Claudia Beauvais case, and all the incidents connected to the Douglas Memorial Psychiatric Institute in Verdun? What’s really disheartening are the promises made in 1972 about cases we’ve talked about here; Teresa Martin, Alice Pare, Chantal De Montgaillard. Police told family and reporters that they would not give up. If you Google any of those cases, over 50 years later – that’s right, most of these were never solved – you will see police making those same hollow promises. Then there is the question of the “open case”. Back in 2006, in the matter of my sister’s murder, “Chantal Mackels, an SQ spokeswoman, confirmed… the cold case is still an open file in the hands of the investigators.” Ya, it’s open like the box of old comic books in my attic are open – no one’s asking about them, I haven’t looked at them in over a decade, but they’re there should I ever want to catch up on Sad Sack and Turok – Son of Stone. An open case is a box where investigators file exhibits, as long as police shut their mouths no one is going to come asking after them.
On December 24, 1972, Gerard Asselin published his rebuttal, attempting to answer the question, does Quebec have good investigators? Here’s an excerpt from that article (Cliquez ici pour l’article original en français):
OUR POLICE – ARE THEY GOOD INVESTIGATORS?
“Where is the Maigret, Vidocq, Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes of our police services? This is what we asked two weeks ago, deploring the large number of unsolved child murders in our province. and the apparent lack of interest of investigators. Our investigation has prompted us to study the crime files for the past 15 years. The results, we must admit, are gloomy. By comparing certain years, we can see a very significant slackening of police efficiency in Quebec in the area of homicides.
Over a period of 15 years, from 1953 to 1967, a total of 533 murders were recorded in Quebec. Of that number 78 cases remain unsolved, about 15 percent of murders go unpunished. During the last four years – with the death penalty no longer in force – we must have noticed that the number of homicides have skyrocketed. From 1968 to 1971, 399 murders were reported. Of this number, 121 remain unsolved, over 30 percent of all murders in recent years. In light of these statistics, one would therefore conclude that the effectiveness of investigators has decreased by 50 percent because they now leave 30 percent of murders inconclusive, compared to only 15 percent in the years before 1968.
However, it is by categorizing crimes that we can best assess the worth of investigators in our homicide squads. During the past four years, it has been reported that 186 of the 399 murders committed in Quebec were family tragedies or fights. These homicides include infanticides, fatal fights between friends, and homicides committed within a given family or group, or in the presence of witnesses.
182 of these cases were resolved to the complete satisfaction of the police, very often after only a day, or even a few hours of investigation. In fact, these homicides did not require any specific investigation and only required secretaries to take depositions and, sometimes, to relegate the criminals to psychiatrists. In 182 out of 399 cases, the police can therefore be given 100 percent effectiveness. They captured all the child murderers, when the culprits were parents. When the culprits are sadists, it is quite a different story. Of the 217 other homicides, there are 121 unresolved cases – more than 55 percent….
… So there is only one question left to ask: Are our police officers worse than before? No! On the contrary. Our current police officers are as intelligent and well trained as their predecessors. The problem lies in their small number and the modifications to our criminal code which makes this story, “protect the criminal over the citizen”.
The homicide squads, whether from Montreal or the Sûreté du Québec, have only increased their numbers by about 15 percent over the past five years. The number of murders, however, has tripled in the past four years. Let us therefore draw the necessary conclusions!
Needless to say that the police hardly take the attitude of the Crown, or of the Ministry of Justice, which, for three years, has been increasing the number of “gifts to criminals” in order to save money.
In 1970, the Department of Justice accepted a first. A murderer – who could not have been convicted without a lengthy investigation and costly legal process – was granted leave to plead guilty to a charge of manslaughter. This avoided a long, drawn out jury trial and investigation. It was the first time in Quebec that a murderer was thus invited to atone for his crime with only a few years in prison.
This test case seems to have pleased the prosecutors of the crown since in 1971, at least 17 murderers thus avoided trial and the life sentences by pleading guilty to manslaughter. This year, that number will likely exceed 20.
Said one disillusioned investigator, “Why would we investigate for weeks and months on certain cases, knowing that Justice will allow the murderer to be released on bail, to plead guilty to a lesser charge and to spend only three years in prison for an often horrific homicide? It is our judicial system that is rotten: a system that allows politicians to pass laws protecting criminals rather than society, under the pressure of a population that is too sensitive and ignorant of the dangers that surround it.”
One conclusion to be drawn: our investigators are not incompetent, it is Justice that is … unjust.“Nos Policiers Sont-Ils De Bons Enqueteuers – Gerard Asselin, Le Petit Journal, December 24, 1972
Asselin! Really? You had them down on the mat, why’d you let ’em get back up? The writing at the end of the piece is so suspect – particularly given the beating police received in his first article – I can’t help wonder if editors made him write the last section to let investigators off the hook. Certainly it’s a systemic problem, the whole Quebec justice machine bares responsibility, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Read on…
Almost a decade and a half later little had changed. In March 1985, David Johnston of the Montreal Gazette published an article called, Why Murders Are Unsolved. The tagline was, “Burnout and appointments based on seniority make city’s homicide squad a spent force”. The piece profiled many unsolved murders including that of French-Canadian actress, Denise Morelle; the slaying of three sex trade workers, Francine-Michelle St. Hilaire, Alice Cormier, and Sharon Deslandes; the strangulation death of a middle-aged mother, Therese Guenette; and the sensational child murders of Maurice Viens and Wilton Lubin. With the exception of Denise Morelle, who was a high-profile Quebec actress, none of the other cases have ever been solved. What was true 36 years ago – what was true 49 years ago! – is true today.
The prior year, the Montreal police managed to solve 51 of 84 murders, while their counterparts in Toronto, working with a squad of similar size and resources, solved 56 of 58, provoking one Francophone newspaper – like Le Petit Journal had done 13 years earlier – to cheekily call for the immediate aid of Hercule Poirot.
Many detectives claimed burnout, and complained that they weren’t cut out for homicide work in the first place. The Montreal police force is one of the few in North America where promotions are all police union delegated, meaning appointments to the homicide unit are not based on merit, but seniority:
“Even if you like the guy or not, even if he’s no damn good, you have to take him.”Emile Boire, former squad commander of the Montreal homicide unit – “Why Murders Are Unsolved”, David Johnston, The Gazette, March 9, 1985
It’s not for a lack of effort by some good cops who want to do the right thing. The homicide squad had tried to bring 10 promising young detectives into the unit, but they all ten were removed on account of union-seniority rules.
In this era the Montreal Police’s resolution rate – in fact, the clearance rate for most Quebec police forces – had been about 60 to 70 percent, well below other law enforcement agencies in Canada ( the problem is well documented in Statistics Canada’s 2005 report on homicide which you may find here). Through the years, Quebec police have addressed the issue with a shrug, blaming Montreal’s high proportion of underworld murders, which they claim are harder to solve, a point that is infinitely debatable – they can be solved, if police have the will to make the effort and do good, old-fashion police work (eg: knock on doors, re-interview witnesses, maybe even step on a few colleagues’ toes).
In fact the Gazette piece cites just that. Police need to do “pavement-beating – knocking on doors, visiting bars and poolrooms, in order to find witnesses. The kind of stuff old-style cops do on TV.”
“A couple of years ago some guy was tied to a chair and beaten (to death) with a table lamp. The first thing the detective did when he arrived was to untie him. What he should have done was cut the rope and send it for fingerprints. And he should have looked at the kind of knot on the rope; it may tell you what kind of work the guy does.”Former Montreal detective – “Why Murders Are Unsolved”, David Johnston, The Gazette, March 9, 1985
As was the case in 1972 with the Petit Journal article, here police also blamed the justice system and the courts:
“It’s not murder investigations that burn bodies, It’s the court. It’s seeing a case fall through in court.” A former Montreal homicide detective described court pressures this way:
“The most important part is to obtain a confession first from the suspect. Because there are rarely eyewitnesses. If we get one, if we go to court with a confession, defence lawyers question in front of the judge and jury the means we used to obtain it. We’re accused of mistreating the person. That creates the element of doubt the defence needs.”
All members assigned to this unit are dedicated full time to unresolved cases
Last month a made an FOIA request to the Surete du Quebec about their Cold Case Unit. I was curious to know, since its creation in 2004 what it had been up to. In particular, I wanted to know if the unit was still staffed by 26 full-time officers. Here is the response:
“We have carried out the study of your request, received on May 10, 2021, aimed at obtaining various information relating to the Cold Case Unit of the Sûreté du Québec:
1- How many agents are currently assigned to the cold case unit:
The Sûreté du Québec has 26 members assigned to unresolved cases. These work within the Disappearances and Unresolved Cases Unit.
2- Among these, are there any who are assigned part-time to other units (patrol , special squads, etc.):
All members assigned to this unit are dedicated full time to unresolved cases.
3- Among those who are not full-time, how much time do they spend with responsibilities in unresolved cases (50%? 75% of their time?):
Please refer to the answer to point 2.
4- Since 2004, have all the agents responsible for cold case files been 100% assigned to the unit cold case files:
Since the creation of this unit in 2004, unresolved cases have taken up 100% of the work of the members who are assigned to these teams.
Commendable. But again, something here does not add up. 26 officers assigned full-time to cold cases since 2004, and only 11 cases solved out of over 600 unsolved murders in the province of Quebec under SQ jurisdiction, over 200 of those posted on their cold case website.
I mean, I get it. Cold cases are hard to solve. You get some low hanging fruit at the beginning, some easy victories. Time is against you. You can’t stop the clock, it’s ticking. But in many ways Quebec has an advantage over other areas in North America. People tend not to leave Quebec. It doesn’t change. It’s not like the rest of English speaking North America where there is opportunity everywhere. An Israel Keyes can travel from Alaska to Chicago to New York to Maine, then back again and go unnoticed. That’s not Quebec. A lot of people are right there where they’ve always been, if the detectives would simply get off their asses and talk to them.
Regarding Teresa Martin, there are a lot of people to talk to in the Montreal North area. For starters, the 14-year-old corner’s witness, Johanne H. There’s all the bikers, especially Yvon Robert, a Satan’s Choice member who lived within minutes of Martin’s home and her dump site. Then there’s Zipper, who witnessed Johanne H’s gang rape. It turns out his name is Normand LeClair, and he too lived in the area, at 8500 25e Avenue. Remember that May 1969 murder of Pierre “Butch” Boucher? That happened in the North End. Butch was stabbed 58 times by three Devil’s Disciples members at Parc des Hirondelles, which is just between Montreal North and Ahuntsic. And what about those other two Ahuntsic murders? Le Petit Journal wondered if those cases might be linked to Teresa Martin. Brigitte Parker went missing in May 1971 while leaving a residence in Ahuntsic. Her body was found, May 20th, 1971 near Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines. Daniele Thomas was also last seen in Ahuntsic. She was found raped beaten and dumped by a stream in 1970, also near Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines. Today the Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines area is known as cottage country for old bikers.
I know what your head is saying – they’re the police, they must have looked into these things, right? But your gut is sending a conflicting message. Remember the 1999 disappearance of Julie Surprenant? The SQ made a big deal about how they interviewed over 200 witnesses around the area where the 16-year-old lived in Terrebonne. Years later the police found that they had missed the prime suspect, a convicted sexual predator named Richard Bouillon, who had been living in the apartment unit above Julie and her father. Bouillon made a deathbed confession at a hospital in Laval in 2006. Thirteen years after her disappearance, the coroner ruled in 2012 that Bouillon likely raped and killed her. Bouillon was never charged. Surprenant’s body was never found.
We’ve documented several waves of unsolved murders in Quebec on this podcast. There’s the cluster in the late seventies that includes my sister’s murder, those murders of women form the foundation of the book, Wish You Were Here. Then moving forward, La Presse documented a series of unsolved murders from the 1990s, the “Huit meurtres no resolus dans la region” cases. There’s the “Sadique Meurtier” cases we talked about from the later sixties, many of those cases pointing to the serial killer, Wayne Boden. And now these clusters from the early seventies. Several of these waves were preceded by some provincial crisis – the FLQ crisis, or extreme security measures for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the emergence of the biker wars at the turn of the millennium – that monopolized the resources of Quebec law enforcement. Or police used those crisis’ as an excuse to shirk their responsibilities, relegating violent crimes against women to the bottom of their priority barrel.