June 24 weekend is a right piss-up in Quebec. Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day has been celebrated in the province ever since settlers got off the boat near Charlesbourg. Colonists brought the tradition of toasting the saint’s day from France and it stuck. It’s a time when everybody lets their hair down and has fun: get drunk, smoke dope, dance in the streets, paint your face blue and have a parade. There have been years when Saint-Jean-Baptiste weekend is fraught with Quebec nationalism. Few forget 1968 when Pierre Trudeau – by then the Prime Minister of Canada, and largely regarded as a federalist swine – crashed the festivities in Montreal reclaiming his Quebecois roots. He was greeted with jeers and a wave of beer bottles on the parade reviewing stand.
Fresh off their surprising 1976 victory, the Parti Quebecois spent lavishly on the 1977 Jean Baptiste celebration, infusing the holiday weekend with separatist enthusiasm. Premier René Lévesque declared June 24 the national holiday in Quebec. 1978 became a much more subdued affair, with provincial funding more focused on small, community events. And so the city of Sherbrooke offered clowns and puppet shows for the children, and the traditional evening bonfire at Parc Jacques Cartier on Friday, June 23, 1978. No one would have noticed that a Sherbrookais had gone missing.
On Saturday, June 24 three fisherman hoping to find luck in the shallow waters of Buck Creek instead found the body of 18-year-old Carole Fecteau. Buck Creek is 32 kilometers southeast of Sherbrooke, about 5.5 kilometers from the American border and East Hereford. Fecteau was born in nearby Coaticook. She never went far, ending up dead in a creek 20 kilometers from where she started.
The investigation was lead jointly by agent Réal Châteauneuf from the criminal investigations office of the Sûreté du Québec, district of Estrie, and agent Jacques Filion, of the SQ, Coaticook. The initial assessment by the police, or the press, or both was a howler: Fecteau had been shot twice at point-blank range in the head and the heart while “nude bathing”. Never mind that like Manon Dubé – whose body had been discovered earlier that year – how did she get there? Also like Dubé (and Louise Camirand), you’d need a lesson in cartography to find the place (for geographic visualization of the locations please visit this Google map). Police questioned over 30 people in connection with the murder. The only other suspicious death investigation by police in the Estrie / Coaticook region that spring was the Dubé case, her body found on Good Friday, March 24, 1978.
Less than 24 hours into the investigation police had already determined that Fecteau’s murder, “was a settling of scores or something close to this expression which often comes up when it comes to shady surroundings, and the young girl.”, a description both specific and puzzling. It appears that even before her murder, Fecteau was known to police as a minor player in the underworld. On January 3, 1978, Fecteau had been arrested for her part in a shakedown operation in downtown Sherbrooke.
The grift went like this. A gang would enlist the cooperation of an under-age young girl who would solicit a mark with lots of cash, then lure him back to a hotel room on South Wellington. Once in the hotel room, the guy was ambushed by fellow gang members (in this case, one of them being Fecteau) and rolled for his cash. In this particular instance the victim went immediately to the police, who rounded up four of the grifters, including Fecteau. Police suspected as many as 7 people were involved in the scam. One of the grifters, 19-year-old Jean-Paul Lebeuf was sentenced a few days after Fecteau’s disappearance. Fecteau had yet to stand trial. Was she murdered because the gang thought she might squawk?
On the murder of Carole Fecteau
Most of what we know of Carole Fecteau comes from her coroner’s inquest which was held in the fall of 1978. Fecteau had been working as a waitress in Sherbrooke for at least a month before her death. Her mother, Mrs. Jean-Paul Fecteau made the identification of the body at the city morgue. Fecteau’s clothing and wallet were found three kilometers from the dump site by an employee of the Ministry of Transport.
Hélène Larochelle, a 22-year-old bookkeeper, lived in an apartment with Carole Fecteau whom she knew “since the holidays”. They lived at 146A Rue Sanborn which is one block west and south of King and Wellington. (and as we have previously written, this was one block from the apartment where Luc Gregoire was living on Rue Brooks). If Fecteau was a waitress, then she most likely worked at one of the bars along Wellington such as the Moulin Rouge, located in the Hotel Normandie at King and Wellington.
Carole had confided to Larochelle a few days before her death that she was in danger, and on the evening of her disappearance, Fecteau had received a phone call, then told Larochelle that she was going to a rather dangerous meeting. Fecteau asked Larochelle to follow her to this meeting. Larochelle followed Fecteau for a while in the area of King and Wellington streets, and then lost sight of her. In fact, Fecteau had received several disturbing phone calls just before her disappearance. According to Larochelle, she was fearful of two people she referred to as “Claire and Fern”.
In the days leading up to Fecteau’s disappearance there was an incident involving Hélène Larochelle’s car. Fecteau’s boyfriend, Marc Charland and his older brother Jean stole Larochelle’s car and damaged it. (recall that the Charlands are the sons of Yvon Charland, the restaurant business partner of Rolland Giguere, murdered in 1968). Fecteau told Larochelle she’d take care of it, and that those responsible would pay for the damage.
Marc Charland was a minor, and therefore never called to testify at Coroner Jean-Pierre Rivard’s inquiry, but his older brother was. 19-year-old Jean Charland said he had seen Carole Fecteau two or three times at the most, that she was his little brother’s girlfriend, that he had gone to her apartment around two or three o’clock one morning with his brother and two other guys, and that they had stolen Hélène Larochelle’s car. According to Charland, Carole threatened to charge Charland with the theft if he did not agree to pay for the damages. It’s unclear how serious Fecteau was on following through with this threat given she was up on charges herself for the hotel grift. I think the point is that Jean Charland and Carole Fecteau knew each other, and there was friction in their relationship. And I would add, as we shall soon see, concerning the events that unfolded in the summer of 1978 south of Sherbrooke, it is hard to accept anyone’s version of the truth, especially the stories told by Jean Charland.
Three of a Perfect Pair
In Wish You Were Here we spent about 5 pages on the Fecteau case and its aftermath. I wanted to write much more on Fecteau, in fact, I could have written another book about it, which I guess I’m doing now. But book editors have their publishing goals; they didn’t want a Sherbrooke version of Gorky’s The Lower Depths, they wanted a book that presented a more positive victim than poor, forgettable Carole Fecteau.
A second obstacle: there just wasn’t that much information available about her case. That changed in the spring of 2020 when Quebec’s library of newspaper archives began to digitally upload all editions of Sherbrooke’s oldest French daily newspaper, La Tribune. Suddenly an entire new perspective was available online, you could even access it from North Carolina if you knew where to look. This was certainly a game-changer, and I kept quiet about it as I methodically combed throw editions from the late 1970s and early 1980s. The spring of 2020 was too late to make any changes to Wish You Were Here, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly reviewing all information looking for connections and meaning as to why the murders of three young women remained unsolved for over 40 years.
Carole Fecteau was the fourth young murder victim who should be considered within the context of the deaths of Louise Camirand, Manon Dubé, and Theresa Allore. The shooting at point-blank range and the fact that she was a part of Sherbrooke’s criminal underworld are differences, but there are elements of Fecteau’s murder that are similar to the other three murders. Like Camirand and Allore, Fecteau was stripped of her clothing. It’s hard to argue why this was done if this is strictly a mob assassination. Her clothing was found a few miles from the body; Camirand’s clothing was found next to her body, Dubé was clothed, and Allore’s clothing was never recovered. Like Theresa Allore’s wallet which was recovered on the side of McDonald Road, Fecteau’s wallet was found about 8 feet from the side of a gravel road. And Fecteau was found in a remote area, lying half-in and half-out of the water, like Allore and Dubé. In this sense there are almost two profile footprints with Fecteau – her murder is and is not like the others, she’s a hybrid. And these murderers weren’t choosy; English or French, young or old, poor or middle class, anyone would do.
I think history would have seen Fecteau in this light of a fourth murder, were it not for the events that took place a little over a week after her body was discovered in Buck Creek. What happened next rendered Carole Fecteau an afterthought. When two bodies were found on July 6 south of Lennoxville by a high schooler – it’s always hunters, fishermen and kids – Fecteau became a footnote, a piece of evidence in the police’s machinations to see to it that their man – the wrong man – was put away for life for two murders he probably did not commit.
Fecteau got swept away among the true crime jetsam, her murder occurring only two months after the discovery of Manon Dubé, and five months before the disappearance of Theresa Allore. No one remembers her. And if they don’t remember Fecteau, then they certainly are unaware that her murder has never been solved. Not because it can’t be solved; when police looked at the evidence, they determined her murder did not fit with their narrative, so they said, “close enough” and called it a day. They didn’t realize that the murder of Carole Fecteau may be the most important clue to solving those other 1978 murders in the Eastern Townships.
Keep reading, we’ll cover that next.