Finding Eduardo: When Will Dad Come Home?
Investigators re-visit a possible drugging in the case of Eduardo Malpica as his family continues to search for answers.
TROIS-RIVIERES, QC — A cold wind whistles through the port city, blanketing docks and row houses with a thin layer of sleet.
Save for shift workers at the Kruger mill, most everyone in Chloe Dugas’ neighbourhood is asleep in their beds. But not her. Ever since Dugas’ partner went missing last November, she lies awake most nights, not sure what exactly she's supposed to do.
The other day, her 4-year-old held up a picture of his father and sang a Christmas song to it, asking Santa if he could bring his dad back. How do you tell a little boy his dad disappeared? How do you explain to a kid that the man whose hand was always there to wipe a runny nose or change a diaper is gone now? One day he just walked out the door and never came back. He didn't leave a note or call. He just vanished.
When the thoughts get overwhelming, Dugas opens a book and reads until her brain can’t process the words anymore. Usually she can get a few hours of sleep before Santiago wakes up and a new day begins.
But it never feels like a new day.
“Sometimes I wonder if I'm living in another dimension, a place where time froze,” said Dugas, whose partner Eduardo Malpica has been missing since Nov. 26. “Nothing feels real, I try to get answers but they always just lead to more questions. Every time I think we've made progress it's back to square one.”
One expert says Dugas’ isolation is sadly typical of missing person’s cases. Unlike in the case of a homicide, there’s no government support for the loved ones of people who go missing. So Dugas is on sick leave from her job at Service Canada, trying to be a mother, a provider and an advocate for her missing partner. Somehow, it never feels like she’s doing enough.
“There's no psychological support, no victims' aid because the police haven't determined that a crime has taken place,” said Andrée Champagne, coordinator of the victims rights group AFPAD (Association des Familles de Personnes Assassinées ou Disparues).
“In those first few days, you're flooded with information and — in this case — the community rallies behind you to look for your loved one. But eventually the information slows to a trickle and people move on with their lives. You can't, though. You're stuck with this guilty feeling like maybe you didn't do enough to find the one you love. I'm not sure that ever goes away.”
It would almost be easier to accept Malpica's disappearance if he really did walk out on his family as police claim.
But the evidence points to something darker. The last confirmed sighting of Malpica was at a bar in downtown Trois-Rivières, where he was beaten and possibly drugged before being sent off without his coat or wallet. Police are monitoring the 44-year-old’s bank account, his email and social media accounts and they’ve seen no activity since the night of his disappearance.
A police source tells The Rover detectives are revisiting the theory that Malpica may have been drugged on the night of his disappearance. Police were tipped off about a possible drugging at the Café-Bar Zénob just hours after news of Malpica's disappearance was published on social media. A woman who had been at the Zénob and saw Malpica that night described, in detail, being hit with a wave of nausea, stumbling onto the street, blacking out and waking up in the back seat of her car.
When she called the cops on Nov. 26 and told them her story, she assumed they'd call back to schedule an interview. It took nearly two months for that to happen.
Whether caused by a lack of personnel or the complexity of a missing person’s case, there were a number of problems with the investigation early on.
It took over two weeks for Malpica's name, photo and description to make it onto the Surete du Québec's missing person's bulletin. And a canine unit called to canvas downtown Trois-Rivières on Nov. 26 was cancelled at the last minute.
“Those first 48 hours are crucial in a homicide or missing person’s case, so it’s normal to look back and wonder what could have been done better,” Champagne said. “In the case of the canine unit, it’s really unfortunate. What happened was, dozens of people in the community volunteered to search for Mr. Malpica in the days after he went missing. And that’s encouraging, I’ve never seen that level of solidarity happen so quickly. It says a lot about the community and about the person who went missing.
“But the problem is, with so many different people walking over the same area Mr. Malpica was last seen, it makes it really hard for police dogs to distinguish his scent from everyone else’s. So I think that’s why the unit was cancelled.”
One police source with knowledge of the case said it took investigators weeks to follow up on a possible sighting of Malpica on a bus between Montreal and Ottawa. A witness told reporters at Le Nouvelliste that, on Dec. 20, she was on an Orleans Express bus, sitting near a Spanish-speaking man who looked like Malpica. The man, she said, was speaking to himself and behaving so erratically that he was kicked off the bus at a truck stop in Casselman, Ont.
The police source tells The Rover that, after looking into the Casselman sighting a few weeks back, police confirmed the man in question was not Malpica.
These missteps appear minor when compared to what little attention the events at Café-Bar Zénob have received until recently. Malpica was out at the bar with colleagues that night, celebrating a work event he’d helped organize. After his friends left, Malpica stayed and continued partying. Then, around 2 a.m., everything went sideways.
Witnesses describe Malpica as being barely able to stand and making unwanted advances on a woman just before he was attacked by a half dozen people. Malpica was then forced outside, dragged across the pavement and allegedly threatened with an axe.
By then, a passerby tried to defuse the situation and walk Malpica home. But after sustaining so many hits to the body and head, Malpica was aggressive and insisted he could make it home alone. So the passerby walked back to the bar only to find police on site, according to two sources who were there that night. They say officers seemed to think Malpica would be fine getting home alone.
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Three sources close to the investigation say Trois-Rivières police initially downplayed the attack as a typical bar fight. But when detectives at the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) were brought in to help with the case, they called the assault “extremely violent” and suggested it may have been racially motivated. Though he speaks and teaches in French at a college in Trois-Rivières, Malpica is Latin American. Earlier that evening, an aggressive patron allegedly walked over to Malpica and asked him “how do you say f*ggot in Spanish” as he sat at the bar.
The discrepancy in their interpretation of the attack may have caused tensions between the two police forces.
“There was definitely a clash of egos between the SQ and Trois-Rivières police,” said one source, who is not authorized to speak publicly about the case. “It wasn’t helpful but these things do happen when multiple departments work together.”
Malpica’s chaotic final minutes at the bar coincide with another bizarre event.
At almost exactly the same time as Malpica was attacked, another bar patron — who we’ll call Susane — says she felt a sudden loss of balance and began behaving erratically. Though she’d barely drank that night, Susane has little memory of what happened next other than knowing her friends found her and helped walk Susane to a safe place.
She swears someone must have slipped something in her drink. One other source, who did not want to speak on the record, described identical symptoms to the ones Susane displayed and also believes they were drugged.
It wouldn’t be the first high profile drugging in Trois-Rivières’ recent history. The downtown bar scene — frequented by college and university students — saw a slew of druggings early last year. Things got so bad that bar owners told Radio-Canada they had to start handing out plastic covers for people’s drinks, increasing security and alerting their staff to be on the lookout for predatory behaviour.
Just over two years ago, “Amélie” was drugged while at a downtown bar with people she thought were her friends. But three of them later assaulted the young woman at a nearby apartment. After fleeing the scene, she went to the hospital, filled out a sexual assault legal kit and alerted police about it. She says the detective told her it would be nearly impossible to press charges against her assailant so she didn't. It was only after reading about Malpica’s disappearance that Amélie decided to file a criminal complaint.
One study suggest druggings like the one Amélie described are far more common than previously believed. A 2016 survey of 6,000 students at three American universities found that 7.8 per cent reported being drugged at least once. That’s nearly 500 druggings on three campuses. But much like with cases of sexual assault, most victims don’t report a suspected drugging because they’re embarrassed, ashamed or they don’t think they'll be taken seriously.
An employee of Café-Bar Zénob say the owners are taking this matter seriously and cooperating with the investigation. The employee added that it’s “quite possible” Malpica’s drink was spiked but cautioned that the bar would have immediately intervened if they saw anything was amiss.
After over two months of waiting to hear from Malpica, Chloé Dugas is starting to get his affairs in order.
She’s called his cellphone provider to cancel his plan and she’s alerted the credit card company about Malpica’s disappearance. A few weeks back, she was returning a stack of overdue library books and straightening things out with the college where Malpica taught sociology.
“These are the little concrete things you have to do when someone vanishes,” Dugas said. “It’s really hard. It makes it so much more real.”
There was a time where Dugas hoped she could get back to work and stop skulking around the empty house all day but she realizes that she may not be ready for all that. So she does what she can to get the word out about Malpica while her boy is at school and tries to help him navigate the confusion when he’s at home, asking about his father.
Most days, Malpica’s absence looms over the home like a black hole. When I visited last month, Dugas led me into his office, which she says is a good reflection of the man Malpica is. The space is a beautiful mess; a dog-eared copy of Durkheim’s De la division du travail social sits near a biography of the Argentine footballer Lionel Messi. Over in the far corner, a stack of student papers remains uncorrected next to a pile of half-finished work. It’s impossible to walk through the room without sidestepping a mound of books or coffee-stained magazines.
“As you can see, he likes reading and he’s crazy about soccer,” Dugas said.
In the next room, Santiago’s Lego was scattered across the carpet in perfectly arranged scenes; a firetruck conveniently parked next to a fire-breathing dragon. Toy knights in full armour stood ready for deployment near the boy’s own plastic shield and sword. I pictured the father and son playing, giving the little plastic men voices and imagining scenarios together in the sunlight room.
And then I imagined the silence of another cold night without Malpica.
“It’s a really confusing time,” Dugas said. “I’m not giving up hope. I’m just really lost, in my own home, in my own body, in my own mind.”
Keep writing about Eduardo. Our hearts go out to Chloé and Santiago.
it's so obvious to me that this was a drugging and because it was winter, we may find his body somewhere - he hasn't used his bank or credit card, so unless someone picked him up, he is in the local area. This is so painful for anyone who knows about it. Thank you Chris, for working on this!