Roger Warren’s conviction ends the N.W.T.’s longest criminal trial
The prime suspect
Fernand Auger’s suicide adds to the mystery of a woman’s abduction
At the time, it seemed like a harmless holiday greeting from an old friend. On New Year’s Day, a CBC French-language journalist in Sudbury, Ont., received a collect call from 37-year-old Fernand Auger, who was living in Calgary. The two men had been friends since the late 1980s when Auger was a gregarious waiter at a popular Greek restaurant in the Northern Ontario mining city. Auger, who had been released from a Bowden,
Alta., penitentiary in August, 1994, after serving 16 months of a two-year sentence for armed robbery, told his friend that he was working at a Calgary restaurant but planning to move. But he would not disclose his plans. “He said, ‘If they work out, you’ll know about it,’ ” recalled the journalist, requesting anonymity. “I said ‘Good luck.
Keep in touch.’ As far as I know, I’m the last person he talked to before he left Calgary.”
Within days, Auger had become the prime suspect in the abduction of 23-yearold Meanie Carpenter, who disappeared shortly after noon on Jan. 6 from the Surrey,
B.C., tanning salon where she was working alone. In the two days following Carpenter’s disappearance, at least four people observed Auger in the southern Alberta city of Lethbridge, where he had lived and worked in the early 1980s and again a decade later. Shortly after those sightings, Auger was dead. On Jan. 15, a real estate agent who was showing a client a vacant home in High River, Alta., 50 km south of Calgary, found Auger’s frozen body in a car parked in a garage on the property. He had taken his own life by inhaling carbon monoxide fumes from the vehicle’s engine.
An RCMP search of the car, a red Hyundai Excel that Auger had rented in Calgary on Jan. 1 using a friend’s credit card, turned up several strands of long blond hair believed to be from the missing woman. But late last Saturday, two weeks after her abduction, police were still searching for Carpenter. Her father, Steve, a fishing guide from Cultus Lake, B.C., 100 km from Vancouver, and mother, Sandy, who have been divorced for several years, launched a “Bring Melanie home campaign” and set up an operations centre in a Surrey hotel. Family members, friends and concerned citizens answered phones set up to take tips and sympathy calls. “There has been a phenomenal amount of support,” said Carpenter.
But along with sympathy for the family, many people, particularly victims’ rights groups, angrily criticized the National Parole Board for releasing Auger before he had served his full sentence. Some argued that Auger’s previous criminal record—he was convicted of sexual assault and buggery in 1985 for an incident involving a 14-year-old prostitute in Toronto—was proof that he was a potentially dangerous individual. “People are really pissed off at the way they let guys like Auger go,” said Carpenter. “It’s got to stop.”
Parole board officials said that under the law they had no choice but to release Auger after he had served two-thirds of his sentence because he was not considered dangerous. In fact, many people in his home town of Sudbury, who had known Auger since childhood, told Maclean’s that they were stunned to hear that he was linked to Car-
penter’s abduction. And they helped to piece together a profile of a troubled life.
Auger was the fifth of six children born to a poor Sudbury couple. Fernand’s father died in 1962, when he was 5, and within a few years he and his siblings were sent to foster homes because their mother was unable to care for them. Two of his sisters and his older brother Gilbert still live in Sudbury while another sister lives in Oshawa, Ont. A third sister, Jacqueline, died in 1975 in a car accident. As an adult, Auger confided to friends that he had been physically abused in one foster home and sexually abused by a priest.
One former classmate, who remembered Auger as a poorly dressed, neglected child, said that he found news reports of the abduction and Auger’s involvement emotionally jarring. “I was listening to the news when I heard that they had found him dead,” said Luc Desormeaux, who now runs a photo studio in Sudbury. “I was devastated when the girl’s father said, ‘Good for ^ the bastard.’ All I could remember was this little guy g who was so timid and lost.”
1 A former teacher, Pauline Meilleure, says that on 3 several occasions she and her colleagues quietly asked their students to donate clothing for Auger and his siblings. And Desormeaux adds that, as a teenager, Auger seemed very inse-
cure. He apparently went no further than Grade 9 and, after quitting school, began working as a waiter. He also moved frequently. Auger told friends he had lived in several communities in Ontario and Alberta.
He also provided one friend with an account of how he had been charged with the sexual offences, for which he received a sentence of two years less a day. According to this account, which is impossible to verify because records of the trial are unavailable, Auger had hired a prostitute who agreed to have sex with him. During the act, he engaged in anal intercourse. Afterward, he said, she demanded extra money. He refused to pay, so she charged him with sexual assault and buggery. He was convicted, and served his sentence in an Ontario provincial jail. Afterward, he returned to Sudbury and worked in the late 1980s at a Greek restaurant.
Auger developed a reputation as a first-rate waiter, and became friends with a group of FrenchCanadian radio and television journalists from the city’s CBC outlet.
“He knew his job,” recalled the owner of the restaurant, who also asked that her name not be used. “If a lady took out a cigarette, he’d be right there to light it, and the ashtray would always be clean. He was entertaining. He made people laugh. We can’t believe he would do something like this.”
At this time, Auger became very good friends with a woman who owns a lingerie shop in downtown Sudbury, according to one of his former CBC acquaintances. The woman, who refused to speak about Auger, introduced him to her niece, a schoolteacher and the daughter of a former Sudbury city councillor. From there, a relationship developed, and in October, 1990, Auger and the young woman were married. More than 200 guests attended, including some of the bride’s relatives from Italy.
In mid-1991, the couple decided to move to Alberta. Friends say that he worked in Banff for the summer and in the fall they moved to Lethbridge. They began to have marital difficulties, friends say, while living there. By the end of 1992, the problems had reached the point where she decided to go home temporarily to reconsider the relationship. “He pulled the armed robbery [at a Calgary service station] while she was gone,” says one friend. “It was either the day before going to pick her up at the airport or on the way there. They’re driving back to Lethbridge, and they’re not even out of Calgary yet, and four police cruisers stop him. She doesn’t even know what’s going on. He gets arrested and she’s really angry by this time. She went to Lethbridge, packed up her stuff and bang, back to Sudbury. They never saw each other again.”
While he was in prison, Auger and his wife divorced.
Upon his release, he moved to Calgary and found a job as a bartender at an Italian restaurant. Auger worked right up to Dec. 31, and the next day phoned in sick. He convinced an acquaintance to lend him a credit card, rented a car and set out for Vancouver.
Five days later, on Jan. 6, Melanie Carpenter disappeared.
The crime shocked the public and baffled police. Gary Marshall, her employer, told police that, shortly before the abduction, someone called Carpenter several times posing as an agent for a group of Japanese investors who were interested in buying a tanning salon franchise. The caller asked her to close the salon between 1 and 2 p.m. so the investors
could inspect it. Carpenter disappeared shortly before 2 p.m., and at 2:15 p.m. someone using the woman’s bank card withdrew $300 from her account. A bank security camera revealed that Auger made the withdrawal.
The next reported citing of Auger occurred at 11 p.m. on Jan. 7 at a doughnut shop in Lethbridge. Mason said that Auger accosted two teenage girls but left when three RCMP officers entered the shop for a coffee. Two other Lethbridge residents, both former co-workers, reported seeing Auger in the city on Jan. 8.
After the discovery of Auger’s body, two Calgary Herald reporters managed to inspect the man’s sparse one-bedroom apartment. It contained a Bible, a couple of self-help books and a copy of the suicide manual Final Exit: The Practicality of SelfDirected and Assisted Suicide. There was also a prison manual for self-evaluation in which Auger had described himself as “insecure, unloved, inadequate.” But there was nothing that would explain Auger’s desperate, final days, which led to his death— and Melanie Carpenter’s disappearance.
D’ARCY JENISH with JOHN HOWSE in Calgary and ROBIN AJELLO in Surrey
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