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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 o
r “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.