The first degree murder trial of Fernand Laplante opened the week after Theresa Allore’s body was found in a Compton, Quebec culvert on Good Friday April 13, 1979. Many officers of the Surete du Quebec called to testify were the same officers doing the grunt-work on Theresa’s case; knock-and-talks, preliminary interviews, filing paper work. How many of them made the connection that the answers to the Compton murder were contained in the criminal process that was unfolding in the Sherbrooke court?
As lawyers prepared to make their arguments, my parents were ordering Theresa’s white coffin and making funeral arrangements. The judge and jury settled in to listen to the evidence; we were on Decarie Boulevard in Montreal picking up Theresa bicycle which had been in a shop all winter for repairs. As we ate an early supper at Piazza Tomasso’s and I later cried in my mother’s arms in the restaurant parking lot, the prosecution’s star witness, Charland approached the stand. This is what Charland told the court happened to Raymond Grimard and Manon Bergeron the night they were murdered on or about July 6, 1978 south of Lennoxville:
Charland, Laplante, Mario Vallières and a man named Richard Gravel made a scouting trip to North Hatley on July 3, 1978 to scope out a bank branch they had targeted for an armed robbery. They returned the next day with a stolen car and two motorcycles after checking out another branch in South Sherbrooke. Charland was going to be the wheel-man for this intended robbery. Fernand Laplante realized they had been followed when he spotted agent Réal Châteauneuf and his SQ entourage lurking nearby, telling the guys, “we’re getting the fuck out of here:”
Back in Sherbrooke, according to Charland, Larplante expressed the opinion it was “that piece of shit Grimard” who narced on them, shouting that he had refused to participate in the hold-up and as a general rule “talked too much”.
On the evening of July 5, Charland and Laplante met at the Moulin Rouge / Hotel Normandie where Laplante now proposed to commit a robbery at the residence of Mr. Nadeau on Chemin Astbury, South of Lennoxville, and suggested that they invite Grimard to join them.
They walked to Grimard’s house around 2:00 a.m., and Laplante spoke with “Le Loup” Grimard in his room. Laplante, Charland, Grimard, and his girlfriend, Manon Bergeron left together in Grimard’s Cadillac, the one registered in Bergeron’s name.
Charland stopped by his parent’s house in Lennoxville to pick up a rifle he said belonged to Laplante. They then drove to Astbury Road. Once there, they realized that Charland had left the magazine cartridge for the rifle back in Lennoxville. Everyone got back in the car and returned to Lennoxville.
Back at Astbury Road, Laplante and Grimard got out of the Cadillac. Laplante told Charland, “if you hear gunshots, honk on the car horn.” According to Charland this would have been to mask the sound of the gunshots. Moments later, Charland said he heard gunshots so he honked the horn.
Laplante returned alone and only then did Manon Bergeron ask what had happened. As Charland drove away – remember here, Charland is the wheel man – Bergeron started screaming that she wanted to get out. Laplante then hit Bergeron and instructed Charland to return to Astbury Road. Once there, Charland said he could see from his headlights Grimard’s body lying in the pasture. Laplante put a cord around Manon Bergeron’s neck, dragged her out of the vehicle and returned to get the rifle barrel, the stock of which had been detached. According to Charland, Fernand Laplante then beat Manon Bergeron to death using the rifle barrel.
Laplante returned, and he and Charland drove off. When the Cadillac reached the Deacon Bridge at Route 143, Laplante threw the rifle into the Coaticook River. Laplante told Charland to abandon the Cadillac at the Lennoxville Golf Club. Laplante and Charland then headed toward the town of Lennoxville on foot.
Hashtag “Nude Bathing”. Not since Fibber McGee has such a tall tale been weaved.
“Which version is the real one?“
In his cross-examination, defense attorney Jean-Pierre Rancourt got Charland to admit the attempted arson at the Aloha Motel, and his arrest at the scene was the result of “a setup by a man named Lachance and the police.” Jean-Pierre Rancourt then suggested something very interesting. He asked Charland if he did not find it curious that Grimard refused to participate in an afternoon bank robbery, yet agreed to commit a hold-up in the middle of the night at a private residence? He then argued that Charland had gone alone to Grimard’s house the night of the murders, that there had been, in fact two vehicles that night, that there were six people at Astbury Road, not four (do the math; two victims, two cars, and four other individuals).
While in custody after the summer murders, Charland had bragged how he had “peppered Grimard” with bullets. Rancourt suggested Charland had never worked an honest day in his life – how as a member of the Gitans gang, he was accustomed to accepting contract payments for jobs, like the $2,500 for the Aloha job. Rancourt asked him directly, “Did you have a contract to get Grimard and Miss Bergeron out?” Charland stated he did not, but he then admitted, “there had been talk of making $1,000 to $1,500 quickly in the Lennoxville end.”
Apparently no one could keep a secret in small-town Sherbrooke. SQ Agent Noel Bolduc had also heard through an informant that a hit was being planned for July 4 at some location in the area. This is odd. This informant wouldn’t be Grimard. You don’t say, “there’s going to be a hit and the hit will be on me”. It’s not, “I am Spartacus”. And if Bolduc knew of the hit in advance of the murders, why not take action to prevent it? Unless of course you decide to turn a blind eye to it. Just exactly who was this other informant anyway?
On the question of Carol Fecteau (remember her?), Charland admitted that he lied to police and the coroner during their investigations into her death saying he knew nothing. Charland admitted that Fecteau had mentioned to him the possibility of filing a complaint with the police following the theft of a Helen Larochelle’s car in which he was involved while on probation. Charland added that he confided to Laplante about Fecteau who allegedly told him that he might have “done it.” Only after the Aloha Motel incident did Charland then given a statement incriminating Laplante. “Which version is the real one?” asked attorney Rancourt? Charland replied that he was now telling the truth in court:
“I have one last question. Mr. Charland, isn’t it true to say that you are a liar?
Yes, that’s right!
I should have asked you in the first place!”
Charland nodded.“Me Jean-Pierre Rancourt: Les Confessions d’un Criminaliste”, Bernard Tetrault, Stanke, 2015, Page 59
On April 23, 1979 the court took a field trip to the site where the bodies of Grimard and Bergeron were discovered. The photographs from La Tribune of this event are surreal, with the accused, Fernand Laplante strolling through country fields along side Jean Charland and the seven-man – five-woman jury, like some bellicose Renn festival. The jury had been bused out on on a charter supplied from the Department of Justice. Court reporter Jean Larose brought along a folding chair to add to the picnic atmosphere.
Jean Charland was asked to point out the location where the bodies were found. He did so. He was asked where the Cadillac was parked when the bodies were disposed off. He did this too. That’s really all Charland could possibly tell the jury about the dump site as everyone knew Grimard and Bergeron were not murdered at this location as he had testified under oath.
“Basically, is this a normal police thing?”
When police took the stand in Fernand Laplante’s trial, the jury learned that there were no bullets fired at the Astbury Road location, and no rifle had been tossed into the Coaticook River.
Sgt. Maurice Corbeil of the SQ testified that six police officers combed the trail, fields, undergrowth, and brush in the area on July 6 without finding any spent cartridges. Officer Ronald Cyr said his scuba diving squad searched on August 8 and 9, and again on November 27 and 28, and did not turn up any weapons above or below the Deacon Bridge. Cpl. André Vallée added that further searches of the river on September 18 and 19 recovered a piece of weight with dimensions equivalent to a firearm thrown off the bridge by Constable Noël Bolduc in an experiment to see how far a rifle might travel in the Coaticook running water. Meaning the dummy rifle was recovered, but not an actual rifle, because Fernand Laplante had never disposed of a rifle as Jean Charland had testified.
When officer Réal Chateauneuf took the stand he reaffirmed that he did not find any cartridges near Grimard’s body. Chateauneuf told Rancourt that there may have been blood on the ground but he did not notice that. “It would be important to know that to determine if Grimard was killed there or elsewhere,” suggested Rancourt (no shit, like one of the most fundamental points of, you know, being an investigator). At this point Chateauneuf offered the, “you should talk to my supervisor” tractic, like some genuflecting call center fonctionnaire, saying he had no theory on the subject and that is was Constable Noël Bolduc’s investigation, so the question should be put to him.
Rancourt asked Chateauneuf why Jean Charland had initially denied knowing anything about the murder of Carole Fecteau, and only gave a statement incriminating Laplante in her murder after the Aloha fire when Sergeant Pierre Marcoux had alluded Laplante had blamed Charland for her murder, which wasn’t true. “Basically, is this a normal police thing?” asked Rancourt. Officer Chateauneuf admitted, “Yes, it’s one of the tricks usually used.” Chateuaneuf then denied that the arrest of Charland on November 11 near the Aloha Motel was a set-up organized by the police.
It was officer Réal Châteauneuf who found $19 and a piece of paper on Grimard’s body with the phone number of “Tricia Hall” or Patrick Hall from the Sûreté du Québec. Remember that this was the piece of evidence that lead to the speculation that Raymond Grimard was a police informant. An associate with a firm knowledge of the criminal underworld in Sherbrooke commented, “that seems too much, too obvious”. I suggest to you that this piece of paper was planted on Grimard’s body by the SQ as a means of providing a motive for the murders, and to disguise the identity of the real police informer.
What were they doing under that bridge?
Residents of the homes in the area of the dump site at Astbury Road were questioned as to what they saw or heard in the early morning of July 6. Mr. Arnold Deacon, and his daughter Terry, reported they were awakened by their barking dog at their home near the Deacon Bridge. The Deacons heard horns possibly coming from Astbury Road, while a second vehicle was parked at the corner of Courval Road and Route 143. Ms. Deacon suggested that the exchange of horns at both locations was the signaling of the two vehicles. So they heard horns and a dog, but no gunshots.
The Deacons observed a car similar to Grimard’s Cadillac traveling a few times between Courval Road and Astbury Road. They added that they also saw a man wearing gloves who approached the Deacon Bridge on foot and appeared to be talking to someone below the bridge. They did not notice anything being thrown into the river. What were they doing under that bridge?
During the coroner’s inquiry which had occurred in the fall of 1978, Constable Michel Poulin reported he had photographed three different tracks of people under this bridge on July 7th. None of them matched the shoes of Fernand Laplante which were eventually confiscated for the criminal process. This information never made it to trail. It is also worth noting that Poulin found four identifiable fingerprints on the body of the Cadillac recovered at the Lennoxville Golf Course. The prints did not match Laplante’s. This information also did not make it to trial.
Helen Achilles, who lived on Astbury Road couldn’t sleep that night because of the heat. She testified that she saw a blue car drive by twice on Astbury Road. She noted that this vehicle honked its horn as it drove down the hill. Helen Achilles did not hear any gunshots that night.
Later that summer, Attorney Jean-Pierre Rancourt had a private detective conduct an experiment. While Robert Beullac sat inside with Helen Achilles in her Astbury home, he had his detective associate fire nine rounds from a .22 semi-automatic rifle down the hill at Astbury while another associate honked a car horn. Beullac and Miss Achilles easily heard the horn and the shotgun. It should also be noted that the detectives easily recovered their shell casings.
On Friday, April 27, 1979, defense attorney Jean-Pierre Rancourt called 20-year-old Luc Landry to the stand. Landry revealed that in a conversation at the Moulin Rouge in the summer of 1978, Jean Charland told him how “he riddled a guy behind the garbage cans on Wellington Street”, and that Raymond “the Wolf” Grimard was actually a “stooge” working for the police. At the time of his testimony, Landry was serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for theft and his parole eligibility was fast approaching.
Landry had originally been approached by agents Bolduc and Châteauneuf of the SQ who asked him if he wanted to testify against Laplante, bargaining that they could possibly get him out early. When Landry told them his story, they changed their minds and told Landry to “stay out of it”, now insinuating that they could make things go wrong for his parole. Landry related how Bolduc and Châteauneuf punctuated their words “with kicks and punches”. We now can see that this was not the behavior of a few ‘bad apples’ but an institutionalized approach used by Quebec’s provincial police force. Beatings were administered not only to players in the criminal underworld like Landry, Laplante, and Claire Dussault-Laplante, but also regular civilians like the hotelier, Paul Bergeron.
“He had a tattoo on each of his arms“
Pettigrew’s Taxi Stand was located along Queen Street in Lennoxville, across from The Georgian Hotel, and just down the street from the restaurant, Chez Charles / Disco Bob’s, the place owned by Yvan Charland, Jean Charland’s father. In the early hours of the morning of July 6, 1978, owner William Pettigrew was pulling the night shift when he saw two figures walking towards his cab coming from the direction of the Lennoxville Golf Course.
One passanger was Jean Charland, and Pettigrew noted he was wearing gloves. The second passenger Pettigrew described as “quite tall, with fairly long ash-blond hair and sideburns. And he had a tattoo on each of his arms.“
Pettigrew made two stops. The first was to Charland’s home, or rather his parents’ home, located at 26 Rue Champigny, in a suburban neighborhood north of the Saint Francois River, less than 2 kilometers from the Champlain College campus. After dropping Charland off, he then took the second passenger to the corner of Belvedere and Short Streets in Sherbrooke. It is true that Fernand Laplante once lived on Belvedere, a few blocks north of Short Street. But as we have seen, others also lived in this neighborhood, notably Luc Gregoire and Carole Fecteau, and an Atomes gang clubhouse was located nearby on Wellington. And, most importantly, as we will learn later, Regis Lachance also lived in the area, on Rue LaRocque two blocks from Rue Short (see map).
What Laplante didn’t have were tattoos. In court, Defense Attorney Jean Pierre Rancourt dramatically asked his client to stand up from the defendant’s box and remove his jacket. Laplante did so, revealing his bare arms. The court went silent. It was at this point that Rancourt felt his case was no longer in doubt. The jury seemed shaken. The Crown and police officers were stunned.
Under cross-examination, William Pettigrew mentioned that Officer Noël Bolduc of the Sûreté du Québec had shown him a series of mugshots. Pettigrew did not identify Laplante or Charland who were both in the deck. Bolduc suggested that this meant Pettigrew was unsure of exactly who was in his cab the morning of July 6, but I believe it meant something else. Pettigrew was a reluctant witness. He probably had no desire to finger a member of the Gitans and his accomplice. Because everyone in that court room knew exactly who was tall, with long ash-blond hair and sideburns, and a tattoo on each of his arms. Attorney Jean Pierre Rancourt knew it. The Crown, the Judge, the officers of the Sûreté du Québec, they all knew it too. It was Regis Lachance.
Think of it. Who did contract jobs with Jean Charland, who worked with partners? Regis Lachance. Who was accustomed to taking taxis from the scene of a crime? Regis Lachance. In 1978, Lachance had had long, blondish hair. He was “tallish”. His family says he had tattoos on his forearms, one was a devil.
In Kentucky Fried Murder!, about the 1969 unsolved murder of Rolland Giguere I wrote:
“Once again, it wasn’t Yvon Charland’s sons who murdered Rolland Giguere. But is it possible that there were longstanding associations with criminal elements in Sherbrooke within the Charland family? Was Rolland Giguere’s murder just a crime of opportunity, or was it a planned action to eliminate the competition? And competition for what – Fried chicken? Restaurant domination? Something more?”
Regis Lachance was exactly the person I had in mind in that case. He is exactly the “potential suspect now in his late 60s [who] was encountered in this case” – the one I imagined the Sherbrooke police had interrogated in their 2004 re-opening of the Giguere investigation. In fact, La Tribune reported that investigators met with two potential suspects. Who was the other guy?
Call the witness
On Monday, April 30, Jean-Pierre Rancourt called his final witness to the stand. Régis Lachance did not answer the call. Lachance was under court order to appear. Police could not find him. The bailiff, Claude Bolduc reported that he had tried three times to serve a subpoena to Régis Lachance, and that he finally had to give the document to his wife. Régis Lachance had gone AWOL.