10.23.11

A Teen Serial Killer in Canada?

Cody Legebokoff was your typical hockey-playing teenager from British Columbia—or, say cops, a depraved murderer who preyed on women and dumped their bodies in the woods. Christine Pelisek investigates.

Blond and blue-eyed with chubby cheeks, Cody Legebokoff was a typical Canadian kid who liked girls, hockey, snowboarding, skiing, and partying.

A friendly, affable high-school jock who was raised by a respectable family in northern British Columbia, surrounded by snow-capped peaks, bustling mill towns, and a remote wilderness, Cody grew up hunting for grouse and fishing for trout with his grandfather.

He was also a prolific text messager and social networker who frequented online dating sites under the name 1CountryBoy. And though he got into the occasional bar fight, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound baby-faced young man seemed to be anything but a troublemaker. In fact, he was barely on the radar of the local police at all. “He wasn’t known to us,” said Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Brendan Fitzpatrick. “He had a minor criminal record if anything at all.”

He's on their radar now. Canadian investigators today believe that Legebokoff was a teenage serial killer who murdered three women and a legally blind 10th-grade student, disposing of their bodies in remote wooded areas near Prince George during a one-year period that began in 2009, a year after he graduated high school.

With a seemingly clear conscience, Legebokoff even took the time to share a big Canadian Thanksgiving dinner in 2010 with his girlfriend and family, just three days after the body of one of his alleged victims surfaced.

“The Cody that I know—that I took hunting and fishing—wouldn’t do any of that,” said Legebokoff’s grandfather, Roy Goodwin, in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. “Everybody liked him, there wasn’t a person that had a bad thing to say about him—nobody.”

“He was the boy next door,” said Fitzpatrick.

Last week Legebokoff was charged with three of the murders. He was already in custody, charged with the murder of 15-year-old high-school student Loren Leslie whose body was found near a snowy stretch of Highway 27, about an hour from Prince George, in November of 2010.

According to the RCMP, the killings began one year earlier when Legebokoff was just 19. His first alleged victim was 35-year-old singer Jill Stuchenko. Her body was discovered in a gravel pit on the outskirts of Prince George on Oct. 26, 2009.

A year later, the body of 35-year-old Cynthia Maas was found in a park near the banks of the Fraser River in Prince George, on Oct. 9, 2010, two weeks after she disappeared. On the same day she disappeared, Natasha Montgomery, 23, vanished without a trace. Her body has never been found.

At the time, Legebokoff was living in an apartment in downtown Prince George, had a steady girlfriend, and was working as a mechanic at a local Ford dealership.

The community was in shock and investigators wondered if the three cases were related to the Highway of Tears investigation of 18 women, 10 of whom were aboriginal girls and women, who have been killed or gone missing near three of B.C.’s northern highways since 1969. The number of cases has led to speculation that a serial killer has been preying on women in the area.

“When we were first dealing with the homicides and the disappearances of the ladies, that was at the forefront of our minds,” said Fitzpatrick. “Two of the victims were reported missing the same day. It was quite alarming at the time.”

The investigation took another grisly turn a month later, on Nov. 27,  when the body of Loren Leslie, a happy-go-lucky, visually impaired teen with dreams of becoming a forensic pathologist was found dead in the woods off a secluded highway many miles from Prince George.

She was discovered by sheer coincidence. That night, around 9:45 p.m., a rookie RCMP officer was driving down Highway 27 on his way to drop off evidence to a fellow officer when he noticed a 2004 GMC pick-up truck speeding erratically from an old logging road. On a hunch, the officer decided to pull over the vehicle for a routine traffic stop. He suspected that the driver, who was identified as Cody Alan Legebokoff, was poaching in the backwoods. The officer called in a local game warden with animal tracking skills. The warden followed the truck's route back up the road, and in the freshly fallen snow found footprints leading to the remains of Loren. Loren's father, Doug Leslie, told The Daily Beast that around midnight he received a call from the RCMP asking him for the whereabouts of his daughter. He said that he had heard from his ex-wife that she had gone out for coffee with a friend.

“At that point I asked them why they were calling me looking for Loren,” he said. “They said they stopped a vehicle on the highway and her ID was found.”

Frantic, Leslie drove to Highway 27 looking for his daughter. It took him 45-minutes to find the rugged, secluded spot. “I know the game warden and I said, ‘I know who you are and I don’t want any bullshit.’ I will never forget the look on his face. He just found her.”

He said he later learned that his daughter had met Legebokoff on a social networking site. The girl regularly stayed up late at night corresponding with teens across Canada and the U.S. After she died, Leslie said he received hundreds of emails from her online friends, two of whom told him that she had talked them out of committing suicide.

“I had absolutely no idea,” he said. “She would get up in the morning and say she was so tired and that she didn’t sleep well. She was staying up late helping people out.”

"He was seasoned. He wasn’t a rookie at awful things."

It was her kind heart and trusting personality that may have led her to correspond online with Legebokoff.

“When you get someone requesting you on Facebook you think he is a friend and pretty soon it is chatting and phone numbers and one thing leads to another,” said Leslie. “I don’t think she knew him at all. But he was an avid social-network user, and I guess he was pretty good at it. He was seasoned. He wasn’t a rookie at awful things.”

Leslie said he knew very little about his daughter’s alleged killer, only that his parents “used to chum with his family when they were kids.”

“I hauled logs to their saw mills,” he said.

Soon afterward, the RCMP charged Legebokoff with Loren's murder, and quickly ruled him out as a possible suspect in the Highway of Tears murders and disappearances because the last known homicide occurred in 2006 when Legebokoff was 15-years-old.

But they still had the two unsolved murders of Stuchenko and Maas, and the disappearance of Montgomery on their hands. Over a 10-month-period, investigators interrogated more than 140 Prince George taxi drivers and asked for DNA samples in connection with the deaths of Maas and Stuchenko. They also sent the bodies of Loren and Maas to Pennsylvania for further forensic testing unavailable in Canada, said Leslie.

In addition, Fitzpatrick told The Daily Beast that investigators served two search warrants on residences where Legebokoff lived that led them to “find evidence that links him to the other three.” He added they also dedicated a large part of their investigation analyzing Legebokoff’s cell phone and the social media sites he frequented.

“He was very involved in social media, contacting people, and prolific with text messaging and Androids,” said Fitzpatrick. “A large part of the investigation involved the analysis of cell-phone use, text messaging, online dating, and social media … It has been my experience over the last few years that in a number of these homicides [in British Columbia], social media and online gaming is becoming prevalent in how these victims are lured.”

Fitzpatrick would not say how Legebokoff may have met Stuchenko, Maas, and Montgomery, and if they met online.

Last week, investigators charged Legebokoff, who was being held at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre, with the three additional murders, and at a press conference said the investigation was “far from over,” as they continue to look for witnesses and additional victims he may have contacted online.

“His grandfather is saying he never lost his temper but I guess he is a psychopath and those are hard to spot,” said Ray Michalko, a private investigator who is looking into the Highway of Tears murders. “If it hadn’t been for the cop last year that guy would be still running around and god only knows how many more women would have been murdered … He is probably going to be Canada’s youngest serial killer now.”

For Doug Leslie, he is slowly pressing on. In July, he started the Loren Donn Leslie Foundation and website, LDLF.ca dedicated to educating kids to the potential dangers lurking on social-networking sites.

“We have to try to make this world a better place,” he said. “We aren’t going to stop social media. Our No. 1 priority is to make people aware of the dangers out there.”

“Who knows how you are supposed to feel when your daughter dies,” he added.