On April 25, Gregory Despres arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Calais, Maine, carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood. U.S. customs agents confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted Despres.
Then they let him into the United States.
The following day, a gruesome scene was discovered in Despres’ hometown of Minto, New Brunswick: The decapitated body of a 74-year-old country musician named Frederick Fulton was found on his kitchen floor. The man’s head was in a pillow case under a kitchen table. His common-law wife was discovered stabbed to death in a bedroom.
Despres, 22, immediately became a suspect because of a history of violence between him and his neighbors, and he was arrested April 27 after police in Massachusetts saw him wandering down a highway in a sweat shirt with red and brown stains. He is now in jail in Massachusetts on murder charges, awaiting an extradition hearing next month.
At a time when the United States is tightening its borders, how could a man toting what appeared to be a bloody chain saw be allowed into the country?
Questioned for two hours at border
Bill Anthony, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the Canada-born Despres could not be detained because he is a naturalized U.S. citizen and was not wanted on any criminal charges on the day in question.
Anthony said Despres was questioned for two hours before he was released. During that time, he said, customs agents employed “every conceivable method” to check for warrants or see if Despres had broken any laws in trying to re-enter the country.
“Nobody asked us to detain him,” Anthony said. “Being bizarre is not a reason to keep somebody out of this country or lock them up. ... We are governed by laws and regulations, and he did not violate any regulations.”
Anthony conceded it “sounds stupid” that a man wielding what appeared to be a bloody chain saw could not be detained. But he added: “Our people don’t have a crime lab up there. They can’t look at a chain saw and decide if it’s blood or rust or red paint.”
Assault, threat charges in Canada
Sgt. Gary Cameron of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would not comment on whether it was, in fact, blood on the chain saw.
On the same day Despres crossed the border, he was due in a Canadian court to be sentenced on charges he assaulted and threatened to kill Fulton’s son-in-law, Frederick Mowat, last August.
Mowat told police Despres had been bothering his father-in-law for the past month. When Mowat confronted him, Despres allegedly pulled a knife, pointed it at Mowat’s chest and said he was “going to get you all.”
Police believe the dispute between the neighbors boiled over in the early-morning hours of April 24, when Despres allegedly broke into Fulton’s home and stabbed the couple.
Fulton’s daughter found her father’s body two days later. His car was later found in a gravel pit on a highway leading to the U.S. border. Despres hitchhiked to the border crossing.
After the bodies were found on the afternoon of April 26, police set up roadblocks and sent out a bulletin that identified Despres as a “person of interest” in the slayings, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Mental competence questioned
The bulletin caught the eye of a Quincy police dispatcher because it gave the suspect’s Massachusetts driver’s license number, missing a character. The dispatcher plugged in numbers and letters until she found a last known address for Despres in Mattapoisett. She alerted police in that town, and an officer quickly spotted Despres.
In state court the next day, Despres told a judge that he is affiliated with NASA and was on his way to a Marine Corps base in Kansas at the time of his arrest.
After the case was transferred to federal court, Despres’ attorney, Michael Andrews, questioned whether his client is mentally competent.
Fulton’s friends in Minto, a village of 2,700 people, told the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal that he was a popular musician, a guitarist known as the “Chet Atkins of Minto” and a 2001 inductee in the Minto Country Music Wall of Fame.