The monster of Montague — (National Post)

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National Post

By Jake Edmiston —in Montague, P.E.I.

Sept 1, 2014?

Alfred Vuozzo sat, alone, in St. Mary’s Church, near the altar where the sunlight comes in tinted blue by the stained glass. The priest saw him there, but was on his way to a funeral, and didn’t have time to ask Vuozzo what might be on his mind. So Vuozzo sat in a knotty pine pew, thinking, as the ceiling fans tried to blow away the August heat. Father Gerard Chaisson has had more than 10 months to think about that moment. “I wonder what was on his mind then,” Father Gerard says. “I suppose, if I let myself go, there might be some guilt. But I don’t want to go there.”
Vuozzo, night watchman at the Montague wharf, was known to locals as Alfie. He was not yet the monster of Montague. Two days later, Vuozzo drove to a brown bungalow on a hill outside of town. Marie and Brent McGuigan lived there. Vuozzo had been by the house several times. The murder scene on St. Mary’s Road The McGuigans would not have recognized Vuozzo, but they had noticed a strange car lingering outside the house, and they found fast food wrappers scattered around. Vuozzo could never bring himself to go up to the house. Each time, he turned around and drove 20 minutes back to his mother’s house, where he lived, feeling worse. But on that August night, something was different. “Why didn’t he change his mind?” one of the McGuigans asked afterward. “Why did he go through with it?” Vuozzo got out of his car and walked past the birch trees and dogwood bushes. He had worked himself into a rage. He thought to himself that he’d rather go to prison “than live the way I’m living.” “The only way I would rest was to do it,” he told a psychiatrist later. Through the window, Vuozzo saw two men in the kitchen. Brent and his son Brendon were sitting and talking. It was around 9 p.m. 

It’s the kind of rural P.E.I. road on which you can go minutes without seeing another car. But on this night, a half-ton truck ran a stop sign just as the Vuozzzo family’s van was passing through the intersection. A second later and they would have missed each other, said Don Gosse, a retired RCMP officer who was at the scene that night.

The truck tore into the side of the Vuozzo van, sending nine-year-old Kathy Vuozzo through the windshield.

When first responders came on the scene, they saw Vuozzo’s father, Alfred Sr., stunned and wandering the road, pulling debris to the shoulder. His wife, Bernice, was holding 2-year-old Alfie in her arms. Kathy’s body was in the ditch, where a doctor examined her and pronounced her dead.
At about 9 p.m. on Nov. 19, 1970, Vuozzzo’s family was driving home to Montague from Murray River along Commercial Road.

It’s the kind of rural P.E.I. road on which you can go minutes without seeing another car. But on this night, a half-ton truck ran a stop sign just as the Vuozzzo family’s van was passing through the intersection. A second later and they would have missed each other, said Don Gosse, a retired RCMP officer who was at the scene that night. The truck tore into the side of the Vuozzo van, sending nine-year-old Kathy Vuozzo through the windshield. When first responders came on the scene, they saw Vuozzo’s father, Alfred Sr., stunned and wandering the road, pulling debris to the shoulder. His wife, Bernice, was holding 2-year-old Alfie in her arms. Kathy’s body was in the ditch, where a doctor examined her and pronounced her dead.

“I came up to the intersection and I just seen lights coming and a vehicle coming,” Alfred Sr. told a coroner’s inquest after the accident. The driver who ran the stop sign — Herb McGuigan, father of Brent McGuigan and grandfather to Brendon — was found alive, lying on the floor of his truck with beer caps around him. “I opened the door and he asked me, ‘Had there been an accident?’” Const. Robert Thorne said at the inquest. “There was a strong odour of alcohol and his eyes were watery and he gave me the impression that he knew little of what happened.” November 25, 1970 Herb McGuigan pleaded not guilty and there was a trial in 1971. “My father went through hell that trial,” Alfred Vuozzo said in court this year. “Showing pictures with his dead daughter with her tongue hanging out.” Herbert McGuigan was sentenced to nine months in prison and a year-long driving ban — lenient, even for the 1970s, according to Gosse, who served as a witness at trial. Herbert died in 1975. The Vuozzos buried their daughter in the graveyard beside that yellow church in Montague, with a headstone that reads “Walk softly, a dream lies here.” The Vuozzos had to pass the cemetery every time they drove into town. “She had laid in that cemetery all those years screaming for justice because the whole world had betrayed her,” Vuozzo said in a letter to the National Post last month. On the night of Aug. 20, 2014, Kim McGuigan waited for her husband Brendon to return home from his parents’ house down the road. It was one of the last nights their two older kids would be able to stay up late before the new school year, so he had plans to make popcorn with them, and watch a TV show. But first he just wanted to swing by to see how his dad was making out putting his backhoe together. “You don’t mind do ya, Big Momma? I won’t be long,” Brendon McGuigan asked his wife. Their youngest daughter, who was to turn three the following day, cried. She wanted to go with him, to see her grandmother. That was their routine: Brendon visited with his dad, while his daughter drank milk with Grammy. That night, though, Kim said no. “Leave her tonight, she’s exhausted,” Kim said. So Brendon promised to take her for a quick four-wheeler ride when he got back. It was a Wednesday. Kim and the kids had been to the doctor that morning for her exam — “one more peek at our unborn baby,” she recalled in her victim impact statement. Brendon called her at the hospital. “You didn’t find out what it was, did you?” he said. Of course not, she told him. She knew he liked the surprise.

She had been married to him since she was 22. She taught Grade 1; he drove a snow plow in the winters, and an asphalt truck in the summers. “We use to joke about what we would be doing when we were 90,” she told the Post. Brendon with his daughter At about 9:30 p.m., Kim’s sister-in-law called, and told her to rush over to Brendon’s parents’ house. Don’t bring the kids, she was told. She dropped the children at the neighbour’s, and sped down the road to her in-laws’ place. “He must have rolled the four-wheeler,” she thought. “I wonder how bad he’s hurt, I’ll have to take him to the hospital.” But Brendon’s four-wheeler was parked outside the house without a scratch on it, near the trimmed bushes and the flower beds in the front yard. Her brother-in-law was standing on the porch with his arms wrapped around his head. In the kitchen, Kim’s sister-in-law — Donna McGuigan Rain, who lived next door — was covered in blood, frantically giving CPR to her father and then running over to Brendon, her brother. Kim knelt down beside her husband on the floor, sobbing. How will I ever forget having to be the person that tells her that her husband, the father of her three children and soon to be fourth, is gone from this world? “I held his hand and begged him to come back to me,” she said. “In my heart, I thought he could.” Janessa McCabe, an emergency-room nurse who lived nearby, ran over to the house. She saw Donna “kneeling at her father’s head, covered in blood; Kim kneeling at Brendon’s head.” When the resuscitation efforts were over, McCabe had to tell Kim her husband was gone. “I’ll never forget her pleading with me,” McCabe wrote in her victim impact statement. “How will I ever forget having to be the person that tells her that her husband, the father of her three children and soon to be fourth, is gone from this world?”
The grey bungalow where Vuozzo lived with his mother. The 1970 death of nine-year-old Kathy Vuozzo on Commercial Road changed her family. That’s when the drinking and fighting started, Alfred said in an interview with forensic psychiatrist Peter Theriault after the murders. Vuozzo said his parents fought about the accident and the trial. His father, an electrician, was frequently too depressed to work. He spent time in the psychiatric unit at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Charlottetown. Vuozzo told the psychiatrist that his mother had “bad nerves” and anxiety. “I grew up in a house, just misery,” Vuozzo said at his sentencing hearing. “All the drinking, the fighting, the sickness. There wasn’t a second of happiness.” At school, Alfred did not make friends. He failed Grade 1. By junior high, he was sick of school. He failed Grade 8 twice and dropped out when he was 15. After that he started drinking, using solvents and smoking pot. But when he was 17, the marijuana had a “toxic” effect on him. He’d said, you know, ‘Most of my friends have gone on to have families … or they’ve died on me’ In his report, Dr. Theriault suggested it was a pot-induced panic attack. Whatever it was, it prompted the 17-year-old to give up smoking — but Vuozzo couldn’t help thinking it had already changed him irreparably. Vuozzo worked as a carpenter’s assistant, and in a fish plant and on a road crew. At the time of the killings, his contract for the security job at the Montague marina had just expired for the summer. “He wasn’t really talkative, unless you got to know him,” his boss, Sheila Bourgeois, said. “He really appreciated when people came and visited him at work, because the nights get long. But I think he was a bit of a loner.” “He’d said, you know, ‘Most of my friends have gone on to have families … or they’ve died on me.’”

About 20 years ago, he lived with a woman in Halifax, but never married, Dr. Theriault said. He received sporadic psychiatric treatment and was on anti-depressants. “He has no close friends and when asked, he describes that his best friend is his dog,” Dr. Theriault wrote in his report for the court. “When arrested Mr. Vuozzo’s greatest concern was the impact that his actions would have on his mother and the loss of contact that he would have with his dog.” “I mean, Alfie had a weird way of thinking,” Nicole Peters-Vuozzo, the wife of Alfred’s brother Jeremy, told investigators, according to Dr. Theriault’s report. “Even before I met him I remember Jeremy saying, you know … ‘My brother is a little odd, you’ll know when you meet him.’ And um, I knew when I met him what he meant.
Like he just didn’t seem like he … could read social cues, you know?” I grew up in a house, just misery. All the drinking, the fighting, the sickness. There wasn’t a second of happiness “He’d laugh inappropriately, sometimes at the wrong time or just like, just different.” Dr. Theriault diagnosed Vuozzo with pervasive depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. “Such individuals … are generally unforgiving and moralistic, and tend to brood or obsess over issues,” the psychiatrist wrote. “Mr. Vuozzzo reports that ‘I dwell on the past’ and acknowledges that he becomes preoccupied by things and has trouble letting things go.”
During their meeting in January, Vuozzo told the psychiatrist that he had an inferiority complex and felt his life was a failure. Vuozzo blamed the McGuigans. Exacting “revenge” became the “total focus” in his mind, he told Dr. Theriault. “He began to rationalize his intent, indicating that he felt ‘my sister would have wanted me to,’” the doctor wrote. During the psychological assessment, Vuozzo said he “spilled blood for her” as his sister “spilled blood for us” — which Dr. Theriault identified as a family myth that “somehow his sister’s being ejected from the vehicle saved the rest of them.” Vuozzo brought it up again in court. “Kathy saved my life that night,” he said. “She went through the window first, she broke the way.” St. Mary’s Parish, Montague, P.E.I. Montague is a small place, with a river running down the middle and colourful houses dotting the hillside next to water. In summer, fishing boats line the wharf. Alfie Vuozzo and his mother lived on the edge of town, down the road from Father Gerard’s pale yellow church.
Vuozzo didn’t go home after killing the McGuigans. He drove around the eastern side of the island looking for a friend and thinking about killing himself. He felt like he had “200 pounds off my shoulders.” By midnight, he had turned up at his brother Jeremy’s place just outside Charlottetown. “I did it, I got them,” he said. After Alfred left, Jeremy called the police to tell them what his brother had done. Alfred had talked about exacting “revenge” on the McGuigans, and now it appeared he’d done it. When police pulled up at the Vuozzo house, Alfred came outside to meet them in the driveway. He showed investigators where he hid the weapon and a pair of black gloves, at the edge of a cornfield where he liked to go hunting. An RCMP cruiser at the murder scene on St. Mary’s Road in August 2014. (Steve Sharratt / Guardian) Marie McGuigan was in the next room when Vuozzo came into her house through an unlocked door and shot her 39-year-old son and 68-year-old husband a total of 13 times. Vuozzo didn’t expect Brendon, the son, to be there, but shot him anyway, seven times. As Vuozzo turned to Brent, Brendon tried to get up. So Vuozzo shot him again. Marie thought she heard the words “My sister.” When the shots echoed across the lawn, one of the kids next door thought it was her grandfather setting a skunk trap. But then Marie, called, screaming. “He was a good father, and a good grandfather and a good husband,” Marie said of Brent in an interview with the Post. “We never had anything to do with the Vuozzos.” “We paid for it all anyway.” At Vuozzo’s sentencing in April, Marie read her victim impact statement, and then asked the judge if she could speak directly to the man who killed her son and husband. She wanted to know if Brent was sitting in his rocking chair when he died. He was, Vuozzo told her. “I wish you changed your mind,” she said. “I should have.”
I won’t go so easy on your mother, bud.…
There won’t be a Vuozzo left alive in Montague.  “Did they say anything?” she asked. “No,” Vuozzo said. The only person he heard speaking was Marie. “I heard you,” he told her. “You said, ‘What are you guys talking about out there?’ And I was standing there.” He told her he chose not to kill her, “since you’re a woman.” At that point, Allan McGuigan, Marie’s last living son, shouted at Vuozzo in the courtroom: “I won’t go so easy on your mother, bud … There won’t be a Vuozzo left alive in Montague cocksucker.” “I’ll remember that,” Vuozzo said. Alfred Vuozzo was sentenced to life in prison for one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder, with no chance of parole for 35 years. “Fuck you guys,” he yelled at the McGuigans as he was led out of the courtroom. As I held her in my arms for the first time and looked into her innocent eyes, I could see Brendon. I was so angry. He should have been with me The McGuigans had no idea Alfred Vuozzo hated them. Ivan McGuigan, Brent’s brother and Brendon’s uncle, said he even worked on a job once with Vuozzo’s father, and the two “got along good.” But there was one altercation between the two families, two decades ago, at a dance at the local Legion. Vuozzo’s mother, Bernice, hit Ivan in the face. Vuozzo later said his mother told Ivan “what a monster his father was,” and that the incident was one of the reasons he killed the McGuigans. But Ivan McGuigan said the run-in, even at the time, was not a big deal. “I went and danced and made nothing of it,” he said. “What can you do when a woman hits you?” Ivan said the idea of a feud between the two families “doesn’t make much sense.” “(Alfred Vuozzo) got screwed up,” Ivan said, adding that he wishes the Vuozzo family would have told someone when Alfred started obsessing about revenge. The McGuigan’s held a joint funeral for Brent and Brendon at their St. Paul’s Parish, outside Montague. Four months after the murders, Kim McGuigan delivered her fourth child, another daughter. There were complications, and doctors “nearly lost” both of them in the process, Kim said. “As I held her in my arms for the first time and looked into her innocent eyes, I could see Brendon,” she said. “I was so angry.
He should have been with me. Many times I think that I can’t do this without him.” Kim has sold the family’s house, too lonely and sad and scared to live there alone. The family moved out of Montague. “Some like to say this was a family feud. It wasn’t. We had no idea who this man was or even what he looks like. I know Brendon never heard the story of the accident 44 years ago.” Bernice Vuozzo also sold the family’s grey bungalow near St. Mary’s church. Contacted by the National Post, Bernice said she was ill and could not bear to talk about her son. Several interview requests to Alfred’s brother, Jeremy, went unreturned. “His mother is hurting,” said Father Gerard. “He brought the Vuozzo name into the situation … And they’re hurting.” Some like to say this was a family feud. It wasn’t. We had no idea who this man was or even what he looks like The families go to different churches, but Father Gerard ministers to both. He is the pastor at St. Mary’s in Montague, where Kathy Vuozzo is buried in the yard, along with her father who died in 2011. And Father Gerard is also priest at St. Paul’s in the countryside, where the McGuigans attend. The morning after the murders, Father Gerard was called to Kim McGuigan’s house, to console the widows of the two murdered men. Brendon and Brent are buried beside each other in the cemetery close by St. Paul’s, at the end of the road that leads to the McGuigan house. “There were no tensions between the Vuozzo family and the McGuigan family,’’ Father Gerard says. “I believe the tensions were in [Alfred’s] mind.”