Julie Surprenant, Body Never Located
It was hardly a secret that repeat sex offender Richard Bouillon was suspected of abducting and killing his 16-year-old neighbour Julie Surprenant. “You could have asked any Quebecer, and he would have told you,” prison guard Daniel L’Archevêque testified Tuesday at a coroner’s inquiry into Ms. Surprenant’s presumed death.
But in June 2006, as Bouillon lay dying in a guarded hospital room, police investigators had failed to pin the suspected murder on him. Ms. Surprenant’s body had never been found since she vanished after getting off a bus a few blocks from her home in November 1999. Her family’s anguish continued. Even diagnosed with terminal cancer and serving a sentence for unrelated 2003 sexual-assault convictions, Bouillon refused police entreaties to confess.
But Bouillon was more forthcoming with two young women caring for him in his final days at Laval’s Cité-de-la-Santé hospital, Coroner Catherine Rudel-Tessier heard. “He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I was the one who killed her,’ ” nurse’s aide Joanne Dubois testified, specifying that he referred to “Julie.” Her colleague, auxiliary nurse Annick Prudhomme, testified that Bouillon told her on three separate days that he had murdered the teen. The third time he described where he had dumped her body, stuffed in a sports bag, into a river in Terrebonne, north of Montreal.
It is a peculiar coroner’s inquest that examines an alleged murder for which no body has been found, no arrest made. Stranger still was the testimony of the two women about their reaction to Bouillon’s deathbed confession. They said they talked about it between themselves and with a few of their nursing colleagues, but they never alerted their boss, let alone the police.
It wasn’t until nearly five years later, after Ms. Prudhomme saw a January 2011 news report on the Surprenant case by well-known crime reporter Claude Poirier that she came forward. Bouillon had told her he wanted to confess to Mr. Poirier, she said, and she assumed he had done so before he died. That, she felt, left her off the hook. But in the report Mr. Poirier said his attempts to speak to Bouillon had been thwarted.
She called Mr. Poirier’s tip line, left a message and eventually recounted her story on air. She said she considered it her “duty as a citizen.” It was unclear why she did not feel moved by the same duty in 2006, when her actions might have conclusively closed the case.
Sgt. Sébastien Rousseau of the Sûreté du Québec’s cold-case squad told the inquiry that, had police learned of the deathbed confession at the time, investigators would have wired Ms. Prudhomme with a hidden microphone to try to get him to repeat the confession. They would have checked cameras in the fortified hospital room, which is used exclusively for prisoners. And they would have searched the section of the Rivière des Mille Îles where Bouillon said he had left her body.
“It would have been a key element in our investigation,” he said.
Police divers only searched for the body in September 2011, after Ms. Prudhomme went public with her story. By then, 12 spring thaws had passed, the shallow riverbed had been raked by the current, and no remains were found.
Ms. Rudel-Tessier had trouble containing her astonishment at the women’s silence after hearing the confession. “All of a sudden suspect No. 1 tells you, ‘I’m the one who killed her.’ How did you react?” she asked Ms. Dubois. “I don’t know,” she replied, saying that she believed Bouillon because he was looking into her eyes.
“Did you think about going to the police?” the coroner asked. “No,” she replied, “because he said he wanted to talk to Claude Poirier. I thought he would tell him.”
The women were apparently not alone in shrugging off Bouillon’s statements. They said the small room in which he was a patient was under constant guard by a correctional officer, who would have overheard the confession. A second guard stationed outside the door could observe and hear what was going on inside the room via a video screen, Ms. Dubois said. A lawyer for Correctional Services Canada told the inquiry the guards had never reported the confession.
Mr. L’Archevêque, who occasionally watched over Bouillon while he was imprisoned in Drummondville, Que., told the inquiry of a 2005 incident in which two of Bouillon’s fellow prisoners tried to extract a confession. He observed the trio talking together for about 10 minutes before one of the prisoners left briefly and returned with a piece of paper. Bouillon promptly got up and left.
The third prisoner told Mr. L’Archevêque they had “just missed” getting a confession to Ms. Surprenant’s murder. Mr. Bouillon had become spooked by the paper, intended to record his statement, the inmate said. Mr. L’Archevêque said he never reported the incident because the inmates had only “come close” to getting a confession. “That’s not solid.”
Between prisoners playing detective and the nurse relying on a TV reporter to sort the case out, the effort to resolve Ms. Surprenant’s disappearance had its Keystone Kops side. But for her father, Michel Surprenant, who sat through all the testimony Tuesday and is to testify himself Wednesday, there is obviously nothing amusing.
Pina Arcamone, observing the inquiry as president of the Missing Children’s Network, said it was upsetting to hear how little thought was given to the nightmare lived by the victim’s family. “This person [Bouillon] has probably eased his mind, goes to the other side having rid himself of this burden, but the family remains with this burden,” she told reporters.
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