"I Was Drugged... I Wonder if he Was"
On the night Eduardo Malpica disappeared, two fellow bar patrons say they were drugged and told police they suspect Malpica may have been as well.
TROIS-RIVIÈRES, QC — Susane is still piecing together the fragments of that terrible night.
It had been a wonderful time up until the moment she lost control. Susane met with friends at Bar Randolph and played board games for a few hours. Then they made their way to Café-Bar Zénob for drinks on the heated patio. It was a windy November evening downtown so people huddled around the fireplace and gathered inside the warm basement pub.
"People were on the dance floor, I remember seeing someone do the limbo, it was great," Susane said. "Then sometime after 2 a.m. I started to feel really dizzy. I hadn't drank that much, a pint and a glass of beer at Randolph, two talls cans of beer at the Zénob. Maybe the equivalent of three pints in six hours."
That's when Susane did something totally out of character. Without saying anything she stumbled onto the street towards her car. Though she could barely walk, Susane put her keys in the ignition and started the car. She doesn’t remember much after that.
"It could have gone way off the rails," she said, recounting the Nov. 25 night out.
But it didn't.
Susane's friends found her in the backseat of the car and had to brace her as they walked back to their apartment. She slept on their couch for a few hours, woke up, went to the bathroom and vomited.
"It was like someone had peeled the skin off my skull," Susane said. "My head burned, it hurt so bad. It didn't make sense. I was fine until 2 a.m. I didn't even finish that last beer. To just lose control of my body like that, it was terrifying.
"I remember joking that maybe someone had put something in my beer."
Susane was ready to write it off as a strange occurrence when she found out what happened to Eduardo Malpica the exact same night.
Because, just as Susane lost control that night, another patron of the Zenob began stumbling around. The patron, Malpica, seemed sober for most of the evening, according to his friends and other witnesses. But then, around 2 a.m., he began behaving erratically. Witnesses say the 44-year-old made unwanted advances on a young woman and appeared unsteady on his feet.
That's when he was jumped by a half dozen patrons, who surrounded Malpica, threw him on the floor and beat him. They even dragged him onto the street, where someone allegedly threatened him with an axe. When they were done with his limp body, the group sent Malpica away without his coat or wallet. By then, he was weak, slurred his words and spoke only Spanish despite being fluent in French.
But unlike Susane, Malpica didn't have friends to come to his rescue. They had left the bar prior to the attack. So he drifted into the cold night and hasn't been seen since.
That was 60 days ago.
Police have only started looking into leads surrounding the assault but maintain that Malpica's disappearance was voluntary.
In other words, just after he was beaten at a bar, Malpica decided to leave his partner and abandon their 4-year-old son without so much as a phone call or text message. And he did this without his bank card or winter jacket, in a city he only recently moved to.
Susane decided to come forward with her story because she no longer has faith in the police investigation.
"The day after the incident at the Zenob, I went on social media and saw a post about how Eduardo Malpica was missing and maybe he'd been drugged," Susane said. "That's when I realized that I had been drugged. There's no way of being 100 per cent certain, but I know I was drugged. I could feel it in my body. And now I wonder if he was."
After learning of Malpica’s disappearance and knowing how critical the first 48 hours of a missing person investigation are, Susane immediately phoned the Trois-Rivieres police. She left a voicemail and got a call back that same evening.
"I told the officer I'd probably been drugged, that my behaviour was really strange, that I became violently ill despite not having drank that much," Susane said. "I told her I thought it might be relevant to the investigation because I was at the same bar as Malpica when it happened. I said maybe Eduardo was drugged because he seemed normal the entire time I was there. The officer replied that she would tell the detectives and they'd call me back.
"They never did."
What Susane described — a sudden spell of dizziness, memory loss, the feeling of extreme intoxication and vomiting — are all common symptoms of a GHB drugging.
GHB, also known as the “date rape” drug, can cause slurred speech and increased sensuality — both symptoms Malpica exhibited at the Zénob. Dugas and one other witness who saw security footage of the bar attack say that, after he was beat up, Malpica got to his feet and seemed totally disconnected from the situation.
“He was crossing his arms like he was waiting for the bus,” said Malpica’s partner Chloé Dugas, who reviewed security footage of the attack. “He was on another planet. He didn’t look like himself at all.”
Another patron at the bar before Malpica wandered off told The Rover they believe they were drugged as well that night.
The source did not want any identifying details published — and said only that they felt their muscles go limp, dizziness and significant memory loss sometime after 2 a.m. — despite not having drank more than on a usual Friday night out.
The Trois-Rivières police confirmed that they were told about Susane being drugged the night of Malpica's disappearance. They still believe, however, that Malpica's disappearance is voluntary and that he’s probably on the lam somewhere in Montreal or Ottawa.
"We had people inform us of the possibility of a drugging, but that sort of thing is very difficult to prove," a spokesperson for the Trois-Rivieres police told The Rover. "GHB and other substances used to drug people don't stay in someone's system for very long."
But is the police’s voluntary disappearance theory more credible than a possible drugging? Malpica's loved ones don’t think so.
“He was the kind of boyfriend who would check in with you all the time to see if you were okay,” said Dugas. “Not in an aggressive way, he just really worried about me, about our son Santiago, it was always his nature to make sure we were okay. You don’t go from checking in on your son as he’s sleeping four times a night to just disappearing out of the blue.”
At the time of his disappearance, Malpica and Dugas had just moved from Montreal to Trois-Rivières so he could pursue his dream job of teaching sociology in college. They had a turn of the century farmhouse just a short walk from Santiago’s school, Malpica worked on a committee with local activists, embedding himself into their adopted community. Dugas, meanwhile, didn’t have to change jobs for the move. She could work from her home office.
It was a good life, she said.
Sources close to the investigation claim the voluntary disappearance theory is based on one witness who allegedly saw Malpica at a park the morning after the bar attack. The witness told police she spoke to a Latino man who said he was ashamed of himself and had to leave his family to start a new life. While it’s crucial for police to track down such a lead, one former RCMP investigator says Dugas’ concerns aren’t unfounded.
“I don't know everything the investigators know, they always withhold information to protect the investigation, but they’re putting a lot of weight on this one theory,” said Dan, a retired detective who has worked missing person’s cases and homicides for the mounties. “What jumps out at me, what I can’t shake from my head, is this incident of violence in the last moments (Malpica) was seen. That’s huge.”
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The detective, who did not want his real name published, said the detectives should be bound to the principles of Major Case Management — a systematic approach to investigations designed to avoid “tunnel vision” on the part of investigators.
“When you investigate this kind of crime, you have to exhaust all possible avenues,” said Dan. “And if people came to the police — within the first 24 hours of this individual’s disappearance — talking about what they saw, talking about maybe being drugged, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t follow up on that lead. Because without the violence, without the possibility of a drugging, what evidence do we have that suggests he up and ran away?”
Since we know Malpica didn’t take the family car, how could he have left Trois-Rivières for Montreal on a Saturday morning? There’s a bus station just a short walk from the Zénob but only three buses leave for the metropolis every day and no one reported seeing him board any of them. What’s more, a ticket to Montreal costs $47.21, but Dugas says Malpica’s bank card hasn’t been used since he bought drinks at Zénob.
“I really don’t think he was carrying cash. It made him nervous to have too much money on him,” Dugas said. “And if he did have cash, why was he using his bank card at the bar?”
Another possibility is that Malpica hitchhiked west. That too seems unlikely. It’s a 1 kilometre walk from the bar to the Highway 40 onramp and Malpica wasn't wearing a coat. This sort of thing would have stood out. There is a Petro-Canada gas station with cameras pointing to the onramp. But unfortunately, since no one asked the station’s employees to preserve it, the footage from Nov. 26 has since been deleted.
One of the most terrifying possibilities — that Malpica fell into the Saint Lawrence River — isn’t supported by much evidence either. The initial search parties that looked for signs of Malpica didn’t yield any trail leading to the water. And though Trois-Rivières is a port city that rests on the northern bank of the Saint Lawrence, access to the water is mostly blocked off by barbed wire fences, pulp and paper mills as well as other major industrial sites.
“It just feels like no matter what we find out, everything always points back to the bar,” said Dugas. “I’m not blaming anyone, I’m just saying that’s the last place we can definitively say he was seen.”
Chloé Dugas and I sat in her Chevrolet, waiting to hear from another woman who was drugged during a night out in Trois-Rivières.
“Amélie” is nervous about telling her story and wanted our conversation to be somewhere no one could overhear it. Though some 140,000 people call Trois-Rivières home, it can feel like a village sometimes. Regulars at the downtown bars all seem to know each other, there’s a small but thriving punk and metal scene, and — given how friendly people on the street are — it’s hard to go unnoticed in the port city.
So out of respect for Amélie’s privacy, we agreed to set up a Zoom call in Dugas’ car.
On a cold night just over two years ago, Amélie was at a bar with people she thought she could trust. She hadn’t drank that much but Amélie says she suddenly felt dizzy, weak and it was as though a fog had settled over her mind. The group she was with ended up at someone’s apartment, where three people sexually assaulted her.
“A lot of that night comes back to me in flashes but, from what I remember, I ended up fleeing the apartment with whatever clothes I could find,” said Amélie, who did not want her real name published. “Two days later, I went to the hospital because I was still sick and I felt like I needed to tell someone what happened. They made me fill out a sexual assault legal kit. I brought the clothes I was wearing that night — including the clothes that weren't mine — and a social worker came to see me to get my information and give me some brochures.
“An investigator called me and I remember I was so scared. One of the men I was out with that night had come to my house and left me a letter asking for his shirt back. He said he was aware that someone had drugged me that night. I was scared. They knew where I lived.
“Then I talk to the (Trois-Rivières) detective and she tells me ‘There’s nothing we can do for your safety. You can fill out a criminal complaint when you’re ready but we’re not sure we’ll be able to charge anyone with a crime.’ It made me doubt what I’d been through. So I didn’t file a complaint because I was fragile but the police made it seem so futile to even try.
“But then I heard what happened to Eduardo (Malpica) and that he might have been drugged, I decided to file a criminal complaint. I sent the police an email, telling them my story. They called back, took down my information and said they’d call back by the end of the week. They didn’t.”
Amélie persisted and soon she got an email asking her to come to the station to make a statement. Because she no longer lives in town, it might take a few weeks, but Amélie says she’s determined to get her story on the record.
“I have to say, my experience with the police has been really discouraging,” Amélie said. “But I have to speak out, I have to say something, I have to do something because what’s happening right now is unacceptable.”
Amélie named a half dozen people who were with her on the night of the assault. And though she wasn’t at the Zénob, they were all regulars at that bar, according to her and two other sources who were there on the night of Malpica’s disappearance. Of course, there is no direct link and this hardly constitutes a smoking gun, but it does seem to warrant further investigation.
When I visited the Zénob last week, a man calling himself the owner said he didn’t want to comment on any article about Malpica. He insisted the bar is cooperating with police and said they’ve put up posters of Malpica in hopes they can help locate him.
To be clear, none of the people who spoke to The Rover believe the bar is involved in Malpica’s disappearance. They have criticized the bar’s handling of the assault and they’ve wondered if some of its patrons may be dangerous, but until that night, most had nothing but good things to say about their experience at the cozy basement bar.
The use of GHB, Rohypnol and other drugs by sexual predators is alarmingly common at bars across Canada. Last summer, Québec Solidaire MNA Manon Massé spoke of an epidemic of druggings in Quebec’s bars. Contributing to the problem, few hospitals in the province are equipped with kits that can test for the drugs.
Ultimately, Massé worked with her colleagues to pass legislation that would ensure every hospital in Quebec can test for GHB, Rohypnol and other debilitating drugs. But the wheels of government turn slowly and changing rape culture doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and Dugas is at home alone again.
Her mother went to Santiago’s school to pick the boy up and Dugas has been keeping herself busy by taking care of things around the home.
“Yesterday, I went to return Eduardo’s overdue library books and boy did he have a lot of late fees,” she says. “The librarians quickly realized who I was and they waived the fees. I didn't say anything, they just knew. That’s the kind of town this is. People help each other out, there’s a great deal of solidarity.
“When I went to Eduardo’s work, at the college, they told me his job would always be there waiting for him. When he went missing, some of his students joined the search party. They really loved him.”
Soon, Santiago will come bursting through the front door so he can play with his Lego, and maybe watch a show with his grandmother while chowing down on cheese puffs. Dugas has been off work nearly two months. She can’t sleep more than a few hours a night. Sitting around the house is driving her crazy, but still Dugas is as patient and loving as ever with Santiago.
When Santiago arrives, he tells his mother another kid threw a toy truck at his head and he needs her to kiss the wound to make it better. Dugas obliges, smothering the boy with affection.
They were his life. Malpica’s colleagues said he always spoke of Santiago and Dugas with such reverence.
“He’s always been a family man,” Dugas said. “Just after we met, in 2015, his mother died of liver cancer. I remember he would take her to the hospital for her appointments, spend entire nights with her waiting in the emergency room with her when she felt really sick. That last year, she was in the hospital and Eduardo visited her every day no matter what. He was the one at her side when she breathed her last breath.”
How does someone like that abandon their family?
Thanks for this follow-up. What about the fuckheads who beat the shit out of Malpica ? Has there been an investigation on them ?
Thanks for your continued reporting on this troubling and heartbreaking story.