Teen murder spree fugitive Bryer Schmegelsky would have turned 19 last Monday, August 4, but it’s likely he and accomplice Kam McLeod died agonising deaths days earlier.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) found the remains of the pair in dense bush near the shoreline of the Nelson River near Gillam in the wilderness of northern Manitoba.
The gruesome discovery just after 10am on Wednesday local time ended a 15 day, military scale manhunt that led police on a 3000km chase across three provinces and a painstaking search of more than 11,000 sqkm of swampy, insect and predator infested bush.
Schmegelsky and McLeod were wanted for the murders of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, and university lecturer Leonard Dyck on highways in British Columbia last month.
The suspects’ bodies were found approximately 1km from where police found items — including a sleeping bag — “directly linked” to the pair and 8km from where they ditched and burned their getaway car.
Half-eaten pork chops and orange peel were found alongside the gutted vehicle but canned fish, tools and other supplies were left behind, suggesting the pair had not intended to camp in the wilderness for long.
Instead, they appear to have shoved down a final meal of meat and fruit before plunging themselves into the thick scrub and trudging through swamp and insect infested terrain towards the river’s treacherous waters.
RCMP put out this alert for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18 on July 23 after naming the pair suspects in three homicides. Picture: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via APSource:AP
The section of dense bush along the Nelson River where police found the bodies of triple murder suspects Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod. Picture: Joseph Scarpelli/Global NewsSource:Supplied
BREAKING: the bodies found today near Gillam we’re in such a difficult spot along the Nelson River they had to be brought by boat to a loading dock. Here are the bodies being brought to the airport. #canadamanhuntpic.twitter.com/v7UTl1MJlr— Joe Scarpelli (@ScarpelliGlobal) August 8, 2019
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said she was confident a post mortem examination would confirm the remains as McLeod and Schmegelsky.
The bodies were in such an inaccessible spot that police were forced to transport them by boat to a loading dock before driving them to the airport, where they were flown to the provincial capital of Winnipeg.
Exactly how the teens died remains unknown but injury, exposure, water contamination, animal attack, anaphylactic shock from insect bites and suicide are all possibilities.
Survival experts predicted the suspects were more likely to be “eaten alive” by sandflies than killed by the black bears, grizzlies, polar bears, wolves and coyotes that roam the region.
Rumours the pair committed suicide have been rife since July 28, when police SWAT teams swooped on the nearby community of York Landing after a sighting at the local landfill.
Helicopters, drones and military aircraft lit up the community of just 200 people from above with their searchlights as police conducted door-to-door searches of homes and abandoned buildings through the night.
Several gunshots were heard during the raid — leading to feverish, real-time speculation on social media that Schmegelsky and McLeod had been cornered and captured by police.
The RCMP denied reports of gunshots before conceding two of its members had fired their weapons in order to communicate their location to fellow officers.
Some locals, however, believe the shots were the sound of the pair suiciding.
A bizarre tweet on July 30 from a purported local using the handle @weeshiefogarty, claimed the suspects had killed themselves.
“Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky committed suicide this evening, called the search OFF, they are both DEAD,” it said.
Police have yet to address the tweet.
The claim Schmegelsky and McLeod had suicided during the police raids on York Landing was made on Twitter in response to a post by RCMP. Picture: TwitterSource:Supplied
The landfill at York Landing where members of nonviolent vigilante group Bear Clan Patrol spotted two males matching the suspects’ description on July 28. Picture: Kyle EdwardsSource:Supplied
The last known movements of Schmegelsky and McLeod were all on July 22, when they ditched the stolen Toyota RAV4 they were driving in dense bush near a rail line at Fox Lake Cree Nation reserve.
The car was found by Fox Lake residents Billy and Tamara Beardy, who were out picking strawberries when they noticed black smoke billowing in the distance at about 7pm.
The couple jumped into their truck and drove towards the smoke before coming across the burning SUV in a ditch and calling the RCMP.
When the Beardys revisited the scene a short time later, the charred vehicle had been towed out of the ditch and its contents lay strewn around it.
They included “cans of sardines, small propane bottles, forks, orange peels, loose change and partially eaten pork chops”, Ms Beardy told The Globe and Mail.
Various tools and a blackened set of keys — photographed below by local reporter Kyle Edwards — littered the road nearby.
The charred set of keys found on the road beside the fugitives’ burnt-out RAV 4 near Gillam on July 22. Picture: Kyle EdwardsSource:Supplied
The burnt-out Toyota RAV4 was found ditched in bush near Gillam on July 22. Picture: CBCSource:Supplied
Police scour the Nelson River area for clues as they hunt for Schmegelsky and McLeod. Picture: Global NewsSource:Supplied
Volunteer firefighter Ty Blake, who helped extinguish the SUV, said it appeared the occupants had left in a hurry, leaving behind camping equipment and canned sardines or oysters that would help them survive in the bush.
“There were a few pots and pans in there, a few canned foods, a crowbar,” he said.
Mr Beardy said the fugitives wouldn’t have been able to survive long with access to food and freshwater.
“Unless you have a big sack of food,” he told Mr Edwards. “Half the water around here will give you the beaver fever.”
Tour operator Clint Sawchuk, who runs Nelson River Adventures in Gillam, said the terrain was so dense that authorities could walk right past the teens and be none the wiser.
“They could be 10 feet off the road and you wouldn’t see them,” he told The Globe and Mail.
“It’s all low-lying trees, not high timber. It’s all spruce trees and small brush. If they wanted to hide, they could easily hide … but they ain’t enjoying their stay.”
Mr Sawchuk, who lent police the use of his boat for the Nelson River search, played a huge role in the discovery of the teens’ bodies after alerting police to what he believed was a sleeping bag on the riverbank on Friday.
Hours before they dumped the RAV 4 — believed to have been stolen from murder victim Professor Dyck — Schmegelsky and McLeod were pulled over at nearby Split Lake, a dry indigenous community.
First Nations Band Constable Albert Saunders said the pair drove past an alcohol checkpoint. He pursued them a short distance with his lights flashing before pulling them over and requesting to search the car.
Initial reports claimed Constable Saunders had seen camping equipment and maps — indicating the teens were in for the long haul — but later denied having seen those items.
“I didn’t see no camping gear, no maps, no weapons, no drugs or alcohol,” he told CBC.
The only objects of interest were “two boxes and a suit”. It is unclear whether the suit is the same one bought for Schmegelsky by his father, who later referred to the outfit as his son’s “funeral suit”.
“They seemed paranoid when I was talking to that guy there, the driver,” Constable Saunders said.
“Not even an hour later they left here towards Gillam.”
We now know that the suspects went on to a local petrol station, where attendant Mychelle Keeper said she sold them $20 worth of fuel at about 4pm.
Like the band constable, Ms Keeper had no idea who she had run into until the following day, July 23, when the RCMP released an alert naming Schmegelsky and McLeod suspects in the murders of Mr Fowler, Ms Deese and Mr Dyck.
Split Lake petrol station attendant Mychelle Keeper was one of the last people to see Schmegelsky and McLeod alive. Picture: Global NewsSource:Supplied
A police roadblock at Fox Lake Cree Nation, where Schmegelsky and McLeod dumped and torched their stolen RAV4 SUV. Picture: Global NewsSource:Supplied
Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese were on a dream road trip when they were found shot to death on the Alaska Highway on July 15. Picture: FacebookSource:AFP
Canadian botany lecturer Leonard Dyck, 64, was found dead on another British Columbian highway on July 19. Picture: FacebookSource:AAP
The breakthrough in the case came after the Mounties sent an underwater recovery team to dive a section of river where an aluminium boat was spotted during a helicopter search on Friday.
That same day, Mr Sawchuk, who had helped worth the manhunt by lending police his boat to search the river, reported seeing what looked like a sleeping bag on the shoreline.
While police could find no evidence the fugitives had used the vessel, known locally as a “jon boat”, they were able to “directly link” them to several items found nearby
Police have not revealed what the objects were but Mr Sawchuk told national broadcaster CBC he believed one of those items was the sleeping bag he saw.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said police used all the resources they had available to them in the manhunt — one of the biggest in Canadian history.
“We searched more than 11,000 sqkm of terrain across Northern Manitoba, scouring rail lines, trains, hydro corridors, winter roads, waterways, coastline and vast areas of forest and trails,” Commissioner Lucki said.
“In the search we deployed all resources and tools at out disposal including, airplanes, helicopters, boats, ATVs, police dogs, armoured vehicles drones and underwater recovery teams.”
“We also liaised closely with partners in the private and public sectors, including members of the public, following up more than 250 tips. I’m thankful to say all this extraordinary work has paid off.”