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IN DEPTH: Covering a contentious lobster fishery
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It earned a headline made in newspaper heaven: Murder for Lobsters.
Not quite in the league of Headless Body in Topless Bar, which ran on the front page of The New York Post on April 15, 1983, courtesy of the fertile – if admirably twisted – mind of managing editor Vincent A. Musetto. But that’s New York City.
Murder for Lobsters was pretty hot stuff for stuffy old Canada. It was also inaccurate, says Silver Donald Cameron in the final book of a storied career of storytelling that featured 15 works of non-fiction. He died in June.
Blood in the Water: A True Story of Revenge in the Maritimes is the story of Phillip Boudreau from the middle of who-knows-where Petite-de-Grat, Cape Breton. And what a story.
Boudreau was, almost certainly, a psychopath. Not a drooling monster from the movies. Not a sleekly sophisticated criminal mastermind like Hannibal (The Cannibal) Lecter. He was a spectacularly unsuccessful crook who was well beyond the powers of the criminal justice system to punish, rehabilitate – or even catch some times.
There was that time, for instance, when he jumped into a pond, sunk to the bottom, and held his breath until the RCMP officers chasing him for one of his many crimes walked past, unaware how close they were to their quarry.
That’s assuming the story is true. After all, the only person who knew for sure was Boudreau. And he was a liar and a thief.
Jail didn’t teach him anything, except that it was a comfortable place to be during a Cape Breton winter. Help from a friend, who paid for him to fly out west and gave him a job, didn’t work. Boudreau got lonely and he came home to resume his true calling. Breaking the law.
There were allegations of arson. Of rape. Of threats made towards the families of men he felt had crossed him. And there were the lobster.
Boudreau thought there were few things more enjoyable than jumping into his nimble little motor boat and dashing out to the lobster fishing grounds, where he’d pull up traps, steal the lobster, then sell them on shore, right in front of the fishermen (and women) whose livelihoods he was threatening. And if he was in a really devilish frame of mind, he’d cut the traps free from their buoys, forcing the owners to replace them at a hundred dollars a pop or so.
The legal system isn’t really set up to deal with someone like Boudreau, who had a predictably terrible upbringing, often the trigger that helps to ignite a psychopath.
Cameron’s book traces the story of Boudreau, and the police and community so ill-equipped to deal with someone like him. It’s a gruesome story. A group of fishermen, fed up with society’s inability to deal with Boudreau, took matters into their own hands on June 1, 2013 when they saw him stealing from them yet again. Four shots were fired.
Boudreau ended up in the water. One of his attackers hooked him with a gaff. Then they towed him, and presumably the gas can he clutched to avoid drowning when his boat began to sink after being rammed, into deeper water.
There he vanished, never to be found.
Two men were convicted of manslaughter, a third pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to murder. A jury of locals refused to convict them of murder.
And Silver Donald Cameron, a long-time resident of the area — after moving there from points far more urban (he once was an English professor at UNB in Fredericton) — documents it all.
Covid’s back. Thanksgiving is in danger. No one’s willing to think about what it all means for Christmas. Donald Trump is, well … whatever he is. So buy local, get the book, sit back, relax and learn a bit about our own end of the world.
Oh, and why was he called Silver Donald Cameron. There are a lot of Donald Camerons in Celtic Cape Breton. His hair went grey early, so the Silver helped people distinguish him from all the others guys when they talked about him.
Yes, that’s in the book too.
Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.