The Current

What makes the Canada-wide pursuit for fugitives in B.C. killings distinct from other landmark searches

The nationwide hunt for two young B.C. men sought in three high-profile killings is distinct from other landmark pursuits of some of the most elusive criminals in Canada and the United States because of where they are believed to be hiding, according to a criminologist and former police officer.

'We don't see a lot of manhunts of this scale in Canada,' Michael Arntfield says

Criminologist Michael Arntfield says police have their work cut out for them as they push further into the rugged wilderness of northern Manitoba in search of two fugitives suspected of killing three people in B.C. (Manitoba RCMP/Twitter/The Canadian Press)

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The nationwide hunt for two young B.C. men sought in three high-profile killings is distinct from other landmark pursuits of elusive criminals because of where they are believed to be hiding, according to a criminologist and former police officer.

"We don't see a lot of manhunts of this scale in Canada where there's an imminent and ongoing threat to public safety and to officer safety," said Michael Arntfield, referencing prominent examples in the U.S., like the three-week search for the Washington, D.C. snipers in 2002. 

Typically, when law enforcement and intelligence officers are tracking fugitives, he told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch, "it doesn't take too long before someone sees the suspects, usually on an interstate or travelling."

In this case, however, the Canada-wide search for Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky has led RCMP investigators to a tiny northern Manitoba town, which is flanked by a vast expanse of rugged and unforgiving wilderness. 

"This is a little bit different in that they're in a remote area where they're not likely to be encountered or likely to be seen," said Arntfield, a criminology professor at Western University in London, Ont.

Arntfield has followed some of Canada's biggest murder cases, including that of serial killer Bruce McArthur, and prior spent 15 years as a detective with the London Police Service.

McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, 18, are wanted for a string of deaths in northern B.C., whose mystery has made international headlines and set many Canadians on edge.

They are suspects in the double homicide of tourist couple, Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese, whose bodies were discovered near Liard River Hot Springs on July 15.

McLeod and Schmegelsky were charged Wednesday with second-degree murder of a Vancouver man, Leonard Dyck, whose body was found on July 21 at a highway pullout near Dease Lake, B.C.

Images of murder suspects McLeod and Schmegelsky recorded in northern Saskatchewan a few days after three people were found dead in northern B.C. (RCMP)

The RCMP initially considered the lifelong friends from Port Alberni, B.C., missing, but issued a Canada-wide warrant for their arrest Tuesday amid new information.

One day prior to this revelation, a torched Toyota RAV4 — the last vehicle the men were spotted travelling in — was found aflame on Fox Lake Cree Nation, near Gillam, Man.

"I'm not sure what they're concerned about in terms of being tied to a stolen car that would necessitate burning it and destroying that evidence," said Arntfield.

"So it begs the question: Is there evidence of other crimes yet to be discovered that were in that car that they wanted to eliminate for some reason?"

On Monday, a burnt-out vehicle that had been driven by the suspects was found near Gillam, Man., and Fox Lake Cree Nation. The RCMP believe the men fled into the bush and are still hiding in the area. (Submitted by Billy Beardy)

Manitoba RCMP have called the search "dynamic and unfolding," but believe McLeod and Schmegelsky are still hiding in the area thanks to two "established and corroborated" sightings.

People with knowledge of the region have stressed that the swampy and buggy terrain has few paths and would make it difficult to escape.

Arntfield describes it as an "offender-friendly environment" and believes the two young men chose it for this reason. 

"The outside possibility is that, in fact, this is the end of the line and torching the vehicle was, in fact, to alert authorities to their position in order for them to dig in," he said.

"Ultimately, like most standoffs, the longer it goes on, essentially the possible resolutions begin to polarize in one of two directions: either surrender because they're out of food, they're fatigued ... or they just become further entrenched ... and it becomes a final stand."

Two emerging theories: coercion, fascination with violence

The twists and turns of the case have puzzled investigators and left many residents grappling with how two men could be capable of such acts.

The way the case has unfolded so far led Arntfield to develop two theories about what is possibly driving the fugitives: coercion or a fascination with violence.  

Michael Arntfield is a criminology professor at Western University in London, Ont. (CBC)

The 2002 sniper attacks that killed 10 people in Washington, D.C., and its surrounding suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, can serve as a "decoder ring to help make sense" of the alleged killings in northern B.C. and the resulting cross-Canada pursuit, he says.

"When we look at what we call teen killers ... [McLeod and Schmegelsky] do tend to fit a certain prescribed model," he said, pointing out the pair are young men who have allegedly committed serial murders.

Arntfield cautions that his theory "is all speculative," but says when you analyze some 120 teen killers over the last century, "there is without exception" one person who is essentially the mastermind.

"They are able to exercise — either through coercion or persuasion or manipulation — considerable control over the second."

In the D.C. sniper case, he explained, the older John Allen Muhammad was able to "exercise a considerable degree of influence and control" over the younger John Lee Malvo.

Another factor in these alleged crimes, though rare, he says, is the presence of hybristophilia.

Individuals with this type of paraphilia, commonly known among psychologists as Bonnie and Clyde syndrome, have "disordered fantasy preoccupations" where they are attracted to someone who has committed a gruesome crime.

"Even if it's two males who are heterosexual or have no interest in any kind of relationship of that nature, there is a sort of intamacy or bond that gets formed through the commission of violence that actually galvanizes that relationship," Arntfield explained.

"Traditionally we would look at this disorder as involving females seeking out males ... but we now understand it would apply in situations such as this."

Written by Amara McLaughlinProduced by Danielle Carr.