LIFE

The phoney kidnap

A couple’s horrendous lie comes undone

RAE CORELLI May 2 1994
LIFE

The phoney kidnap

A couple’s horrendous lie comes undone

RAE CORELLI May 2 1994

The phoney kidnap

LIFE

A couple’s horrendous lie comes undone

RAE CORELLI

ANN McLAUGHLIN

As the outline for a novel, it would have been rejected out of hand for sheer implausibility: a 10-week-old girl dies and her parents, fearful that they will be accused of child abuse, conceal the body in a snowdrift beside a Quebec highway. Then they drive to New York City where, believing their story will go unnoticed in the city’s daily diet of crime and violence, they tell police the baby disappeared while the father napped on a Central Park bench. But instead, the story becomes front-page news after police discover that it is a hoax. Confronted, the parents break down and draw a map showing where they left the body. An autopsy discloses no signs of violence. Last week, the real-life script reached its sordid climax in Sherbrooke, Que. The parents—Joseph Balès, 33, and Hélène Lemay, 31—were charged with indignity to a human body, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.

The bizarre tale began on April 8 when, according to the parents, their infant daughter Muguet inexplicably died in her crib at their home in St-Romain, Que., about 75 km northeast of Sherbrooke. Because they had been implicated in the suspected neglect of a foster child about a year ago, Balès and Lemay told New York police, they wrapped the body in plastic bags, put it into a knap-

sack and left it in a woods near Eastman,

115 km southwest of StRomain. The next day, the couple packed up and moved to Cornwall,

Ont., with their four-yearold daughter, Priscilla.

About a week later, having put together the kidnapping story, they drove to New York with a credit card and $120 in U.S. currency and—shortly before 11 p.m. that night, April 15—checked into a cheaper hotel in lower Manhattan. The following day, they asked an attendant at the Museum of Natural History across from Central Park where they should report a missing child. With Priscilla in tow, they were directed to the 20th precinct on nearby West 82nd Street, where they told a tearful story of the baby’s disappearance the day before.

While 100 policemen and helicopters scoured the park and police divers searched its lake, detectives became suspicious. The parents could not explain why, if the infant had vanished around 7 p.m. the previous night, they had checked into a hotel four hours later and didn’t notify police until the next afternoon. Balès and Lemay claimed to speak no English—but when a

policeman asked if anyone wanted ice cream, Priscilla said she did. U.S. Customs agents at Massena, N.Y., reported that there had been only one child in the car when it crossed the border. And when Quebec authorities supplied information about their background and the allegations of child abuse, the parents admitted the hoax.

With Balès and Lemay back in Sherbrooke and Priscilla placed in a foster home there, townsfolk in St-Romain had much to talk about last week. At the elementary school where Hélène Lemay had worked as a noontime sitter in 1991 and 1992, teacher Ginette Morin recalled that she had been well-liked by the staff. ‘We found she was really good with the children,” Morin said.

RAE CORELLI with ANNMcLAUGHLIN in Montreal