OTTAWA, Ontario — Some people might say Lonnie Philip Boudreau never stood a chance. At 10 years old, he had already endured quite a bit for his age.
Lonnie was born in September 1970 to Elmer and Linda Boudreau. He has an older sister, Lorie. Lonnie was brilliant, with an IQ score of 116 at the age of six. Family and friends described him as high-spirited, smart and fast.
In 1975, his parents divorced, and he and Lorie went to live with their father in Carlton Place for two years; the children saw their mother on weekends. It is unclear why their mother did not receive custody of the children, but the divorce devastated Lonnie.
In 1977, Elmer Boudreau met another woman who had three children of her own, and they moved in with him and his children. But Lonnie disliked her, and his problems soon escalated.
Boudreau discovered a daycare agency affiliated with the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) and, through the agency, found Mel and Pam Spallin, who watched Lonnie while Boudreau worked during the day. Lonnie enjoyed spending time with the Spallins, especially Mel Spallin, who would take him on fishing trips and occasional visits to a Quebec farm.
By mid-1977, the CAS had placed Lonnie under the temporary full-time care of the Spallins. The agency’s officials believed Lonnie and Lorie should eventually be reunited with their mother.
During a visit with his mother on Christmas Day, Lonnie began showing signs of hyperactivity. His mother immediately asked the CAS for custody of her son, and soon after, he and Lorie moved in with her at her White Fathers Avenue (now Pères-Blancs Avenue) home in the Vanier neighborhood.
Boudreau protested the order because he and his girlfriend had broken up, and she moved out. However, the CAS threatened to take Boudreau to court if he interfered.
But Lonnie was unhappy and constantly telling his mother he wanted her and Boudreau to get back together; she told him that was impossible and never going to happen.
In Spring 1978, the CAS assigned Lonnie a counselor, Dave Plummer. It took four to five months to gain Lonnie’s trust, but once Plummer did, the boy began opening up, and his attitude improved.
Several months later, Lonnie started exhibiting behavioral problems and became jealous when Lorie accompanied him on weekend visits with their father. To make things better, Boudreau decided to have separate visits with the children, but eventually, Lonnie became upset when Lori visited alone. Boudreau decided to spend more time with Lonnie “because of his tantrums,” he later said.
But the problems continued. During the spring of 1980, the CAS placed Lonnie in a home with other children his age for six months. Afterward, Lonnie returned to his mother. He appeared to have finally adjusted to his family’s separation, and his behavior improved.
Lonnie attended Grade 4 at Assumption Separate school, but the half-French, half-English curriculum was too difficult, and he struggled with schoolwork. He also had a hard time making new friends, and his problems soon resurfaced.
In late January 1981, Lonnie had an argument with his father over the amount of time Boudreau spent with him. Boudreau told Lonnie he would end their visits if Lonnie’s attitude did not improve. His father’s harsh scolding disheartened Lonnie, and he constantly asked his mother when she would be getting back together with Boudreau. Linda Boudreau again informed him that was not going to happen.
A few days later, Lonnie tied a rope around his waist, lowered himself out of his bedroom window, and fled. He knew his way around every inch of Vanier. Police found him about two miles away in the Cineplex on St. Patrick’s Road after a four-hour search.
Because of his little escapade, Vanier police dubbed him “Tom Sawyer” after Mark Twain’s famous character, who embarked on several adventures with Huckleberry Finn, from Twain’s classic book “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
Plummer spoke with Lonnie for about 20 minutes after the police found him, and never in that entire conversation did Lonnie indicate he would run away again.
But 24 hours later, Lonnie Boudreau was gone.
Where is Lonnie Boudreau?
At 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 5, 1981, Lonnie, 10, asked his mother if he could watch television in the basement. Fifteen minutes later, Lonnie had vanished.
He was last seen wearing a blue and red lumberjack shirt or jacket, a blue V-Neck velour sweater with white stripes on the collar, blue corduroy pants and ski-doo (snowmobile) boots.
Police spent the following weekend searching for Lonnie but found no sign of the child.
According to Linda Boudreau, shortly before he disappeared, Lonnie had watched a movie called “The Prince of Central Park,” about a young brother and sister who ran away from home to nest in a treehouse in Central Park, NYC. Lonnie told his mother, “That looks neat.”
Search and Investigation
The assumption from the get-go was that Lonnie crawled out through the basement window and ran away again. However, it did not appear that he took any personal belongings, as far as I could find.
Linda Boudreau thought maybe Lonnie had hitchhiked to his father’s home in Carlton Place, about 50 km away.
Authorities were positive Lonnie was staying with friends in town but refused to say how they knew this information. His friends said he was probably sleeping under apartment stairwells, but the police searched several apartment complexes and found nothing. Officers believed Lonnie would safely return within 24 hours.
Police claimed Lonnie was “streetwise” and had been spotted panhandling for food on Rideau Street a few days after his disappearance. Authorities said the boy knew how to panhandle and shoplift. However, Plummer contradicted the police and said Lonnie did not know how to do either.
There were several alleged sightings of Lonnie, including one at St. Laurent Shopping Center, but police could not confirm a single one. Lonnie was a typical-looking boy with blond hair; whoever the witnesses had seen could have been any blond male child around the same age.
Linda Boudreau released a letter asking for her son to return home and included a message to friends: “If you are his friend, please be a good friend and help Lonnie face his problems and not run away from them.”
But Lonnie’s friends were loyal to him and said that they would not report it to the police if they did see him because they knew Lonnie would not want to go home.
Police checked several leads, but they could not find Lonnie and said he kept eluding them, staying one step ahead. If that was the case, authorities publicly acknowledged that a 10-year-old boy had outsmarted them.
Two weeks after Lonnie vanished, police ended the search and claimed all of the media attention surrounding Lonnie had kept the boy from returning home.
In late February 1981, authorities requested assistance from the local chapter of Operation Go Home (now Operation Come Home). Founded in Ottawa in 1971, the organization helped runaway children return to their families. Police believed that several runaways in the area could bring Lonnie home.
About three months after Lonnie’s disappearance, police made contact with a girl Lonnie’s age. She was able to get word to Lonnie that she wanted to meet him. The girl and an officer converged by the water fountain in the St. Laurent Shopping Center. At the meet-up, she pointed to a boy walking towards them and said, “There he is, that’s him coming now.” But the boy heard a security guard’s walkie-talkie and fled. Police never confirmed the boy was Lonnie Boudreau.
Both Vanier police and Lonnie’s parents maintained that Lonnie had run away and was alive and safe somewhere.
Investigators never suspected foul play. For that reason, they never searched Lonnie’s parents’ homes or suspected them of any wrongdoing, even though Lonnie and his parents had problems.
Additionally, authorities never accepted that Lonnie might be dead, even 10 years after he disappeared. They assumed he had left the area.
In 1985, Vanier police merged with Ottawa police. One of Vanier’s detectives, Gerald Theoret, who helped investigate Lonnie’s disappearance, stayed with the department after the merger. In an April 1991 article in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, Theoret said he still believed Lonnie was alive and thought Lonnie would show up when he turned 21 later that year. He never did.
Mysterious Phone Calls
Linda Boudreau claimed she received several mysterious phone calls after her son’s disappearance. During the first call, a young male voice asked for Lorie, who was not home at the time. Only after Linda Boudreau hung up the phone did she realize the caller was her son.
She received subsequent phone calls, but nobody spoke, only silence on the other end. She and the police believed the caller was Lonnie, but the police never identified the person.
Parents’ Odd Behavior
Lonnie’s mother and father never wavered from the runaway theory. Nor did they ever mention the possibility that their son had met with foul play.
Linda Boudreau stated that if her son returned home, she would place him in the custody of the CAS for a year. She previously said Lonnie wanted to return to foster care; however, his friends denied it, saying he never wanted to go back.
In May 1981, she started taking sleeping pills and tranquilizers and was hospitalized with a suspected ulcer and bad nerves.
Then, in July 1982, during an interview, Lonnie’s mother said she was not sure she would recognize her son if he returned home because “a kid changes an awful lot around the age of 10,” she reasoned. A strange thing to say because a child’s looks do not change dramatically in 17 months.
Both parents were interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen in April 1991, ten years after Lonnie vanished. Elmer Boudreau said that if his son returned, he would probably “just stand there and stare for a while” and did not know if he would hug Lonnie or hit him.
A month later, Lonnie’s mother told a reporter with the Ottawa Citizen, “Every time you people bring up the past, all the hurt and pain of remembering that day comes back.” She seemed bitter and defensive instead of happy to have media attention on the case.
In a different article, Linda Boudreau recalled that same year that she had seen a boy in 1983 who resembled her son.
“I looked at him. He looked at me and then turned and took off. I swear it was him.” She never mentioned reporting the sighting to the police or why she did not chase after the boy to confirm he was her son.
After a failed relationship and arguments with Lorie, she had a breakdown at some point and decided it was time for her to move on.
“I just said I wasn’t going to drive myself up the wall over this. If he wants to come back, I’m not hard to find.”
Lonnie Boudreau has never been found. It is unclear where his parents are today, but by 1986, his mother had moved out of the Vanier home. His father had moved to Ottawa by 1991. Lonnie’s sister Lorie had a son in 1985. She would now be in her mid-50s.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
This case is heartbreaking on so many levels. In an Ottawa Citizen article on Feb. 9, 1981, Linda said, “Either someone is hiding him, or he’s lying dead somewhere.” I found her statement a little strange because she never wavered from the runaway theory a short while later. In 1991, she still acted as if he had run away.
Reports say Linda was an emotional wreck and had a breakdown, but guilt can also wreak havoc on someone’s body.
I did not see anything about when Linda called the police once she realized he was gone. According to her, Lonnie asked to watch TV around 6:30 p.m., and 15 minutes later, he was gone. The first newspaper article I found was dated Feb. 9, 1981, and it was short. There was no mention of when she called the authorities. I’m curious if there was a gap in time between 6:45 p.m. and when she called the authorities.
If he did voluntarily leave home, I think something happened between him and Linda that caused him to leave, and he met with foul play at some point afterward.
How is a 10-year-old boy streetwise? If he was, Linda gave him a lot of freedom to be that way. It does seem like she let him come and go as he pleased. I think Lonnie could have learned how to panhandle by someone older, so I don’t think that is strange, really.
Why didn’t the police set up surveillance where Lonnie was seen panhandling and in other areas? As I mentioned above, the boy could have been any blond-haired boy. And who was the teen girl who agreed to meet the cop at the mall? Why did the police choose her to get a message to Lonnie? And was the boy who fled Lonnie or someone else? The girl had to point the kid out to the cop.
It seems inconceivable to me that foul play never crossed anyone’s mind. Why wouldn’t it? Why did the police keep insisting Lonnie ran away and that he was alive, even a decade or so later? I honestly do not believe a 10-year-old could successfully run away, never to be found without any help.
Lonnie made it clear to many people that he did not like living with his mom, yet nobody listened. She and his father never helped search for him, and she decided to “move on,” which I understand, but people stopped looking for him. Linda moved out of the townhome they shared, which is a bit odd because many families of missing children remain in the same home in case the child returns one day.
Maybe she snapped and killed him. He did have emotional and behavioral issues. If he became out of control, she could have reacted negatively to that behavior.
I raised an emotionally disturbed and mentally ill son who had severe meltdowns. I honestly don’t know how I did not murder him or run away myself. STRESSFUL, and it occurred every single day, at home and school, for YEARS. I lost my mind. Some people can handle it; others can’t. I barely did. Maybe Linda snapped and accidentally hurt him. I can understand that to a point.
Linda’s actions after his disappearance are a little questionable. For example, she said she did not immediately recognize her son’s voice during the first mystery call; she only did after she hung up. I will tell you one thing. I would know my child’s voice as soon as he or she spoke—no doubt about it. So I question her on this one. But these calls were Linda’s word only; Vanier police never traced or verified the calls, as far as I can tell.
In May 1991, she appeared pissed off that the Ottawa Citizen wanted to do the story on Lonnie’s disappearance. It’s like she did not want any more exposure on him. Nobody forced her to do the interviews in April and May 1991.
I wonder what the arguments between Linda and Lorie were about? Did Lorie believe Lonnie had run away?
Can we take a moment to discuss Elmer’s weird 1991 statement if Lonnie returned home? He said he would “just stand there and stare for a while,” and he did not know if he would hug Lonnie or hit him. WTF? What kind of shit is that?
I think either something happened to Lonnie inside his home or left home and met with foul play. I don’t necessarily believe he ran away. Maybe he intended to be gone only for a short period, but something terrible happened to him.