While an RCMP report into the murders of three people in northern British Columbia was unable to offer answers about what motivated the two accused, it noted a chilling late night encounter between a man who’d stopped on a highway and two people who matched the suspects’ descriptions.
The witness had pulled over to take a nap, and within five minutes, a truck with a camper drove past and stopped a short distance ahead.
The report says a male got out of the passenger side holding a long gun, and then walked towards the tree line and started “moving towards the witness in a tactical or hunting stance.” The truck also started driving slowly towards the witness, the report says.
The witness drove away from the armed male and past the truck, the report continues. The driver covered his face with his hand, barring it from the witness’s view.
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The witness reported the incident to RCMP on July 21 — the same day police issued a news release asking for the public’s help in finding Schmegelsky and McLeod. At that point, police say the pair were missing persons rather than suspects, and investigators feared they might have also been victims.
The men were later charged with the murder of Leonard Dyck, a University of British Columbia botany lecturer, and were also suspects in the deaths of American Chynna Deese and her Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler.
McLeod and Schmegelsky confessed to the killings in a series of videos that were found after the pair’s bodies were discovered, dead by a suicide pact, in northern Manitoba on Aug. 7 at the end of a nationwide manhunt, police said Friday.
“The investigative theory is that McLeod and Schmegelsky came across Fowler’s van and targeted Fowler and Deese for unknown reasons before continuing up into the Yukon. McLeod and Schmegelsky returned to B.C. because they were having vehicle issues and came across Dyck who they killed for unknown reasons,” the RCMP report states in its conclusion.
While the report says the witness in the July 17 encounter described the truck as being a GMC rather than McLeod’s Dodge, police say the men’s descriptions matched the suspects’ and the pair were confirmed to be in the area at the time.
The investigation began July 15 when the bodies of Fowler and Deese were discovered near Highway 97, south of Liard River Hot Springs, B.C. The bodies were near a van registered to Fowler. An autopsy on July 19 confirmed that Fowler and Deese died of multiple gunshot wounds and it appears that the shooter or shooters stood behind the victims for at least some of the shots.
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Also on July 19, McLeod’s burned truck was found about 60 kilometres south of Dease Lake, B.C. Dyck’s body was found about two kilometres away but was unidentified at that time.
After tracing the truck, police spoke with members of McLeod’s family and learned he’d left his home of Port Alberni with Schmegelsky on July 12. The family described the two friends as good kids who were on a trip to northern British Columbia and Yukon to look for work.
A manhunt for McLeod and Schmegelsky led to Gillam, Man., where Dyck’s Toyota Rav 4 was found burned. Officers converged on the area to begin what would be a two-week search that ended with the suspects being found dead.
Police say the suspects expressed no remorse in the videos and did not explain what motivated the killings.
They said McLeod shot Schmegelsky before shooting himself, and two guns found near their bodies were the same firearms used in the murders of Deese, Fowler and Dyck.
“If there was in fact a motive, it’s gone with the accused,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett told a news conference Friday.
By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton, with files from Laura Kane in Vancouver.