The Tale of Mr. Morton – WKT4 / #16

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The Tale of Mr. Morton

In the book Wish You Were Here, Patricia Pearson and I raise the question whether Luc Gregoire – the offender with a violent criminal history in Sherbrooke who went on to murder in Calgary – was possibly forced out of the Eastern Townships area. Did someone or some party decide that Gregoire was just too big a problem for Sherbrooke and push him out of town, leaving him to become someone else’s problem?

Gargoyle from Saint John Customs House

At a book event in the Eastern Townships in September I started the evening by reading a story from the Sherbrooke Record warning parents and children to be vigilant in the wake of a series of indecent exposure incidents that occurred in the Lennoxville area in the fall of 1978.

Lennoxville Crossroads / Bill Morton

That September 26, 1978 article from  The Sherbrooke Record became a  sort of precursor to everything bad that transpired in the area the following winter.

What I didn’t say was that the piece was written by Bill Morton, who at the time penned a weekly talk-of-the-town sort of column for The Record titled Crossroads. Morton claimed to be an ordained minister ( though in newsprint he’s only ever referred to as “Mr. Morton”). During the day he studied theology at Bishop’s University. At night he worked at an institution for the “mentally disabled” near Dixville, Quebec, about 20 kilometers directly south of Compton.

A summary of Bill Morton’s work – 1978-79

On October 4th Bill’s “Parting Thought” was “The worst crook is the one who betrays our trust”

On October 12th he writes, “Note.. I can see no good reason to abolish our police force to hire what would probably be poorer quality protection. However, some people might be afraid of what a police force dedicated to this town, might dig up “.

In December he managed a brief address of Theresa’s case, “In the fall Champlain student Theresa Allore disappeared. Her parents still pray for her return, although police admit they’re totally stymned. (sic)”

Commenting on the annual town council open meeting in January 1979, Bill writes that “Alderman Robert Calder reported on the achievements of both the police and the fire department ; all agreed that both departments were doing a fine job.”

In late February Bill pens a column railing against the perils of drugs and prostitution, praising the work of public safety, “through no fault of the police”. He is widely criticized for it, with one letter to the editor accusing him of being a “crackpot”.

By March Bill is skipping columns.

In April, he celebrates the first anniversary of his Crossroads column ending with this ominous proverb: “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit.” It is his final Crossroads column.

The Event – April 27, 1979

On Friday, April 27th, 1979 “Reverend” Morton attacked his supervisor at the Dixville home for the handicapped. According to the victim’s daughter who related the story to me years later, Morton entered the kitchen of the facility clutching a rolling pin behind his back.

[MR MORTON IS THE SUBJECT OF THE SENTENCE AND WHAT THE PREDICATE SAYS HE DOES]

When the victim asked what he was doing with the rolling pin, Bill replied he was going to bang apart some frozen orange juice in the freezer. When the woman turned to leave, Morton grabbed her by the arm and said “I have to do this”. He then beat her about the head with the rolling pin and began to strangle her until she was unconscious.

The daughter recounted how The Record wrote an article about the incident, “but failed to identify Bill because they felt sympathetic to him.”

“What happened to my mother was brushed aside with a shrug… Oh, she’ll get over it…”

Prior to the attack Bill had actually discussed my sister, Theresa’s case with the supervisor. Theresa had only recently been found in a ditch in Compton on April 13th, 1979. Bill’s remark was that “she had probably deserved it”, which surprised the woman as she was under the belief he was a minister.

I tracked down the Sherbrooke Record article and it is a sight to behold. It’s authored by Jim Duff, a long time reporter for The Record and then The Montreal Gazette, who is currently a municipal councillor for Heights East,  Town of Hudson, Quebec.

Bill Morton article

Far from being an account of a brutal attack on an unsuspecting victim, it is a cry-for-help plea for the perpetrator , and a complete defense of the offending Bill Morton, all of it protecting his identity and never disclosing his name. Duff begins the piece – a very lengthy column titled: “Care for the carers: It’s about time” – as follows:

“A friend and former colleague of mine who works at a local home for the handicapped went berserk last week and attacked his supervisor.”

Duff goes on to say how Morton was charged with murder and taken to the psychiatric wing of the Sherbrooke hospital to determine if he was mentally capable of standing trial.

A friend of Morton’s summarized the situation to The Record this way:

“———– just had a break ­ down, ” said Vera Simons, a close friend of the couple, asking that we keep names out of it. “Their friends all know about it anyway and it ’s no business of anybody else’s. There should be more concern for people in a stressful kind of job. We can get together as a group of friends but we wish there was some kind of structure, some kind of leader”

The personnel director of the Dixville home, Tom Robinson elaborated:

“ What sets a guy off suddenly? This isn’t an easy job for somebody who is sensitive and gets involved with the kids. His wife’s pregnant and I understand he’s building a new house. He works nights to put himself through Bishops; I believe he’s interested in theology. He was taking on an awful lot.”

Concerning the victim, Robinson had this to say:

“We feel very strongly for him. but between him and his supervisor, his damages are the more serious. Her cuts and bruises will heal in a month or two. But what he did will keep coming back for years. ”

Duff continues:

“While the supervisor collects workman’s compensation for suffering a job-induced injury, there is no such provision in ——– *s case,”

As stated, Morton was assessed as to his mental ability to stand trial. But no trial appears to have ever taken place. There is never any mention of Bill Morton in the Township papers again. Morton simply disappears.

And you might say, so what’s the problem with that? Different times. We weren’t sensitive to victims back then. The guy had a bad spell. He was under stress, he tipped. His friends helped him. Good that they kept things quiet. Good they kept his name out of the papers.

Well that was the end of Sherbrooke’s problem, but it wasn’t the end of Bill Morton. He moved on to another province, New Brunswick.

In November 2015 Morton – by then an actual, ordained minister at Christ Church in St. Stephen, New Brunswick – assaulted a woman in his parish with whom he had been having a four year extra-marital affair. Threatened with the termination of their relationship, Morton showed up at her home and cut her breasts and abdomen with the box cutter, ranting he would “skin her alive”  Then came a second assault in December 2015 when Morton attacked her again and tried to slit her throat.

Similar to the 1979 Sherbrooke incident, Morton was ordered to undergo a 30-day psychiatric assessment. He later pleaded not guilty in Saint John provincial court to two counts of assault with a weapon, but later changed his plea to guilty. He was handed two 15-month conditional sentences, essentially a soft house arrest that stipulated he attend a rehabilitation program and counseling, abstain from alcohol, and report to a parole supervisor. Cynthia Mae Moore eventually sued Morton, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Diocese of Fredericton and the Anglican Parish of St. Stephen.

Bill Morton’s “damage was more serious”. He should have been confronted by the people of the Eastern Townships at the moment the problem presented itself so that one more woman wouldn’t have to suffer abuse, intimidation and violence.

The “Provincial Lunatic Asylum” at St. John, New Brunswick

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