The double cop killing that shocked the nation

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)

Parole decisions

» 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:


» Decisions between 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:


Related post: Cop killer Laurie Bell ordered back to prison

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9 thoughts on “The double cop killing that shocked the nation

  1. I have no doubt these guys are guilty, and they got what they deserve. Actually, they deserved to hang. But whats done is done. But Mike Henry, I think you are glorifying police. You guys arent fighting a war lmao. You dont solve crimes. Forensics people, sure. Regular beat street cops? HA HA HA. You park outside bars and catch people driving drunk, or set up speed traps. To compare yourself to someone fighting a real war is simply selfish and very arrogant. I have zero sympathy for these murderers. It was a vicious, brutal, senseless crime. But watching you guys compare yourself to soldiers is a sad joke.

  2. Although not personally involved in this investigation, I am an ex-RCMP officer who has been researching this event for seven years now. Just before last Xmas I began to write a book which covers many aspects of this crime in detail, working from the trial transcripts which are in my possession. Also I have interviewed many Moncton City Policemen who were on the force at that time. After another two months I should have a completed manuscript and will begin a search for a publisher. If anyone out there believes they have any information(including rumours which may be verifiable, they should feel free to contact me via this email.

  3. I worked at the radio station where Ambrose’s wife also worked. I quit my job when he was granted parole because I couldn’t deal thinking that I would see this killer on a regular basis and couldn’t face to look at his wife who was stupid enough to marry him while he was in jail and had a child with him. I feel so bad for this little girl who has to hear all about her “father”. What a selfish thing to do, you stupid wife of his man. I told you he would be back in jail because he was a “murderer” but you kept saying he was a “good” guy. You were so scared of him when he moved in with you, it was pathetic. How proud you must be of yourself now. I hope your daughter is not suffering too much from your selfish actions. What were you thinking….

  4. I was a 12 year old boy and lived behind the Steins at the time. This is a tragic time in Moncton history and for the Stein family. There were and are the nicest people you could meet. Greed was the basis of this crime and both of these animals should have been subject to the death penalty. They should never be released or even considered. Shame on the parole board for even considering. Perhaps they should sit down with the families of the officers and get their true opinion of what these things did to their lives and also how they changed the lives of the Steins.

  5. Hutchison and Ambrose definitely should have been executed, since their crime happened during the time capital punishment was in effect. Society should never have to deal with pure evil like this.

  6. I was living in Fredericton at the time of the murders. I remembered the events as I joined the Edmonton Police Service and the dangers that came with this occupation. I was surprised the two murderers were not executed but figured they would die of old age in prison. Thats what happens when you commit murder and especially the murder of a police officer. Right?
    It was not until one day on police parade I read the highlights that Ambrose was released from prison and living in Edmonton. Killed two police officers and police would be dealing with him again. No words can express my disgust for the justice system that would allow this to happen.
    Judges are putting such little value on police officer lives today that officers contiune to be shot, stabbed, run down, beat up and spit on and the system does little for deterent.
    Our soldiers are a fighting a war in the middle east while our police officers are fighting a war here in Canada. Are we winning? I think not.

  7. I'm very impressed with this site, I forgot to mention that in my initial comments. I'm familiar with the 1971 riot at the Kingston pen. There's a book that was written by Roger Caron – a man who spent a lot of time in prison – called Bingo ! that is an excellent account of what went on in that riot. I've told a lot of people about the story you have on the site about the 2 police officers who were murdered in Moncton. There is a specific group of people I've sent the story along to – and that would be people who think that Paul Bernardo will never get out of prison. Many people think that Bernardo will never get out of prison – and I disagree strongly with that. Richard Ambrose (he legally changed his last name to Bergeron) got parole the first time he applied for it. So I asked my friends – compare the crimes of Bernardo and Ambrose, and then tell me again that Bernardo will never get parole. I'm not trying to diminish what happened to Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. It takes a lot to make me cry, but for as long as I live I will NEVER forget what Doug French said to the army of reporters who surrounded him to get his comments after Bernardo was found guilty.

    "Finally and as always, our final words, for our daughter, with the trial over: Kristie, you can't be hurt anymore. We love you."

    I was sitting on the couch having a beer, watching Mr. French speak to the media on tv. I broke down and cried. I couldn't stop crying. I'll never forget what he said.

    But I really have to wonder, we had people on the parole board who granted parole to Richard Ambrose the first time he applied for it. If a criminal who was sentenced to hang for killing 2 police officers can get parole, then why wouldn't Paul Bernardo get parole when he's eligible ? I still haven't got an answer from the people I asked.

    And Rob, I was wondering, can you get some information on what happened at the sentencing hearing for Ambrose and Hutchison, and also some information on their welcome at Dorchester ? Maybe somebody out there could give you some information about that. I'd really like to read about it !

  8. John

    I have no doubt that there was a "welcoming party" for Hutchison and Ambrose at Dorchester. Reminds me of the 1971 riot at Kingston Penitentiary. Convicts took six guards hostage. When the riot ended and the cons were transferred to nearby Millhaven pen, they had to pass through a "welcoming" gauntlet of guards, who beat them with nightsticks.

  9. I lived in Charlottetown PEI when this crime took place, and I remember it being on the news when the 2 officers were found. There's something that was supposed to have happened in court when the 2 defendants were convicted and sentenced to death, but I've never been able to find information that corroborates the rumor. I remember many people said that the 2 defendants begged the judge for mercy when he sentenced them to hang. I've also heard that the reception at Dorchester Penitentiary for the 2 cop killers was…let's say….a little rough and tumble. The 2 cop killers are still alive because Pierre Trudeau saved them from the noose. That's a huge part of Trudeau's legacy.

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