On September 22, 2014, Gilles Pimparé, 60, was denied parole for the sixth time by the Parole Board of Canada following a hearing held at La Macaza Institution, a medium security penitentiary in the Laurentians. He first applied for parole in 2001 and has never succeeded in obtaining a release.
In 1979, which was the International Year of the Child, Pimparé and his accomplice Normand Guérin, killed Chantal Dupont, 15, and Maurice Marcil, 14, by throwing them off the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal after having raped Chantal and strangled them both. The two men were found guilty of first-degree murder in 1984.
Guérin, also 60, was going to have a first parole hearing in 2005, but backed out at the last minute and finally applied for a supervised outing in 2015.
On the evening of July 3, 1979, the two young friends had decided to head back home before the end of a concert they attended because the featured singer was not really their cup of tea. They had split from their family and friends and were walking the familiar route to their neighborhood which included crossing the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.
The fatal encounter that was going to end their life was with an entirely different set of friends: Pimparé and Guérin were thugs from the wrong side of the tracks who had already left a trail of victims in their path.
Pimparé had already been imprisoned and after his release, had hooked up again with his bud Guérin. The duo had committed at least five violent armed robberies, thefts, assaults and rapes. The bridge was their ideal hunting ground because it had a lower unlocked gangway where they were able to bring their prey without attracting attention.
Armed with a knife and a starter pistol, they intercepted the teens and robbed Maurice Marcil of $2. He then had to sit on the edge of the platform with his legs hanging down while the two men raped Chantal. After the sexual assault, the teens were strangled and thrown off the bridge.
This crime sent shockwaves in the province because of its gratuitous, cold blooded and sadistic nature.
15-year old Chantal was very close to her loving parents and older sister who had accompanied her to the concert. She was raised by a stay at home mother and a professional father who worked for a Canadian airline company as a mechanic. Her tight knit family could easily be described as salt of the earth, deeply religious and conventional.
On that fatal evening, this lovely girl smiled at her parents in the doorway, and told them a warm goodbye which would be her last. When her body was found floating in the river one week after she went missing, her parents had the painstaking task of identifying it. This indelible image remained imprinted in their mind and they had to constantly struggle to try to replace it with sweeter memories of their younger daughter.
After Chantal failed to come home, they knew something was very wrong because she always called to let them know if she was going to be late. She was never a rebellious or wild child.
I could not help noticing the irony of the fact that Chantal’s last name means bridge in French. Even if not inclined to believe in destiny, it is the kind of detail that makes one wonder about the whole symbolism of this very unusual story.
Maurice was only 14 when he faced a cruel and unusual death on that dreary night. According to his father, his son’s trajectory in life had already been marred with tragedy. When his wife was pregnant with him, they got involved in a serious car crash and when he was born, the boy suffered from a type of cerebral palsy that left him slightly paralyzed with a limp on one side and difficulty walking.
He consequently decided to direct his entire energy in intellectual pursuits because the physical ones were out of his reach, and became chess champion while excelling at school.
He was a kind soul who suffered when his parents decided to separate. His dream was to reunite them. His father could not help concluding that his tragic death managed to reunite the family after all.
The fact that his son begged his killers to strangle him first so he would be unconscious before being tossed off the bridge, was the last manifestation of how tortured his path had been from the start. Only Maurice would have thought of methods to facilitate his own death. As if his very existence had been about finding ways to soften the blows.
It is a small consolation that the men granted him his last wish. Maurice was still alive when he dropped to his death and hit the water, but he was not conscious.
They afforded the same ‘courtesy’ to Chantal who begged them to let her go promising to never tell anyone. Apparently, she struggled way more than Marcel before losing consciousness. The cause of death in both cases was drowning so we can only hope they did not come around on the way down.
The thought of those two kids floating in the cold river water for over a week is chilling to the bone.
Pimparé who was 25 at the time of the brutal attack, already had a long history of violence. At 14, he had an explosive temper that kept escalating until it culminated in murder on July 3, 1979.
He was born and raised in a very poor Montreal neighborhood by abusive parents who beat him constantly. He was the oldest of the boys in a family of 6. His father was a floor layer who was constantly in a rage and taking his frustrations on them.
At 12, he burnt one of his sisters on the arm and threw a knife at another. He was the black sheep of a family living a vicious circle existence with a mother terrified of her husband and taking it on her children who would then take revenge on each other.
At 14, he decided to leave home. A total failure at school and at pretty well everything else he ever tried, Pimparé was sent to reform school after beating a teacher. They locked him up in a cell and after his release, this already dangerous delinquent went on a rampage.
This is when he and Normand Guérin met, and together, started to steal cars and rob corner stores. In 1975, he got caught, ended up in prison for armed robbery but managed to escape.
In October 1978, he was sentenced to 20 months, but 5 months later, he was released for good behavior. His parole officer trusted him and had high hopes for this young man who went on to live with his parents and started selling encyclopedia in the hope of turning a new leaf.
After meeting his old buddy Norman Guérin again, he reverted quickly to his old ways. According to Pimparé, the fact that his friend now had a car was enough to convince him to renew with his life of crime.
In June, the two men were spending time on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge looking for victims. They robbed nine people aged 16 to 65 and raped two women. Their life of truancy exploded on July 3, during their final encounter with Chantal Dupont and Maurice Marcil.
Gilles Pimparé was high on drugs and alcohol the whole time, but Normand Guérin apparently did not need to be under the influence to commit such atrocities.
Norman Guérin also came from a very modest background, but did not suffer beatings and abuse like Pimparé. He had a twin brother he was extremely close to and 3 other siblings. His brother, during an interview, remembered feeling everything his identical twin would until one day, the visceral connection ended when Normand had to have his blood transfused because of pernicious anemia.
To this day, Guérin seems to blame his behavior on the fact that he lost his father at a young age and ended up creating new ties with the wrong friends after feeling totally lost and unloved. His mother had to give him an ultimatum: choose between his family and the lousy company he kept. He chose Pimparé over his own blood; maybe because they had removed it all during the transfusion.
When he was arrested, his twin brother suffered immensely from being compared and mistakenly identified as his twin. He was harassed everywhere he went and even did a short stint in jail where he was hoping to hook up with his blood brother. But he learned his lesson and came out a new man.
Their poor mother cried for months and must now live permanently with this terrible burden. At first, she refused to talk to her son, but her maternal instinct took over and made her support him no matter what. And by some divine intervention, her son was forgiven and appeared to repent for his crimes.
After the police finally realized that Chantal and Marcel were no runaways and their bodies were found floating in the river, it did not take them long to catch the two culprits.
The two felons had maintained their reign of terror on the bridge and some of their victims pointed them out rapidly.
Not too long after his arrest, Normand Guérin started to sing and the jig was up for both of them. He gave a full confession that some so called reporters practicing yellow journalism jumped on, and printed in its entirety in their rags. Sadly, the parents of the victims had not been informed of the specifics yet and had to read word for word, the gory details of their child’s demise in the newspaper with the rest of the population. It almost became a double victimization for the Dupont and Marcil families. This high profile case now belonged to the media.
Considering that Guérin confessed and Pimparé tried to commit suicide twice, their trial was a slam dunk. The way it was recounted left no room for doubt and they were sentenced to 25-year to life for first-degree murder.
They were tried twice because of a reversal due to a technicality and during the second trial, Pimparé’s lawyer presented special circumstances because unlike Guérin, he was intoxicated and high on drugs during the commission of his crimes, but it did not make any difference to the jury who came up with the same sentence.
During the proceedings, Pimparé’s behavior was very arrogant, but Guérin kept a low profile.
It came out during the investigation that on the night of the murders, they had robbed another victim who was 70-year-old, by breaking into her home. Pimparé wanted to kill her, but Guérin put a stop to it because he was unwilling to kill three people in one day.
They had already committed at least five brutal rapes and had attacked and tortured two young boys for about an hour on that same bridge.
After robbing the elderly lady, the boys stopped for pizza, but fortunately for investigators, they forgot at the scene of the break in, the rope used to detain and strangle their victims.
So it was not a complicated case for the jury to decide considering the circumstances.
They were going to prison and for a long time if not for life. The media and the population at large were outraged, and it was not going to die down anytime soon.
But what happened next is short of a miracle.
The victims’ parents had a long and painful road ahead and the media did not pave the way for any conciliation. Imagine reading about your children’s torture in the papers. Some details should remain private and sensationalism is never a remedy to pain.
The Dupont family became a lightning rod in this whole sordid story and a ray of hope and light in the darkness, but the media did not welcome their serenity and dignity with open arms.
Forgiveness does not sell newspapers or boost ratings so their personal journey into understanding, love and pardon was even mocked by some journalists whose own Neanderthal instinct would not allow them to ever forgive or forget the person who hurt their child; they were almost implying that the Dupont were idiots.
The Dupont were genuine Catholics and true believers who read scriptures and believed in practicing what you preach. So during their hour of need, they found solace in reading the Bible, which enlightened them and represented a source of courage to find rhyme and reason in this tragedy.
They decided to offer their daughter’sacrifice to the Lord and chose the hard way by not becoming hateful individuals enticing the population to throw the first stone.
They started by telling the parents of Guérin and Pimparé they had forgiven their sons. Normand Guérin’s mother was so shocked that she could not find the words to thank them, but it helped her survive the ordeal. She ended up meeting them privately.
They also wrote to the murderers and offered them help and forgiveness. It was a long process and it took 10 years before they finally met Normand Guérin. The encounter took place in prison where they embraced and cried together. A cathartic moment for the parents of the victim eager to heal the broken link that led to their beautiful daughter’s demise.
They met Pimparé a few times, but he ended up cutting ties with them because he could not understand or receive their forgiveness. He admitted that he would not be able to forgive someone who would kill his own daughter so he wanted out of this circle of love and indulgence. He could not fake it.
Chantal’s older sister became a nun and also forgave them. She strongly believes that they could not love anyone else because of their self-loathing.
The Marcils reacted differently. Maurice’s mother moved to Europe to put some distance between her life and this tragedy and his father opted for forgetting but not forgiving. He could not go there, but he respected the Dupont’s decision. His brother and sister decided to also forgive.
It did not mean that the Dupont wanted them released, but it signified that they wanted to help the two men find their way back without having to carry the burden of their hate and revenge. They understood the power of love and the need for every human being to receive it.
It made a world of difference for Guérin who did not apply for parole and tried to understand the source of the tragedy and expressed regrets. Both men seemed to have zero self-esteem and were on a quest to destroy everything that was wrong with their world. In his own words, Guérin said that the purity and innocence of Chantal made him want to snuff it out of her because he felt like such a loser. He wanted to keep her all to himself.
Denis Boivin directed a movie about the case called Forgiveness/Le Pardon that won several prizes. It was produced by Films Dionysos, viewed in several countries and is still being distributed.
Every time Gilles Pimparé appears in front of the parole board, it reignites interest in the media and serves as a reminder that these guys still exist and are the product of our societal problems.
The reaction to the movie is quite interesting; some are impressed by the generous gesture of the Dupont, but others basically call them gullible, weak and even dumb.
It seems that religion is the excuse offered by naysayers, as if forgiveness only came from religious beliefs or weakness. In fact, many non-believers feel the same way and support their decision.
They published the awful details of their children’s demise without any care in the world . They expressed hate and anger and tried to organize a lynch mob instead of respecting the wishes of the family. The Marcil might not have reached the same level of mercy as the Dupont, but they were human and moderate in their approach.
One journalist even claimed that it was acceptable for the police to have leaked them confidential information about the case because of its gruesome nature. I will respectfully disagree with this deluded notion; it is even less acceptable to do so when the details are that sensitive.
If the families were not going to huff and puff and raise their fist in the air, they were going to do it in their place. They fanned the flames of hatred and extinguished any sentiment of love and forgiveness to further their career.
How disrespectful towards the victims and these wonderful people who took the high road in spite of their suffering.
I am convinced that it was not easy for the Dupont to embrace the killers of their child, but it was a true example of restorative justice. A perfect teaching moment, but instead, some decided not to go along for the ride.
The movie was a great initiative and it is still in demand. Viewers from different countries are commenting on its content and some are in awe of this powerful civic lesson.
Pimparé has been turned down 6 times by the parole board and it does not sound like he has learned his lesson or accepted complete responsibility for his actions. His behavior has improved, but there is too much doubt to take a chance on him. He still maintains that it was Guérin’s fault and that it was never supposed to be a murder.
Pimparé might have been telling the truth after all because Guérin finally admitted during therapy that he is the one who wanted to kill the two teens in 1979.
For the first time in 2015, Normand Guérin asked for a supervised outing to spend a few hours with his mother, but it was flatly denied. He does not intend to ever ask for full parole because in spite of his regular psychotherapy treatments, and even some hormonal therapies, his sexual fantasies about teen boys have not subsided. He spent time at the Philippe-Pinel Institute for compulsive sexual treatment, and followed all protocols prescribed.
His personality disorder and the fact that he was diagnosed as a sexual sadist will keep him incarcerated for life as a dangerous offender.
Unlike Pimparé, he has been very transparent about his situation, and it might be because of the love and forgiveness that the Dupont family gave him so freely. He is fighting his demons.
Mrs. Dupont passed away peacefully and her husband lives on still convinced they did the right thing. Marcel Marcil’s brother works with dying patients to try to give back to the community and his family always wanted what is best to protect society; and this does not include releasing Pimparé or Guérin.
To err is human and to forgive is divine, but be ready to stand alone if you do. Let’s hope that this monstrous tragedy coupled with the most amazing act of forgiveness might serve a purpose. If this incredible colliding of dark and positive forces does not lead us to bridge the sanctity of life with forgiveness, what will?