Tales from the Philippe Pinel Institute for the Criminally Insane / WKT3 #20

[This episode also provides an update of the 1975 Diane Dery and Mario Corbeil case]


The Bordeaux Prison  is a provincial prison / jail in the Montreal borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville.

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.


2 thoughts on “Tales from the Philippe Pinel Institute for the Criminally Insane / WKT3 #20”

  1. L’histoire du 24 janvier 1971 est erronée. Trapnell a eu le fusil d’un faux avocat (ancien prisonnier à Bordeaux) qui a pu entrer dans l’institut. Son nom Ghelsen. Je suis la dame dont vous parler et c’était la première fois que j’y allais. C’est l’agence Olsen Temporary services qui m’a donné ce contrat et qui a voulu acheter mon silence après (75$).

    C’est moi qui conduisait qui Trapnell pointait le fusil dans ma direction, il y avait un autre otage qui était assis en arrière. Trapnell cherchait une grande ville aux États pour s’y perdre. Il a pis les quelques dollars que j’avais et à demandé ã débarquer devant un Holiday Inn à Syracuse.

    Encore aujourd’hui, j’ai des séquelles de cet incident qui ont détruit ma vie. Au lieu de le mettre en héros et de bafouer l’histoire ã votre façon, il serait préférable de vous abstenir.

    Nicole Forget

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