Who killed James Dubé? For nearly 15 years, the murderer of the fisherman from Grande-Rivière, in the Gaspé, managed to escape investigators. Until the Sûreté du Québec launched a delicate infiltration operation to gain the trust of the main suspect, more than 500 km away …
SEPTEMBER 24, 2017
GRANDE-RIVIÈRE – It is almost 3 am when James Dubé opens his eyes to begin what will be the last day of his life.
Taking care not to wake his two daughters, his partner by his side, the fisherman puts on his work clothes and leaves his house. He climbs aboard his white Ford pickup truck and drives along Route 132 for 3 km, to the Grande-Rivière wharf.
With his fishing partner Gilles Lebreux, James Dubé climbs aboard his boat. Dressed in coats to protect them from the cool night of April 30, 1998, the two men set sail to retrieve their lobster traps.
“James was pulling up the cages, and I was emptying them and putting a mackerel bait back in,” recalls Gilles Lebreux. We had 250 cages. We had to work quickly, we didn’t talk much. “
After fishing, James Dubé sells the lobsters to the Grande-Rivière fish factory, of which he is one of the co-owners. Later, he climbs back into his truck to return home, to his brown brick bungalow facing the sea, on Route 132.
At 37, James Dubé is at his peak. The easy smile, the strong handshake, he is known to everyone in Grande-Rivière, the city where he grew up. Seven years earlier, his father, Raymond Dubé, also a lobster fisherman, got caught in a net that pulled him into the winch of his boat, killing him instantly. This did not discourage his son from returning to sea with the same boat and practicing this profession which allows him to go moose hunting in the fall and to take snowmobile trips through the Gaspé in the winter.
“When James came in somewhere he would take his place, he was imposing,” recalls one person who knew him and who wishes to remain anonymous. “Let’s say there’s no one going to knock him off his feet. “
Three weeks earlier, James Dubé and his wife Johanne Johnson delighted in showing friends over dinner an engagement ring. “They were going to get married. It was a great time for them. “
Around noon, Johanne Johnson arrives home with two submarine sandwiches she bought at the convenience store. They have sex. Ms. Johnson, who works at the lobster factory, cannot stay any longer: she has to go to work. James Dubé lies down for a nap with his arms crossed on the living room sofa.
A few hours later, André Dubé, the older brother of James, owner of a auto body garage in Grande-Rivière, is about to paint a client’s car when the phone rings in the office. A co-worker answers, then tells him that something serious has just happened at James Dubé’s home.
A DESIRED DISORDER
André Dubé jumps in his car and arrives at his brother’s place in less than five minutes.
“I park in the driveway and see police and paramedics everywhere. There were about twenty people there. I was not allowed to enter the house. “
One hundred and fifty kilometers further south, investigating agent Guy Lebel, from the major crimes office of the Sûreté du Québec for eastern Quebec, is on his way to Rimouski when he receives a call telling him to turn around and go to Grande-Rivière.
It is around 5 p.m. when Guy Lebel parks his car in front of James Dubé’s bungalow. SQ investigators from the Pabos station guide him inside, to the living room, the center of interest for everyone on site.
“I see a man lying on the couch, lifeless. He’s dressed in jeans, he’s dressed like a worker. He has a gunshot wound to the head. The house appears to have been searched. There are pots on the floor. It was his oldest daughter who found him. She cries and she panics in the kitchen. “
Alerted at her work, Johanne Johnson arrives by car. “She seemed to be in shock,” says Lebel.
SQ police set up a roadblock on Route 132 and search all cars in the area, looking for the murder weapon. Investigators interview neighbors, co-workers and family members of James Dubé to get a picture of his day.
Guy Lebel establishes a security perimeter around the house. He and the Forensic Identification Service are searching the ground floor, basement and large grounds. “We were looking for things where there might have been blood, but not much was found. “
Guy Lebel worked for almost 10 years at Pabos SQ post, a seven-minute drive from the house where the murder took place. He has crossed paths with James Dubé several times. “He and his brother weren’t coming up on our radar. They were people who worked, who made their living. “
At the scene of the murder, a detail surprises Mr. Lebel.
“The TV, the hunting guns in the basement… Everything was still there. I found that strange. Usually, valuables go first. And the pots on the floor… Something was wrong. The house was a mess, but it wasn’t a normal mess. It looked like a deliberate mess. “
In addition to plunging him into a state of shock, the murder of his brother explodes a series of questions in André Dubé’s head.
” Who did that ? Was there a quarrel with another fisherman? Is it a woman’s story? Will the person who did this come back? “
James was his best friend, he said. “We were always together. We were almost like twins. “
A few days after the murder, James Dubé’s neighbor accidentally falls in his basement. He cuts himself on the neck on the wall of an aquarium and dies.
“It added to the climate of paranoia. We were like, what is going on here? It’s a small place. I’m not a nervous person, but for a month after the murder, I turned on lights everywhere at night. Inside and outside. I was not at ease. “
André Dubé and his wife welcome Johanne Johnson and her two daughters to their home. Very quickly, Mr. Dubé was surprised at his sister-in-law’s attitude.
“Johanne was not asking any questions about James’ death. She was cold, indifferent. She wasn’t crying. ”
André Dubé is also amazed to see his sister-in-law return to take a shower in the house where her husband was shot a few days earlier.
A few days after the murder, Johanne Johnson is on the phone shopping for a car for her daughter, a purchase that James Dubé opposed before his death, says André Dubé. “The next day she was talking about having a house built. Me and my wife at the time, we found that this was not normal. “
The afternoon he died, James was scheduled to go to the solicitor to sign the papers and dissolve the lobster factory business, André Dubé recalls.
“By the same token, he would have lost his life insurance. By not leaving the house that day, the shareholders, including Johanne, saw their debts paid and received life insurance if one of the shareholders died. “
The autopsy shows that the rifle that was used to kill James Dubé was a 22 caliber, the same as a rifle the fisherman kept on his boat that had been stolen in the weeks before the murder.
Investigators probe to see if a fisherman could be responsible, but find nothing. Police ask Johanne Johnson to take a polygraph test. She refuses, repeating that she had nothing to do with the murder of her future husband.
Months go by, then years. One observation begins to emerge: the murderer did not leave enough traces for their identity to be revealed.
$50 IN A GLASS
14-years later, on December 5, 2012, Johanne Johnson gets out of her car in front of her new partner’s house in Rivière-du-Loup shortly after 3 p.m.. She notices a woman standing near a car parked in the street.
She asks her if she needs help. According to documents filed with the Superior Court of Quebec last year, the woman replies “that she is lost, that she is looking for her sister whom she has not seen for a long time to tell her that their mother is deceased”.
Johanne Johnson offers to help. The woman accepts and the two women undertake to crisscross the neighborhood by car.
Johanne Johnson doesn’t know it yet, but the disoriented stranger she just put in her car is an undercover officer for the Sûreté du Québec.
A grand merry-go-round launched by the SQ’s cold case team with the participation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Montreal Police Department has just started.
This is the eighth time in more than two weeks that an approach has been attempted. But, each time, Johanne Johnson’s comings and goings do not [allow] the officer to approach her.
As the car drives through the streets of Rivière-du-Loup, the officer, identified by code SQ0902 in investigative documents, shows Johnson a photo of her sister. She offers Johnson a $50 bill. Johnson refuses, saying “this is help.” The agent puts the money “in a glass in the middle of the console.”
For nearly two hours, the two women talk. Johanne Johnson, then 52, talks about her health problems, her daughters and her grandchildren. She explains that she is on sick leave.
At around 5 p.m., they returned to Johanne Johnson’s home. Agent SQ0902 offers her a second $50 bill, which she again refuses. The agent places the ticket “in the same place as the other”. A reward of $500 will be given to whoever helps her find her sister, she tells Johnson.
The two women exchange their phone numbers. Johanne Johnson volunteers to continue the search “Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays”.
PERFUME AND A CÉLINE DION CD
Over the next few days, Johanne Johnson and Agent SQ0902 saw each other regularly. The two women continued their research before going to lunch and dinner in restaurants. Agent SQ0902 pays the bill.
The agent gives Johnson $50 and $100 bills to thank her for taking the time to help find her sister. The latter accepts the money, which she promises to use to “spoil [her] grandchildren.” The two women become friends.
During their conversations, Johnson is “in a good mood” and “talks easily about her private life”.
She says she was the victim of domestic violence from her “ex” and says that the latter “died in an accident”.
She says she does work for the elderly at a community health center. Johanne Johnson says she has struggled with alcohol and gambling in the past.
The two women work for over a week when Agent SQ0902 received a call. She must go to Montmagny to pick up a vehicle to bring it to Lévis. “Johanne Johnson is informed that SQ0902’s spouse has a company and that SQ0902 works for him,” read the transaction report.
Officer SQ0902 asks Johanne Johnson if she can drive the vehicle for her, that she will be paid for this service, which she accepts. The agent “offers her the job” at the company on the spot.
Johanne Johnson moves vehicles from city to city. Each time, she gets paid in cash. So much so that she says one day that she “will get rich” by doing work like this.
On December 20, Agent SQ0902 surprises Johanne Johnson with a gift: perfume and a Celine Dion CD. Johnson tells Agent SQ0902 that she is “a godsend.”
Gradually, the nature of the work entrusted to Johanne Johnson by Officer SQ0902 begins to change.
Johnson has to transport a suitcase by bus from Rivière-du-Loup to Sainte-Foy. Later, she will move a suitcase that is in the trunk of a car. You can’t say what’s in the suitcases, but “it’s not drugs.” She also meets the agent’s spouse, identified as DG876, and other alleged members of the organization.
Johnson accepts the tasks and can earn $400, $500, or even more for a day’s work.
Johnson agrees to carry a suitcase that contains weapons. To celebrate, the group is treating themselves to hearty dinners in upscale restaurants, including La Bête in Quebec City.
On January 29, while in Montreal for a delivery, the group took the opportunity to attend a hockey game at the Bell Center, a first for Johanne Johnson. The Montreal Canadiens won 4-3 over the Winnipeg Jets. Johnson “doesn’t like hockey, but enjoys her night. […] [She] is in a good mood, ”the report notes.
“THE TRUTH, NO LIES”
Johanne Johnson learns that a ‘big job’ awaits her if she can live up to it.
Before having access to this “big job”, she must meet the big boss of the organization. This meeting takes place on June 19, 2012 in a cottage in New Richmond, on the edge of the Bay of Chaleur in the Gaspé.
En route, Agent SQ0902 stops at Tim Horton’s in New Richmond. She phones the big boss. Back in the car, she is upset. “There is something wrong here. The big boss is not in a good mood.”
Johanne Johnson asks “if something bad is going to happen to them. […] SQ0902 reassures her that nothing will happen to them physically and not to “screw up” ”.
During the meeting, the boss affirms that things are getting “warm” for the group. “I just found out about that. These are all things we could have avoided. Because the heat does not come from the rest of us there. The heat is coming from your friend here, ” he said, turning to Johanne Johnson.
The boss says “it’s worse than he thought and it’s about her ex who was killed.”
The two agents leave the room. Johanne Johnson is alone with the big boss.
The big boss is “respectful. There is no confrontation or intimidation “, say the notes of the Sûreté du Québec.
“If you want me to help you there, […] you’re going to start telling me what happened that day from A to Z, he said. The truth, no lies because if you tell me a lie, that’s it. What happened? […] “
J.J: “The day James died? “
J.J .: “I killed him.”
Boss: “How did you kill him? What happened ? Because. “
J.J .: “Well there [inaudible] there was so much pressure on me [inaudible]. “
Boss: “Ok. […]. “
J.J. “This is the first time I say this. “
DIET COKE FOR THE BIG BOSS
The big boss asks her why she killed her partner that day.
“[I] didn’t decide when, it just happened. It happened like a flash, ”she replies.
She says she killed James Dubé while he was taking a nap, lying on the couch. She shot him in the head with a 22 rifle. “After killing James Dubé, Johanne Johnson threw pots on the ground to simulate a fight,” the report notes.
“She picks up the gun, rolls it up in a rug, walks out the back of the house, gets out of the car, and takes the gun into the woods at Chandler about fifteen minutes from her house. “
Johanne Johnson says she inherited her husband’s fishing boat, which she sold for $175,000, and $30,000 in life insurance. She says she spent two or three years on drugs to try to forget. “She felt followed by the police. She spent the inheritance money on drugs. She gave her father $30,000 to pay off his debts. She spoiled her daughters. “
Johnson also tells the big boss of being worried when summer arrived that the gun will be found and someone will come knocking on her door.
After the meeting, the big boss asks two members to accompany Johanne Johnson in the woods off Pellegrin road, in Chandler, where she says she got rid of the weapon, just to try to locate it and make it go away for good. The group goes there, but fails to locate the weapon.
On the way back, the group stops at a Chandler IGA, and Johanne Johnson is told to go in and buy “Diet Coke and Chocolate Chip Cookies” for the Big Boss. When she comes out of the grocery store, Johanne Johnson is arrested for the murder of James Dubé.
On April 13, 2016, after three days of deliberation at the Percé courthouse, a jury composed of five men and seven women found Johanne Johnson guilty of the second degree murder of James Dubé. She was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 11 years.
Johanne Johnson filed for an appeal which was authorized by the Quebec Court of Appeal. The final dossier has not yet been submitted.
During her trial, she claimed to have nothing to do with the murder and said she lied to the big boss for fear of dying.
Her lawyer, Me Rodrigue Beauchesne, maintains that her client is a victim.
“With the Operation Mr. Big trap, the police made her say what the police wanted to hear. Mrs Johnson is a citizen, and in front of the whole machine, she was no match. “
During the undercover operation, which lasted over six months, Johanne Johnson received approximately $18,000 in cash for the work performed and was reimbursed $2,400 for her expenses.
Even today, André Dubé says he is stunned when he realizes that his ex-sister-in-law shot down his brother during his nap.
“It was in cold blood. If it had been done with drinking or on drugs … But it was around noon, so she was sober. “
He says he doesn’t feel angry at her. “Now she is paying for what she did. “
Guy Lebel, the first member of the Major Crimes Unit to arrive at the scene of the murder, recalls feeling “relief” when he learned that Johnson had been arrested, 15 years after the murder.
“I said to myself: We were right. The investigation was right. “
The person who comes close to committing the perfect homicide is the one who acts alone, he says.
“Whoever does it alone, there is no one who can tell it. If they don’t speak, it doesn’t come out. In the case of Johanne Johnson, she could have taken it with her to her grave, that secret. “
WHAT IS A “Mr. BIG” OPERATION?
A “Mr. Big” operation is an investigative method designed to trick a suspect into believing that they are about to join a criminal group, and is used to extract a confession from them. At least 350 operations of this nature have been carried out over the past 30 years in Canada. In 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of Mr. Big operations, while restricting their admissibility in evidence. Critics of the use of these operations argue that the mere participation of a suspect in a Mr. Big-type operation is likely to mar credibility in the eyes of a jury.
To see the Surete du Quebec’s notice on the case click here.
AUGUST 3, 2020
A Gaspé woman, Johanne Johnson, found guilty of the unpremeditated murder of her husband James Dubé, will be entitled to a second trial. The Court of Appeal found that the judge at the first trial erred in presenting the statement of an important witness to the jury.
Johanne Johnson, 58, was convicted in April 2016 of the murder committed 18 years earlier.
On April 30, 1998, lobster fisherman James Dubé was shot in the head with a 22 caliber rifle bullet while taking a nap on the living room couch in his home in Grande-Rivière, in the region.
Johanne Johnson was arrested only in 2013, after a “Mister Big” undercover operation. The lady had confessed to the murder of her husband to the head of this false criminal organization, personified by a police officer.
She was charged with premeditated murder.
At trial, she said she confessed to a murder she did not do because she feared for her safety. The accused also said that she was beaten for several years by James Dubé.
Sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 11 years, she appealed the verdict.
A lack of direction
The highest court in Quebec has just ruled in his favor and ordered a new trial on a very specific point.
The Superior Court judge who heard the trial erred, the judges say, in presenting the accused’s daughter’s statement to jurors.
Jackie Dubé, a crucial witness for the prosecution, had read during the trial observations on her mother’s behavior as well as recounted confessions made by Johanne Johnson after the arrest.
According to the Court of Appeal, the judge would have had to justify the admissibility of the girl’s notes into evidence and give the jury specific instructions. “Taken together, these two errors carry an obvious risk of harm,” wrote the Court of Appeal. Their cumulative effect is far from minor, and its influence on the jury’s deliberations is incalculable. Without these errors, it is not possible to conclude with certainty that the evidence presented against the accused was so overwhelming that it would have been impossible to reach a further verdict. “
April 19, 2021
The first part of the second trial of Johanne Johnson, accused of the murder of her husband James Dubé, ended last week at the Percé courthouse.
The proceedings, which began on March 15, took place behind closed doors and were subject to a publication ban. The judge reserved the case.
The continuation of the trial has been set for October 4 for eight weeks and should begin with the selection of the jury.
James Dubé was found shot dead in the back of his neck at his home in Grande-Rivière in April 1998, but it was not until 15 years after the incident that his wife was charged with the murder.
Johanne Johnson was then found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2016.
In the summer of 2020, the Quebec Court of Appeal ordered a new trial due to the admission at the first trial of certain evidence and the lack of instructions to the jury in connection with this evidence.