Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child
Skip to page: 2

La Presse, April 15, 1920, p. 1



The same witness, Madame Arcade Lemay, testified that she saw the little victim in her room one day and that the child "was in a pitiful state."- To her niece, Mademoiselle Marguerite Leboeuf, who was visiting at the time, the accused woman said about Aurore, "I will show you how well she washes the dishes when I beat her."


Madame Octave Hamel, the sister-in-law of the defendant, said that the accused woman told her one day, while speaking about the deceased little girl, "We have to spend another $50 on that child? Let her die! I would never shed a tear!"


[ La Presse 15 avril 1920, La Presse (Montréal), Socami  ](From the correspondent for La PRESSE)
Quebec City, 15. — The trial of Marie-Anne Houde, who is the wife of Télesphore Gagnon and is accused of murdering her stepdaughter Aurore Gagnon, is attracting more and more public curiosity. Although yesterday morning Justice Pelletier ordered that proceedings be held behind closed doors, the crowd at the trial yesterday afternoon was almost as enormous as it had been at the morning session. This situation arose because the judge had permitted lawyers, law students, and journalists to be admitted upon presentation of their cards. As a result, there was a veritable trade in cards, and as a result the courtroom was once again packed.

Yesterday afternoon, the Crown heard the testimony of three important witnesses: Madame Arcade Lemay, Madame Octave Hamel, and Mademoiselle Marguerite Leboeuf, the latter two being relatives of the accused woman. The three witnesses gave strong testimony against the accused.

At the beginning of yesterday afternoon's session, Maître Francoeur, the counsel for the accused, pleaded for the admissibility of statements made by the deceased under various circumstances, citing precedents which support this request. He claimed that the Crown had gone back to events twelve months previous to prove its accusation, and that disallowing the defence to do the same would be depriving the defence of its ability to use the best means at its disposal.

Monsieur Lachance, the counsel for the Crown, opposed this request because the statements in question had been made neither under oath nor on the verge of death.

The judge again deferred his decision.


The witnesses heard to date by the Crown have been doctors and a policeman. Yesterday afternoon the Crown began to present the evidence on which it is basing its accusation of murder, and its first witness was Madame Arcade Lemay, of Ste. Philomène, in the county of Lotbinière.

Madame Lemay was first questioned by Maître Fitzpatrick.

"Do you know the accused?"
"For how long have you known her?"
"For the four years that she has lived in the house next to ours."
"Have you had occasion to speak to the accused over the past year?"
"Do you know if she has any children?"
"I know that she has one from her most recent marriage. She told me that she had had four or five, I believe, from her first marriage. Télesphore had had four from his first marriage."
"Would you meet with her often?"
"From time to time."
"Did you often have conversations with her?"
"What did she talk to you about?"
"About her children, whom she said were very hard to discipline. One day she showed me an axe handle that she said her husband had used to punish Aurore."
"Is it this axe handle here?"
"It was white and longer than that one."
"Did you say anything to her about this?"
"I said to her: 'That's not a weapon for beating a child.' She said to me: 'The child didn't even cry.' I replied: 'That can't be so. A man spanks too hard with a club like that. If you are not able to bring up the child, send her to a convent instead.' She answered: 'That is too expensive. We can't afford to send our children to a convent.'
"Did you speak of other things together?"
"That was always the subject of our conversation. She would always repeat that the children didn't listen."
"When was the last time you spoke to the accused before Aurore died?"
"It was last February 9, three days before the death of the little deceased girl. I went to the Gagnons' house."
"I was worried about little Aurore. I hadn't seen her all winter."
"Did this child often go outside?"
"Before these recent months, she would go out like the other children, on errands."
"On February 9, was the accused at her home?"
"She was there. Her husband was not there."
"-What happened?"


"I was there with my granddaughter, who had gone upstairs to where Aurore was. Madame Gagnon said that Aurore had too many sores on her hands, that it could be dangerous for my granddaughter. Then Marie-Jeanne came downstairs with my granddaughter in her arms. I went upstairs and I saw Aurore, who was a pitiful sight. Her face was swollen with sores all over it. Her eyes were black. The room was dirty. Near the bed was a plate with two potatoes and a knife. After I came back downstairs, I said to Madame Gagnon that Aurore was a pitiful sight to see, that she was going to die, and that it was more than time to call for the doctor. She told me: 'It is not necessary to call for the doctor. We can telephone him to have some medicine sent.' I said to her: 'At least say that it is for little Aurore.' She said: 'It is not necessary to say that.'
"Did you see Aurore again?"
"No, not alive."


Madame Lemay recounted that, during the New Year's holiday, Madame Gagnon told her that Aurore behaved as badly as a child could. "Once," said the witness, " Madame Gagnon came to our home and she said to me, "I wish that little Aurore would die without anyone knowing about it, her as well."

Another evening, Madame Gagnon said that the older of her girls was sleeping downstairs and that Aurore was supposed to sleep upstairs. Madame Gagnon had put a stick on her sack of salt by the door of her room. She saw that Aurore was coming downstairs to sleep. "I chased her back upstairs with my stick," said Madame Gagnon.

Last February 9, the witness suggested that Madame Gagnon send for the priest, and Madame Gagnon said no. Madame Lemay nevertheless telephoned the priest to have him come to the Gagnons', without saying for whom it was.

When Madame Lemay saw Aurore after her death, her body was almost the same as it had been three days earlier. It is my husband who prepared the deceased for burial.

On February 18, Constable Couture had her make certain observations in the room where Aurore had died. There was blood on the walls and on the floor, streaks of blood, as though the child had dragged herself along the ground. She was the one who gave Constable Couture some of the deceased's effects, including a night-gown, a pillowcase, and a mattress cover.

Examined by Monsieur Francoeur, Madame Lemay said that her maiden name was Exilda Auger.

"You live in the house next to Télesphore Gagnon's?"
"How far away from the Gagnons'?"
"Two and one-half to three arpents."
"Did you visit each other often?"
"No, not often."
"Not during the first two years that Madame Gagnon lived there?"
"No, not during that time."
"You know that before she married Télesphore Gagnon, the accused lived with him as if they were husband and wife, for a couple of years?"
"Is that why you didn't go there?"
"I think I went there once, during that time."
"You didn't like her?"
"I didn't hate her."
"After their marriage, you saw her more often?"
"Yes, but I went a long time

Continued on page 31


Continued from page one

without going there. She came more often to our house."

"Did you ever express an opinion about your testimony or about this trial?"
"I do not believe so."
"Did you not do so on the train on your way to Quebec City? Did you not say at that time that the accused was a bitch and that she should be hanged?"
"No, I never said the word 'bitch.'"
"Did you not say that she should be hanged?"
"I said that she should be judged as she deserved and that it was more than a murder, having made that child suffer like that."
"Did you not speak of hanging?"

The judge intervened to say that the witness had said sufficient to express her opinion..

Monsieur Francoeur continued:

"When the accused spoke to you about her children being hard to discipline, did she speak only about Aurore? Did she not also speak about Marie-Jeanne?"
"She told me: 'Marie-Jeanne runs away, but Aurore doesn't; she stays.'"


Monsieur Francoeur was easily able to provoke the witness by talking about her previous history and making her admit that she had already come to give testimony in Quebec City when she was convicted of selling liquor without a licence.

-"That is true," said Madame Lemay, "but we have faced our fate. If we were to look into everyone's life, we would always find something to say."

And so the witness was threatening to attack the character of Monsieur Francoeur. The judge reminded the witness that the lawyer had the right to cross-examine her as he was doing, and that she did not have the right to attack the lawyer.

Speaking about Aurore's having been punished with a stick, which she had mentioned in her earlier testimony, she said that Madame Gagnon had said that it was her husband who had disciplined Aurore in that way. She said that Aurore did not want to listen, that she did not want to wash the dishes, that she soiled her bed and went so far as to put her filth in her father's clothes, that she was a thief, that she had stolen money even in the church, that she was impure, etc.

"On February 9, did you go upstairs to Aurore's room on you own initiative?"
"Madame Gagnon didn't try to stop you from going upstairs?"
"Were there any sheets?"
"There was a sheet on the bed, but not on little Aurore. Aurore had a little grey dress."
"Did she have dressings on her feet?"
"And on her head?"
"Was it warm in Aurore's room?"
"Yes. The pipe from the stove downstairs passes through it."

The witness then gave details about the wounds that she saw on little Aurore. She is convinced that all these wounds were caused by blows.

"Why do you think that?"
"The two accused, Télesphore Gagnon and his wife, told me so."
"Did you ever see the accused woman hit Aurore?"
"Did Aurore ever tell you what had caused her wounds?"

(Here the witness was interrupted by the Crown attorneys, in view of the objection that they had raised and on which the judge had not yet rendered a decision.)

"When you asked for the priest, did the accused woman object?"
"When you asked for the priest, did the accused woman object?"

The witness then testified that Madame Gagnon had stopped letting Aurore sleep upstairs with Marie-Jeanne because she wet and soiled her bed and also because the two little sisters would commit impure acts.

Madame Lemay admitted that she had always seen Monsieur and Madame Gagnon fulfill their religious duties at church, like the other members of the parish. They performed their devotions during the Forty Hours devotion, the novenas, etc.

"Did their children go to school?"
"You claim that?"
"They went to school for perhaps about ten days."
"Did the accused woman help with the work on the farm?"
"She alone took care of the children and did the other work that a woman would have to do on a farm?"
"Did you ever see anything in this woman's behaviour that would have led you to believe that this woman was beating her children to death?"
"Have you had any children?"
"Yes, I have a boy who is 28 years old."
"Did you never punish him with a switch?"
"No, never. I hit him with my hands, on his bottom, the way a child should be beaten."

Monsieur Francoeur then had the witness explain the meaning of certain words from her earlier testimony. The witness had said that Madame Gagnon had expressed the wish to see Aurore die without anyone knowing about it, "her as well." Monsieur Francoeur asked her to explain what these words meant.

After much hesitation, Madame Lemay explained that, in her opinion, Madame Gagnon was referring to another child's death which had occurred previously. But since that did not concern this case, the witness ended her testimony.


Residing in St. Jean Deschaillons and 15 years of age, she knows the accused woman well, the accused being her aunt. She went over there last August. She spent a week there, at her uncle and aunt's invitation. She wanted to get out for a bit and to see how things were going.

Questioned by Monsieur Fitzpatrick:

"What did you notice during your stay there?"
"The first time, I saw the accused beat Aurore with a piece of wood, a stick of wood that she had taken from the woodbox."
"How big was that piece of wood?"
"About 18 inches long."
"And then?"
"The second time, she beat her with a switch. The accused said to me, 'She is putting her fingers on her bottom to have them broken.'"
"Why was she beating her?"
"I don't remember. Once, Aurore was washing the dishes. My aunt said to me, 'Watch carefully; I am going to show you how well she washes the dishes when I beat her.'"
"Where did she hit her?"
"On her bottom and on her legs."

Monsieur Francoeur objected to Monsieur Fitzpatrick's questions, which he found to be too leading, given that the witness was not hostile.

Monsieur Fitzpatrick asked:
"And the third time?"
"It was with a stick two inches around and a couple of feet long. Aurore was sitting down and my aunt was beating her on the knees. I ran outside."
"I was afraid."
"And what did Aurore say?"
"She was screaming, 'Ow!'"
"Did you see anything else happen?"
"Once, I was curling my hair. My aunt took my curling iron, heated it up on a lamp, and started to curl a swatch of Aurore's hair, which was very short. She had her hair cut short like a little boy. My aunt started to twist her hair. When she took away the curling iron, her hair was burned to a crisp."

The witness said that Aurore did not sleep in a little bedroom upstairs during her visit. She was in the attic, upstairs, on a little bed.

By Monsieur Francoeur:

"At whose request did you go over to visit your uncle last summer?"
"They invited me and I went."
"Who invited you?"
"Both of them. They came around to our house, and I returned with them."

Here the young girl began to cry her heart out, and the hearing of her testimony had to be suspended. A few minutes later, she continued:

"It was a Sunday. My uncle and aunt came around to see us with Georges, my aunt's little boy, and Georges-Etienne, my uncle's little boy. They said to me, 'Marie-Jeanne has been wanting to see you for quite some time. Come out and around; it will make Marie-Jeanne happy.' My father had told me some time earlier: 'If you happen to go to your uncle's, you will be able to see if that is going on.' (An allusion to the mistreatment). My father advised me to take advantage of the opportunity and to go over there, telling me that I could come back by train. On my travels, I went to see my Uncle Tibi Badeau and Anthime Gagnon.
"Was your uncle present when you saw your aunt beat Aurore?"

And the witness began to weep again.

Monsieur Francoeur resumed.
? "Did the accused hitch up Aurore's dress when she beat her?"
"Was Aurore barefoot?"
"Was she crying?"
"The next day, did you see wounds on Aurore?"
"I didn't notice."

The witness next told how one day, the two little boys were playing horse. They put a rope around Aurore's neck. One was pulling her forwards and the other one was pulling her backwards. The mother was laughing and saying things that the witness did not want to repeat.

The judge insisted that the witness repeat what she said. After great hesitation, the witness repeated the words in question -- words which, out of respect for our readers, we cannot print.

The witness added that Aurore was very solitary. As soon as she had finished washing the dishes, she would go and sit beside the stove or else she would stand at the window and look outside without saying a word. She would only speak to reply to questions that she was asked.

As the witness claimed that little Aurore slept without a sheet or a mattress, Monsieur Francoeur tried to make her admit that, when she saw the bed during the day, the sheets must have been hanging outside because the little girl had wet her bed, but the witness claimed that she had never seen such sheets hanging outside.

As for little Aurore's hair, the witness claimed that it was not long enough to wrap around the curling iron even once. Aurore cried out that it was burning her, and the accused pulled back the curling iron with a swatch of burned hair.


The next person called to the witness stand was again a relative of the accused. Madame Octave Hamel is the sister-in-law of the accused and the half-sister of Télesphore Gagnon.

She went to Télesphore Gagnon's last January 16 and she saw Aurore, who had two blackened eyes.

The witness said:
"I said to Madame Gagnon that the doctor should be called to come. Madame Gagnon replied, 'We would have to spend another $50 on that child? Let her die! I would never shed a tear.' The child appeared to be cold. The father arrived and he told Aurore to go to bed."

Cross-examined by Monsieur Francoeur, Madame Hamel said that when she went to her brother's last January, it was on the day of the funeral of her other brother, Anthime Gagnon, who had died on January 13. The day before the service, at the home of Anthime Gagnon, she saw the accused and her husband, who spent the evening there and who left to go home around midnight.

She added a very significant detail:
"When, on January 16, I saw Aurore with black eyes, the accused told me, 'She fell on the door of the stove.' And she added, speaking to Aurore and indicating the door of the stove, 'Wasn't it here that you fell?' And little Aurore replied, 'Yes."

"Télesphore said, 'She caught cold in her feet, outside, and it has gone up to her head.' I told them that that didn't make sense. The accused told me that the little girl would take her shoes off outside, that she was a thief, stubborn, a slut, impure… that she misbehaved as badly as a child could. I pointed out to her the tumours that Aurore had on her body. She said to me, 'You know, we all have tuberculosis; she is going to die of it.'"

Since Aurore was limping, Madame Hamel asked why. The accused told her that the little girl had a splinter on the bottom of her foot.

Madame Hamel asked her sister-in-law if she was doing anything to tend to the tumours. The accused replied that she put ointments on the little girl but that that didn't cure her.

In reply to Monsieur Fitzpatrick, the witness said that she couldn't say whether or not little Aurore was very intelligent. She didn't know the accused’s children very well. The children never spoke to people who went there.

Questioned again by Monsieur Francoeur, Madame Hamel admitted that she was offended by the fact that her brother had remarried Marie-Anne Houde without informing her. Some time earlier, Madame Hamel had spoken to her brother about this proposed marriage and she had told him that it wouldn't work, because the woman didn't like children; the accused had told her so herself. The marriage had caused the witness distress.

Madame Hamel stated that she had spoken of the testimony she was to give only to the Crown attorneys and that she had never expressed her opinion of the two accused. She had never said that they deserved to be hanged. She would leave the judgement to God.

Monsieur Francoeur asked,
"Didn't you say that they deserved to be punished?"
"Punished as they deserve, nothing more."

It was five-thirty when the session was adjourned until this morning.


(From the correspondent of La PRESSE)
Quebec City, 15. — A rather serious situation has developed that could well delay the trial of the Gagnon woman. Young Gérard Gagnon, son of the accused and one of the principal witnesses who are to be heard, fell ill yesterday. He was taken to the hospital of Doctor Jean Dussault, suffering from influenza and a heart ailment. It is possible that a commission will be appointed to go and question the child in the hospital.

In reply to the judge, Maître Francoeur, the counsel for the accused, stated this morning that, even if he began immediately, he did not think that he would be able to complete presenting his evidence by this evening and that the trial could not finish before Saturday. The trial of the husband, Télesphore Gagnon, will take place immediately after. When the trial resumed this morning, the judge, at the request of the defence, had the courtroom cleared of any jurors who had not been sworn in.


The judge has reached a decision on the question of the admissibility of the statements made by Aurore Gagnon to Doctor Lafond. These statements can be admitted. When he was recalled, Doctor Lafond said that he did not remember if, when he had inquired as to the cause of the wound on her foot last September, he had addressed his question to the child, but he knew that he had asked the question in the presence of the mother, who told him that the wound on the child's foot had been caused ten or so days earlier by some little boys who had thrown a stone at her and who had also hit her on the left side with a stick. The witness observed that she was bruised there.


This witness, whose maiden name is Albertine Gagnon and who is the half-sister of Télesphore Gagnon, then said that she had gone to her brother's home twice last summer. She never observed anything unusual when she was there. The accused woman had told her that Aurore suffered from "bobos." She also told her that she would be the happiest woman in the world if only her husband's children did not cause such discord in the home, and she added that her husband never touched her children.

When she saw Aurore last summer, the child's condition was serious. Doctor Marois was recalled to the stand at the judge's request. The doctor calculated the number of wounds that he had observed on Aurore's body. There were 54 wounds. Monsieur Francoeur asked if they were all wounds or lesions. Wounds and lesions, added Doctor Marois. Monsieur Francoeur wanted to know how many wounds and how many lesions there were. Doctor Marois will calculate the numbers.


The next witness was the sister of Aurore, the victim.

Marie-Jeanne Gagnon, along with Aurore, is one of the daughters from Télesphore Gagnon's first marriage. She is 12 years old. Last summer, she said, Maman (as she calls the accused, her stepmother), beat Aurore and burned her foot with a red-hot poker.

"For what reason?"
"I don't remember!"
"What was the result of this?"
"She had a swollen foot. She said in front of me that she had been beaten by Eugène Gagnon and the little Bédard boy. But I know that she said that because she was afraid of Maman."
The witness then recounted that some time after Aurore came home from the hospital, last January, the accused again began to beat Aurore with pieces of wood. Then the accused burned Aurore with a poker.

“Why?” asked Monsieur Fitzpatrick.

Because she would do her business elsewhere than in the chamber pot, but it was Maman who hid the pot. She said that she did that to make her pay penance.

How did she go about burning her? Maman would tie Aurore's feet to a table leg and would heat the poker in the door of the stove.

"What would you do during that time?"
"We would look out the window. Maman would make us watch to see if anyone was coming."
"And what would Aurore do?"
"She would scream. When she screamed too loudly, Maman would gag her with a leather strap."

The witness identified a strap that she was shown. Then Marie-Jeanne told how, two weeks before Aurore's death, her stepmother had pulled Aurore's hair out with a curling iron, several times.

"Where did Aurore sleep?"
"Aurore slept with me, upstairs."
"How did she behave with you?"
"She behaved well, except concerning the chamber pot."
"How was that?"
"Maman didn't want her to use the pot and Aurore would go in her bed."
"It was not her fault?"
"Would Aurore eat with the rest of you?"
"She would eat by herself. Maman said that she had given her her share and that Aurore had had enough. She went four meals without eating."
"Why did you not tell anyone about these things before Aurore died?"
"Maman told us not to talk about it, or else we would get thrashed too."
"Did the accused ever beat you?"
"Yes, several times."
"With what?"
"With the poker and with pieces of wood."

The witness was aware of only one time when Aurore hurt herself on her own. It was when she hurt her eye by falling against a door of the stove.

Marie-Jeanne then said that, the very day of her death, Aurore had been in bed upstairs; she was very weak, and her body was covered with lesions. Since she was late in getting up, the accused went to get her, saying "You won't stay in bed all day, you cow, you are going to get up." And she made her get up with a pitchfork handle. Aurore came downstairs, barely able to hold herself up. Once downstairs, the accused hit Aurore with the pitchfork handle and Aurore collapsed on the ground.

The day before Aurore died, the accused hit her on the head with a poker. This caused her head to swell. The accused said, "That is very good for her. We won't have to bother to send her to Reform School, because her head is starting to soften."

Two days before Aurore died, Marie-Jeanne telephoned her mother, who was at Madame Badeau's house, and asked her to come home, telling her that Aurore was in very bad state. The accused replied, "I don't need to come. Let her die; it would be good riddance." Marie-Jeanne admitted to Monsieur Fitzpatrick that the accused, after her arrest, had asked her not to say a word to the Court about what she knew.

There was deathly silence in the courtroom as the spectators listened to these appalling statements, uttered from the lips of the daughter of Télesphore Gagnon, who is accused of the same crime as the stepmother. Many of the spectators were weeping, and the judge himself, visibly moved, adjourned the session.

In the meantime, we have learned that, at the coroner's inquest, Marie-Jeanne Gagnon had sworn the opposite of what she has just recounted. She had sworn, on the contrary, that she had never seen the accused beat Aurore. It is true that the accused had not yet been arrested at that time. When the session resumed, the Crown presented to the Court a letter written by the accused and addressed to Gédéon Gagnon, Marie-Jeanne's grandfather. This letter, which is very difficult to read, will be transcribed by machine before being submitted to the jury.

Source: Correspondant La Presse, "L'affaire Gagnon aux Assises de Québec. Une voisine a déclaré que l'accusée lui aurait dit:"Je voudrais bien que la petite Aurore vint à mourir sans que personne en eut connaissance"," La Presse (Montréal), April 15, 1920.

Return to parent page

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History