Crime Beat: Karissa Boudreau — up with the angels

Paul Boudreau is determined not to let the tragic loss of his daughter, Karissa, ruin his own life.

Boudreau agreed to share his emotional ordeal publicly, for the first time, with Global News. 

“I don’t need to hang in dark places to remember somebody. I don’t want to remember somebody in the dark times. I want to remember when they’re happy, skipping in the hallway singing their songs. That was Karissa.”

Karissa Boudreau Courtesy Paul Boudreau

For years, Boudreau could not visit the town of Bridgewater, N.S., where 12-year-old Karissa was murdered in 2008.

“I had so much anxiety that I couldn’t even pull in the exit. I mean, I’m okay now, but it took me a long time to reprogram my brain to not get that anxiety over going there.”

Paul has rebuilt his life in Shelburne, just down the coast from Bridgewater, with a new wife, Kim, her 10-year-old son, Logan, and, another daughter, four-year-old, Carmie. He ensures Carmie is aware of her older sister, reminding her, as they examine school pictures of Karissa, that she’s “up with the angels.”

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“Karissa’s been in my life every day. She’s never left.”  

Click to play video: 'Crime Beat trailer: ‘Karissa Boudreau: Up with the angels’' Crime Beat trailer: ‘Karissa Boudreau: Up with the angels’
Crime Beat trailer: ‘Karissa Boudreau: Up with the angels’ – Nov 4, 2020

To her father, Karissa was a normal child, with a rebellious streak. She enjoyed music, teddy bears, and birthday sleepovers.

You can watch the full episode of ‘Karissa Boudreau: Up With The Angels’. Click here.  

“She liked to hop, skip and, you know, sing, while she was running and things like that, you know, and her and I were very close.”

In January 2008, Penny Boudreau reported her daughter, Karissa, missing. At two emotional news conferences, she said Karissa had disappeared from her vehicle while Penny was shopping at a Sobeys grocery store. 

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Parents pitched in to help find Karissa, putting up posters, creating pages on social media, and donating money to her campaign to find her daughter. 

Two weeks after Karissa disappeared, a woman reported her nine-year-old boy had seen human toes sticking out of the snow on a riverbank along Bridgewater’s LaHave River. An autopsy on the frozen body confirmed the remains as Karissa Boudreau.  

The Chief Medical Examiner concluded the cause of death was asphyxiation, and that Karissa had been strangled. Karissa’s clothing had been arranged in a way that suggested she’d been sexually assaulted. But, there were no other injuries. 

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When the truth was revealed, it was the ultimate betrayal. Karissa had been murdered by her own mother.

Investigators would discover her mother, Penny, had driven to a secluded location, in the dark, tackled Karissa, and, strangled her with a piece of twine.

Penny Boudreau, 34, was charged with first-degree murder, pleading guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder.

Boudreau suggested to undercover cops she did it to save her relationship with her boyfriend, Vernon Macumber, who she claimed had given her an ultimatum: pick either him or Karissa.

But Macumber said he had “no idea” Penny would murder Karissa. He denies issuing an ultimatum, saying he only told Penny that the fighting between her and Karissa could not continue. The three were sharing an apartment in Bridgewater. In December, the month before she was murdered, Karissa expressed her own thoughts in a series of handwritten notes obtained by Global News through a Freedom of Information request. 

In one letter, dated Dec. 2, 2008, Karissa writes: “I’m mad because mom is engaged to Vernon. Mom made me move here. Mom broke up with Shane. I want a bigger room. I don’t like Vernon living with us. The end. My life is ruined. By Karissa.” At the bottom of the letter, Karissa drew a heart and a star.

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Karissa’s tragic story will soon be the subject of a book by John Elliott, retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant. 

Sgt. Elliott was a coordinator in an RCMP “Mister Big” sting operation that cajoled Penny Boudreau into confessing.

“We were actually in an adjoining room at the hotel. So we did have a live feed, a video feed, that was coming from the room where Penny was. And we were watching it unfold. We heard Penny, in her own words, say that she had murdered her daughter, Karissa.”

No video or audio recording of Penny’s “Mister Big” confession has ever been released. Neither has the transcript. Elliott calls it a surreal moment.

“When we saw it go down, we looked at each other and there were tears in our eyes that, you know, we had solved it.

“We were going to give the family some justice.”

At the sentencing, there were sobs in the courtroom as the crown recounted Karissa’s final words, “Mommy don’t.” 

Those are words that are beyond comprehension to her father, Paul Boudreau.

How do you go from being a loving mother to standing on your child and strangling her to death? The last words are, ‘Mommy, don’t.’

Elliott says he’d been thinking about writing a book about Karissa for years, partly to help deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered after attending Karissa’s autopsy.

“I went to her gravesite on two occasions. And that was part of dealing with what I had to deal with. She was just a normal 12-year-old girl. She wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian. She loved animals. And I think it’s important that she be remembered other than maybe a statistic in Nova Scotia crime reports or something.”

Hearing that Penny Boudreau had been granted some escorted day passes from prison “infuriated me in some way, made me angry,” Paul Boudreau says. It sealed his determination to honour Karissa.

Penny has completed just over half of her 20-year prison sentence. She avoided a longer life sentence by pleading guilty. And she can apply for early parole after 15 years, under a “faint hope” clause in the criminal code.

 

Typically, such a bid would have been launched by now. The Parole Board says it’s prevented by the Privacy Act, from disclosing whether there’s been an application.

A Psychological Assessment in 2017 rated her as a “very low risk to reoffend.” But, the assessment said her romantic relationships should be monitored, to ensure her risk remains low. It noted attachment disruptions in early childhood “appear to have made you vulnerable to engaging in unhealthy relationships and reacting with extreme distress when they are in jeopardy of ending.”

Penny Boudreau is gradually gaining more freedom — receiving escorted day passes to attend church several times a year.

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Paul says he understands it’s how the system works, as part of an inmate’s rehabilitation. But, he says he will oppose her freedom at every turn.

Karissa and Paul Boudreau

“Ever since this happened, she’s never faced any of us. I want her to look me in the eye and tell me that she’s rehabilitated. And she should be out,” he says.

“And if she can give me a good reason, then you know what? She’s done her time. Whatever. And you know, if she can give me one good reason, why she thinks that she should be out in the public and functioning again, you know what? I won’t argue. But I guarantee that’s not going to happen.”

Penny declined our request for an interview. Paul says he doesn’t know if there will ever be justice for Karissa. He agreed to be interviewed for the Global TV Network program Crime Beat in an episode that airs Saturday, Nov. 7.          

He said he did it for his mother, Suzanne Grear, who died recently, and never got over her granddaughter’s murder.

And, to honour Karissa.