This was one of my first posts to my then newly created blog, Who Killed Theresa?. The date was December 29th, 2003. About 16 years ago. And it was an appreciation of Kristian Gravenor.
You may think I’m over-the-top in my reverence to him. I’m not. Without Gravenor? Most of our Quebec activation would not exist.
Quebec had pioneer journalists like Michel Auger, Eddie Collister and André Cédilot. In the early 2000s Kristian Gravenor was a new kind of journalist. He was one of the first to embrace the internet, and the value of engaging a community of readers hungry for answers through his website, Coolopolis.
Don’t try to click on the Montreal Mirror links, they no longer function.
(maybe Kristian will reports those year-end stories; they were so good)
“One of the best year in review columns is Kristian Gravenor’s annual stupid-crimes-in-Quebec roundup. Gravenor writes for the Montreal Mirror (kind of a Village Voice for the Southern Quebec region). Over the past five years his Weird Crime column has attained a sort of cult status. Strangely, this is the one time during the year that Gravenor writes about crime – normally he is an art critic. This year’s offering is hysterical and not to be missed. I especially liked the comment about the Drummondville Symphony Orchestra.”
The search for Montreal’s Santa Claus Bandits: Canada’s greatest manhunt
Step by step through the biggest police search in Canada’s history: how Montreal detectives ran the hunt for last winter’s vicious Santa Claus bandits
TIM BURKE , McClean’s Magazine – JUNE 1 1963
AT 11.14 ON THE MORNING of Dec. 14 last year, three men entered the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce branch at 6007 Côte de Liesse Road in the Montreal suburb of St. Laurent. Within five minutes they had scooped up $142,966 in cash, bonds and travelers’ cheques, killed two policemen, and escaped unhurt. The murders touched off the greatest manhunt in Montreal’s — and probably Canada’s — police history. The police began with little more than a fair description of one of the suspects, a description of the getaway car, and of some mannerisms of the trio at the scene — especially the one who masqueraded as Santa Claus. Before it concluded, some twenty-five hundred people had been taken in for questioning; hundreds of dwellings, night clubs, gambling dens, and restaurants had been raided or “visited”; a record twenty-five-thousand dollar reward had been posted by the banks for information leading to the arrest of the killers; another twenty thousand dollars had been collected for the families of the dead policemen; and several outbreaks of violence and bloodshed resulted directly or indirectly from the unrelenting police pressure.
For weeks police combed Montreal’s famous Lower Main. They questioned over 2,500 men.
The thousands of details which made up this manhunt may never all be put together. But I was able, by questioning witnesses and covering the police in action from soon after the holdup until three men were charged with the crime on Jan. 21 to assemble a pretty accurate diary of what went on.
St. Laurent is a predominantly French – Canadian municipality of fifty-two thousand people, sprawling over eighteen square miles between northwest Montreal and the International Airport. Since the war, new plants and office buildings have been spreading over its flat pastureland. The main street through the industrial sector is Côte de Liesse, a four-lane boulevard. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce at 6007 Côte de Liesse occupies one corner of a long, low building housing the offices and plant of the Transparent Paper Products Company.
SANTA CLAUS IN SUNGLASSES
This location is a holdup man’s dream. Four miles west is the Dorval Circle, with roads spoked out in several directions. One mile east is the Decarie Circle, where the boundaries of St. Laurent. Montreal and the Town of Mount Royal meet. The Decarie C ircle is the largest confluence of roads in the city. At least partly because of this rich choice of escape routes, the bank at 6007 was robbed three times last year — in June for twenty-four thousand dollars, in October for thirty-five hundred dollars, and then on Friday, Dec. 14.
The St. Laurent police force had also been greatly plagued by false alarms — no fewer than four hundred during the past year. On the day before the Santa Claus murders. Chief Camille Hétu had been complaining of the frequency of accidentally tripped alarms. “Some day,” he warned a group of colleagues in St. Laurent’s new million-dollar police headquarters on Church Avenue, “someone is liable to be off guard and get hurt if a real alarm is rung.” And. on the day of the murders, two constables reported being laughed out of the Toronto-Dominion bank just down the road from 6007 Côte de Liesse for walking into a false alarm with drawn guns.
On Friday afternoon, Robert Zavitz Holmes, manager of the Imperial-Commerce, was alone in his office going through some correspondence. A man with a wry sense of humor who has a paralyzed right arm, he had resigned himself to expecting the unexpected on Friday — both previous holdups had occurred on Friday. “I feel we are about due for another,” he had told his senior accountant. Robert Wishart.
Two policemen were killed by “Santa Claus” in a bank robbery in December. The search for the murderer started within minutes, but lasted one month.
Today was pay day, and employees from nearby companies were already starting to trickle in ta cash their cheques. Since there was little time for lunch, a seventeen-year-old teller Robert Jutras, the youngest employee in the bank, had gone down the road to get sandwiches for his seven confreres.
The holdup began as hundreds of robberies do every year. The first man inside the bank, wearing a hood and brandishing a carbine, shouted in English. “Holdup! Everyone lie on the floor — face down.” He posted himself outside the manager’s office. A second hooded man, turned left, went behind the counter, and headed for the tellers’ cages. Then in swaggered Santa Claus, wearing sunglasses, pacing up and down the middle of the bank, shouting threats and obscenities and waving an FN .308 semi-automatic rifle.
As the man behind the counter entered the first cage, teller Madeleine Laframboise tripped the alarm. The man, breathing heavily, stuffed twenty-six hundred dollars from her drawer into a pillow case. He tried another cage, but the door was locked — young Jutras had locked it when he left for the sandwiches. He got into a third, but this time the drawer was locked. He began groping around in confusion. Santa Claus, watching his hapless partner, became irritated. He brushed past his other accomplice into the manager’s office, pointed his machine gun at Robert Holmes, shouting, “Do you want to obscenity well live?” “Yes, I do,” replied the manager. “I’m fed up obscenitying around with the tellers. Back into the vault, get going. … I know there’s plenty of money around here, it’s pay day.” With the gunman crowding them menacingly, both Holmes and Wishart managed to turn their respective halves of the safe combination on their first try. Santa Claus grabbed a bag containing thirty eight hundred dollars out of one compartment and said to teller Sandra Ellison, “Here, sweetheart, give me your key.” He dumped the money into a satchel and then picked up some bundles of bonds and travelers’ cheques. The man with the carbine who had taken over as lookout in the absence of Santa Claus, came hurrying into the vault, pleading anxiously, “Hurry up! You’re taking too long.”
“I’m not leaving this time till I get it all,” snarled Santa Claus. The other man cursed, ran back to the door and shouted. “The police are coming!”
Constables Claude Marineau and Denis Brabant, both in their early thirties, were breaking in a new police ambulance when the alarm registered in the police station. They weren’t required to answer any calls, just test the ambulance. They decided to go out to Côte de Liesse and give it a “highway test.” Both were big men, six-footers weighing more than two hundred pounds. This was to have been Constable Marineau’s day off. But when a Christmas shopping tour with his wife and three children had to be postponed, he changed it to Saturday, and came to work.
They heard Police Radio Dispatcher Lucien Laporte instruct the police cruiser patrolling that sector to answer the bank alarm. The cruiser was a good deal farther from the scene than they were and besides the address “6007 Côte de Liesse” struck a sentimental note with Marineau — he was born in the farmhouse which once had stood on the site of the Imperial-Commerce bank.
Over the radiophone, he interjected: “We’re closer, we’ll take it.”
As the officers drove into the parking area, the man who had spotted their approach was throwing a hag of loot into a white Oldsmobile in front of the bank. Santa Claus stepped out of the bank, turned right, walked a few feet until he was standing outside the doorway of Transparent Paper Co. Claude Hebert, president of this firm, who was chatting inside the doorway with his sales manager, opened the door to “make way for the jolly old fellow.” The unsmiling figure failed to notice.
THE KILLER KEPT SHOOTING
As the ambulance pulled up some sixty feet from the bank, the bandits opened fire on it. The detonations sent office workers on the second floor scurrying from their desks to the front windows. Three people standing in the parking area ducked for cover. Bullets tore through the ambulance from the undercarriage to the roof.
“It’s a real holdup,” Marineau gasped over the radio. He jumped from the driver’s seat, firing. He was shot in the chest and killed instantly. His body crumpled against the rear left wheel of the ambulance — a few feet from where he was born. From the passenger’s side. Constable Brabant rushed into the line of fire and a bullet tore into his thigh. He fell between a red truck and a car, groaning. Santa Claus crouched and fired repeatedly at Brabant, shooting underneath the truck which stood between himself and the constable. Then, as the petrified faces in the windows looked on, he sprang around the truck, stood over the prone policeman, and continued firing. Metal-jacketed bullets, tore through the officer’s body. One forearm was shattered by an exploding bullet. An hour later, Constable Brabant, father of three, had bled to death.
After the first fusillade outside, the lookout man had turned and raced back into the bank shouting “Get out!” to the bewildered third bandit. Carbine shells scattered from his hand as he ran into a kitchenette at the rear of the bank. He smashed two panes of glass with his gun and leaped to the ground through the Venetian blinds, then raced across the fields at the back. The third man rushed out the front door and revved up the getaway car as Santa Claus fired a few more shots under the ambulance at the lifeless form of Constable Marineau. Santa Claus then jumped into the car as it drove through the one empty space at the end of the parking lot next to the bank and into the field, the roaring car almost capsizing on a pile of crushed rock as it swung on to the road.
Two police cars arrived on the scene within a minute, followed shortly by several others. The hunt started almost immediately.
A fire truck was summoned. Its ladder was raised to its full height and a man climbed to the top and scanned the vicinity while policemen tramped through the snow-covered fields looking for the trail of the man who jumped out of the side window. But because of what police described as faulty directions from people in a neighboring building, they were unable to pick up the trail.
The fugitive on foot had circled back to Côte de Liesse a half mile away. He discarded his rifle and hood in a junk-pile behind a building, walked into the Town and Country Motel and nonchalantly asked a waitress to call him a taxi. When a truck driver delivering linen to the motel — no one around was aware of what had happened down the road — agreed to give him a lift west to the city of Dorval, he didn’t wait for the taxi to arrive. At a shopping centre in Dorval, the fugitive switched into a taxi, and returned to the Town of Mount Royal. Police now know that his route back led him again along Côte de Liesse — past the bank. “Looks like there’s been an accident or a holdup or something,” the taxi driver said. “I guess so,” replied his passenger.
By now hundreds of policemen had sealed off the island of Montreal — theoretically. Detachments of police set up road blocks at all bridges leading off the island, plainclothesmen poured into railroad stations, bus terminals, and the Dorval Airport to keep watch on all departures. Cars by the dozen were stopped at the bridges, the occupants questioned, then waved on. But Montreal is an easy place in which to get lost in a crowd, particularly on Friday when the daily exodus from the island is swollen by weekenders. By nightfall, no trace of the fugitives had been found.
Chief Hétu of St. Laurent immediately put the investigation in charge of Detective Sergeant Doug Stone, a rugged thirty-eight-year-old ex-sailor who was one of the few survivors of the torpedoed destroyer HMCS Ottawa in the Second World War. A policeman since his discharge from the navy, Doug Stone has a reputation as a tireless investigator. He needed extraordinary energy to sustain him through the task he was about to undertake. Assigned to work with him on the case was a quick witted little Quebec Provincial Police sergeant, Roland Aubuchon, a policeman for thirty years. In addition, the criminal investigation bureaus of the Montreal police and the Quebec Provincial Police each assigned thirty detectives to the case, all experienced investigators of holdups and homicides.
As darkness settled on the Montreal region Friday night, the streets erupted with police activity. In response to anonymous telephone tips on “dangerous men in the apartment across the street with machine guns” police sent carloads of detectives, armed with machine guns and bullet-proof vests, to haul out the tenants and bring them to headquarters for questioning. Witnesses with a description of the man who escaped on foot were shown pictures from the police files of hoodlums with records of robbery and violence. “That’s him,” said a woman, pointing to one of the “mug shots.” Somewhat surprised, for the man picked out had ostensibly been leading a quiet existence, a detective asked, “Are you sure?” The woman looked again and nodded. “Pretty sure.” A coroner’s warrant was issued for the suspect’s arrest.
Down on the notorious Lower Main, police action took on its most spectacular — if not most productive — aspect. The Main, a gaudy strip of cheap theatres, night clubs, taverns, pool rooms extending from the waterfront up into the heart of downtown Montreal, harbors the biggest concentration of criminals in the nation. Violence and bloodshed arc a nightly occurrence on the Main. On Friday night, crowds of passersby gathered outside night clubs as squad cars roared to a stop and spewed out dozens of detectives. All exits were covered. Washrooms were checked. Everyone the police suspected might have a shred of information was herded down to headquarters. “We don’t expect to catch the murderers themselves tonight,” said a gray-haired detective who had been working on the Main for three decades. “We want to make a show of force, to let the underworld know the pressure is really on. It’s a lot tougher to hide out then.” This operation was repeated over and over again.
Booze, goof balls and machine guns
While the parade of underworld characters shuffled in and out of interrogation sessions, other investigators were considering the “mad dog” candidates who qualified for such a savage crime. “Here’s someone who’s capable of it,” said one detective, pointing to the likeness of a man he had sent up eight years before for armed robbery. “He’s been out for a couple of months now. I was told he’s on the booze and goof balls. He can use a machine gun, too.” A few blocks away at QPP headquarters, the routine was the same. In all, about thirty-five hoodlums were selected as possible “mad dogs.”
“The trouble is our list can’t keep pace with the growing number of bandits using automatic firearms,” explained Chief Inspector William Fitzpatrick, a big soft-spoken father of eight who is rated as one of Canada’s leading authorities on criminal detection. “We know Joe Blow as the type who uses a revolver to hold up the corner store. Suddenly, he starts using a machine gun and robbing banks. Il can take us some time to learn he has graduated.”
On Saturday, the getaway car was located, containing the Santa Claus suit and sixty-four thousand dollars worth of bonds stolen from the bank. The bandits had not noticed when they snatched them hurriedly that they were nonnegotiable. The car had been stolen thirteen days earlier and its licence plates had been exchanged for a set stolen from a scrap yard. Santa Claus associations were asked if they could identify the suit. None could. The car was dusted for fingerprints, but none were found.
On reading in the newspapers that he was wanted, the man whose picture had been picked out by a witness apprehensively called his lawyer and gave himself up to the St. Laurent police. “It’s not him.” said the witness who had picked his photograph in the files. He was released, and a QPP artist began drawing up a composite sketch from the witnesses’ descriptions of the gunman.
Meanwhile, police were cheeking out all “informations,” no matter how farfetched. A Pinkerton guard sitting in a tavern in old clothes after working around the house on his day off, was accosted by detectives before he could finish his bottle of beer. “I’m connected with the St. Laurent case in a way,” he said. “Starting Monday, I’m being sent to that bank as a guard.”
A hoodlum’s jilted gill friend insisted he and two acquaintances were the killers. Detectives checked, and learned that all three men were serving long terms in Kingston penitentiary. “We’re right back where we started.” admitted a couple of detectives at the conclusion of Saturday’s efforts.
Detective Inspector Frank Boire, youthful looking head of the Montreal criminal investigation bureau, at this point was informed by an underworld contact that he had overheard three men in jail planning a robbery with machine guns during the pre-Christmas season. “This is the best lead yet.” said Boire, enthusiastically. “Let’s see if we can find them.” A week later, they would make a dramatic appearance.
On Sunday, another prominent figure entered the case. Joe Bedard, the handsome, urbane security chief for both the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada, has become a legend in his thirty-eight years with the Montreal police department. So dramatic have been his encounters with criminals that he has even been depicted as the swashbuckling detective hero of a French-language comic strip. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the Canadian Bankers’ Association also posted a record twenty-five-thousand-dollar reward for information leading to the capture of the killers.
More assistance was pledged from an unlikely source. A stocky hard faced individual recognized as the kingpin of the rackets in Montreal’s east end visited St. Laurent police station to offer condolences. “Only dogs would do a thing like that,” said this man, whose name has been linked with a score of gangland killings in the past decade. “They’ll get no protection from us, I promise you. If we find out who they are, we’ll turn them over to you.”
In New York City and Miami, police posted at airports took in for questioning a dozen passengers on incoming flights from Canada. Underworld hangouts in Ottawa and Toronto were raided. Railway police and the RCMP were ordered to question any suspicious looking characters and report their findings immediately. The progress of these far-flung activities was given to detectives Stone and Aubuchon, who were now working twenty hours a day, catching what sleep they could in unoccupied police cells. “What’s the use of going home?” shrugged Stone. “By the time we get there, we’ll have to come back.”
The rifle discarded by the man who had fled the bank on foot was located on the weekend after an exhaustive search. Police traced it back to a firearms store in the heart of Montreal. The store had been a sore spot with the Montreal police for years, doing a booming business — quite legally — with tough – looking customers who want to go “hunting.” It also had the understandable distinction of being one of the most burglarized establishments in town.
“You stand there and tell me people come here to buy a carbine or an FN rifle — I might as well call them submachine guns—to go hunting!” exclaimed one investigator to the gunshop proprietor. “It’s legal,” shrugged the latter. “I don’t tell them how they should hunt.” In this store an FN rifle, a Belgian design selected by Canada and other Western nations as the deadliest hand weapon for killing enemy soldiers, sells for SI75.
A “revolver man” called Marcotte
On Tuesday. Dec. 18, four thousand people overflowed from a St. Laurent church for the civic funeral of Constables Marineau and Brabant. Paul-Emile, Cardinal Léger personally celebrated the solemn Requiem High Mass. The St. Laurent Merchants’ Association had started a fund for the stricken families of the officers which would reach twenty thousand dollars and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce announced the widows would receive two thirds of the officers’ salaries until the youngest child reached eighteen. St. Laurent has no pension plan and no police compensation program other than workmen’s compensation.
The next night a man named Georges Marcotte was arrested after a scuffle with an acquaintance whose home he tried to enter at gunpoint. In his cell awaiting trial on a charge of possessing a revolver, Marcotte tried to hang himself, but was cut down in the nick of time by another prisoner. Police questioned Marcotte routinely about the Santa Claus killings, but decided that the possibility of his being involved was remote: he was known as a “revolver man,” not a machine-gunner. Marcotte himself blamed his attempted suicide on despair over domestic troubles and the prospect of returning to jail five months after his release from penitentiary. He appeared in court on the weapons charge and was remanded to Bordeaux jail to await trial.
The raids continued, and on the Main cabaret owners waited glumly for the Christmas celebrants who didn’t come. “Each night we arrive, the crowds are thinner,” observed detective Stone. “Pretty soon there will be nobody around at all.” Replied a leathery old detective whose face is as familiar on the Main as french-fried potatoes: “The people who make their living from the night spots are a hell of a lot sorer at the Santa Claus gang than they are at us.”
On Friday, Dec. 21, three men held up the Slater Shoe Company in east-end Montreal. Police arrived on the scene before they could get away. The bandits held the president of the company as a hostage. Police and the gunmen exchanged shots, one of which severely wounded a pedestrian. The three men surrendered. They turned out to be the three men Inspector Boire had been tipped off to look for a week earlier in connection with the St. Laurent killings. After lengthy questioning, a detective shook his head. “It’s not them, they gave up too easily. They’re not in the same league as the Santa Claus gang.”
The same night, the janitor of a rooming house in the east end of the city investigated a crashing sound in one of the rooms upstairs. He found the tenant lying on the floor, unconscious. Rushed to Notre Dame hospital, the man was discovered to have a blood clot on the brain, the result, apparently, of “excessive consumption of goof balls.” He was partially paralyzed and totally speechless. Two nights later, a man claiming to be the patient’s brother came to the hospital and demanded “my brother’s clothes and money.” The nurse on duty refused. After the angry visitor had stomped off, she called the police.
“There is a very sick man down here with a lot of money,” she told Detective Captain Adrien Cardinal, head of the night patrol detective squad, which had been reactivated only that day — partly because of the Santa Claus killings.
“What’s his name?” he asked the nurse.
“Jules Reeves,” she read from the hospital record. Captain Cardinal instructed Detective Sergeant Wilson Coulombe to go to the hospital immediately. Coulombe found the patient’s bankroll amounted to $1,297. The following morning, Christmas Eve, Joe Bedard and Detective Captain Maurice compared serial numbers on the patient’s bills with those listed by the bank in St. Laurent as part of the loot.
The numbers on some of the bills matched those on the bank’s list.
It was the first break in the Santa Claus murder case — but, ironically, it was a break that left police almost as frustrated as they had been for ten days since the murder. The capture of a prime suspect in a crime almost certainly leads to the identification of his companions. Reeves, in possession of money taken from the bank during the fatal holdup, was a prime suspect — but, because of his physical condition, he was also genuinely incapable of answering or understanding police questions. Doctors gave him only a slim chance of survival.
A police guard was placed around his hospital room: Reeves’ money and clothing were taken to headquarters. The room where he lived was searched and a number of items, including a pillowcase, were seized for examination. Then the Montreal police went back to their endless search for clues and suspects.
Christmas Day saw most of the seventy investigators wading through the piles of typed reports which grew each day. Detectives Stone and Aubuchon managed to take off enough time to join their families in Christmas dinner, then returned to the grind. A half dozen “mad dog’’ criminals wanted for questioning were still at large.
“We’re only as good as our information from here on in.” admitted one detective wearily. But some of the “information” severely tried the patience of the police. Four drunken youths who boasted in a café that they were the Santa Claus bandits were taken in for questioning. It was soon obvious that they were not, and they were released with a tongue lashing. A tavern drunk told two detectives he would give them the “whole story” if they would buy him a few beers. “He can dream up fantastic stories when he’s thirsty,” a waiter confided to the officers.
On Friday morning, Dec. 28, two Montreal detectives armed with automatic rifles and wearing bullet-proof vests hid themselves in the offices of a laundering firm they were informed was to be held up. Shortly before noontime two youths carrying guns entered and shouted “Holdup!” The detectives opened fire, killing one instantly. The other managed to get back to the getaway car and escape. “No chance of this one being one of the Santa Claus gang,” a policeman said, picking up the dead man’s gun. “This is a toy pistol.”
“Some people are saying we wouldn’t be trying so hard to catch the Santa Claus gang if their victims hadn’t been policemen,” said Chief Inspector Fitzpatrick. “It goes deeper than that. The St. Laurent case was the most savage act I have ever encountered. After they were hit, the officers were not impeding their escape. The bank robbers had nothing against them personally. Yet one of them went back and kept firing at them until he was satisfied they were dead. If they get away with it, the city becomes a jungle.”
After New’ Year’s day, leaders of the investigation decided that the efforts of the different police departments on the case had to be co-ordinated because the search was starting to bog down in paperwork, unchecked information, and some instances of poor communication between some of the detectives. Chosen as co-ordinator was Chief Inspector Gérard Houle, head of the criminal investigation bureau of the Quebec Provincial Police. Houle is a former RCMP officer who had played a major part four years previous in cracking Canada’s biggest narcotics ring.
The first major operation under the new system appeared to be the climax. Just about every detective in the case encircled the outside and interior of the New’ Court House on Notre Dame Street on the morning of Thursday Jan. 10. An uneasy hush gripped the corridors as the word “Santa Claus” raced through the building. As a tall gaunt figure strode into the building, plain-clothes men seemed to come out of the walls. The man was bundled off to QPP headquarters for questioning. When he heard that the police activity was being blared out on radio stations while still in progress, Chief Inspector Houle blew up. He blamed the “leak” for hampering follow-ups to the man’s arrest in the courthouse. As it turned out, the arrested man did not figure in the case, but Houle lowered a curtain of secrecy around the progress of the whole investigation.
One detective who was not discouraged was Roland Aubuchon. The professional informers can sense were getting warmer — the information should be good from now on.
The next afternoon — Friday. Jan. 11 — a man telephoned Chief Hétu of St. Laurent and nervously told him he had valuable information. “You re on the wrong track right now. he added. He agreed to talk to Hétu, who sent him to Stone and Aubuchon at QPP headquarters. It was a strange story the man told:
He was a married man, but had become involved with another man in a relationship which had homosexual overtones. This man and two others had proposed that the informer join them in a holdup. But meanwhile his wife had learned of the relationship and demanded that he choose between her and the homosexual. He returned to his wife and now was making a final break from the three men by telling police what he knew.
“Who are the men?” demanded the officers.
“One you already have — Jules Reeves.” Reeves was the paralyzed man under guard in hospital.
“The others are Georges Marcotte and Jean-Paul Fournel.”
“We have Marcotte too,” one of the officers told him grimly.
Marcotte was the man who had been struck off the list of possible Santa Claus bandits because he “wasn’t the submachine gun type.”
“We missed pinpointing him.” explained a detective, “because we had questioned so many others we thought more qualified for that type of crime.”
Jean-Paul Fournel, the suspect still at large, was the assistant manager of a prosperous maternity-dress shop owned by his brother. He had somehow escaped the police cordon around Greater Montreal and had been out of town since the day of the murder. He had returned to Montreal two days before, broke and lonely. On Friday night he visited a couple of hangouts to learn what was going on, then started for home.
Chief Inspector Houle chose four men who were old hands at confronting desperate criminals to stake out the suspect’s apartment on Meilleur Place in northeast Montreal. They were Joe Bédard, Detective Captain Marc Maurice, and QPP detectives Paul Gagnon and Leo Brunet. They entered the unoccupied apartment at six p.m., posted themselves on each side of the door and waited in the darkness. Hour after hour passed and no one arrived. Then, at 11.35 p.m., footsteps approached the door and a key jiggled in the lock. The suspect didn’t take two steps before he was pinned on all sides by gunpoint. “You were expecting someone?” asked Joe Bédard, removing a loaded revolver from the suspect’s overcoat pocket. In a nearby garage, the detectives found an FN .308 rifle, a pistol and three cartons of ammunition.
On Monday, Jan. 14, exactly one month after the bloody robbery, Chief Inspector Houle called a press conference. “We are satisfied we have the three men who robbed the bank in St. Laurent where two policemen were killed.” he said. But no names of men being sought and men being detained for questioning had been released that few who heard Houle’s words were convinced the case was any closer to solution.
But on Jan. 18. Fournel astonished a packed courtroom by taking the witness stand at the coroner’s inquest and giving a step-by-step account of the robbery from beginning to end. He identified Marcotte as the man who masqueraded as Santa Claus, and Reeves as the confused gunman inside the bank. He said he himself had left Montreal on the day of the holdup travelling across Canada by taxi, bus, and plane, until he reached Edmonton. He told of buying the Santa Claus uniform in Plattsburg. N.Y. for $12.50 and how Marcotte had bought him an M-l carbine at the firearms store downtown: how Marcotte had, while climbing into his Santa Claus costume en route to the bank, issued lusty “Ho. Ho. Hos.” all the way.
He said they had planned to execute the robbery in one minute, but that plans went awry when Santa
Claus, who was to be the lookout, decided to take over inside the bank.
On Friday. Jan. 18, a coroner’s jury found all three criminally responsible for the deaths of the two policemen, and they were charged with murder. Marcotte was tried in February and found guilty, but as this is written, the courts are considering an application to declare a mistrial. One of the other men. Reeves, is still unfit to stand trial. The case of Fournel will likely be heard this fall.
Fournel became the Crown’s star witness during the Marcotte process. Georges Marcotte is denied a new trial. He then demands an audience with the Supreme Court of Canada. For a time he is the cellmate of a prominent FLQ member. Friday, July 3rd, 1964, Marcotte is scheduled to be hung. Then Lester Pearson becomes Prime Minister with his intention to abolish the death penalty. In 1966 Marcotte’s death sentenced is changed to a life sentence.
The Santa Claus robbery inspired the 1978 film, Silent Partner staring Christopher Plummer and Eliot Gould. through the later 60s and 70s Reeves is stilled deemed medically unfit to stand trial. In 1981 Georges Marcotte is granted parole, and is living in Toronto as Albert Duvivier. In 1989 Marcotte is again arrested for robbing a Toronto National Trust branch of $2,600.
In 2005 Georges Marcotte becomes a topic of discussion again. This time it is about the impending parole of Karla Homolka, and how it won’t be difficult for her to disappear from public scrutiny, just like Albert Duvivier.
In December 2012 – the 50th anniversary of the Santa Claus hold-up – police and The Gazette’s Paul Cherry paid tribute to the two police officers who lost their lives at 6007 Cote de Liesse, Claude Marineau and Denis Brabant.
Remember the Back River Jane Doe? The body’s found by two Hydro employees in the Fall of 1953. Gagged, and strangled with her own skirt. A 20-pound block of cement tied with rope around her neck. Body badly decomposed, having been in the water for five to nine months. We’re going to take up this story once again. It has more twists and turns than The Wild Mouse at Belmont Park.
This is Who Killed Theresa?
We’re going to pick up where we left this story back on October 13th. If you’re new to the podcast, don’t worry, here’s a refresher:
On October 5th, 1953 two Quebec Hydro employees discovered the body of an unidentified young woman in the Back River – now known as Rivière-des-Prairies , running between the islands of Montreal and Laval – near the Hydro electric plant and Visitation Island (this is between Ahuntsic and Montreal Nord). The victim was between 25 to 35-years of age, weighed approximately 150 pounds, and had blue eyes, with light brown hair. She had been gagged, and strangled with her own skirt. A 20-pound block of cement was tied with a rope around her neck. Her hands, knees and ankles were bound with half-inch rope. The body was badly decomposed, having been in the water for five to nine months. Two fingers remained on her left hand, from these police attempted to establish fingerprints.
Now that’s all we reported when I first spoke of Back River Jane Doe back in October. I’ll continue the story…
In the nine years from 1945 to 1953 Back River Jane Doe was the only unsolved murder on the docket of the Quebec Provincial Police’s 88 homicides in that period. The Back River murder remained a complete puzzle. Police interviewed hundreds of people, found scores of missing women, and checked dozens of tips. In 1954 a man imprisoned in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia claimed the woman was Rose Laflamme (which sounds like a real fake-o name if I ever heard one) , and that she was strangled in a rooming house in downtown Montreal. Many considered the story a hoax. Was it?
For a time, police were seeking to question prominent lawyer and city councilor, Lucien Gagnon as a witness in the affair. At the time Gagnon was set to stand trial for fraud and receiving bribes. He fled to New York City where he claimed to be ill, producing doctors certificates in his defense. When detectives arrived in New York they were unable to find Gagnon. Very quickly the Provincial Police backed off Lucien Gagnon, with Director Hilaire Beauregard stating that Gagnon, “is definitely not wanted for questioning in the woman’s murder.”
The last mention of the Back River Murder affair came in the Summer of 1954. For a time, police were holding 41-year-old Armand Duhamel, a rooming house owner living in Saint Eustache as a “material witness” in the case – – there’s that rooming house again. Duhamel’s attorneys – one of whom turned out to be Lucien Gagnon, he of the flight to New York City – attempted to have Duhamel released on bail, but the request was denied. There is a coroner’s inquiry, but nothing really comes of it, and in the fall of 1954 Armand Duhamel was set free. Police said he would remain as an “interested party” in Back River Jane Doe affair.
We’ve now reached our first twist. Imagine yourself in the Fun House at Belmont Park. For this is not a podcast about Back River Jane Doe. This is about Armand Duhamel.
Lucien Gagnon and Armand Dehamel would have a long association with each other. To what extent they co-conspired in the murder of the Back River Jane Doe is the subject for our next hour.
Armand Duhamel was born around 1913, and we first pick him up in November 1940 when he’s about 27 years of age. At about 3 o’clock in the morning Duhamel is driving from Montreal to Valleyfield. In the car with him are some of his male friends and a 16-year-old girl. Duhamel leaves his friends in Valleyfiled and heads back to Montreal with the girl. At 5 a.m. near Melocheville – which is just south of Chateauguay – Duhamel slams into a car parked on the side of the highway. The owner, Joel Leduc, claimed he had stopped for a few minutes in front of his house to pick up a passenger. Duhamel sued Leduc for $315 in damages, but in 1941 a judge ruled in favor of Leduc stating he had every right to stop along the highway for a few minutes. In his judgement, the honorable Joseph Archambault suggested that Duhamel was probably driving in excess of the speed limit.
1945, and Armand Duhamel is in trouble with the law again. Duhamel is running an all-night, high stakes poker game. In the course of the night one of the players, a barber named Arcadius Boisclair, is parched so Duhamel offers him a glass of lemonade. In court, Boisclair recounts what happened next:
“I don’t know…. I remember the lemonade; then waking up the next day on the chesterfield.”
When Boisclair awakes he notices that his $450 ring is missing from his finger. Boisclair questions Dehamel what happened to the ring to which Dehamel replies, “Don’t you remember? You lost it to me last night, you will find a paper to that effect in your coat pocket.”. Dehamel also shows Boisclair a $500 cheque he claims Boisclair had signed. In court Boisclair admits he liked a good card game, “Nothing but $100 bills were on the table!”. Boisclair spent 24 hours in the gambling house. The defense counsel asked, “Is it not possible that you were exhausted?”.
“Not before I drank the lemonade!”
From the court proceedings we learn that Armand Duhamel lived at 1529 Sherbrooke street west. He is later acquitted when the judge rules there was a strong doubt in favor of the accused.
For the next few years, Armand Duhamel is in and out of the courts in a series of lawsuits with a variety of plaintiffs and defendants; Georgette Coutu, Paul Dorias, Edouard Fillion. Most of these actions involve Duhamel obtaining property under false pretenses. Georgette Coutu it turns out at one point was Duhamel’s landlord and attempted to have him evicted. She died destitute in the 1970s with all her possessions on the auction block. At one point in 1946, Duhamel counter sues Arcadius Boisclair for failure to pay his debt from the poker game, but the matter is dismissed in 1948. In 1950 Duhamel’s wife, Dame Laurette Bisson files for separation.
Then in 1951, something interesting. Dehamel – who we now learn had several aliases ( Robert Dion, Lionel Lalonde, M. Demers) – is fined $2,000, the heaviest fine imposed by the criminal courts in that era, for over-charging on room rents. And the interesting thing is that the “rooming house” was located at 1085 St. Lawrence boulevard (it’s now a vacant lot): was this the rooming house where “Rose Laflamme” aka Back River Jane Doe was murdered?
There now comes one of the most bizarre tales in the saga of Armand Duhamel. In 1952, the SPCA is called to the corner of Sherbrooke and Guy after locals spy a Cadillac strapped with two deer carcasses across its hood. In this era during deer season it was not unusual to see such a thing in downtown Montreal, but the unusual thing is that there was also a live doe in the back seat. The Cadillac belonged to Duhamel and he is immediately arrested. From the matter we learn that in the trunk of the Cadillac police found a box containing the cut up meat of two other deer. We also learn that Duhamel had a second residence at 1191 Berri street, not far from the Saint Lawrence blvd. rooming house. In 1954 Duhamel is convicted and fined several hundreds of dollars. The doe was taken to the St. James street headquarters, then released in the wild never to be heard from again.
By 1954 Duhamel is now also living in St. Eustache, just off the island of Montreal. It is at this point that he is held as a “material witness” in the Back River Jane Doe affair. Duhamel is questioned by police but later released.
In 1955 Duhamel is again before the courts, this time for causing a fight with one of his tenants at a Westmount rooming house, and for failing to provide information about his income taxes. The tenant argument case is dismissed, in the case of the income taxes Duhamel is again acquitted when it can never be established that he actually received a registered letter from the tax department.
1960: Duhamel is convicted and sentenced to two-months in jail and fined $200 for using slugs at three toll gates on the Laurentian Autoroute.
The Bond Scam
In 1963 Armand Dehamel is charged with conspiring with two other men, Armand Gagne and Guy Desjardins to defraud various bank branches in Quebec and Ontario. The case involved stolen bonds valued at over $5,000,000. Over 3 million of the bonds were stolen from a Brockville trust and savings company in 1958, with the remainder coming from a Bank of Montreal branch in Outremont in 1957.
Now Duhamel may have stumbled upon the potential for such grifts quite by accident. In 1956 a $500 bond is stolen from a bank in Charlesbourg, on the northern outskirts of Quebec City. The bond ends up in the possession of a man called Beaudoin who in 1960s happens to be staying in one of the Montreal rooming houses operated by Duhamel. Beaudoin quote, “disappears”. While cleaning his room Duhamels’s then wife, Laurette quote “finds” the bond while going through his effects. Again, Duhamel got off scott-free in this affair with the judge stating that, “the witnesses had incredible memories but that their testimony was believable.”
Later, Duhamel was again acquitted in another bond conspiracy case where he was found to be in possession of stolen bond coupons from a Valleyfield bank. By 1963 the acquittals were over for Duhamel. The judge set bail at $35,000, an amount Duhamel was unable to come up with, and he was forced to await trail in the Bordeaux jail.
At the preliminary inquiry co-conspirator Armand Gagne testifies that while working as a bank accountant at the Banque Nationale Canadienne in Laval he was “tipped” $800 for cashing $16,000 worth of the stolen government bonds. Gagne went on to say that he was introduced to Duhamel by the other co-conspirator, Guy Desjardins who took Gagne to Duhamel’s home in NDG with a desire to “do a little night work.” Gagne testified that at that meeting Duhamel was extremely generous, the champagne and cognac flowed. Duhamel finally explained to the two men that he was in possession of a substantial amount of securities, but need assistance to liquidate them.
Duhamel’s eventual trial dragged on for months, and set the precedent of continuing into a Saturday session; a first in Quebec court history. Duhamel eventually made bail and was released from Bordeaux. While out on bail, Duhamel made what he thought was an anonymous call to the Montreal police, but the detective recognized his voice:
“If you don’t stop playing with me I am going to fix things once and for all.”
Then in October 1963 the judge set a new, and even higher bail amount of $40,000, and Duhamel was returned to Bordeaux once again.
Bordeaux jail / Christmas Eve 1963
Inmates assemble to attend a special midnight mass. Armand Duhamel doesn’t make it to the service. The 50-year-old rooming house operator is found at the bottom of a staircase. Guards carry him to the infirmary where he dies of a skull fracture. Jail governor Albert Tanguay says he did not call police because there was no evidence of foul play. Besides, Duhamel had been in failing heath for months.
Nonetheless, Coroner Marcel Trahan calls for a non-jury coroner’s inquest scheduled for January 8th, 1964. It is a closed-door affair and Coroner Trahan hastily rules Dehamel’s death a suicide.
Rumors begin to circulate that Duhamel was actually tossed from the second-story balcony by a fellow convict. But what if Armand Duhamel’s death was neither accident, suicide, or murder? Some begin to speculate that Duhamel – a man of affluence and influence – may have faked his own death. There are calls for the sealed casket to be exhumed.
Director General of the Surete du Quebec – known then as the Quebec Police Force or QPF – Josaphat Brunet demands a re-opening of the case. The request is met with “utter amazement” by the Crown Prosecutors’ office and emphatically denied by the Attorney General of Quebec, Charles-Edouard-Cantin:
“All pertinent facts were presented before the coroner and I see no reason to re-open the inquiry.”
Some things to note when considering the Jane Doe murder, and Duhamel’s supposed death:
The Nova Scotia prisoner claimed Back River Jane Doe was Rose Laflamme, and that she was strangled in a rooming house in downtown Montreal. Duhamel legitimate job was a rooming house operator. Duhamel was apparently a hunter, capable of butchering deer and putting the meat in a box in the trunk of his Cadillac. Back River Jane Doe wasn’t butchered, but the manner in which her corpse was disposed was brutal. Then there’s the mysterious disappearance of the bond holder named Beaudoin, never to be seen again. Also, Armand Duhamel always seems to escape conviction in the face of an insurmountable amount of evidence against him. It’s not hard to imagine – given his unscrupulous and high-powered status – that he somehow bribed the judges. By the end, his luck and influence may have run out. He finally serves two-months for using slugs in a highway tollbooth. But then there’s the whole granting-bail / not-granting-bail thing. Was Duhamel paying off the judge all through that? Finally, Duhamel was perfectly comfortable using aliases to slip detection, three by my count in this story. Did Armand Dehamel ultimately make some big payoffs in Bordeaux, then slip out one night, released into the wild never to be heard from again?
Last summer Radio Canada’s Ici Tou TV aired a five-part documentary, Le Dernier soir about the 1975 murders of 13-year old Diane Dery and 15-year-old Mario Corbeil. Recall that the two youths went missing one May evening when Mario offered to give Diane a ride on his new motorbike. Their bodies were found the following morning in a field not far from their homes in Longueuil. Mario had been shot six times, Diane twice.
Last year I did a podcast on the case in which I speculated that Dery and Corbeil were most likely killed by a member of the Canadian military. The chief reasons being, 1. the proximity of an air force base adjacent to the dump site. 2. The police revealing to the media at that time that the murder weapon was a .22 caliber “pistolet”. 3. The nature of the murders suggested a mature assassin.
It turns out I was wrong. One of many interesting things Le Dernier soir reveals is that the murder weapon was in fact a .22 calibre Sure-Shot Cooey, model 64, semi-automatic rifle. Episode two of the documentary goes into great detail about the Cooey rifle, ballistics, possible trajectories, positioning of the assassin(s), etc….
In the final episode, Le Dernier soir suggests that Dery and Corbeil were murdered by a teenager or a group of teenagers who were possibly jealous of Mario’s relationship with Diane. Their prime suspect is an at the time 17-year-old school mate of Mario who went on to become a prominent member of one of Quebec’s motorcycle gangs. When the show ends we find this individual living in France, having been deported by the Canadian government in 1988. At the time of the murders this individual owned a Cooey rifle.
So why the confusion between the .22 “pistolet” and rifle? As it turns out, this may have been a classic case of the Longueuil police issuing false information to protect their investigation. In the 1970s, the Cooey Sure Shot was a very popular hunting rifle for teenage boys. Police knew that several young men in that Longueuil neighborhood owned Cooeys. The area was surrounded by woods. Young men would typically enter the forest and practice their marksmanship on local gaming birds and water fowl. There was some speculation that Diane Dery was shot first, knocked right off the back of Mario’s bike, quite a feat to hit such a moving target, but if you had practiced on pheasants and ducks, not impossible. Police knew that if they went public with the Cooey information then everyone in the neighborhood would likely dispose of these weapons. So they held back this information.
I was interviewed for Le Dernier soir. I think I appear in episodes two and four. One of the points I made – and this never made it in the final version – was that the Cooey Sure Shot was indeed a rifle marketed to young boys at that time. Here is a Canadian Tire ad from La Presse just before Easter weekend 1975 – 6 weeks prior to the murders – promoting a Cooey .22 rifle, just above the Cooey we see notices for kids’ bicycle horns and banana seats:
In December 1975 a Cooey .22 is featured in the Eaton’s Christmas catalogue. The rifle at the top is the Cooey, equipped with a high powered scope. The Cooey that killed Dery and Corbeil most likely had a similar scope, if it were to take down a moving target:
The page before the Cooey rifle in the catalogue features boys hockey equipment, and you can see on the same page as the Cooey a “play wigwam teepee”.
Contrary to the argument that only a mature assassin could have been responsible for the murders of Diane Dery and Mario Corbeil, the rifle evidence suggests very likely that the killer or killers were much younger.
It’s curious. For years now the Montreal police / #SPVM have been very diligent to mark the anniversary dates of their fallen comrades. Here is a recent post marking the 24th anniversary of the murder of Detective Agent Odette Pinard posted both on Facebook and Twitter, the second consecutive year by my count that the police have done so:
The SPVM remembers Agent Odette Pinard, who died in service on November 27, 1995.
At approximately 4:00 pm, Agent Pinard was alone at Station 1A while writing an event report. A few minutes later, a passer-by discovers her unconscious at her desk, shot in the face with a firearm. She died at the Sacré-Coeur Hospital Center. Aged 30, Odette Pinard had been with the Service for almost ten years. She left behind her husband, himself a policeman in Montreal, and her two children. This homicide remains unresolved.
Agent Odette’s murder is truly a tragic loss. I fully support the Montreal police publicizing these cases. In any unsolved murder, investigators must do everything in their power to resolve cold cases, they bring so much pain and suffering to family and loved ones.
I have often heard it explained this way. Police like to work undercover, not letting the public know which cases they are working on. You wouldn’t want to show your hand and jeopardize everything. Wouldn’t want to risk people who have gotten away with murder for decades – those guys who were just on the brink of coming clean – suddenly being tipped off and clamming up.
This is horse shit, and completely contradicts their current actions. So it’s okay to ask for the public’s help for one of their own, but not for the rest of us? The police deserve a better level of justice than ordinary citizens?
Enough of this nonsense. If you can make social media posts of Sargent-Detective-this and Constable-that then you can also do it for Katherine Hawkes, Lison Blais, Tammy Leakey, Francine DaSylva, Valerie Dalphe, Diane Thibault, Theresa Pearson and the 792 others. Give everyone the same shot at a resolution.
Not long after midnight on Saturday, November 25th, 1978 Marc Patenaude and his friend, Norman Desilets beat up a man in a restaurant in Montreal’s East-End. Unknown to Patenaude and Desilets was that the man they left on the floor of Chez Larry was Detective-Sargent Normand Ostiguy of the Montreal police’s anti-gang squad.
Arrest warrants were drawn-up. Desilets was brought in without incident. The arrest of Marc Patenaude went horribly wrong (or did it?). When police stormed his basement apartment, the first officer to breach the front door saw Patenaude pointing a gun in his direction. Shots were fired. In the confused melee that followed Marc Patenaude bled to death from a severed artery in his thigh, finally succumbing to his wounds in an ambulance, which took 90 minutes to get to his home in Pointe aux Trembles.
That is one version of this story. Today, L’Affaire Patenaude. This is Who Killed Theresa?
The following is taken from the coroner inquiry, and reports conducted by Montreal coroner, Roch Heroux. Testimony began in January of 1979 with Heroux submitting his final report in August of that year. It’s worth noting that from the time of Patenaude’s death to Heroux’s final verdict that very little of this was reported in the media. Most of the headlines in November of 1978 were filled with the aftermath of Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre in Guyana. It would take a full decade before L’Affaire Patenaude came to light in the english media.
At approximately 9 p.m. on the evening of November 28, 1978 the Montreal police deployed a SWAT squad armed with military grade weapons to round up four suspects, two of whom were Patenaude and Desilets ( we don’t know the others). The team was under the command of Sergent Normand Roy and included five other officers; Andre Ouimet, Rejean Poulin, Urgel Nadeau, Noel Leduc, and Jacques Leblanc. They headed first to Desilets residence on rue Notre Dame in Pointe aux Trembles. According to Roy, Desilets was not armed and offered no residence.
The squad then headed for Patenaude’s apartment on the same street as Desilets, at 10965 rue Notre Dame. At the apartment entrance Roy shouted “Police” and demanded that the occupants immediately open the door. Next, officers Ouimet and Leduc deployed a battering ram and knocked down the front door. Then the team was met with a second door. At this point constable Ouimet testified that he could see someone armed with a gun aimed toward the officers. Seeing that constable Ouimet was now in danger and just inches from the armed man, Sergent Roy shoots three bursts from his military-style M-16, representing about 21 shots from the semi-automatic rifle. When the dust has settled, they find Patenaude bleeding to death on his kitchen floor, lying next to him is a Smith & Wesson revolver. Patenaude dies in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and Coroner Heroux exonerates the officers suggesting Marc Patenaude was responsible for his own death:
“Marc Patenaude, died on November 28, 1978, in Montreal, following a violent death without any criminal responsibility on the part of anyone.”
The following is largely taken from journalist John Cruickshank, and was written in 1980, so a lot has changed today. But this was the framework under which the Quebec coroner operated in the 70s and 80s.
The coroner’s office dates back at least as far as William the Conqueror’s invasion of Britain in 1066. It was introduced in Quebec under the British authority and won a place in law with The Quebec Act of 1774. Until 1892 Quebec’s coroner and his jury, were primarily focused on cases of murder and manslaughter. If the coroner’s court found evidence that a crime had been committed, the coroner was empowered to bring a charge against a “material witness” and send him before the superior court for trial.
A similar system existed in Britain until 1977 when the law was changed, stripping coroners of their legal powers but expanding their responsibilities to recommend measures which would prevent future deaths.
Since 1892 when the last really massive rewrite of the legislation was attempted, the Quebec coroner has been empowered to investigate sudden and violent deaths from criminal causes.
An American probably doesn’t understand the coroner system at all. Cities like New York and Los Angeles long ago abandoned the coroner’s office and coroner’s inquests, and opted for the medical examiner system. If your an American from this era? Your guy is Jack Klugman as Dr. Quincy, a forensic pathologist with the powers of a coroner.
Quincy ran from 1976 to 1983, and at that time a Quebec coroner wasn’t really anything like the Jack Klugman character. There were six full-time coroners; three in Montreal, two in Quebec City, and one who acted as a rover traveling around the province. The coroner was appointed by the Minister of Justice and had the legal status of a justice of the peace: that’s right, great power, but technically little more than a preacher. Sure they might be a doctor like Quincy, but more often than not, they were notaries or lawyers.
In an 1980 interview Coroner Roch Heroux – he from the Patenaude shooting – gave a very detailed and practical explanation of how the Quebec coroner’s office operated back in the day:
“If a person finds a body and sees that it’s murder they should first notify the police homicide branch, they have all the expertise and equipment to gather evidence on the spot. When they are done they send the body to me at the morgue.
I’ll ask the pathologist to perform an autopsy and declare the case a violent death.
The police proceed with their investigation and when they find a suspect they come to me with a demand for arrest. I provide them with a coroner’s warrant ( and that point is important, we’ll come back to it ) and the suspect is arraigned before me. I can then grant bail or hold the person as a material witness until an inquest is convened.
But the inquest must be convened within a week or we have to let the suspect go.
At the inquest the coroner hears testimony and may even question witnesses himself whenever he feels some point has been ignored by the crown prosecutor.
At the close of the inquest the coroner must determine whether a death was the result of a criminal act. If possible he must then determine who is criminally responsible.
There is no legal means to appeal a coroner’s verdict but the Minister of Justice may decide not to act on his recommendations.
But I don’t know of a case where the minister has not followed a criminal negligence decision with a prosecution.
Coroners play a very valuable function in overseeing police investigations. We’re her so that police themselves can’t prefer charges and our inquests insure that people aren’t accused uselessly.”
“Sors de la, hostie de chien” / Version 3
There were two other people in that Pointe aux Trembles apartment the night of the SWAT team raid; Marc Patenaude’s 18-year-old wife, Donna, and their 18-month-old baby girl, Luvia. If the Minister of Justice, Marc-André Bédard wouldn’t appeal Coroner Heroux’s verdict, she would have to take matters into her own hands. In 1979 Donna Patenaude filed a lawsuit against the six Montreal police officers responsible for killing her husband.
Donna Patenaude’s version of events are very different from the police account. The family was sitting down to dinner, moments before police crashed through the door Marc Patenaude was holding Luvia in his arms. When police shot him, it wasn’t a revolver in his hand, it was a plate of spaghetti.
Donna dove for the ground covering her baby, taking two bullets in the ass. While Marc Patenaude lay dying on the floor police refused to allow Donna to treat his wound. They also refused to allow her to feed her baby a bottle of milk. Police rushed Donna Patenaude in the early hours of the morning to the police station where they interrogated her and made her give testimony in which she was forced to say Marc Patenaude had a weapon in the house (one wonders where Luvia was during all of this). Donna Patenaude disputed Normand Roy’s claim that he shouted “police” prior to crashing through the door. A neighbor who observed the incident corroborated this, saying the police failed to identify themselves. The only words anyone recalled the police saying were, ” Get up out of there, you bloody bastard! “
Stories differ about the beating of the anti-gang Detective Sergent Normand Ostiguy, the incident that preceded the raid. No doubt it touched off feelings of revenge among his police colleagues. As Donna Patenaude’s lawyer expressed it, “It was like saying, ‘you have touched one of mine, I will use all my resources to get even'”. It was unusual for the matter to be taken out of the hands of the local police station and given to the SWAT team. It was argued that the Smith & Wesson revolver recovered at the scene was most likely a police plant, having no blood or Patenaude’s prints on it. Ostiguy’s beating – though severe – hardly justified the coroner issuing warrants for “attempted murder”.
Also in dispute were the SWAT team leader, Normand Roy’s claim that Norman Desilets’ arrest was without incident. “one guy came at me with his rifle. They knocked me down and they started to hit me with rifles, feet, fists, everything.” Desilets later said.
When Donna Patenaude gave her account of what happened the night of November 28, 1978 family members were skeptical:
“I said to her, “The police don’t do things like that,” recounted Rejeanne Patenaude. Marcel Patenaude stated, “People want to believe in the police. When you are not involved, you don’t know that such things are possible.”
In 1988 – ten years after the shooting – the six members of the Montreal Urban Community police SWAT team were ordered to pay $250,000 in damages to Donna Patenaude for the raid that killed her husband. Quebec Superior Court Justice Paul Martineau said that the SWAT methods were “like using a sledge hammer to kill a mosquito.”
It did not end there. Police appealed the verdict. When the Quebec Court of Appeal again sided with Donna Patenaude, police took the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1995 – sixteen years after Marc Patenaude’s death – the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the Montreal Urban Community police, and ordered them to pay what now amounted to $500,000 in damages. Donna Patenaude stated that her case should send a message to police officers, “that when they do something wrong, they have to answer for it like everyone else.”
The six officers – Normand Roy, Andre Ouimet, Noel Leduc, Urgel Nadeau, Rejean Poulin, and Jacques Leblanc – had all retired from the force between 1986 and 1995. To our knowledge, none had ever been reprimanded for their actions on the night of the shooting.
Jean Claude Bernheim is a criminologist in Quebec, and specifies in research on sociological theory, with a particular emphasis on the rights of the incarcerated. In 1979 he wrote a lengthy piece in Le Devoir about Patenaude. In 1980 he wrote a book, Les Complices: Police, Coroner et Mort Suspectes. Loosely translated that means “Partners in Crime: the police, the coroner and suspicious deaths”. So that gives you an idea of whose side he’s on. Bernheim also covers L’Affaire Patenaude in Les Complices. Last March I had the opportunity to interview Bernheim and here’s some of the things he said.
He said in the era of the 1970s right up until 1986 the coroner worked with police forces, and that the coroner, “made decisions not on facts but in the interests of the police.” He said that, “When police officers were involved in a case (meaning when they were potentially implicated in an investigation) the coroner – especially Roch Heroux – always takes the side of the police.”
“If you don’t respond to the coroner, you can be held responsible, and your testimony can be used against you.”
Finally I asked him if it were possible for a coroner to lie in the interests of the police. Bernheim’s response? “Fully”.
Coda / Version Four
In everything that has been said in the media about L’Affaire Patenaude – both in english and french – one very important detail is often left out:
Marc Patenaude was a member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang.
His full name was Jean-Marc Patenaude, and he wasn’t just a member of the Outlaws, he was the muscle and right-hand man to Ziggy Wiseman, the man who controlled prostitution in Montreal in the early 1970s, before committing suicide in December 1978 just weeks after Patenaude’s death. La Presse understood this when reporter Lise Binsse said as much in a March 1979 article on the coroner inquiry process. But that’s the only time the underworld connection comes up. It is never mentioned in the english language newspapers. Why that is is uncertain: Was the Gazette solely interested in an angle of excessive force? The question is lost to history.
In his book on the Hell’s Angels, Yves Lavigne gives a different account of the beating of Normand Ostiguy. Ostiguy was sipping coffee at Chez Larry’s. Patenaude and Norman Desilets confront Ostiguy telling him “they don’t like cops”. So in this version the two Outlaw members know perfectly well that Ostiguy works for the anti-gang squad. They then beat Ostiguy senseless with ashtrays and sugar dispensers.
Now I’m not suggesting all of that leads me to a different conclusion, and that the SWAT team raid on Patenaude’s apartment was somehow justified. I am just stating that in Montreal? Just when you think you know the story, there’s another story.
This is Who Killed Theresa?
Other sources: Lynn Moore, Rod MacDonnell, John Cruickshank – The Montreal Gazette
The prison started construction in 1908 and was completed in 1912 by architect Jean-Omer Marchand to replace the aged Pied-du-Courant Prison, which saw the incarceration and execution by hanging of several Patriotes who had fought the Lower Canada Rebellion. The prison currently houses male inmates sentenced to less than two years’ imprisonment. It also houses prisoners awaiting trial. It is the largest provincial prison in Quebec, housing just under 1,400 inmates.
Before it even opened, the jail made headlines for it’s $2.5 million price tag, an astronomical amount in 1912. The tiny cells caused a public outcry at the time because they each contained a flushing toilet and electricity.
Inmates would disagree. In all, 90 inmates have escaped the jail, including Lucien Rivard, who linked garden hoses used to freeze an outdoor skating rink to climb the walls. Not everyone who entered the jail made it out – 82 people, including three women, were hanged from a balcony. The last hanging took place in 1960.
Now officially called the Montreal Detention Centre, the star-shaped building was meant to be state of the art, and even today, two of its wings remain unchanged.
Chantale Bouchard of the Bordeaux Jail Centennial Committee (the prison celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012) explains:
“It has been the witness of the evolution of criminology in Quebec, it has been the witness of the change of mind, the change of belief…. With the evolution of thinking, of criminology, now social re-insertion is at the heart of the correctional services mission. Bordeaux has been the privileged witness of all this evolution.”
On February 22, 1965 the first sod was turned on a new facility to replace the psychiatric wing of the Bordeaux prison; The Institute Philippe Pinel.
The location of a mental hospital within a prison had long been criticized, and the new facility couldn’t come soon enough. A brief submitted to the Prevost Commission in 1967 said that sanitary conditions in the psychiatric wing were worse than the Quebec zoo, with 150 men and boys living among rats, cockroaches, and bed bugs in the “D” wing. The report went on to say that the “D” wing reeked of food and garbage during periods of extreme heat. That cement walls were crumbling, and furniture and floors were destroyed. Often unruly inmates with no history of psychological troubles at all were housed in the wing because prison staff didn’t know how to cope with them. Inmates with no criminal records were often in cells with murderers. Twenty percent of the wing’s population had committed multiple murders. The Bordeaux psyche wing had ten “dungeon” cells reserved for trouble makers. Though a correctional facility, Bordeaux was actually under the control of the city of Montreal’s Department of Public Works.
The Institute Philippe Pinel – named after the famous French physician who pioneered the humane treatment of the mentally ill – was supposed to solve all the the Bordeaux problems. By 1968 the maximim security hospital at the North East end of the island of Montreal was not even finished when experts were calling for a second facility be constructed to house the remainder of Quebec inmates outside the Montreal area who also needed psychiatric care. At the time it was reported that 23,120 people in Quebec were suffering from schizophrenia, and 28,900 were victims of depressive illnesses. Of the 33,000 provincial hospital beds, almost 23,000 were occupied by patients who were mentally ill.
Before its completion officials boasted that the new Pinal Institute would have no bars on its windows, yet be escape-proof, “It would take a prisoner equipped with a hammer three to four hours to shatter one of the windows.”
Less than a year after opening in 1970, the Institute Philippe Pinel had its first prison escapee.
32-year-old Garrett Trapnell – AKA Robert Anson Brock – considered himself a ladies man, the guards used to joke about all the girlfriends who would come and visit him. On Sunday, January 24th, 1971, just as visiting hours were ending Trapnell – who supposedly didn’t have his wits about him – faked a hostage situation. One of Trapnell’s regular lady visitors , an attractive brunette, slipped him a revolver and he walked out the front door of Pinel with the brunette in tow, then into a black Mustang getaway car parked at the front of the institute, with four guards in pursuit. Police bulletins described Trapnell as “armed and extremely dangerous”, however a guard at the Institute described him as “anything but violent”:“He was depressed at having to celebrate his 33rd birthday in prison.”
That was the story on Monday. By Tuesday, after Trapnell was apprehended in Syracuse, New York things shifted. Turns out the Brunette was actually a blonde named Nicole Forget, and she did not know Trapnell. Forget was working late at the Institute as a stenographer. No one knows where Garrett Trapnell got the revolver, but it was not loaded when police made the arrest. Trapnell was a from Charlotte, North Carolina – my hometown boy – and declared unfit to stand trial after a series of hold-ups in the Montreal area.
When they walked out of the Montreal facility, Trapnell appeared to be looking for an accomplice to make his getaway. When no one arrived, Forget offered him her black Mustang. Trapnell first headed toward the Champlain bridge, but then realized police might be waiting for him. It was Forget who suggested he drive toward Ontario and make the crossing into the States at the Thousand Islands bridge across the Saint Lawrence River. Trapnell insisted he be let off at a gas station in Syracuse at 3 in the morning. He was apprehended shortly thereafter.
We could do a whole hour on Trapnell, but that’s for another day. Look him up, he eventually made the FBI’s ten-most-wanted list. The point is, Quebec officials may have thought Pinel was going to be some impenetrable fortress, from it first opening in the 1970s people were escaping from the place all the time.
In July 1972 three men escaped; Paul Martin, Jacques Lavasseur and Andre Gratton. Then the following summer came the big hostage situation. At 4:30 p.m.on Tuesday, June 12, 1973, two murderers, Normand Champagne and Andre Gratton – he of the escape the previous summer – armed with knives stolen from the Institute’s kitchen, herded three employees, including a nurse, into a control room overlooking the entrance to the complex. Gratton ordered authorities to supply him with $850 in cash and two walkie-talkie sets. He then led the director of the institute, Dr. Lionel Beliveau out the front door of the complex while his accomplice, Normand Champagne remained behind.
With Beliveau driving, Gratton jumped out of the vehicle around the neighborhood of Outremont. If Champagne did not hear from Gratton by 11 p.m., the plan was that Champagne was to immediately shoot all three hostages. With no word from Gratton, shortly before 10 p.m. Champagne demanded that CJMS radio reporter and sometime negotiator, Claude Poirier be brought to the institute to negotiate his release.
Just before 11 p.m. a local ham radio operator began to pick up snatches of the conversations between Champagne and Poirier. The operator then called the Montreal police and asked if they were aware of a hostage situation at the Pinel Institute. Montreal police were left totally blind-sided. It took Pinel officials over 6 hours to inform them of the situation. A Pinel security chief later explained, “We just couldn’t take the chance of telling police and have Gratton caught before he made the call to Champagne.”
At midnight, Champagne freed the hostages, and left the Pinel Institute with Claude Poirier. The reporter drove the inmate around Montreal, dropping him off to visit his mother. Police eventually spotted Poirier’s car and recapture Champagne, who surrendered peacefully. (We assume that Gratton was later apprehended. )
It started to become quite popular to kidnap Director Beliveau. In 1976 he was again held hostage, this time inside his Outremont home. Two convicts, 44-year-old Andre Boyer and his 26-year-old partner, failed to return to prison on a weekend pass. But they knew immediately where to go. To the home of Dr. Lionel Beliveau at 1295 St. Viateur St. (it didn’t help that the newspaper managed to publish the doctor’s address). Beliveau, his wife and four children were held at gunpoint while the two men discussed ransoms sums with Dr. Beliveau ranging from $10,000 to $1 million. Things got heated, and Boyer started shouting and waving his gun around. Things ended abruptly when apparently Boyer’s gun went off and he accidentally shot himself to death.
Another Summer, another hostage event at the Pinel Institute
In a pattern that was now becoming terrifyingly familiar, two young men – who cannot be named because they were both under the age of 18 – broke out of the institute on July, 7th, 1974, holding a pair of scissors to the neck of 27-year-old nurse, Micheline Jacques. On a blockaded stretch of Cavendish Blvd, near Cote de Liesse, their car ran out of gas. For nearly four hours the two men sat in the car with the scissors to Ms. Jacques neck. At first they demanded a revolver, a police hostage, and a police cruiser. Then they added that an airplane to Cuba and some cash would also be nice. Montreal police eventually persuaded the young men to give themselves up, all the while police sharpshooters were stationed in the woods along Cavendish Blvd.
The Prison Strike
In early July, 1977 over 300 members of the Pinel Employees Union walked off the job at the East-End facility, leaving behind a skeleton crew of staff to watch over the 270 housed inmates. Within 24-hours the result was not surprising: teen inmates went on a rampage; destroying furniture, smashing windows and stealing medical supplies. A riot equipped Surete du Quebec force stood at the ready outside the facility, but ultimately it was a picketing band of 40 guards who marched into Pinel and quelled the riot, all to the cheers of the inmates.
“I guess the strikers realized if the situation got out of hand they would lose their protest,” commented an observing SQ officer. “They did a good job… I have to given them credit.”
At issue was staff capacity. The union was asking for additional positions at the institution, “so we can help to rehabilitate these individuals… not simply guard them.” As the strike dragged on things became desperate. Union leaders charged that Pinel administrators were giving patients “unusually” heavy doses of tranquilizers to keep them quiet and maintain order. One inmate – who was transferred to a neighboring facility because Pinel could no longer perform electro-shock therapy with the limited staffing – committed suicide by jumping out a fifth-floor window.
By the end of July union representatives and the administration come to an agreement. Twenty-nine new workers will be provided to the institution. On July 25th The Montreal Gazette publishes a feel-good piece titled, “Inside Pinel: A smile can make it all worth while”
Suspect in slaying is a mental patient
Montreal Gazette – September 7, 1983
A 34-year-old man held on a coroner’s warrant in Sunday’s stabbing-death of a young prostitute was found mentally unfit to stand trial for a similar crime 12 years ago.
Joseph Lavoie, who was released from the Philippe Pinel Institute for the criminally insane last February, is being held for an inquest in the death of Gwendolyn Jones, 21, of Norwalk, Conn.
Lavoie surrendered to police shortly after Jones was found stabbed to death in an apartment at 6920 31st Ave. in Montreal’s Rosemount district.
Lavoie was found mentally unfit to stand trial in the June, 1971 strangulation-death of Lise Provencal 17, of the St. Henri district and was ordered detained indefinitely.
Dr. Lionel Beliveau, director of the Pinel Institute, said yesterday that Lavoie is still under the order.
Beliveau explained that Lavoie, a resident o the institute for 10 years, had been on supervised release for seven months, since February, and “appeared to be doing well.”
Beliveau confirmed that Lavoie telephoned the Riviere des Prairies institute Saturday morning, saying he wasn’t feeling well.
A nurse supervisor talked to Lavoie and instructed him to stay at home until a psychiatrist from the institute contacted him.
“Several attempts were made to contact Lavoie by telephone from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday,” said Beliveau.
“At first Lavoie’s telephone was busy, then there was no answer.
“we’re dealing with people who want, then they don’t want, help.
“If he really wanted help he could have taken a taxi to the institute.
“We would have paid the fare, and he knew this.”
Beliveau said Lavoie’s progress had been closely followed since his release.
“He met weekly with a psychiatrist and he could have been ordered back to the institute if the examination committee deemed it necessary.”
Beliveau said that at any given time 25 to 30 of the institute’s patients are being reintegrated into society.
Let’s talk about Lysa, Debbie and Vivian Villeneuve, my childhood Halloween heroes.
Hotel Slaying Launches Hunt For Strangler
Montreal Gazette, June 14, 1950
Discovery of a 37-year-old woman’s body bearing marks around the neck, throat and abdomen, in a downtown hotel room yesterday afternoon touched off a city-wide police hunt for a young man – apparently a sadist – who is believed to have strangled the woman yesterday morning.
Death of the woman – identified through fingerprints as Helen Bomwer, of no fixed address in Montreal, and described as a “street walker” by police – was termed “definitely a case of murder” by Detective Captain Romeo Longpre and Detective Lieutenant Russell Senecal, both men of the homicide squad. Police said the woman was a native of Berwick, Ontario.
Early this morning detectives were combing the downtown district and other parts of the city in an effort to locate a man between 26 and 28 years of age who registered under the name Sweeney at the Grand Central Hotel, 762 Windsor street, around 10 o’clock Monday night.
The woman’s body was found in room 5 , on the second floor of the four-store hotel, shortly before 4 p.m.yesterday. The room was the one which had been assigned to Sweeney less than 24 hours earlier.
A chambermaid – Miss Francois Servant – found the body when she rapped at the door at 3:55 p.m. to ask the occupant if he wished to rent the room for another day.
“On one-night stays, the rooms are usually vacant by 3 p.m., but we always give the occupant another hour if he’s not ready by then,” Miss Servant reported.
“I opened the door expecting to see a man in there, but instead I noticed a woman lying in the single bed with a bedspread covering half her face.
“I lifted the bedspread a bit and nearly fainted when I saw face and neck. I was so unnerved, I ran the wrong way in the hall before finally reaching the manager to tell him: ‘There’s a woman in room five, and she looks dead’,” the Chambermaid added.
First police officials to reach the scene after being summoned by Aime Forte, joint-owner of the hotel, were Capt. Horace Thivierge and two special investigators from station No. 6. When a quick examination revealed marks on the woman’s body, homicide squad detectives were immediately called in.
Before it was taken to the morgue where an autopsy will be performed this morning to determine the exact cause of death, Dr. Rosario Fontaine, provincial medico-legal expert, examined the corpse and said the woman apparently had been strangled to death, “probably in the early hours of the morning.”
The body lay outstretched in the bed. Police said there were skin abrasions on parts of the body, indicating the possibility that a sadist had strangled the woman.
Police said the woman’s clothes were found heaped on a chair. Her purse was empty and there was no clue as to her identity.
Detective Lieutenant Senecal added that police had obtained a description of the “young man” who rented the room Monday night and gave his name as Sweeney.
Police said that the man apparently had stepped out around 11 p.m. that night and had returned to the room accompanied by the woman. Two empty beer bottles were found in the room. Hotel employees and residents said they had not seen the woman enter the building, and had not heard any sounds of a struggle or outcries emanating from Room No. 5.
It was Montreal’s first murder since the fatal shooting of R.C.M.P. Alex Gamman by a frustrated bank bandit on Beaver Hall Hill three weeks ago.
‘I Was Too Drunk and I Got Mad,’ Says Strangler Giving Self Up
Montreal Gazette, June 16, 1950
A dark haired, handsome man walked into R.C.M.P. headquarters in Montreal yesterday and confessed that he had strangled 37-year-old Helen Bomer to death in a hotel room “because I was too drunk and I got mad at her.”
Held by homicide detectives last night as a material witness for a coroner’s inquest this morning in the strangulation killing was Gerard Royer, 36-year-old war veteran employed as a cook by a religious order here since July, 1949…
Detective Lieutenant Russell Seneca, head of the homicide squad, said fingerprints found in the hotel room were identical to those of Royer….
In his statement Royer is said to have told police he had been drinking heavily since he started a week’s holiday last Friday, He said he had “picked up” the Bomwer woman in a downtown hotel, drank a lot of beer with her and then rented a room at the Grand Central Hotel….
Royer allegedly returned to his job the following day, and realized police were on his trail when he saw the murder story in a morning newspaper.
“He said he began drinking heavily to forget the whole thing, but he couldn’t sleep last night,” detectives reported.
“Yesterday he thought of giving himself up and started walking west on St. Catherine street west.”
Walking up to the switchboard operator, he said he wanted to speak to somebody. Constable J.S. Weir was summoned and the man turned to him and asked if he knew about the strangulation killing in a Montreal hotel room this week.
When Constable Weir replied that he was familiar with the case, Royer said: “I am the man who killed the woman. I got mad at her and killed her because we had too much to drink.”…
Royer, who is alleged to have registered at the hotel under his mother’s maiden name – Sweeney – told police he wanted to surrender to police Wednesday afternoon but “I didn’t have enough guts so I took to drinking some more.”…
Police said Royer, a native of Lauzon, Que., enlisted in the Canadian Army in December, 1941. He left the army in 1946, worked in Montreal for some time, went to Toronto, and returned here last July to work as a cook and handyman in a nuns’ residence.
Police said that his only criminal record on file was a 15-day prison stretch for theft while a servant in Quebec 14 years ago.
Royer was convicted of manslughter by jury in October 1950. Justice Wilfrid Lazure handed Royer a life sentence. It is unknown how much time he served.
Woman Found Strangled: Man Sought
Montreal Gazette, July 5, 1952
Less than 15 hours after she and a man rented a room in a downtown hotel, a young redheaded woman was found choked to death yesterday afternoon in what police termed “a likely case of murder.”
Police identified the woman as Betty Stuart, 32, alias Betty Llewellyn, a native of England who came to Canada about a year ago.
Discovery of the woman’s nude body, lying across the foot of the bed, touched off a city-wide manhunt for the man who at 1:10 a.m. signed the hotel registry as “Mr. and Mrs. Green” and gave their address as St. Hilaire, Que.
Police believe the man gave a fictitious name when he and the woman rented a second-storey room at the hotel.
Detective-Captain Henry Bond, head of the homicide squad said the man was “wanted” for questioning in connection with the woman’s death.
Police were called at 3:40 p.m. after Mrs. J. W. Connelly, wife of the hotel owner, and two maintenance men discovered the body.
Mrs. Connelly told The Gazette reporter that at 3 p.m. checking -out time, repeated knocking at the door went unanswered.
The nude body of a woman lay across the foot of the single bed. A blood-soaked towel had been half-stuffed in her mouth. Her face was also covered with blood.
Assisting Captain Bond and first on the scene were Detective-Sargents, Darl McGrath and Marc Maurice, of the homicide squad.
We later learn that “Betty Stuart” was also an alias. Her real name was Elizabeth Marjorie Richards. The murder was never solved. The Autopsy revealed she has died of suffocation, and had multiple fractures to her jaw, and a broken nose.
Then there’s the Back River Murder
On October 5th, 1953 two Quebec Hydro employees discovered the body of an unidentified young woman in the Back River – now known as Rivière-des-Prairies , running between the islands of Montreal and Laval – near the Hydro electric plant and Visitation Island (this is between Ahuntsic and Montreal Nord). The victim was between 25 to 35-years of age, weighed approximately 150 pounds, and had blue eyes, with light brown hair. She had been gagged, and strangled with her own skirt. A 20-pound block of cement was tied with a rope around her neck. Her hands, knees and ankles were bound with half-inch rope. The body was badly decomposed, having been in the water for five to nine months. Two fingers remained on her left hand, from these police attempted to establish fingerprints.
Our last hotel murder from the 1950s, and this one’s a bit of a puzzle:
On Tuesday, May 15th, 1956 a 33-year-old woman registers at a hotel, in what we presume is the Plateau region of Montreal under the name Edith Miller. The woman rents a radio from the front desk. The following evening a bellboy names Andre Bernard goes to her room and collects the rent on the radio. This is the last sighting of Edith Miller.
When maid service attempted to clean the room the following afternoon, they were unable to gain entry to the room. On Friday, May 18th, Bellboy Gilles Gaboriault, accompanied by a young boy, Jacques Bouchard – the 16-year-old son of the hotel chambermaid – climbed along the ledge of the adjoining room overlooking the hotel’s marquee and gained entry through the window.
Once inside Gaboriault and Bouchard made the macabre discovery. The body of Edith Miller – who turned out to be Betty Sloan of 6053 Esplanade avenue – was found lying on the bed, bound in blankets. Two bandage-type gags – one over the mouth and one over the nose – were tied to the back of her head. The room had been bolted with safety locks that could only be opened from inside the room. The rented radio was still playing when the body was discovered.
Today’s story is so good it writes itself. And for some of you from Montreal, you may be aware of the case of Debbie Robinson, and her death as the ultimate bitter punchline. What you may not know is its relation to another case, the unsolved murder of Theresa Pearson. So today’s story begins bitter, turns sweet, then bitter again.
We’re going today to the neighborhood of LaSalle on the island of Montreal, Quebec. Lasalle is a neighborhood on the southwest corner of Montreal. To the west is Lachine, then Dorval, then the West Island. To the north is Verdun, then Pointe Saint Charles.
As I said, many of you may remember the case of Debbie Robinson. What you may not know is exactly one year earlier almost identical circumstances played out in LaSalle, with a much less fortunate outcome. And keep in mind, today’s story is about two young women, and two very different murders.
The story of Theresa Pearson came to me from a friend of her family. This friend contacted me and asked if I could help her dig up any information on the case. After some digging, I told them I was interested, interested enough to do a podcast on the case. They replied, “what’s a podcast?”. So I sent them an example – the case of Francine Da Sylva. After that I never heard from them again. So…
Theresa “Terri” Pearson went missing on Wednesday, May 18th, 1983, one week before she was due to graduate from a secretarial course at LaSalle High School, also known at that time as College Lasalle, located on rue George. Pearson was planning to attend CEGEP in the Fall of 1984. The 19-year-old girl – who never drank, smoked, took drugs or “hung out” – was last seen getting off a city bus after school at the corner of boulevard Lasalle and 90th avenue. Her home – where she lived with her parents – was a two minute walk from the bus stop, a straight shot down Lasalle boulevard, which borders the Saint Lawrence river to Terrace Greenfield. The Pearson’s lived at the end of the cul-de-sac in a duplex at 9339 Terrace Greenfield.
Pearson’s body was found later that day in the underground garage of an apartment building at 9379 LaSalle boulevard. The apartment building is located a little further along, down the street from where she lived, about a 3 minute walk from the bus stop.
Pearson was identified by her Uncle, David Mooney, “I am the uncle. She was hit on her head in the garage of a building at #9379 Blvd Lasalle. I was advised by the police.”
Theresa Pearson’s body was found between two cars by a tenant around 4:00 pm, a few hours after she got off the bus two blocks away at LaSalle and 90e. She was found on her back, and died of a fractured skull and massive brain hemorrhage brought on by 10 blows to the head, possibly by a tire jack bar. Her schoolbag and books were found nearby. Her schoolbag contained $2. Her purse, which police believed contained no money, was missing. There were no obvious signs she had been sexually assaulted.
In the early days of the investigation, police were looking for a red car that was spotted in the alley beside the basement garage on LaSalle blvd. Police later discarded the lead when they were able to track down the owner, questioned him, and became convinced of his innocence.
Police later apprehended another man and subjected him to a lie detector test after concluding, “We didn’t think he was giving the right answers to our questions.” This lead ultimately went no where.
At her funeral that Victoria Day weekend family, friends and classmates seemed “dazed, confused – and angry”. Rev. Maurice Nerny of the Verdun United Church tried to express the grief of the crowd:
“I won’t try to find the words to describe what kind of a person Terri was. You were a part of Terri, and Terri is a part of you. That’s the best way to describe her.”
Theresa Pearson’s Coroner’s Report was signed August 9, 1983. It contained this curious statement:
“To date, despite all the research done by the investigators, it is impossible to reconstruct the circumstances of this crime and to identify the culprit (s). A public inquiry would be of no use.”
And with that, the book was closed on the case of Theresa Pearson. It’s been 36 years. Her murder remains unsolved.
Exactly one year later. We’re still in LaSalle. The same college / high school. Another graduation approaching. Another secretarial student goes missing.
18-year-old Debbie Robinson goes missing on Tuesday, May 22, 1984 around 6 a.m. after she had delivered 10 of about 40 papers on her route from her home at 1064 Sylvestre street in LaSalle. Debbie had been a carrier for the Montreal Gazette for about 5 years. The 1983 Christmas edition of The Gazette featured Debbie and a group of other carriers in a full page ad on December 16th:
Her mother, Glenda Robinson describes Debbie as, “a well-liked kid… She cooks, she sews. She would never take a lift with somebody she didn’t know.”
Debbie had just graduated from the secretarial program at LaSalle High School and was scheduled for a job interview with a local insurance company that afternoon. She never showed up.
Her newspaper bag with the undelivered papers were found in the driveway of the duplex where she lived. This duplex was under a 10 minute drive from where Theresa Pearson disappeared one year earlier:
Very quickly the community, police and the media pick up on the uncanny similarities between the disappearances of Debbie Robinson and Theresa Pearson. Both are teenagers from LaSalle. Both disappear close to their graduations, from the same secretarial program at the same school. Both knew each other at school. A student from LaSalle High School comments, “If I was one of the girls planning to take the course next year, I’d be scared.” Despite concerns, police feel the similarities are coincidental.
Though police search empty buildings, warehouses and wooded areas around LaSalle, they classify the case as a “missing person” and “a part of their normal police work”. Within 48 hours the Robinson family is critical of police efforts, voicing concern the police are “keeping too low a profile and aren’t putting enough personnel on the case.”
On May 25th, The Montreal Gazette offers a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the disappearance of their carrier, Debbie Robinson. The case is now assigned to Montreal detectives specializing in kidnap and extortion cases. Almost immediately a $100,000 ransom demand is made by an anonymous caller to police.
Later that evening – On Friday, May 25th, 3 days after she first disappeared – a miracle. Debbie Robinson is found safe.
Angus and Annie Dickson return home from a two-week vacation in Toronto. Checking the basement, Mr. Dickson notices that the door to the basement furnace room is bolted. Unbolting the door he finds Debbie on the concrete floor of the eight by four foot room housing an oil tank. The Dicksons live at 1073 Belec Ave. almost immediately behind the Robinson’s Sylvestre street home, 60 metres from where she disappeared from her front driveway:
Debbie Robinson tells police she had been hit on the head and knocked unconscious while doing her morning paper route that Tuesday morning. She didn’t see her captors, didn’t know how she ended up in the basement closet. She was left with a jug of water and a small milking stool.
Later, Annie Dickson told the press she had an intuition about Debbie Robinson. Having read about the abduction in the Toronto papers, when she got home she immediately sent her husband to check on the furnace room: “I sent my husband down to look… and there she was. She fell into his arms.”
During the nearly 4-day ordeal hundreds of volunteers showed up to search for Debbie including friends, strangers, former Gazette paper carriers, and the mother of a young girl who was brutally raped and murdered in the spring of 1975, Yvonne Prior.
A neighbor of the Dickson’s comments in an interview with La Presse that he was at his residence and parked his car on the street in front of their Belec home all that week; he heard no screams, no noise, and did not observe anyone coming or going from the residence.
By the following week police are tight-lipped about the investigation. Det.-Sgt. Gilbert (Buddy) Gagnon states that until the kidnapping is solved police do not intend to discuss the case further. He calls reports that police will put Robinson under hypnosis to answer questions surrounding her disappearance “imaginative”.
The next day, police announce that Debbie Robinson has agreed to undergo hypnosis and to take a lie detector test. Debbie’s mom says Debbie has “nothing to hide”. All she can remember is that she was struck on the back of the head by two masked men who visited her three times during her captivity.
June 4, 1984 Debbie Robinson is administered a lie detector test by the SPVM . Montreal police won’t say why Robinson was asked to take the “controversial experiment”.
“All I can tell you is that the case is still being treated as a kidnapping”, says Det.-Sgt. Pierre Tetreault.
Debbie says she agreed to take the test to help clear up any doubts about her mysterious abduction. Debbie’s parents say they are “fed up” with the grueling hours of interrogation police have put their daughter through. Debbie begins to breakdown and cry before television cameras which catch her leaving the police headquarters.
In an editorial in the June 4th Montreal Gazette, LaSalle resident P. Boisvert writes that police handling of the case was “monumental in its inefficiency”.
“They gave the people who were out searching for Debbie no help at all. If anything, they hindered our efforts….. The only time there was any obvious police involvement was on Friday evening after Debbie had been found. Then the street swarmed with police. Where were they on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday?”
The final insult was on Thursday night when two of my neighbors arrived home at 3 a.m. after having searched all day and night. They came out of their homes on Friday morning and found parking tickets on their cars. What were police thinking of to be ticketing cars on that particular street?”
On June 9th popular Montreal journalist Ted Blackman voices similar complaints in his Gazette column. I’m going to include the majority of the article because it rings a deafening bell in our current climate with Quebec police. See if this sounds familiar:
“Several valid questions were raised after the abduction of The Gazette carrier [Debbie Robinson] in LaSalle.
How quickly did police move? Why did it take some 36 hours for her status to move from “missing person” to “suspected abduction” and only then bring in expert kidnapping detectives? Did this delay preclude a systematic search of unoccupied homes?
In short, was the [Montreal Urban Police] sleeping at the switch and leaving one family’s agonizing predicament to the luck of routine patrols instead of the experienced detail work of specialized detectives?
We don’t have these answers. We don’t have them because every question on the matter was directed by MUC police away from the officers involved and to the department’s public relations office. In this case, to Constable Charles Poxon. [here you can sub in Guy Lapointe, Martine Asselin, or any of the litany of police public relation puppets that have come after him]
Now Charlie Poxon is a fine guy who busts his butt. He takes reporters’ calls, he’s available for radio interviews.
He explained patiently that police followed policy formulated by commanding officers. The Debbie Robinson investigation was handled “according to the book.”
Who wrote the book? Is the book well written? If not, will the authors stand up to its inspection? Poxon is not at liberty to answer under current procedures. All inquiries are directed to him. even if you track down a detective who dissents
“Can’t say a word, call public relations,” a station house cop replies to the most routine query. “They’ll bust me a rank if I’m caught talking to the media.”
In this way, the upper echelon of the MUC police has protected itself from accountability in a way that would astonish the public in the U.S, where elected sheriffs and district attorneys are properly grilled over the efficiency of investigations”
Again, I’ll remind you that was written in 1984.
On June 16th 1984 The Montreal Gazette runs a full page article in their Saturday edition on the fallibility of lie detector tests. “How lie detectors can twist the truth” warns that lack of regulations puts individuals reputations “under clouds”. At the time, there are no fixed standards for lie-detectors in Quebec, and the Supreme Court of Canada said results of such tests are inadmissible as evidence in criminal proceedings. Recall that in the Theresa Pearson case a suspect was apprehended and subjected to a lie detector test, but police let them go.
The following month on July 28th, 1984 the Montreal Urban Community police announce that Debbie’s case is closed. An uncle comments that Debbie is resting at the family cottage and, “She seems to have put everything behind her.”
Police Constable, Normand Belair addresses the situation:
“We have no leads or information that makes it of any interest for us to go forward in the investigation.”
The article closes by mentioning that although Debbie hadn’t eaten for four days, “She refused an offer of food from detectives the night she was found. She was given a lie-detector test – and passed.”
Debbie Robinson went on to a very successful career with an insurance brokerage company. She got married and had a child. Rather than telling you the rest of the story, I’ll read from an article written about Debbie by Montreal Gazette columnist, Peggy Curran. Curran had been following Debbie’s life for over 25 years. On May 3, 2011 she wrote this article It’s an extraordinary story, and I can’t improve on Peggy Curran’s words. I’ll pick up toward the end:
Turning back to the Theresa Pearson case, which is still unsolved. The geography of that case is very tight, very clustered. It gets you thinking that someone who lived in the neighborhood might have committed the murder. Which is why I’m including the address and telephone directories of the people who lived in that area in 1983-84. Maybe someone else can do some investigation, and put the pieces together:
In October 2015 the french Radio-Canada investigative television program, Enquête, uncovered stories of sexual violence toward aboriginal women in the Quebec mining town of Val d’Or, about 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal.
The alleged victims spoke of a pattern involving the Quebec provincial police, the Surete du Quebec over a period of at least two decades.
The woman told of how officers routinely picked up women who appeared to be intoxicated, drove them out of town and left them to walk home in the cold. Some alleged they were physically assaulted or made to perform sex acts.
Bianca Moushoun recounted how male officers would give her beer they kept stored in the trunk of their vehicles. She said the men would later take her to a remote area.
“We went to a road in the woods, and that’s where they would ask me to perform fellatio,” said Moushoun. They paid her “$100 for the service” and “$100 to keep quiet. Sometimes they paid me in coke. Sometimes they paid me in cash, sometimes both.”
Another woman, speaking anonymously, said she was assaulted by an officer in his car on the road between Val-d’Or and Waswanipi, a Cree community about 275 kilometres northeast of Val-d’Or.
“He wanted a blow job. I said no,” she wrote. “He threw me out and grabbed my hair. He left me alone on the highway.”
In the wake of the Enquête report and allegations, formal complaints were launched, and an internal police investigation by the Surete du Quebec was confirmed.
“Fourteen files have been opened for allegations related to the behaviour of our officers,” said Surete du Quebec spokeswoman Martine Asselin. “These are allegations, not charges for now.”
Carole Marcil, a bartender at Le Manoir in Val-d’Or, had heard such stories from aboriginal women many times.
“If they don’t perform fellatio … they get massacred, they show up here with bumps, bruises, punches and burns.”
But “not all” SQ officers in Val-d’Or act that way.
“There are two or three or four bad apples [among them],” Marcil said. That’s it.
Quebec’s indigenous leaders convene, then demand an immediate sit-down meeting with premier Phillipe Couillard.
“We’re giving (Couillard) 24 hours to meet with us and even that is being generous,” said Ghislain Picard, the Quebec regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, “It is a firm limit and when it expires, we will act.”
Quebec’s Cree communities also announce a boycott of businesses in Val-d’Or and say they will no longer hold their annual hockey tournament in the city. The tournament brings Cree families from across the province to Val-d’Or and injects an estimated $4 million into the local economy.
Though the SQ was aware of the allegations brought forth by Radio Canada for at least five months, some of the officers in question were only pulled from active duty after the Enquete broadcast.
Quebec’s Public Security minister, Lisa Theriault (Theriault?) announces eight SQ officers will be placed on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation, originally to be conducted by the Montreal police.
Later the Quebec government backtracks and says the investigation will be overseen by a civilian observer to ensure its findings are objective.
“There is no trust between our community and the SQ, it’s broken,” says Chief Picard. “Contrary to what many are saying, this is a crisis.”
On the other side, Surete du Quebec officers felt equally offended, and thought there had been a rush to judgement. Public Security minister Lisa Theriault appeared at a news conference in tears, which seemed a bit much, a bit over the top given she apparently knew of the allegations for months. Some of the officers circulated a petition demanding that the Public Security minister apologize to them for apparently siding with the indigenous women.
In an act of solidarity with the suspension of the eight officers, a number of local SQ police refused to show up to work and reinforcements had to be called in from neighbouring communities.
The president of the Quebec provincial police union Pierre Veilleux came to the defense of the eight officers., stating that the crisis sheds light on social problems in Aboriginal communities “who live in great difficulty across the country,” and that “it would be unfortunate if these officers become scapegoats for problems that overshadow their responsibilities.”
In November 2015 Premier Philippe Couillard announces the appointment of Fannie Lafontaine, to oversee the police investigation into the Val-d’Or scandal. Lafontaine is a civilian auditor, lawyer, professor, author and human rights expert, but not the first choice of First Nations chiefs who feel they should have been part of Couillard’s decision making process.
The Couillard government then quickly announces it will provide $6.1 million to improve services to native communities in the Abitibi region.
In the Spring of 2016 more Aboriginal women come forward with similar allegations of abuse involving Sûreté du Québec officers in communities across the province. By now, two of the original eight officers charged with abuse are cleared of wrongdoing, but police won’t say how many women have reported abuse. The new allegations of rape, physical abuse and starlight tours come from women in Maniwaki, Sept-Îles and Schefferville, adding their voices to those in the original report.
While the Lafontaine / SPVM investigation drags on many doubt the police investigation will get very far.
“My first reaction was that they’ll all make sure that this’ll get smothered, it won’t go any further,” says retired SQ officer Jean O’Bomsawin.
A former Ministry of Public Security worker, Isabelle Parent says charges are rare in cases where a police force investigates another.
“Many times, when it gets to the level of the prosecutors, they’ll say they don’t have all the information needed to bring it to court,” Parent said. “So, in the end, there are many levels where it can get dropped so it doesn’t get followed through.”
In the Fall of 2016 the Montreal Police turn over 37 files of documented abuse against Aboriginal women in Val d’Or to prosecutors for review, but Quebec’s director of criminal prosecutions (DPCP) refuses to lay charges in connection with any of the 37 files setting off a wave of criticism from activists and Indigenous leaders.
In a statement, the victims describe feeling “betrayed, humiliated” and expressed “fear of the return of the suspended police officers, fear of reprisals, fear for our own security.” One of the victims, Joyce Thomas comments, “It’s like encouraging the police to continue to do things.”
Fannie Lafontaine, the civilian auditor who was tasked with observing the investigation as it was carried out by Montreal police, releases her report calling it a “fair and impartial” process.
By now members of the Sûreté du Québec are suing Radio-Canada for airing the Enquete report calling it “biased, misleading… inaccurate, incomplete and untrue,” further stating that it created a hostile working environment for officers in Val-d’Or.
In December 2016 the Quebec government proposes a full blown public inquiry into police relations in Val-d’Or, Quebec.
The news comes after members of the the federal inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls says its two-year mandate isn’t long enough to delve into the questions of Val-d’Or.
The Quebec government states that the commission won’t repeat the criminal investigation into police officers.Instead, it will focus on systemic racism and its causes.
And while commendable, here we see how we are getting further and further from the origins of the story: that SQ officers abused aboriginal women.
Even still, writing about the Oka crisis in 1990, Hubert Bauch said it eloquently, “The Surete du Quebec had compiled a bulging record of operational blunders and gratuitous violence from the demonstrations and the FLQ activities of the late 60s and early 70s, to a series of excessive interventions in this decade in native communities like Les Escoumins, Maliotenam, and Restigouche.” Given their track record of excessive First Nation interventions, it’s not much of a stretch to see that systemic racism against Aboriginal woman would have been a factor in Surete du Quebec Starlight Tours and abuse.
In 2017 the Viens Commission is launched, named after retired Quebec Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens who leads the inquiry. There are the typical interviews and community meetings that go along with these affairs. In 2017, the commission visits every Algonquin nation and two of the three Mohawk communities. In total there are 13 weeks of public audiences in Val d’Or and 81 community visits, with 62 of them public information sessions. The work continues into 2018 with the process due to wrap up on November 30th of that year.
Throughout the Viens process Surete du Quebec officers ignore appeals to remove a symbolic red band from their uniforms which Indigenous witnesses have stated they perceive as “intimidation and provocation.”
Officers in Val-d’Or, in northwestern Quebec, begin wearing the bands after their eight colleagues were suspended following the allegations of mistreatment of Indigenous women.
Police officers attached the bands, inscribed with “144” — the number of the Val-d’Or detachment — to the top of their Sûreté du Québec vests, just above their name tags.
Justice Jacques Viens states, “I have hoped that at some point this practice would be abandoned.”
Michèle Audette, a commissioner on the Federal inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) tells SQ Capt. Paul Charbonneau, who is in charge of discipline and legal services in the provincial police service, that the wearing of the red bands was not helping to promote reconciliation and that he should speak to his superiors about banning them.
In October 2018 a retired Quebec police officer pleads guilty to charges laid against him, in the only criminal case to go forward following the allegations of police misconduct in Val-d’Or in 2015.
Jean-Luc Vollant pleads guilty to sexual assault on Oct. 5. at the Sept-Îles courthouse, after being charged in 2016 for rape, indecent assault and sexual assault, for incidents which occurred during his time working with the local police force, not the Surete du Quebec, in Schefferville in the 1980s.
The two other charges of rape and indecent assault were automatically dropped, due to a provision in the Criminal Code which states a person cannot be convicted twice for the same crime.
By pleading guilty, Vollant avoids going to trial, denying victims their chance to speak publicly within the justice system about their abuse.
There had been one other officer charged with sexual assault and assault with a weapon in the aftermath of the Val d’Or affair. Alain Juneau, worked with the Sûreté du Québec in Schefferville, in the 1990s, but Juneau committed suicide in early 2017, two months after the Crown laid charges against him.
In late October 2018 the person who commanded the Quebec provincial police in 2015 said he had no clue there were any problems of police misconduct at the Val-d’Or detachment, even in the months leading up to a wave of public allegations made by Indigenous women in the region.
Martin Prud’homme testifies at the Viens inquiry that, “Until May 2015, I didn’t have any information or details that led me to think there was a major problem in Val-d’Or.”
Prud’homme’s testimony contradicts that of Jean Vicaire, a police officer who worked with the SQ in Val-d’Or in 2013. In August Vicaire told the Viens inquiry that he had informed his superior of allegations of misconduct that had been reported to him by a local politician.
Vicaire states that he told his supervisor at the time and was shocked when that manager said he was already aware of the allegations, naming a specific officer. Vicaire also testified that his fellow SQ officers had told him of intoxicated Indigenous people being taken on “starlight tours.”
When asked if this was a “phenomenon that is well-known within the SQ?” Prud’homme responded that he had never heard of such a practice before.
On Friday December 13th, 2018 the Viens Commission completed their work, just two weeks late of the November 30th deadline. At the closing ceremony, Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women, and the last person to testify before the Viens Commission, asks the inquiry members to ‘not drown out’ the stories of Val-d’Or women in their recommendations, also stating that without a real apology from police in Quebec, reconciliation will not be possible.
“Their stories must not be forgotten. They decided to make this sacrifice to make sure other women didn’t have to live through what they went through,” says Michel.
The Viens report has yet to be released. It is due this month, September 2019. But Jacques Viens has already stated he will call for better training and education for police in the province of Quebec.
Ce site est du meurtre non résolu de Theresa Allore qui a été trouvé dans Compton, Québec le 13 Avril, 1979.
Si vous avez n'importe quelles informations à propos de la mort de Theresa et à propos de l'investigation contactent son frère John Allore: johnallore(@)gmail(dot)com. Merci.
This site is about the unsolved murder of Theresa Allore who died November 3, 1978 in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. If you have any information please contact her brother John Allore, johnallore(at)gmail (dot)com