Little is known about what transpired on a Sunday afternoon in 1966 when Ubald Theriault went missing from his Lille residence, never to be seen again.
The 79-year-old man’s disappearance captured the attention of St. John Valley residents who enjoyed a virtually crime free existence in 1966. More than half a century after Theriault went missing, some who never even met him still wonder about his fate.
Theriault, who was reported to have had difficulty hearing, was last seen that Oct. 2 around 3 p.m. in the backyard of the Gilbert Duplessis group home where he lived.
Then-Game Warden Herbert Vernon organized several searches for Theriault that included public pleas for volunteers to scour the heavily wooded area behind the group home. Maine State Police issued a missing persons bulletin.
Vernon said that nobody actually saw Theriault enter the woods, “and thus the possibility of hiking a ride as a means of leaving his home [could not] be eliminated,” according to the St. John Valley Times archives,
News reports of Theriault’s description were vague — slender, of medium height, wearing a jacket and hat. This could have described any number of older men living in the area at the time, but it is difficult to imagine that someone fitting this description would not have drawn the attention of witnesses, were he thumbing a ride through town in 1966.
“The nearby woods seems the most likely place for the missing man to be,” reads an Oct. 6, 1966, article in the St. John Valley Times.
Six weeks after Theriault went missing, several possible sightings were reported in Canada, including in the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Edmundston. The last reported sighting took place on Nov. 12, 1966, at an unnamed store.
“At the time, the man asked a storekeeper for the road back to the American side,” a Nov. 17, 1966, article reads.
Theriault’s niece, identified in the newspaper report only as Mrs. Maurice Grandmaison of Edmundston, said in that sighting, Theriault was reported to be wearing different clothing from when he went missing, including a black winter coat.
Although law enforcement searches for his whereabouts were eventually called off and newspaper headlines regarding his disappearance faded, Theriault was never forgotten by some of the locals.
Don Levesque, a high-school student in 1966, was haunted by the thought that a man could go missing from his own backyard.
Years later as lead singer of the northern Maine acoustic musical group Les Chanteurs Acadiens, Levesque, who at one point was publisher of St. John Valley Times, wrote the song “Ti-Bad” in honor of Theriault.
Levesque said Theriault experienced some cognitive limitations due to a head injury, which may have contributed to his disappearance.
“As a young man, he was reportedly kicked in the head by a horse and was never the same after that,” Levesque said.
Another person who never forgot Theriault was Claude “Blackie” Cyr, who founded the annual Acadian Festival.
“My dad was from Lille and a wood carver in his spare time,” Cyr’s daughter Debbie Gendreau said. “He carved Ubald.”
Gendreau never met Theriault but recounted that he did not seem to have an easy life.
“All I know is that he was pretty much homeless and smoked cigar butts that he found on the ground,” Gendreau said. “One day he just disappeared.”
At 79 years old, it is questionable how far from the group home Theriault could have walked of his own accord to elude such search efforts, even if he had wanted to. Extensive searches failed to locate him in the woods behind the home.
A darker theory suggests Theriault’s fate may have been tied to a nearby hog sty. Hogs have been known to be aggressive, and the possibility exists that Theriault fell into the sty.
“That theory was never published; a policeman told me in confidence maybe 20 years later,” Levesque said.
More than 50 years after he went missing, the mystery of Ubald Theriault’s disappearance remains.
“He didn’t have much family. Some people were obsessed with finding him but no one ever did,” Levesque said.