Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child
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COURT OF KING'S BENCH. ) Sitting in Quebec City on April 20, 1920.

PRESENT: The Honourable Justice L. P. Pelletier.


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Charged with murder.


MICHEL DELPHIS BROCHU, from Quebec City, Doctor, aged 66 years, being duly sworn upon the Holy Gospels, doth depose as follows:


Objection by Maître Francoeur, on behalf of the accused, to this witness being heard because the Crown has already heard five experts and the permission of the Court is required in order to hear others.

Evidence permitted by the Court.

Q. How many years have you been practising medicine?

A. Forty-four years.

Q. Please state your normal and professional activities, as well as your official qualifications, will you?

A. I have been the Superintendent of the Beauport Asylum for seventeen years.

Q. It's an insane asylum, isn't it?

A. Yes, Monsieur.

Q. How many patients do you have in the asylum?

A. It varies between thirteen hundred and fourteen hundred and fifty. There have previously been more than this year. We have had up to sixteen and seventeen and eighteen hundred in a year.

Q. Now, you have had the opportunity to hear a number of witnesses in this case, haven't you?

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[Long question that summarizes the evidence against Marie-Anne Houde. The doctor's answer:]

A. At first glance, initially, all the facts would indicate a great hatred and, in my opinion, from certain details,

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a criminal intent on the part of the accused to get rid of the child. I am basing my opinion especially on the burns and the blows with sticks, which cannot be presumed to be able to cause death unless they are repeated very often. But the burns... I think that anyone, even the most ignorant person, with everything we see happening in the world, in the newspapers, must have an idea that wounds, even if not too extensive, as we see in stories of accidents when a lamp explodes and sets a person's clothes on fire, and the person's arms or legs are burned and he ends up dying after a few days, it seems to me that it's such a well-known fact, that someone who administers the equivalent through multiple wounds, which could eventually amount to an extensive wound, could have thought, couldn't help but think that this could cause death. So, at first glance, that leads one to suppose criminal intent. Using good common sense, she could not have failed to know that it was very harmful, and, through events that the entire public knows about, that it quite frequently causes death. Again, and even more especially, in the case of lye. Everyone knows that lye is considered a poison, ---- and during the examinations ---- I don't know whether the Court will allow me to go over that again, but according to the questions that I asked the sick woman --

Objection to this evidence by Maître Francoeur, on behalf of the accused.

Q. (By the Court) Don't repeat what the sick woman said.

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A. No, but I have my impression of the examination I made of the sick woman --- that is to say, the accused...

By the Court. — You are accustomed to sick people?

A. No doubt.

Q. Continue, Doctor?

A. Regarding the administration of lye -- unless someone is not in her right senses.......

By the Court. — Would you please confine yourself to saying what that indicates on a mental level?

A. In my opinion, that would indicate, at first glance, the intent to commit murder, because it's generally considered poison. It seems to me that everyone knows that. I'm saying at first glance, initially. Now, the reports that are mentioned in the question that has been put to me -- reports that the accused made against the child to show that she had a detestable or uncontrollable character -- seem to have been made, obviously, with the intention of justifying her ill treatment of her.

Objection by Maître Francoeur, on behalf of the accused, to this part of the answer because the witness must not argue about the facts. Objection dismissed.

A. (Continued) In my opinion, that indicates that the person was heedful of -- was aware of what she was doing -- and corroborates the idea that she was someone who could be responsible. Secondly, aside from those details ---- if I can't dwell on those details ----

Q. (By the Court) I said that you could continue your answer. You were talking about the reports she made against the child?

A. The reports that the child had a detestable character -- that she would behave in all sorts of unseemly ways that deserved punishment -- seem to me

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to indicate that this person was acting in this case in an intelligent manner in order to protect herself, and that, as a result, she had a certain awareness of the nature of her actions and of the possibility of being charged as a result. The details that were given regarding this unseemly behaviour, which consisted of putting excrement in the husband's clothes, seem to be related to her hatred of the child and prove her malicious or criminal intent, because she did so with the intention of annoying the husband and preventing him from opposing or criticizing how she treated her. This must give the appearance, at first glance -- by these details -- that she was again acting with a certain judgement, by noting that these acts could be reprehensible and by trying to prevent these acts from turning against her.

Q. (By Maître Fitzpatrick) Assuming that all the facts contained in the hypothetical question are true...

Objection by Maître Francoeur, on behalf of the accused, to the witness being examined by more than one Prosecutor on behalf of the Crown. Objection maintained.

Q. Assuming that all the facts that I have laid down in the question I have just put to you are true, tell me, now, whether the accused knew that what she was doing was wrong or right and whether she knew the nature of her acts and the seriousness of her acts?

A. I admit that I cannot answer the question, such as it is asked, without making the distinction that I made earlier, because certain details are lacking that could change my assessment. As a result, I cannot answer without making a distinction similar to the one I made earlier.

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Q. Do you know those details?

A. Specifically, whether the accused committed those acts before witnesses who could implicate her, and whether she took precautions to prevent these witnesses....

Q. It's laid out in the question that she had forbidden her children to talk about it, that she posted the children at the window ---- that she had her children keep watch at the window -- while she burned Aurore?

A. These two details, in addition to those that I have mentioned, would prove that she was entirely heedful of protecting herself and preventing herself from being implicated. That indicates, in reality, self-interested and intelligent calculation. This isn't someone who acts blindly, impulsively or as a result of a mental breakdown. That is precisely why I could answer more easily or justify my opinion if the question were detailed, which would allow me to justify my opinion for each point.

By the Court. — Ask for the details you want to have?

The hearing is then adjourned until two fifteen.-

At two fifteen the examination of the witness is continued as follows:

Maître Fitzpatrick, on behalf of the Crown, asks the Court for permission to continue the examination of the witness and this permission is granted.


Q. Now, Doctor, had you finished your answer when the Court adjourned this morning?

A. No, Monsieur.

Q. Then please continue?

A. The fact that the greatest atrocities were committed

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at a time when the husband was generally absent from home, during the winter, proves the fact that the accused distinguished between the consequences that could result from her action in the presence or absence of her husband -- just as the other techniques she used so as not to implicate herself while carrying out her acts allow us to presume, under these circumstances, that she continued with the same calculations: to be able to achieve her goal without implicating herself too much, and the fact that she had intimidated the children, and continued to do so with threats, denotes as well that she intelligently calculated to protect herself by preventing the children from telling their father what was going on while he was absent. When the victim died, the fact that she washed her in order to get rid of the blood stains before calling for help, seems to indicate a similar preoccupation, that is to say, heedfulness of the consequences that could have resulted from the assessment of strangers who would enter the house. But, on the other hand, the scope of the brutalities could also give rise to the notion, at the back of one's mind, that there was an unusual mental aberration, and, as a result, oblige us to look into the entire past history of the accused, as well as her current state, to see whether she has ever shown, at any period of her life, as well as since the crime, obvious signs of any mental illness and especially of degeneracy.

Q. Doctor, we have spoken of mental debility and of moral insanity. Can you tell the Court and the Jurors whether you noticed the set of signs that characterize these illnesses in the accused?

A. Mental debility and moral insanity are two of the

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characteristics of hereditary or congenital mental degeneracy. They represent two ongoing conditions which are inherent to the individual's temperament and which must manifest themselves, in a more or less obvious or more or less intense way, during the various periods of an individual's life, especially during the second part of childhood -- during puberty and adolescence -- so that when the existence of such an illness is suspected, we must search to discover what the person's life and the behaviour were like up until the time when we examined her. Moreover, this is what is done in almost every... what must be done in any mental assessment of any insane person, but particularly with those two illnesses — especially mental debility and moral insanity. An unbalanced mental state or moral sense is often revealed during the period of one's schooling. It does not seem to me that there has been any evidence brought before the Court to establish that such an illness was present in the accused, except for some anomalies of character that became more obvious during pregnancy. I'll say right away that the anomalies that were noted in the accused don't appear to me to represent particular syndromes of moral insanity or mental debility. It could be -- it seems to me to be within the limit or to the extent that we come across in different characters. And even if we accept that they could be counted as signs of degeneracy, these signs would have no value unless they were corroborated by other signs. If we look at the first period of the accused's life, the period of her schooling -- when

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she attended school -- as she herself says, she was at the same level as the others. She began school a bit late, without being able to specify exactly when. She told me, however, that she learned to read and write reasonably well, and the letter that has been produced as an exhibit and which she wrote in prison...

Q. Would you care to refer to it specifically Doctor?

A. I read it. This letter shows that she had an average education, and as regards her intelligence or the state of her intellectual faculties, this letter appears very significant to me. The letter is put together with intelligence -- an unusual amount of intelligence even, considering the circumstances in which the accused found herself -- again, as in the other situations I have mentioned, in order to win the sympathy of her father-in-law, to avert any suspicions regarding her mistreatment of the child -- the victim -- and to testify at the same time to her affection for her children, since she gives all sorts of instructions -- even to give them treatment for the slightest illness they might have, and all other care the grandfather was required to provide while she was gone. The letter appears to me to show that, through her education, she had acquired the usual abilities and the same development as others, but, what's more, that in her condition she remained as intelligent as anyone else. At other stages of her life, she was a woman who, according to her father's testimony as well as by her own admission, began to earn her living at the age of fourteen, and did so up until the age of seventeen -- most of the time in her Parish, being asked most often to take

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care of homes when women were ill following childbirth. It would thus appear that the people in the Parish trusted her to replace mothers when they were bedridden because of illness. This completely contradicts the expectations we have of moral insanity or moral instability, which makes a person behave very unevenly, and often very suspiciously, especially as far as morals are concerned, through lack of moral backbone. And all of this works against the idea that she was suffering from inherent insanity or inherent or hereditary degeneracy, whether mental debility or moral insanity, and especially moral insanity, whose syndromes are more clearly defined and which marks the affected individual with an altogether singular character, and which manifests through a very great mutability of character, an absence of a moral sense, and often unusual perversions that lead children, for example, to be cruel to animals or to other children and that leads them to develop most of the vices of their age and, during puberty or adolescence, leads women especially to exhibit behaviour disorders. Now, nothing has been proven before the Court, and nothing in examining the person has revealed that the accused suffers from this moral degeneracy, except for the facts that make up the crime, which is interpreted as being a sign of moral degeneracy. As a wife, she was sickly, and there again -- during this eventful period of her life -- this person adapted to her role in an apparently normal way according to the testimonies given: she didn't fail to be a devoted wife to her husband; she was attentive

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to her home and children -- except for the victim. And her husband, who had her under his supervision for two years before marrying her -- while he was stricken with a sick wife who was suffering from mental illness in an asylum -- appreciated her very much, since he married her, and he himself testifies that he never noticed anything abnormal. He expresses surprise that we have asked him questions about that because, he says, he had been stricken enough the first time that if he had noticed anything strange in the character of the accused, he would not have taken the risk a second time.

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 Michel Delphis Brochu, procès de Marie-Anne Houde pour meurtre, April 20, 1920, 11.

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