Gillam is the end of the road.Almost literally and, perhaps, figuratively as a manhunt for a pair of fugitives accused of killing three people continues in the remote, inhospitable area of northern Manitoba.“It really is. The road ends here in Manitoba. This is the dead-end corner of the world,” said Jesse Taylor, a town employee who spends his free time in the wilderness that stretches in all directions around Gillam and nearby Fox Lake Cree Nation.“I see it as the perfect place to get caught.”That is a feature unlikely to have drawn Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18. If there was a plan beyond desperate flight and a road — any road — away, it might have been an attraction to the edge of the frontier.It may sound easier to disappear on a road that disappears. And, after days of police searching with dogs, drones, helicopters and patrols, the RCMP said Friday afternoon, that might be what the two fugitives have managed to do.RCMP Cpl. Julie Courchaine said there have been no confirmed sightings of McLeod and Schmegelsky since Monday in the Gillam area and the search is still focused there, but she raised the possibility they’ve left.The question is how?Police know how they got there.The road east from Thompson, Manitoba Provincial Road 280, ends in a T-junction with Road 290. If you turn right, it leads into Gillam’s small core. If you turn left, it leads to the Fox Lake reserve. That intersection is where the pair’s SUV was found Monday, abandoned and burned.Gillam, with about 1,200 people, and Fox Lake, with about 200 people, is approximately 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg. It is also 3,000 kilometres from the fugitives’ homes in Port Alberni, B.C. Along the way, police suspect they killed an Australian man and an American woman, who were traveling together, and a Vancouver man, in two separate incidents in northern B.C.
Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18
Getting into Gillam with an SUV isn’t hard.Getting out without one is.“To leave, they would have to backtrack along the road or walk through the forest. The only other routes of travel would be the Nelson River or the train tracks,” said Taylor, 32, an avid outdoorsman.“It’s doable. People lived here 100 years ago, so you can do it. People have gone out in the forest and done fine, but it takes a certain kind of person to stick that out. You kind of gotta want to be there. Or need to be there.“There’s a lot of rivers they’d need to cross, a lot of swampy ground. It’s wet, vegetative ground. Soft and hard walking. Depending on where you are, you could sink up to your waist.”It is dangerous, as Taylor knows. Last month he was hunting when his tent was torn up by a bear. And the bugs can drive you insane, he said.However, anyone in the rugged terrain could find plenty of fresh water in rivers and lakes, especially if they have filtering gear. And a lot of food to keep them going.
“People have gone out in the forest and done fine, but it takes a certain kind of person to stick that out,” says Jesse Taylor, a Gillam town employee.
Courtesy of Jesse Taylor
“Right now, there’s berries growing everywhere. I can’t walk in my front yard without making jam. It’s a bumper year on rabbits. I’ve never seen so many rabbits,” said Taylor.The Nelson River, near where the SUV was abandoned, flows to Hudson’s Bay.“Anything that floats will get you out there but the truth is, if they made it to the bay they would be facing a whole different element. They’d be dealing with tidewaters, very large waves and polar bears,” Taylor said.Just 100 kilometres outside of Gillam heading toward the bay you start seeing polar bears, he said. The closer you get to the bay, the more you see.The rail line through Gillam runs north 200 kilometres to Churchill, MB, but that has been closely watched.Taylor said the insular nature of Gillam would help ensure the pair would be noticed if they resurfaced there.
RCMP search for fugitive B.C. teens Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky near Gillam, Manitoba. in this photo posted to Twitter on July 26, 2019.
“Everybody in this town knows everybody else and when somebody new comes into town, a new vehicle or a new face, people recognize that right away.“As unnerving as this whole situation is, in my opinion, it’s kind of the best scenario. Everybody knows everybody and there is only one road in and one road out. They’ll find them, it’s just a matter of time.”That’s assuming they didn’t already leave before the massive search started.After hearing of the RCMP’s appeal for anyone who may have helped the pair without realizing who they were to come forward, Taylor said he can see that happening too.“Pretty friendly people up here, so that wouldn’t surprise me.”People tend to help other people in need, especially when they are on the edge of the frontier. • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: AD_Humphreys