COURT FILES RE­VEAL FRAN­TIC EF­FORT TO FIND QUE­BEC GIRL’S KILLER

ELAB­O­RATE PROBE FAILED TO TIE LO­CAL MAN TO DEATH

Windsor Star - - CANADA - Graeme Hamilton in Mon­treal

When nine-year-old Cé­drika Provencher dis­ap­peared while play­ing near her Trois-Rivières, Que., home in 2007, in­ves­ti­ga­tors quickly fo­cused their at­ten­tion on a red Acura TSX seen in the vicin­ity by a wit­ness and cap­tured on a se­cu­rity cam­era.

It was a strong lead that soon led them to a lo­cal man in his late 20s, a man­ager at a pack­ag­ing com­pany run by his fa­ther. Jonathan Bet­tez was one of six peo­ple in Que­bec who drove a red four-door 2004 Acura match­ing the sus­pect car’s de­scrip­tion, with chrome han­dles and sev­en­spoke rims. And, po­lice al­lege, he was the only one whose al­ibi for the night of Cé­drika’s dis­ap­pear­ance could not be con­firmed. Eleven years af­ter the dis­ap­pear­ance that trans­fixed the prov­ince, and nearly three years af­ter her re­mains were dis­cov­ered, no one has been charged. Bet­tez, now 38, is fac­ing trial on child pornog­ra­phy charges, and newly un­sealed court doc­u­ments in that case de­tail the elab­o­rate — but ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful — mea­sures in­ves­ti­ga­tors em­ployed to tie him to Cé­drika’s death.

Cé­drika had been rid­ing her bike the night of July 31, 2007, with in­struc­tions to be home by 8:45. She was wear­ing a limegreen sun­dress over her bathing suit, green flip-flops, a pink and mauve Timex watch and a bur­gundy Su­per­cy­cle hel­met, her mother would tell po­lice. When she failed to re­turn on time, her mother im­me­di­ately went look­ing for and then called around to her friends’ homes. By 9:20, she called the po­lice to re­port her daugh­ter miss­ing, launch­ing an in­ten­sive search. Over the sum­mer, the fam­ily ap­pealed for help, posters of her freck­led face cov­ered trees and util­ity poles and do­na­tions poured in to fund a re­ward. Within a week, po­lice said they had al­ready re­ceived 500 tips from the pub­lic.

But the doc­u­ments un­sealed this week, fol­low­ing a re­quest to the court by La Presse and Ra­dio-Canada, show that in­ves­ti­ga­tors had al­most from the start fo­cused at­ten­tion on Bet­tez. They first met with him Sept. 6, 2007, when he con­firmed he owned a red Acura and said they could in­spect it, but it was at the garage. Later that month, he gave a writ­ten al­ibi for July 31, say­ing he had played nine holes of golf in the af­ter­noon be­fore driv­ing to his par­ents house to tend to their plants and swim­ming pool while they were out of town. Upon ar­rival, he said, he saw that his aunt was al­ready there, so he re­turned to his apart­ment, where he was liv­ing on his own. His aunt told po­lice she never saw Bet­tez that day. “No­body is able to con­firm his al­ibi between the time he leaves the golf course on July 31, 2007 and his re­turn to work on Aug. 1,” Sûreté du Québec in­ves­ti­ga­tor Kather­ine Gui­mond said of Bet­tez in an af­fi­davit sworn in 2015 to ob­tain ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion about an In­ter­net Pro­to­col ad­dress al­legedly used to ac­cess child pornog­ra­phy.

It was not un­til Dec. 10, 2007, that po­lice would ex­e­cute a search war­rant on Bet­tez’s car, and the doc­u­ments say the search re­vealed no new ev­i­dence. Three times — in 2007, 2012 and 2015 — in­ves­ti­ga­tors in­vited Bet­tez to take a poly­graph test to ver­ify his story. Af­ter con­sult­ing with his lawyer, he de­clined each in­vi­ta­tion.

In 2015, he set con­di­tions that in­ves­ti­ga­tors agreed to, but then he re­fused, say­ing he did not want to “restart all that af­ter eight years,” ac­cord­ing to the court doc­u­ments.

By June 2009, in­ves­ti­ga­tors were ready to launch an elab­o­rate un­der­cover op­er­a­tion along the lines of the Mr. Big stings used to elicit a con­fes­sion from sus­pects.

Gen­er­ally, such op­er­a­tions aim to make a sus­pect be­lieve he is deal­ing with a se­ri­ous crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion, draw­ing him in to the point where he con­fesses to a past crime.

In this case, 19 un­der­cover agents would be em­ployed in an un­suc­cess­ful ef­fort to en­snare Bet­tez. It be­gan with a ruse to make Bet­tez think he had won a week­end at a Mont-Trem­blant golf re­sort in a scratch-and-win con­test. He was picked up in a limou­sine and spent the week­end with other sup­posed con­test win­ners, all of whom were un­der­cover agents.

One in par­tic­u­lar be­friended Bet­tez, and over the next 14 months, they would get to­gether an­other two dozen times, golf­ing, din­ing and go­ing to Cana­di­ens hockey games. The agent be­gan con­duct­ing il­licit busi­ness in Bet­tez’s pres­ence, and en­list­ing his help. He loaned Bet­tez, who the doc­u­ments say had gam­bling debts, $25,000 to fund his poker habit.

But in Au­gust 2010, Bet­tez cut ties with the agent and re­paid the loan, say­ing he was not com­fort­able with his shady busi­ness. Through the en­tire op­er­a­tion, the only po­ten­tially in­crim­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion ob­tained was a pass­ing com­ment Bet­tez made dur­ing a round of golf with the agent.

They passed by a house near the 12th hole where a girl aged between 10 and 12 was in the win­dow in her bathing suit, the doc­u­ments say. “Did you see that bikini?” Bet­tez asked of the agent. Af­ter a pause, Bet­tez added: “She’s a lit­tle young.” Af­ter a hunter dis­cov­ered Cé­drika’s re­mains in De­cem­ber 2015, po­lice ob­tained war­rants to in­stall hid­den cam­eras in Bet­tez’s home and work­place and to tap the phones of his fam­ily and friends, hop­ing that the dis­cov­ery of Cé­drika’s re­mains would prompt him to say some­thing.

The doc­u­ments al­lege that Bet­tez used a com­puter at his work­place to down­load child pornog­ra­phy. They say he used such on­line nick­names as LureThem and Pan­tyGuy to ac­cess files of girls, mostly aged between eight and 12, en­gaged in sex­ual acts.

None of the al­le­ga­tions have been proven in court. Bet­tez was ar­rested in 2016 and he has pleaded not guilty to 10 charges of pos­sess­ing and ac­cess­ing child pornog­ra­phy. He is not charged in re­la­tion to Cé­drika’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

ELEVEN YEARS AF­TER HER DIS­AP­PEAR­ANCE, NO ONE HAS BEEN CHARGED.

HAND­OUT / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The re­mains of nine-year-old Cé­drika Provencher, who went miss­ing in 2007, were dis­cov­ered by a hunter in De­cem­ber 2015. Po­lice quickly keyed in on a lo­cal man as part of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Jonathan Bet­tez

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