Manitoba

On the lam: Notable Canadian police hunts for fugitives evading capture

As the nationwide police search for B.C. homicide suspects Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky​​​​​​​ continues, CBC News is taking a retrospective look at several notable large-scale fugitive hunts from Canada's past.

From the Mad Trapper in 1932, to the Regina jail break in 2008, take a look back at past police hunts

Emergency response officers check a residence in Moncton, N.B., on June 5, 2014. Three RCMP officers were killed and two injured by a gunman wearing military camouflage and wielding two guns the previous day. Police identified the suspect as 24-year-old Justin Bourque of Moncton. He was caught and later sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

As the nationwide police search for B.C. homicide suspects Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky continues, CBC News is taking a retrospective look at several notable fugitive hunts from Canada's past.

The Mad Trapper, 1932

The Mad Trapper rose to infamy more than 80 years ago — evading capture in the sub-Arctic terrain while the Canadian winter howled.

His exploits, documented in the news, mesmerized a nation who couldn't get enough of this man on his own, evading capture by foot as the temperature averaged -40 C, The Canadian Encyclopedia reports.

Known as Albert Johnson, the outlaw seriously wounded a police officer who questioned him about a trapping dispute.

From there, Johnson was on the run for 48 days, covering 240 kilometres and traversing across two territories. A second officer was badly hurt — and another killed — before the fugitive died in his last encounter with police. 

Johnson was buried in Aklavik, N.W.T. 

The Boyd Gang, 1952

Toronto's notorious bank-robber foursome were renowned for their crimes, which included twice busting out of jail.

After escaping prison once before in 1951, the Boyd Gang was inexplicably placed in neighbouring cells when they returned to the Don Jail in Toronto's Riverdale neighbourhood.

They sawed through the bars using a hacksaw blade and a cell key they fashioned from a palm imprint of the original.

Their escape led to one of the biggest hunts in Canadian history until their arrest 10 days later. The search became the subject of the first news report on CBC TV.

Canada's most wanted are collared in a barn near Toronto. 2:37

They were captured in a North York barn, just 24 kilometres from jail. Despite being armed, they did not resist arrest.

Const. Ernest Southern, who captured cop-killer Steve Suchan, was surprised the foursome didn't put up a fight.

"From all appearances, they'd be roughing it there for maybe two or three days," the officer told CBC Radio. "I think they were sort of getting fed up with the whole thing."

Donald Kelly, 1975 

A four-week search for a murderer who escaped from jail ended because of a German Shepherd. 

Ontario Provincial Police dog Cloud II tracked down killer Donald Kelly. (Canadian Police Canine Association )

The hunt for Donald Kelly, who overpowered a guard at the North Bay, Ont., jail and stole his rifle, turned up nothing until the now-famous Ontario Provincial Police dog, Cloud II, was hot on his trail.

The pooch tracked Kelly into a cabin deep in the woods near Skead, Ont. Cloud II was shot and killed, but its handler fired back at Kelly, who was returned to jail wounded.

Kelly was tried and convicted for two 1969 murders and sentenced to life in prison. He died behind bars.

Cloud II was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame for heroism. 

Allan Legere, 1989

Allan Legere will forever be known as the Monster of the Miramichi for the terror he inflicted while at large for many months in New Brunswick. 

Legere was serving a life sentence for murder in May, 1989, when he came down with an ear infection and was whisked to hospital.

While a guard stood outside his bathroom, Legere broke loose of his cuffs and shackles using metal he hid in his rectum. He fled when the guard opened the door to provide toilet paper that Legere never needed.
Serial killer Allan Legere, who was already in prison for one murder, escaped from custody in May 1989 and killed four more people during a 201-day manhunt. (CBC)

He ran to the parking lot, stole a car and was on the lam for nearly seven months, committing four murders before he was recaptured.

His 1991 conviction for the murders was based largely on DNA evidence — the first in Canadian history.

James Bridson, 1993

A made-for-TV movie became the backdrop of a double murder and resulting search for a fugitive in Flin Flon, Man.

James Bridson, 18, watched a television show in 1993 depicting the real-life story of spree killer Charles Starkweather, who in 1958, at the age of 17, murdered several family members of his 14-year-old girlfriend.

Starkweather was angry that his girlfriend's mother asked her to break up with him.

Bridson could apparently relate. The mother of his girlfriend ordered an end to their relationship.

Officers crowd around the door of a residence in Flin Flon, Man., in 1993 in search of James Bridson and his former girlfriend. (CBC)

He mimicked the show he watched, shooting and killing his 13-year-old's girlfriend's mother and brother, while seriously wounding her sister. 

He dragged his girlfriend along with him as he hid from police for 72 hours that May.

Regina jail break, 2008

Police agencies across Manitoba and Saskatchewan were on high alert after a major security breach at the Regina jail in August 2008.

Six people – including Daniel Wolfe, one of the founders of the Indian Posse street gang – managed to escape after inmates spent months scraping away mortar between bricks in the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre walls.

Ultimately, the escapees were on the loose for varying amounts of time. One was recaptured within three hours of the break-out. The rest were at large for between five and 30 days.

Wolfe was picked up as a passenger in a car in Winnipeg after more than three weeks on the run. At the time, he was a suspect in a double homicide in Fort Q'Appelle, Sask.

Wolfe was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life. He died after being stabbed in prison in 2010.

Justin Bourque, 2014

There were snipers on roofs, canine units sniffing for clues and police officers on edge.

A neighbourhood in Moncton, N.B., was a surreal sight in June 2014 while officers tracked down Justin Bourque, accused of killing three RCMP officers and wounding two others.

Shootings in Moncton sent officers on a large-scale search for the attacker. Parts of Moncton remained under lockdown for almost 30 hours. (Ron Ward/Moncton Times & Transcript via The Canadian Press)

The two-day search involved more than 265 RCMP officers.

They scoured the woods for the heavily-armed suspect, who was wearing camouflage, as residents waited under lockdown, gripped by fear.

Bourque was found in a dark backyard after midnight. 

Bourque was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years. The judge who sentenced him called his crimes "one of the most horrific" in Canadian history. 

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Archives, Daniel Schwartz, The Washington Post

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