“I found myself asking, what would my sister have made of all this? Was I championing her cause or making a fool of myself? Our series had taken the police and the school totally off guard, and I was enjoying every minute of it. But was Theresa laughing alongside me, or scorning me for being petty? The problem was that she couldn’t speak for herself. It would have been better if she did. My sister was ten times as eloquent as me, twice as funny, a hundred times more impassioned and incisive. I was a pale substitute. Who was I to speak for the dead? If she’d have told me to shut up, I would have obliged; but I heard nothing. – John Allore, Wish You Were Here, 237.
As a wide reader of true crime from all over the world, I often find that Canadian true crime—much like Canadian literature as a whole—has a particular feel, a fundamental character about it. Canadian true crime has its roots not in the mythology of a place—as a text about California might have—but rather it is rooted in the lives of the people it explores and the stories it tells. These stories are tragic and devastating, but they have the ability to reach across the wide geographical range of our country and create connective, universal narratives. John Allore and Patricia Pearson’s Wish You Were Here: A Murdered Girl, A Brother’s Quest and the Hunt for a Serial Killer is a deeply tragic and poignant story that combines Allore’s difficult narrativization of loss with Pearson’s typically smart, cutting, and analytical prose.
Wish You Were Here is the story of interconnected lives, rooted in the murder of John Allore’s sister, Theresa Allore, in 1978 near Sherbrooke, Quebec when she was 19. Although she went missing around November, her body was not found until the spring thaw only a few kilometers from her school. Police in Quebec did everything they could to prove that her death was not the result of foul play committed by a sexual predator, but instead blamed the teenager’s death on the drug culture of the 1970s. They did not investigate.
This is where the story of a family’s tragedy begins, but as Patricia Pearson will point out, it is not the beginning of police negligence and dismissiveness over deaths they considered not worth investigating. Startlingly, Theresa’s death becomes one of many killings of women that will go unsolved in this period, and Patricia Pearson uses the frame of one family’s tragedy to explore the reasoning behind these incredible lapses in justice.
The interconnectedness of this narrative is remarkable. Pearson and Allore dated as young people, and the aftermath of Theresa’s death loomed large in John’s life and family. Although their romantic relationship would not last, Theresa’s case would draw them together again even after four decades. Indeed, forty years later, they “have become comfortable old friends, each with daughters who have surpasses Theresa in age” (11). Connections, alternately violent and heartwarming, abound in this novel, and Allore and Pearson weave them together beautifully, keeping Theresa at the center of it all. Driven by “the lingering unfinished business of finding justice,” their ambition, which they keep in mind throughout, is “asserting the face that [Theresa] was, she was, and she was loved” (11).
I highly recommend this book as both a piercing true crime narrative of loss and grief and a meticulously researched text on police procedure in Canada, historical legal negligence, and the pathology of sexual murderers. Allore and Pearson work together to produce a remarkable text that astounds in its striking depiction of emotion and connection. Pearson’s discussion of what it meant for a woman to be a victim of sexual violence at the end of the twentieth century (and even now) is harrowing and it helps to explain what, perhaps, turned police away from investigating the real circumstances of Theresa’s murder. Nevertheless, Pearson points out the appalling pattern of cases of murdered women that were not investigated or remain unsolved to this day, with evidence being discarded or undiscovered. Chapter 5, “The Green and the Blue,” is particularly notable in this text because it moves outward from the stunning tragedy of Theresa’s death and investigates the state of policework in Quebec in the 1970s. Pearson recounts the fallible and deeply troubling political, financial, and personal motives of Quebec police in this period. Interspersed among her account of law enforcement’s priorities at this time, Pearson lists several murders of women that happened in the same period that went unsolved. The effect of this strategy is powerful, and we can clearly see how systemic the problems within police procedure were in this decade, which startlingly mirrors the issues we are uncovering today.
Similarly, chapter 6, “When the Snow Melted,” is perhaps one of the most effecting accounts I have ever read in true crime literature. The Allore family’s narrative of travelling to a Quebec morgue and attempting to identify their daughter and sister is unequivocally devastatingly and beautifully told. The text has the effect of repeatedly zeroing in on the story of this family’s loss and then widening the scope to speak about rape culture and the many other families who felt the same or similar kinds of loss at the hands of unknown men—men who the police made little effort to search for.
John Allore’s journey in his grief—one that began on the day he learned of his sister’s disappearance and continues even now—is touching. Although he struggles against the tide of despair and disappointment, his courage to continue searching for the identity behind his sister’s killer is admirable. Throughout the text, he thinks of his sister and searches for her presence, and these are some of the most startling passages in the text. Of the place where Theresa’s body was found, Allore asks: “What does it mean to stand in the place where your sister died? I don’t know. It’s a special place. It’s special to me. But I can’t say why. It feels like a bit, sucking magnet. You’re drawn there. You get there. You say, ‘Okay. Here I am’—and nothing” (147).
Later, Allore has a similar moment of searching for his sister that provides insight into the astounding loss he and his family feel. He captures what it means for him to continue to investigate the death of his sister after so many years. He writes:
I was sifting through facts, but every so often I’d feel a little tremor. I’d stop and listen, then go back to work, foolishly believing that just because I couldn’t see her, she wasn’t there; thinking she was some twenty-three years and 613 miles behind me. One day, I took my hand and placed it up against my chest. She was that close. (198)
I cannot recommend this book enough as a hallmark of Canadian true crime. It is a book I rank highly amongst the writings of Kevin Donovan and Justin Ling. Educational and evocative, Wish You Were Here is incredibly powerful and heart wrenchingly told.
Please add Wish You Were Here to your Goodreads shelf, follow John Allore on Twitter, and visit Patricia Pearson’s About page on Penguin Random House’s website. You can also visit https://theresaallore.com/ to learn more about Theresa Allore, John Allore, and to donate to the Theresa Allore Memorial Fund. True Crime Index has pledged a donation to this fund. John Allore also has a podcast, entitled Who Killed Theresa? that you can listen to on most podcast platforms.
About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA in English from the University of New Brunswick, Saint John and an MA in English Literature from Queen’s University. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary and the co-creator of True Crime Index. Rachel is also co-Editor-in-Chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry.
A copy of this book was graciously provided to True Crime Index from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.