Coffins carrying the remains of two teenage serial killers were loaded into police vehicles overnight just hours after the discovery of their bodies in dense bush.
The corpses believed to belong to Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, were found less than a mile from the Nelson River near Gillam, Manitoba, on Wednesday morning.
The military scale manhunt led police on a 3000km chase across three provinces and a painstaking search of more than 11,000 sqkm of swampy, insect and predator infested bush.
The suspects’ bodies were found approximately 1km from where police found items — including a sleeping bag — “directly linked” to the pair and 8km from where they ditched and burned their getaway car.
Half-eaten pork chops and orange peel were found alongside the gutted vehicle but canned fish, tools and other supplies were left behind, suggesting the pair had not intended to camp in the wilderness for long.
Instead, they appear to have shoved down a final meal of meat and fruit before plunging themselves into the thick scrub and trudging through swamp and insect-infested terrain towards the river’s treacherous waters.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said she was confident a post mortem examination would confirm the remains as McLeod and Schmegelsky.
The bodies were in such an inaccessible spot that police were forced to transport them by boat to a loading dock before driving them to the airport, where they were flown to the provincial capital of Winnipeg.
Local media speculated that the teens could have succumbed to the harsh terrain, where threats included water contamination, anaphylactic shock and dangerous predators.
Survival experts predicted the suspects were more likely to be “eaten alive” by sandflies than killed by the black bears, grizzlies, polar bears, wolves and coyotes that roam the region.
Rumours the pair committed suicide have been rife since July 28, when police SWAT teams swooped on the nearby community of York Landing after a sighting at the local landfill.
Helicopters, drones and military aircraft lit up the community of just 200 people from above with their searchlights as police conducted door-to-door searches of homes and abandoned buildings through the night.
The last known movements of Schmegelsky and McLeod were all on July 22, when they ditched the stolen Toyota RAV4 they were driving in dense bush near a rail line at Fox Lake Cree Nation reserve.
The car was found by Fox Lake residents Billy and Tamara Beardy, who were out picking strawberries when they noticed black smoke billowing in the distance at about 7pm.
The couple jumped into their truck and drove towards the smoke before coming across the burning SUV in a ditch and calling the RCMP.
When the Beardys revisited the scene a short time later, the charred vehicle had been towed out of the ditch and its contents lay strewn around it.
HOW THE BODIES WERE FOUND
The breakthrough in the case came after the Mounties sent an underwater recovery team to dive a section of river where an aluminium boat was spotted during a helicopter search on Friday.
That same day, Sawchuk, who had helped worth the manhunt by lending police his boat to search the river, reported seeing what looked like a sleeping bag on the shoreline.
While police could find no evidence the fugitives had used the vessel, known locally as a “jon boat”, they were able to “directly link” them to several items found nearby.
Police have not revealed what the objects were but Sawchuk told national broadcaster CBC he believed one of those items was the sleeping bag he saw.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said police used all the resources they had available to them in the manhunt — one of the biggest in Canadian history.
Schmegelsky and McLeod were wanted for the murders of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, and university lecturer Leonard Dyck on highways in British Columbia last month.