Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

The King versus Marie-Anne Houde

[ Marie-Anne Houde entrant au palais de justice, La Presse (Montréal),   ]

The trial of Marie-Anne Houde began on Tuesday, April 13, 1920, two months after the death of her stepdaughter. It continued until Wednesday, April 21, after adjourning on the 17th and 18th for the weekend. The Honourable Justice Louis-Philippe Pelletier presided over this term of the “Assizes,” as the Court of King’s Bench in the criminal jurisdiction is called. The April session was particularly trying for this judge – and even more so for the accused who were heard before him – for, in the space of a few weeks, Justice Pelletier pronounced three death sentences.

April 15 and 16 were significant days in the trial of Aurore’s stepmother, as the judge and jurors heard the harrowing testimony of the children of the Gagnon family, with the trial, which was open to the public, taking place before a packed courtroom. The testimony about the abuse suffered by Aurore was overwhelming for the lawyers defending Marie-Anne Houde; consequently, they adopted a new strategy for the defence. Maître Francoeur and Maître Lemieux (“Maître” being an honourary title for lawyers in Quebec) understood that they could no longer hope to convince the jury that their client was innocent, or that the little girl had died of natural causes. They decided to plead insanity and asked that the court hear the testimony of medical experts who were specialists in psychological disorders. This request was granted during the second week of the trial.

The Crown’s evidence against Marie-Anne Houde and the evidence of the defence are some of the most revealing elements on this site. What could have incited woman to commit the horrific acts that were attributed to her by Aurore’s sister, Marie-Jeanne, as well as by her own son, Gérard? And what do you think of the defence’s argument that Madame Houde suffered from a form of insanity that was exacerbated by her pregnancy?

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History