Warning: This story contains details that may be distressing to some readers.
The capture of one of Canada's youngest serial killers began simply.
It started with the spidey senses of a young police officer, telling himself to pull over an erratically driven truck emerging from a backcountry road. Inside was a young B.C. man covered in blood.
Sometimes, catching a killer is that simple.
It was Const. Aaron Kehler's quick thinking in 2010 which started the chain of events leading to the conviction of Cody Legebokoff on four counts of first-degree murder. That included the killing of a teen girl whose body was found not far from where the truck was pulled over.
Legebokoff claimed he'd been hunting a deer and used a pipe wrench to kill it — as one does in northern B.C.
Police later discovered he also had the blood of another dead woman on his clothes.
DNA linked the hockey player to the deaths of three other women — names all part of northern British Columbia's Highway of Tears disappearances.
The disappearances of young women east and west of the rough-and-tumble northern B.C. city of Prince George haunts the region to this day. Women just vanished for decades. Many of them remain mysteries despite the conviction of Legebokoff and the belief another man — now dead — may have been responsible for others.
That shifted on Nov. 27, 2010.
Kehler — a rookie officer on a night patrol — saw a pickup truck pull off a logging road and speed off. Finding it unusual, Kehler followed.
On a lonely highway, Kehler came face to face with the then-20-year-old. He suspected the man of poaching.
Legebokoff's face, hands and legs were covered in blood. There was blood pooled on the driver's mat. Then, there were tools covered in blood.
Legebokoff claimed the blood was from killing the deer. But there was no deer in the truck. Instead, there was a backpack with a wallet with a children's hospital card with the name Loren Leslie.
Kehler arrested Legebokoff under the Wildlife Act. With the suspicion of poaching, the cop called a conservation officer who traced Legebokoff's truck tracks.
Following footprints in freshly fallen snow, they found Leslie's body.
Jurors at Legebokoff's trial heard he was addicted to cocaine and used sex workers to get it.
Through DNA, he was linked to the deaths of three sex workers
He was convicted in the deaths of 35-year-old Jill Stacey Stuchenko, 23-year-old Natasha Lynn Montgomery and 35-year-old Cynthia Frances Maas.
Jill Stacey Stuchenko
Stuchenko, a mother of six kids, was last seen on Oct. 9, 2009. She was found dead four days later in a gravel pit on the outskirts of Prince George.
She suffered a series of massive blunt force blows to her head and face that caused scalp lacerations, skull fractures and cerebral contusions.
There were multiple bruises from similar blows to her forehead, forearms, upper arms and knees. Her blood loss was so extreme that the pathologist had trouble obtaining a sample during the autopsy.
DNA taken from Stuchenko's body matched Legebokoff's. Police found her DNA on a couch but none on the floor below. However, they did find Stuchenko's DNA on the carpet where the couch had been in a previous residence of Legebokoff's.
The judge ruled that Legebokoff killed her in his apartment while his roommates were away.
Montgomery, a mother of two, was last seen Aug. 31 or early Sept. 1, 2010. Her body was never found, but her DNA was found in Legebokoff's apartment.
What police found was a long list of evidence:
- a bed sheet with 30 DNA samples matching Montgomery's genetic profile;
- a comforter with DNA samples matching Montgomery's genetic profile;
- a box spring mattress with matches to Montgomery's profile;
- part of floor linoleum in the dining area with one mixed profile matching to both Legebokoff and Montgomery;
- hallway carpet in the hallway outside the primary bedroom with three matches to Montgomery's profile;
- a bath mat with four different matches to Montgomery's profile, and;
- a white and black hoodie with four separate matches to Montgomery's profile.
Her DNA profiles were also found on two clothing items in Legebokoff's truck. Nine samples, meanwhile, were found on a pick axe tool found in Legebokoff's bedroom.
Also found in the search was an axe with 14 separate matches to Montgomery's genetic profile.
Thirty-three separate swabs throughout the residence matched Montgomery's DNA profile. Two matches were found on the shorts Legebokoff was wearing at the time of his arrest after the death of Leslie.
The judge said he was convinced the murder was a very violent incident and that the axe was used either in the killing or the disposal of her body.
Cynthia Frances Maas
Maas was last seen on Sept. 10, 2010. Her body was found by two police officers in a somewhat remote area of a Prince George park a month later.
She died of blunt-force trauma to the head and penetrating wounds. She had a broken cheekbone and jaw, other injuries consistent with someone stomping on her neck and a hole in her shoulder blade.
Her body had been dragged up against a tree line and left, naked from the waist down, with the pants rolled down over the feet.
I am most familiar with the case of Leslie, having covered it and spoken with some of those close to her.
It is — simply put — heartbreaking.
Legebokoff and Leslie had been communicating by text or email, his purpose being sexual. He urged Leslie not to tell anyone about him, and she, in turn, told him "... nothing sexual."
Leslie had also been exchanging messages with friend Charity Funk, saying she was with her friend Cody from Prince George.
Funk's mother OK'd the young girl speaking to me. She broke down several times during our conversation.
A witness spoke of seeing the truck near a school and a person in shorts walking toward the swings where Leslie was seated.
Legebokoff testified they had consensual sex in his truck at the school and again near where her body was found. He claimed this was where she "went ape shit" and started hitting herself.
In Legebokoff's 2014 trial, the judge rejected his suggestion the injuries were self-inflicted.
Leslie died from a combination of blood loss and brain injury, resulting from five to eight massive blows to the head and two stab wounds to her neck.
The judge ruled fractures of her hands and wrists were defensive injuries.
Leslie's body had pants on, but they had been rolled down around her ankles and feet with the underwear rolled down within those pants.
The judge ruled a pipe wrench and leather tool found in Legebokoff's possession were the murder tools.
Family asks Legebokoff's parents to intercede
The jury at Legebokoff's trial heard from 93 witnesses.
The defence attempted to have each killing tried as a separate case and to change the venue. The judge refused in both cases.
Legebokoff testified in his defence.
He told the jury he was present when the three women died. But he claimed innocence in their deaths and wouldn't name who committed the killings.
He also tried to implicate a childhood friend.
He told the court Leslie "flipped out" and killed herself with a knife and pipe wrench.
The jury members didn't buy any of it. They convicted Legebokoff on four counts of first-degree murder.
In sentencing Legebokoff, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Glen Parrett said the extent and nature of Stuchenko's injuries would eventually provide part of the factual basis from which an overall and striking pattern emerged, clearly linking all four murders.
What Legebokoff didn't like, however, was being tagged a sex offender.
In fact, during his trial, he yelled, "I'm not a sex offender!"
It seems Legebokoff has been trying to use the fact that Montgomery's body has never been found, according to the National Post's Christie Blatchford. He's apparently willing to trade the location of her body for dropping the sexual offender status.
And Montgomery's family still wants to know where her remains are. Her mother has asked Legebokoff's parents to intercede.
"I do not blame you for the action of your son, but please understand that he is the only thing that is standing between me and my daughter and revealing the location," Montgomery's mother said.
Legebokoff appeals change of venue application
The case partially solved what has become known as the Highways of Tears killings, alleviating some fear and tensions in northern B.C.
While Legebokoff will remain behind bars for some time, the case had some interesting takeaways from a legal perspective.
Most killers will go to a court of appeal attempting to change their sentence or perhaps appeal the conviction.
Legebokoff is somewhat unusual here in that he appealed what is known as a change of venue application — and he did it based on the connecting of his name with the Highway of Tears disappearances.
Legebokoff's connection to the highway disappearances wasn't being made elsewhere in the province, and a place such as Vancouver would provide a more fair place for the trial. It needs to be noted he is too young to have been involved in most of them.
He hired well-known criminal lawyer Eric Gottardi for the appeal. And they challenged the judge's refusal to move the murder trial away from Prince George.
The idea behind the move was that Legebokoff's trial lawyers had acted improperly, that there had been a miscarriage of justice.
The point Gottardi made before the appeal court was that Prince George media had not only covered the story — they had covered stories about the story.
The Prince George Citizen — a newspaper owned by Glacier Media, the company behind True Crime Canada — had alerted readers that news outlets such as CNN were covering the story.
A change of venue application is a move some defendant lawyers make as part of trial strategy, a suggestion that perhaps a local jury pool has heard too much about a case, that it won't be possible to find an impartial jury.
However, even Legebokoff himself admitted the evidence against him was overwhelming.