The Travelers

Young lovers, Chynna Deese and Lucas Fowler set out to visit as many national parks in Canada as they could in the summer of 2019. They didn’t make it far before diabolical predators stopped them in their tracks on Alaska Highway 97. Their murders were just the beginning of a homicidal rampage that would leave five people dead and authorities wondering what was really going on in the mind of two troubled teenage boys.

The Episode

Hi park enthusiasts…

I’m your host, Delia D’Ambra

And the story I’m going to share with you today is one that literally brought me to tears while researching it. Mostly because I feel like the victims, in this case, were doing the same kind of adventuring that my husband and I do on a regular basis. Traveling to and camping near national parks we’ve never been to before.

The story takes place in British Columbia, Canada in the summer of 2019. It’s a case that has multiple victims and more than one perpetrator. All of whom were very different ages.

The victims were people visiting the scenic British Columbia – Alberta border, which is an area British Columbia.com refers to as the “greater Yukon region.”

The roadways in this area are isolated for long stretches of time and when I say long stretches, I mean like hundreds and hundreds of miles of nothing but wilderness and rivers.

And just like the mountains in Alberta’s Banff and Jasper National Parks spillover into British Columbia, so too did the lives of two teenagers into the unsuspecting paths of three innocent travelers.

The crimes that followed set off the largest manhunt in Canadian history that led authorities across four provinces searching for answers, that to this day have never come.

This is Park Predators.

SFX of car driving

On July 22nd, 2019 Split Lake First Nation Safety officer Albert Saunders was driving around on his normal patrol route in Manitoba, Canada when he spotted a traffic violation.

Up ahead of him he saw a red and grey Dodge pickup truck with a camper shell on the back run a red light at an intersection.

SFX of police siren blip

Albert quickly flashed his lights and pulled over the truck. Inside were two young men who appeared to be in their late teens. They looked nervous, really nervous. He told them he’d watched them run a red light and that they needed to be more careful. The teens just nodded in agreement and apologized.

Albert told The Daily Mail, quote— “They looked scared. I spoke to the one with the mustache and he just kept saying ‘Sorry.’ They didn’t say where they were going” — end quote.

A little unsettled by their nervous jitters, Albert said he decided to search the boys’ pickup truck and camper shell, but didn’t find anything suspicious. The only items in the back were survival gear and maps, pretty common belongings for people driving in that area who liked to hike or camp in the wilderness.

Realizing he had nothing to keep them further, Albert told the boys to be more careful driving and sent them on their way.

As he watched them drive off he had no idea he was letting two serial killers go free.

SFX of cars on highway

Six days before Albert made that traffic stop, two motorists driving on Alaska Highway 97 on the morning of Monday, July 15 pulled over to check on a blue 1986 Chevrolet van. The van, which had an Alberta license plate, was parked 20 kilometers or about 12 miles south of a town called Liard Hot Springs in British Columbia and it got their attention because the back window was busted out and there was glass all over the shoulder of the road.

When they looked inside they found the bloodied bodies of a 24-year-old woman and 23-year-old man. Both appeared to have been shot multiple times. The drivers immediately called 911 and Royal Canadian Mounted Police detectives responded to the scene.

The victim’s bodies were transported to Abbotsford Regional Hospital where a medical examiner performed autopsies.

Two days later, the ME positively identified the couple as Chynna Deese, from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Lucas Fowler, a local ranch hand who was originally from New South Wales, Australia.

RCMP investigators contacted both Chynna and Lucas’s families and learned that the couple had just recently set out on a road trip together in British Columbia to visit as many national parks and forests in Canada as they could before the long winter set in.

The families told police that Lucas had met Chynna in Croatia while she was working at a hostel and the two had quickly become close, bonding over their love of traveling. They’d started their journey to tour Canada’s national parks as soon as Lucas wrapped up a season of work with Spirit View Ranch in Rycroft, Alberta.

Within months of meeting, the couple was inseparable and their families told The Gazette that after traveling for a year or so, they had plans to get married and live in Australia. Both Chynna and Lucas had joked about how their future kids would need to live in Australia for at least two years in order to make sure they developed Australian accents.

Stephen Fowler, Lucas’s father was a chief inspector with the New South Wales police force in Australia. At a press conference in Canada right after his son and Chynna were identified, he told reporters quote — “I may be an experienced police officer but today I’m standing here as the father of a murder victim. We’re just distraught. Our son Lucas was having the time of his life traveling the world. He met a beautiful young lady and they teamed up. They were a great pair and they fell in love. It’s a love story that ended tragically.”— end quote.

Lucas’s father told Canadian newspapers that Lucas had purchased the blue van with the intent to repurpose it into a camper so he and Chynna could travel to Alaska and save money on their lodging.

In North Carolina Chynna’s mother Sheila told reporters with WSOC news that despite the horror of finding out Chynna was murdered; she found a small comfort knowing her daughter died next to the man she loved.

After authorities identified them as murder victims, detectives put out an all-points bulletin for people to come forward if they’d been driving near Liard Hot Springs on July 14th or 15th.

Detectives also scoured the area for surveillance video that might help them pinpoint the couple’s movements and last known location before they’d been killed.

And as luck would have it, they caught a major break.

Cameras at a gas station in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, which is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the town of Liard Hot Springs captured crystal, clear video of Lucas and Chynna pumping gas into their blue van on the afternoon of Saturday, July 13th.

In the video, which was posted by The Vancouver Times, you can see the couple embracing one another lovingly while they wait for the tank to fill. You see Chynna go into the store to pay and then they pull away out of frame in their van.

That was the last footage police were able to find of them and nowhere in it did it show the couple with anyone else or strangers approaching or following them.

Right after police collected that footage, several witnesses came forward and said they’d seen a young man and woman matching Chynna and Lucas’s description sitting in lawn chairs near the hood of a blue van the afternoon of Sunday, July 14th. The location they spotted the van was on Alaska Highway 97 near. The same location where the couple’s bodies were found.

SFX of car engine winding down

The husband and wife who’d reported this sighting said that Lucas and Chynna had the hood of their van propped up indicating they were having car issues. The witnesses said they asked Chynna and Lucas if they needed help but Lucas told them they were fine and they were just waiting for the van’s flooded engine to cool down. The witnesses said the couple didn’t appear to be in any distress.

Another witness that came forward told RCMP detectives that when they’d passed by the couple and their van Sunday evening in the same spot, they saw a man talking to the pair. This witness described the mystery guy as white with a dark-colored beard.

That gave officials a pretty good lead on the last person who’d spoken with Chynna and Lucas. Now all they needed to do was find this mystery man.

They brought in a sketch artist to draw a picture of the guy and then released it to the public.

It made its way into the local and national media outlets and  RMCP detectives fielded tons of tips, but no solid leads materialized right away. After a day, police determined the sketch of the man was no longer relevant to the investigation and the person was not a suspect.

Four days after Chynna and Lucas’s bodies were found and police were just into the beginning stages of understanding their case, authorities were called to another suspicious incident on nearby Highway 37 that revealed another death.

This call changed everything about the investigation.

SFX of fire burning & fire extinguisher

At 7:30 am on Friday, July 19th, 470 kilometers or roughly 292 miles west from where Lucas and Chynna’s blue van was found, motorists discovered a truck on fire near the side of Alaska Highway 37.

This pull-off was in a popular camping and fishing spot called Dease Lake.

The truck that had been engulfed in flames was a 1993 red and grey Dodge pickup with a camper shell on the back. About an hour into processing that scene RCMP officials determined that there was evidence indicating that someone had been in the vehicle while it was on fire.

A short time later, at 8:30 am, a driver raced up to officers working the scene near Dease Lake and reported that he’d found a man’s body lying in the brush in another pull-off just south of their location.

And sure enough, when investigators went to check it out, they found the body of a heavy-set white man with a gray beard who appeared to be between 50 and 60 years old.

Police told news outlets that they were investigating the man’s death as a homicide but would not release any further details about how he’d died OR who he was. That was because at that point they didn’t know.

Police released a sketch of the deceased man to the media with the hopes that someone out there would recognize him. But no one came forward to identify him and investigators were forced to wait on autopsy results to get any kind of dental records for comparison.

Authorities didn’t release it at the time, but according to documents later obtained by The Vancouver Sun, the man on the side of the road had died from multiple injuries – he’d been shot at least one time and stabbed with some sort of large knife which ultimately led to him bleeding to death there on the side of the road. Evidence like shell casings at the crime scene and slash wounds on his body indicated that he was a victim of a homicide no doubt.

Based on the evidence present at the scene, authorities believed 100 percent that the man had been killed right where he fell. The spot where he was found was not just a dumpsite. It was where he’d actually been killed.

Two hours later, while police were still in the middle of that death investigation, two maintenance workers for the highway had heard there was a lot of law enforcement investigating a murder and truck fire on the roadway. The two workers weren’t sure if the incidents were connected, but they came forward to report some information to the police that they thought would be helpful.

The workers told RCMP detectives that the night before, around 10:40 pm they’d had to put out a dumpster fire near Dease Lake. Right after getting that tip, police received another report that a public bathroom facility located super close to the garbage bin fire was covered in blood on the inside.

That obviously got law enforcement attention and when they went to check it out, detectives found large drops of blood on the floor of a stall and some more drops of blood splashed in a toilet.

Police quickly suspected that all four of these scenes, the truck fire, the dead man, the dumpster fire, and the bloody rest stop were somehow connected.

People living where the crimes had happened were getting very nervous.

Rumors started to spread like wildfire on social media that the deaths indicated a serial killer was operating on the highway. People living in the First Nation communities started banding together and dispatching volunteer groups during the night to patrol their neighborhoods and sections of the highway.

The chief of First Nation at the time told reporters that residents were living in fear because nothing like this had happened before in the area.

When police ran a search for the insurance information on the red and grey Dodge pickup with the camper that had been set on fire, they uncovered that it belonged to a man named Keith McLeod.

Authorities contacted Keith and told them that they’d found the vehicle burned out near Dease Lake.

Keith was upset by the news and told police that it had been a few days since he’d heard from his 19-year-old son, Kam. Keith explained that Kam had been traveling since July 12th with his best friend 18-year-old Bryer Schmegelsky.

The young men had been living and working in Port Alberni, British Columbia, a small industrial logging community in the middle of Vancouver Island.

Now that investigators had names to work with, they began trying to piece together Kam and Bryer’s’ movements and why their truck had traveled the nearly 1,200 miles from their hometown across four provinces.

According to reporting by The Province and The National Post, Bryer and Kam had been best friends since elementary school. Throughout their young lives, they’d done everything together. According to news reports, the boys were even the exact same weight and height.

Six foot four, 169 pounds.

The only real difference between them was that Kam was described as more social and friendly with strangers. Bryer was much more reserved, quiet, and kept to himself.

Authorities learned that after Bryer’s parents divorced as a child, he ended up living with his grandmother in Port Alberni. When police spoke with his grandmother she told them that on July 12th Bryer had just taken off on a spur-of-the-moment trip north with his best friend Kam. She revealed to detectives that right before leaving, Bryer had been rejected by a girl he liked.

According to The Vancouver Sun, when authorities interviewed Kam’s girlfriend she told them that the day after the teens left town she’d received essentially an abrupt breakup text from Kam that said he and Bryer would not be returning.

The National Post reported that Bryer and Kam both worked at the same Wal-Mart store in Port Alberni before deciding they wanted to move to the to find better jobs and go on an adventure. According to The Vancouver Sun, the boys had only contacted their families three times between the time they left and before Kam’s truck was found burned out by the side of the road.

RCMP detectives considered the possibility that Kam and Bryer were additional victims themselves. Because there had been a lack of communication between them and their families, the police were worried the teens may have come across some bad people on their road trip.

That theory started to fade though, the more investigators learned about the two young men.

Bryer’s father, Alan, told The Gazette that the two boys had been extremely close their whole lives and remembered them often going into the woods to play a game they referred to as war. Over the years he noticed they both became very proficient with wilderness survival skills.

Alan told the newspaper that when Bryer was a young boy he developed a lot of emotional problems and social anxiety. His dad said for most of his son’s pre-teen and teen years he’d spent his time playing war video games and watching YouTube in his room.

The Globe and Mail published Bryer’s Facebook account name in one of its articles. Linked to his profile was another account called “Illusive Gameing” that portrayed images and topics related to far-right politics, survivalist video games, Communism, sexual anime, and fascist propaganda.

When investigators dug into the boys’ online profiles they found pictures of Bryer wearing military fatigues holding a rifle and wearing a red Nazi swastika armband. There were also pictures of him wearing a gas mask and holding a knife with the words “blood and honour” written on the blade in German.

Kam’s profiles reflected a lot of the same interests. His posts and pictures expressed he showed interest in Communism and the content on the “Illusive Gameing” page.

As police were gathering all of this suspicious information about the teens, it became alarmingly clear that Kam and Bryer might not be helpless victims themselves but were looking more and more likely to be perpetrators.

And from what investigators could gather and the pattern of crimes across British Columbia at that point, RCMP believed the teens had no intentions of stopping their rampage.

At that point, RCMP released the boys’ pictures to the media but did not say they thought Kam and Bryer were suspects. The authorities simply labeled the pair as missing persons. This was strategic on law enforcement’s part because they thought that if Kam and Bryer saw their faces in the news as suspects, they may go into hiding or worse, ratchet up their killings.

Investigators’ worst fears that the young men had purposefully chosen to go missing and be violent were confirmed when they began digging into the two teens’ bank account history.

When RCMP detectives followed the financial movements of Kam and Bryer and reviewed surveillance video from stores near the murder scenes, they discovered some very interesting clues.

According to CBC News, financial records showed that on the day they’d left Port Alberni they’d legally purchased an SKS hunting rifle at a Cabela’s retail store. Kam’s parents told police that Kam owned an older model of that exact same firearm and had taken it with him when he and Bryer left for their trip.

The Vancouver Sun reported that on Thursday, July 18th, three days after Lucas and Chynna’s murder near Liard Hot Springs, police determined Bryer had used his debit card at a convenience store between Liard Hot Springs and Dease Lake. Video from that store showed the boys buying gloves and chocolate bars.

Police didn’t release this information to the public at that time, but detectives investigating the burned-out truck and middle-aged man’s death at Dease Lake on Friday, July 19th  found gloves and chocolate bar wrappers at that crime scene.

Two days after that, on  July 21st around 7:00 pm, a witness called in to police to report that they’d seen two young men at a gas station in northern Saskatchewan.

The next day, July 22nd, RCMP officials held a press conference officially confirming that they believed Kam and Bryer were somehow linked with the suspicious deaths of Lucas, Chynna, and the man on the side of Highway 37. Detectives wouldn’t release WHY they thought this but did issue a stern warning to people across British Columbia and all of Canada to be on the lookout for the two teens and not take any action to detain them if they were spotted.

A few hours after that announcement, the pair was seen at a store in the town of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan driving a grey 2011 Toyota Rav 4. For those of you from Canada or who’ve traveled through the province, you know that these young men were covering some serious mileage as they moved away from where this all began in western British Columbia. It’s pretty astonishing just how fast they were moving.

By that night, this is still July 21st, RCMP had learned the identity of the dead man whose body had been shot and stabbed near Dease Lake on July 19th.

A woman named Helen Dyck called RCMP detectives because she’d seen the drawing of the victim on the news and said that it looked like her husband 64-year-old Leonard Dyck. She told authorities that she’d not heard from him since he’d texted her on the morning of Thursday, July 18th.

According to his obituary, Leonard worked as a lecturer for the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He was a botanist who studied ecosystems and plant life.

Helen told the police that Leonard spent a lot of time heading up field trips for the university, taking students to various natural areas along the Pacific Northwest and when he wasn’t teaching he’d go on solo camping trips. She said he often slept in his 2011 Toyota Rav 4 on the side of Highway 37 or would set up his tent in the brush near highway pullouts.

A quick comparison of Helen’s photos of Leonard confirmed for RCMP detectives that their third murder victim was in fact Leonard Dyck.

His family told The Vancouver Sun quote– “We are truly heartbroken by the sudden and tragic loss of Len. He was a loving husband and father. His death has created unthinkable grief.”

Shortly after confirming Leonard’s ID, RCMP detectives issued formal arrest warrants for Kam and Bryer for second-degree murder related to Leonard’s death.

Within hours of that happening, an RCMP office in Manitoba got a call that a vehicle was on fire in a remote area of brush in the northern region of the province. When detectives got on scene, they saw that the burned car was a 2011 Toyota Rav 4. They didn’t find anyone inside or nearby but did notice several unspent rounds of rifle ammunition on the ground.

SFX of dogs barking & helicopter overhead

Right away authorities launched a massive ground search for Kam and Bryer, suspecting that they’d set fire to the Rav 4 and were now on the run on foot in the remote wilderness.

Police ramped up their warning to the public about the two teens. RCMP issued a nationwide manhunt bulletin stating that the pair was quote — “dangerous and if anyone saw them to not approach them and call 911 immediately.”— end quote.

At a press conference on July 23rd, a spokeswoman for RCMP confirmed that investigators now had enough evidence to prove the two teens were now also the prime suspects in Chynna and Lucas’s murders.

In just the short period of time they’d been working the case, authorities had been able to compare the shell casings from Chynna and Lucas’s scene to the caliber of weapon used to kill Leonard and they were a match. The bullets had been fired from a 7.62 mm SKS rifle.

While the manhunt was underway in Manitoba, RCMP called in help from the Canadian air force to provide thermal imaging of the vast Manitoba brush the teens were on the run in. It takes several days but the ground searcher and planes cover more than 11,000 square kilometers of wilderness and find no trace of the two teens. Authorities also searched more than 500 homes in the Fox Lake Cree Nation communities to make sure Kam and Bryer weren’t held up in any of those places either.

Also happening at that time, a few detectives traveled to Kam and Bryer’s family’s homes and searched their rooms. Inside they found a bunch of maps of Alaska and Canada and rifle ammunition.

On August 1st, ten days into the ground search for the teens, police located Kam’s backpack sitting in a pile of brush. Inside was his wallet, some clothing, and more ammunition.

Seven days later, on August 7th search crews found Bryer and Kam dead on the shoreline of Nelson River, roughly five miles away from where they’d set the Rav 4 on fire…and hundreds of miles from there their killing spree began.

It was apparent that both teens had taken their own lives.

According to 9 News Australia, next to their bodies police found a video camera that belonged to Leonard Dyck. Cued up on the screen were six videos in which the pair confessed to all three murders and declared that they’d entered a suicide pact. They expressed no remorse for their crimes and vowed that if they could escape authorities they would hike to a nearby river, hijack a boat and sail to Europe or Africa.

According to news reports, in some of their videos, the two teens are heard talking to one another about how high the Nelson River was and that they may not be able to cross it. They both voiced how they were prepared to die and would try to kill more people before police closed in and they had to take their own lives.

At a press conference, two months after their bodies were found police, along with both Kam and Bryer’s families, announced that there seemed to be no motive for the two teens’ actions. Alan Schmegelsky was in tears talking to reporters about how he didn’t want anyone else to feel the way he did as a father. At that same press conference, authorities revealed that Kam had shot Bryer first and then turned the rifle on himself.

RCMP officials showed portions of the teens’ video clips to their families but vowed to never release the videos to the public, as a precaution. RCMP said it wanted to prevent copycat killers from idealizing Kam and Bryer’s crimes.

In the authorities’ last press conference about this case, they explained that Lucas and Chynna’s deaths by all accounts appeared to be completely random killings. The couple was just easy prey because they’d been sitting in their lawn chairs on the side of the road by their van.

Detectives said that Leonard Dyck’s death was also a crime of opportunity and Bryer and Kam had stolen his car to throw authorities off their trail. The teens had torched their red and grey Dodge with the camper in a last-minute attempt to destroy evidence.

Authorities believed when Bryer and Kam ran into Leonard near Dease Lake he was camping alone and they killed him for the thrill of it and to rob him of his car.

The reality of this story is just so sad.

There were so many lives affected by what Kam and Bryer did.

Even though the teenagers will never face justice in this life, the families of their victims and many people who frequently commute Highway 97 and 37 in Canada are making sure Chynna, Lucas, and Leonard’s memories continue to burn bright and never fade.

In July 2020, one year after the murders, a memorial with two crosses, handwritten notes, flags, and flowers was erected at the spot where Chynna and Lucas were killed. In an interview with CBC News, Sheila Deese said she felt like she’d been living in a movie that she never wanted to be in and would never watch. She expressed immense gratitude for the local people and truck drivers who built the roadside memorial.

In another interview with an online news outlet in Australia Sheila shared the last text messages she exchanged with her daughter on Saturday, July 13th.

Chynna’s message included four heart emojis and read—quote–“We won’t have Wi-fi for a while. Love you and have a nice weekend.”—end quote.

Sheila went on to explain that she never had an ounce of worry that Lucas and Chynna wouldn’t be safe in Canada. She said Chynna had already traveled to 13 different countries in her life and Sheila never expected that that last text message from Chynna would be her last.

I think what happened in Canada in 2019 is a reminder to all of us to always be vigilant of strangers on the highway, even if the people in the car next to you have the faces of teenagers.

Park Predators is an audiochuck Original Podcast.

Research and writing by Delia D’Ambra with writing assistance from executive producer Ashley Flowers.

Sound design by David Flowers.

You can find all of the source material for this episode on our website, Parkpredators.com.

So what do you think, Chuck? Do you approve? *howl*