How Canada’s Most Prolific Hit Man Turned Informant on the Hells Angels
“Apache” Trudeau was known as a killer with “no respect for human life at all.”
Dual images of Yves "Apache" over a still of the Lennoxville Massacre. | Images via Wikipedia Commons.
If there's one crime that Yves "Apache" Trudeau is most closely associated with, it would be the Lennoxville Massacre of March 24, 1985. The murder of six Hells Angels by their one-time comrades-in-arms shocked the underworld, law enforcement, and the public, and almost led to the club's complete downfall in Quebec.
Trudeau was the motorcycle club's most prolific killer. He would admit to having shot, stabbed, beaten, and dynamited over 40 people—some innocent, most not—to death between 1970 and 1985. But Trudeau wasn't one of the architects of the massacre; in fact, he was one of its intended targets. And the revenge he took on his former club would decimate its leadership and earn him notoriety that would long outlive him.
Trudeau's criminal career took off in 1968 when, at 22, he joined east-end Montreal's Popeyes motorcycle club. The Popeyes were known for doing the usual gangster stuff: drugs, prostitution, extortion, theft. But even then, notes journalist and true crime author James Dubro, Trudeau was a little different than his fellow bikers.
"He had this fascination early in life with bikers and military things and weapons and bombs," Dubro says. He even worked at an explosives factory, where he honed the skills that would later become his trademark.
But as the Popeyes' wealth and power grew, rival clubs like the Devil's Disciples and the Ontario-based Satan's Choice tried to muscle in on their turf. The violence that ensued cemented Quebec's reputation as one of the most dangerous places for organized crime to do business in North America. By 1975, for instance, the Devil's Disciples disbanded after 15 of their members had been murdered by one criminal group or another.
"There's always has been more violence in Quebec," says Dubro. "In the biker world it's known as the Red Zone. I remember an Outlaws hit man telling me he was scared going to Montreal."
The violence also attracted the attention of motorcycle gangs based in the US, especially the Chicago-based Outlaws and California-based Hells Angels, who were both looking to expand internationally. In the summer of 1977, five of the 10 Satan's Choice chapters patched over and joined the Outlaws, including the one in Montreal. The Popeyes did the same, joining the Hells Angels that December.
By the time the Popeyes patched over, Trudeau had already killed four people (he was also reputed to have cut off the head of one of his victims, earning him the nickname "Apache"). His fifth murder would be committed within weeks of joining the Hells, when he shot a young Outlaws member outside a bar in Montreal's Little Italy, sparking a full-fledged war.
Trudeau's killing career flourished in the 1970s and early 1980. He gunned his victims down at their homes, planted bombs in their vehicles—it didn't matter if he killed innocents along the way. Girlfriends and wives died alongside their men. His rep as an explosives expert earned him another nickname, "The Mad Bumper."
"He had absolutely no conscience, no respect for human life at all," says Dubro.
By September 1979, the Montreal chapter of the Hells Angels was becoming unwieldy, and so that month a second Montreal-area chapter was created, consisting largely of ex-Popeyes. It would be based in the northern suburb of Laval, and became known as the North Chapter, while the chapter based in Sorel, about an hour's drive northeast of Montreal, would remain the provincial mother chapter.
Independence didn't help the North Chapter. By the early 1980s, their notorious behaviour—especially their heavy cocaine use, flaunting of club rules, and the disrespect shown to other criminals—was becoming a serious issue.
Cocaine addiction didn't slow Trudeau's killing, though. In fact, it may have helped it, says Dubro. "Most of the hit men I've met have been cokeheads, and they usually coke up before doing the killings," he says. "Makes it a little easier. Not all of them, but alcoholism and drug use is very common among hit men." In February 1980, Trudeau murdered the grandmother of a former Hells Angel he believed was talking to the cops, along with the suspected snitch and his wife.
Trudeau's reputation was solid enough that he began taking contracts from outside the Hells. Montreal's criminal community "knew Trudeau's rep as a killer," says Pierre de Champlain, author of Histoire du crime organisé à Montréal. "He was very professional, very meticulous, and that's why they used his services."
Trudeau committed several murders at the behest of the West End Gang, the largely Irish community of criminals operating out of Montreal's predominantly English-speaking southwest. The Hells and the Irish were close: the Gang controlled the Port of Montreal, allowing them to import huge quantities of drugs fairly easily. The Port was then run by the Gang's leading light, Frank Peter "Dunie" Ryan.
The relationship was so strong that in January 1982 Ryan forced the Hells to murder three of their own members, and one of their girlfriends. The trio, led by founding Montreal Hells Angels and former Popeyes member Denis Kennedy, had come up with a plot to kidnap one of Ryan's children and use the ransom money to pay back the coke money they owed him. Ryan found out and told the Hells that they either kill the idiots behind the plot or lose access to the drugs he was importing. The four were quickly murdered and disposed of in the St. Lawrence. Dubro says Trudeau pulled the trigger on Kennedy.
"That's the thing about biker gangs like the Hells Angels," he says. "They talk about a brotherhood but when they find someone is no longer useful they just get rid of him."
Ryan had worked with Trudeau before. Just a couple months previously, he'd hired the biker to eliminate Hughie McGurnaghan, a gang member whom Ryan felt had cheated him out of drug money.
"Dunie got a little pissed off and he wanted to set an example," says D'Arcy O'Connor, author of Montreal's Irish Mafia, about the West End Gang. "He hired Yves Trudeau to send a message to the rest of the West End Gang that you don't fuck around with Dunie Ryan if you owe him money."
On October 27, 1981, Trudeau detonated a bomb underneath McGurnaghan's car as it drove along Westmount Park. The explosion blew off McGurnaghan's legs and shattered windows in the upscale neighbourhood. He died en route to the hospital. (In an odd twist, O'Connor says he was living nearby at the time and heard the detonation as it went off but didn't know what it was. He only made the connection years later, when he was researching his book.)
But Trudeau's most infamous killing took place three years later, and was also carried out for the West End Gang. On November 13, 1984, Ryan was gunned down by Paul April, another West End Gang member, and his partner Robert Lelièvre. At Ryan's funeral, his friend and colleague Allan "the Weasel" Ross made contact with Trudeau, and, having heard that April was bragging about the murder, arranged for payback.
Ross didn't have to wait long. In the early hours of Sunday, November 25, Trudeau associate Michel Blass showed up at April's apartment at 1645 de Maisonneuve West bearing gifts: a TV, a VCR, and video cassette copy of Hells Angels Forever, a pseudo-documentary produced by the gang's Manhattan chapter. April was with Lelièvre and two others. Once Blass was safely out of the apartment, Trudeau detonated a bomb hidden inside the TV. The explosion, writes de Champlain, blew the four men to pieces and badly damaged eight other apartments in the Concordia University student ghetto building.
Trudeau described relations between Sorel and Laval by then as "ice cold." Besides being almost constantly high on cocaine, the North Chapter was also withholding profits they made from selling $300,000 worth of speed to the West End Gang—profits that were supposed to be shared equally.
In March 1985, the Sorel mother chapter held a secret meeting declaring the Laval chapter to be in "bad standing." Sorel drew up a list of North members to be murdered, Trudeau among them. Others would be allowed to retire or join Sorel.
The Laval chapter was told to appear at the Sherbrooke chapter's clubhouse—actually in neighbouring Lennoxville, home of Bishop's University—on Saturday, March 23, for a party. Attendance, they were told, was mandatory.
Several North members arrived as scheduled but others, including chapter president Laurent Viau, declined. Also absent was Apache Trudeau.
Heavily addicted to cocaine though he was—de Champlain writes that he went through $60,000 worth of cocaine in just three weeks—Trudeau was no dummy. He sensed something was brewing between Sorel and Laval and that it would end in blood. So a week before the meeting, he quietly booked himself into a detox centre in Oka, just west of Montreal. That decision saved his life.
On Sunday, March 24, after cajoling a few reticent North members to make the trip from Laval to Lennoxville, the trap was sprung. Viau and four other North chapter members were shot to death, wrapped in sleeping bags and chained to concrete blocks. Their bodies were driven to Sorel in the back of a rented cube van and dumped in the river.
Still in detox, Trudeau was offered a deal by the Hells: kill two bikers who weren't at Lennoxville, as well as one of the dead biker's girlfriend, and he'd get some money and his life back. Trudeau, without a whole lot of options, agreed. He was expelled from the motorcycle club: he could no longer call himself a Hells Angel, and would have to surrender his motorcycle and have his tattoos removed.
Trudeau successfully murdered one of the targets, but could not get to the other two.
In the meantime, the cops knew something was going on.
"They noticed that the Laval chapter's garage that served as their bunker was closed," de Champlain says. "The girlfriends of the guys who'd disappeared were approached and asked, 'Have you seen your boyfriend lately?' and things like that. Then they realized that these people had disappeared, but they didn't know they were dead."
They'd find out by June, when the bodies started floating to the surface of the St. Lawrence River. Hauled from the river were Laurent Viau, 33, the North Chapter president; Guy-Louis Adam, 33, the chapter secretary; Michel Mayrand, 29, the chapter clubhouse's registered owner; Guy Geoffrion, the club's chemist; Claude Roy, 31, a North Chapter prospect being considered for full membership; and the skeleton of Berthe Desjardins, the 33-year-old wife of a former Hells who'd been missing along with her husband and his grandmother since 1980. The body of another North Chapter Hells Angel, Jean-Pierre Mathieu, was found a few days later drifting in the water about 150 kilometers downriver, southwest of Quebec City.
While the Sorel chapter probably felt some relief at having disposed of the troublesome North, they likely had no idea where the massacre would lead. Within years, many top bikers would be in jail and, within a decade the Hells would be engulfed in a bloody biker war with an upstart club called the Rock Machine—founded by Salvatore Cazzetta, a biker so disgusted by the Hells' willingness to kill their own that he formed his own club. (Bizarrely, Cazzetta would eventually wind up reconciled with the Hells and even become one of its leaders in Quebec.)
Over the spring and summer of 1985, cops would haul in a number of bikers and carry out a number of raids aimed at fatally disrupting the Hells Angels in the province. But it would take more than what they had to effectively decapitate the club's leadership. They needed someone who knew the gang from inside out, who knew its dirty secrets, and who didn't have anything to lose. They needed someone like Yves Trudeau—and fortunately for them, they had him.
Trudeau must have known his days were numbered. There was a $50,000 bounty on his head, and he'd made a lot of enemies. But then, salvation came in the most unexpected way: he was picked up on a weapons charge in April 1985 and sentenced to a year in prison. A couple of months later, while incarcerated, Trudeau cut a deal. He would testify against his former colleagues in exchange for a cushy cell and reduced sentence. He publicly delivered his first bombshell testimony at a coroner's inquest that August.
Testimony provided by Trudeau and two other informants, experts say, would lead directly to the conviction of some 19 Hells Angels, including four directly connected to the Lennoxville Massacre. He also provided information on some 90 murders and admit to being personally involved in 43 of them between 1970 and 1985: 29 shootings, 10 bombings, three beatings and one strangling.
In exchange for his testimony, he pled guilty to 43 charges of manslaughter and served seven years in prison. It's a deal that caused outrage at the time, and continues to resonate today.
Conservative Senator and victims' rights advocate Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu says the Trudeau deal was a glaring example of abuse of the system, of a shortcut too eagerly seized by police and prosecutors. The informant program in Canada was overhauled in 2013 and is now administered by the RCMP but Boisvenu still believes it should be used sparingly.
He questions the whole value of the informant program, saying the return on the investment isn't always justifiable. "Apache Trudeau didn't have to fight for his money, he didn't have to fight to be well treated," he tells VICE. "These are programs that cost us millions of dollars. The criminals take advantage of protection that isn't available to victims and a lot of the criminals who turned informant will wind up being recidivist."
Here he points specifically to Apache Trudeau. Upon his release from prison in 1994, he was given a new identity and a job at a seniors' residence in St-Eustache on the north shore of the St. Lawrence near Montreal. In 2004, he was re-arrested on sexual assault charges involving a boy under the age of 14. He pled guilty and was sentenced to four years in jail.
By the end of his sentence, Trudeau, then 62, was dying of cancer. At a parole hearing in July 2008, the Montreal Gazette described him as a "skeleton of a man," needing a wheelchair to get around and speaking in a "weak, raspy voice."
Asked about his terminal illness and what he thought about death, Trudeau said, "I see it as a punishment." Asked what he wanted to accomplish in his remaining time, he said, "I want to show my mother I'm good."
He was granted parole, and died soon after. Few mourned him.
"Killing to him was like buying a bag of milk," the sister of one of his victims told the Journal de Montréal the day after his parole hearing. "A guy like that doesn't have a soul. That cancer is justice."
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