Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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La Presse, April 26, 1920, p. 1



The brother-in-law of the defendant made this statement yesterday in the Court of Assizes. – He added that Gagnon told him that when he whipped the child, “the blood ran.”


A nephew of the defendant testified that he had seen his uncle beat little Aurore brutally on the orders of the cruel stepmother. – The wife also beat the victim in the presence of the child’s father.


(From the correspondent of La PRESSE)
Quebec City, 26.- The trial of Télesphore Gagnon, accused of murdering his own daughter, ten-year-old Aurore, a murder for which the cruel stepmother Marie-Anne Houde (the Gagnon woman), has already been sentenced to hang, continued this morning in the Assizes, before the presiding magistrate the Honourable Justice Désy. A new lawyer joined the defence team on Saturday: Maître A. Lavergne is now assisting Maître J. N. Francoeur and Maître Marc-Aurèle Lemieux. The Crown has not finished presenting its evidence, but all indications are that the case will not take long. The presiding magistrate is overseeing the proceedings at a brisk rate.


Residing in St. Jean des Chaillons, the brother-in-law of the accused was the first witness heard this morning. He went to the home of the accused in Ste. Philomène last summer. The accused talked to him about Aurore, saying that she was very difficult and that he had beaten her with a braided whip. The witness understood that the accused hit her hard on her bare back. He told the accused that this didn’t make any sense. The accused replied that he wasn’t about “to let himself be led around by that child.”

"She is stronger than my wife," said Gagnon. The accused told him that he would beat her upstairs because the room was larger and "there was more room to swing his whip." When he beat Aurore, the accused would ask her: "Have you had enough?" and Aurore would answer: "I don’t know."

The accused also told the witness that, when he beat Aurore, "her legs would give out and the blood would run." In reply to Maître Francoeur, the witness said that the accused had told him these things when the children were not present. He could not remember the accused telling him that he had beaten Aurore the previous year. He did not know the accused to be a violent man; rather, he was a gentle, sober man who did not swear.


She is the daughter of the previous witness and the niece of the accused, and was the next witness heard. She said that last summer, she had gone to spend some eight days at the home of the accused. She had often seen the accused hit Aurore as has been related. The mother would encourage the accused, saying that Aurore’s bottom was not bruised enough yet.

Madmoiselle Lebeuf had noticed marks on Aurore’s body, but couldn’t swear if these marks had been caused by the accused or by his wife. Maître Lachance also had her describe the mistreatment inflicted on Aurore by the wife of the accused. This was a repetition of the testimony that this woman had given in the Gagnon woman’s trial. Maître Lavergne objected to this evidence, but the judge allowed it.

Mademoiselle Lebeuf recalled the time when the Gagnon woman had said to her: "Watch how well she washes the dishes when I beat her," and the other atrocities that we are familiar with. Maître Francoeur intervened.

-"Since we are re-hearing the Gagnon woman’s trial,” he said, “we should refer to the testimony given at the last trial. It would not take as long."

The judge said, "You are not serious, Monsieur Francoeur."

Monsieur Francoeur said: "I am very serious; that is why I am here. The Crown is trying to present the jury with the facts that were proven against the Gagnon woman, who has been found guilty and sentenced to death. It is doing so in order to confuse the jury that has been called upon to judge Télesphore Gagnon."


Monsieur Lavergne also protested, but the judge ruled that he would allow this evidence. It would be up to the jury to decide if it is to be presumed that the accused was aware of these facts. The witness stated that one day the accused told her, “If you want to see her beaten, now is the time.” Then he took a whip that he hung up in the kitchen right after. The witness then went out to the barn and does not know what happened next; she does not know if the accused beat

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Aurore that time.

The accused was displeased because his wife had just told him about filthy things that Aurore had allegedly done. Another time, as the Gagnon woman was reciting a list of atrocities that she was blaming Aurore for, the accused told his wife, "It is useless to beat her. I would just as soon hit the stove as hit her."

In reply to Monsieur Francoeur, Mademoiselle Lebeuf said that she thought that the Gagnon woman reported these atrocities to her husband in order to turn him against Aurore. She never told her uncle how his wife was treating Aurore. Why not? Didn’t she think to do so? She had gone there in order to see how things were going.

At this point the witness concluded her testimony.


Several witnesses were heard at the Saturday morning session in the Gagnon case. Here is a report of the depositions made at this sitting, which was marked by an incident. While the judge himself was examining a witness, Monsieur Francoeur thought it his duty to intervene to protect his client and the witness. There followed a rather harsh exchange of words between the judge and Monsieur Francoeur.


The first witness heard Saturday was Detective Lauréat Couture. He said that he went to Ste. Philomène last February 13 in the company of Coroner Jolicoeur and Doctor Marois. At the coroner’s request, he had Aurore Gagnon’s body transported from the accused’s house to the basement of the sacristy. After the coroner’s inquest, he arrested Télesphore Gagnon and his wife, as they were leaving the church after Aurore’s funeral.

The same objects that had appeared as evidence in the Gagnon woman’s trial also served as evidence in her husband’s trial: an axe handle, a pitchfork handle, a whip, a poker, a rope, etc.

The detective stated that he had seen blood on the walls and the floor of the room where Aurore slept. He could not swear that it was human blood. There were what looked like footprints in the blood on the floor. The room was lit by a window, and a stove-pipe passed through the room.

"The coroner," asked Monsieur Francoeur, "instructed you to arrest the accused and his wife?"
"He instructed me to arrest Télesphore Gagnon, his wife, and Marie-Jeanne Gagnon."
"Did you have a warrant?"
"Did you go to Télesphore Gagnon’s home several times?"
"When was the last time that you went there?"
"Do you know where the accused’s room is?"
"I do not know."


A resident of Ste. Philomène, she stated that she lived in a house next to the accused’s, at a distance of about three arpents.

Monsieur Fitzpatrick examined her:

"Télesphore Gagnon has been married twice, is that not so?"
"What children did he have from his first marriage?"
"Marie-Jeanne, Aurore and Georges-Etienne."
"The wife of the accused was a widow when she married him?"
"How many children did she have from her first marriage?"
"Two: Gérard and Georges."
"The day that Aurore Gagnon died, did you go to the home of the accused?"
"Did you see the accused there?"
"He arrived there at about three or four o’clock in the afternoon."
"What did he say?"
"He asked if we had sent for the priest. His wife answered no. He remarked that Aurore had better make her confession about the way she had been behaving."
"Did the accused say anything else?"
"He said, ‘People are going to talk.’ I said, ‘Yes, people are going to talk, and rightfully so. I warned you that the child needed a doctor, and nothing was done.’"
"What did he answer?"
"He didn’t answer."
"Did you have any other conversations with the accused a little while before Aurore died?"

“Last January, Télesphore Gagnon and his wife had come to visit at our house. He spoke about Aurore, saying: ‘I beat her, but it doesn’t do any good. She won’t listen. I won’t beat her anymore.’ He talked about sending her to Reform School. I said that the child was much too young for that and that the convent would be more suitable. He replied that that would be too expensive."

"Did he often talk about Aurore?"
"Yes. He said that she was a difficult child to raise."

An objection from Monsieur Lavergne provoked a strong expression of opinion on the part of Justice Désy. Monsieur Lavergne pointed out that, before describing the mistreatment inflicted upon Aurore, the Crown had to prove that the accused acted in complicity with his wife.

The Judge said: "What? Here we have a ten-year-old child who was tortured for six months in the accused’s home. There is a clear presumption that the accused knew about it and permitted the child to be martyred.

"If I appointed you the guardian of a dog, Monsieur Lavergne, and someone tortured that dog in the room next to yours, I am sure that your animal instinct would make you aware that the dog was being tortured."

"But if the accused was away from home," Monsieur Lavergne continued.
"He wasn’t away all the time," the judge asserted. "It would be better to clarify the matter and set out all the facts. That summarizes my opinion."

The witness then described the state in which she had found Aurore Gagnon on the day she died. When she had spoken to the child for the last time, she had asked her if she was suffering much and where she hurt the most. The little girl replied that it was especially her knees that hurt. Madame Lemay recognized most of the articles that she was shown and that had been found in Aurore’s room. She did not, however, recognize the straw mattress. She remembered that Aurore had been lying on a small grey sheet.

Examined by Monsieur Francoeur, Madame Lemay said that it was some time around the holidays that the accused and his wife had come to visit at the Lemays’.

"Who first started to talk about Aurore – the accused, or his wife?"
"Both of them talked about her. I don’t know who talked about her first. They said that she was stubborn. I told them to put her in the convent, and they replied that that was too expensive.”
"Where did the accused spend the winter until Aurore died?"
"At the logging site in the woods. He spent a few days at home."
"The day that Aurore died, did he come to the house on his own, or did they send someone to go and get him?"
"They sent for him."

By the Judge:

"Was the logging site far from his house?"
"Three or four miles away."
"Was it warm in Aurore’s room, on the day she died?"
"Was that the room where the children were playing?"
"We could hear them playing upstairs."
"Did the accused’s wife tell you in front of him that Aurore made filthy messes on the floor?"
"Did she accuse Aurore of doing other bad things?"
"Yes, but I know that they were lies."

And the witness then related the dreadful slander with which the cruel stepmother had blackened Aurore’s reputation in front of her father, slanderous accusations which we are unable to report.


She is the half-sister of the accused. She was examined by Monsieur Lachance:

"Did you know Aurore Gagnon?"
"When did you last see her alive?"
"I saw her last January."
"When did you see her before that?"
"I had not seen her for a year."
"What kind of child was she, physically?"
"She was a sturdy child."
"Where was she when you saw her last January?"
"She was in the kitchen."
"Did you notice anything about her?"
"I noticed that her face was blackened, her eyes were swollen, and she had marks on her legs. She was cold and was standing close to the stove."
"What makes you say that she was cold?"
"She was trembling."
"Did you make any comments to the accused?"
"I pointed out to him that Aurore had black eyes."
"Did he say why it was that she had black eyes?"
"He said that he didn’t know why."
"Did you not wash the child?"
"Yes, I washed her."
"Was there any talk of the child having been punished?"
"My brother told me that he didn’t want to beat her anymore, because it didn’t do any good."
"Was she not limping?"
"Yes, she was limping. She said that she had a splinter on the bottom of her foot."

By the Judge:

"Did she say that on her own?"
"No. Télesphore’s wife first said, ‘You have a splinter.’ And Aurore replied, ‘Yes.’"
"Was she a normal child?"
"Yes, but she didn’t talk."

Examined by Monsieur Francoeur:

"Did Télesphore say anything to Aurore that day?"
"He told her to go lie down. I told her to cover herself up well."
"Did the wife of the accused say anything about Aurore’s sores?"
"She said, ‘It’s tuberculosis. We’ll all die like that.’"
"Didn’t the wife of the accused say that Aurore had fallen against the door of the stove?"
"What did Aurore say about that?"
"She said that it was true."
"When Télesphore told you that you would be surprised if you could see Aurore’s bottom, what did you understand him to mean?"
"I did not understand what he meant."

Maître Francoeur then asked the witness to repeat the slanderous accusations that the cruel stepmother had made about Aurore in front of her husband. Madame Hamel listed some of these things.

"What did the accused say when he heard his wife say these things?"
"He said that he was discouraged and that he was afraid he would go mad."
"Did you advise Télesphore’s wife to do something for Aurore’s humours?"
"I told her to wash her with boiled water. She replied that she had done that and it didn’t do any good. She said that Aurore would go outside in her bare feet, that she had caught cold and that it had gone to her head."
"Was her husband there when his wife said that she did not want to spend $50 to have Aurore treated?"
"He had gone out."

The Judge:

"Let us be very clear about this point. It is important. Report everything that the wife of the accused said in the presence of the accused."

The witness hesitantly began to reply. Maître Francoeur tried to intervene.

"Do not intervene," said the judge.
"I have the right to intervene," said Maître Francoeur, "in the interest of justice. The witness is in a delicate situation. She is the sister of the accused and often says confusing things that could mislead the jury. I have the right to intervene. If the Court claims that I do not have the right to intervene, I will abide by that ruling, but I maintain that I have the right. Let the judge question the witness, but let him not proceed as he has been doing.

Finally, Madame Hamel said that she did not notice if Télesphore’s wife had said this thing or that thing in his presence. That settled the question.


This farmer from Ste. Philomène was the next witness. He was examined by Monsieur Lachance. He lives three arpents away from Télesphore Gagnon’s house. He went to the Gagnons’ in the evening of January 18. Télesphore was there. The witness noticed that Aurore’s eyes were blackened. The mother said that it was because she had gone outside in bare feet.

"What did Télesphore say?"
"I don’t remember him speaking."

Didn’t he say anything about Aurore?

"He said that she was a difficult child to raise. He said that he had beaten her, but that he wouldn’t beat her anymore, because it didn’t do any good."
"What was Aurore doing during this time?"
"She was washing the dishes. Her father said to her, ‘D………pig-head, go and wash the dishes.’"
"Did you notice anything wrong with her legs and feet?"
"No, I didn’t notice."

The witness then related the slanderous accusations the stepmother had made about Aurore.


Emilien Hamel, a sixteen-year-old from St. Jean Deschaillons, was the last witness heard in this session. He is the nephew of the accused. He spend about fifteen days in the accused’s home at the end of March 1919. He was cutting firewood on his uncle’s land. One day, his aunt said to her husband, “Beat her. She doesn’t want to wash the dishes.” His uncle took a piece of wood and hit Aurore ten times on her legs. He hit her hard. This happened twice.

"What was Aurore doing while this was happening?"
"She was crying."
"And what was he saying?"
"He wasn’t saying anything."
"Did the condemned woman beat Aurore in front of her husband?"
"With what?"
"With a switch."

The witness added that Aurore was a child who behaved well. In reply to Monsieur Francoeur, he said that Télesphore Gagnon beat Aurore the same way that other parents usually beat their children. At twelve thirty, the Court adjourned until this morning, Monday.

Source: Correspondant La Presse, "Le crime de Sainte-Philomène. Gagnon battait l'enfant dans le haut de la maison, parce que la pièce était plus libre et que son fouet "n'accrochait pas"," La Presse (Montréal), April 26, 1920.

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