Leon Joudrey has died.

Joudrey was a decent man, someone who avoided conflict. He liked the woods, worked in forestry, hunted and fished. After his marriage fell apart, he bought a place in Portapique and lived by himself, minding his own business but helping out friends and taking side jobs clearing brush and taking out trees from time to time. People liked him, he liked people. He dated a bit, but he was still suffering emotionally from his failed marriage, so that never went anywhere much.

In a perfect world, or even just in the normal course of events, Joudrey would’ve gone on with his life, found his peace, maybe eventually find a woman he could’ve settled down with.

But it wasn’t a perfect world, and Joudrey’s life wasn’t normal: He had landed in Portapique and into the orbit of the man who would kill 13 of Joudrey’s friends and neighbours the night of April 18, 2020, and then kill nine more people across the province the next morning. And Joudrey’s hapless role in that event became his own undoing.

Portapique

“It was nice,” Joudrey said of Portapique. “You had your own private access to the beach. Yeah, it’s a quiet, quiet community.”

Joudrey knew some of his neighbours well, but others he knew only in passing. Yet it was impossible to live in Portapique without being entwined with the man who had built an elaborate “cottage” on the Portapique River and a large warehouse on Orchard Beach Drive that housed his many motorcycles and other toys. The Halifax Examiner refers to that man as GW.

GW occasionally hired Joudrey to do some work for him, and in the course of that work Joudrey had visited the warehouse twice. He said he only met GW’s girlfriend Lisa Banfield a couple of times, and they just exchanged pleasantries — “Short conversation. Just, ‘Nice day out,’ yeah, whatever.”

But Joudrey was aware that GW treated Banfield badly. “I was there one day when he verbally abused her,” said Joudrey. “Told her to shut her effing mouth and stuff like that. I was like, yeah, she’s a big girl, she can make her own decisions.”

On Remembrance Day, 2019, GW asked Joudrey to cut a trail through the woods, connecting the warehouse to the cottage. But Joudrey understood that the trees weren’t on GW’s property so refused the work. The two argued, and that was the last Joudrey spoke with GW.

But GW remained a haunting presence in Joudrey’s life.

Lisa McCully. Photo: Facebook

Back in 2018, just after Joudrey moved to Portapique, he attended a community barbecue. There, he met Lisa McCully, who lived with her two kids in a cottage across the road from the warehouse. McCully was smart, a school teacher, and pretty. And Joudrey had his charms.

“Attractive girl,” said Joudrey. “I had a couple of beer. There was a little bit of flirtation that went on. I kissed her and she goes ‘Whoah, you’re moving too fast.’ And that was the end of it.”

Joudrey and McCully each started dating other people, but both relationships ended by the summer of 2019. “Lisa [McCully] started talking to me and started showing more interest,” said Joudrey. “We met on the beach, going for a walk, and then one thing led to another. Just the way couples start.”

But, said Joudrey, he was uncertain how to proceed because he was still reeling emotionally from a divorce, which was also why he broke up with the woman he had been dating before McCully.

Besides, there was something odd about another neighbour, GW.

“I never had anything to do with Gabriel until I met Lisa [McCully],” said Joudrey. “Then Gabriel started talking about it, pulled into my yard a couple times. That’s freaking weird… He kept saying about Lisa being a good woman. I said, ‘oh yeah, we’re going out. We’ll see how things go. I’m still trying to go through a divorce.’”

GW kept repeating, “She’s a good woman, she’s a good woman.”

Joudrey understood that GW was jealous over McCully, so Joudrey asked McCully about it.

McCully told Joudrey that she had once slept with GW — many years previously, before she met Joudrey.

“I went and told him [GW] that we couldn’t be friends anymore because I’m dating you [Joudrey] now,” McCully told Joudrey, as Joudrey recalled the conversation.

“What did you do that for?” responded Joudrey. “You trying to poke the bear?”

Then GW was “a dick to me the last two or three times [I saw him],” said Joudrey. Joudrey broke up with McCully, but the two continued to text each other.

Joudrey received the odd stare from GW as they passed each other in their vehicles. McCully’s experience was worse. She told a coworker, another teacher, that GW was harassing her. The coworker related that to her husband, an RCMP cop named Dave Lilly. Here’s how Staff Sergeant Steve Halliday later characterized Lilly’s comments:

[Lilly] believed [GW] and [McCully] had been in some kind of a relationship. And in recent days or weeks, he had been acting very unusual towards her, driving back and down her residence, and as Dave said, and I quote him, ‘Creeping her out.’

On April 18, 2020, Joudrey spent the day working with his neighbours and friends Greg and Jamie Blair, and another man named Ron. They were cutting and hauling brush, burying electrical lines, “just property work.” After the end of a long day, Joudrey went home, but then the Blairs called and invited him for dinner. They ate in the garage with the door open so they could maintain the six-foot distancing required by COVID rules. After supper, Joudrey went back home and fell asleep, exhausted.

In the middle of the night, Joudrey was awakened by gunshots, but he thought nothing of it — probably someone just shooting possums or some such — and fell back asleep. He woke up a little later, around 4am on April 19, and was texting with a friend who told him something was up in Portapique. Joudrey got in his truck and drove down Portapique Road, where he saw GW’s cottage on fire. A police team came up to Joudrey and told him to leave Portapique, but Joudrey wasn’t going to leave his two dogs home alone just because of a fire, so he went back home. En route, he saw that Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn’s house was on fire too. Joudrey didn’t know what to make of that. He fell back asleep.

Then, at about 6:30am, Joudrey was awakened by someone banging on his door. It was Lisa Banfield.

This is what Joudrey told three RCMP officers in an interview starting at 8:36am on Sunday, April 19, 2020 — about two hours after Banfield showed up at his door:

So she opened the door, she had no shoes, she shaking and shivering. I let her in and she’s just freaking. So I give her my coat and my sneakers and she couldn’t even dial 9-1-1. So I called 9-1-1. And told them to come, bring cops down to come get her and the SWAT team showed up.

Cst. Terry Brown questioned Joudrey about that further; their exchange:

BROWN: OKay, ah, Leon, so, uh ah, when she showed up at your house, Did she…, tell me as much as you can about that interaction, what happened, what she said?

JOUDREY: I was half asleep, she came in, said he lost his mind. He had her handcuffed, she hid in the woods, she’s frozen and it’s the first house she got to.

BROWN: Okay.

JOUDREY: Is what she told me, so I gave her my coat and she couldn’t dial 9-1-1. Like I said, I called 9-1-1, the police came. She came out on the deck, they took her, and that’s the only interaction I had with her.

BROWN: Okay, so she said that she was handcuffed?

JOUDREY: Last night.

BROWN: Last night.

JOUDREY: But how she got out of those handcuffs, I don’t know.

BROWN: Okay. So she didn’t have any handcuffs on her when she got to your…

JOUDREY: No, but she said, he beat her up. 9-1-1 asked if she was hurt. I said, no I don’t think so. She looked okay to me, just shook up.

BROWN: Yeah.

JOUDREY: But whether he hit her, I don’t know.

BROWN: Okay. Alright.

JOUDREY: I’m just going with hear-say. But she was only at my place for like…, ten minutes.

BROWN: Okay

JOUDREY: And I didn’t want her there much anyway…, Huh, heh…,

BROWN: Yeah.

JOUDREY: … just considering.

BROWN: Yeah.

JOUDREY: .. the whole night, right.

BROWN: Sure, sure.

JOUDREY: I wanted the police to come and…

BROWN: Yeah. Okay. So um yeah… She gets to your house, she makes…, she says ah, that he lost his mind.

JOUDREY: Yeah.

BROWN: ..um, sorry what else did he, she say? Anything else you can remember at all that she said?

JOUDREY: Uh, she…, he beat her up, he handcuffed her, she got away, she hid in the woods all night.

BROWN: Okay.

JOUDREY: And, she was just freaking, just freaking like…, not really making any sense after that.

BROWN: Very upset, okay.

JOUDREY: Oh, just.

BROW: Yeah. Okay.

JOUDREY: Shaking, but that’s, that’s the only details that I really got out of her.

BROWN: Sure. Okay.

In his May 13, 2022 interview with Mass Casualty Commission investigators, Joudrey told the same story, and elaborated about the phone:

I handed her my phone and she dropped it. So I just picked [it] up and called it myself.

It was only after Joudrey was evacuated to the Great Village Fire Hall that he learned the full extent of the murders in Portapique — and that Lisa McCully, Greg Blair, and Jamie Blair were among the victims. Then, like everyone else in Nova Scotia, Joudrey learned about the murders of April 19 unfolding.

In the days following the murders, Joudrey stayed with people in Truro who were also caring for Lisa McCully’s two children and Greg and Jamie Blair’s two children.

Mental health breakdown

We can’t know what Joudrey experienced in the days, weeks, months, and years after the murders. But it must have been difficult: that so many of his friends and neighbours had been killed likely led to survivor’s guilt. And how did he understand his relationship with McCully and the role that may have played in the murders?

This much we do know: For some period of time, Joudrey couldn’t bring it upon himself to return to his house in Portapique. He was sometimes living in his vehicle, sometimes in and out of hotels in Truro and New Glasgow. He was not well mentally.

Last year, someone told me about an incident involving Joudrey. I was able to confirm some of the details at the time, but not all, but after Joudrey’s death, I’ve been able to confirm some of the other details.

As I understand it, there was some kind of incident at Berry’s Motel in Truro, and the police were called. Joudrey had left, but was later stopped in his vehicle by police. He had blood on his hands — it turned out to be deer blood — so the police checked his vehicle and found weapons. He expressed anger towards specific RCMP officers.

Joudrey was never arraigned on charges, and police who I asked about the incident would not provide details, but my understanding is that this incident led to Joudrey being committed to the Nova Scotia Hospital. He was there for at least several months.

I don’t know when Joudrey was released from hospital, or when he ended up back in Portapique. I’ve been reliably told that he died from suicide.

I’m not inclined to report on someone’s mental health issues. Certainly, Joudrey should not be defined by his struggles, which are both tragic and understandable. He was a decent man, and was in no way at fault for what unfolded during the murders or after. I think of him as GW’s 23rd victim.

That said, I’ve given more detail than I normally would, because Joudrey’s struggles have led to some harmful misinformation and cruelty being released upon Lisa Banfield.

Lisa Banfield testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission on Friday, July 15, 2022. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Recall that just hours after Banfield showed up at his door, and before he knew the extent of the murders, Joudrey said Banfield was “freaking out” and so cold she couldn’t hold a phone, much less dial 9-1-1. He later told the same to the Mass Casualty Commission investigators. Sure, he didn’t see any obvious other physical injuries to Banfield, but he was only with her fleetingly, less than 10 minutes, and he didn’t want her there in the first place. It’s not like he gave her a complete physical examination.

But then Joudrey started giving interviews, some to conspiracy theorists, and said that Banfield was fine when she came out of the woods, or as Paul Palango put it in a March 31, 2022 Canadaland interview, “fresh as daisies.”

Banfield was so injured by her beating at the hands of GW, and then by her night in the freezing woods, that she was hospitalized for five days. Whatever you think of Nova Scotia’s health care system, we know that it doesn’t needlessly hospitalize someone for five days.

But the counter-narrative had escaped to the world and Joudrey’s comments morphed into a harmful and untrue narrative: Banfield was a liar, and she wasn’t actually in the woods all night. She must have been involved in the murders.

I don’t know why Joudrey said these things. He was struggling with all sorts of terrible inner thoughts. Maybe re-remembering his encounter with Banfield was him trying to make sense out of the horrors and rid himself of his inner demons.

One of the lawyers for the other victims’ families noted the discrepancy between Joudrey’s initial and subsequent accounts of his encounter with Banfield, and asked why Joudrey wasn’t called before the Mass Casualty Commission to testify under oath about it. That question wasn’t answered, but now it’s apparent that commission staff were well aware of Joudrey’s deteriorating mental health, and given the trauma-informed mandate, declined to call him as a witness.

For myself, it has long frustrated me that on the one hand, I shouldn’t out someone’s mental health issues, but on the other hand, those very same mental health issues may have led to the unfair charges made against Banfield.

With Joudrey’s death, I can now set that record straight, but I don’t do so happily. Joudrey is a victim. Remember him as a decent man put in an unimaginably impossible position. ______________________________________________________________________

The Talk Suicide Canada hotline is available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566. You can also call the Nova Scotia Mental Health Crisis Line (1-888-429-8167). And you can find a list of further Nova Scotia resources here.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. The explanation that Joudrey gave as to why he was able to fall back to sleep after hearing gunshots seems plausible.  However, he says he later woke up and received a text message from a friend warning that something was up in Portapique so he gets into his truck to investigate.  He runs into a police team that tell him to leave Portapique and he witnesses two houses on fire before returning home where upon he falls back to sleep.Really?  How could he sleep after all that?

  2. Thank you for writing that Tim.

    Worth noting: I followed all the testimony a lot more than most people. But before now, I never saw Joudrey’s initial interview with the RCMP. I only knew Paul Palango’s version- which did not square at all what I did know. Palango’s version is the default narrative out there.