Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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La Presse 19 avril 1920, p. 1



The comforting scene that greeted our special correspondent: an old couple, the parents-in-law of the stepmother, tenderly caring for the ten-month-old infant that the accused woman has left at home. - Who the defendant’s husband was before his second marriage. - A village seething with indignation.


(From the correspondent of La Presse).

Quebec City, 19.- The legions of readers interested in the trial of the Gagnon woman, accused of having martyred her stepdaughter, little Aurore Gagnon, must have been stupefied to read in last Saturday’s issue of La Presse the news story of the unspeakable indifference of certain officers of the law in this affair.

As we have already reported, an influential citizen of Fortierville went to see a representative of the Crown, a few days before little Aurore died, to report that a crime unprecedented in the annals of criminal history was taking place in Fortierville, and to demand that the law intervene.

We have also reported that this representative of the Crown replied that the citizen himself had to lodge a formal complaint, and failing that, the machinery of the law could not be put into motion to prevent this crime from being perpetrated. We can report today that it was Monsieur Oreus Mailhot, a merchant in Fortierville and also a Justice of the Peace, who, as we reported, approached the authorities in Quebec City.

Monsieur Mailhot had been informed of some of the facts that have come to light in the trial of the Gagnon woman. Being a good citizen, he deemed it appropriate to inform the authorities of these events. He took the pains to go to Quebec City himself and to contact Monsieur Arthur Fitzpatrick, a lawyer, one of the two Crown Prosecutors in Quebec City.

Our readers know the rest.

To set things in motion, that is to say, to prevent a horrific crime from being perpetrated, the law imposed onerous conditions on the charitable citizen who had taken the pains to come forward with this information. Under the unfortunate procedure followed in this case, Monsieur Mailhot had to assume the responsibility of lodging a complaint in due form. Being neither a police officer nor personally involved, he refused to comply with the conditions that were being imposed on him. In vain did he ask that an investigator be sent to the premises to gather information or to observe the alleged perpetrators of the martyrdom of little Aurore Gagnon. He was told that he had to do all of that himself if he wanted to see the law look into this case.

Monsieur Mailhot thus washed his hands of it. A few days later, poor little Aurore died after having suffered even more atrocious abuse, succumbing perhaps when the final blow was delivered: when, weakened by her fifty wounds and lying collapsed on the kitchen floor, she was struck three times on the back with a stick.

These events must be laid before the public.

Since the sad events of last February, Monsieur Mailhot has acted as a real father to the Gagnon children. When he took them to the St. Joseph de la Délivrance hospice, in Lévis, at the beginning of the trial, the children clung to his clothes, crying and begging him not to leave them.


Quebec City, 19.- When proceedings resumed this morning at the Assizes, Maître Arthur Fitzpatrick, one of the Crown Attorneys, complained of the news story published on Saturday in La Presse concerning a Fortierville citizen who had approached the authorities, before the death of Aurore Gagnon. He claimed that this article was false, but he added that on last February 9 or 10, Monsieur O. Mailhot of Fortierville had come to tell him that Aurore Gagnon was being mistreated. Monsieur Mailhot stated that he had only hearsay evidence. He sent Monsieur Mailhot to investigate, and the little girl died a few days later. Monsieur Francoeur also protested against this news story, which he said tended to incriminate the Crown.

He said that he has received threatening letters on the subject of this trial, and he accuses the newspapers of inciting public opinion. The Honourable Justice Pelletier believes that the attorneys’ explanations are sufficient and he is convinced that the Crown did its duty. We report these remarks here in all fairness to the Crown, whose behaviour has been called into question by Monsieur Mailhot.


(from the special correspondent of La Presse)
Fortierville, 19- About a dozen arpents north of the church in Ste. Philomène de Fortierville, a few hundred yards east of the railroad tracks that lead to Lotbinière and Mégantic, sits a small red-painted house with a beautiful white barn and the other small outbuildings standard for a prosperous-looking farm.

It is the home of Télesphore Gagnon, the farmer accused of murdering his daughter, Aurore Gagnon. It was the home of the second wife of Télesphore Gagnon, Marie-Anne Houde, who is accused of the same crime and who is currently on trial in Quebec City.

We went to visit this house, where one of the most heinous crimes in the annals of criminal history was perpetrated, where a little ten-year-old girl, Aurore Gagnon, was subjected to a martyrdom of which only a few details have come to light in the trial of the Gagnon woman.

It was yesterday morning, one hour before High Mass. When we approached the house, we saw an alert-looking old man coming back from the barn where he had gone to do the farm chores. He greeted us graciously and took us into the main room of the house, which is the kitchen. It was Monsieur Gédéon Gagnon, the father of Télesphore Gagnon.


He is a handsome old man of medium stature, with white hair, square shoulders, and the open look of an honest worker. Madame Gédéon Gagnon, who is his second wife, is a dignified country woman, stooped with age. She is leaning over a cradle where a ten-month-old baby is crying. This baby is the child of Télesphore Gagnon and the accused Marie-Anne Houde. He is suffering from eczema, and his grandparents are caring for him with infinite tenderness.

Since Télesphore Gagnon and his wife were arrested last February 14, following the coroner’s inquest into the death of little Aurore Gagnon, Monsieur Gédéon Gagnon, the father of Télesphore, has been taking the place of the imprisoned head of the household. He had given up working in the fields a while ago, after a life of labour from which he deserved a better rest than this. Now a catastrophe has shattered the restful days of his old age, and he has gone back to doing the work of a young man, along with his wife

We didn’t want to speak of this tragic affair to this worthy old couple. We wanted only to have a quick look at the place that has become so tragically famous in the last few days. But the old couple brought up the topic first, asking us if we had news of the trial taking place in Quebec City.

No sharp words escaped from the lips of these old people. Both of them have the type of faith that can sustain the most abject, and they both trust in Divine Providence. The will of God be done. Obviously their sympathies lie with Télesphore, their beloved son who had the misfortune of losing his first wife, a fine person, and of meeting on his life’s journey another woman, who transformed his character.


We visited the room where little Aurore used to sleep. It is no longer in the condition that has been described by witnesses at the trial. It has undergone a thorough scrubbing and is now clean. The floor and the walls, which as we know were stained with the blood of the little martyr, have been washed. But, despite all efforts, not all had been removed and we were clearly able to observe here and there a remaining few spots of blood.

It was in a corner of this room, on the floor, without blankets, that Aurore Gagnon used to sleep, while her little brothers and her sister slept in beds. She slept near the only window on the east side of the house, exposed to the drafts that blew in around that window.


The farm buildings are extremely clean. Télesphore Gagnon was known as an excellent farmer and even as a man who was handy in most trades. He was a blacksmith, a mason, a carpenter, all that you might want, and he never had to call upon tradesmen to do any of the work his buildings required. More than that, he would even take on stone-work in the Parish, and all that without neglecting his own farm work in any way.

Through his work, he became the owner of a beautiful farm that is worth some $10,000, and he had given out loans.

He was a quiet man, who never minded any business but his own. Claims that he was a man who was feared throughout the parish are false. He is a giant of a man, but he didn’t interfere in others’ business, nor did he associate with many people, and he

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spent his spare time hunting. He was said to be an excellent shot. Is this the man who, in a few months, is said to have become the brute that is claimed? We shall find out when his trial begins, immediately after his wife’s.

We left Monsieur and Madame Gédeon Gagnon’s home as the former was preparing to leave for High Mass with another of his sons. The old woman said to us, as she showed us the sick baby, “Oh, if the Good Lord came to take him, how happy I would be!”


As we have reported, the accused woman, Télesphore Gagnon’s wife, is not from Ste. Philomène de Fortierville, but from Ste. Sophie de Lévrard, in the county of Nicolet. She has no relatives in Fortierville. It is also not surprising that we heard not one word of sympathy expressed for her here. But, relative or not, no one could, in the bottom of his heart, feel any sympathy for the perpetrator of a crime as horrific as the one that has been proven during the Gagnon woman’s trial in Quebec City.

All the citizens of Fortierville are unanimous in calling for this woman to be punished as she deserves to be.

One person said to us: “Is it true that they are going to try to claim that she was insane? What a joke! Her? Insane? Not on your life! Mean, yes, as mean as you could want, but not insane. Oh, no!”

When we pointed out to him that if the woman were declared insane, she would be sent to an insane asylum, he replied most seriously, “She wouldn’t stay there for two days. It wouldn’t take them long to notice that she is not insane!”

Then we heard these words: “I am afraid that she might be cunning enough to pass herself off as insane!”


Father J. Michel Ferdinand Massé, of Fortierville, has been called to testify at the Gagnon woman’s trial. Detective Lauréat Couture of the Provincial Police, who has so ably overseen the case for the past two months, came to inform the priest of the Crown Attorneys’ request, and the priest has gone willingly. Yesterday, at the High Mass sermon, Father Massé announced that he was leaving for Quebec City today, since he had been called to testify.

“I had,” he said, “prepared a program for masses for this week, but now I find my plans interrupted; I am obliged to go down to Quebec City for the sad affair with which you are all too familiar. Will I testify before the Court? I don’t know. I will consult with my ecclesiastical superior beforehand.”

Father Massé said that this undertaking is a serious one and could have major repercussions on the Parish. He asked his parishioners to pray for him. Then, announcing that the churchwardens were holding a house collection for the benefit of the widow Madame Anthime Gagnon, he asked his flock to give generously, saying that their offerings will serve to atone for the public scandals that have taken place in the parish.

Father Massé should be examined on nothing more than the mental state of the accused. Obviously, he would be protected by the confidentiality of the confessional for most of what he would know about the accused.


Quebec City, 19.- The only chance that the Gagnon woman still has of saving her neck is to pass herself off as insane. That is what her defence lawyers have been trying their utmost to do since Friday, following the damning testimony that was given against her yesterday by all the Crown witnesses, especially by her husband’s children and even by her own son, Gérard Gagnon.

Since yesterday, medical alienists have been examining the mental state of the accused, and other doctors have examined her physical state, all this for the defence.

Saturday’s sitting was short. At the outset, the Honourable Maître Francoeur, the counsel for the accused, formally stated that he had decided to plead insanity, in the interests of his client.


The Honourable Justice Pelletier allowed the defence to plead that she was not responsible because of insanity.

Monsieur Francoeur explained that he would also like to prove that the accused’s present state is unusual from a physical point of view. He asked that she be examined by doctors, and the judge has granted this request.


Monsieur Francoeur stirred up some emotion when he stated that he had had to bring in alienists from Montreal to examine his client, given that the Crown had rallied all the alienists in Quebec City to support the Crown’s case as of Friday morning.


It was then that Justice Pelletier observed that the medical profession was providing a sorry spectacle by dividing itself thus into two hostile camps in this unhappy case.

The judge then repeated the suggestion that he had made the previous day and that he would like to see applied without delay. He would like the Government to appoint a standing commission of alienists, who would be responsible for carrying out the mental examination of any accused persons whenever the occasion would arise. In this way such unfortunate controversies would be avoided.


Monsieur Francoeur suggested that Doctor A. Marois and Doctor Emile Fortier be responsible for examining the physical state of the accused, of observing her delicate condition, and of determining if she suffers from any physical ailment.

This request was granted by the Judge


As for her mental state, Monsieur Francoeur requested that the accused be examined by Doctor Alcide Tétrault, a physician at the St. Jean de Dieu Hospital in Montreal, and Doctor Albert Prévost, a professor at the Université de Montréal, assisted by Doctor Achille Paquet and Doctor Emile Fortier, of Quebec City.

This request was also granted by the judge.


On Saturday, Justice Pelletier adjourned the case until this morning (Monday), telling the jury how much he regretted seeing them detained longer than he had hoped. But, he said, in a murder trial, it is his pressing duty to give the accused every possible chance to defend herself and to give the defence the opportunity to take advantage of all means possible, whether at the beginning of the trial, in the middle, or at the end. It is obvious that the alienists who are going to examine the accused will not risk their reputations by coming forward to testify as to her mental state without having first examined her as thoroughly as possible.

The judge consoled the jurors by assuring them that, from now until the end of their sequestration, they would be offered all possible forms of recreation, such as outings, etc., in order to help them forget a little that they are being sequestered.


(From the correspondent of La PRESSE)
Quebec City, 19 - Since noon on Saturday, the Quebec City jail has seen a veritable procession of doctors going to examine the mental and physical state of the stepmother. The doctors sent by the defence went first, and were followed by the doctors sent by the Crown.


The Gagnon woman was subjected to a gruelling examination that lasted over three hours. If she is not insane, she must have a level head on her shoulders to withstand all this.


Georges Gagnon, Aurore’s brother and one of the Crown witnesses, who had been at the St. Joseph de la Délivrance hospice in Lévis since the beginning of the trial, has fallen ill himself with influenza and has been taken to the private hospital of Doctor Jean Dussault, on St. Jean Street, in Quebec City, where little Gérard Gagnon has also been staying. The public may be somewhat confused as to the blood relationships within this family, owing to the fact that the accused, before marrying Télesphore Gagnon, had been married to another man whose name was also Gagnon. Gérard, the boy who testified against her the other day, was a child from this first marriage.

p. 8


What the doctors who have examined the accused are saying. – The husband, Télesphore Gagnon, also accused of murder, is heard.


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Quebec City, 19 – The defence in the Gagnon case has begun to hear witnesses testify as to the physical state of the accused. Doctor Lafond, of Parisville, stated that he had treated the accused twice for full-term deliveries. Doctor Emile Fortier, of the St. Francis d'Assisi Hospital, who examined the accused in prison on Saturday and Sunday, stated that the woman is with child, six and one half months pregnant.

She is suffering from an illness whose scientific name could be translated, in layman’s terms, as an inflammation of the kidneys. Her legs are swollen. She is aenemic. He also gave a long list of names of symptoms of diseases that he believes he observed when he examined her urine. “Is she in danger of dying?” asked the judge. “No,” said Doctor Fortier.

Doctor Albert Marois, a physician, examined the accused at the same time as Doctor Fortier, and he reached more or less the same conclusions as Doctor Fornier, with a few variations.

There is congestion of her kidneys. He does not believe that there is an inflammation of the kidneys but admits that there could be a minimal lesion of the kidneys, and that could be a result of the accused’s current condition. He does not consider this to be an illness. Doctor Arthur Vallée, who conducted an analysis of the accused’s urine, presented his report to the Court. He concluded that there were minimal traces of albumin.

In reply to Maître Francoeur, Doctor Vallée said that it was impossible to categorically confirm or deny the presence of kidney disease without having the kidney in one’s hand. Monsieur Francoeur next called Télesphore Gagnon, the husband of the accused, who is himself accused of murder. Télesphore Gagnon is a 37-year-old lad who is more than six feet tall. Justice Pelletier told him that nothing he might say could be used against him in his own trial. Télesphore Gagnon said that he had married the accused two years ago; that he had had two children with her, one living and one dead. When his wife is in a delicate condition, he has observed a considerable change in her state of mind, in particular with respect to irritability. She would become obstinate. You had to be careful not to cross her.

She would go hours without saying a word. “When she was like that, I wouldn’t speak either,” he said.

Monsieur Francoeur asked him if he knew that the father of the accused indulged considerably in the consumption of alcohol. He replied that his wife had told him that. In reply to Monsieur Fitzpatrick, the witness said, “My wife loved my children from my first marriage as much as her own. She never told me that she hated Aurore any more than the others.

"Didn’t she say that Aurore would make filthy messes?"
"I knew it. I observed it myself."

The witness was then sent back to prison.

Madame Demers, from Trois-Rivières, who knew the family of the accused well, was examined about the previous history of this family. She had seen some of the men under the influence of alcoholic drink. One sister of the accused, Ernestine, died in Lyster. The witness had seen the woman beat her child on several occasions. Once, she had seen her beat one of her husband’s children with a strap, to make him say his prayers. The woman said, “I hate him too much.”

The witness had thought it appropriate to take the child away from her. The child was five years of age. Another of the accused’s sisters had led a dissolute life before she married. The witness had never known that the accused’s father was a drunk. At 11:45, the court took a ten-minute recess.

When the session resumed, the witnesses called by the defence had not yet arrived. Proceedings were suspended until this afternoon.

Source: Correspondant La Presse, "Le crime de Sainte-Philomène. Visite à la maison des Gagnon où se consomma le long et révoltant martyre de la petite Aurore," La Presse (Montréal), April 19, 1920.

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