Twenty-Four Short Films about Quebexico
"first mouthed to be last swallowed"
What should we make of the parable of Saad Gabr, the wealthy and mysterious Arab businessman who appeared in the Townships in the mid-seventies, began purchasing millions of dollars of real estate in downtown Sherbrooke, and most notably in the sleepy village of North Hatley, then abruptly vanished? Dubbed the “Sheik of Massawippi”, Gabr built a multimillion dollar palatial home locals called “Bagdad-sur-le-Lac” and the “Gabrmosque”.
Gabr once told the Wall Street Journal that he wanted to turn North Hatley into a high tech business centre, but later in an interview with Radio Canada he revealed that his real motivation lay 40 kilometers away in Highwater, Quebec, the border town straddling Canada and the U.S.A. Gabr was fascinated by the equally enigmatic Gerald Bull ( Bull was believed to have been assassinated by the Israeli Massad in 1990) and his Space Research Corporation – once a pipe dream for Canada getting into advanced military weapons game, but by the 1980s, long mothballed and returned to grass fields and crumbling concrete. Gabr told Radio Canada he wanted to acquire Bull’s long gun technology to “shoot down satellites that were spying on him and his friends”, but the Canadian government had long suspected Gabr’s ultimate goal was to sell the technology to interests in the Middle East, and may have run him out of the country. He disappeared in 1987, abandoning all his properties and leaving a trail of unpaid property tax bills.
Others speculated that Gabr chose North Hatley to establish a safe-haven in the west. The Middle East had become increasingly unstable, and he and his friends didn’t want to end up like the Shah of Iran, on the run without a home. All of this is to say, in case you haven’t noticed, we have now come full circle back to where we started, with a military aircraft crashing through Lake Memphremagog, that may have had a clandestine connection to some secret mission involving Gerald Bull, and his abandoned research facility that stood just 15 kilometers away as the crow flies in Highwater. A little roundabout, I know, but this is my attempt at landing a plane before you learn to fly it.
What is it you want? Real Estate.
I am less interested in Gabr’s North Hatley connections and more intrigued by his onetime downtown Sherbrooke real estate holdings. In 1982 Gabr purchased the Auberge des Gouverneurs hotel and two Wellington Street office buildings. At the corner of Wellington and Frontenac – the former home to a Steinberg’s grocery store – the Egyptian born businessman began constructing an Islamic institute, or was it a “technology centre”? As long as the money was flowing, Mayor Jacques O’Bready was sure to not ask too many questions.
By 1983, things got ugly when local hotelier and North Hatley Councilman, Robert Gagnon accused Gabr of deliberately setting out “to lower property values by allowing buildings to deteriorate ” and calling Gabr “an international arms dealer”. Gabr threatened legal action (he was already suing La Tribune, so what was another million?), but what did that matter anyway, local developers lined up with counter-suits, with the cities of both Sherbrooke and Montreal joining the fray with unpaid tax disputes.
The tale of Saad Gabr smacks of more than a little Townships xenophobia. The wealthy Molsons and Bronfmans and Donald Sutherlands love to live here unnoticed. It’s fine when Hilary and Bill roll up at Manoir Hovey in their Chevy Suburban motorcade, or Johnny Depp summers in Ayers Cliff, but don’t dare call attention to your celebrity. Everyone is so toney until your community winds up in the headlines. Gabr was not only an outsider – an Egyptian-born Moroccan, for the Townships that was waaaayy outside – he committed the unforgivable offense of calling attention to the region by regularly having his name in the papers. Like Gabr, I too am a Townships social pariah, condemned to carry into the region the scarlet stank branding of “murder” and “serial killer”.
By the end of 1984, Gabr was forced to abandon his dream of an Islamic technology centre in the heart of downtown, and prepared to sell the property… to the City of Sherbrooke. The deal was controversial, with opponents deeming the sale price of $1.3 million above market. The city couldn’t afford it, and was planning a special referendum to put tax payers on the hook for a 15-year term loan, further inflating the cost to $1.6 million. Fortunately the deal never went through. The Quebec government seized the property for unpaid debts, and Gabr was eventually forced to sell the building to a Virginia businessman for $910,000.
What irked local merchants the most was that for years they had been planning to revitalize downtown Sherbrooke with their own Place Hôtel de Ville project that included a cultural center. It had taken them a decade to develop the strategy with the local chamber of commerce only coming on board in 1979. Now these efforts were “swept away” by the city council in a “fait accompli”, with the arrival of some foreigner and his handful of magic beans and promises that appeared anything but strategic and, at its worst, seemed delusional.
Vilify Saad Gabr to your heart’s content, but the point is, who owned the Wellington properties prior to his purchase? People like Yvon Charland and the Lachance brothers, or cops who had speculated on burned out buildings destroyed in an arson job that most likely had their hand in it. Wasn’t this the same downtown business district formerly torched on a regular basis, in a town where arson reached its apex in 1978? And why do anything about it when the police’s chief arson investigator, Normand Plourde was in on the game. It’s a classic case of manipulating police resources to crash land values – buy, then sell at a profit. Don’t follow Saad Gabr, follow the money. A lot of people got wealthy off those burned out properties.
Let’s play Monopoly
Just how far could arson corruption possibly extend? Consider the story of Enquêtes spécialisées, a private detective agency started in 1999 by three retired cops, Tom McConnell, Réal Châteauneuf and Patrick Hall. Two of them you know; Chateauneuf was the SQ agent who set up the arson entrapment of Jean Charland at the Aloha Motel. Patrick Hall, was the lead detective on the raid at Disco Bob’s. In fact, it was Chateauneuf who found the piece of paper on Raymond Grimard’s body with the phone number of “Tricia Hall” or Patrick Hall, more than likely planted evidence that lead to the false arrest of Fernand Laplante.
According to McConnell, he got the idea to start a private investigative firm because of his “realization that potential clients had to call on outside investigators” because police weren’t available. Asked to explain this anomaly of why people wouldn’t simply go to the police the three amigos, replied that they considered the police a complement to their work. In addition to providing assistance with “missing persons or the location of property”, Enquêtes spécialisées real expertise came in the area of… wait for it… insurance fraud:
“Last year, we saved the insurance companies some $250,000 in unfounded or overpaid claims. We also do a lot of work within factories or industries, particularly with the issue of in-house theft.”
Three highly efficient investigators, Pierre Saint-Jacques, La Tribune, December 29, 2000
It’s sort of like the fox guarding the hen house, isn’t it.
Where’s my prize?
Tom McConnell had been the head of public affairs at the SQ. Like Michel L’Italien, he did a stint at Sherbrooke University teaching police procedure before embarking on the private investigation enterprise. In the article, La Tribune reporter Pierre Saint-Jacques gushed-on about how the local police were really like celebrities:
“We must admit that these men and women of the SQ who occupy this function of link between the patrol officers, the investigating officers, in short between the police organization and the media, become in time as well known as the stars of the small screen.”
My simple question would be, when should a cop ever be a celebrity? But it’s true, I’ve known more retired cops who looked back on their careers as if they were Serpico, when in fact they were more probably the Paul Blart mall cop of their era. I know one guy who compares himself to the lone Ronin, standing up for the Montreal community during the tumult of the late 1960s. The only police officer I ever knew who truly was entrenched in the shit of policing – in the biker wars and Operation Carcajou – looked like Mr. Peabody, and that’s sort of the point. The real Serpicos don’t call attention to themselves or their work. They go about their jobs with a quiet dignity, and you never see their names or pictures in the papers.
Roch Gaudreault – he of the fabricated evidence, who perjured himself in the Michel Belley case – also joined Enquêtes spécialisées upon his retirement with the SQ. All through his career Gaudreault was treated like a celebrity in the La Tribune’s, Carnet King Wellington – the local Hedda Hopper-esque gossip column of the day . Here’s a sample from 1984:
“Even if his co-workers claim the contrary, it seems that Corporal Roch Gaudreault is all the rage with his salt and pepper beard… so much so that he has refused until now to put the razor to it. … “I am expecting to receive a petition of 1,000 names suggesting that it be kept.””
La Tribune, July 28, 1984
There are bon mots about Roch joining the ‘celebrity’ half-marathon, and how he once tried for hours to retrieve an envelop he accidentally dropped in a Canada Post box. How in the 1970s he comically had to make several attempts “to install an above-ground swimming pool at his residence”, and how the young SQ officer once spent “three days and three nights bailing out his luxurious finished basement which had suffered a flood.” Wait a minute… swimming pools and luxury basements… how does a junior officer afford that?
Far from ever being punished for their investigative failures, these officers were rewarded for their years of mediocre service. In 1984, Roch Gaudreault received the Police Exemplary Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada. Real Chateauneuf received the honor in 1986; Patrick Hall and Jacques Filion -from the Carole Fecteau case, by the way, this is the 44 anniversary of her unsolved murder – in 1985; and Noel Bolduc, who was the lead on the Grimard and Bergeron, investigation, in 1988.
The Surete du Quebec is in retrograde
I’ve provided a long list of Caporal Roch Gaudreault’s investigative shortcomings before, there’s no need to go over that again. I will say that recently, the current SQ has begun to plow old ground in my sister’s case, bringing up long dismissed theories in what I think is an attempt to gaslight and scorch any recent progress.
For instance, they brought up the notion that the Chemin de la Compton area where her body was found may not be the dump site, suggesting that her body may have travelled in the water where she was found. The notion is absurd. It is a horseshoe shaped body of water, approximately 1,000 feet end-to-end. It is essentially a land-locked drainage ditch. It does not flow into any other tributary. The SQ then gave me this long story of how they once had a case where a body travelled down the Francois River, through dams and locks until it reached the Saint Lawrence, where by that time all the clothing had come off. Their point was simple: might Theresa’s clothing have come off in the water? Again: 1,000 feet, land locked, for most of the year the horseshoe is dry.
The Surete du Quebec is spinning in retrograde, going back to the days of Roch Gaudreault’s suggestion that wild dogs carried Theresa’s wallet 16 kilometers, and precisely deposited it at the side of the gravel road next to an apple orchard. When I met with detectives last December in Boucherville, there was some small talk before we began our meeting. One of the guys was talking about how he had done is undergraduate studies at the University of Montreal. The other guy offered that he’d studied at the University of Sherbrooke. He asked me rather pointedly, “Do you know who taught me police procedure there?”. Except I didn’t let him finish. Mid-sentence I stated flatly, “Roch Gaudreault”. Everyone got quiet after that.
After six months of reporting on the saga of Sherbrooke, and the Lachance brothers, when it was time for the SQ to step up and do their part, they threw me to the wolves. Far from stepping in and actively investigating, I was told to contact police in the U.S. or “Maybe your lawyer Me Rancourt could guide you?” No matter, I trumped that. I’m an American citizen, I contacted the F.B.I. The F.B.I. don’t fuck around. The F.B.I. won’t be bullied and bribed by some rural Canadian underworld.
In the wake of the publication of Wish You Were Here, a lot of people with ties to the story were gone. My father, and one time chief suspect for the police, Ian Catterill, and Terry Roth, a close friend of Theresa’s, all died within months. Leo Hamel – the Lennoxville police chief who co-lead the raid on Disco Robert’s, the one authority figure who seemed to be aware of what was really going on at the time and had an unsettled conscious about it – died a little over a year ago. We had arranged to meet prior to his death at his home in Montreal, but Leo went deaf before we could get together. He literally lost his ability to hear. What he heard, and may have had to tell remains a mystery. Patrick Hall died much earlier, in 2013 in a head-on collision on a Quebec autoroute north of Sherbrooke. An accident, but in the version I’ve been told, Hall deliberately steered his vehicle into oncoming traffic.
There are a few other loose ends worth mentioning. In 2000, mother of five, Lynn Raîche was charged in the stabbing death of Josée Lestage in an apartment on Sherbrooke’s Rue Papineau. Police found Raîche hiding out at Paysanne Motel in Lennoxville, and believed the murder was the result of a love triangle which centered on Raîche’s husband. What La Tribune – or any newspaper – failed to mention was that the cheating husband was Gerald Lachance.
More riddles. What should we make of the murder of Elaine Dussault, the younger sister of Fernand Laplante’s marriage-of-convenience wife, Claire Dussault? In early August, 1988, Elaine Dussault was visiting Claire who by this time was living in Ottawa. On her way back to Sherbrooke, she dropped in on another sister, France, who was living in Montreal. On Monday morning, August 8, twenty-six-year-old Elaine Dussault was discovered in the backyard of a Montreal police detective’s house in the fashionable Parc Maisonneuve district on Rue Viau. She had been strangled with her clothing, then dragged onto the sergeant detective’s property. Missing were her purse and identity papers. Another sister, Manon, committed suicide in 1979, jumping out of an apartment window.
Dreams of leaving
In mid-October 1984, a joint task force comprised of the SQ and a Montreal SWAT team raided the Gitans’ Lennoxville “clubhouse” (presumably the Hells Angels bunker) in an event that appeared to anticipate the violence and mass murder that would unfold there just five months later with the assassination of five north chapter members. In conjunction with this raid, the Surete su Quebec and the Lennoxville Police busted a property on Dunant Street in the Belvedere Heights area in south Sherbrooke yielding illegal weapons, drugs, money and $130,000 in stolen jewelry. There they also found twenty-six year old Louise Legault living like an “abused prisoner” in a makeshift dungeon, police describing her plight as living “like a sex slave”. All of this means that the lessons learned from CECO were forgotten; and the problems borne from the early days of the bikers of Sherbrooke, and the “biker priest”, Father Jean Salvail, of Bo-Boy Beaulieu and the Dirty Reich, and the Night of the Long Knives, never really went away, they just stood dormant for a time and moved underground.
The logical thing for police to do at this point would be to go to Sherbrooke and question people. Not just people who knew Regis Lachance, but former police officers, especially former police officers. Many are dead, but I believe Noel Bolduc, Jacques Filion, Real Chateauneuf and Roch Gaudreault are very much alive. But the modern Surete du Quebec will never do this because for the past 18 years their cold case efforts have been nothing but a dumbshow. They are a demonstration of police investigation, not actual investigating.
But let’s be honest, they were never going to give me what I really wanted. My approach would be to burn the whole thing down and start over from scratch. Don’t just question the brave people who came forward in this tale, interrogate, then prosecute police. Scorch the earth. Who would ever do that? Who is truly appreciative that I have bothered to dig up all these old ghost stories in the first place? No one ever thanked Thomas Stockmann for informing the town that the community well was poisoned. The proof is in their paralysis. Sherbrooke’s local newspaper, La Tribune has been aware of this affair for months. Like you, each week I have been providing updates to the senior editors of the paper. At first, I was acknowledged, and told they would get back with me. When the story got messy and presented a bad message for the town, they became silent. No ink has been spilled in this affair, which is undoubtedly local news, I’d say a little more important than whether or not they’ll be fireworks at this weekend’s fête nationale, but then I’m not the editor. Fireworks are important too, why can’t it be both? Why is it either / or?
One thing is certain, I’ve had my say, I’ve laid out my message. As safe as eggs, I’ll not be returning to Quebexico.
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