New Brunswick

Jonna Brewer: Allan Legere's manhunt froze Miramichi in fear

The CBC's Jonna Brewer was sent to Miramichi area in November 1989 to report on the search for serial killer Allan Legere.

Information Morning Moncton host was reporter in Miramichi when serial killer was caught

A late Sunday afternoon in November, 1989. I’m in a van with a Radio-Canada reporter and cameraman. We’re heading to Miramichi. And we’re in a hurry.

Allan Legere terrorized people in the Miramichi for 201 days in 1989. He killed four people after escaping from police custody. (CBC)
A truck carrying a load of Christmas trees passes us. I wonder why he’s in such a rush. I think to myself, “Buddy, where you’re heading, no one is thinking about Christmas.”

The lower the sun got in the sky, the faster we drove. We didn’t want to arrive after dark. It would soon become abundantly clear we had reason to worry about that.

We were on our way to Miramichi to check out reported sightings of a man fitting Allan Legere’s description in a neighbourhood in Chatham.

It wasn’t the first time sightings had been called in to police, but there were too many calls that day to ignore. And they came just days after a priest had been beaten to death in his home; the fourth of Legere’s victims in the seven months since he had escaped custody.

It was dusk when we arrived. By the time we found the street where the last sighting had been reported, it was dark.

We parked across from a well-kept home. The lights were on. We hesitated, then walked up to the front door and knocked. 

He must have seen us coming. A voice bellowed from behind the door. “What do you want?” We identified ourselves and told him why we were there.

Police officers searched for 201 days for Legere in 1989. (CBC)
The door flew open and a torrent of words came flying at us. How we were stupid and insensitive to go knocking on doors after dark with a killer on the loose.

He talked about the, "Shoot first, ask questions later" mentality that exists in a community gripped by fear. There was anger, and terror, in his voice.

All we could do was apologize as he slammed the door shut. We returned to the van, silent, and shaken. We knew he was right.

Our desire to get the story blurred our common sense and sensitivity to what people in that community were going through.

In the days that followed, reported sightings became more frequent. More reporters arrived and stayed; most of us filling normally vacant rooms at an old motel in Newcastle.

The sightings turned up nothing. By Thursday, my media colleagues packed up their gear, left the motel and went home.

I was ready to do the same. Then my producer called. “I know you want to come home, but I’d like you to stay. I can’t explain it but I feel like something is going to happen.” He always had good instincts. So, I stayed.

I had just returned to my room after supper when the scanner I had with me started to crackle. Someone had called police to say they saw a man fitting Legere’s description near a cemetery.

Searching for a serial killer

Minutes later, I could hear the familiar sound of the police helicopter overhead. I thought about what my producer had said, grabbed my tape recorder and microphone and headed out.

Legere killed four people in 1989 after escaping from police custody. (CBC)
I could see the searchlight of the helicopter and went in the same direction, towards the only cemetery I knew of, just down the road from the motel.

I expected police cars when I arrived. I found only darkness. I looked up and saw the helicopter flying away, over the river, search light turned off.

Clearly I’d gone to the wrong cemetery. Either way, it seemed it was another reported sighting that had turned up nothing.

I got back in the car, and as people sometimes do in tense situations, started to laugh, thinking if it had been the right cemetery, if I’d been the first to arrive, if it had indeed been Legere, what would I have said or done exactly? “Freeze! I have a microphone”?

Once again, the desire to get the story had blurred my common sense. More like obliterated it.

Back at the motel, I tried to settle my nerves by turning on every light and the TV. I sat in a chair, still in my jacket and boots, one ear tuned to the scanner, the other to the wind rattling the door.

I was in the last room, the very back, of that motel. No one was in the next room or the next one, or the one after that. I felt rattled. And vulnerable. It hit me that this is what people in Miramichi had been living for months. I knew I would not sleep.

'Another sighting'

In the early morning hours of Nov, 24, there was chatter on the scanner. “Another sighting,” I thought.

But there was something different in the tone of their voices. It quickly became apparent that this could be the real deal. It wasn’t clear at that point where all the activity was happening. So there was no jumping in my car this time until I knew more.

I was on the phone with my morning news editor, when I heard the dispatcher ask, “Is it him?” Static.

Bad news travels fast in a small town. Good news, in a community that’s been frozen by fear, spreads like wildfire.- Jonna Brewer

After what seemed an eternity came the reply. “It’s him.”  We got the story on as quickly as we could.

But it wasn’t until I was outside the detachment and heard it from an RCMP officer myself, that I really believed Legere had been captured.

Bad news travels fast in a small town. Good news, in a community that’s been frozen by fear, spreads like wildfire.

As daylight broke, people left their homes. I saw many crying and hugging each other in the downtown. 

As I watched a storekeeper lighting up his Christmas display for what was probably the first time that season. I remembered that truck on the highway, transporting those trees. 

I had thought 1989 was going to be the year that a serial killer and the terror he caused would steal Christmas from the good people of this community. 

Standing in front of that shop with the Christmas lights, an older gentleman walked by and touched my arm. I looked up, startled.  He smiled and said, “Merry Christmas.”

About the Author

Jonna Brewer

Host, Information Morning Moncton

Jonna Brewer has done many jobs at CBC Moncton, from reporter to executive producer, since joining CBC in 1988. She is currently the host of Information Morning in Moncton.