The Raid at Disco Bob’s
On Friday evening, May 19, 1978, 16 officers from the Sûreté du Québec, and 4 officers from Lennoxville’s municipal force stormed Disco Robert, the nightclub located in the upstairs of Restaurant Chez Charles at 116 Rue Queen. Twenty-two minors were arrested and hauled off in a police van, even though the local police HQ was located just steps away from the discotheque – police wanted to make a show of the teens in cuffs hauled away past the curbside crowd. The raid was conducted under the joint direction of Corporal Patrick Hall of the SQ’s drug, alcohol and morality squad and newly appointed Lennoxville Police Chief Léo Hamel. Two arrests were made for possession of narcotics. Among the group brought to the headquarters, there was a large number of young girls.
Teens raging from the age of 14 to 16 sat nervously in the town drunk tank waiting for their parents to arrive and escort them home, before waiting again nervously for their day in juvenile court. The raid was prompted by complaints made by local parents who were “disgusted” by the disco, and the number of youths it attracted. Yvon “Charlie” Charland had been warned repeatedly about having minors in his establishment. One Lennoxville parent commented that it had been a long time coming, and blamed Charland “for not being more responsible.” Charland faced a number of charges ranging from fines to a suspension of his license. None of it came to pass. The raid was the the first full-scale drug squad operation to be carried out in Lennoxville, and it would be the last for some time.
At the time of the Disco Bob raid, Leo Hamel had been Lennoxville’s Chief of Police for just three months. The 45-year old career law enforcement officer previously served as chief in the small Quebec towns of Omerville and Sawyerville. Former chief, Kasimir Kryszak was forced out on February 14, Valentine’s Day, after a series of sexual assaults on the Champlain College campus were met with police bungling and indifference. Kryszak was once described to me as pugnacious, a former Polish boxing champ. Hamel was less sure of himself, but he might of come off as a little too forceful for his participation in the drug raid – sure, scare some kids, round up the usual suspects. But don’t make an event of it, and whatever you do, stay out of the papers. Very quickly, Hamel found himself in the cross-hairs of Lennoxville Mayor, Cecil Dougherty, and was asked to tone it down.
By 1980 there was a lot of soul searching about the very necessity of a local police force in Lennoxville. Shouldn’t the whole mess be handed over to the Surete du Quebec? At a town hall, locals questioned the value of the force which cost each taxpayer $70 per year. One resident added that “taxpayers would certainly see their theft insurance premiums increase if the municipal authorities decided to divest themselves of their police service.” Taxes and insurance premiums: it had been barely a year since one of their college students turned up dead in a ditch.
Some were critical of Police Chief Hamel, stating that he “lacked leadership”, and his officers were “too familiar” with residents. Still, it seemed there was no pleasing anyone, in the next breath someone suggested Hamel “be more involved and to go out more often in order to listen to the population.” Leo was definitely not a people person. One former Lennoxville policeman told me he had all the offices bugged at the headquarters, and he kept a case of hand grenades in the truck of his patrol car. Passively indecisive or paranoid maniac; just who was this Leo Hamel?
Most of the grousing focused on “town and gown” concerns. Gilles Roberge ascended the orange crate:
“We receive from the police officers of Lennoxville a personal service that we could never obtain with the Sûreté du Québec…. It is worth what it costs. It is therefore difficult to explain why there is so much incentive on the cost of this service.”
“La population de Lennoxville souhaite le maintien du service de police… mais amélioré”, Louise St. Pierre, La Tribune, May 26, 1980
Léo Paul Valcourt argued against police expansion, saying that five officers should be enough for the town, not eight, and pointing out that nearly 65 percent of the people of Lennoxville were over 55. Besides, it was the students, not locals, who largely occupied the police – right, and those pesky criminals.
“the extremely sensitive nerve”
The Champlain College & Bishop’s University 1978 Student Handbook advised students to “Stay away from ‘Charle’s’ Restaurant also on Queen St., as it is expensively freeze-dried.” while adding that Disco Chez Robert was, “the burg’s only off-campus dancing spot. You may find the crowd a bit young.” A friend who attended Champlain told me it was the bar of last resort; when The Golden Lion closed, everyone walked a block to Disco Bob’s which stayed open late into the morning. Recently a former student from Champlain in the ’80s contacted me about his memories of Yvon Charland:
“Charlie was by then an older guy, dressed like a French Canadian Herb Tarlek (a la WKRP) – Grey hair greased back, shoes matched the belt. Being a bar owner, there was no expectation that he was a fine upstanding citizen. In ’88 my buddy was a football player at Champlain, and picked up some work as a bouncer at Chez Bob’s. That evolved into bartending. It was a rough place, and Charlie wouldn’t hesitate to help the staff sort out conflicts…. when he moved to Montreal, Charlie gave him a poker machine as a kind of parting gift. He still has it. So when I heard Charlie was a shady dude, I was intrigued, but not entirely surprised. Just a vibe, I guess.”
The raid at Disco Bob’s wasn’t an isolated event, but part of a series of 30 searches carried out in Townships commercial establishments. Eight municipalities in the Estrie region were part of the operation which included municipal police forces, agents from the Sûreté du Québec, and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In a press release, police authorities stated that the aim of the operation was “to seize slot machines and any object having or that could be used in the perpetration of a crime.” Recall that Mario Vallieres told the court in the Fecteau trial that drugs were pushed in amusement establishments (slots and gambling). Disco Bob’s had an array of games including slot and gambling machines.
La Tribune guessed that the June raids of slot palaces precipitated the murders of Fecteau, Grimard and Bergeron, and were ultimately about drug and child prostitution ( you gotta wonder about Champlain College students questioning the age of the crowd at Disco Bob’s ):
“When La Tribune presented these arguments or this analysis concerning the settling of scores to the police authorities, they preferred to remain silent and make no comments…. with the series of searches carried out at the beginning of June, the police will perhaps have touched the extremely sensitive nerve of a kind of local organization…because nothing suggests for the moment that all it has roots coming from far away.”
“Indices d’un grand nettoyage dans un certain milieu louche?”, La Tribune, July 8, 1978
Corporal Patrick Hall of the Sûreté du Québec’s drug, alcohol and morality squad headed up the raid on Chez Robert’s. Recall that it was Hall’s phone number that was found in Grimard’s pocket at the dump site on Astbury Road. In testimony at Coroner Jean-Pierre Rivard’s inquiry from September 1978, Hall said he had known Raymond Grimard for five years and that during their frequent meetings, because of the numerous information the double murder victim had accumulated during his criminal career, he would occasionally give news of the goings-on in the underworld: “He said that he was doing well but that what he was doing was okay, that he had wanted to hang up the gloves.”
It’s an interesting statement, for Grimard did not seem like the bread-and-butter ‘police informant’ some police had painted him as being, only a minor player, who occasionally shared information with police. According to a relative of Grimard’s with whom I’ve communicated, “Raymond was killed because he wanted to get out of the “milieu” and start a new life.”
While Yvon Charland ran the Charles Restaurant on the ground floor on Queen Street, his son, Robert Charland was in charge of the upstairs establishment, the Chez Robert Disco Bar. And I’ll note here that Regis Lachance had a decades-long relationship with Yvon Charland – he worked at the Queen street restaurant when it was a Pats Fried Chicken franchise all through its transition to The Charles in the early 1970s and into the 1980s. For a time Regis and his other brother, Jean-Claude, also owned a restaurant called Claude Submarine at 1126 Rue Belvedere which was – you guessed it – a block away from Rue Short, where Grimard and Bergeron were last seen alive. Seriously – did anyone eat a sandwich at Claude Submarine? Did anyone ever grab a freeze-dried supper at The Charles? We know what these places were, and why you maintain a failing business.
The 1983 attack
The problem with Luc Gregoire isn’t just his age – that in 1977, he was only seventeen, and therefore too young to have committed the brutal murder of Louise Camirand; if he had a hand in it, he would have more than likely been groomed and accompanied by an older partner. The problem is that he shouldn’t have been in the Townships area when the other attack occurred in January 1983.
At around three a.m., Tuesday, January 18, 1983 a first year Bishop’s University student returning from a run to the Perrette’s convenience store was attacked in the parking lot of the Golden Lion Pub at the corner of College and Queen streets. A man described as being approximately 5 feet 11 inches tall, with a slight build and light-textured beard grabbed the student and tried to drag her toward a waiting car, where the driver was waiting by the open passenger door. The student hit him several times, kicked him in the groin and ran. The story first broke in the college newspaper where the editor commented, “We may live in a small community, but an incident early Tuesday morning shows we’re not immune to the realities of city life.” Further, the incident was reported to police, but “an officer on duty Thursday night said he was completely unaware of it.” – Again.
So this woman reported the incident to the Lennoxville Police, who said at the time of the attack that a “composite sketch should be available soon.” The Golden Lion was a block from Disco Bob’s. College and Queen is where Theresa Allore was thought to have hitchhiked from on the day of her disappearance. At three o’clock in the morning on January 18, 1983, Luc Gregoire should not have been lurking in the shadows of Lennoxville. In November 1982, he was granted day parole for the 1981 parking garage attack of Nicole Couture. Gregoire was not granted full parole until January 31, 1983, but, hey, it’s Quebexico, does anyone play by the rules? Nevertheless, in January 18, 1983 someone short in stature attacked a Bishop’s student in The Lion parking lot. Was it Luc Gregoire and someone else? Jean Charland and someone else? Whoever it was, vehicles occupied by multiple assailants appear to have been roaming the region unhindered over the span of two separate decades.
“A Drug Story”
I’ve written before about an article concerning my sister that appeared in the Journal de Montreal in December, 1978. “DISPARITION MYSTÉRIEUSE: UNE HISTOIRE DE DROGUE?”, even a person only speaking English can decipher what that means, but specifically the translation can be tricky. It can be interpreted as, “MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE: HISTORY OF A DRUGGIE?”. But it probably means, “MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE: A DRUG STORY?”
During the five and a half months when she was missing this was the only time the Journal de Montréal covered the case. There were no lead-up articles in November 1978, no follow-up after that one publication. The result was immediate. Readers received the message that if the matter was drug related, it was a personal matter, something to be resolved by the family, nothing that needed community involvement. Theresa’s missing person investigation died right there, on December 20, 1978.
I’ve often wondered if the article was planted by police as a means to discredit the victim. That carries more weight now, with all we know about the Laplante trail, and ensuring his conviction, and keeping the criminal history of the prosecution’s star witness, Regis Lachance hidden. This is certainly not unprecedented, there was no writer attached to the piece, it was written anonymously. In his Commission of Inquiry on Police Operations in Quebec from the 1980s, Jean Keable cited that a journalist with the Journal de Montréal, Pierre Bouchard, was a “collaborator” of the police services in the 1970s. So journalists working for police interests, coroners working for police interests, all of this was on the table.
The article states that, “Lennoxville police chief, Mr. Leo Hamel wonders if the disappearance of 19-year old Theresa Allore might not be drug related.” and continues, “Hamel has doubled his efforts in his investigation, and that has led him to search more particularly in the current world of drugs, which is very active in the Sherbrooke region.” Hamel denied ever giving the interview, calling it “pure fabrication” – sure, but this is from the guy who allegedly wire-tapped his own officers, so who knows what was fact or fabrication?
What if Hamel was right? Better still, what if everyone knew he was right, including the Surete du Quebec? Did the answers lie “in the current world of drugs“? After the article appeared, Hamel became less agressive, he was effectively muzzled, mostly likely by the SQ and Lennoxville and Mayor Dougherty. February would find the police chief chasing some bogus leads in Montreal, not Sherbrooke. But Hamel was the first to go on the record that he thought it was a murder, and others did not:
“Runaway or murder are two plausible hypotheses. I am more inclined towards the second hypothesis while some of my colleagues believe more towards the first. “
Leo Hamel: “DISPARITION MYSTERIEUSE : UNE HISTOIRE DE DROGUE ?”, Journal de Montreal, 20 Decembre, 1978
My mom commented that by the time Theresa’s body was found, Leo had gone completely grey, as if he’d seen a ghost. Ultimately, do we come back around to where we started? Not a drug overdose, but a drug story in which Theresa Allore played the part of collateral damage?
Let me roll it
Flash forward a decade. Another raid at Chez Bob’s Disco Bar on Queen Street designed to “nip student delinquency in the bud”. This time, a dozen kids are rounded up and hauled to the police station, to the delight of the 17 police officers involved – they are working overtime. This time it is Yvon Charland’s son, Robert Charland who is charged and subject to fines and a license suspension. By 1989 Robert Charland is the owner of Chez Bob’s. For the Charland’s, you could be implicated in drugs, illegal gambling, theft and robbery, sexual assaults, even murder, and life in Lennoxville just rolled on.
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