Canadian Taxi Driver Homicides: Yves Pigeon and 12 others Previous page    Next page • Driver Profiles

Yves Pigeon

Montréal, Québec / January 21, 1975

Montréal taxi driver Yves Pigeon, 43, lived in Saint-Eustache and was the father of four children. About midnight on Tuesday, January 21, 1975 he picked up four men. Witnesses saw him arrive with his passengers at the Gargantua Bar-Salon on Beaubien Street.

The Gargantua occupied the second floor of a two-storey building in an otherwise quiet residential area of Montréal. It was known as a criminal hangout although a neighbour reported that things had calmed down a lot after police began dropping in unannounced.

Three months earlier, in October, 1974, the Gargantua was the scene of a gangland murder when a jail escapee eliminated two former accomplices who had testified against him. But this outrage would pale in comparison to the horror that greeted firefighters later this January morning.

On their arrival Mr. Pigeon's passengers forced him to accompany them upstairs to the nightclub. His taxi was found parked outside hours later with its engine running.

Nine men and three women were gathered in the bar when the killers burst in and herded everyone into a small storage room measuring six feet by ten feet.

When somebody tried to break out of the room one of the intruders fired a shot through the door killing bar manager Rejean Fortin and wounding Pierre Lamarche, a customer.

The killers then blocked the door with a heavy jukebox, splashed the area with gasoline and set the bar on fire.

The storage room walls were made of flimsy, quarter-inch plywood sheets but the room was lined with stacked boxes of beer and soft drinks. As a result the victims were packed so tightly into the available space that they were barely able to move let alone batter their way out.

The room soon filled with thick, black toxic smoke from burning plastics in seat cushions and bar decorations. Firefighters estimated that the victims would have stopped breathing after about four minutes of exposure to the smoke. The death toll only became evident hours later as firefighters began to dig the bodies out of the soot-covered debris.

Stories about the Gargantua fire sometimes refer to it as a gangland "settling of accounts", implying that the victims were underworld characters. In fact only one of the victims had any kind of criminal record. He and the others were either employees or customers who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In addition to Mr. Pigeon, the victims were:

  • Réjean Fortin, 43, manager of the bar. He had been a Montréal police officer for four years, resigning in 1968 after a dispute with his former wife over support payments. Police quickly concluded that he was the key to the killings, theorizing at first that someone mistakenly believed him to be a police informant. Later they speculated that the killers thought Mr.Fortin had witnessed the October, 1974 shootings and decided to eliminate him.

  • Claire Fortin, 40, wife of Réjean Fortin. She had dropped into the Gargantua to discuss a trip to Europe that they were planning.

  • Pierre LeSiege, 22, an unemployed brewery worker who had passed up a Knights of Columbus meeting at the last minute to go to the Gargantua with his friend, Gaetan Caron. Another friend turned down the invitation because he had a cold.

  • Gaetan Caron, 23, an electrical industrial engineer who had never been to the Gargantua before.

  • Pierre and Jacques Lamarche, 29 and 31, were two brothers who, according to their father, went to the Gargantua for a few drinks and "to see what might be there". Pierre Lamarche was shot in the abdomen, probably by the bullet that killed Réjean Fortin, but like the others he died of asphyxiation.

  • Serge Trudeau, 25, who had won at the racetrack and was celebrating before he went home to his mother's place two blocks away. Mr. Trudeau had borrowed a friend's car and was briefly misidentified when the car registration was found on his body.

  • Ghislain Brière, 23, a bus driver who was at the Gargantua to see his girlfriend Denise Lauzé and to take her home at the end of her shift.

  • Denise Lauzé, 21, a waitress whose shift would have finished two hours later.

  • Augustin Carbonneau, 32, a security guard employed by Dupuis Frères.

  • Kenneth Devouges, 33, a musician at the bar. Devouges had served a short prison term for fraud and was the only one of the victims with a criminal record.

  • Juliette Manseau, 17. She was the girlfriend of Kenneth Devouges.

The killer responsible for the October, 1974 shootings at the Gagantua murders was still at large and police soon began to suspect that he was behind the Gargantua fire as well. [Next column]

Gargantua bar fire, Beaubien Street, January 21, 1975 [detail] (Source: Collection du Musée des pompiers auxiliaires de Montréal via Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal)

In Montréal in the 1970's gangland murders were notoriously ruthless and indiscriminate and took a heavy toll of innocent bystanders. Ruthless and indiscriminate also described the chief suspect.

The killer began a career in boxing as an outlet for his violent temper but when he lost one of his first public matches he attacked his victorious opponent with a knife. He soon became a hit man for Montéal's West End Gang and for some reason developed an intense hatred for the Montréal mafia in particular and for anyone of Italian heritage in general.

In May, 1968 the killer plotted to assassinate a well-known mafia kingpin but the ambush was foiled when the killer and his accomplice aroused the suspicions of a passing patrol officer. The killer and his gang then carried out several murders against Italians whether or not they had any criminal involvement.

The killer survived three attempts on his life during 1968, twice suffering bullet wounds to the head. In the third attempt someone set fire to the motel where he was staying. Five people died but the killer escaped.

In 1969 the killer broke out of a police van with eight other prisoners but was recaptured hours later. In June, 1974 he escaped from jail after taking three guards hostage. Recaptured three days later, he used guns smuggled in by a girlfriend to escape from the maximum-security St. Vincent de Paul penitentiary in October, 1974. A week later he shot his two former accomplices at the Gargantua.

The killer ran out of luck on January 24, three days after the Gargantua fire. Wiretaps led police to chalet in the Laurentians where he was hiding. He died in a hail of machine gun bullets as officers burst into his bedroom at 4:30 in the morning. An autopsy revealed that he was hit 27 times. He was never brought to trial and despite the generally accepted assumption was never connected absolutely with the January 21 massacre.

Meanwhile, police learned from the girlfriend of one of the killer's associates that he had confessed to his involvement with the killer in the Gargantua fire. Police wiretaps recorded the associate's sisters whose conversation seemed to confirm the girlfriend's charges. At the coroner's inquest the man refused to testify and was led from the courtroom flashing V signs and shouting "Vive [the killer]".

The inquest found him criminally responsible for the thirteen Gargantua deaths and he was charged with murder, but his girlfriend's testimony and the vague wiretap evidence were not enough to convict him.

Following the Gargantua deaths, "settling of accounts" in the Montréal underworld continued to take a toll of bystanders. Shortly after 11:30 p.m. on February 13 two men entered the Hotel Lapinière where a striptease show was in progress and sprayed bullets from two M-1 machine guns into a crowd of 60 people. The intended targets were three members of a rival faction in the same gang.

One of the targets was killed and two were wounded. But six other people were also shot, three of them fatally. One was the club doorman, another was a waiter and the third was taxi driver André Lefebvre, 32. We do not yet know whether or not Mr. Lefebvre was on duty at the time.

Police had been tipped off that something might happen at the hotel and actually had it under surveillance when the shooting started. The killers managed to escape but the police quickly padlocked the doors and prevented the surviving witnesses from vanishing into the night.