The manhunt for accused killers Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky in northern Canada has taken another frustrating turn, with authorities confirming the duo was stopped at a checkpoint but then let go.
The pair, who are suspected of shooting dead Australian tourist Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese along with Canadian botanist Leonard Dyck, have been on the run in northern Canada for two weeks.
Hundreds of Royal Canadian Mounted police officers using drones, helicopters and sniffer dogs have been searching a remote part of northern Manitoba for eight days after sightings of the pair.
But it emerged on Tuesday that McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, 18, were chased and stopped by Split Lake First Nations safety officers in Manitoba last week after they drove through an alcohol search checkpoint. But the teenagers had not yet been named as suspects.
“These two individuals kind of drove through the check stop where we had the two constables follow them into the community and stop them,” Nathan Neckoway, the band councillor of the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, told Canada’s CTV News on Tuesday.
Alcohol is banned in the area.
When a search of the car did not find alcohol, McLeod and Schmegelsky were allowed to continue driving.
They apparently then drove 90km west to Gillam, crashed their Toyota RAV4 on a gravel road, set fire to it and vanished.
The teenagers told the officers who stopped them that they were from British Columbia.
The search of the car did not find weapons, but maps and camping equipment were sighted, he said.
Neckoway said “it was quite shocking” when the officers later realised the teenagers were fugitives.
Police believed they were closing in on the teenagers on Monday when two people matching their descriptions were spotted near a garbage tip in the remote indigenous community of York Landing in Manitoba.
They are believed to have driven 3,000km to the province from British Columbia where Fowler, Deese and Dyck were found dead.
But police pulled out of the area on Tuesday after failing to find any trace of them.
“A search of the York Landing area, which included the use of helicopters, drones, military resources, and door-to-door canvasses, has been completed,” the RCMP said in a statement. “RCMP is unable to substantiate the tip that the suspects had been in the area.
“The heavy police presence in York Landing has been withdrawn and policing resources in the community is back to normal.”
The RCMP also said officers had completed more than 500 door-to-door canvasses in Fox Lake Cree Nation and Gillam, and admitted “it is possible the suspects inadvertently received assistance and are no longer in the area”.
The Royal Canadian Air Force continues to assist with the search.
“Investigators have now received over 260 tips in the past seven days,” the RCMP said. “None have established that the suspects are outside of the Gillam area.”
McLeod and Schmegelsky are wanted for the suspected murders that began on July 15 when Mr Fowler, 23, from Sydney, and Ms Deese, 24, from North Carolina, were found shot dead on the side of a highway. They had been on a road trip to Alaska.
Four days later, Dyck, 64, was found dead on another highway.
McLeod and Schmegelsky, from Vancouver Island, quit their jobs at Walmart and told family they planned to drive to Yukon to find work.