THE ANT HILL KIDS
ROCH THERIAULT SAW HIMSELF AS GOD’S EMISSARY. BUT TO HIS VICTIMS, HE WAS A BEAST FROM HELL.
One psychiatrist recently described him as “a Renaissance man” with a “bright, inquisitive and sensitive” nature. Another said that he possesses “an intelligence that is much higher than average.” But on Sept. 28, 1988, Roch Thériault displayed none of those admirable qualities. A self-styled prophet who lived with eight “wives” and two male disciples on an isolated commune 100 km northeast of Toronto, Thériault, 41, had spent the morning drinking and picking fights with his worshipful followers. Suddenly, he assumed an eerie calm—and, as he had many times in the past, asked whether any of his disciples required “medical treatment.” Within minutes, 32-year-old Solange Boilard, who complained of stomach problems, lay naked on a wooden table in one of the commune’s log cabins. Wearing red velour robes and a gold-colored crown—the symbols of his proclaimed role as “King of the Israelites”—Thériault punched Boilard in the stomach, jammed a plastic tube up her rectum and performed a crude enema with molasses and olive oil. Then, as she lay silent, he sliced open her abdomen with a freshly sharpened knife and ripped off a piece of her intestines with his bare hands. The “operation” completed, Thériault ordered another follower, Gabrielle Lavallée, to stitch up the gaping wound with a needle and thread. A day later, Boilard died in almost unimaginable agony—a hapless victim of what police in Ontario and Quebec describe as the most bizarre and violent cult in the history of Canadian crime.
In mid-January, in a small Kingston, Ont., courtroom, some of the gruesome details of the cult’s shadowy life finally came to light when Thériault, now 45, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in connection with Boilard’s death. And since then, in a wide-ranging investigation, Maclean ’s has pieced together the sordid story of Thériault’s twisted cult—a shocking 11year saga that claimed the lives of at least two people, left several others permanently maimed, and inflicted severe emotional scars on many of the 25 children Thériault fathered with eight of his concubines.
Since his conviction in October, 1989, for hacking off Lavallée’s right arm with a dull meat cleaver—-an act he committed nine months after she helped him dispose of Boilard’s body—Thériault has been imprisoned in Kingston’s maximum-security Millhaven Institution. Only after his arrest on four assault charges involving Lavallée did another cult member step forward and tell police about Boilard’s death—which had remained secret for more than a year. Now serving a life sentence for Boilard’s murder, with no possibility of parole until the year 2000, Thériault
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was placed in protective custody last week because of death threats by other inmates. During his court appearance on Jan. 18, he expressed remorse for “traumatizing, mutilating and inflicting suffering on the members of my entourage,” for forcing them to live “in the slavery of that hell,” and for “the events that led to the premature death of Solange Boilard.”
Speaking in his native French, he added that his arrest and incarceration had helped him “to grow as a person” and to realize the error of his ways (page 24).
In fact, many of the authorities who have dealt with Thériault’s case remain convinced that he still exercises psychological control over some of his followers. One of those investigators is Robert Penny, executive director of the Kawartha-Haliburton Children’s Aid Society, which seized 22 of Thériault’s children and eventually found adoptive homes for 20 of them. In an interview last week, Penny noted that three of Thériault’s former cult disciples—Francine Laflamme, 36, Chantal Labrie, 34, and Nicole Ruel, 35—now operate a bakery together and live in adjacent rented cabins less than a kilometre from Millhaven’s gates. Laflamme, a slim woman with bright brown eyes and a girlish smile, gave birth to a son 18 months ago, the result of one of the conjugal visits she has every six weeks with Thériault in a trailer on the prison grounds. “The commune lives on,” said Penny bluntly. “It’s an indication of the power of the man—those women are there for him. Who knows whether he has reformed? I wouldn’t bet my last dollar on it.”
After meeting a Maclean ’s reporter last week in her three-room cottage, Laflamme
'The commune lives on. It's on indication of the power of the man—those women are there for him. Who knows whether he has reformed?'
spoke to Thériault and gained his consent to be interviewed. But late in the week, the deputy federal Correctional Services commissioner for Ontario, Andrew Graham, banned Thériault from speaking to reporters. A spokesman for the department, Jacques Bélanger, described Graham’s order as “unusual,” but he said that prison officials did not want Thériault to be distracted from the voluntary psychiatric treatment he is receiving. Added Bélanger: “There’s also a lot of concern about the psychological power he has over some of his people.
Former members of his sect could still be influenced by things he says.” Laflamme is clearly among the most devoted of those followers. In addition to the boy born 18 months ago, she and Thériault have had four other children, now aged eight, she, five and three. Authorities seized her first child in 1985 and removed the second from her four days after its birth in 1987. “The Children’s Aid gave me two choices: stay with Roch and lose your child, or leave Roch and keep him,” Laflamme recalled in an interview. “I decided I wasn’t going to leave him, so they took my child. It was a very difficult decision—I wanted to kill those people. But I agreed for personal reasons.”
‘Monster’: Five years after she made that decision, Laflamme remains “madly in love” with Thériault and is anxiously awaiting his release. She says that the cult leader’s periods of “craziness” were the products of excessive drinking and an unhappy childhood at the hands of an abusive father. “People try to make Roch sound like a monster, like a butcher,” she complained. “But he is not that. Most of the time he was not drinking and performing his operations. He was a marvelous man who was full of passion, intelligence and originality. He loved to laugh and dance.”
In fact, people who grew up with Thériault and knew the family well agree that he had a difficult childhood. Born in a tiny village near Chicoutimi in 1947 to Hyacinthe Thériault, a housepainter, and homemaker Pierrette Tremblay, Thériault grew up in Thetford-Mines, an asbestos-mining town 230 km northeast of Montreal. His father, neighbors recall, was a staunch sup-
A Bloody j History
j MAY 16,1947:
Roch Thériault born in Rivière-du-Moulin, Que., to Hyaóinthe Thériault, a housepainter, and homemaker Pierrette Tremblay.
1950$: The family moves to Thetford-Mines, Que. Neighbors now say that the atmosphere in the home was “abusive.”
¡ NOVEMBER, 1967:
Thériault marries Francine Grenier. They have two children. He supports them by selling wood carvings. Gradually, friends say, his behavior becomes erratic.
MID-1970S: Thériault joins the Seventh-day Adventist Church and begins wearing monk’s robes. He and Grenier divorce in 1976.
1977: After an unsuccessful bid to lead the local Seventh-day Adventist congregation, Thériault quits the church and moves to Ste-Mariede-Beauce, Que. He opens a homeopathic clinic and runs stop-smoking seminars.
1971 Thériault tells friends that he has had a vision that the world will soon end. Together with four other men, nine women and four children, he establishes a commune in a remote area of the Gaspé Peninsula. He proclaims himself God’s representative and gives each of his followers a biblical name.
I MARCH, 1981:
Guy Veer, who joined the commune after wandering off from a Quebec City mental institution, harshly beats a two-year-old boy for crying. The next day,
Thériault “operates” on the injured boy, who subsequently dies.
As punishment for beating the two-year-old, Thériault cuts off Veer’s testicles.
SEPT. 29,1982: Thériault
pleads guilty to criminal negligence for castrating Veer. He and seven other commune members are also convicted of criminal negligence in the boy’s death.
JUNE, 198 Thériault is released from jail. Later, he pays $12,000 for a 200-acre parcel of land near Burnt River, Ont., and moves there with the rest of the commune.
The Quebec government issues a nationwide alert to child-welfare authorities. Local social workers, already concerned about the commune, begin monitoring its activities more closely.
Another child dies at the commune. Local coroner attributes the death to sudden infant death syndrome.
DEC. 6,1985: Ten social workers and six police officers raid the comune, seizing 14 children aged five months to 16 years. Some of the children tell foster parents that Thériault forced them to masturbate him and take part in other sexual acts.
Thériault’s female disciples give birth to nine more of his children. All are taken into care within days of their birth.
Thériault, performing a crude “operation,” muti20
porter of an ultraright Catholic fringe group known as the “white berets,” which opposes liberal trends in the Church. Said Roger Beaulieu, 66, who first met the family in 1962: “Every Sunday, we’d see old man Thériault put on his white beret and troop the family off to their meetings.
People around here didn’t like that too much.”
Castration: Thériault’s parents still live in the home where he was raised—a white cement-block bungalow, which now is dilapidated and hidden from the road by overgrown shrubbery. But they have had no contact with their son for years—and display no interest in re-establishing ties. “I don’t want to talk about him or hear his name,” Hyacinthe Thériault shouted at a Maclean’s reporter who visited the house last week. “I raised seven children and only one of them turned out like that,” he added before slamming shut the porch door, sending two scraggly cats running for cover behind a woodpile.
Léon Vachon, 48, a former next-door neighbor of the Thériaults who remained friends with Roch until the mid-1970s, recalls that the family had little money and that the atmosphere in the household was “abusive.” When Roch was a teenager, Vachon said, he and his three brothers would play a game they called “bone” with their father. “They would sit at the kitchen table with their heavy boots on and kick each other’s shins until one of them gave in,” said Vachon, who recalls witnessing the contest on several occasions. “The mother was no better. You would hear her screaming at the kids from three-quarters of a mile down the road, like no other person could scream.”
Perhaps because he wanted to escape the memories of those years, Thériault has since provided several fantastic accounts of his childhood. In a 1983 autobiog-
raphy published in French, he wrote of growing up in the bush in northern Quebec, where he learned to talk to the animals and the trees, and came to regard himself as some sort of medicine man. Interviewed in prison in 1990 by prominent Toronto psychiatrist Andrew Malcolm, Thériault described a childhood encounter that the doctor concluded was “a deliberate attempt at myth-making.” Wrote Malcolm in a report to provincial officials: “He said when he was a child he had been gambolling in the muskeg in the Far North when he suddenly came face-to-face with a mother bear with two cubs. She rolled him over in the same way that she rolled her cubs; and in this idyllic circumstance, he spent the entire afternoon.”
Thériault also told Malcolm that when he was eight he discovered that he had the power to heal sick people—beginning with a friend who had broken his teeth. “Following this experience,” the psychiatrist recorded Thériault as saying, “he intentionally studied the mosses, the herbs and the plants, and he refined his skills as a healer. He soon was able to castrate cattle and pigs without the loss of any blood.”
Satan: In Thetford-Mines, however, Thériault is remembered as a popular teenager who spent many evenings drinking with his large group of friends in local clubs. Several of his former chums use the word “brilliant” to describe him, adding that he had “the gift of the gab.” Said André Grégoire: “He was a goodlooking man with piercing blue eyes. He never had any problems getting girls, that’s for sure.”
In November, 1967, Thériault married one of those girls—Francine Grenier, one of Léon Vachon’s cousins by marriage. A talented wood-carver and carpenter, Thériault built a quaint Swiss-style house down the road from his parents, and fathered two boys with his
lates commune member Solange Boilard’s intestines. She dies a day later. Over the following four weeks, her body is disinterred twice, then cremated.
In another “operation,” Thériault plunges a knife through disciple Gabrielle Lavallée’s right hand and cuts off her arm with a cleaver.
Thériault and the others tie Lavallée up. Using a red-hot metal rod, the cult leader cauterizes the stump of her severed arm. Shortly afterward, most commune members flee.
Lavallée tells police how she lost her arm.
OCT. 6, 1989:
Police capture Thériault after a six-week search with dogs and aircraft.
OCT. 1% 1989: Thériault pleads guilty to three counts of aggravated assault and one count of unlawfully causing bodily harm to Lavallée. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison. Meanwhile, a commune member tells police about Boilard’s death. They later discover her skeletal remains on commune property.
Mr. Justice Claude Paris commits Thériault to trial for second-degree murder in connection with Boilard’s death.
Thériault pleads guilty.
Mr. Justice R. C. Desmarais sentences him to life in prison, with no chance of parole until the year 2000.
wife. To support his family, he sold a variety of hand-carved products: beer mugs carved from tree limbs, ornate wooden clocks and trophies.
But just as his circumstances seemed to be improving, Thériault’s behavior became increasingly erratic.
Early in his marriage, he had insisted that his wife wear long dresses whenever she appeared in public. But before long, he allowed her to wear miniskirts, and asked his inlaws if he could open a nudist camp on their nearby farmland—a request they flatly refused. An even more puzzling transformation took place in his mid-20s after he underwent surgery in Montreal for an unspecified stomach condition. Grégoire remembers how Thériault began to study medical textbooks “cover to cover,” and lectured his friends endlessly about human anatomy. Similarly, when neighbors formed a committee to fight city hall over the issuing of construction permits, Thériault memorized the municipal code “from A to Z,” Vachon said. He added: “If there was one weakness in the law, he would find it and exploit it to its fullest. He was good.” Also during his 20s, Thériault joined the local branch of the Aramis Club, a Catholic group that raises money for charity and organizes social events. He soon worked his way up to head of the initiation committee, but gradually his colleagues began to question his suitability for the role. “He wanted to change the rituals,” said Grégoire. “He wanted the new members to wear the image of Satan on their backs and all kinds of weird stuff. Roch is a guy who always wanted to become the leader, but just as he would get to the top, people turned on him because he tried to change things and bring in weird ideas.” Stripped of his position in the club, Thériault lost interest in the organization. He announced that he had joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and he began
to stroll around town in a hooded, ankle-length monk’s frock. He left the local chapter of the church after a quarrel over the leadership, which he had sought. At that point, Thériault’s marriage fell apart. And in 1977, he moved alone to Ste-Marie-de-Beauce, a sleepy town 45 km northeast of Thetford-Mines. He rented space in a two-storey clapboard building, opened a homeopathic clinic and began passing out flyers advertising seminars to help people quit smoking.
Almost immediately, Thériault became the focal point of an expanding circle of organic-food enthusiasts and followers of alternative medicine. He married one of them, 26-year-old Gisèle Lafrance. Among his other admirers were Maryse and Jacques Giguère, a married couple, both 25, who lived one street away with their newborn daughter. Within a year of meeting Thériault, Jacques Giguère recalled last week, he quit his job as a construction worker and Maryse resigned her secretarial position at the local Vachon cake factory. Drawn by his charisma, they turned over all of their material possessions to Thériault and moved into his house.
Rages: And then one day in 1978, the group disappeared. Thériault had announced to his 17 followers— four men, nine women and four children—that the world was going to end soon “in a shower of boulder-like hailstones.” The only way to survive Armageddon, he said, was to escape the evils of society and revert back to nature. He led his flock to a remote valley on the Gaspé Peninsula, ordered them to cut all ties with the outside world and assigned biblical names to every group member, taking Moses for himself. Proclaiming himself God’s emissary, he told his disciples that the road to heaven would be filled with suffering—but that it was God’s will.
The suffering began after the first year of communal life, when Thériault began drinking beer and liquor heavily. While drunk, he flew into violent rages, assaulting adults and children alike. Said Giguère: “He said the children were disobedient and the devil had to be beaten out of them. He justified beating our kids because he said we were too spiritually weak to do it ourselves.”
Harem: Indeed, the commune members were worn down both physically and mentally. Working long hours to survive in the wilderness, they suffered from exhaustion and malnutrition and became almost totally dependent on Thériault’s erratic leadership. And although Thériault repaid that devotion with savagery, his disciples rarely fought back. Recalls Giguère: “When Thériault sobered up the next day, he’d cry like a baby with his head at his feet, begging God to stop commanding him to commit such brutality.” But while he promised that the beatings would stop, they only grew worse. “I think I understand what a battered wife experiences,” Giguère said. “She keeps getting beaten, but her husband begs for forgiveness. She wants to believe him and can’t bear to leave her family.”
The wild recklessness of Thériault’s commune came to a head one night s in March, 1981. While
Lavallée: the commune leader tore out eight of her teeth and cut off her right arm in a painful 'operation’
partying, the members
left their children in the
Í5 care of Guy Veer, a menp tally deficient 23-year-old “ who had disappeared weeks earlier from a Quebec City hospital. They returned to find that Giguère’s two-year-old son, Samuel, had been badly beaten. The child was not passing urine, so Thériault “operated” on his genitals. The next day, the toddler died.
Thériault blamed Veer for the death and, months later, tried him for murder before a kangaroo court, which found the accused not guilty by reason of insanity. Still, Thériault decided that Veer needed to be taught a lesson—and removed both of his testicles. The commune leader also instructed his followers to tell outsiders that Samuel had been trampled by a horse. But the truth eventually emerged and Quebec police raided the camp. In 1982, seven commune members were convicted of crimes related to the child’s death and Veer’s castration. Thériault himself served 18 months at Orsainville Prison near Quebec City.
Released in 1984, Thériault collected his followers and moved to Ontario to avoid a Quebec parole order that barred him from associating with fellow cult members. They purchased 200 acres of land in a broad swath of wilderness near Burnt River,
Ont., about 100 km northeast of Toronto. Although many of the commune members drew welfare, they also ran a business called the Ant Hill Kids, selling handicrafts and baked goods to locals. According to Laflamme, Thériault chose that name because “we were like busy ants, all working together.”
By then, Thériault had established a substantial personal harem. He had gradually made all but one of
the nine female commune members his exclusive “wives,” keeping them in an almost constant state of pregnancy. In Quebec, Thériault had presided over the “marriage” of the unfortunate Boilard, who went by the biblical name Rachel, to cult member Claude Ouelette. But she soon became one of Thériault’s concubines, and bore three of the leader’s children between 1980 and 1986. Ouelette remained in the group as a celibate disciple. “Roch was always telling us that it had to be that way because he was like Abraham in the Bible,” recalled a bitter Lavallée, who gave birth to two of Thériault’s offspring. “He had to have many wives and children to keep his tribe going.”
Apparently, Thériault drew some of his inspiration from Alex Joseph, a polygamist and commune leader in Big Water, Utah, near the Arizona border. Now 55, and a frequent subject of articles in supermarket tabloids, Joseph lives with at least nine wives and their 20 children, and cites the teachings of the Mormon Church and the Old Testament as justification for his unconventional lifestyle. According to police, Thériault made at least three visits to Joseph’s colony in the 1980s; during one of them, the American gave the Ant Hill Kids patriarch a gold-colored crown and named him “King of the Israelites” in an elaborate ceremony.
Said Ontario Provincial Police Det. Bob Bowen, who investigated Thériault’s cult for three years: “It was an extremely important moment for Roch. After that, he began wearing the crown with his robes and acting very imperial.”
Meanwhile, commune life in Ontario grew stranger by the week. Lavallée says that Thériault would take two or more of his wives to bed at once and hold contests to see which one would have the most orgasms. In the same competitive spirit, Giguère says that Thériault frequently held outlandish gladiator games for his amusement. He would draw a large square in the dirt and order two naked disciples, men or women, to step inside. At his command, they would fight for threeminute intervals, which he timed with a stopwatch. Said Giguère: “Roch counted the points—one for a punch, minus one for stepping outside of the line. The winners had to fight someone else, and the games could go on for hours.”
Perversion: Gradually, however, the isolated commune’s activities began to draw attention—and frequent inspections—from staff of the Kawartha-Haliburton Children’s Aid Society. Said CAS executive director Penny: “We became increasingly _ concerned about Roch’s mental state. ±i His personality seemed to be disinte| grating.” On Dec. 6,1985, CAS workers and police raided the camp and I seized all 14 children there. Over the next two years, as Thériault’s “ “wives” gave birth to nine more offspring, authorities removed each new infant. According to a 1987 family court ruling that made 21 of the children wards of the Crown, Thériault allegedly forced several of the youngsters to perform sex acts on him. Court records quote a six-year-old girl saying that Thériault “likes me to pull on his penis and make white stuff come out of it. Everybody is doing it, including Mom. Mom and me take turns.” The records also indicate that Thériault instructed one boy to mastur-
bate a male adult. And when one of Theriault’s sons requested sexual favors from a commune girl, the leader brought the boy to “a prostitute in Toronto to help him.” With the children gone, commune life spiralled downward into a demonic orgy of sexual perversion and violence. According to a statement of facts agreed to by Thériault, and read into court records at the cult leader’s Jan. 18 sentencing, the selfstyled prophet punished Ouelette for an unspecified minor transgression by placing a rubber band around his testicles. “An hour later,” the statement said, “he noticed his scrotum had swelled to the size of an orange and had turned various colors.” Then, when Ouelette complained that one of his testicles had become infected, a drunken Thériault “made an incision in Ouelette’s scrotum, removed a testicle and cauterized the incision with a piece of hot iron.” Murder: Even that gory act pales by comparison with the handling of Boilard’s corpse. After her death— caused, doctors say, by digestive acids pouring into her abdominal cavity—Thériault ordered his disciples to bury and dig up her body twice. Court documents say that a rib was removed from the body and that Thériault wore it in a leather case around his neck. And according to police and Lavallée, the cult leader ordered his followers to remove Boilard’s uterus and saw off the cap of her skull so that he could ejaculate onto her brain—an act he claimed could restore her life. A month after commune members cremated Boilard’s remains, Thériault unleashed his destructive energies on Lavallée, ripping out eight of her teeth to treat a toothache. But worse was to come. The following July, in order to “cure” stiffness in one of her fingers, he impaled her right hand to a wooden table with a hunting knife. “I stood there for an hour,” Lavallée recalled in an interview last week. “I didn’t want to lose consciousness, because if I did I knew he would kill me. He was drunk, of course. My arm turned blue and dark. He decided to amputate it.” In a crude operation with no anesthetic, Thériault hacked off Lavallée’s right arm between the shoulder and elbow. “He decided to use a cleaver,” said Lavallée, “but on the first try, he didn’t do the job because the blade was so dull it didn’t chop it. The second time, the job was done.” After Lavallée spent the night writhing in pain on the kitchen floor, a fellow disciple stitched up her stump. Days later, Thériault cauterized the wound with a piece of drive shaft from a truck, heated
with an acetylene torch. Terrorized, Lavallée fled the camp and hitchhiked to a hospital north of Toronto, where she told police how she lost her arm. On Oct. 6,1989, after a six-week search with helicopters and tracking dogs, police arrested Thériault, who had escaped to a makeshift camp where he planned to spend the winter with two followers. Four days later, he pleaded guilty to a series of charges related to his attacks on Lavallée and received a 12year sentence, later reduced to 10 years on appeal. Only when Thériault was behind bars did a cult defector tell police of Boilard’s 1988 murder; he was charged with that offence on Oct. 24, 1989. A publication ban on evidence in that case remained in effect until last month, when Thériault pleaded guilty. ‘Psychopath’: In a recent prison report, Millhaven authorities described Thériault as “co-operative,” adding that he seems “amenable to the rehabilitation process.” Indeed, the report even states that Thériault has been offered a transfer to a lower security prison—but that he turned it down because he wanted to remain close to Francine Laflamme. Meanwhile, most of the cult leader’s other victims are trying to piece together their shattered lives. Lavallée, who now has a stainlesssteel artificial arm, receives regular payments from the province’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Board—and plans to publish a French-language book on her experiences next fall. Reflecting back on her years with Thériault, she says: “He is a Hitler, a psychopath. He cannot be cured.” Another of Thériault’s former “wives,” who asked not to be named, is seeking legal access to her children, although her lawyer told Maclean’s that there is little hope of success because of Ontario’s strict adoption laws. Giguère, for his part, has retreated to his roots in Quebec’s Beauce region—where he is recuperating with relatives—after serving 18 months in Millhaven for assisting Thériault in Lavallée’s amputation. His time in prison helped him to regain his psychological distance from Thériault—and at one point he even considered killing his former master. “I started thinking for myself,” Giguère said. “I did not depend on him for food, clothing or sleep any more.” And that is not all that has changed: Giguère, who for more than a decade worshipped Thériault as “Moses,” no longer believes in God. PAUL KAIHLA and ROSS LAVER with ANN McLAUGHLIN in Ste-Marie-de-Beauce and BARRY CAME in Montreal