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 Albert Prévost, from the City of Montreal, medical practitioner, aged 38 years, who, being duly sworn on the Holy Gospels, doth depose as follows:


[The examination begins with questions regarding the witness's professional qualifications and with a "hypothetical" question from Maître Francoeur in which the details of the ill treatment suffered by Aurore are presented.]

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Q. Doctor, give me your conclusions, would you, as to the facts I have stated in my question and as to what you have personally observed?

A. I don’t quite understand.

Q. I’m asking you what conclusion you have arrived at, considering the facts that I have just presented in my question, the facts of the case and the evidence you yourself have heard, and the observations you yourself personally made during your examination of the accused?

A. I have come to the conclusion that the accused suffered from insanity.

Q. Would you please tell us what grounds you have for this conclusion?

A. During the examination of the accused, I observed that at many times in her life she had experienced mental disorders. She told me that during each of her pregnancies, she heard bells ringing, cries and even her name. She told me she had problems with her senses of taste and smell, that when she ate meat, such as beef, she found that the beef tasted like eel and that it smelled like eel. As well, almost every night during pregnancy,

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she would wake up because she was afraid, frightened, saying that she saw ghosts and dead people and also that the crying out of her name caused her to awaken to find out who was calling her. She told me that during pregnancy her mood changed slightly, but, according to what has been said here in Court, it appears that the change in her personality during her pregnancies was considerable, and she told me personally that, before she was married, she had always had problems during menstruation. I think, if we relate the obvious facts in Court -- namely, that for thirteen years of her life, from seventeen up until the age of thirty ---- and during this period she was a widow for three years ---- that she has given birth seven times and has had two miscarriages and is six and one-half months with child, I am obliged to conclude that she has spent practically her entire life in childbirth and that, as a result, she suffered from hallucinatory or illusory disorders. By hallucination, I mean she hears something that doesn’t exist, that no one around her can hear in any way. Or illusory events ---- that is to say, events that she experienced involving an object that was really there but that appeared completely deformed and inaccurate. So, if she had problems with her senses of taste and smell – the things existed, but her sense of taste was warped, as well as her sense of smell. Mentally, it is very important to note these symptoms because they point to two important facts: either an acquired, progressive and constant mental state, or else a toxic state, that is to say, of poisoning –- to explain it more simply --

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that indicates that the person suffers from a natural condition – pregnancy – or else pathological – some infection or other. What seems obvious with the accused is that each time she was pregnant, her condition caused her to have problems with her perceptions and her affections, that is to say, with her motherly feelings. After I questioned her in depth about her children -- whether she took proper care of them, whether she loved them, whether she demonstrated her maternal love by caressing them -- she answered, "That isn't done, because it's not our way. I do that once a year during the holiday season."

Q. (By the Court) Which means that in practice she didn't used to caress or kiss her children?

A. Yes, your Honour. When I put the fact to her -- which is an overwhelming fact for any individual to face, I believe ---- when I told her, "You know what awaits you. You know what is at stake in this sort of trial, and that soon you may no longer be alive," she didn't show any feeling of emotion, not even a tear. She didn't even flush ---- no sign of emotion. And yet she was very surprised to know that she could be condemned. And when I asked her what she would do if she were saved, she told me that she would quite simply return home and starting working again as before. I believe that this fact is quite important with respect to her moral sense -- her emotions. She told me she faithfully performed her religious duties. During her incarceration she told me that when she was living at home, she took special care with her children to try to correct their

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morals, and she even told me that she had mentioned this in writing to the Parish priest. Next to these facts, which are absolutely normal, you have before you other symptoms that are entirely the opposite. She beat her child in an utterly excessive way, depriving her of food, tying her up, beating her with all sorts of instruments, burning her ---- facts that are entirely the opposite of what I have just told you earlier. This is what makes me conclude that she was very unstable and very unpredictable. Would I be allowed to refer to my notes a little, your Honour?

By the Court.- I am surprised that you have not yet looked at them.

A. In terms of character, after having questioned her husband, the matron...........---------------

Q. I had also forgotten the testimony of the husband ---- the husband was heard this morning ---- all those who were heard?

A. It appears obvious to me that she has serious problems of character -- she was very irritable, to the point that the husband, to avoid any kind of complications, avoided speaking to her so as not to irritate her. I also noted that she got up every night, and the matron also observed the same fact during her stay in prison. As a result, we have every right to conclude that she was suffering from insomnia. Time and time again she displayed anxiety -- refusing at certain times to remain alone in the room, or else leaving in an entirely impulsive manner, ---- stating that she had seen an object -- I must point out that neither the husband nor the matron observed this fact.

Q. (By the Court) She's the only one who told you that?

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A. Spontaneously, your Honour. I also noticed, as a physical symptom that can confirm this mental disorder, a slightly high arched palate. Let me explain. In mental illnesses, it is recognized as very useful but not absolutely necessary to discover physical signs of mental degeneracy. It also appeared to me that her face was asymmetrical.

Q. What's that?

A. That is to say that one side of her face was bigger than the other. I must admit that on this side there is a small -- although not painful -- bump, a nodule that would perhaps indicate in medicine a state of abscess that is not currently developing. She is excessively anaemic. She is pallid. Both times I saw her, she had a slight [case of] oedema, that is to say, a swelling of both her legs. She displays sensitivity disorders on certain areas of her body. Let me explain. When certain parts of her body are pinched with a sharp instrument or with fingers, she doesn't feel it as strongly on one side as on the other, or indifferently. These sensitivity disorders are common in all states of mental deficiency. If I were required to specify the diagnosis I generalised earlier, her form of insanity, in studying her from the beginning of her life up to the present day, and having noted all the facts -- the extraordinary and mysterious deeds she is presumed to have committed -- I must give this diagnosis: insanity of the mental deficiency type, aggravated by disorders related to the genitals,

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that is to say, to her childbearing organs, noting that she had problems during her menstruations and that each time she was pregnant, she displayed symptoms of insanity that, in my opinion, are absolutely typical.

Q. Doctor Prévost, based on your personal examination, could the accused have invented the symptoms that you have just described to the Court?

A. No, Monsieur.

Q. Why?

A. Because those things are in the area of expertise of a doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system.

Q. Are similar facts reported in medical journals?

A. Commonly, Monsieur.

Q. Regarding insanity?

A. Yes, Monsieur.

Q. Identical facts?

A. Yes, Monsieur.

Q. Do you believe the accused could be expected to know these facts about similar illnesses?

A. No.

Q. Can you say what effect her mental state has on her responsibility?

Objection by Maître Lachance, on behalf of the Crown, to this question as being a question for the Jury to decide.

Objection dismissed.

A. I consider the accused to be not responsible.

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 Albert Prévost, procès de Marie-Anne Houde pour meurtre, April 19, 1920, 7.

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