A cross-Canada manhunt that transfixed the international community appears to have come to an end, with police saying they believe they have found the bodies of teen fugitives Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, in northern Manitoba.
Manitoba Royal Canadian mounted police assistant commissioner Jane MacLatchy told reporters that two male bodies believed to be those of Schmegelsky, 18, and McLeod, 19, were found at 10am local time by RCMP officers.
“I’m confident that it is them, but to identify them officially and to be sure we have to go to autopsy,” MacLatchy said. The manner and time of death for the pair has not been released.
British Columbia’s RCMP assistant commissioner Kevin Hackett said that while the discovery of the bodies likely ends the manhunt, murder investigations were ongoing. Until police sorted out what happened, “we will not conclude this file,” he said.
Schmegelsky and McLeod were suspects in the double murder of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and US citizen Chynna Deese, 24. The young couple were on a road trip when their bodies were discovered on 15 July in a ditch by the side of a remote highway near their van. Both had been shot.
Four days later, on 19 July, the body of Canadian botanist Leonard Dyck, 64, was found near the burnt-out remains of a truck that Schmegelsky and McLeod were known to be driving when they left their homes on Vancouver Island some days previously. The teenagers were charged with one count of second-degree murder in Dyck’s death.
Hackett declined to comment on Dyck’s manner of death, citing concern for the family, but did confirm that the 2011 Toyota RAV 4 the suspects were seen driving after they left British Columbia, belonged to Dyck.
“There is significant evidence to link both crime scenes to the suspects,” Hackett said. However, he said, RCMP didn’t think that the victims of the two crimes were linked.
Because Schmegelsky and McLeod were believed to be dead, “it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to ascertain definitively what the motive was,” he said.
In the weeks since the killings, the international community has been transfixed by the manhunt for the two fugitives.
The pair fled east from British Columbia across the northern expanses of the country’s prairie provinces, covering almost 3,000km before the silver 2011 Toyota RAV4 was found burnt out near the remote Manitoba town of Gillam on 23 July.
The police descended on Gillam and the nearby Fox Lake Cree Nation, with tracker dogs, high-tech equipment, and specialised teams. They followed up on well over 200 tips, one of which took them to the community of York Landing, almost 200km by road away from Gillam.
But no concrete trace of the pair was found in the difficult-to-search wildernesses of northern Manitoba until 2 August, when a “significantly damaged” small boat was found. On the shore nearby, however, searchers found objects the police were able to “definitively” link with the pair. No further information about those objects has yet been released.
“Following this discovery, we were at last able to narrow down the search,” MacLatchy said.
That led to police discovering the two bodies on Wednesday morning.
When RCMP confirm that the bodies are those of McLeod and Schmegelsky, the charges against them in Dyck’s murder will be discontinued, British Columbia Prosecution Service spokesperson Dan McLaughlin said. “This will end the prosecution and the involvement of the BCPS,” he told local media.