Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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La Presse, April 28, 1920, p. 1



The defence asks for a verdict of not guilty, and the Crown asks the peers of the accused to render a verdict consistent with the evidence.


The lawyers present spoke first in French, and then in English for the one single juror, Reed, who does not understand our language.


(From the correspondent of La PRESSE)
Quebec City, 28.- Télesphore Gagnon, accused of murdering his little ten-year-old daughter Aurore, will probably learn his fate this afternoon, or this evening at the latest. Both sides have finished presenting their evidence and the speeches for the defence have been delivered, with Maître Francoeur speaking in French and Maître Lavergne speaking in English for the benefit of one single juror, Monsieur John Reed, who does not understand our language. For the Crown, Maître Lachance spoke in French yesterday afternoon and Maître Fitzpatrick spoke in English this morning, repeating his colleague’s arguments, again to explain the matter to the unilingual juror Reed. The Honourable Justice Désy, the presiding magistrate, will also have to summarize the debates in the two languages.

The defence explained to the jury that, in its opinion, three verdicts could be rendered: murder, manslaughter, or not guilty. Gagnon’s defence attorneys are asking for a verdict of not guilty. The Crown is asking the jury to render a verdict that is consistent with the evidence that has been established during the trial.

What will be the decision reached by Gagnon’s twelve peers?

We know that the accused’s second wife, Marie-Anne Houde, guilty of inflicting a heinous martyrdom on little Aurore, her stepdaughter, was sentenced at her trial to die on the gallows next October 1.


Well before ten o’clock this morning, the courtroom was packed as never before. At the opening of the sitting, there were so many people that the Honourable Justice Désy ordered the doors to be closed. No one could enter or leave. In order to give our report to the messenger who took it to the telegraph office, we had to pass it out a door that was slightly ajar.

Maître Arthur Fitzpatrick, one of the Crown Prosecutors, delivered in English a fierce speech against the accused, demanding a verdict of guilty. Monsieur Fitzpatrick related all the vile mistreatment that the little martyr had endured both at the hands of the cruel stepmother and at the hands of the accused, and he held the accused responsible for all the suffering his daughter had endured, as well as for her death.

As for the mistreatment that the accused inflicted on his child, he asked the jury to judge his actions from the standpoint of the good fathers of families that they are. Is this how a man who has a heart in his breast should discipline his child -- even if she had all the faults in the world? As for the mistreatment that the cruel stepmother inflicted on Aurore, the accused is also responsible for it. He saw the sad results of it every day and did not lift a finger to stop it.

At 10:40 a.m., the Honourable Justice Désy began his charge to the jury. The magistrate first spoke in English.


This charge was a fierce address against the accused. The judge spoke very quickly. Télesphore Gagnon does not understand English, but he clearly realized that the judge was hostile to him, and he bowed his head like a beaten animal. After having underlined the importance of this case, which has inflamed public opinion, the judge explained points of law to the jurors. He gave them definitions of murder, manslaughter, and not guilty of manslaughter. He cited authorities on what evidence must be established to show criminal intent. He drew up a table or diagram of the points that the jury should consider in this case. There were some fifteen. He cited the section of the criminal code that decrees a sentence of three months in prison for any person who deliberately and without justification mistreats any animal. And he asked the jury whether we should allow a man to submit his own ten-year-old daughter to treatment that he would not be permitted to inflict on a dog, a cow, a horse, or any other animal.

Commenting on Doctor Marois’ testimony, he said that it had been legally presented and that this testimony must be taken as true, as must the testimony of Doctor Lafond. It is thus certain that Aurore Gagnon died of wounds resulting from blows. He asked the jurors to remember

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the victim’s hideous wounds and the instruments that were used in her martyrdom. He asked them to remember that the victim was a ten-year-old child who was four feet tall, and to note what a giant the accused was as he stood in the dock.

The child had a right to be protected by her father, and her father, far from protecting her, had mistreated her cruelly and allowed her to be mistreated. The judge listed the numerous acts of cruelty committed by the accused and asked whether Télesphore Gagnon had had the right to commit these acts. The judge said nothing positive. He proceeded by questions, leaving it to the jury to determine the answers; but he asked his questions in such a way that there was no question as to what he thought.

On each of the fifteen points in the case, the judge put the facts to the jury in the form of questions.

The judge told the jury that it was called upon to answer all these questions in light of their conscience, and that the jury could return a verdict of murder, of manslaughter, or of not guilty.

During the judge’s address, Monsieur Lavergne tried to intervene while the judge was asking the jury the most scathing of the questions, but the judge silenced him, telling him that if he had any objections, he had to wait until the end of the charge.

In concluding, the judge asked the jury to remember that society, like the accused, has a right to be protected.

At 11:30, the judge finished his charge, which he read from beginning to end. The jury withdrew for a recess, in order to air the room.

Monsieur Lavergne rose and asked the judge to recall the jury to point out a few omissions and errors in his charge. The judge consented.

It had to do with a point in the charge where the judge said that the accused had believed his daughter Aurore to be lewd based solely on the word of the stepmother.

Monsieur Lavergne pointed out that the stepmother was not the only one who had said this to the accused; the children had said it too. The judge admitted this. The judge did not admit he was wrong on the other points raised by Monsieur Lavergne. Nevertheless, he thanked Monsieur Lavergne for having brought this omission to his attention, and he invited him to correct him again, if he made any mistakes when he gave his charge in French.

Then the judge retired and suspended the sitting. There was a veritable wave of humanity at the doors of the courtroom, and people were fighting to get in, but the official order was to keep the doors closed. Only the windows were opened, to air the room. At 11:50, the session resumed and the judge began to deliver his charge in French. It was a French translation of the charge he had given in English.


When the session resumed yesterday afternoon, Doctor Marois, the doctor who had performed the autopsy, was recalled by the Crown. Maître Lachance asked him if Aurore’s wounds would have healed if the appropriate treatment had been given.

The lawyers for the defence objected, but the judge allowed the question.

Doctor Marois repeated that Aurore Gagnon’s wounds had not been fatal. Consequently, they would have healed with proper treatment.


The defence continued to hear its witnesses. It first heard Monsieur Adélard Bernard, a manufacturer from Fortierville, who swore that, until this crime was committed, Télesphore Gagnon had had a very good reputation.


This witness, who is the secretary of the municipality of Ste. Philomène, has known the accused since childhood. He said that the reputation of the accused was very good right up until the time when Aurore Gagnon’s death became known.


This witness, a carrier and a shopkeeper from Fortierville who was formerly the mayor and the secretary-treasurer of this municipality, has known the accused for 25 years. He had a good reputation.

"Up until when?" asked Maître Lachance.
"Up until the death of Aurore Gagnon," replied Monsieur Blanchet.


This witness, a farmer from Ste. Philomène, has known the accused for 30 years. Until this event, the accused’s reputation had been very good.

"Do you know," asked Maître Fitzpatrick, "what went on at the house?"

Objection to this question from Maître Francoeur, who said: "No one ever knows what goes on in other people’s houses, unless one is a peeping Tom."


A resident of Parisville, this witness has been the accused’s family doctor for the past ten years. The reputation of the accused was excellent. The witness had never heard anything bad whatsoever said about him. He stated that some of Aurore Gagnon’s wounds were of the type that he runs into in his medical practice. People other than doctors can be mistaken about how serious such wounds are.

Doctor Lafond had left the stand without being cross-examined when he was recalled by Maître Lachance.

Maître Lavergne objected because the Crown had stated that it did not have any questions to ask in cross-examination.

"Question allowed," said the judge, since the Crown had changed its mind.

Doctor Lafond then stated that, when taken all together, Aurore’s wounds could be seen to be serious.


A foreman at a factory in Ste. Philomène, this witness said that he knew the accused, who had the reputation of being a "good lad."

-"That is all of our evidence," said Maître Francoeur.

Both sides had thus completed presenting their evidence.


At 2:40, the speeches began. The courtroom was packed.

The accused remained standing throughout the proceedings.


The chief counsel for the accused rose, saying: "I am certain that, since the beginning of the trial, the jurors have remained removed from all outside agitation, have resisted all passion, and that they will render a verdict consistent with the law, remembering that they may sit in judgement today, but tomorrow they may be the ones who are judged."

Then Maître Francoeur read the bill of indictment against Gagnon and the bill of indictment against the cruel stepmother, who has been sentenced to death. He asked the jury to compare the two cases carefully and to decide if the Crown is correct in claiming that Télesphore Gagnon is guilty to the same degree as his wife.

He said that the law today permits the jury to reach three types of verdict: murder, manslaughter, or not guilty. He asked them to return a verdict of not guilty.

Monsieur Francoeur described the accused’s situation before the events we know so well. This man, who enjoyed a good reputation, became a widower two years ago and remarried, taking as his wife Marie-Anne Houde, the widow of one of his cousins by the name of Gagnon. He had three children, and his wife had two. Last summer, his wife took a dislike to Aurore, her husband’s daughter, and hurt her. The accused had Aurore treated and sent her to the hospital, and she was healed when she returned home.

It is true that it has been proved that the accused punished Aurore perhaps excessively last summer, but that should not be taken into account, because it has also been proved that the child was cured when she left the hospital.

So what remains at issue is the punishment inflicted on Aurore by the accused after she returned home from the hospital.

Monsieur Francoeur claimed that Christian doctrine stipulates that parents should use corporal punishment on their children, with all due respect to those are burying their heads in the sand and who, if we were to reveal their pasts, might prove to be worse criminals than the accused.

He read a passage from the Bible in which it is said that parents who love their children will discipline them and punish them with the rod.

The accused was convinced that Aurore deserved to be punished. In that, he was the victim of a system, of a diabolical plot hatched by his wife to make him believe that Aurore was lewd, dishonest, unclean – in short, full of vices. He was also victim of the silent complicity of his children, who never said a word to him about the truth about Aurore, who let him believe that Aurore had all these faults. Without that, he would not have punished Aurore; his children say so themselves.

In this drama, the main victim was the father, who was deceived by his wife, whom he trusted, and by his children, who were the mother’s accomplices. The children were afraid, they say, but they were party to the crime nonetheless, and they are guilty of the murder of Aurore, just like the mother, claimed the lawyer. (Here the accused burst into tears.)

Monsieur Francoeur then spoke of Doctor Marois’ autopsy on the body of Aurore Gagnon. According to Monsieur Francoeur, this autopsy was incomplete. Monsieur Francoeur believes that Doctor Marois displayed arrogance and ignorance by claiming that Aurore suffered from no organic illness even though he admitted that he had not examined the spinal cord nor analysed the urine.

It thus has not been proved that the child died of the wounds described, said the lawyer.

In response to the dreaded reproaches that the accused had been negligent and indifferent with respect to the child’s wounds, Monsieur Francoeur claimed that the Crown should have proved a bond of complicity between the accused and his wife. The man trusted his wife, who lied to him every day, and his children, who also lied in turn. He fell into a trap that had been set for him. He lived in an atmosphere such that he no longer knew whether he was coming or going. He said as much himself during the vigil at Anthime Gagnon’s and at Madame Badeau’s; he said so everywhere, stating that he no longer knew what to do with a child like that; he proclaimed his discouragement to everyone.

It has been proved that the accused had no interest in wishing for Aurore to die. The only one who had such an interest was the mother, who detested the child. Even after Aurore died, the accused still believed that she was impure, that she was a thief, and he deplored the fact that Aurore had not confessed her sins.

The plot that the shrew had devised even included deceiving the priest, Father Massé himself, and making him believe that Aurore was a thief.

The good reputation of the accused was established by the leading citizens of Ste. Philomène, foremost among them the priest. It might be said that the defence did not prove that the accused did not have a violent character, but it is obvious that the people who came to swear that the accused had a good reputation knew that he was not a cruel man.

It was established that the child was in good health on January 15. After that date, said Monsieur Francoeur, the accused gave her a few flicks with a switch on her back because he saw her barefoot in the barn – another manoeuvre of the cruel stepmother, who had hidden the little girl’s shoes and forcibly sent her to the barn in her bare feet. Were they to declare this man guilty of murder for these flicks with a switch, asked the lawyer.

Monsieur Francoeur concluded by appealing for a verdict of not guilty and asking that this man be allowed to return to his own children and to the children of his wife. The law had sentenced the accused’s wife to death for the murder of Aurore Gagnon. It would be an executioner if it were to punish this man for a crime of which he is innocent.


The sitting which recessed at 3:50 resumed again at 4:10. Maître A. Lavergne, the other defence counsel for Gagnon, spoke in English. The lawyer’s voice was hoarse and he had to stand very near the jury, or at least very near the two English-speaking members of the jury. Of these two jurors, one is an Irishman who understands French well. Only one, Monsieur John Reed, does not understand French. It was thus for the sake of just one man that all the testimony had to be repeated in English and that all the speeches as well as the judge’s charge had to be repeated in English.

The arguments set forward by the second defence lawyer for Télesphore were the same as those used by Maître Francoeur.


Maître Lachance is one of the Crown Prosecutors. Speaking on behalf of the Crown, he delivered a harsh speech against the accused.

As Crown Prosecutor, Maître Lachance said that he had a painful duty to perform under the circumstances. Since he had to re-establish the facts in the light of justice and truth, he was obliged to assert that Télesphore Gagnon was as guilty as his wife and should be declared guilty of the crime of which he was accused.

The defence had made do with hearing witnesses who came forward to swear to the good reputation of the accused up until the commission of the horrendous crime with which we are concerned today. Maître Lachance related some of the facts proved during the trial, in order to show that Télesphore Gagnon’s actions were not those of an honest man. The people who believed in Télesphore Gagnon’s good reputation no doubt were sincere, but weight should not be placed on their opinion of the accused’s reputation before the crime was committed.

In reply to Maître Francoeur’s allegations that parents are obliged to beat their children in order to discipline them, Maître Lachance said that he thought that not one author of the holy book had meant that one should beat a child to death to correct its faults. Any book that recommended such acts of cruelty should be rejected as an abomination.

Does an honest man beat his own child in the way that has been proved? Is that an honest man? Were the words the accused spoke to people who reproached him for his cruel actions the words of an honest man? When his own sister pointed out to him that Aurore’s eyes were blackened, the accused told her that she would be very surprised to see other things.

The accused beat Aurore not just for the odious acts that his wife claimed the child had committed, but he beat her for the flimsiest reasons, for insignificant things. One day he beat her because she sat in the sacristy instead of in the church during mass. Another day he beat her because he saw her put a lid on her head.

This man must have known, he could not have been unaware of the acts of cruelty that his wife committed. He saw his daughter covered with wounds, and he was obliged to inquire about the cause of these wounds. The reasons given by his wife for these wounds were unbelievable.

It has been claimed that the accused was away from home almost all the time. That is not so. He worked outside the home, but he spent a great deal of time at home – on holidays, on Sundays, on days when the weather was bad. He had time to see what was going on. He had time to find out, as the father of a family should do. He had time to make sure that Aurore received suitable treatment. He had time to ask his children some serious questions to obtain a clear idea of the horrendous things that were going on and to see how unbelievable his wife’s lies were. He did not do these things.

Maître Lachance asked the jury, on behalf of an outraged society, to render a verdict that was consistent with the evidence, and with their consciences as honest and intelligent men.

After this speech, court was adjourned until this morning, Wednesday, at 10 a.m.

Source: Correspondant La Presse, "Aux Assises de Québec. Gagnon qui a subi son procès sous la même accusation que sa triste femme, partagera-t-il le sort que les jurés ont décrété récemment contre cette dernière?," La Presse (Montréal), April 28, 1920.

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