Little is known about what happened on a Sunday afternoon in 1966 when Ubald Thériault disappeared from his Lille residence, never to be seen again.
The disappearance of the 79-year-old man caught the attention of residents of the Saint-Jean valley who enjoyed a virtually crime-free existence in 1966. More than half a century after Thériault’s disappearance, some who do not have never even met him still wonder about his fate.
Thériault, who reportedly had difficulty hearing, was last seen on October 2 around 3 p.m. in the backyard of the Gilbert Duplessis group home where he lived.
The then game ranger, Herbert Vernon, organized several searches for Thériault, including public calls for volunteers to roam the heavily wooded area behind the group home. Maine State Police issued a Missing Persons Bulletin.
Vernon said no one had actually seen Thériault enter the woods, “and therefore the possibility of hiking as a way out of his home. [could not] be eliminated, ”according to the St. John Valley Times archives,
The reports on Thériault’s description were vague – slim, of medium height, wearing a jacket and hat. It could have described a number of older men living in the area at the time, but it is hard to imagine that someone fitting this description would not have caught the eye of witnesses, if he was walking around the city in 1966.
“The nearby woods seem the most likely place for the missing man,” read an October 6, 1966 article in the St. John Valley Times.
Six weeks after Thériault’s disappearance, several possible sightings were reported in Canada, notably in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Edmundston. The last reported sighting was on November 12, 1966, in an unnamed store.
“At the time, the man asked a trader for directions back to the American side,” reads an article from November 17, 1966.
Thériault’s niece, identified in the diary only as Ms. Maurice Grandmaison of Edmundston, said that during this sighting, Thériault would be wearing different clothes from those of her disappearance, including a black winter coat.
Although law enforcement searches for his whereabouts were ultimately called off and newspaper headlines about his disappearance faded, Thériault was never forgotten by some of the locals.
Don Levesque, a high school student in 1966, was haunted by the idea that a man could disappear from his own backyard.
Years later, as the lead vocalist of the northern Maine acoustic band Les Chanteurs Acadiens, Levesque, who at one point was the editor of the St. John Valley Times, wrote the song “Ti-Bad” in honor of Thériault.
Levesque said Thériault suffered cognitive limitations due to a head injury, which may have contributed to his demise.
“As a young man he would have been hit in the head by a horse and was never the same again after that,” said Levesque.
Another person who never forgot Thériault was Claude “Blackie” Cyr, who founded the annual Acadian Festival.
“My father was from Lille and a woodcarver in his spare time,” said Cyr’s daughter, Debbie Gendreau. “He sculpted Ubald.
Gendreau never met Thériault but said he didn’t seem to have an easy life.
“All I know is that he was pretty much homeless and he was smoking cigar butts that he found on the floor,” Gendreau said. “One day he just disappeared.
At 79, one wonders how far from the group home Thériault could have walked on his own to escape such research, even if he wanted to. Extensive searches could not locate him in the woods behind the house.
A darker theory suggests that Thériault’s fate may have been linked to a nearby pigsty. Pigs are known to be aggressive and it is possible that Thériault fell in the pigsty.
“This theory has never been published; a police officer told me in confidence maybe 20 years later, ”said Lévesque.
More than 50 years after his disappearance, the mystery of Ubald Thériault’s disappearance remains.
“He didn’t have a lot of family. Some people were obsessed with finding it, but no one ever did, ”Levesque said.