James Hutchison (jumpsuit) and Richard Ambrose (hat) are led into court in Moncton, New Brunswick, on Dec. 16, 1974. All photos courtesy, Moncton Times and Transcript
Thirty-five years ago, Canadians were stunned by a ruthless murder in Moncton. The picturesque east coast city was rocked by the slayings of two city police officers, Cpl. Aurele Bourgeois and Const. Michael O’Leary, who were pushed into shallow graves by a pair of kidnappers, then shot in the head. The killers were condemned to hang, but their sentences were commuted to life in prison when Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976. One of the killers, Richard Ambrose, has been free on parole, but is back behind bars. The other man, James Hutchison, who was fingered by investigators as the mastermind behind the kidnapping and the killings, is behind bars in Ontario but is working his way toward freedom, for the second time. After the jump, the parole records of both killers, the memories of an RCMP officer who caught the murderers, and the exclusive story of Hutchison’s pending transfer to a prison with no fences.
A ruthless double cop killer is being prepared for community release by prison authorities, a move that has sparked anger and concern. “I don’t think he should ever be released,” warned Dale Swansburg, a retired RCMP officer who lives in Moncton, N.B., and who caught the murderer in December 1974. James Hutchison, who is now imprisoned at medium-security Bath Institution, just west of Kingston Ontario, has been approved for transfer to a minimum-security prison. Convicts are moved to minimum-security prisons as a stepping stone to release into the community.
Hutchison escaped in Kingston in November 2000 while on a work-release pass at the Kingston Humane Society. At the time, he was being held at minimum-security Pittsburgh Institution in Kingston. Hutchison and accomplice Richard Ambrose were sentenced to hang after they killed two Moncton police officers on Dec. 13, 1974, in a cold-blooded crime that shocked the country. Hutchison was on parole in New Brunswick at the time of the killings from a sentence for armed robbery. The death sentences were commuted to life in prison when capital punishment was abolished in 1976.
Const. Michael O’Leary and Cpl. Aurele Bourgeois were taken to a wooded area on the outskirts of Moncton. “They were handcuffed to a tree about 20 to 30 feet from where the graves were dug,” Swansburg said. “They could hear the graves being dug.” The officers likely were taken to the site stuffed in the trunk of a car. Swansburg said Hutchison and Ambrose first tried to dig with snow shovels but the ground was too hard. They drove into Moncton and bought shovels and picks at a Moncton hardware store at 8:15 a.m. on Dec. 13, receipts showed.
Swansburg said he believes, based on his investigation, that there was some sort of scuffle at the tree, where O’Leary was shot in the shoulder. The two officers were forced into the graves where each was shot through the head once. “There was hardly any blood anywhere else,” Swansburg said. Hutchison and Ambrose filled in the graves and fled.
Swansburg interviewed Hutchison several times. “At no time before or after the convictions did he ever admit he did [the murders],” he said. The officer believes Hutchison, who is now 81, is still a threat. “I don’t know what physical shape he’s in, but my [concern] is, there’s all kinds of young people that would think he was a hero-type thing,” Swansburg said. “What he couldn’t do now, he could have somebody else do for him.” Transferring Hutchison to a prison with no fences and no armed guards is wrong, said Dean Secord, president of the New Brunswick Police Association, which represents more than 400 officers in the province. “This person should be in a segregation cell for 23 and a half hours a day and let him rot there,” Secord said. He said Hutchison is no less dangerous because of his age. “He’s got nothing to lose,” said Secord, a constable with the Saint John police force. “He hasn’t seen freedom and now he’s going to have the opportunity to escape. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if he escapes and it comes right down to it, he would kill again.”
Corrections officials will not discuss Hutchison’s case, citing privacy laws. Spokeswoman Stephanie Fullerton said public safety is the number one consideration in all transfer decisions. “The offender must present a low probability of escape and a low risk to the safety of the public in the event of an escape,” she said. “The offender must require a low degree of supervision and control within the penitentiary.”
Hutchison has been approved for placement at Beaver Creek Institution, near Gravenhurst, about 230 kilometres west of Kingston. Prisoners at Beaver Creek live in rooms in small, residential-style units where they prepare their own meals. Inmates can simply walk away from the prison at any time. Hutchison has been confined for several years at medium-security Bath Institution, following his escape in 2000. He remained at large for three days, prompting police to issue a nationwide alert that he was considered armed and dangerous and should not be approached.
He was recaptured and thrown back into maximum security for a time. Parole records reveal that most of Hutchison’s prison term has been marked by continuous escape plots, institutional charges and security concerns.
Swansburg was a member of the RCMP major crime unit that caught Hutchison and Ambrose 35 years ago. O’Leary and Bourgeois were part of a dragnet established after the 14-year-old son of a wealthy restaurateur, Cy Stein, was kidnapped. Stein paid a $15,000 ransom to Hutchison and Ambrose, who returned the boy unharmed. Police were hunting the kidnappers after the exchange. Swansburg said O’Leary and Bourgeois were assigned to check out a suspicious car. “They replied they would check it and they were never heard from again,” Swansburg said. “They didn’t know they were missing for about two hours.”
The next day, Swansburg and a partner were looking for one of Hutchison’s known criminal associates when they crossed paths with a local drug dealer, Ricky Ambrose, who was driving his father’s car. “We caught up to him and stopped him and he had [about] half the ransom money in his pocket,” Swansburg said. Ambrose was carrying rolls of $10 bills. The bank had marked some of the bills Stein used to pay the ransom. The keys to the car the police officers were driving were also found in Ambrose’s car.
Two days later, the graves were found in a wooded area about 25 kilometres outside Moncton. By that time, news alerts had been issued that Hutchison was wanted by police.
Const. Michael O’Leary’s body is removed on Dec. 15, 1974, from a wooded area about 25 kilometres outside Moncton, New Brunswick.
“He ended up calling our office to give himself up because he thought if it was the Moncton city police found him first, he may not make it,” Swansburg said. The killers pleaded not guilty but were convicted during a trial in 1975. They did not testify.
Hutchison has never fully admitted his role in the killings.
“There’s no question in my mind he was the mastermind behind it,” Swansburg said. The officer believes Ambrose pulled the trigger as well as Hutchsion. I don’t think Ambrose would have walked out of the woods if he hadn’t shot one of [the officers] himself,” Swansburg said. “[Hutchison] would have done him in too.”
At a parole hearing last year, (all parole records also appear as e-docs at the bottom of this story) Hutchison took responsibility for the abduction and the killings, according to parole records, but his “re-telling of events was vague and lacked details.” Hutchison minimized the trauma he caused the young boy and his family. “The Board also notes that you did not seem particularly remorseful for your crimes and the dramatic consequences suffered by your numerous direct and indirect victims,” the parole document states. He was denied any form of release at the hearing, held in May. Hutchison asked to be released to a halfway house or to be granted unescorted passes from prison to visit family. “The board must be extremely cautious given your inappropriate behaviour in 2000,” board members wrote. The board said Hutchison had lost credibility in the eyes of the Correctional Service and the parole board. (at a hearing in 1997, the board denied any form of release, in part, because Hutchison was considered an “ongoing escape risk.”)
Hutchison already had a 30-year criminal history by the time he killed the two Moncton officers, primarily for armed robberies and property crimes. He has confessed that he “always carried a gun.” He also has admitted to handcuffing a police officer to a steering wheel in an incident in Ontario before the murders. Investigators believe Hutchison planned to kill the officer but was talked out of it by two accomplices.
Ambrose, who has since changed his named to Bergeron, was paroled from prison in 1999 and was living in Edmonton, Alta. His release was revoked in July 2005 after he violently assaulted his wife and threatened his sister. He was not charged, according to parole records. He also stopped taking medication, against the advice of his psychiatrist. According to parole documents, he became “verbally abusive and threatening” to staff of a community residential facility. He asked to be released again in June last year but the parole board rejected the request. Board members stated he represents “a risk to women you are in relationships with, including those of your current family,” according to a record of a parole decision. The document describes Bergeron as “unreceptive” to advice and “combative” with staff managing his case. “In the opinion of your Case Management Team you have done little to prepare for any type of release,” the document states.
For the first 18 years of his prison term, he refused to discuss the murders. Bergeron, 60, remains behind bars in Western Canada.
Swansburg believes the killers should have been executed. “When they committed the crime, there was capital punishment,” Swansburg said. “It should have been carried out.”
(This story also appears today in the Kingston Whig-Standard)
» 2008: Hutchison is denied any form of release; parole board members say they must be “extremely cautious” given his escape in 2000:
» June 10, 1997: Hutchison denied any form of release, board says he is an “ongoing escape risk”
» June 26, 2008: Ambrose denied any form of release:
» 2000 – 2006: Ambrose is granted full parole, but his release is revoked after a violent attack on his wife:
» June 3, 1999: Ambrose granted day parole:
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