Warn­ing Signs

Johnathan Townsend’s fam­ily knew he was a dan­ger. No­body lis­tened

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Martin Pa­triquin

Ge­orge Townsend’s phone rang as he was driv­ing from Toronto to his home in Sault Ste. Marie, On­tario. It was Au­gust 8, 2013. The call was from Karen Up­per, Ge­orge’s ex-wife. “I think Johnny’s had a melt­down,” she said, re­fer­ring to their son. She was at the hospi­tal with him and found him dis­tant and list­less, which is usu­ally how he be­haved after an out­burst of vi­o­lence. She asked Ge­orge to visit Johnathan’s apart­ment to check if ev­ery­thing was okay. Ge­orge, who then was about three­and-a-half hours away, said he would look in when he got to town.

Both Up­per and her ex-hus­band were used to such episodes. Three years ear­lier, Johnathan had been iden­ti­fied as hav­ing As­perger’s, now con­sid­ered autism spec­trum dis­or­der. It was a di­ag­no­sis that increasingly puz­zled his par­ents: there is no link be­tween ASD and vi­o­lence, but their son was prone to fits of anger that of­ten re­sulted in bro­ken com­puter screens, smashed doors, punched walls, and over­turned ta­bles. In March, Townsend had hit Up­per with a chair, break­ing her glasses. It was then, just four months shy of Townsend’s eigh­teenth birth­day, that she had fi­nally kicked him out of the house. Up­per con­tin­ued to see him reg­u­larly, though, be­cause she still be­lieved she could help him.

On the morn­ing of Au­gust 8, Up­per had picked up Townsend at Al­goma Uni­ver­sity, where he of­ten went to use the free Wi-fi, and had taken him to an or­tho­don­tist ap­point­ment. On the way, Townsend asked about get­ting help for his con­di­tion. He even vol­un­teered to be com­mit­ted — the first time he’d ever done so. After the or­tho­don­tist, they went straight to the Sault Ste. Marie Group Health Cen­tre, and Townsend was soon trans­ferred to Sault Area Hospi­tal. Up­per was re­lieved. After ten years, maybe he’d fi­nally get the treat­ment he needed. She was wor­ried, though, that he had trashed his apart­ment.

At 7:25 that evening, Ge­orge un­locked the door to Townsend’s tiny ground-floor apart­ment in Sault Ste. Marie’s east end. Tak­ing a few steps in, he saw pools of blood near the door and in the front room. He also saw a pair of knee-high white patentleather boots splat­tered with blood. Turn­ing his head, he saw the body of a wo­man in the bath­tub, crouched face down. She wore a pat­terned camisole, white shorts, striped green socks, and a string of pearls. Her feet blocked the drain, so the tub was filled with sev­eral inches of blood.

“Are you okay?” Ge­orge said. He touched her wrist. There was no pulse, the skin cold and hard.

Ge­orge had feared this day would come. For years, he and Up­per had tried to get help for Johnathan. When it didn’t come, and as they watched Townsend get sicker, they warned so­cial work­ers, coun­sel­lors, doc­tors, and hospi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tors what he was ca­pa­ble of. Ge­orge stood above the dead body in his son’s bath­tub. “You fi­nally did it, you fi­nally did it,” he said out loud. He left the apart­ment, locked the door, and di­aled 911.

Her name was Corel­lie Bon­homme. She was forty-two years old. Hers was Sault Ste. Marie’s sole homi­cide of 2013.

Ini­tial me­dia re­ports about the mur­der said Bon­homme had no fixed ad­dress and that she and Townsend were ac­quain­tances. Ru­mours spread. She was an es­cort who picked the wrong client. She was crazy. She was on drugs. Her death, while tragic, was a con­se­quence of how she lived.

Ac­tu­ally, Bon­homme was many things: a daugh­ter who had been largely sep­a­rated from her mother un­til her twen­ties, a model who had trav­elled the world, a mother who had her chil­dren taken away from her and spent much of her life try­ing to get them back, a wo­man who danced at Stu­dio 10, Sault Ste. Marie’s lone strip club. She had a beau­ti­ful smile and a small, an­gu­lar face framed by dark curly hair. Some of her mod­el­ling pic­tures evoke a young Diana Ross — all boots, eyes, and at­ti­tude.

The of­fi­cial story, the one en­tered into ev­i­dence at Townsend’s first-de­gree mur­der trial, had Bon­homme and Townsend first meet­ing on the doorstep of his apart­ment. It was 5:30 a.m. on July 16, four days after Townsend’s birth­day. Bon­homme was asleep by the com­mu­nal mail­boxes. Townsend said he prac­ti­cally tripped over her as he went for his mail. They spoke briefly, and he in­vited her in. Over the course of the next few weeks, they hung around, of­ten walk­ing the streets of Sault Ste. Marie to­gether. They slept in the same bed and show­ered to­gether. Bon­homme was the first wo­man Townsend ever saw naked. Though sep­a­rated by twenty-four years, they quickly bonded. He claimed he loved her.

But the of­fi­cial story prompts more ques­tions than an­swers. How did Bon­homme end up in front of his com­pletely un­re­mark­able apart­ment five kilo­me­tres from Stu­dio 10? Why did Townsend, who, like many di­ag­nosed with ASD, craves or­der and rou­tine, let this stranger into his apart­ment in the mid­dle of the night? Why kill some­one you pro­fess to love?

There’s an­other im­por­tant ques­tion: Could Bon­homme’s death have been pre­vented? For al­most a decade, Karen Up­per had been con­tact­ing fam­ily agen­cies in her area, and Townsend had sev­eral stints in Sault Area Hospi­tal fol­low­ing meltdowns of ever-in­creas­ing in­ten­sity. Up­per of­ten found her­self call­ing the po­lice as a last re­sort. Townsend, she was told, was ei­ther too young, too old, too smart, too sick, or not sick enough to qual­ify for help. He lan­guished on wait­ing lists and was sent home from the hospi­tal. What’s more, the lim­ited sup­port he did re­ceive van­ished al­most com­pletely once he turned eigh­teen.

None of this is par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing. In 2013, the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto pub­lished a sur­vey of 480 in­di­vid­u­als with ASD. The sur­vey called On­tario’s ap­proach to autism care “un­co­or­di­nated, severely lack­ing lim­ited ser­vices and sup­ports.” The re­port found that fam­i­lies are left to nav­i­gate a long list of gov­ern­ment agen­cies that barely com­mu­ni­cated with one an­other. “They keep say­ing that Johnathan fell through the cracks,” Up­per says. “He didn’t fall. He was pushed.”

Nor would ad­dress­ing his ASD have been enough. Though Townsend was di­ag­nosed with that con­di­tion in 2011, it would take an­other year be­fore he was di­ag­nosed with con­duct dis­or­der—and a year after that be­fore his par­ents even learned about this sec­ond di­ag­no­sis. A be­havioural and emo­tional dis­or­der af­fect­ing chil­dren and teens, con­duct dis­or­der is of­ten con­sid­ered to be a pre­cur­sor to anti-so­cial per­son­al­ity dis­or­der; typ­i­cal symp­toms in­clude chronic spates of vi­o­lence, cru­elty to peo­ple or an­i­mals, and a lack of re­morse.

In Fe­bru­ary 2013, six months be­fore Bon­homme’s mur­der, a psy­chi­a­trist who had ex­am­ined Townsend wrote a re­port warn­ing Townsend’s fam­ily to take “ex­treme pre­cau­tions.” About a month later, after Townsend at­tacked his mother with a chair, his par­ents tried again to have him in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized. Sault Area Hospi­tal dis­charged him less than four hours after the po­lice brought him in. Ge­orge re­mem­bers telling his ex-wife at the time: “They aren’t go­ing to take this se­ri­ously un­til he ac­tu­ally kills some­body.”

Acor­rec­tional of­fi­cer opens a heavy door and Johnathan Townsend walks into the booth. Sit­ting down, he picks up the re­ceiver and wipes off the ear­piece with the col­lar of his orange prison jump­suit.

“Hello,” he says. I say hello back.

From Au­gust 11, 2013, when he was ar­rested at Sault Area Hospi­tal, un­til just after he was sen­tenced for mur­der in June 2017, Townsend was housed at the Al­goma Treat­ment and Re­mand Cen­tre, a low-slung build­ing on the north­ern out­skirts of Sault Ste. Marie. While in jail, he’s been found guilty of ut­ter­ing threats to a prison guard and for send­ing a threat­en­ing let­ter to Thomas Arm­strong, the Sault Ste. Marie sergeant de­tec­tive who in­ves­ti­gated Bon­homme’s mur­der. He’s also writ­ten two un­pub­lished sci-fi nov­els. A cou­ple years ago, he be­came frus­trated and stabbed him­self in the neck with a pen­cil.

He has spent much of this time in soli­tary con­fine­ment, usu­ally at his own re­quest. It’s among the first things I ask him: What was it like to live in soli­tary for more than three years? “Um, I don’t know. I guess it was just life. It’s not that big a change, re­ally,” he says. “It would be dif­fer­ent if I’d been go­ing to par­ties when I wasn’t in jail, but mostly, I went to school. Be­sides such prior obli­ga­tions, I’d stay locked in a dark room with no lights.”

In the months I spent re­search­ing Townsend’s story, I came to re­al­ize there were two ver­sions of him. One was a vi­o­lent, tem­per­a­men­tal, and nar­cis­sis­tic mon­ster who as­saulted his mother and killed a wo­man in cold blood. The other was a shy kid who down­played three-anda-half years in soli­tary con­fine­ment and who has a ten­dency to speak softly and halt­ingly, the ends of his sen­tences bend­ing up­wards so that they sound like ques­tions. I read about the for­mer but only ever saw the lat­ter.

Townsend was Ge­orge and Up­per’s third child. From the start, he was ram­bunc­tious to the point of be­ing hy­per­ac­tive. The par­ents fig­ured it was part of rais­ing a boy. By 2005, as Townsend was about to turn eleven, he started throw­ing and break­ing things. He’d push doors so vi­o­lently that they’d snap off their hinges. He smashed the door­knob to his sis­ter’s room with an iron be­cause she’d locked her­self in to get away from him. His be­hav­iour es­ca­lated when his par­ents di­vorced. He’d punch walls and de­stroy toys, his anger ris­ing like a di­a­betic spike, dis­ap­pear­ing as quickly as it had come. Con­fronted with his be­hav­iour, he’d look at his mother, con­fused. He didn’t un­der­stand what he had done, or why he’d done it. In one case, fu­ri­ous after be­ing told to turn off his Game­cube, he broke apart the toy ramp his mother had just set up. “After he had calmed down, he didn’t re­mem­ber tear­ing it apart. We dis­cov­ered that in his rage, he is not even aware of his actions,” Up­per wrote in her diary at the time.

Up­per be­gan to see a pat­tern in Townsend’s meltdowns. He would be rel­a­tively well-be­haved at school only to lose it once he got home. These meltdowns, in which Up­per and her daugh­ters would be­come the de facto tar­gets of Townsend’s rage, were dis­tress­ing for an­other rea­son: it was nearly im­pos­si­ble for Up­per to con­vince teach­ers, coun­sel­lors, and psy­chi­a­trists that there was any­thing wrong with her son.

Chloe Halpenny got to know Townsend at Ko­rah Col­le­giate and Vo­ca­tional School, where they at­tended high school. She re­mem­bers a short kid with long hair. Other stu­dents called him “Johnny Pants” be­cause he kept his pants hiked up. They’d talk to him, then laugh at his re­sponse, just to show how dif­fer­ent he was. Even worse, Halpenny says, be­cause of his con­di­tion, Townsend him­self never clued into how he was the butt of their jokes. “It both­ered me to see that hap­pen­ing, and I thought maybe he was some­one who needed some­one to sit with at lunch,” Halpenny says. So she hung out with him. He showed her a video game he’d worked on. They saw the movie Su­per 8 to­gether. They mes­saged over Face­book.

In 2010, as Townsend was fin­ish­ing grade nine, his mother re­ceived a call from a guid­ance coun­sel­lor at the school. “I think Johnathan has As­perger’s,” the coun­sel­lor said. In­di­vid­u­als with As­perger’s, Up­per was told, typ­i­cally have some of the symp­toms associated with autism, in­clud­ing repet­i­tive be­hav­iours and dif­fi­culty read­ing fa­cial ex­pres­sions and other so­cial cues. Yet they don’t have de­lays in speech or cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment. For a par­ent, learn­ing that their child has a de­vel­op­men­tal dis­or­der can be a painful dis­cov­ery. Up­per nearly broke into tears of joy. Her son would fi­nally get the help he needed. Townsend was of­fi­cially di­ag­nosed with As­perger’s by a child psy­chol­o­gist the fol­low­ing year, when he was in grade ten.

At home, Townsend’s meltdowns were be­com­ing more vi­o­lent. He’d spend hours on on­line fo­rums ded­i­cated to anime. He hated be­ing dis­agreed with, on­line or off. When it hap­pened, he’d smash some­thing. His lap­top was of­ten the first vic­tim. Other times, he’d throw things at his sis­ters and at his mother. She was work­ing at Sears while try­ing to go to var­i­ous meet­ings with Com­mu­nity Liv­ing Al­goma (CL A), an or­ga­ni­za­tion de­signed to help guide autis­tic youth through the school sys­tem, and Al­goma Fam­ily Ser­vices (AFS), which of­fered spe­cial­ized pro­grams deal­ing with men­tal health. Nei­ther agency, Up­per claims, had much ex­pe­ri­ence with As­perger’s. (Both agen­cies de­clined to com­ment.) One CLA case worker told her that she was learn­ing about the dis­or­der by watch­ing The Big Bang The­ory, a sit­com about a group of nerdy odd­balls liv­ing in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia. (This also hap­pened to be Townsend’s favourite show.)

As Townsend’s be­hav­iour got worse, his mother was forced into re­treat. At one point, he set fire to the car­pet in her room. “At times, I was scared of him, yeah,” Up­per says. “Not afraid of Johnny but of the men­tal ill­ness that they didn’t see and they wouldn’t help with.” It was be­com­ing clearer that the As­perger’s di­ag­no­sis alone didn’t ex­plain his vi­o­lent out­bursts. In 2016, an ar­ti­cle in the Har­vard Re­view of Psy­chi­a­try re­viewed the lit­er­a­ture on ASD and vi­o­lence pub­lished from 1943 to 2014. It found that while there is no con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that in­di­vid­u­als with ASD are more vi­o­lent than those with­out, other associated men­tal health dis­or­ders could be a trig­ger. “I knew he was get­ting sicker and sicker and that there was more than just As­perger’s,” Up­per said.

A psy­chi­a­trist told Townsend’s mother that she and her daugh­ters should sleep with their doors locked and their cell­phones on them at all times.

In Au­gust 2011, Townsend won an award for a video game he had cre­ated, earn­ing him a $2,500 schol­ar­ship to Al­goma Uni­ver­sity as well as a visit to the Mon­treal of­fices of the gam­ing com­pany Ubisoft. Shortly after he left for Mon­treal, Townsend’s sis­ter Katie heard Keisha, her cat, me­ow­ing in dis­tress from some­where in the house. She fol­lowed the noise to the freezer in the base­ment. Open­ing the door, she saw a brown box wrapped in green tape. Keisha was in­side. Katie fig­ured the cat had been in the freezer for a cou­ple hours.

Katie phoned her mother and told her what she’d found. Up­per re­al­ized how se­ri­ous this was; she knew im­me­di­ately that Townsend was re­spon­si­ble and was wor­ried about how he might re­act if he were to come home and find the cat still alive. Since Up­per was out of town at the time, she called Townsend’s fa­ther and de­vised a plan. Ge­orge would pick Townsend up from the air­port and bring him to a ho­tel for the night.

The fol­low­ing Mon­day, Townsend had an ap­point­ment with his fam­ily doc­tor, in part to dis­cuss the episode with the cat. Up­per, who was back in Sault Ste. Marie at that point, picked Townsend up from the hospi­tal. As they drove home, she could hear Townsend mut­ter­ing from the back seat.

“I’m a com­plete fail­ure, it didn’t work. It was sup­posed to be prac­tice,” Up­per heard him say.

She looked in the rear-view mir­ror. Townsend was sit­ting be­hind her. “Prac­tice for what?” she asked.

“To kill you,” he said.

Ge­orge Townsend is a com­puter sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Al­goma Uni­ver­sity. I spoke to him for a few hours in his of­fice, which he shares with his wife, also a com­puter sci­ence pro­fes­sor, in the base­ment of Al­goma’s main build­ing. His bald pate, big beard, and oval glasses give him an owlish look; his con­sid­ered mono­tone is largely bereft of emo­tion, re­gard­less of the sub­ject.

After Townsend threat­ened his mother’s life in the car fol­low­ing the cat in­ci­dent, he was ad­mit­ted to the psych ward at Sault Area Hospi­tal and was then trans­ferred to North Bay Re­gional Health Cen­tre’s

cam­pus in Sud­bury. Up­per was wor­ried for her life and the well-be­ing of her son. The doc­tors thought it was a big mis­un­der­stand­ing. In fact, Ge­orge re­mem­bers Townsend’s doc­tors laughing at how Townsend had put the fam­ily cat in the freezer.

“There was a tele­con­fer­ence,” Ge­orge says. “The doc­tors were talk­ing about what they’d de­cided, and one of them was kind of jok­ing about it, say­ing there’s no homi­ci­dal plot or some­thing. They said, ‘We think Johnny just got mad at the cat be­cause the cat scratched him.’”

After about a month, Townsend was dis­charged and sent home. He spent hours on end on his com­puter, hardly sleep­ing, his mother too afraid of the con­se­quences if she asked him to go to bed. She called the po­lice to the house after one of his meltdowns. When the of­fi­cers ar­rived, Up­per says, they couldn’t be­lieve she couldn’t get Townsend into coun­selling. “One of the cops asked his boss if he could take time out of his sched­ule the next day, and he and I went to talk to a Com­mu­nity Liv­ing Al­goma coun­sel­lor. He spent two hours with her and got nowhere.”

In the spring of 2012, Sault Ste. Marie po­lice ar­rested Townsend after he at­tempted to poi­son a class­mate. He had dis­solved seven­teen tablets of cloni­dine, a med­i­ca­tion used to treat anx­i­ety, in her cof­fee. He later claimed the class­mate was the daugh­ter of the devil and that the poi­son­ing was a test, be­cause the devil would never let his daugh­ter die. As a re­sult of the in­ci­dent, Townsend was ad­mit­ted to the psy­chi­atric ward at Sault Area Hospi­tal, where he spent nearly a month. Anna Rogers, an adult psy­chi­a­trist at the hospi­tal, ex­am­ined him. “Johnathon [ sic] is now pre­sent­ing as a risk to oth­ers,” she wrote in a re­port dated April 3, 2012. Be­cause she wasn’t a child psy­chi­a­trist, Rogers re­ferred Townsend to Pablo San­hueza, a psy­chi­a­trist at North Bay Re­gional Health Cen­tre.

San­hueza’s re­sult­ing three re­ports, writ­ten in the eigh­teen months be­fore Bon­homme’s mur­der, spell out the ex­tent to which Townsend was a dan­ger to oth­ers. San­hueza de­scribes a teenager with “a very cold frame of mind” whose propen­sity to veer from so­cial with­drawal to vi­o­lence had cre­ated a cli­mate of fear for other mem­bers of his fam­ily. More­over, “his sub­se­quent explanations,” ac­cord­ing to San­hueza’s re­port, “re­veal no in­sight into the wrong­ness of his actions.” He fur­ther af­firms that by ig­nor­ing or min­i­miz­ing Townsend’s symp­toms, the sys­tem ef­fec­tively en­abled his dis­or­ders.

Though Townsend’s so­cial awk­ward­ness and idio­syn­cratic thought pro­cesses were clas­sic hall­marks of ASD, “As­perger is not a suf­fi­cient ex­pla­na­tion for his vi­o­lent be­hav­iour, cru­elty and crim­i­nal of­fences,” San­hueza wrote. Some­thing else had grown out of Townsend’s ill­ness, San­hueza be­lieved. Townsend’s anger, left unchecked for so long, had metas­ta­sized into barely con­tain­able rage. “I am left with the im­pres­sion that his an­ti­so­cial trend is rel­a­tively new and has se­ri­ously worsen[ed] in the course of the last few years,” San­hueza wrote.

San­hueza di­ag­nosed Townsend with con­duct dis­or­der and con­cluded his Oc­to­ber 2012 re­port with prophetic flour­ish: “ev­ery pub­lic ser­vice has in a way turned its back on his needs and the needs of the fam­ily.” In his fi­nal re­port, from March 2013, San­hueza wrote, “No treat­ment or clin­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion could mod­ify” Townsend’s be­hav­iour and “[he] rep­re­sents a se­ri­ous and pre­dictable im­mi­nent dan­ger to the phys­i­cal in­tegrity” of the fam­ily. San­hueza later told Up­per that it was in­ap­pro­pri­ate for Townsend to live in the fam­ily home. When Up­per ex­plained that Townsend had nowhere to go, San­hueza told her and her daugh­ters to sleep with their doors locked and their cell­phones on them at all times.

Townsend’s psy­chi­atric re­ports be­came part of his pa­tient record, mean­ing they would have been ac­ces­si­ble to any physi­cian in his cir­cle of care. Read to­gether, they make it dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand how the var­i­ous agen­cies tasked with Townsend’s treat­ment let him stay in the fam­ily home, let alone move out into his own apart­ment to live un­su­per­vised. Yet San­hueza’s re­ports dis­ap­peared into the bu­reau­cratic ether. Nei­ther the CLA nor AFS ap­pear to have been aware of their con­tents. Nor did Sault Area Hospi­tal staff make note of San­hueza’s find­ings or Townsend’s dual di­ag­no­sis in Townsend’s in­take re­port on March 4, 2013, after he’d at­tacked his mother with a chair — staff, in fact, let him go even though he was brought in by po­lice, threw a ta­ble against a wall while un­der ob­ser­va­tion, and his mother said she was too scared to be in the same room with him. Townsend him­self only learned of his dual di­ag­no­sis in 2014, while he was in jail await­ing trial for Bon­homme’s mur­der.

It took a lawyer and sev­eral months for Ge­orge Townsend to get his hands on the re­ports. He fi­nally re­ceived them in May 2013, by which time Johnathan had been kicked out of his mother’s house. Johnathan was now on his own, and his par­ents had even less power over him than they did be­fore.

Afew hours be­fore she was mur­dered, Bon­homme posted a video on Google Plus. En­ti­tled “A Beau­ti­ful Life,” it shows her stand­ing on a Ge­or­gian Bay beach, in pearls and cow­boy boots, talk­ing to the cam­era for eight min­utes about her life. The “beach mono­logue,” as she called it, had been filmed in May, and Bjorn Mueller, her boyfriend of only a few months with a fam­ily cot­tage in the area, can be seen in the re­flec­tion of her sun­glasses. At one point, Mueller freezes the cam­era on her. Blue sky and wind­blown hair frame her smil­ing face.

Bon­homme was born in 1970 to un­mar­ried par­ents, a so­cial stigma in ru­ral Que­bec. Her ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents had re­fused to even rec­og­nize her ex­is­tence, much less visit her. After three years, her mother, Lise Bilodeau, made the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to hand the child over to Bon­homme’s fa­ther, who lived in the United States. Bilodeau even­tu­ally lost touch with her daugh­ter. Nine­teen years later, Bon­homme looked her mother up in the phone book. We have a lot to speak about, she said.

But they could hardly have a con­ver­sa­tion. Bilodeau didn’t speak English; her daugh­ter, raised in the United States, didn’t speak French. They ex­changed letters they couldn’t read, and their phone con­ver­sa­tions were well-mean­ing but, given the lan­guage di­vide, fraught. In the fol­low­ing years, Bon­homme wrote more letters — dozens of them, of­ten un­dated, from far-flung places. They are writ­ten in about as many hand­writ­ing styles — printed, cur­sive, block letters, frenzied scrib­bles, and girl­ish twirls.

Those letters tell the story of an adult life marked by chaos and sor­row. Bon­homme had her four chil­dren taken from her be­cause of men­tal in­sta­bil­ity. In 1994, two years after mov­ing to Lon­don, Eng­land, for a mod­el­ling gig, she gave birth to her first child, Ryan, and in 2003, while liv­ing

in Scot­land, she gave birth to a boy named Christopher. (The names of Bon­homme’s chil­dren have been changed.) Both Ryan and Christopher were taken away from her by UK au­thor­i­ties soon after they were born. Scot­tish of­fi­cials also re­moved her third child, Layla, born in 2005. The fol­low­ing year, the sher­iff over­ruled the orig­i­nal or­der and granted Bon­homme cus­tody of Layla.

In 2008, she was de­tained in Scot­land for over­stay­ing her visa and even­tu­ally de­ported back to Canada. Her daugh­ter Layla, then nearly three years old, ar­rived sep­a­rately from her mother and was taken into care by child pro­tec­tion ser­vices in Bri­tish Co­lum­bia. Bon­homme later moved to Ot­tawa and gave birth to an­other child, Merida, on May 28, 2010. Im­me­di­ately after the birth, doc­tors com­mit­ted Bon­homme to the hospi­tal for sev­enty-two hours. She tried to flee the hospi­tal with the pla­centa still at­tached. Merida was sub­se­quently taken from her as well.

The last sev­eral months of Bon­homme’s life were largely ded­i­cated to re­triev­ing paperwork from child pro­tec­tion ser­vices in BC and On­tario. Bon­homme was con­vinced that, within those pages, there was proof of how the so­cial work­ers, lawyers, judges, and law-en­force­ment of­fi­cers in­volved in her cases had con­sis­tently lied about her men­tal state and par­ent­ing abil­i­ties. The doc­u­ments, which she wrapped in a garbage bag and car­ried with her ev­ery­where, were go­ing to get her kids back and make those who did her wrong face jus­tice. “They are go­ing to be ar­rested,” she told Mueller on the beach.

In truth, the file spells out in clin­i­cal lan­guage the depth of her men­tal ill­ness and the lengths she went to ei­ther hide it or deny its ex­is­tence. “[V]olatile, ag­gres­sive para­noia, delu­sional thoughts, ex­treme ac­cu­sa­tions, racist/ho­mo­pho­bic com­ments and re­peated er­ratic be­hav­iours against au­thor­i­ties” is how Bon­homme’s in­ter­ac­tions with so­cial work­ers were char­ac­ter­ized in a 2010 judg­ment mak­ing Merida a Crown ward for adop­tion pur­poses. A so­cial worker in charge of Bon­homme’s case put it this way: “Se­vere men­tal health con­cerns with delu­sions/hal­lu­ci­na­tions. She is highly in­tel­li­gent and can present well.”

Over the years, Bon­homme filled her Face­book page with me­an­der­ing thoughts and idle threats, usu­ally writ­ten in cap­i­tal letters. So­cial work­ers and judges as­signed to her case were of­ten tar­gets of her rage. She posted videos on Youtube that were sim­i­lar to her Face­book posts. They lurch from wild ac­cu­sa­tions to heart­felt whis­pered mes­sages to her chil­dren, who she was con­vinced were watch­ing. Ryan, Christopher, Layla, Merida and she would be to­gether again, she said. “As most chil­dren who are taken away il­le­gally or falsely adopted, they tend to come back to the nest,” she said in one of the last Youtube videos she made.

For weeks dur­ing the sum­mer they met, Bon­homme would shut­tle be­tween Ge­or­gian Bay and her new job at Stu­dio 10, a 1,200 kilo­me­tre round trip. On Au­gust 5, after an­other week­end to­gether, Mueller put Bon­homme on a bus to Sault Ste. Marie for the last time. She packed a wheeled suit­case full of makeup, clothes, and a pair of knee-high white patent-leather boots, along with her case file from an On­tario court.

When Bon­homme didn’t re­spond to emails or texts in the fol­low­ing days, Mueller fig­ured she’d found some­one else or got­ten busted for some­thing stupid. She’ll con­tact me even­tu­ally, he thought. Weeks went by with­out a word from her. When he didn’t hear any­thing on Septem­ber 11, her birth­day, Mueller googled her name and read about the mur­der. He wrote a three­p­age let­ter to Lise Bilodeau ex­plain­ing who he was and how he’d met her daugh­ter. He ended it with the fol­low­ing line: “The irony! She wanted noth­ing bet­ter than to be with her stolen chil­dren. She [got] mur­dered by a child.”

In April 2013, Ge­orge found Townsend an apart­ment in Sault Ste. Marie’s east end. His par­ents paid the $350 monthly rent and brought over gro­ceries ev­ery week. Child and Com­mu­nity Re­sources (CCR ) sent over an ap­plied be­hav­iour anal­y­sis (ABA) coun­sel­lor to help Townsend im­prove his com­mu­ni­ca­tion and so­cial skills. Though he’d ex­hib­ited re­peated in­stances of dan­ger­ous and threat­en­ing be­hav­iour and had been kicked out from his mother’s house after he’d as­saulted her, the ABA coun­sel­lor, ac­cord­ing to Up­per, chose to con­cen­trate on em­ploy­ment skills — some­thing that irks her to this day. He didn’t need em­ploy­ment skills, she says. “Em­ploy­ment was a pipe dream. Johnny needed treat­ment.” (CCR ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Sherry Fournier re­fused to com­ment on Townsend’s case, cit­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity re­stric­tions.)

Still, Up­per tried to look at things pos­i­tively. Townsend al­ways wanted to be in­de­pen­dent, and he was nearly eigh­teen any­way. Maybe hav­ing his own apart­ment would force him to adapt to the world.

In­stead, Townsend spent much of the time in the apart­ment with the lights off, of­ten sit­ting with his lap­top near one of the win­dows, where he could best pick up Wi-fi. On May 6, Townsend met some­one who used the screen name Dark­wolf­girl35 on an on­line fo­rum. They ex­changed the ba­sics: Townsend — known as Ze­bepets — was a seven­teen-year-old who had just moved out of his mother’s place. She was a twelve-year-old girl who lived with her grand­mother in a small In­di­ana town. (She can’t be iden­ti­fied due to a pub­li­ca­tion ban; her screen name has been changed.) Though they’d never met in per­son and didn’t yet know each other’s real names, they de­clared them­selves to be dat­ing within a few days.

Over the next three months, Ze­bepets and Dark­wolf­girl35 ex­changed 10,563 mes­sages over Skype in­stant mes­sen­ger. On July 16, Townsend de­scribed how, un­able to sleep, he had gone to check his mail at 5:30 a.m., and there had been a wo­man asleep in the en­trance of his apart­ment build­ing. She had told him she was from out of town, danc­ing at Stu­dio 10. They’d messed up her pay­cheque, and she couldn’t get a ho­tel room. That night, he claims, they had slept in the same bed.

Over the next few days, Dark­wolf­girl35 sounded more and more jealous of “the strip­per,” as Ze­bepets re­ferred to Bon­homme.

Ze­bepets: Oh, God, did you think I was go­ing to dump you for her?

Bon­homme looked at the knife in Townsend’s hand; he backed out of the bath­room and threw it away.

left Corel­lie Bon­homme was a model, a dancer, and a mother.

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