As a self-professed lover of true crime (which is mostly how I get my nonfiction fix), I’ve listened to many podcasts, watched many documentaries and read many books about various crimes committed throughout the course of history. However I will say that rarely – or never in my experience – have I come across a true crime novel set so close to home for me, literally. I came across Wish You Were Here while perusing the internet looking for true crime books set in Canada, the country I was born in and currently reside. In reading the synopsis, I realized that not only is this a story of Canadian crime, it’s a story of Quebec crime (Quebec being my home province, born and raised).
I just felt so confused. All I could focus on was the idea, Theresa: she’s out there. But where?
I was immediately interested – who was Theresa Allore, and how had the investigation into her disappearance and death played out? I ordered a copy – avoiding bookstores thanks to the pandemic – and dove in. A quick trigger warning here: this novel deals with the murder and sexual assault of several young women – it’s upsetting and always important to shed light on.
Wish You Were Here Synopsis
Wish You Were Here takes us back in time, to a period when crime was at an all time high in Quebec and law enforcement corruption was the norm. In November of 1978, Theresa Allore was a 19 year old enjoying her life. She was attending her first semester at Champlain College in Lennoxville – a little less than 2 hours outside of Montreal – and living in a student residence near campus. At the time, sporadic shuttle buses ran from the college to the housing, but since it was so infrequent many students would walk or hitchhike the distance to the residence, roughly a 20 minute drive away.
On the evening of November 3rd, Theresa went missing somewhere between the two places. Her family panicked, traveling to Lennoxville from New Brunswick to find their daughter. They were met with indifference and a laissez-faire attitude from local law enforcement as well as the college officials. When Theresa’s body was discovered the following April, her death was quickly explained away as an overdose. Only the pieces didn’t add up.
So began one loving, thoughtful family’s descent into hell. There would be no resurrection this Easter, only a story that would take forty years to unravel and tell.
Her brother John, in his early teens at the time, stewed about the case for years, as did the rest of his family. His sister was not a drug addict (no drugs were found in her system). She was found missing clothing, and her wallet was scattered far away and recovered later on. Why?
The police left the family with more questions than they’d answered.
Over several decades, John would go digging, consulting with various law enforcement officials, family, and friend and journalist Patricia Pearson. They would uncover a much bigger problem than they’d originally anticipated, and Wish You Were Here was born – a story to shed light about the social injustices of the time, and giving voices to women who are no longer able to speak for themselves.
Wish You Were Here: A Review That Hits Close to Home
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve perused many news sites and read many true crime stories. As anyone with similar interests would probably tell you, some of these stories affect you more than others. Well, Wish You Were Here certainly affected this reader greatly. Let me give you a little bit of background – set the mood if you will – to give you an idea of the feelings I had while reading Theresa’s story.
I’m Quebec born and raised, and my mom’s side of the family hails from the Eastern Townships – particularly the Sherbrooke area (close to where Theresa was attending Cegep when she was killed). My grandmother was born there and lives in the area to this day. I regularly (or pre COVID anyway) visit her, and adore the picturesque farmlands and quaint villages that they have to offer.My mom herself was born and raised in Sherbrooke. She attended Champlain College in Lennoxville and then Bishop’s University – the ‘mother school’ if you will, to Champlain – for a year. She graduated by the late 1970s; she’s a few years older than Theresa Allore.
While reading Wish You Were Here, I questioned her about the geography surrounding the school, the culture, and how it felt to be a woman on campus at the time. She confirmed much of what I had suspected after reading the book – it could be frightening. There was a noticeable lack of supervision from the staff. Some of the men in the area – and on the campus itself – were creepy. The indifference and unpreparedness was everywhere, and the students were extremely vulnerable to all manner of predator.
As a human being, and as a woman, reading about sexual assault and murders of women is never pleasant. But reading about incidents that occurred in places that I’m very familiar with and seemingly could have happened to my own mother is much more disconcerting. John Allore and Patricia Pearson did extensive research, and highlighted not only Theresa’s case but several other unsolved cases from the time period in the Montreal area and beyond. Reading about these cases and the response they received from police and the public was incredibly frustrating – I had to stop reading and rant to my fiancé a couple of times.
Where did this vacuum of real knowledge about sexual violence arise from? Were men really that naïve about the behaviour of other men? Or did they not want to know because it was too uncomfortable, too close to a home base the culture built for them?
The book doesn’t pull any punches; Pearson cleverly claps back at the rape culture of the 1970s and the responses that the male investigators had to instances of sexual assault and sexual murders of the time. There are a number of unsolved cases from this time period documented throughout the course of Wish You Were Here; seeing them all in black and white is incredibly sad to see. The Allore family’s frustration with the lack of progress is palpable, and they’ve never gotten the closure that they fully deserve from a stunted institution with archaic ideas.
Wish You Were Here was a heartbreaking story about grief and loss, while at the same time a shrewd look into the lackluster justice system of the past – and to a certain extent of the present as well. Reading about cold cases in my area that I’d never been aware of previously – including a grim discovery in the quiet town that I grew up in – has certainly given me a shift in outlook on an area I’d always considered relatively safe and crime free.
To this day John Allore continues to work towards justice, not only in his sister’s case, but those of several women who’s cases remain unsolved. His podcast Who Killed Theresa takes a deep dive into the questions surrounding these cold cases. His passion about his work and love for his sister shines through each time he speaks about her. His work, as well as those of the families of the women who have been lost, is admirable. Theresa Allore’s memory lives on through her friends, family and the work that they do every day. She may be gone but she’ll never be forgotten; that’s the legacy that she deserves.