Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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La Presse, September 30, 1920, p. 1


The Gagnon woman’s sentence is commuted because of her twins


(From the correspondent of La PRESSE)

Quebec City, 30. - "It's for my children, I know, that they've done this. It's for my children, for my two little twins. It isn't for me, it's only for them that they've done this."

With these words Marie-Anne Houde, wife of the convict Télesphore Gagnon, tearfully greeted the happy news that her death sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment. The news was brought to the condemned woman yesterday evening by the Honourable J.N. Francoeur, her attorney. Monsieur Francoeur was himself informed of the news at about nine fifteen by his associate, Monsieur Thomas Vien, who had gone to plead the case of the Gagnon woman before the federal government. It was, we are told, a hard-fought battle among the ministers. Most were in favour of commuting the sentence, but the Minister of Justice, the Honourable C. J. Doherty, was vehemently opposed.


The Minister of Justice wanted the law to follow its course. He contended that a trial's presiding magistrate is surely the best judge under the circumstances. As it happens, in the case of the Gagnon woman, Judge Pelletier delivered a horrendous charge against the accused. The Minister of Justice believes that the government should not show clemency after a charge such as the one made against the Gagnon woman.


This affair may result in an end to violent charges being delivered against the accused by judges in the Assizes, charges that no longer serve to summarize the evidence presented at trial, as the law intended, but are rather all-out indictments of the accused. In France, this custom has been abolished, and it may well be so here, before long.


The Federal Cabinet was in session until 6.30 p.m., and the order in council calling for the commutation of the death sentence was signed at 7.15 p.m. by the Governor General. One of the elements that weighed most heavily in this decision was that, of the twelve jurors who rendered a verdict of guilty against the Gagnon woman, ten signed the petition requesting commutation of her death sentence. Amongst those who signed the petition was the jury foreman, Monsieur Huot, of Quebec City. Since the Gagnon woman’s death sentence was handed down, Quebec City newspapers, as well as others, have become an open forum flooded with letters, some demanding that the woman be executed, others begging for clemency because the woman was not responsible.


It is worth mentioning that, for some time now, those who most strongly supported her execution have changed their minds, especially since the woman gave birth to twins in the Quebec City jail. When Maître J. N. Francoeur brought the Gagnon woman the happy news in her prison cell, the scene was beyond description. The poor woman was holding one of the twins in her arms. She burst into tears and, for several minutes, was unable to utter a single word. One of her main concerns, Maître Francoeur said, was that the twins would be sent to an institution. She would had preferred to die knowing that the two infants were to be placed in good families that would raise them well. "I would die happy if I knew that," she said.


We know for a fact that a Quebec City family was prepared to adopt the infant twins of the Gagnon woman after her execution. It is indeed probable that the family will adopt the children as soon as their mother leaves to spend the rest of her days at the Kingston Penitentiary. Yesterday, she repeatedly said: "I'm happy for my children, not for me, but for my children." One of her brothers came to visit her yesterday afternoon, and she did not stop telling him that she wanted to live only for her children. For the past three weeks, the Gagnon woman has barely slept or eaten. For the past five days, she has not slept nor eaten. The warden of the Quebec City jail, J.B. Carbonneau, is among those who are pleased at the news that her death sentence has been commuted.

"You had to have witnessed," he told us, "what has happened here these past weeks, to understand the satisfaction this news brings us. The preparations

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for the execution had been completed, but we were waiting, hopefully, for the result of the efforts made to save this woman from the gallows."


Yesterday, the Gagnon woman wept. She was confident because of her children, but she wept nonetheless. She was prepared to die. She had spent several hours with R. P. Lefebvre, S. J, and with Canon Charles Beaulieu, the prison chaplain. She had made her peace, but she still nurtured the hope that she would be allowed to live, thanks to her two small children, whom she held close to her, like a shield against the death that awaited her. Death meant nothing to her. She awaited it, she even wished for it, but she asked simply that she be allowed to live in order to nurse her children and care for them for a while still.


The crime for which the Gagnon woman was sentenced to die is one of the most heinous to be reported in the annals of crime. Slowly and over a long period of time, she tortured Aurore Gagnon, her husband's 10-year-old daughter, who died last February 12th at Ste. Philomène de Fortierville in the county of Lotbinière. On the 21st of April of this year, she was sentenced to die by the Honourable Justice Pelletier. Her husband, Télesphore Gagnon, was found guilty of manslaughter on last April 28th, and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Honourable Justice Désy.

The cruel stepmother's twins, a boy and a girl, were born in the Quebec City jail last July 8th and were christened the same day by Canon Beaulieu, being given the names Roch-Jean and Jeanne d'Arc. The prison warden and his wife charitably acted as godparents to the condemned woman's children.

Source: Correspondant La Presse, "Le bagne à la place de l'échafaud," La Presse (Montréal), September 30, 1920.

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