Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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La Presse April 16, 1920, p. 1



The young girl added that the stepmother would come upstairs to the victim's room every night to beat her with pieces of wood. - The schoolteacher, Mademoiselle St. Onge, testified that the little martyred girl was a well-behaved, obedient and very intelligent child. - The victim was beaten with a pitchfork handle the very day that she died.


The whole court was transported to the Dussault hospital this morning to hear the testimony of Gérard Gagnon, the victim's brother, who is ill with influenza.


(From the correspondent of La PRESSE)
Quebec City, 16.-Emotions continue to run high at the trial of the Gagnon woman, accused of having martyred her stepdaughter Aurore, who died at 11 years of age. The child was the daughter of the defendant’s husband, Télesphore Gagnon, who will also be tried on the charge of murder.

The appalling testimony that was heard yesterday caused our city to shudder with horror, as can be well imagined. It is fortunate that the trial was held behind closed doors yesterday, since, if yesterday's testimony had been heard by as large a crowd as had attended the first days of the trial, some regrettable reaction may well have erupted.


The accused continues to keep her head covered by a thick black veil which reveals nothing of her features. All that could be observed was that, yesterday afternoon, at the end of the testimony of young Georges Gagnon, her husband's son, the woman was sobbing.

Yesterday afternoon's session was devoted to the testimony of Marie-Jeanne Gagnon, Aurore's sister, that of Georges Gagnon, Aurore's brother, and that of Mademoiselle St. Onge, a schoolteacher.

At the beginning of the session, Justice Pelletier reassured Marie-Jeanne and advised her to keep her emotions under control. He told her that Monsieur Francoeur had the right and even the duty to question her as he did. He asked her therefore to speak up without fear, assuring her that nothing bad would happen to her.


Monsieur Fitzpatrick submitted to the court a letter written by the Gagnon woman when she was in prison and addressed to her father-in-law and her mother-in-law, Monsieur and Madame Gédéon Gagnon, of Ste. Philomène.

Monsieur Francoeur objected to the letter being read, but the judge rejected this objection and had the letter read. We are publishing the text here below, respecting the style and the errors in spelling of the original.

Address: Télesphore Gagnon, 311 Wolfe Avenue, Upper Town, Quebec City.

Deer mother and deer father I write you a few word to tel you that my husband is well and I have been sick in bed with influensa for 5 days now but wil get up tomorow that is why the inquiry is delaid it is very long and frustrating we are eeger to leave it could last untill the beginning of the week of the 29 that is along time as you can see do not forget us in your prayers and the children too they are gong to get Gerard for the inquiry you wil tell him that when the detective questions him that he doesnt speak he isnt allowed to and that is what has done to Marie Jeane and the court that they say nothing except yes or no you wil tell him this becauz you know he is deaf they can make him say what they want you wil tell him if the little girl cries and if the others arent sick Memère [Gramma] you will take the flanelette in my room and make each of them 2 shirts for the little one and if you need somthing to eat go to Madamede Baril and if the little girl cries give her sirup dont let her cry and dont wash the dirty luandry wait untill I get back dont give any news to anyone answer rite away and tell how everything is going and Memère must be tired but the Good Lord will reward her nothing is lost dont forget us in prayer and the children neither Many big kisses to all Marie Jeane is well too answer right away and pray for us.

Envelope: Mrs Gedeon Gagnon, Fortierville, Lotbinière County, P. Q.


Maître Francoeur then resumed his cross-examination of the victim's sister:

"Did you never sleep with Aurore?"
"Did you not sleep with her after coming home from the Youville Hospice?"
"And before the accused married your father, during holidays?"
"No, Aurore never spent the holidays there during that time."
"You said that your mother would often go upstairs to beat Aurore?"
"Every evening?"
"Every night."
"Were you awake?"
"It would wake me up when Aurore screamed."
"Did Gérard sleep upstairs?"
"Yes, but not in the same room."
"With what did the accused beat Aurore upstairs?"
"With pieces of wood."
"Did she have a lamp?"
"Yes, every time."
"Is it not true that your mother went upstairs once at night because Aurore was sleeping with her little brothers?"
"Yes, that happened once." (Here Marie-Jeanne began to sob her heart out. A few moments later she continued): "Aurore was cold and she wanted to warm herself up."
"You said that Aurore would soil her bed because the accused would take way the chamber pot?"
"When did that happen?"
"One month before she died."
"Did she do that only when there was no pot?"
"Was there a pail in the room?"
"Do you swear that this happened at no other time?"
"No, at least not that I remember."
"Did you put ointment on Aurore's wounds?"
"Yes, last summer. Papa had me put some on."
"Did Aurore scratch herself?"
"Didn't scratch her pimples?"
"No, she didn't have any pimples."
"Didn't she have scabs?"
"Wouldn't she scratch her scabs and then wipe her hands on the wall?"
"Did you never burn Aurore yourself?"
"No, I never burned Aurore."
"Once, when your mother was in the barn, did you not make Aurore grap the red-hot poker?"
"No, she is the one who would do that, and she would say, 'Look at how crazy she is; she doesn't know how to grab the poker without burning herself.'"
"The poker was red?"
"How do you know that if, as you have said, you were standing at the window and looking outside when this was happening?"
"I looked outside only when she was burning Aurore, but not when she was heating up the poker on the stove."
"How much of the poker would she heat red-hot?"

(Here the witness indicated a length of 7 to 8 inches.)

"What would happen after that?"
"The skin would come off of her hands."
"How many times did that happen?"
"I don't know. I remember that there were three times that the skin came off her hands."
"How many times did the accused burn Aurore?"
"I don't know."
"When was the first time that she burned her?"
"It was last January."
"And the other times?"
"I remember that it happened once in February."
"On what part of her body would she burn her?"

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"But again?"
"On her feet, on her arms, on her hands, on her wrists..."
"Did she burn her on her face?"
"No....I don't really know all of the places where she burned her, but I know that she burned her enough that Aurore died from it."


"Where was your father at this time?"
"Papa wasn't there. He was in the woods."
"When he came home, would you tell him what had happened?"
"We were afraid of being beaten."
"By whom?"
"By Maman."
"Isn't it true that you would tell your father all about your squabbles when he would arrive home?"
"And if your father swore that, wouldn't he be telling the truth?"
"He cannot say that."
"Did your father never lecture you about the way you behaved with your brothers and sisters?"
"Did he never tell you to do anything when you were leaving to go to confession?"
"And when you came home from confession?"
"When did Aurore fall on the stove door?"
"It was in January."
"Where was your father then?"
"He had gone to keep vigil beside the body of my Uncle Anthime."
"Aurore hurt her eye, did she not?"
"Which eye?"
"The left eye. It was swollen and black."
"Did your mother put a dressing on the eye?"
"She put bread boiled in milk on it and it healed…. The night that that happened, Aurore had only one black eye. The next morning, she had two black eyes. I don't know how that happened: I make a mistake earlier. It was when my uncle was sick that Aurore fell against the stove door. Papa had gone to keep vigil at his bedside."
"When did your mother put dressings on these wounds?"
"Only three days after the accident, the evening when my Aunt Rose-Anna had come."


"Do you recognize this strap?"
"You said that Aurore was gagged with this strap -- how many times?"
"What was this strap used for?"
"Papa would take it with him when he went hunting."
"Do you recognize this switch?"
"Is it not true that your little brothers would play with it in the house, upstairs?"
"They would play upstairs sometimes, but not with that switch; it was with the end of a whip."
"How many times did they play upstairs like that?"
"I don't remember."


"Do you remember ever leaving the house to go and hide in the woods?"
"I remember."
"How many times did you do that?"
"I don't remember."
"Is it not true that your father found you once in the woods and took you home?"
"Yes. I was not hiding in the woods. I was going to the village because Maman had given me a thrashing. I don't remember why. I think it was the day that Maman had come home from Quebec City. She had asked me to do a chore and she had come back before I had finished doing it. Then she said to me: 'You're going to get a good thrashing.'"
"Do you remember coming home one day saying that you had seen some creatures in the barn."
"That is surely not true."
"After you ran away like that, you would come home when you returned to your senses?"
"I had all my senses about me when I left."
"You said that, the day that Aurore died, your mother hit her with an axe handle?"
"No, it was with a pitchfork handle."
"Where did she take it from?"
"From the shed."
"Had Aurore had breakfast that morning?"
"Did your mother offer her breakfast?"
"Yes, but Aurore didn't want it. She was barely half conscious. She made a sign that meant 'no.'"
"Where on her body did she hit her that day?"
"On her back."
"How many blows did your mother give her?"


-Three blows: there might have been more, but I noticed only three. When she arrived downstairs, Aurore collapsed on the floor. Maman said, "Those are only gestures." Then she hit her three times on the back with the pitchfork handle. When Maman had gone to get her upstairs, she had said, "That cow won't stay in bed all day."


"You say that you saw your mother tear Aurore's hair out?"
"Did Aurore have short hair?"
"Like a little boy's?"
"Yes, but it was long enough to wrap around the curling iron twice."
"Was it apparent that Aurore had had her hair torn out?"
"Yes, there was a patch on the back of her head."
"How big was it?"
"I don't know, but it was visible."
"You didn't need to be a doctor to see it, is that not so?"
"Then show on your own head exactly where this patch was."
"I don't remember."
"This was shortly before her death?"
"It was in the last two weeks."
"Did her hair grow back in that spot?"
"I saw her the morning she died, and the hair had not grown back."
"Was it swollen?"
"I don't know, but there was a scab."
"After she died, did you take the sheets off her bed?"
"There were no sheets."
"How many times did her mother accuse Aurore of having put some filth in her father's clothes?"
"One time, and it was my mother who had done it. She took some filth and put it in Papa's overcoat."
"Don't you remember that Aurore had defecated in a hat?"
"I never knew anything about that."

Thus ended the testimony of Marie-Jeanne Gagnon; this was the most powerful testimony that has been heard so far against the accused.

Mademoiselle ST. ONGE

Mademoiselle St. Onge, who has been the schoolmistress at the Ste. Philomène school for the past year, was then heard, and examined by Monsieur Fitzpatrick.

"Have you previously met the accused?"
"Yes, one time."
"Did you know Aurore Gagnon?"
"Yes, she was one of my pupils."
"For how long was she at your school?"
"For about one month."
"When was that?"
"Last May."
"Did she not return?"
"What kind of child was she?"
"She was a very quiet child, very well behaved and obedient."
"Was she intelligent?"
"Yes, very intelligent."
"Did you every observe anything abnormal about her?"
"No, never."

When examined by Monsieur Francoeur, Mademoiselle St. Onge said that her school is located on the seventh concession. It is an elementary school. Marie-Jeanne and the other Gagnon children went to her school during last September only.


The next witness was little Georges Gagnon, 9 years of age, the brother of Aurore and Marie-Jeanne. He is the son of Télesphore Gagnon, and the stepson of the accused. Since he showed that he had a good understanding of what an oath is, he was sworn in.

Examined par Monsieur Fitzpatrick:

"Where were you living last winter?"
"At my parents' house."
"You are the little brother of Aurore Gagnon?"
"Where did Aurore used to sleep?"
"Upstairs, in the attic."
"All alone?"
"And the others?"
"We others would sleep on the other side."
"Who do you mean, you others?"
"Myself and Gérard."
"And where did Marie-Jeanne sleep?"
"In the same room as Aurore, but not in the same bed."
"Do you remember when Aurore became sick?"
"What was wrong with her?"
"It was because Maman did nothing but spank her, beat her, and burn her with a poker."
"Did someone tell you to say that?"
"No, no one."
"Did you see your mother gag Aurore with a strap?"
"Yes, when she also tied her feet to the table."
"With what would she spank her?"
"With a stick."
"Did she spank her with anything else?"
"Yes, with a switch that was underneath the cupboard."
"Was it with this switch?"
"Yes, I recognize it."
"Do you recognize this poker?"
"Did you see your mother beat Aurore with this poker?"
"How many times?"
"Were you there the morning of the day that Aurore died?"
"I saw her when she started to become delirious. She was on a straw mattress that didn't have much straw in it. Maman kicked her in the stomach to make her go downstairs faster. I saw Maman drag Aurore across the floor."
"What would Aurore eat?"
"She didn't eat."
"Did she used to drink?"
"She didn't drink. Maman would watch her to make sure that she wouldn't drink."
"The day that she died, did your mother give her anything to drink?"
"Yes, in a cup."


"Was there any lye in the house?"
"Yes, Maman made her drink a little. Papa wasn't there. The lye was in a basin used for washing the floor. Maman told her, 'You'll see how good it is. It is sweet.'"

Monsieur Francoeur, who remained seated, asked little Georges to continue his story to the end.

"You must know something else?"
"Yes. Aurore didn't eat, not at all. Maman would put dirty things around and say that it was Aurore [who did it]."
"You swore to tell the truth?"
"Yes, and I am telling the truth."
"What you have just said against your mother is the truth?"
"Are you happy?"
"You had a pleasant trip?"
"You are happy to be here in Quebec City with all your people from Ste. Philomène?"
"You like it here in Quebec City?"
"Your accommodations are good at the Blanchard Hotel?"
"Are you being well fed?"
"Are your father and mother being well fed in prison?"
"I don't know."
"Have you been to see them in prison?"
"Are they comfortable there?"
"You didn't come to the preliminary investigation?"
"No. I was at the convent."
"You are very happy to have come to the trial?"


After this testimony, the judge suspended the proceedings and then returned a little while later and announced that a very inopportune circumstance had arisen in this trial. Young Gérard Gagnon, the brother of Aurore, who the Crown says is one of its chief witnesses, is sick in the hospital of Doctor Jean Dusseault, and his doctor has stated that he will not be able to come and testify before the Court this week. His condition, however, is such that he is able to testify. To avoid having to adjourn the trial until next Monday, which would be unfortunate for the jury and for everyone else, the Court could be moved to the hospital to hear his testimony. But, in order to do so, the unanimous consent of the lawyers for both parties would have to be obtained.

After some discussion, Monsieur Francoeur stated that he could not immediately assume the responsibility of accepting such a proposal, and the questions was put off until this morning.


(From the correspondent of La PRESSE)
Quebec City, 16. -The trial of the Gagnon woman resumed this morning at the private hospital of Doctor Jean Dussault, on St. Jean Street. Indeed, that is where young Gérard Gagnon, the brother of Aurore and one of the chief Crown witnesses, is being confined because he is suffering from influenza. When the sitting resumed this morning at the Court House, Monsieur Francoeur, the counsel for the accused, stated that he consented to the Court's being transported to the private hospital of Doctor Dussault to hear the testimony of young Gérard Gagnon. The move took place at once and all the officers of the Court, along with the lawyers for the two parties, the prisoner and her guards, were taken to the hospital by car. Some thirty people in all were moved.


At the doors of the St. Louis de France Hospital, which is the private hospital of Doctor Dussault, there gathered a crowd of curious on-lookers who had been following the trial up until now but who were not allowed to enter. Gérard Gagnon was examined by Monsieur Fitzpatrick. Before he even had even begun to speak, his mother began to weep, and Gérard did so as well. Gérard said that he was living at his parents' house when Aurore died. Aurore would sleep on a mattress on the floor in a corner of the room upstairs. Marie-Jeanne slept in the same room Sometimes, she had no mattress. Over a period of 3 or 4 weeks, Aurore would go outside barefoot in the snow and would wash the dishes. It was the accused who sent Aurore outside barefoot in the snow. He saw the accused burn Aurore with a hot poker and beat her with switches and a whip. He was the one who had given the switches to Detective Couture.

The morning that Aurore died, he saw Aurore drag herself downstairs from the attic, complaining that she did not feel well, and she sat on a bench at the bottom of the stairs. The accused washed her with a scrubbing brush that was used to clean the floor. The witness did not recall any other events from the morning in question. Aurore did not used to eat at the table, because his mother did not want her to, except when there was company. The witness had twice seen his mother tie Aurore to a table in order to burn her.

Gérard said:

"Once, Maman sent me to get some lye from the store. She spread it on a slice of bread and said to Aurore, 'Come and eat some candy.' When Aurore did not eat all of it, Maman told her, 'If you don't eat it all, I am going to give you a thrashing.' And Aurore ate all of it.

The witness also stated that if Aurore didn't eat at the table, it was because Marie-Jeanne didn't want her to. He saw Marie-Jeanne throw Aurore off her bed, hitting her with a stick, when she had wanted to sleep with her. Then Aurore would go and sleep in her corner. He saw Marie-Jeanne burn Aurore with the poker, under his mother's orders. Gérard said that he didn't say anything about this to his father, because his mother did not want him to.

Source: Correspondant La Presse, "Le martyre d'Aurore Gagnon. Marie-Jeanne Gagnon, soeur de la défunte, déclare que la prévenue tourmentait sa victime avec un tisonnier rougi au feu," La Presse (Montréal), April 16, 1920.

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