Updated at 6:25 p.m. ET
For two weeks, the people of Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation held their breath, wondering if Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky could actually still be out there in the northern Manitoba wilderness.
On Wednesday afternoon, the RCMP told them they could finally exhale. The police believe they found the bodies of the two murder suspects, 8 km away from where the Toyota Rav4 they drove across the Prairies was found burning outside Gillam on July 22.
“I’m confident it is them,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy.” “But to identify them, officially, to be sure, we have to go to an autopsy.”
The length of time it took authorities to find the young men emphasizes just how difficult the terrain is to navigate. RCMP scoured the wilderness—largely dense brush—with dog teams. Drones and a helicopter with an infrared camera hovered over the trees to spot anyone on the run. Locals set up patrol groups to keep a lookout at night. Others slept with their guns at their bedside.
Schmegelsky and McLeod had driven across the Prairies before RCMP determined they were, in fact, suspects in the deaths of three people in British Columbia.
UBC lecturer Len Dyck was found dead along a remote stretch of highway in Dease Lake, B.C, while the travelling couple of American Chynna Deese and Australian Lucas Fowler were last spotted alive a short drive south of the Liard Hot Springs in northern B.C., the pair happily sitting on the side of the road with their van temporarily out of commission. They were later found, shot dead.
Schmegelsky and McLeod, meanwhile, were spotted on a security camera at a Co-op in northern Saskatchewan. They kept heading east. When their vehicle got stuck in the mud in Cold Lake, Alta., a friendly local—before anyone was aware of a manhunt underway—reportedly pulled over to help. “Wish I’d of known, something wasn’t right with these guys,” Tommy Ste-Croix wrote on his Facebook page. “Even shook their hands after getting them unstuck.” As they went their separate ways, Ste-Croix said the duo even gave him their real names.
A day later, McLeod and Schmegelsky were stopped by Tataskweyak Cree Nation constables, near Split Lake, Man., for a routine check-stop to ensure no alcohol was coming into the dry community. They had no booze and got the all clear. The Rav4 they were driving, which RCMP now confirmed belonged to Dyck, was found burning outside Gillam a day later.
The people of Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation didn’t want a fourth murder victim to turn up in their communities. And since no cars were reported stolen, it was determined the fugitives likely went into the bush—something they had apparently been practicing back home in Port Alberni, wanna-be survivalists of sorts.
Within a week, there was a reported sighting of the pair scouring the dump in the nearby town York Landing, Man., about 100 kms south west of Gillam. The RCMP conducted an extensive search, which ultimately turned up empty. The RCMP admitted they could be anywhere. Tips came pouring in.
There were possible sightings ranging from Saskatchewan to northern Ontario. But each to no avail. Every trail had gone cold, to the point that media started to ask TV personalities Survivorman and Mantracker for guidance.
“We knew that we needed just to find that one piece of evidence that could move this search forward,” MacLatchy said. “On Friday, Aug. 2, that one critical piece of evidence was found—items directly linked to the suspects were located on the shoreline of the Nelson River.”
RCMP narrowed down the search until, at 10am on Wednesday, officers found two male bodies in the brush about one kilometre from those items.
It would appear McLeod and Schmegelsky didn’t get far from Gillam—either by water or by foot—before their apparent demise.
Where the fugitives’ escape vehicle was left to burn is right by where Clint Sawchuk, owner of Nelson River Adventures, normally starts his tours. “At most places, that river is flowing at 12 miles an hour, and it’s 65 miles to the [Hudson Bay],” he says. “A good day of paddling and you’re there.” But the items linked to Schmegelsky and McLeod were only 9-km downstream—likely less than an hour’s journey by boat.
Even if the pair made it to the Hudson Bay, Sawchuk says they’d still be in trouble, from being easy to spot by police from the air or, even worse, polar bears waiting on land.
The autopsy scheduled in Winnipeg will confirm their identities and, ideally, their cause of death and just how quickly they met their end.
WATCH: The RCMP announces that they have found two bodies believed to be Schmegelsky and McLeod