Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child
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COURT OF KING'S BENCH. ) Sitting in Quebec City on April 19, 1920.

PRESENT: The Honourable Justice L. P. Pelletier.


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Charged with murder.


DOCTOR ALCEE TETREAULT, from the city of Montreal, medical practitioner, aged 40 years, who, being duly sworn upon the Holy Gospels, doth depose as follows:


Q. Doctor, you practise medicine in Montreal?

A. I practise in St. Jean de Dieu.

Q. The St. Jean de Dieu Hospital?

[A series of questions about the professional qualifications of this doctor]

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Q. Have you examined the accused, Marie-Anne Houde?

A. I examined Marie-Anne Houde on Saturday and Sunday.

Q. Did you examine her in the company of Doctor Prévost, who has just been heard?

A. I examined her Saturday in the company of Doctor Prévost, Doctor Paquet and Doctor Fortier. Sunday I examined her in the company of Doctor Prévost.

Q. You heard Doctor Prévost and the questions I asked him a moment ago?

A. Yes, Monsieur.

Q. (By the Court) The hypothetical question.

Q. All the facts established in this case… Can you tell us what you think of the mental state of the accused, taking into account these facts and what you personally observed during the examinations you have just mentioned?

A. Assuming that the facts put forward in Court are true – the cruelties inflicted on the child Aurore Gagnon by Madame Gagnon -- cruelties that were, so to speak, more serious especially during the last three months – the first thought that sprang to my mind was rather that this person was sick and displayed an abnormal mental state. The information that I was able to gather by questioning the accused in prison about her personal history -- information that was later substantiated by the father and the brother of the accused -- certain information that at the age of twelve she had had meningitis....

By the Court. — That hasn't been proven?

A. The father's the one, your Lordship...

By the Court.- The father said that he had been told that?

A. If I understood correctly earlier, the father said in the

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witness box that the doctor had said that his child..................

Maître Lachance.- The doctor said that to the people in the family.

By the Court .- That is hearsay evidence that is absolutely worthless.

Maître Francoeur.- The father noticed that she was suffering from headaches.

By the Court. — On that point, I am obliged to say that it is hearsay evidence that is worthless. The father told us that all this happened while he was absent and that he was told this upon his return. So you can't rely on those facts.

A. I was under the impression, your Lordship, that the father and the brother were personally aware of it. Moreover, this is information that the accused also gave me. I asked her, "Did you ever suffer from serious illnesses when you were young?" Without my having suggested anything, she answered right away, "At the age of twelve, I suffered from meningitis." I said, "How did it manifest itself?" She said, " I had bad headaches and I had back pain." Necessarily, I said to myself, "I will try to have this fact confirmed" -- to find out whether she had had meningitis when she was twelve years old -- and I asked that this fact be substantiated for me and I thought the father had substantiated it earlier. Even if I remember correctly, I don't know whether it was the brother or...

By the Court. — We didn't ask the brother the question?

A. Well, at any rate, I will simply rely on the facts provided by the accused. She told me, according to the examination I had her undergo,

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that she had suffered from meningitis and that it was characterized by headaches and, at times, lumbar pain -- back pain. She told me that at fourteen another development occurred: a lung inflammation, and that she had reached puberty at that time. She then got married at around the age of seventeen, while having suffered every time she was menstruating. Once pregnant I asked her whether she went through any changes, and again to that question she answered that she wasn't the same during her state of gestation as when she wasn't pregnant. So I asked her how that manifested itself. That's when certain problems of character were mentioned, and I believe that certain problems were also mentioned earlier by the brother of the accused, who noticed it himself during her first pregnancy, I believe. At the time -- that is to say during her first pregnancy -- Madame Gagnon had displayed more pronounced difficulties. During that time she became more irritable. The husband himself, whom I questioned on Sunday -- Monsieur Gagnon -- I asked him, "Did Madame Gagnon, during her last pregnancy -- her previous pregnancy-- display any particular problems?" He told me that when she was carrying the first child -- the child that is living today I believe -- she displayed problems, but not very obvious ones, but that this time -- the child she is currently carrying -- rather than problems that are in reality insignificant, he noticed an absolute change in character. He said

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that she was no longer who she used to be. He said that it's useless to try to reason with her, that the more he reasons with her, the worse she is, so that he has come to the conclusion that it is better for him to try not to push her to the limit. By creating no cause for provocation, he thought he was doing his wife a favour. Now, the husband admitted those facts to me. So, knowing, on the other hand, according to the facts reported, that this person gave birth many times over a very short period of time, I believe there is no cause.....that we can believe that this person's mental state could have suffered the aftereffects of these many gestations. And why might she have suffered the aftereffects of these many gestations? I would base it on the fact that, at the age of twelve, she had had meningitis, leading to problems in the subsequent development of her intellectual functions. During the first years of life, the brain, as it were, has not reached its full development and such an illness -- such as meningitis -- can certainly impede the normal development of the intellectual faculties or at least create in this person a predisposition either to mental delusions or, in terms of morality and especially in terms of behaviour, tendencies that can go ---- that one could describe as depraved tendencies ---- completely pathological tendencies as a result. So that is how I can explain certain acts that this woman is supposed to have carried out on her child, on this child, Mademoiselle Aurore Gagnon. I also examined the little fellow -- Gérard -- and

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the child Gérard confirmed facts Monsieur Francoeur had given, and at the same time described facts that I consider absolutely revolting, claiming that his mother took a poker, heated it red-hot, stuck it a while in cold water, and, lifting Aurore's skirts, would burn this child's skin and, from what the child says, you could see smoke. One can't believe that a person in full possession of her mental faculties could inflict such torture, especially when I don't see any motive ----any apparent motive. As far as I'm concerned, that person had to have been completely devoid of feelings. The child Gérard confirmed this fact for me.

By the Court. — It's proven by three witnesses?

A. So this behaviour, which is pathological as far as I'm concerned, also indicates a problem with her judgement. This person didn't know how to mete out appropriate punishment to a child who could be recalcitrant -- to give her an appropriate punishment for the offence. She couldn't. Why? Because, in my opinion, at the time her resistance was very low, with respect to her gestation, with respect to her pregnancy. So, in my opinion, it seems to me that this reveals tendencies to commit revolting acts, abnormal acts and that proves at the same time that her judgement was flawed and didn't allow her to realise the seriousness of the acts she herself was committing, and even -- if I remember correctly what the child Gérard said -- acts that she went so far as to make another child carry out ---- I believe that Gérard told me that Marie-Jeanne hurt Aurore at her mother's instigation.

Maître Francoeur.- That's been proven in the case?

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By the Court.- She is the only one to say so, but she says so?

Q. What conclusion do you reach with regard to the responsibility of the accused suffering from the disorders you have just mentioned?

A. Well, my opinion is that Madame Gagnon displays a flawed mental state in terms of her judgement and in terms of her actions, and I believe that this person cannot be considered completely responsible -- with full knowledge of the facts -- for those acts of cruelty.

Q. When you examined the accused, could she have invented these symptoms that you noted ---- could she have invented these statements she made to you?

A. Well, I don't think she could have invented the fact that at the age of twelve she suffered from meningitis, because I simply asked her the following question, "Madame, did you suffer from a serious illness when you were young?" If she had wanted to invent something, she could have said a common illness: measles, scarlet fever, something like that, but she answered spontaneously, "I suffered from meningitis at the age of twelve." Then I asked her a question to find out whether she became indisposed when she was pregnant. She answered, "I have frequent headaches; I have considerable back pain and I sometimes hear humming. I sometimes hear sounds, voices -- I even sometimes hear my name being said" ---- without my having suggested that question [sic] to her. So I am obliged, so to speak, to accept that fact until there is proof to the contrary.

Q. Since you have been chief of staff at the St. Jean de Dieu Hospital, where there are -- as you said earlier -- between two and three thousand patients, have you come across cases of this kind?

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A. Not exactly the same as this one -- no, I can't say.

Q. But do you have sick people at the hospital at this present time who have tendencies to be cruel?

A. We have some.

Q. Many?

A. They are not extremely remarkable cases, but we do have some.

Q. Women?

A. We have cases of young girls with tendencies to carry out really erratic acts and who are kept in our hospital because of their behaviour. I said, so to speak, nothing can change an abnormal temperament, not even severe measures exerted on them. At a given moment –- we sometimes have, for example, sick people who, intellectually, don’t display any mental delusions. They don’t have any false conceptions, but they present, in their behaviour and somewhat in their moods. Thus, if they encounter some small frustrations, either from the nuns or from the nurses, these people say to themselves, "I won’t eat any more.” They stop eating, despite the repeated requests of the nuns, and the repeated advice of the doctor about the seriousness of what they want to do to themselves. Despite all these things they completely refuse to eat. Just as there are some...............................................

Q. (By the Court) Have you not heard that there are currently hundreds of people in Ireland, who are called Sinn-Feiners, who are in full possession of their reason, and who are letting themselves starve to death?

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A. Yes, yes, your Lordship, but in my opinion those people are inspired by a motive. Those people have a motive, a cause for which they are ready to sacrifice themselves, to even be willing to let themselves die for. But with sick people, a slight reproach is not enough to explain such a refusal. When we force-feed them, they try to resist. We give them serums, we inject large quantities of liquid under their skin – it’s extremely painful – it seems to me that it would be much more logical for those people to eat, rather than to be treated like that so that we won't let them die.

Q. (By the Court) Is it because they are insane?

A. Exactly, your Lordship, because they are insane.

Q. (By the Court) Those sick people are committed?

A. Yes, Monsieur.

Q. (By the Court) Those who display these characteristics, with respect to their judgement, their reasoning?

A. With respect to their behaviour.

Q. (By the Court) And they are kept there?

A. With respect to their behaviour.

Q. In the asylum, do you have mentally ill people who can reason about everything except for one point?

A. Certainly.

Q. Do you have many such sick people?

A. We have sick people who must be observed over an extremely long period in order to determine what their delusion is, and, very often even, these sick people are extremely dangerous ---- Doctor Devlin, who is here, could tell you so. It is sometimes extremely difficult to bring out -- to make this delusion appear --

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in some paranoiacs. You can talk to these people for an hour, for an afternoon --- you may have an intuition that they are sick but sometimes you are unable to come up with evidence of this fact without multiple examinations.

Q. And you note that they can reason very well about a wide range of subjects?

A. About a wide range of subjects.

Q. Like ordinary people?

A. Certainly.

Q. And that, in other respects, they have mental disorders?

A. In reality, they suffer from insanity.

Q. And they are kept in your asylums?

A. Yes.

Q. (By the Court) Do you place the accused in this category?

A. No, your Lordship.

Q. (By the Court) Do you have people in this category in your asylums? Peope in the same category as the accused?

A. Well, if I base myself on the reaction, on the act – if I base myself on the pathological behaviour of some people, on their pathological reaction, we have some. We don't have a particular case ---- there are infinite forms of mental illness with their own specific characteristics ---- you have mania, melancholy...........

Q. Do you consider that, in this case, the accused would belong rather in your asylum or in a similar asylum?

A. Supposing those facts are true, and basing myself on the meanness of her character during the time of her pregnancies and her

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variations in disposition, I tend to believe that this person belongs in a hospital.

Q. In an insane asylum?

A. Yes, Monsieur.

Source: ANQ, TP 999, 1960-01-3623, 1B 014 01-04-004B-01, Cour du banc du roi, assises criminelles, district de Québec, Déposition du Dr Alcée Tétreault, procès de Marie-Anne Houde pour meurtre, April 19, 1920, 11.

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