Postscript to a nightmare

JOHN DeMONT October 14 1991

Postscript to a nightmare

JOHN DeMONT October 14 1991

Postscript to a nightmare


An unaccustomed quiet prevailed in the courtroom in Burton, N.B., a tiny community 25 km southeast of Fredericton, as a phalanx of RCMP officers chained the feet of an accused multiple murderer to the floor in the prisoner’s dock. But within minutes, the dark-haired, bespectacled prisoner, Allan Legere, resumed the string of outbursts that have punctuated his trial. His patience finally running out last week, New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench Judge David Dickson ordered Legere removed—even then failing to still the snarled commentary. As guards led him away, Legere, 43, shot back a final defiant insult: “Up yours, judge.” The surreal atmosphere prevailed outside the courthouse as well. There, 53-year-old Caroline Norwood, Legere’s ex-fiancée, stood peddling pen-and-ink drawings made by the accused. “These are from his Dorchester period,” she said, referring to the federal prison in Dorchester, N.B., where Legere served time for an earlier murder conviction.

It was Day 25 in Legere’s trial for the brutal 1989 murders of four people in the Miramichi River area of New Brunswick—killings that

caused panic in the region. The frequently bizarre trial both repels and fascinates the dozens of journalists and spectators who have squeezed into the tiny courtroom each day since proceedings began on Aug. 26. They watch and listen as the prosecution attempts to convince the men and women of the jury that Legere tortured and mutilated his victims before beating them so savagely that several of them choked to death on their own vomit. Legere has pleaded not guilty to all the killings. With the prosecution alone expected to call more than 240 witnesses, the trial could run until mid-November. But last week, prosecutors began laying the groundwork for the most critical aspect of their case: trying to prove that Legere left his genetic fingerprints at the scenes of the grisly murders.

Whatever the jury decides, Legere’s reputation among the residents of his native Miramichi Valley is already the source of dread. Legere, a former tavern bouncer who grew up fatherless, had a penchant for violence and a lengthening criminal record that made him the object of wary respect among the region’s rural woodcutters and village shopkeepers. Then, in January, 1987, he was convicted

of murder. He received a life sentence after a jury found that he and two accomplices robbed, tortured and beat to death an elderly shopkeeper named John Glendenning at his store in the hamlet of Black River Bridge.

The memory of that gruesome crime was revived in May, 1989, when Legere escaped from the maximum-security prison in Renous, N.B. Shackled in handcuffs and a body chain, Legere had been driven from the prison to a Moncton hospital for treatment of an ear infection. Once inside the hospital, he used a makeshift key that he had fabricated in his cell to free himself from his shackles. Wielding a television antenna, which he had hidden in his rectum, as a weapon, he rushed past his startled guards and escaped.

The murders began three weeks later. On May 29, firefighters answering an alarm in Chatham, N.B., 40 km northeast of Renous, discovered the brutalized body of 75-year-old Annie Flam in the smouldering ruin of her modest home. Then, on Oct. 14, volunteers fighting a blaze in a two-storey frame house in nearby Newcastle found the bodies of Donna and Linda Daughney, sisters aged 45 and 41, in an upstairs bedroom; both women had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death before their home was set on fire. Finally, on Nov. 16, RCMP officers discovered the body of Rev. James Smith, 69, who had been beaten to death in his rectory in Chatham Head, directly across the Miramichi River from Newcastle. The Roman Catholic priest had 13 broken ribs, as well as stab wounds and head injuries.

The murders spread terror throughout the Miramichi area. In Newcastle, people double-locked their doors, bought guard dogs and burglar alarms and slept with their lights blazing and guns and knives beside their beds.

Their fear deepened as the police, who had launched one of the largest manhunts in Canadian history, seemed powerless to capture the murderer. Finally, on Nov.

24, the seven-month chase ended when the police arrested Legere—who had been living in the area’s dense woods—as he made a dash in a hijacked transport truck towards the airport in Chatham. Had he reached the airport, Legere told one witness, he intended to hijack a propeller-driven airplane to fly to Iran.

Following his arrest, Legere was returned to Renous, confined in isolation in a seven-foot-by-10-foot steel-plated cell. From there he regularly pens letters to New Brunswick newspapers in which he claims that the publicity surrounding his case makes it impossible for him to get a fair trial. Legere’s notoriety acquired a new dimension last October when Caroline Norwood, the former editor of the Digby, N.S., Courier who first met him during a court appearance last year, announced that she was leaving her husband to marry the murder suspect, even though he was already serving a life sentence. In February, Norwood announced that the engagement had ended.

Now, Legere’s six-week trial has put him firmly back in the media spotlight. Taking a chronological approach to the case, prosecutors have attempted to reconstruct events at each of the three murder scenes in an effort to prove that all of them were the work of the same criminal. Jury members have viewed photographs and heard graphic descriptions of the victim’s mutilated bodies: two of them had been tortured with knives while all four were beaten so savagely that their noses and jaws shattered. Declared one witness, Roy Geikie, a Newcastle neighbor of the Daughney sisters: “I knew both of them girls real well. But

when they brought them bodies out, I couldn’t recognize them.” The most gripping testimony has been that of Nina Flam, now 63, who escaped with bums to 40 per cent of her body on the same night that her sister-in-law Annie was murdered in their Chatham house. Her voice cracking with emotion, the plump grandmother told the court how her masked assailant repeatedly raped and beat her and kept her tied to her bed for several hours while he roamed the house looking for money. She recalled that the attacker said “the bad guy will be blamed for this” while raping her. After he lit a fire at the foot of her bed, Flam said, “he tucked me into bed like a little child and told me I was going to die.”

In building their case, the team of three prosecutors produced a number of witnesses who saw a man fitting Legere’s general description in the Chatham area after Annie Flam’s murder. Indeed, one witness, Joseph Ivory, recounted that he and his wife went on a wild chase through Chatham a few nights after Flam's murder in pursuit of a man they saw lurking in a backyard. The next day, near the site of the chase, police recovered spectacles that now form a key part of the Crown’s evidence against Legere. Opticians testified during the trial that they had prepared the glasses for Legere two years earlier.

Against the intricate web of prosecution testimony, Legere’s lawyer has attempted to argue that his client is the victim of mistaken identity. But his cross-examination of Crown witnesses has repeatedly been interrupted by Legere’s own erratic behavior. The husky, blue-eyed prisoner—who wears his shoulderlength dark brown hair either loose or in a ponytail—frequently breaks into proceedings with rambling comments and abuse directed at Judge Dickson. On one occasion, Legere told Dickson: “You’re just a prejudiced old fart anyway. You should have been off the bench 10 years ago.” Last week, the trial took two more bizarre turns. First, Dickson dismissed one of the male jurors, saying that he had learned through police surveillance that the juror’s girlfriend had been associating with a known supporter of Legere’s innocence. Then, Dickson ordered Legere out of the court indefinitely— leaving him to watch proceedings over closed-circuit TV in a cell.

The same day, prosecutors began to introduce the evidence that is at the heart of the case against Legere laid out at the trial’s start. Prosecutors will attempt to prove that DNA—the genetic code found in cells that determines each individual’s characteristics—extracted from semen found in Nina Flam and the Daughney sisters places Legere at the scenes of their murders. DNA typing has been used frequently in courts in the United States and Britain. “Scientifically, there is no question about the reliability of genetic testing,” says John Waye, a molecular geneticist at McMaster University in Hamilton, who will appear as an expert witness for the Crown. But the technique has been tested in only a handful of Canadian trials, and experts remain uncertain about how a jury will interpret the sophisticated evidence.

With that issue still unsettled—and Legere's guilt still to be established—the only certainty in the tiny courtroom in Burton is the ongoing horror of the events that gripped the Miramichi for six terrifying months in 1989.