In the summer of 2019, people around the world had been glued to a weeks-long manhunt through the wilderness of Northern Canada. The search for triple-murder suspects Kam Mcleod and Bryer Schmegelsky stretched thousands of kilometres from the crime scenes, to a dead-end road in the northern reaches of Manitoba.
How could two teenagers evade police for so long? Globe and Mail journalists Renata D’Aliesio and Melissa Tait covered the search for weeks on the ground, publishing breaking news on the file until the suspects’ bodies were found and police went home. But there were many unanswered questions about how Canada’s most-wanted fugitives were found and what led to their deaths. The RCMP, Canada’s national police force, refused to divulge further information. A local Cree trapper who was involved in the police search wasn’t ready to share his story, either. Neither was a mysterious professional tracker brought in – The Globe learned through a police source – to help find the suspects.
The manhunt had drawn dozens of journalists from Canadian, Australian and British media organizations to Gillam, Man. But only The Globe and Mail succeeded in persuading the central figures in the search to explain how the manhunt truly ended, including winning the trust of Fox Lake Cree Nation and convincing Manitoba RCMP to grant interviews.
The journalists’ persistence paid off. A drone and airplane were employed to capture visuals of the vast Manitoba wilderness and illustrate the challenges police searchers had faced and the proximity of nearby communities.
As a result of The Globe’s work, the public now knows how close the RCMP came to pulling out of the Gillam area without finding the fugitives and the essential role that Cree trapper Billy Beardy played in ending the manhunt. Not even the RCMP search commanders – nor many other Mounties who took part in the police operation – were fully aware of his efforts until The Globe’s reporting. The Globe’s thorough exploration took the public behind the scenes of the police search and ensured they received vital information about a significant news event they had followed closely for months.
A critical part of this piece was retracing suspects’ path – not an easy task in the dense trees of Northern Manitoba. Thanks to their sources, The Globe reporters knew the location of the bodies. Inaccessible by road, and with river currents unpredictable, the only way to access was via helicopter. Melissa Tait, the visual journalist on the team, shot stills and video from the helicopter, and then worked to recreate their journey and final moments. This aerial work was then tightly woven into the piece, as moving images and interstitials, to help the reader understand the true challenge of the landscape.
The resulting documentary, published one year after the manhunt’s grisly conclusion, is both an intimate story of one community living through a waking nightmare, and a portrait of the gruelling investigative work needed to track a pair of killers through a harsh and unforgiving landscape.