CRIME

Blood on the cross

A priest’s savage murder causes panic

GREG W. TAYLOR November 27 1989
CRIME

Blood on the cross

A priest’s savage murder causes panic

GREG W. TAYLOR November 27 1989

Blood on the cross

CRIME

A priest’s savage murder causes panic

For many New Brunswickers living near the mouth of the broad Miramichi River, waiting has become the hardest part. By the start of last week, three local women had been brutally tortured and murdered, and three other people had been violently attacked in their own homes in the space of 5½ months. In each case, police named a local man, Allan Legere, a convicted killer who escaped from custody last May, as a prime suspect. But they appeared helpless to end the violence. Then, on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 16, there was another victim: Rev. James V. Smith, 69, a slender, whitehaired Roman Catholic priest described by his bishop, Rev. Edward Troy of Saint John, as “a man of peace.” Smith was found beaten to death in his Chatham Head rectory less than two blocks from the house where Legere was raised and just eight kilometres from where the first victim died last May.

And this time, the violence brought both renewed fear and a narrowing circle of suspicion. For the first time, RCMP officers confirmed that they held hard evidence linking Legere to the first three deaths—and added that he was a central suspect in the latest murder. But an admittedly frustrated RCMP Sgt. Ernest Munden acknowledged as well what many local people had long feared: “Everyone is a potential victim.”

The terror began a little more than three weeks after Legere escaped the custody of prison guards escorting him on a visit to a Moncton hospital on May 3. On May 29, one or more assailants attacked and killed 75-year-old shopkeeper Annie Flam in her Chatham home. Then, on Oct. 14, firefighters called to a blaze in a home in Newcastle, directly across the Miramichi River from Chatham Head, discovered the brutalized bodies of sisters Linda Lou and Donna Daughney, 41 and 45. Both sisters

had been sexually assaulted. _

Finally last week, RCMP responding to a worried parishioner’s call found Smith’s bloodied body in his kitchen,

15 minutes after he was due to begin saying a 7 p.m. mass in the neighboring Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church.

At a news conference the next day, police said that the murder scene had yielded a variety of clues. Although Smith had apparently died as a result of what Munden de-

scribed as “a vicious attack,” a safe found open in the rectory suggested that robbery may have been a motive in the murder. A red wooden ladder, stolen from a neighbor and possibly used to enter the rectory, was found leaning against an adjoining garage wall. Police also said that whoever killed the priest may have been in the rectory for as long as 24 hours— although they refused to say why they considered that a possibility. Smith’s car, meanwhile, was discovered 80 km to the north, parked at a Bathurst, N.B., motel. But Munden would not confirm reports that a witness had spotted a man with long, dark hair driving the priest’s blue 1984 Oldsmobile away from

the rectory shortly before his body was found.

At the same Friday news conference, investigators also revealed that they had solid evidence linking Legere to the first three killings. While Munden declined to say what that evidence was, unidentified sources have told local reporters that new so-called genetic fingerprinting techniques—which use genetic material recovered from samples of body tissue or semen—have helped in the investigations. In the latest murder, however, the RCMP would classify Legere only as “a suspect.”

And as police using tracking dogs combed the area around Smith’s church, they also called on local residents to give them more help in tracking down Legere. Until his escape, the 41-year-old Legere had been serving a life sentence for the June, 1986, slaying of John Glendenning, 66, of Black River Bridge, 30 km southwest of Newcastle. Since then, the muscular fugitive, who has a detailed knowledge of the hills that surround his childhood home, has become “an almost mythical figure” among fearful local residents, remarked Rick MacLean, editor of the local Miramichi Leader. “I have been told everything but that he can walk through walls.” Added Newcastle RCMP spokesman Munden: “Legere is one of the most dangerous and wanted criminals in Canada.”

At the news conference, however, Munden said that i investigators believed at I least one other man may be 5 aiding Legere. And he re| leased a composite drawing 3 of the possible accessory: a $ man six feet tall, between 22 and 25, thin, with reddish hair

and a rough complexion. The

same day, a $50,000 reward raised privately by a local Crimestoppers association was matched by another $50,000 raised by the provincial association. The money is offered for information leading to Legere’s capture.

Ironically, the tension on the Miramichi had lessened slightly just one day before Smith’s death, when police announced that they had charged a man in connection with three earlier violent, but nonfatal, assaults in Newcastle. Allard Joseph Vienneau, 30, appeared in court in Newcastle on Wednesday on eight counts of assault, armed robbery and other charges. At the time, Newcastle Police Chief Dan Newton said, “Hopefully, this will relieve the strain on the Miramichi.” But as Newton’s frightened neighbors waited for news of Legere’s capture—or yet another grisly attack—that hope seemed tragically premature.

GREG W. TAYLOR with correspondents’ reports