Do you know bagatelle?
Think of it as lawn bowling, but the French who invented it placed pins on the turf as obstacles to keep the balls from scoring too easily. When the game moved indoors due to inclement weather, it evolved into bar billiards and, later, pinball. Bagatelle was popular during the reign of Louis XVI; a party was thrown in his honor in 1777 at the Chateau Bagatelle. Louis was bad at games; he later lost his head by guillotine in 1793 ( the French liked other games too, like “the national bathtub”). You know bagatelle probably from the handheld pinball incantation from your childhood. The word “bagatelle” means a “trifle” or simply “child’s play.”
I have a case that’s child’s play; the 1990 murder of 23-year-old Lise Brisebois. It’s a wonder a suspect has never been mentioned as an obvious candidate has been geographically under the Surete du Quebec’s nose for over twenty years – a sort of criminal investigative bagatelle.
Lise Brisebois lived with her parents on avenue Paquette, just a few blocks from the Champlain Mall in Brossard, Quebec. Brossard is like a suburb to the south of Longueuil, and Longueuil – as some of you are well aware – is, in turn, a suburb of Montreal, off the island and connected by the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Living with the Brisebois family were two foster children, boys aged 13 and 16.
On Friday, March 9, 1990, Lise went to a nightclub, the Super 9 in Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu, part of an urban enclave that includes Chambly (where Helene Monast was murdered in 1977), about a thirty minute drive from Brossard. At the club, Lise meets her friend Sophie and her new boyfriend, Gaétan. It’s a typical Friday night at a club in Quebec; they drink, they dance, the girls are excited about a trip they are about to take to Florida to escape the long winter that has already worn out its welcome – why in these stories is there always the planned trip to Florida on the eve of disaster?
Lise arrives home around 4:00 a.m. Her parents are away at their cottage that weekend, but the two boys are asleep in the basement. At 4:10 a.m. Gaétan calls to see if she made it home alright. They talk for about 15 minutes when Lise says she hears someone at the front door and hangs up to go see who it is. Around 5:00 a.m., a neighbor observes a car she doesn’t believe is Lise’s leaving the Brisebois’ with the lights off.
When Lise fails to make a dinner engagement with her boyfriend, Gaétan, that Saturday evening, the family calls the police. Searching the premises on Sunday morning, March 11, police find broken artificial fingernails near the entranceway.
Nine months later, on November 17, 1990, a Hydro-Québec employee finds bones scattered in a field near Rainville. There is no clothing or jewelry, but there are red vinyl nails. Rainville is equidistant between Montreal and the Eastern Townships. At this point, the SQ had to make a choice: turn the case over to Montreal investigators, or leave it in the hands of a rural force. The decision was made to take the case from Brossard officers and turn it over to investigators from the Surete du Quebec in Sherbrooke. Heading up the investigation was Luc Grégoire of the Estrie Investigations Bureau. Here he is in 1991, speaking on the program Dossiers mystères from Television Quatre-Saisons ( at 1:24):
By now, everyone should know my opinion of the quality of investigation you should come to expect from the Sherbrooke SQ. This was 1990, and only 12 years separated the Brisebois case from events in Sherbrooke in 1977 and 1978. It’s an odd decision. Typically, the Estrie Investigations Bureau only picked up cases east of Cowansville. Rainville is west of Cowansville. By all accounts, Brisebois’s case should have been in the hands of central headquarters in Montreal from the start. And Luc Gregoire? That’s another matter altogether and something that will have to be addressed at another time. I will only mention that his brother, Normand Gregoire, made the crime scene maps when Theresa’s body was discovered: it’s a small investigative snowglobe that Quebexico.
Brisebois’ family had been vocal and critical of the police throughout the investigation. A little over a month from her disappearance, Brossard police appeared to be already throwing up their hands in defeat: “There’s no movement at all in the case,” offered assistant director of investigations Pierre Tanguay. Three months later, with Lise’s whereabouts still unknown, police did just that: they gave up. Det.-Sgt Rejean Sergerie proclaimed we “have absolutely nothing,” then abruptly announced they were ending their search.
Part of the problem was the lack of information they were providing to the family and the public. Lise’s sister, Marie-Andree Brisebois, was outraged when she discovered police had recovered a handbag on the banks of the St. Lawrence River but failed to follow up with the family, deciding for themselves that the purse “had no connection with the missing woman.”
“They should have never stopped the investigation. Now it’s up to us to find her.”Marie-Andree Brisebois, The Gazette, July 26, 1990
As well, two narratives were running in the press about her disappearance, and Brossard Police never clarified what would have been confusing information to the public. It would have helped to report from the start that police had developed two theories of what happened to Lise, but that didn’t happen until much later after Brisebois’ remains were found and the case was in the hands of the Surete du Quebec.
Theory number one went like this: After getting off the phone with Gaétan, Brisebois answered the front door, where an altercation occurred. In a struggle, Brisebois false nails came off, and she was taken away in the car observed by the neighbor. Theory one is compelling because it has physical evidence and a witness. But wait, theory two also has physical evidence and two witnesses!
Theory two supposes that nothing came of the noise at the door; Lise was either mistaken, or the person went away, then Lise went to bed that early morning, Saturday, March 10. One of the boys living in the Brisebois home, Said, told police he saw Lise that Saturday morning and that she left the house around noon to do some shopping. The boy further stated she was wearing clothing matching the description of what she had been wearing the previous evening at club Super 9 – clothing never recovered. Said’s testimony is supported by another witness, a sales clerk at the Champlain Mall who told police she observed a woman matching Lise’s description around 2:00 p.m. trying on clothes. Finally, there is the physical evidence: Lise’s car was found abandoned in the parking lot of the Champlain Mall.
Said’s testimony was reported initially but eventually got dropped from the story and was only reintroduced by Eddie Collister from The Gazette after her remains were found. This could have confused the public in the early stages of the investigation, focusing on the locus of the Brisebois home when they should have been thinking about the Champlain Mall, a very public place where potentially dozens of witnesses may have spotted her that Saturday afternoon.
Then there is the matter of the French press. Except for La Presse, who managed to clock her disappearance in March and the discovery of the remains in November, Brisebois’ case was largely ignored in the Quebecois news media. And this goes back to the very poor decision to assign the case to the Sherbrooke investigators. Township papers like La Tribune and The Record were never going to report on a police matter from Rainville and Brossard: it wasn’t their beat. And the Montreal papers would not be aware of an investigation headed up by the Sherbrooke Police: they were focused on the MUC and Parthanais (it remains a question why The Gazette managed to cover the matter, though at that time they did have reporters dedicated to covering South Shore news). As a result, the Brisebois case got caught in a French media blackout at the very moment it needed public exposure. Over a year later, Dossiers mystères picked up the baton with their prime time program on Lise, premiering Saturday, March 30, 1991, but by this time, in terms of the investigation, it was too little too late.
Who done it?
To answer that question, we have to look at one more case, Johanne Marsolais, murdered three years earlier, in November 1987.
Johanne Marsolais – who also went by an alias, France Tremblay – had been in and out of trouble her whole young life. In 1979, at the age of 22, she escaped from the Tanguay detention center in Ahuntsic (Bordeaux). In 1982 she did it again while serving a four-year sentence for conspiracy and robbery involving violence. She had also been convicted of prostitution. Marsolais had just completed that sentence when she was found naked and strangled in a field near the Brossard Golf Course. Marsolais was last seen November 18, 1987, at Le Bic, a bar in Longueuil, after taking a taxi from the Berri-UQAM metro station in Montreal.
As with the Brisebois case, Brossard Police immediately turned the investigation over to the Surete du Quebec, where it briskly disappeared for over 30 years, only to be “rediscovered” in the SQ’s recent push to promote cold cases. I would assume that since the body was discovered in Brossard, this time, the handlers became the Montreal SQ. And I doubt, three years later, when Brisebois was found, that police in the same agency ever made the connection between the two cases – because blind ignorance has been my experience with the Surete du Quebec.
Let’s look at a map
Here we see three points: the Brisebois home, the Champlain Mall, and the Brossard golf course. And we know Marsolais was found somewhere near the golf course and perpendicular to boulevard Lapiniere (the bigger red line). And that line represents approximately two miles:
One victim disappeared from the mall and was discovered 50 miles away in Rainville, the other victim was last seen in Longueuil and was found near the golf course, about two miles from where the first victim disappeared. Both victims were found without clothing.
Who was operating in the area at that time with a similar m.o.? Guy Croteau.
On August 23, 1987, seventeen-year-old Sophie Landry disappeared from a Longueuil bus terminal while traveling from her parent’s home in La Prairie to the juvenile detention center she was living at on weekdays in Saint-Hyacinthe. The following morning Landry’s body was found in a cornfield north of Montreal (Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan). She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed 173 times. In 2002, 45-year-old Guy Croteau was arrested for the murder of Sophie Landry. Croteau was convicted and is not eligible for parole until 2027.
Croteau is also my prime suspect in the murder of Nathalie Boucher. On June 5, 1985, Nathalie walked home from the Longueuil metro terminus. Her body was discovered the following morning, beaten, raped, and strangled to death.
Croteau apparently trolled Sophie Landry inside the Longueuil public transportation terminus. Like the Berri UQAM metro station (Marsolais) and the Champlain Mall (Brisebois), it is a vast public place, lots of traffic and distractions. But apart from Landry, Brisebois, and Marsolais – all found in similar outdoor areas – Croteau’s m.o. was all over the place. In 1999 he picked up two 16-year-old hitchhikers and sexually assaulted them at knifepoint. In 2000 he groomed a 10-year-old girl, taking her to a park in Chambly, then eventually abducting and sodomizing her in a park next to the Richelieu River. Croteau took opportunity where he saw fit, then improvised – he would have to, to explain why he stabbed a girl 173 times then de-escalated to simple abduction and sexual assault (escalating violence in serial killers is a myth, by the way – read Beauregard).
The police would have you believe Croteau was only active from 1995 up until his arrest in 2002, but that is only because 1995 is the earliest date someone came forward to report him in a sexual assault. But a murder victim can’t come forward: no one knows exactly what Croteau was up to in the years surrounding Landry’s 1987 murder. The truth is Croteau was active for 15 years between the Landry murder in 1987 and his eventual arrest for that crime in 2002. Yet, according to the Surete du Quebec, Guy Croteau is not a good candidate for a serial killer. In 2021 I spoke to the SQ about Croteau, and they dismissed him as a possible serial killer on the grounds that they had interviewed him and he told them that after stabbing Landry 173 times, he decided that he really didn’t like murder and never did it again. I was god-smacked that their rationale was, ‘well, he said he didn’t commit other murders, so that was good enough for us.’
Though Croteau had been in and out of trouble all his life leading up to his arrest in 2002, his criminal record demonstrates that he was out in the community in the corridor we are talking about – from 1985 to 1990 (and beyond). His first arrest was for a driving infraction in 1978 when he was living near Ahuntsic in Montreal North. In 1982 he had some minor offenses involving an extortion scheme for which he served two years, from 1983 to 1984. In 1995 there were more serious offenses for sexual assault with a weapon and forcible confinement. Still, these are well after the Brisebois and Marsolais cases and did not come to the police’s attention until after his arrest for Landry in 2002.
And while we’re at it, we might as well throw Annette Labelle into the ring. Labelle was found by a transportation employee on June 25, 1986, on highway 30, west of Saint-Hubert ( between Brossard and Longueuil). Police described the 30-year-old as a “vagrant” with no fixed address. Labelle was found naked with a rope around her neck. She was last seen one week earlier at the Café Rialto, located around the main in Montreal, an area known for drugs and prostitution.
Sophie Landry was living in a juvenile detention center. Johanne Marsolais was an inmate at the Tanguay detention center in Ahuntsic from 1979 until her release in 1987. Croteau was also living near Ahuntic in 1978. Then there is the matter of the two foster children living with the Brisebois family. It is possible that Guy Croteau had access to transitional houses or social services that crossed paths with some of his victims. This also would have allowed him to escape detection by police – Quebec is fiercely protective of what goes on behind the veil of protective services like halfway houses and mental health. Nowhere was this more apparent than the recent arrest of sexual predator Marc-André Grenon for the 2000 murder of Guylaine Potvin. Grenon had been hiding in plain sight at the Douglas Psychiatric Institute in Montreal, even allowed to guest lecture on his criminal history – a twenty-year run of thefts and B & Es was all he was willing to admit. Still, it is clear that Grenon, at the least, was a highly skilled sex pest with a two-decade track run. When the police can’t or won’t pry behind the walls of the institutions of reform, mistakes will happen.
If you’re still not convinced and all this seems circumstantial, allow me to give my final argument. Guy Croteau would occasionally live with his parents in Brossard, their home at 3290 rue Massonnet, a street midway off boulevard Lapiniere between the mall from where Brisebois may have disappeared in 1990 and the golf course where Marsolais was found in 1987. Croteau’s arrest records show him living there from 1982 to 2001, the eve of his arrest for the Sophie Landry murder. It’s also been public knowledge for decades that Croteau was working as a janitor in the area at the George Vanier Elementary School:
I’ve been sitting on this information for years, expecting some super sleuth to put the pieces together and come forward. No one ever did. Many in Quebec crime investigations have had all this information but failed to connect the dots. And that’s the problem with citizen sleuthing that falls down the well of infotainment. It’s all a wall of grim scenarios, but they cannot see a pattern, let alone appreciate the context of the crimes. They cannot see the forest or the trees. Shows like Sur les traces d’un tueur en série offer shock and awe but little in the way of answers.
Nothing I am saying here is revelatory to people who should have known better – especially the Quebec police. The mandate of law enforcement is to protect and mitigate further criminal actions. It’s not your job simply to inform.
One final thought: Croteau isn’t the only suspect. Something I’ll explain next time.