New Brunswick

Hunt for killer Allan Legere a vivid memory for former Chatham police officer

Serial killer Allan Legere was captured 30 years ago today after 201 days at large, during which time he murdered four people in the Miramchi area. Former Chatham police constable Kenneth McGee remembers everything like it was yesterday.

'This is just like this happened yesterday,' Kenneth McGee says 30 years after Legere was captured

Kenneth McGee was a constable in the Chatham police force while serial killer Allan Legere was at large in what is now Miramichi. (Janique LeBlanc/Radio-Canada)

Kenneth McGee left policing 15 years ago, but one part of his career on the Chatham police force will haunt him forever.

McGee was a 28-year old constable when notorious serial killer Allan Legere was terrorizing communities in the Miramichi area. 

McGee remembers those seven months as a very tense time, when people would open their doors with guns in their hands and every other yard had a light pole that would illuminate the property if anyone was creeping around in the dark.

"In fact, we had a nickname for them," McGee said. "We called them Legere lights."

Officers on foot patrol were required to wear bright traffic vests at night when responding to reports of sightings.

Kenneth McGee, speaking in a 1989 interview when Legere was still on the run. (CBC/Radio-Canda)

"Sometimes people would be out on their back steps and they would have, you know, a firearm or something in their hands and we'd be running through backyards," McGee said.

"A few of us questioned, 'Well, why are we wearing traffic vests. That makes it easier for him to see us.' And supervisors said, quite rightly, 'Well, everybody else can see you too.'" 

Legere had escaped custody in May 1989 while serving time in Renous prison for the murder of shopkeeper John Glendenning and the beating of Glendenning's wife, Mary.

While on the loose, Legere killed four other people: shopkeeper Annie Flam, sisters Linda and Donna Daughney, and Rev. James Smith.

He briefly left what is now the city of Miramichi and was captured on his way back to the community 30 years ago today. 

The night of Oct. 28

McGee's most vivid memories of Legere's months as a fugitive are from the night of Oct. 28.

Less than a month before Legere was caught, McGee was driving home from chaperoning a youth dance when a report came in that weapons had been taken from a truck parked outside a motel in Chatham. McGee went to check, since he knew there were only a few officers on duty at the time.

"The officer at the scene says, 'He's in the house,' and he throws me a shotgun and I said 'OK.' So we surrounded the house and here I am still in civilian clothes," McGee said.

Legere, who was already in prison for one murder, escaped custody in May 1989 and killed four more people during a 201-day manhunt. (CBC)

It turned out Legere had fled the scene before McGee arrived, but he was sent home to change into his uniform and report for duty for the search.

"My wife had a procedure where she would set out, she would lay out my clothing in the order that I would put it on because we were getting called out all the time," he said.

While Legere was at large, extra police support was requested from other parts of the province and even from across Canada. Since many of the reinforcements had never been to the area before, protocol was to pair them up with a local officer for searches, McGee said.

Later that night, he and an RCMP officer got into a vehicle and went toward the golf course in west Chatham to join the search.

"To me this is just like this happened yesterday."

While on the road they heard gunshots. McGee and the Mountie didn't know who the shots were directed at, but they slammed the vehicle into park, quickly got out and ran to a nearby tree.

"Then I looked at the lights in the vehicle and said, 'I got to go back, and I have to turn those lights off,' and the RCMP officer grabbed me and says, 'Don't. That could be just what he's waiting for.'

"So we were there in that place, back to back, he was with his handgun, me with a shotgun, and every sound in the woods made us jump. And it was the most eerie feeling of all because the fog started coming down, and there we sat there going, 'OK, this is, you know, this is it.' 

"You know, we're ready. We're ready to do what we have to do here. And I could just remember the fog and the mist coming down and then everything going quiet, and then actually me thinking to myself, you know, 'Am I going to see my family at the end of this?'"

McGee said he's been haunted by the search for Legere that night for 30 years. (Janique LeBlanc/Radio-Canada)

Legere evaded capture that night. But McGee can't forget the near-miss or shake the belief that his car lights helped the man known as "the Monster of the Miramichi" get away.

"I'll never forget afterwards a supervisor coming up saying to me, 'I understand you left the lights on in your car,' and I said yes and I explained the reason why," McGee said.

"And he says, 'It doesn't matter about the reason why. You left the lights on in your car, so that's why he got away. So if anybody else dies as a result of this, it's your fault.' And I lived with that for 30 years."

Moving on

McGee said he's struggled to move on from that day, especially after the death of Father Smith, Legere's last victim.

"These were the days when we didn't have a critical-incident stress debriefing. Those were the days where it was like, and I hate to use this term, but it was a 'suck it up buttercup' kind of attitude."

After 30 years, McGee said, he is finally ready to talk about the experience and speak out to offer support to any officers who served during that time.

The morning Legere was captured outside Newcastle, McGee was at his parents' home in Moncton.

"At six o'clock in the morning, I'm at Mum and Dad's … Mum slams the door open, she's got a bottle of champagne in her hand," he said.

During Legere's reign of terror in the Miramichi area, police brought in reinforcements from elsewhere in the province and other parts of Canada. (CBC)

McGee said hearing the ordeal was over provoked a big sigh of relief. 

"I give full credit to my co-workers at the time," he said. "Some of them are still working in policing. And, you know, kudos to those people that are still doing the job there. I

"I'm proud to have been with them, proud to have served Chatham and the people of Miramichi during that time and because we were all in it together."

With files from Information Morning Moncton