To catch a killer

Sardis secondary graduate Cst. Aaron Kehler finds himself at the heart of B.C. serial killer case

From left, Cynthia Maas, Jill Stuchenko, Loren Leslie, Natasha Montgomery are victims of serial killer Cody Legebokoff.

On a November evening in 2010, Const. Aaron Kehler was just cresting a hill on rural Highway 27 when something caught his eye.

Headlights from another vehicle were cutting through the tree line in the distance, just off the roadway between Fort St. James and Vanderhoof. At first, he assumed it was a snowmobiler out enjoying the evening. And from any other vantage point along the highway, it’s a detail he wouldn’t even have noticed it.

But it was a pick-up truck, and a few moments later it came full speed onto the highway from a snowy side road. The driver didn’t slow down for the road surface changes, didn’t yield to traffic, and sped down the highway ahead of him.

Even as a rookie officer, Kehler could sense this would be no ordinary traffic stop. But he had no idea he was tracking a serial killer.

“I didn’t think anything of it at first,” he said of the headlights. “Except that it’s an odd place for someone to be.”

Kehler didn’t normally patrol the area; he was there transporting a lady’s purse that got left behind after she hit a moose earlier. He followed the truck for 10 km, until the officer he was meeting for the property transfer was in view. In retrospect, the backup was crucial, considering what was about to unfold.

It took some time for the driver to pull over, and when he did it was right under the only street lamp in the area.

As Kehler spoke to the driver, 19-year-old Cody Legebokoff, things really took a weird turn.

They noticed an open beer and searched the truck, finding drops of blood on Legebokoff’s chin and bare legs. He had killed a grouse, he told them, and there was a struggle.

When they found more blood on the rubber floor mat, a stainless steel tool, and eventually on a pipe wrench, he gave the officers a story that he’d been out poaching a deer, with a friend. But there was no friend, and no evidence of a deer. And, he was wearing shorts.

Snow inside the truck hadn’t melted, and the blood all over the stainless steel tool had not congealed. This crime had just happened, they knew that much. And the body wouldn’t be far. A teddy bear backpack was stuffed in the door pocket of the passenger side, with the identification for a 15-year-old girl, Loren Leslie. They ran her name, and she was missing.

A conservation officer was called, who travelled up the road that Legebokoff had emerged onto the highway from just moments before. He found Leslie’s body under a tree, and Legebokoff was arrested for her murder.

Legebokoff is now in prison on four counts of first-degree murder, following years of investigation and court dates. At 19 at the date of his arrest, he is Canada’s youngest known serial killer. And had he not been seen on that lonely winter road by a police officer who was there by random happenstance, Kehler said, it’s likely he would have killed again.

“It was unexpected and I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Kehler said. “It went from one investigation to the next, and I was trying to sort out what was happening.”

From traffic violation to Liquor Control Act violation, to a poaching charge, and finally to murder in about an hour. The quick thinking and intuition earned Kehler, a Sardis secondary grad, a Commanding Officer’s Commendation this April.

But the case didn’t end there.

“There were these unsolved homicides,” Kehler said. Major crime units stepped in and the senior officer noticed a similarity to the unsolved homicide of Cynthia Maas, whose body was found outside Prince George a month earlier.

The doctor performing the autopsy confirmed the injuries were consistent among the two victims. And there was yet another missing woman, Natasha Lynn Montgomery, who hadn’t been seen or heard from in two months.

They were on the heels of a string of murders, and Kehler’s actions had stopped him cold in his tracks.

“It comes down to the chance of me going down there at that moment, just cresting that hill at that moment,” he said, adding that all the circumstances played into it, right down to avoiding a possibly deadly crash just a few days prior.

“It’s a blessing, for sure,” he said.

Just like in his truck, Legebokoff left a messy trail that connected him to four murdered or missing women. There was DNA of Maas in his apartment, along with the murder weapon. Hundreds of droplets of blood were found, along with footprints of blood with Montgomery’s DNA. Then they found the dried blood of what may have been his first victim, Jill Stuchenko, under his couch. Her body was found a year prior and her murder was still unsolved. They learned the couch had been moved from another residence in Prince George, and searching that home led them to find more of her blood.

Kehler had to spend five days straight on the stand, testifying. It was the first time a defendant in his files had plead not guilty.

Montgomery’s body has not yet been found, and the story is not quite over.

“He is appealing,” Kehler told The Progress this week.

“It’s been a long time coming and I’m glad it’s over, but it might all be starting back up again.”

But for now, Cody Legebokoff remains in custody.

 

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