Karissa Boudreau was a 12-year-old girl living in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, Canada, with her mother, Penny Boudreau, and her mother’s boyfriend, Vernon Macumber. Bridgewater is a riverside town, boasting of around 8,000 residents. It’s located approximately 90 kilometres southeast of Halifax. In this quaint town, people look after their neighbours and smiles are exchanged in the street with strangers. Previously, Karissa had lived with her father, Paul Boudreau, in Shelburne County before moving into Penny and Vernon’s two bedroom apartment in Bridgewater. The relationship between Penny and Karissa was said to be tempestuous with the duo frequently bickering.
On the 27th of January, 2008, Penny and Karissa drove to a local grocery store. They had been arguing back and forth in the car and Penny decided that she would do “what she had to do.” As Karissa sat in the car, Penny went into the grocery store and called Vernon. She told him that Karissa was missing. But Karissa wasn’t missing; she was sitting right there in the parked car. Unbeknownst to Karissa, her mother was planning something completely reprehensible. Following the call, Penny climbed back into the car and drove Karissa to a quiet roadside and ordered her out. Penny pushed her only child to the ground and wrapped a piece of twine around her hands and then wrapped it around her daughter’s neck, pulling with all of her strength. “Mommy, don’t,” were Karissa’s last words but her pleas fell on deaf ears. With her knees shoved into Karissa’s chest, Penny glared into her daughter’s eyes as her she strangled the life out of her.
When Karissa’s heaving gasps stopped, Penny loaded her lifeless body in the trunk of the car and drove around deciding what to do next. Penny pulled the car into Tim Hortons to throw out the incriminating twine before driving to the icy LaHave River. She dragged Karissa’s body out of the trunk and dumped her next to the river. Penny also removed some of Karissa’s clothing to make it look as though she had been sexually assaulted, deferring suspicion from herself. Penny then drove home and reported Karissa missing, just as a snowstorm swept into the region. Penny claimed Karissa – who was stewing from their argument – ran away while she was in the grocery store.
An intensive search of the town and surrounding area was ordered including sweeps of the now partially frozen LaHave River. The town rallied together in an attempt to find Karissa and return her home safely. They believed that time truly was of essence; there was no way the lightly dressed young girl could survive the harsh weather that had rolled in. Locals braved the storm to hand out missing person flyers to passer-by. On two separate occasions, Penny appealed to the public for help in finding her daughter as search crews scoured the area. “I just want you to come home,” she pleaded. “We all love you, Karissa. I love you.”
On the 9th of February, a motorist from out-of-town stumbled across Karissa’s body. It would be another five days until her body was positively identified via dental records. The autopsy showed that Karissa had been strangled and investigators soon announced that the murder was an isolated incident. It was the first murder in Bridgewater in nearly 20 years. Almost from the beginning, police had suspected Penny but with no evidence, she was questioned and released. The area where Karissa’s body was found subsequently became an impromptu memorial with mourners leaving hundreds of trinkets, toys and flowers to commemorate the life of Karissa. “I guess we’re just paying our respects,” said one woman who lived in another town. “It’s so hard to believe…”1
The following week, Karissa was laid to rest. So many people came to pay their last respects that they spilled out into the car park of H.M. Huskilson’s Funeral Home. Karissa’s former pastor, Rev. Perry Ingersoll, led the service which included a slide show depicting various moments in Karissa’s short life accompanied by her favourite song, Bubbly by Colbie Caillat. “No human reason or sense can be found in the sense that such a young beautiful energetic life would be snatched so quickly away before its hopes and plans had even begin to be realized,” said the pastor.2 Two of Karissa’s aunts read poems to the weeping crowd but there was one person amongst the congregation that remained stone-faced throughout the emotional service: Penny. She was the only person in attendance who knew exactly happened to Karissa and the slow wheels of justice were catching up with her.
Shortly after her daughter’s funeral, Penny moved to Halifax, some 90 kilometres down Highway 103. Police continued to investigate Penny as a suspect in her daughter’s murder and in a controversial move, undercover officers were assigned to pose as member of a crime syndicate. These officers made contact with Penny and promised to help her out if she confessed to them that she murdered her daughter and how she did it. In June of the same year, Penny did just that. Penny confessed that she killed Karissa after Vernon gave her an ultimatum for their relationship to survive. According to Penny, Vernon said that she had to pick between him or her daughter. Penny confessed to the undercover officer that she “would do anything for Vernon and the thought of losing him was harder than the thought of losing her daughter.”3 Her motivation even shocked experts that have spent their entire career studying homicides. Mothers who kill their children are rare and those who are motivated because they feel as though their child is in the way of a relationship are even more rare. In half of the cases where a mother does kill their child, the victim is less than a year old. The other half of murders perpetrated by mothers occurs when the victim is between one and two years of age. It’s exceptionally rare for a mother to kill a child as old as twelve.
As Penny made her first court appearance, she clutched a tissue and sobbed but said nothing as the murder charge was read to her. As she was led out the door of the courthouse, a number of people who had gathered outside taunted her. “Child killer” one shouted with another shouting “murderer!”4 The display of raw emotion was understandable; a vast majority of the residents had assisted in the search for Karissa and were distraught to learn her own mother knew exactly what happened to her all along. In reference to Penny’s so-called motive, Karissa’s father, Paul Boudreau, said: “The options were there, and you know for a parent to make that decision, I still can’t comprehend it.”5
Penny Boudreau pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of second degree murder and received a life sentence. The plea deal was agreed to avoid a trial. Under the so-called faint-hope clause, Penny can apply for parole after 15 years. In 2018, she was granted four escorted leaves to attend church services. A psychological assessment found that Penny falls within a “very low range to reoffend.”6 The Crown ruled that Vernon Macumber was not involved in the murder. Following the arrest of Penny, Macumber claimed that he hadn’t offered an ultimatum and instead had suggested that something needed to be done about the constant arguing between Penny and Karissa. Macumber has said that he feels immeasurable guilt about what happened to Karissa. “It was just avoidable,” he said. “I think about her all the time, though.”7
- Nanaimo Daily News, 21 June, 2008 – “Quiet Community is Shocked by Child’s murder and Mother’s Arrest”
- The Chronicle Herald, 20 February, 2008 – “Memorial Service Held on Riverbank Where Body Found”
- The Chronicle Herald, 31 January, 2009 – “Mother Killed Little Girl to Save Love Life”
- The London Free Press, 17 June, 2008 – “Accused Murderer Taunted by Citizens”
- Edmonton Journal, 31 January, 2009 – “Sobs Fill Courtroom as Details of Cold-Blooded Murder Made Public at Sentencing”
- CBC, 5 July, 2018 – “Penny Boudreau, Who Killed Her Daughter, to Get Escorted Leaves from Prison”
- 24 Hours, 3 February, 2009 – “Ex-Boyfriend of Mom Feels Guilty about Girl’s Death”