Jordan: Sometimes a story changes so much in the telling that it’s ending is unrecognizable from where it began.
News Clip: Police are now seeking the public’s assistance in locating two men who were driving the vehicle and are currently missing. The BC RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance.
Jordan: Almost one month ago, three people were dead in two separate incidents and two young men were missing, and at the time, none of that was related and then it was.
News Clip: The RCMP are now considering Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky as suspects in the Dees Lake, suspicious death and the double homicide of Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese.
Jordan: The story of one of the longest manhunts in Canadian history, both in terms of time and in terms of sheer geographic distance ended this week, and it ended with more questions than answers. Some of those questions will be answered over the next few days and weeks, and a lot of them won’t be.
News Clip: At approximately 10 a.m. RCMP officers located two male bodies. We believe these are the bodies of the two suspects wanted in connection with the homicides in British Columbia.
Jordan: When a case ends with everybody dead there is not usually a trial, and when there’s no trial, a lot of the facts never come in. And when the whole thing happened in the furthest reaches of Canada’s wilderness, with thousands of kilometres between sightings with no eye witnesses, and nothing but empty landscape and two bodies at the end of the trail, while there are probably some things that nobody will ever know and when that happens, for some reason, those endings are not easily forgotten.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Lasia Kretzel is a reporter with News 1130 in Vancouver, and she’s been on it since the beginning. Hi Lasia.
Jordan: Can you tell me just first, how strange this story has been to cover over the past three weeks?
Lasia: Probably one of the strangest just because of all this lack of information that we felt that we had with this case because, a lot of the times when you know, we’re able to find some kind of information about the suspects, something that can help us, you know, while not accept what they did or dismiss it, but at least try to understand motive, an understanding about getting inside their minds but really all we had this time was a couple photos from surveillance footage, stories about going to another province for work and just some information about the teens from friends that they had made on social media and gaming platforms that we weren’t even sure was really them, or maybe just a couple photos. So, over all this has just been really strange to see something that has stretched over almost a month now, that this has been going on and just to see; despite the long time that we’ve been talking about this story, the little information that we still have about it.
Jordan: So, tell me where this story began and how different was it back then? When you first heard of this story, what did police describe it as?
Lasia: Well this was a case spanning 24 days from the time that we first heard about this to just the other day hearing about what we expect to be the kind of the conclusion. So we first came into the story on Monday July 15th and that’s when police came into it saying that they had found two bodies about 20 kilometers south of Liard hot springs that’s on the Alaska highway, and those death seems suspicious but police didn’t offer many details, so all we had as journalists was two bodies and it wasn’t until three days later, on July 18th that we learned their identities.
News Clip: And we’re gonna begin with this, a manhunt is underway after an American woman and her Australian boyfriend were found dead. Chynna Deese and Lucas Fowler were on a road trip in northern British Columbia. Police in Fowler’s native Australia say it appears they were both shot.
Lasia: We learned the pair had met in a hostel in Croatia about two years ago, fallen in love and they were avid travelers and they were on a road trip across Canada when they were murdered.
Jordan: Now the two young men at the heart of this story who were found dead the other day, how were they initially reported?
Lasia: Initially, so, um, Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky weren’t even in the picture at all, they eventually came into this as being reported missing.
News Clip: The BC RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance in locating 19-year-old Kam McLeod, and 18 year old Bryer Schmegelsky from Port Alberni, who have not been in contact with their family for the last few days. They were driving the vehicle found on fire 50 kilometers south of Dease Lake.
Lasia: The family said that they had left their home Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island on July 12th and said that they were going up to Whitehorse to find work, so that’s quite a drive up all the way from the island all the way up to, well, all the way up to Whitehorse, and they hadn’t been heard from since so the family was concerned, but they were just reported as missing at the time so that’s all that we knew about it, and that’s how they were reported at first was that we had these murders and that these boys were missing but we did not know exactly how they were involved.
Jordan: And there’s one other victim that comes into play here, and who’s that?
Lasia: Yes, so, what we had then was on July 19th RCMP in Dease Lake that’s around a 20-hour drive from Vancouver got a report of a Dodge pickup truck with a camper on fire just south of the town, and that’s when a man’s body was found two kilometers away. But, you know, days went by and that man was not identified for several days. This is where Schmegelsky and McLeod finally kind of came into the public eye.
News Clip: Four days later and several 100 kilometers away another mystery, this one near Dease Lake. A pickup truck outfitted with a sleeping camper was discovered on fire, the owners nowhere to be see. But not far away this man was found dead along a highway pull out. It’s not clear what kind of connection he had, if any, to the camper truck. It was being driven by 19-year-old Kam McLeod and 18 year old Bryer Schmegelsky from Vancouver Island.
Lasia: RCMP said that the truck found on fire was being driven by the pair. But at this point, like I said, they were just called missing so we’re wondering oh no are they part of; Are they victims in this or are they connected to this man’s body? Because we weren’t even sure if the vehicle was connected to this man at all. We learned that they said the pair traveling up to Whitehorse to find work, and no one has heard from them since. But there had been reports that they’ve been spotted in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, that’s about a 24-hour drive from Dease Lake so these are vast expanses that this seems to already be covering. And it was another two days and finally RCMP released that the man that they had found, the mystery man that had yet to be identified as Leonard Dick, he is a botanist who taught at the University of British Columbia, and he’s from Vancouver and at this point, RCMP announced that Schmegelsky and McLeod are being treated as suspects.
News Clip: Given these latest development, Kam and Breyer are no longer considered missing. The RCMP are now considering Kam McLeod and Breyer Schmegelsky a suspect in the Dease Lake suspicious death and the double homicide of Lucas Fowler and Chynna Dease.
Lasia: This is when we finally start to hear that the young men are moving away from being labeled as missing to being suspects in these murders.
Jordan: So from your perspective and the rest of the media and I guess families and just general British Columbians as well, right before that announcement was made, what was going on in the community? What was the coverage like when the RCMP would hold press conferences? Because at that point, you’ve got two separate murders, including three people, two missing teens, and if I remember correctly from out here, nobody really knew how to connect the dots.
Lasia: No, at this point we weren’t sure how to connect them. A lot of this was because we were waiting for those dots to be connected by RCMP, we knew about the deaths of the two tourists, we knew about the mystery man but we didn’t understand how that tied in exactly to McLeod and Schmegelsky because all we knew is that they finally learned that the truck that they had been driving was the one that was found on fire. And so, the information that we had was limited and so at those news conferences there was just so many questions being thrown at police saying, like, can you tie these together? Can you tell us some information? And it was still very early in the case, so we were weren’t having quite the same like news conferences that we were seeing every day once the search, the manhunt began in Gillam in earnest. Up until that point I think a lot of us were just reaching out to all the RCMP detachments and these are detachments that I don’t think get a lot of the attention that they were getting, so it for them was a very cautious approach of we don’t want to release too much information when we are still working on this case and confirming it ourselves.
Jordan: So once McLeod and Schmegelsky were considered suspects, then you guys started digging a little deeper into who they were and what became clear when you started doing that?
Lasia: Well at first a lot of the information that we were getting was through social media. Some friends of the teens or people who said they were friends and knew them through social media and gaming sites had brought forward some photos of Briar Schmegelsky in particular, the videos showing him standing in combat fatigues, a rifle in hand as well as some, like it was apparently an airsoft replica rifle, and wearing a gas mask and also some photographs of like a swastika armband and a Hitler youth knife. Obviously, at this point, we weren’t sure, there’s not a whole lot out there about these boys, but we’re not trying to label them as anything when we don’t know exactly what they are, we have no posts on social media about the pair, but what they wanted to do, there’s nothing suggesting that there was any sort of malicious intent at this point. So, all we really had at that point was a couple of photos, and we didn’t want to just be making these assumptions about who these boys were. Their family coming out saying these were young boys, they just wanted to work, they had just finished school looking for the next opportunity and felt that they could find that in another province.
Jordan: So, tell me how and where the real manhunt started and what happened from there?
Lasia: So, it wasn’t really until July 21st that the manhunt itself really began in earnest, or at least in the public eye. Up until this point, the boys had just been missing, and that was the point on that date that they were finally confirmed as suspects in the death of Chynna Deese and Lucas Fowler and charged in the murder of Leonard Dick from Vancouver. So the next day, on July 22nd police found a burned out vehicle near the Fox Lake Cree Nation Reserve outside Gillam, Manitoba, and we still had to wait some days before police confirmed that that car was actually the one that was linked to the boys and that had been stolen, it belonged to Leonard Dick and that McLeod and Schmegelsky had stolen that vehicle and likely brought it to this point but this is also the day that anyone can confirm that they actually saw the pair and police finally identified Leonard Dick on that day. Over the next couple of days the search around Gillam intensified, and this is a small town, it was just inundated with mounties and the military, they were searching by land, water, air, and they set up information check stops along the only road in and out of the community now this was just to talk to residents, get to know them, also maybe jog their memories now, of course, these boys had been on the run or at least missing for many days, and that gave them lots of time to not be in the public eye and get across a vast amount of area where people would just look at them and think these are just two boys in a car or on a road trip, or they’re just going from point A to point B so that gave them a lot of time to cover quite a bit of ground. And this was just; They’re hoping that at some point in Gillam that somebody maybe just recognizes them and maybe they even accidentally or they helped them not knowing that they were suspects in any murders cause even at this point most of us didn’t know, so like any good Samaritan, you see somebody on the side of the road you might stop and help them, and you don’t know. So, this itself like this whole search is intensifying in this very rural and very untamed and unforgiving part of the country. I mean, the northern parts of the prairie provinces; I’m from Calgary and just going up even to northern Alberta and in northern Manitoba itself, these are vast expanses of dense bush, this is musk egg, that’s swamp and bog and just hard to get through. You can’t drive through most of it, there’s only a couple of access roads and you’re surrounded; This is the one of the heights of the bug season, and there’s just wildlife everywhere. So there’s just all those risks, and that terrain is tough, this is the kind of land that you can easily sink into and just never be seen again so at this point, we’re wondering if they got lost out there this search might never come to an end, and this might have slowed them down but it also meant that that would hinder the police search for them as well, because the police also had to go through the same land that these boys were going through.
Jordan: So tell me about then, because you mentioned that that was sort of, you know, July 23rd-24th, tell me about the 10 plus days before their bodies were actually found this week because there wasn’t a lot of information, but there were all kinds of rumors.
Lasia: There certainly were. So many people coming forward saying that they had seen them in northern BC, in Alberta. Other people once the days started to roll by, people started calling in saying to Ontario police that they had seen the boys in Ontario. So now the question became had the boys doubled back, perhaps found another car and made their way south and got into Ontario? Because there’s just so many, there’s limited roads and limited access. So obviously police looking into all of these tips, getting hundreds of tips by this point and nothing being confirmed, nobody being able to provide that physical proof or the very sure thing that this was a verified sighting of the boys. And so actually, the last time that we really knew that we had seen the boys confirmed was on Monday, July 22nd and since then there had been nothing, so there were a lot of rumors going around, a lot of fear in communities. At one point, RCMP being sent down to Yorkton to check out and make sure that any; There had been reports again unconfirmed. So we had another community that was getting involved, and in a high alert and again RCMP swarming the area, that turning out to be nothing. So RCMP were called down and resumed the search around Gillam, that’s really where they seemed to intensify the search for those boys and it’s not that they didn’t search a small area, they searched 11,000 square kilometres and to put that in perspective that is larger than the GTA. That would be searching all of the GTA, and that’s in swamp, that’s in rough terrain so that’s not actually a very easy search.
Jordan: And it turns out that they were found not too far from there, right?
Lasia: Ultimately, so what we had was that on like you mentioned, 10 days. So on August 4th, we had members of the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team, they started this search of the section of the Nelson River near Gillam, about northeast of it, after they announced that they had found a damaged aluminum boat on the shore two days before. And RCMP in Manitoba had the dive teams go through the water around that area over the weekend but they didn’t find too much. They told us that then they were; They found some items, unidentified items in the area along with the boat that kept them centered around that and this was an area that was eight kilometers from where the suspects were, their last known vehicle was found on fire just outside of Gillam, and so this was actually not very far when you think about the fact that they had searched 11,000 square kilometres and it all came down to just eight kilometers away.
News Clip: This morning at approximately 10 a.m. RCMP officers located two male bodies in the dense brush within one kilometer from where the items were found. This is approximately eight kilometers from where the burnt vehicle was located. At this time, we believe these are the bodies of the two suspects wanted in connection with the homicides in British Columbia.
Jordan: What do we know about how they were found? What condition they were in? What were they found with etc.? How did this end?
Lasia: At this point, we don’t know much about how they were found, exactly where they were found and in what condition. Beyond that, we know police were saying; that police believe without a doubt that these were the bodies of Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky. We don’t know at this point what the cause of death is of these two bodies that were found, exactly where they were found, if they were found in the water, if they had some connection to that aluminum boat, what were those items that were found on the shore? Did they; They were linked to the boys but what exactly were they?
Jordan: So, but these men are dead, and we’re never gonna get a trial, right? Are we ever gonna find the answers to these questions?
Lasia: A trial at this point is probably unlikely. Most the time if somebody is found dead, obviously there’s nobody to charge, there’s nobody to punish. Police have said that at this point they feel confident but they’re going to keep investigating to make sure that there are no other suspects, that there are no other uh that they believe that there’s no other way that Lucas Fowler, Chyna Deese, and Leonard Dick could have been killed other than by Schmegelsky and McLeod, but we just have so many unanswered questions and like you say like we still don’t know exactly why the boys left home, if they had a plan to find work in Whitehorse, if that was actually true, how could they become suspects in the murders of these three individuals and charged in one of them so far? And if they are responsible for all these deaths, what happened? Police say that they don’t think the deaths were targeted, so we don’t know why these young men could have possibly have done this.
Jordan: So what happens next?
Lasia: Well, right now it is waiting for that autopsy on the bodies. It’s being done as we speak so police should get some answers in the next coming days. When they release that information or even if they do, it’s still up in the air and then through that we’re just gonna keep seeing police probably mentioning or talking about the ongoing investigation. They might not release a whole lot of information about how they’re gathering their evidence but at the end of the day, because of the high profile nature of this case we will hopefully find out ultimately when this case will be closed and when they have determined that these boys, although they will never see a trial, and I don’t think that we will ever be able to in the public eye definitively say that they were convicted of these murders or that they did them, at end of the day at least the police will say that we do not believe that these murders were committed by anybody else so that we don’t think that that we have some people still on the loose.
Jordan: When you have a case like this that involves, you know, different parties, that spans provinces, that spans thousands and thousands of kilometres and you have multiple divisions of the RCMP involved, and local police and nobody’s really saying anything how do you piece something like this together in a newsroom?
Lasia: With a lot of people and a lot of people looking at very different angles, thankfully we have multiple people in the newsroom who were able to make out different calls to the various RCMP divisions because when you’re trying to reach so many different bodies and you have so many moving parts, it’s sometimes nice when somebody is constantly on a constant beat and checking in on certain files and also just staying in touch. Most of the information that we were getting was coming out of Manitoba because that’s where most of the press conferences were happening, it where the search was going on and where they believe that the boys were located.
Jordan: How do you think we’ll remember this story in the weeks and months and years later?
Lasia: I think that a lot of it will come down to the question of why? That we won’t have a lot of those answers that we really crave, and I think that a lot of the people involved here, especially the family members of the victims won’t get that closure that they want or the justice that they deserve when it comes to a case like this. The rumor mills will all have their hypotheses, especially on what could have lead the young men to northern Manitoba, to potentially killing these individuals if they actually did this, and if so, just why? You don’t see cases like this a lot, most the time we’re able to, or at least police are able to piece together an understanding of why these things happen, and I think that that is the big question that has not been answered. We have a lot of the other questions as journalists that we ask, things like the how for many of the suspects, or the victims, how they passed, the when the where, but that big question that I think a lot of people will keep asking is why?
Jordan: Thanks Lasia.
Lasia: Thanks for having me.
Jordan: Lasia Kretzel is a reporter with News 1130. That was The Big Story. For more on us you can head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. You can find all of our other stories there, more than 250 of them now. You can also talk to us on Twitter @thebigstoryfpn, and of course, you can find us wherever you get your podcasts on Apple, on Google, on Stitcher, or on Spotify. Shoot us a rating, and a review if you want to be nice. Claire Broussard is the lead producer of The Big Story, Stephanie Phillips and Ryan Clarke are our associate producers, and Annalise Nielsen is our digital editor, and I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. Thanks for listening. Have a great weekend, we’ll talk Monday.
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