I remember seeing the Daughney sisters, on a summer day some time back in 1989, walking together along Pleasant Street, toward their home. They lived next door to a friend of mine, were actually cousins of his. So I am thinking I was probably on my way from his house. I could have said hello to them, but then again, maybe not.
I saw Father Smith a few weeks before that, when I was in Chatham Head. Again, I am not completely sure when I last saw him - but I do remember serving mass for him a few times as a kid. His nephews were friends of mine.
As for Mrs. Flam, my last memory of her dates back to a day when I was about 14 or 15, and a friend of mine and I went on a great adventure. Taking our bicycles, we travelled down to Ferry Road, six miles from our homes in Newcastle, and across the great Miramichi on the ferryboat, the Romeo and Juliet. When the boat docked in Chatham, we went to Mrs. Flam's store before continuing around the river and back to Newcastle. The only thing she ever said to me was that she knew who I was because she had known my grandmother. That trip, by the way, was a warm-up for our bicycle trip around the world, which we never managed to complete. Never managed to start.
John Glendenning's store was another pleasant and welcoming spot that I stopped at many times during the 1970s, on the way to and from Bay Du Vin, where my wife and I lived for about a year. I remember him and his family well.
These people were the murder victims of Allan Legere.
Mr. Glendenning was murdered at his house in 1987 by Legere and two young accomplices, and Mrs. Flam, the Daughney sisters and Father Smith were murdered two years later, after he escaped from Renous Penitentiary.
If it is important for me to remember these people, I want to tell you what happens when I do. I do not think of them in the hands of their murderer - that has never been the moment. I am not at all dismissing the crimes, or the mindless sickness that was perpetrated against them. But their memory transcends that - and takes me to an innocent place as easily and as beneficial as air. Perhaps remembering them in the way I do is the only thing they demand of us who knew them.
It was 20 years ago. The Miramichi has changed. A new generation has grown up, many who have not heard very much about Legere. In fact, few ever mention him now. The world has gone on. Our lumber and mining industries are gone, and many of my friends and their sons work more than half of the year away from its shores, far to the west in Alberta. The towns have spread out to become a place called Miramichi City with malls and fast food outlets, and when I go home, many of the people there I no longer know.
Still and all, it is the Miramichi, the great river, filled with a rough gentleness and, in spite of everything, a kind of innocence, whose people cannot be made less - by depression or violence.
Legere was a factor in our lives here for a long time. There is no denying it. Why he became such is finally something none of us can fully know. I know he suffered as a child. But so, too, did others, equally or more. And I knew men every bit as tough who never hurt a soul. Who were, and are, some of the kindest people I have ever met. One June night in 1959, off Escuminac, where men risked their lives to save one another in the worst fishing disaster in the history of Canada, proves without a word the greatness of the Miramichi soul. Certainly, too, I knew many who grew up every bit as poor, or as oppressed, and were still full of a common humanity. Or suffered terrible violence at the hands of others. One became the greatest poet the country ever produced; another got his doctorate on Mathew Arnold, and is as good a writer, and as tough a man, as anyone I know. But most are simply kind and decent and shun perpetrating what they themselves had to endure.
I suppose that is what being brave actually means.
Legere gained national attention because he showed why he was a factor in our lives. Part of this was because of his sensational escape from prison, his hiding a screwdriver in a body cavity and overpowering two prison guards in the spring of 1989. His descending on the Miramichi to exact misguided revenge on what was still considered a rural community.
Then the sudden, horrible murder of the elderly Mrs. Flam.
The media began to focus on us in the glaring way it rarely affords small places. The crimes were heinous. But Legere was not unique. There were other murders committed elsewhere that were every bit as willful and cruel. In 1993, Eric Ross murdered four innocent people, attempting to murder two more over a few days in Barrie, Ont. The people there endured the same anxiety, anger and fear as the people of Miramichi did, but for much less a time. The motives for the crimes of Eric Ross were as infuriatingly trifling and incomprehensible, the pattern as predictably petty. Or, as in the case of Paul Bernardo and his soul-buddy Karla, as wormishly depraved.
Not all media, but some, were voyeuristic, delighting in the degeneracy of the "Monster in the forest," as one British tabloid expressed it. I suppose Legere embodied much of our collective anxiety about what corrupts a human soul. Added to this was the terror that he had escaped to exact revenge on the unsuspecting, that the police - as heroic as their efforts were - were unable to catch him. Where was he now, where would he strike?
The entire river remained lighted night after night.
For like any sudden malady, this was visited upon us.
The fear was palpable, as the days became weeks, weeks became months. Elderly people went to stay with relatives. Young men came home to be with their parents and protect them. People began to realize that if you were young, and strong, or had men in the house who were, he would not bother you. Others simply believed that since they had known him, he would never bother them.
So if this is what he tried to impart - a sudden terror on the part of the elderly and vulnerable, those who were alone, or ill - then he succeeded. He succeeded, for a little bit. But he did not change the towns and he did not lessen the greatness of their people.
I think the murders of the solitary, gentle Daughney sisters in some way broke my heart. Like many others, for a long while, I could not speak of these people without tears. Sometimes, even now, you shout "no," to stop something that was over, long ago.
That is what happens, when people lessen their own humanity.
I wondered if anyone could ever learn from this, whether it could make them a better human being in some small way. If anything, I have come to realize murder is always the same crime. It is always done in fear and rage. It always tries to hide itself and run away, and when caught, defends itself in bloated self-righteousness. It is over and over and over again, the transgression of Cain.
"One cannot give fear in any measure one does not in himself possess," the philosopher Seneca said about the emperor Nero, before Nero put him to death.
When I see the photos of the crime scenes of Mrs. Flam and the Daughney sisters, there is much shock and revulsion, about how the ordinariness of their lives was transgressed. But for me, the photos prove something: that murder is the anti-miracle that always tries in predictable and banal ways to maim and kill the miracle that is life. Others might think of it differently, but I cannot. To me, these crime-scene photos never show Mrs. Flam, or the Daughney sisters, and never can or will. And in a real way, this is their victory. The photos simply show the palpable terror of Legere himself.
That, I suppose, is proof murder can never be what it is not. What is striking is that we know this, and we are mortified that the perpetrators, through self-sickness or delusion, do not. The crime of Raskolinkov in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is the embodiment of the falseness and self-deception of the allure of evil. No one has ever shown this better than Dostoyevsky: That human innocence, as hard to maintain as it can be, is in the end the only antidote.
And no one ever had to.
He was finally apprehended in November, 1989, after fleeing, with a sawed-off 308 in his hand, from Saint John back to the Miramichi. He had commandeered the wrong vehicles - first, a car that belonged to an off-duty female police officer, and then a tractor trailer that was spotted on a side road. The first call informing RCMP of his whereabouts came about 5 in the morning - to our house, strangely enough, because of a misdialed number.
When he was caught, Legere blurted: "I could have done this, I could have done that - I am Allan Legere."
But that was never true. The terror and venality Legere inflicted on the place he hated was simply what he was. He was allowed to do only what his fear demanded. He could give us that and nothing more.
And his victims want us to know, and always remember, that they are now free.
They are, in fact, free forever.
Author David Adams Richards lives in New Brunswick. His most recent book is God Is, a look at the role of faith in modern times.