Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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La Presse, April 27, 1920, p. 1



According to the children of both Gagnon and the stepmother, the condemned woman would wrack her diabolic brain for ways to smear the reputation of the innocent victim in her father’s eyes.


(From the correspondent of La PRESSE)
Quebec City, 26. – The trial of Télesphore Gagnon, accused of murdering his own ten-year-old daughter, Aurore – a murder for which the cruel stepmother, Marie-Anne Houde (the Gagnon woman), has already been sentenced to hang – continued today at the Assizes, presided by the Honourable Justice Désy.

All indications are that this novel and unhappy affair is coming to an end. The Crown completed its evidence this morning and the defence does not look as if it will take very long. The defence consists more or less in the following: “The accused readily admits that he beat the child, but he beat her in order to discipline her, as is done in many families; if he was violent, it was because his wife ‘worked him up’ by convincing him that the child was full of vices and flaws; he never intended to cause the child to die.”


This witness, the first to be heard this morning, is the condemned woman’s own son. Like Gérard, who was heard yesterday, he was born of the cruel stepmother’s first marriage with the late Napoléon Gagnon, a cousin of the accused Télesphore Gagnon. He said that last summer, his stepfather was working in the fields and would come home in the evening. He heard his stepfather beat Aurore with a cattle whip upstairs. He was downstairs and heard Aurore screaming. Last summer, the father also beat Aurore with a switch. Last winter, the father beat Aurore with a switch because the mother had told him that Aurore had been sleeping in the barn. That was not true. Georges said that Aurore had many wounds the day she died, including a “patch” on her forehead. “How long had she had that?” the judge asked.

"For three years."
"How many days?"
"Three or four days."

The child obviously did not understand very well.

Georges said that his mother had hidden money in Aurore’s collar to make her father believe that she was a thief. He also related other lies that we are familiar with. He said that his stepfather would not have beaten her if the mother had not told him these things.


This witness then testified that he had worked with the accused last year. The accused had told him that Aurore was a difficult child to raise and that he had beaten her with a cattle whip until the blood ran. The witness asked him if he had not tried kindness instead. Télesphore answered yes.

Last January, Télesphore told him that he would not beat his child anymore because "it was useless." The witness was with the accused when Alph. Chandonnet came to tell him that Aurore had died. The accused asked Monsieur Chandonnet if they had had the priest come. Monsieur Chandonnet replied that there had been a priest, a doctor, and a justice of the peace.

The accused expressed surprise that Aurore had died, saying that he had seen her that morning and she had been well.


This witness said that last summer, he had noticed that Aurore had a wound on her foot. He didn’t know if it was Télesphore or his wife who had said so, but one of them had told him that a child from the village had thrown a stone at Aurore.

After a recess of one quarter of an hour, Monsieur Lachance declared that the Crown had completed its inquiry, reserving the right to call on Doctor Marois at a later moment to establish that with appropriate treatment, Aurore Gagnon’s wounds would have healed.

Monsieur Francoeur said that Doctor Marois could not swear to that. In that case, the defence will have to call witnesses to establish the contrary.


The clerk of the Criminal Court was the first witness to be heard by the defence; he submitted to the Court the marriage contract between Marie-Anne Houde and the accused; the bill of indictment against Marie-Anne Houde; the verdict of guilty of murder; the death sentence of Marie-Anne Houde; etc.

Monsieur Francoeur also asked that the names of the witnesses heard during the first trial be submitted to the jury. Justice Désy asked the reason for this procedure. Monsieur Francoeur insisted and the Court allowed it.


This witness, the daughter of Télesphore Gagnon and the sister of the child martyr, continued her testimony at yesterday afternoon’s session.

In reply to Monsieur Fitzpatrick, she said that, in the two days before Aurore’s death, she thought that Aurore was going to die. She was not aware of her father having called the doctor during that time.

"Did you say to your father that you thought Aurore was going to die?"
"No," she said, "not to Papa."
"Did you say that to your mother?"
"And what did she reply?"
"She said, ‘I will be well

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rid of her. I’ll think that I am in heaven.’"
"Did you hear your father tell anyone how he would beat Aurore?"
"Yes, he said to someone in front of me that he had beaten Aurore ‘more than his horse.’"

Marie-Jeanne added that Aurore was an obedient girl. Her stepmother tried to make people believe that she was a thief and claimed that she possessed all imaginable vices, but these were "lies," added Marie-Jeanne. Examined by Monsieur Francoeur, Marie-Jeanne said that, after her father married Marie-Anne Houde, at first everything went well. But things started to go badly last summer, after Aurore came home from the hospital. Last fall, things went well for a month, after which they started to beat Aurore again. She remembered that her father had beaten Aurore with a whip last summer. Almost every evening, her mother would tell her father about "all the bad things that she claimed Aurore had done" during the day, and her father would beat Aurore. But when her mother had beaten Aurore a great deal herself during the day, she would not tell the father stories about Aurore’s bad behaviour. The last time that her father had beaten Aurore was at the beginning of February.

He never beat Aurore except when the mother told him lies about Aurore’s behaviour. Once the mother had put filth in the father’s clothes and had blamed Aurore for that, who "got a thrashing" from the father. Most of the wounds that Aurore had when she died had been caused by the stepmother, but not all of them, said the child, who stated that Aurore had wounds on her legs that had been caused by the father. Marie-Jeanne swore that it was by falling on the stove that Aurore had hurt one of her eyes last January. Her stepmother treated this wound with compresses of bread boiled in milk, and the swelling went down. But right afterwards, she hit her in the face with a piece of wood and hurt her other eye. The father was absent at the time. The father had spent the early winter working at a logging site and he was away from home during the day. He would come home at about four-thirty or five o’clock.

Marie-Jeanne stated furthermore that her father had beaten Aurore once in the barn, and that was because Aurore had gone outside in her bare feet. But she added that Aurore went outside in her bare feet because her stepmother “had hidden her shoes.” The witness related that, one day, the vile stepmother had forced Aurore to eat the contents of a chamber pot, and then went and told the father. She admitted that her stepmother was trying to pass Aurore off as mad. She thought that her father never would have beaten Aurore were it not for the lies told by the shrew. He was good to the other children. He beat them now and then to punish them, as is done everywhere, “but not often and not hard.” The witness recalled that last summer her father had asked her to put ointment on Aurore’s legs. She was asked why she had not told her father about the mistreatment that her stepmother was inflicting on Aurore and why she didn’t tell him that all the stories the stepmother told about Aurore’s supposed vices were lies. She replied that her stepmother had forbidden her to say a word about that.

The witness said that the infamous stepmother also threatened the other children of the family, telling them that they would get the same treatment if they breathed a word. The stepmother even made the children believe that if they said a word about what was going on to anyone at all, their father himself would give them the same treatment as Aurore. So none of the children said anything, even to the coroner. Marie-Jeanne said that her father had not beaten her for two years.


The next witness to be heard was Gérard Gagnon, the condemned woman’s own son, who was born of the shrew’s first marriage, when she had been married to a man whose name was Gagnon, the same name as her second husband. The witness is thus the son of Marie-Anne Houde and the late Napoléon Gagnon, who was a cousin of the accused Télesphore.

The little boy is 9 years old. He is a little deaf.

Gérard has just been released from the private hospital of Doctor Dussault, where the Court had gone to hear his testimony last week, in his mother’s trial. He said that he had seen his stepfather beat Aurore with an axe handle last summer. It was because she was putting the lid of the milk canister on her head. He recognized the axe handle that he was shown, but he remarked that it was shorter than it had been, as the accused had cut it. He also had seen the accused beat Aurore with a switch. Last summer, he had seen the accused beat Aurore with a cattle whip upstairs in the house – or rather, he hadn’t seen him, since he was downstairs, but he had heard the hiss of the whip and he had heard Aurore scream through the grate of the stovepipe. After hanging the whip up behind the stairs, the father said, “She’ll get as much again tomorrow.” That was two weeks before Aurore died. Gérard remembered that his stepfather had beaten Aurore and Marie-Jeanne with a whip last fall, on the same day. He said that his stepfather was never there when his mother beat Aurore or burned her with a red-hot poker. Some of Aurore’s wounds were visible, and some were not. At the end, she had a big soft bump on her head.

It had happened that the mother – his own mother – told her husband that she had beaten Aurore during the day because the little girl would not listen. Gérard said that his stepfather beat Aurore in the barn because she went outside in her bare feet, but that it was his mother who had forced Aurore to go outside in her bare feet. He admitted that every time the father beat Aurore, it was because he believed she deserved it. When the mother would relate the terrible things that Aurore had allegedly done, the father wouldn’t wait; he would give Aurore a thrashing. The mother forced Aurore to admit that the horrible things she was blamed for were true. Aurore would start out by denying it, and then she would admit that it was true. As for Aurore’s fall against the stove, Gérard swore that Marie-Jeanne had pushed Aurore. Maître Francoeur submitted Gérard Gagnon to a lengthy examination, during which the boy related the vices that his mother blamed Aurore for. The father believed all of these things, which the mother forced Aurore to admit, and it was only then that the father would become angry and would beat Aurore.


A caustic incident occurred at this time. Maître Francoeur was asking for details about the scene in which the stepmother forced Aurore to eat the contents of the chamber pot.

Maître Francoeur asked Gérard what was in the pot. The child hesitated a moment, and then blurted out the word “…..” There was then snickering in the courtroom. And Maître Francoeur exclaimed, “Those who are laughing should eat some themselves.”

Gérard asserted that his stepfather had always been good to him. He never told the father anything about what his mother was doing, because his mother threatened to do to him what she did to Aurore if he said a word.


The next witness was Madame Télesphore Badeau, 72 years of age, of Ste. Philomène. She said that last summer, at the home of one of her sons, "Jimmie" Badeau, she heard Télesphore Gagnon say that Aurore was very difficult to raise, that he didn’t know what to do with her, and that he had beaten her until he was tired, but that it was useless. Madame Badeau told him that he beat Aurore the way you would beat a dog and asked him if he were not afraid that he would kill her. She advised him to send the child to a convent. This testimony ended yesterday afternoon’s sitting.


Since the testimony reported below, that of Marie-Jeanne Gagnon, was published only in our extra edition, we believe that we should repeat it here. Marie-Jeanne is the full sister of the little martyred girl. This testimony was heard at yesterday morning’s sitting, which was adjourned at 12:30.

Marie-Jeanne was examined by Monsieur Fitzpatrick, who asked her if her father used to beat Aurore. He beat her sometimes, said Marie-Jeanne.

"With what?"
"With a whip."
"How long was the lash of the whip?"
"Two feet."
"What was the handle like?"
"It was wood."
"Was it the whip that he used on the horses?"
"Where did he beat her the first time?"
"In the kitchen."
"When was that?"
"Last summer."
"Because Maman told Papa that Aurore had gone into the sacristy to listen to mass."
"Did he tie her up that time?"
"Yes, he tied her hands behind her back."
"What did Aurore do?"
"She screamed."
"From the time that Aurore came home from the hospital until she died, how many times did you see your father beat her?"
"Three times."
"Where was this?"
"With what?"
"With switches and pieces of barrel staves."
"In what state of health was Aurore at the beginning of January when your father beat her? "
"In good health."

The witness was shown the switches that had served as evidence in the other trial, but Marie-Jeanne said that the switches her father used were longer than that.

Marie-Jeanne admitted that her father had beaten Aurore upstairs, where she couldn’t see him. She could say this because, downstairs, she could hear the hiss of the whip.

Before all of this mistreatment, Aurore had been in good health. A little before noon, Marie-Jeanne felt faint and could not continue with her testimony. The judge gave a short recess, and the session resumed at 12:10. Marie-Jeanne seemed very weak. She nevertheless continued with her testimony. She stated that she did not know if her father was aware of the marks and wounds on Aurore that her mother had caused.

"You never spoke of them to your father?"
"Why not?"
"I was afraid of Maman, who had forbidden us to do so."
"What did your mother say about Aurore’s state at the end?"
"She said that Aurore was going to die."
"Without mentioning your mother’s opinion, what did you yourself think about Aurore’s state?"
"The last two days, I could clearly see that she was going to die."

The witness then described, in a very low voice, an extremely horrible event.

One day in January, when the father was downstairs in the kitchen, the mother sent Aurore to go and get the chamber pot and she forced Aurore to eat the contents. The judge insisted on knowing if the accused was there when this happened. Marie-Jeanne replied that her father was downstairs while the disgusting scene was going on upstairs. When Aurore came back downstairs, you could see it on the corners of her mouth.

Court was adjourned.

Source: Correspondant La Presse, "Le martyre d'Aurore Gagnon. L'accusé, que dominait l'infâme mégère, flagellait la pauvre enfant pour les motifs les plus futiles," La Presse (Montréal), April 27, 1920.

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