I learned of Manon Dubé 20 years ago. I was struggling to read a French newspaper article about my sister’s murder, and there in the last paragraph it mentioned the Dubé case. It wasn’t like today. You couldn’t access information anywhere, anytime. You didn’t have newspaper archives available like BAnQ instantly at your fingertips. You had to dig for information. Like the writer for La Tribune, Pierre Saint-Jacques, I was also struck by the similarity of the two cases; Theresa found near Compton and Manon near Ayer’s Cliff, both suspicious deaths, both went missing on a Friday, the bodies discovered on Good Friday. Fertile ground for the superstitious mind. I would learn of Louise Camirand in a similar fashion.
Over these last 20 years there’s been so much static, so much confusing information about the Manon Dube case, that I’d like to take some time to revisit the facts of Manon’s disappearance and death. Also, since working on Wish You Were Here, more digital archives of the Eastern Townships became available online, and a lot of new information became instantly accessible. I’d like to give an outline of the Dube case, incorporating this new information.
9-year-old Manon and her younger sister, Chantal had been sledding in the parking lot behind a Caisse Populaire bank on rue Belvedere in Sherbrooke, Friday January 27, 1978. Around 7:30 pm the pair began to walk home. When they reached the intersection of Union and Craig, just in front of ecole St. Joseph, Chantal decided to run the remainder of the way because she was cold. Manon never arrived at their house on rue Bienville.
Less than 2 days later, Manon’s mother, Jeannine Dube, received a telephone call at 3 pm Sunday from a man who told her “if you want to see your daughter again it will cost you $25.000 ”. Sherbrooke had been frenzied with kidnapping mania. The prior year, a Caisse Populaire credit manager named Charles Marion had been held captive for 82 days, then the longest kidnapping in Canadian history. Marion was eventually freed, many believed he staged the ordeal. At the time of Dubé’s disappearance, Quebec’s Justice Minister, Marc Andre Bedard was pressured to make inquiries as to whether even the Surete du Quebec was involved in Marion’s kidnapping. Not surprisingly, the Dube ransom phone call was largely written off as a hoax.
A search team with tracking dogs combed the woods to the west of Sherbrooke around Mont Bellevue. Police went door to door along rue Bienville looking for clues. Chantal Dube told police she and a cousin had been followed by a strange Buick during the previous week. Several neighboring parents questioned by police said their children had been approached by strangers in recent months. “I warned her of strangers,” Manon’s mother said, “No matter if it was a man or a women, if it was for money or candy, she was to turn and run home.” Jeannine Dube had been a widow for a little over a year. She told police she was worried that whoever abducted Manon might be aware of the small amount of insurance money collected at the time of her husband’s death. When last seen, Manon Dube was wearing a navy blue snow-suit, a salmon pink scarf, a tuque, red mittens, and snow boots.
By February, the police had turned to psychics for assistance. Two Montreal “seers” told police to search near the Lowney’s chocolate factory. A hypnotist said Dube was being held in a house on rue Dunant, which is a continuation of rue Union. Le Grand Henri, a local celebrity psychic announced he would make a statement, but need 24 hours lead-up before doing so. Finally an anonymous Sherbrooke donor came forward offering a $1.000 reward to anyone who could help police solve the case. Years later, Chantal Dube would recount how at the time she thought her sister, Manon had played a trick on her and took another route home. But this was no magic trick. Kids at school taunted Chantal, telling her Manon had already been found dead and tied to a tree. In a bizarre twist, this is exactly what happened half a decade later in 1983 when 5-year-old Mélanie Decamps, was found murdered, gagged and tied to a tree trunk near Drummondville, Quebec.
Police again appealed to the people of Sherbrooke for assistance:
“If everyone cooperates by searching through their garbage bins, under their veranda, in their yards, we w ill be able to cover the entire city in a very short time.”“Dube search still on”, The Sherbrooke Record, February 8, 1978
Police flatly denied rumors that the body of 10-vear old Dube had already been found near Rock Forest in late February.
On Good Friday, March 24, 1978, the body of Manon Dubé was discovered beside a creek that crosses an isolated road leading to Kingscroft, half a mile from the village of Massawippi on Highway 143. Two teenagers, young people from Montreal visiting for the weekend with their parents, made the discovery in a stream. The stream was about a hundred feet from a gravel road. Manon’s body lie frozen in the ice. She was dressed in her navy blue snow-suit, salmon pink scarf, and snow boots. One red mitten was missing. Manon had a deep gash on her forehead.
The site was about 19 miles south of Sherbrooke. Manon’s head was submerged in the water while her feet rested on the bank. The body had been trapped in the ice for almost two months. There were no signs of physical violence; the wound visible on the forehead could have been caused by the ice from the stream.
Lieutenant-Detective Alphée Leblanc, of the Criminal Investigations Division of the Sherbrooke Municipal Police, who had been leading the investigation since the beginning was called to the scene, along with Sergeant Pierre Marcoux and Corporal Roch Gaudreault, both of the Surete du Quebec’s criminal investigations.
The place where Manon Dubé’s body was found was a hundred feet from a wooden bridge. Telephone wires ran along the side of the road and, a few miles away there were pylons of a Hydro-Québec substation near Route 143. The stream flowed passed a chalet, two picnic tables and a swing. On the other side of the road, there was another chalet on a small hill. The site was quiet; a winding dirt road, sheltered from prying eyes and the bridge in the hollow of a valley. As Pierre Francoeur reported for La Tribune, “To take this road in the middle of winter, you really had to know about it.”
In the same article, Francoeur offers a theory, and it’s a pretty good one. This is from La Tribune on Monday, March 27, two days after Dube was found:
“The girl was dressed in the same clothes as when she disappeared; only her tuque and one of her mittens were missing. Where were they left? Have they been washed away by the river? Left at the scene of the crime? We can also wonder if the little girl would not have simply been the victim of a hit and run. The driver, distraught, would have decided to pick up her body when very few people roamed the area of Bienville and Union streets… That would explain why the little girl was found dressed… A sex maniac wouldn’t have bothered to get his victim dressed, to put her boots on. Moreover, it was easy for the motorist or the attacker to take the road incognito in the direction of Lennoxville and Ayer’s Cliff from Bienville and Union street, we quickly arrive at the Cote de l’Acadie, then to Wellington Street, then towards Lennoxville. ““Peu de lésions externes à première vue”, Pierre Francoeur, La Tribune, Monday, March 27, 1978
Leave aside for the moment the point about the “sex maniac”. What I find interesting is the escape route. The route I’ve often imagine is Union to Belvedere, which turns into chemin MacDonald and then 143 south to Massawippi. This route would take you past the location where Theresa Allore’s wallet would eventually be found 13 months later. Francoeur suggested a more efficient route: continue the other direction on Rue Union to Wellington, and Wellington as previously discussed is interesting because of all the gang activity that had been occurring there throughout the 1970s. Then again, Sherbrooke in that era was a small place. You can make all sorts of geographic inferences. They don’t necessarily mean anything.
There’s something else strange about this La Tribune article. The first paragraph tells us that Lieutenant-Detective Alphée Leblanc of the Sherbrooke Police will attend the autopsy to be performed in Montreal. In the first La Tribune article on the case we are told that both Leblanc and Roch Gaudreault of the SQ have been tasked to the case. Then there is this very bizarre notice on the same page as the Dube story in Carnet King Wellington. Carnet King Wellington was like a society column ( think Walter Winchell for the Townships crowd), it told you what was going on around town. And here on the same page where La Tribune is reporting on the very delicate matter of the death of a 10-year-old girl is this notice that the two lead investigators wagered a bet with each other over who was the last club to win the Stanley Cup before the Montreal Canadiens dynasty.
My question is, what is it doing there? Is this just careless insensitivity in the newspaper’s layout? Once again, Sherbrooke is a small place, detectives from two different police agencies can also be friends. But couldn’t this have waited? Why put it in the paper at the moment you want the public to be earning the trust of their police forces, when you should be instilling confidence that they are serious about their work and they know what they’re doing.
Pierre Francoeur ends his article by stating that the Dube incident was, “the first of its kind to occur in the Eastern Townships”. Not only is that statement blatantly untrue, it wasn’t even the first of its kind to occur in the area where Dube’s body was discovered.
In the summer of 1974, a 53-year-old school taxi-driver was charged with the statutory rape of an eight-year-old girl. Described as a “bald, pot-bellied bachelor”, Chester Hartwell worked as a school taxi-driver charged with transporting young students. Hartwell received a two year sentence and would have been out by 1976. At sentencing he was described as non-violent. He was said to lure his victims with gifts. The rape occurred in the Ayer’s Cliff region, less than a 5 minute drive from where Manon Dube was found.
Recall Jeannine Dube’s warning to her daughters not to take candy from strangers. Also, when first approached to offer comments on the discovery of her daughter, Jeannine Dube stated, “There are very nasty people… “. Not, “what an unfortunate accident”, not “now she is at peace” but “There are very nasty people”.
Manon Dubé: pas d’assaut sexuel
On March 28, 1978, police made a bold announcement. Manon Dubé was not sexually assaulted. Rather brazen to be saying this a little over 3 days from the discovery of the body.
The details were that the autopsy did not reveal the exact cause of death but they “absolutely eliminate any thesis of sexual assault, rape or sexual act.” According to Lieutenant-Detective Alphée Leblanc, who attended the autopsy in Montreal accompanied by his betting buddy, Roch Gaudreault, “These hypotheses which had been envisaged from the start have now been definitively ruled out” (btw, the Habs were back home by March 29th, they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins that evening 6 to 2. I hope Roch Gaudreault enjoyed his coffee.).
Leblanc then went into even greater detail of his reasoning. Not only was Manon Dube dressed in the same clothing she was wearing when she disappeared from her neighborhood, the scarf she was wearing was wrapped around her neck in the same manner her mother would have dressed her, and she was wearing the same plastic bags on her feet under her snow boots to protect her from the cold. It had been reported that Manon was missing her tuque, but even that was recovered, leaving only one missing red mitten.
All of this is new information that could have helped clarify many questions when we re-investigated the Dube case in 2002. One of Kim Rossmo‘s questions had been, was the child undressed and then dressed again? Rossmo was also implying that Quebec police lacked investigative insight if they couldn’t imagine a sexual predator who redressed his victims – it’s a common M.O.. Yet back in 1978 Leblanc definitively answered why she was apparently never undressed. It’s not as if by 2002 Leblanc was some retired, disinterested party, far from it. He was still working for the Sherbrooke Police. In fact, in 2001 he conducted his own re-investigation of the Dube case. So why not clarify this matter when it came up so prominently in 2002? Did investigators finally understand by 2002 what they failed to grasp in 1978? That it didn’t take undressing to commit a sexual assault.
My problem with all of this is that even though factually there is no evidence of sexual assault – like the Theresa Allore case – the circumstances suggest a sexual predator. Maybe Dube was the target of a sexual abduction, but the car accidentally hit her, and the offender then had to change their plan. I say this because contrary to Alphée Leblanc’s reassurances, the first thing the coroner thought on March 24, 1978, the night she was found was sexual murder. And we know this because – like the initial coroner report in the Theresa Allore case that noted strangulation – we have the coroner’s document that states, “possibility of a sexual murder”:
So I find it odd that there are two instances in 1978 where the coroner ruled one thing, yet by the time the bodies are examined in Montreal, the pathologist – who was the same pathologist in both cases, Dr. André Lauzon – comes away with inconclusive findings. And in both instances, by the way, Corporal Roch Gaudreault of the Surete du Quebec made the trip to Montreal to be present at the autopsies. It striking because today, the SQ has denied Roch Gaudreault was in charge of the Dube case. If he wasn’t in charge then why is he the only SQ officer at her autopsy?
And if you think I have an over-active imagination, my thoughts are precisely what were on the minds of everyone in Sherbrooke that winter in 1978, as attested by La Tribune reporter, Pierre Saint-Jacques:
“The case was not talked about much, so often half-words were used, many firmly believed in a painful story of sexual doom and murder.”“Manon Dubé: pas d’assaut sexuel”, Pierre Saint-Jacques, La Tribune, March 28, 1978
Saint-Jacques then launches into a fiction that by La Tribune’s own previous writings is completely implausible:
“The possibility of a car accident, of the panic-stricken driver who initially wants to take the victim back to the hospital and then to see the latter’s condition will be considered and preferred, for a host of reasons. (state of intoxication, lack of insurance, stolen vehicle, stupid negligence at the wheel, etc…), getting away from the city and getting rid of the body in the way we know exists…”“Manon Dubé: pas d’assaut sexuel”, Pierre Saint-Jacques, La Tribune, March 28, 1978
If “few people roamed the area of Bienville and Union streets” at that time of day, then what’s a car doing there? – Unless of course, like the Buick cited by Manon’s sister, Chantal, it was stalking her. Why does a girl who was warned by her mother to be careful, not to take candy from strangers, who was walking on the sidewalks with her sister, suddenly run into the street and ‘accidentally’ get hit? – Unless she was being chased. And the most important question, if it’s a hit and run, why not hit… and run? Why transport a body nearly 20 miles away and deposit it by a stream in a secluded area?
By April, Le Grand Henri was back in the papers telling the people of the Townships, “I never believed in the story of a sex maniac. To me, he’s a guy who’s lost his mind.” I’m not sure what the difference is. The psychic claimed, “I would have found her” if the police would have listened, and how he always knew she would be located on Easter weekend near a stream. When asked to assist with a composite drawing of “the murderer” (La Tribune’s words), Henri stated that he was no longer able to assist because “since the police did not cooperate, he is no longer in a favorable state of mind.”
Coroner Jean-Pierre Rivard
The final determination as to what happened to Manon Dube was left in the hands of Coroner Jean-Pierre Rivard, tricky business, as nothing – not an autopsy or chemical analysis – was able to pinpoint what killed the 9-year-old girl on the night of January 27, 1978. Experts did not know whether Manon hit her head at the location where she was last seen ( did she fall? was she hit? ) or whether the injury was sustained when she was thrown into the stream near Massawippi. Another theory was that the intense cold may have caused the gash on her forehead, effectively forcing her skull to crack. Manon had bruises on her arms and thigh, but even these raised further questions, and could have been caused because she had been playing with her sister behind the Caisse Populaire.
Despite all the confusing information, by late April, investigators were now coming back to one nagging theory: the possibility of,
“the abduction with a view to committing a sexual act, an abduction which would have taken a turn that the author is found confused and could not have carried out his dark plans”“Manon Dubé: mystère insondable”, La Tribune, April 20, 1978
There are good reasons to believe Dube was never sexually assaulted, reasons up until now never revealed. In Wish You Were Here, I wrote that Dube had no broken bones. It turns out that wasn’t true. Recently I spoke with a retired officer from the Sherbrooke Police. According to them, “Dube’s lower body injuries were consistent with being struck by a vehicle” – meaning her legs were broken. I can understand 40 years ago using this as a holdback, but why today the police wouldn’t disclose this information doesn’t make any sense. Wouldn’t it help to clarify and re-focus the Dube investigation to know this? It still doesn’t rule out the intention to sexual assault, but it would help to know that this intention was probably never acted upon.
On May 17, 1978 Coroner Jean-Pierre Rivard made his determination:
“the death of MANON DUBE was violent and the verdict rendered is that of VIOLENT DEATH with the criminal negligence of one or more undetermined persons.”Coroner Jean-Pierre Rivard, May 17, 1978
So, violent death by a stranger, or strangers. And obviously, the use of a car. And Manon’s sister’s testimony that in the weeks leading up to her disappearance the children had been pursued by a strange car.
There’s been a theory kicking around that an uncle of Manon may have been responsible for the “hit and run”. That explanation appears totally implausible. Also, that Manon’s missing red mitten was found in the uncle’s car or garage. From what I know, that was a rumour started by a former Sherbrooke police officer, and I am very skeptical of that information. If it were true, wouldn’t that have been grounds enough to have arrested this uncle?
There have also been questions about Manon’s body having been found on land belonging to the Dubé family. That does appear to be true. But even the police today think this was done by the assailant as a method to confuse and mislead investigators (similar to what Luc Gregoire did in 1993 when he moved his victim, Lanie Silva’s clothing and re-deposited them outside his landlord’s office).
Speaking of Gregoire. Though I suggested you stop considering Luc Gregoire as the number one suspect, I didn’t say stop considering him altogether. Was Gregoire possibly one of the persons in that car that was chasing a women down a road in 1978? Maybe. Always allow 25% for what we do not know. There are many reasons I still consider Gregoire a strong suspect in the participation in some of the cases from the Townships in the late 1970s. He had a history of sexual assaults and other offenses in the region at that time. He went on to become a murderer, killing Lanie Silva in Calgary in 1993. Trolling victims in cars was part of his M.O. Because of his known military background, It is thought that Gregoire for a time trained with the Sherbrooke Hussars. One of the hardest things to account for is why Dube’s killer would have hit her in Sherbrooke, but then deposited her body in a secluded area 19 miles south in the Kingscroft area. Well, one year prior to her disappearance, in March 1977, the Sherbrooke Hussars were doing winter training exercises near Mills Barnston / Barnston West, 5 miles from the Dube dump site. So a civilian might find that stream along chemin du Ruisseau isolated, but to a military cadet playing weekend warrior it might have been quite familiar. As Pierre Francoeur wrote in La Tribune, “To take this road in the middle of winter, you really had to know about it.”, and a Sherbrooke Hussar would have.
These training activities were regular occurrences for the military cadets. All through the late seventies they underwent exercises throughout the Townships. In 1979 they even rolled through the streets of Lennoxville.
For these reasons, and others we will get to, I still consider Luc Gregoire as one of the suspects in Dube’s death. I say suspect because Luc Gregoire is dead, if he were still alive I would refer to him as a “person of interest”.
Nevertheless, with Coroner Jean-Pierre Rivard’s final determination in May, 1978, the Dube investigation was officially placed on hold indefinitely and would only be “reopened if new elements are added to the investigation”. The matter was closed, and La Tribune wondered, ” Will we ever know the bottom line of this whole affair? This is the question that we can timidly ask today.”
It would not take long to receive new elements. Though at the time I doubt anyone noticed a possible connection between the death of Manon Dube and the murder of an 18-year-old drug runner, Carole Fecteau whose body was discovered naked, in a stream in East Hereford, Quebec in June 1978. Though La Tribune did pick up on the geographic significance:
“This is the first murder this year to occur in the territory covered by the SQ district of Estrie, except for the discovery of the body of Manon Dubé, on Good Friday, March 24, in the ice of a stream, half a mile from the locality of Massawippi, near the road which connects this place to Kingscroft.”“30 personnes interrogées au sujet d’un meurtre”, La Tribune, July 4, 1978
The murder of Carole Fecteau is a story for another day. I first have to provide you with a few more pieces of the puzzle.