The man who was accused of murdering a complete stranger in a jewelry store in Galeries St-Hyacinthe earlier this month has already been a baseball star in Quebec, who had also given him a draft of Orioles in Baltimore. However, hope experienced a brutal descent to hell, immersed in drugs and living on the streets for many years.
In the summer of 1998, Marc-André Houle was still the focal point for his teammates. Barely 20 years old, the musty had just been noticed by baseball scouts in the major league. His choice in the 39th round of the draft allowed the 6’3 “colossus to earn a $ 12,500 bonus at the time.
“He was talented. He had a good arm, a good physique,” remembers Scout Alex Agostino.
Like many, he was surprised to hear that he, who was once an elite athlete, had found himself on the streets, when recently charged with premeditated murder.
Recognized by his relatives
Those who have rubbed shoulders with Houle on the baseball diamonds remember a calm, embarrassed and discreet young man.
A thousand miles portrait of the aggressive person seen in the photos taken by surveillance cameras of a shopping center in Montérégie where an unknown woman was murdered on 11 August.
In the short video we see a man with a knife running towards the jewelry store Brunelle. He comes out of the camera frame for only five seconds, and then reappears and walks calmly towards the exit. Between the two sequences, Manon Savoie, 54, was stabbed to death.
The investigation showed that there was no connection between the victim and the suspect. Houle then stole a moving truck and was chased 80 km by police before being arrested.
“As soon as I saw the pictures [des caméras de surveillance]”I recognized him, exactly how he moved,” said Jean-François Guimond, who knew Houle as a 15-year-old.
Other former teammates also said that they recognized his gait, the same as he had 20 years ago when he left the mound, with a quick step and a little bend forward.
– It was the biggest surprise. We did not know where he was. He was a very good guy, says Eric Charron, who played in the smaller ranks with Houle, before he was drafted for the Montreal Expos in 1999.
Envied by their peers
Houle, a right-handed athlete, was noted among the minors for his “fastball”. One of his throws had even reached a speed of 148 km / h.
“I was present that night, a scout had calculated it with a radar! Not many people in Quebec had reached this speed. Marc-André was not the type to brag, but I remember the smile he had on his face afterwards, says Stéphane Lepage, head of sports studies at Édouard-Montpetit School in Montreal.
Being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles had a very special taste for Houle, who had used the colors of the junior club of the Orioles … Ahuntsic, in Montreal.
“Listen, he was going to play for the team that we followed throughout our youth, the one that inspired the identity of our junior club, I was very happy for him,” launches his former teammate and friend, Ron Trudel.
In 1998, Houle played for an American college in Des Moines, Iowa, and then moved to Sarasota to play in the Florida rookie league. He stayed there until 2000, although he complained about poor pay and the strict regime he said he was subjected to: woke up at 06.00, training until kl. 11.30, all followed by a match. During the day.
“When he came back, he told me about those years. He said he ate peanut butter and jam every day because he was only paid $ 850 a month to play,” Jean-François Guimond recalls.
– It was not the expected performance. I have the impression that he thought it was difficult, “Mr. Trudel remembers.
When he returned from the United States, Houle continued his career in juniors, for the Montreal Elite, then played in senior for a few years.
“At that time he made a little cola. He chewed the tobacco in his corner, he talked to no one,” Guimond said.
After 2005, no one heard from him. His friend Ron Trudel says he looked for him in vain. In the spring, he learned that Houle had since experienced a slow descent to hell.
“I had heard that he was not well and that his father missed him. But I did not know if it was true, “Trudel added.
He was confirmed three weeks ago after Houle was arrested for the murder in Saint-Hyacinthe. It was then learned that the 43-year-old had lived on the streets for 10 years, as he was now known for mood swings and drug addiction.
Oriole’s earlier hopes of law enforcement began in 2015, first for petty crimes such as accidents or intoxication on the public highway. In June 2020, however, he was charged with theft of vehicles, assault by police officers and theft of a laser radar during an intervention that escalated.
“He took a lot speed. It can be ten days without sleep, “said a friend of Houle’s, who asked for his name to be kept quiet.
She became acquainted with him in 2018. The man sometimes took refuge in her place, “to rest”. So after a few days he left. Otherwise, he slept on the street, or at the Maison du Père, at René-Lévesque, in Montreal.
At the start of the pandemic, she had kicked him out of his home because he did not respect health measures and feared he would infect her. She did not see him again.
“I looked for him so much, I thought he was dead. When I found out about the murder, my heart almost stopped, she says.
If she agrees to talk about her relationship with Houle, it is because she apologizes for the lack of help for the homeless and drug addicts. But also because she feels guilty.
“For the lady [qui est morte] and for him. If I had done a little more to help him, all of this might not have happened. She’s breathing.
When he was in Montreal, Marc-André Houle used to beg for money on the corner of Ontario and Papineau streets.
– It’s been months since I saw him. He was in the country, but he came back three weeks ago, says Steve Béland, who used to share with Houle ” spot the most profitable ”to beg.
“He said he was going to Saint-Hyacinthe there and back. When we saw it [le meurtre] on the news, we knew it was him, ”apologizes Paul Gagné, who rubbed shoulders with Houle in the park on the corner of Ontario and De Lorimier.
Arrested in Montreal the day before
In August, Houle was arrested in Montreal for an accident on a city sign, which happened a year ago. He appeared in the municipal court the same day. The prosecution did not oppose his release on bail, but suggested that he integrate a mental health support program. He was to stay on the intermission in Saint-Hyacinthe, where he had just completed treatment for drug abuse.
He was thus released. The next day he went to Galeries St-Hyacinthe to make an insane and irreparable gesture.
– With Michaël Nguyen, Andrea Valeria and Jonathan Tremblay