THE MYSTERIOUS NOTE
(Typed and literally translated by Clément Fortin)
One of the most serious charges raised against the police, in affirmative terms and by means of insinuations or concealed hypotheses, was that, at the time of police search, one would have found a piece of paper bearing the date of 13th of June and that it would have been written by one of the three victims ; from the would-be discovery of this writing and from the fact that it was never mentioned in the course of preliminary inquiries, and not event at the trial, one could manifestly draw the conclusions a) that Coffin was innocent since on June 13th, at least, one of the three victims were still alive, Coffin having come out of the bush in the evening of the 12th, and b) this writing had been concealed from the jury.
Before the Brossard Commision, it has been proven beyond doubt that this note had been written par Thomas Miller, a Gaspé resident who had been active in searching the missing hunters. He had left this note on a rock to inform other searchers that he was going to a particular place where he could be reached if necessary.
In his book « The Coffin Murder Case », Mr. Belliveau only makes one reference, but a reference suggestive enough to a « tattered note » that photographer Maurice Edwards « swore that he had seen though he could not say what it contained. »
In his first book « Coffin Was Innocent », M. Hébert was less discreet ; he affirmed the existence of a tattered note which once, put together, delivered a message of an extreme importance, note which, he added, drafted by one of the three hunters, indicated clearly that his author was still alive on the 13th of June 1953. He asserted that in one of his reports, Belliveau, who represented the Toronto Daily Star, and had written numerous reports on the Coffin affair, had mentioned, at the beginning of the inquiry, this important discovery by the police. He also asserted that the police, whose duty was to inform the court, had hidden this document which had remained undiscoverable.
These accusations, M. Hébert repeated them in his second book and added certain commentaries and relying on information that M. Belliveau himself would have communicated to him.
Mtre Gravel, one of Coffin’s counsels, had also referred to the existence of this note in a letter that he had transmitted to the Department of Justice in the fall of 1955.
The accusations were repeated on television in December 1963 by the former policeman Synnett.
The enquiry before this Commission has established, beyond all question, that this note has never existed and that, willingly or not, but at least neglectfully, falsely represented as being this note, a note that one Thomas Miller, a Gaspesian who had participated, in the surrounding woods, in the search of the three disappeared American hunters, had left on a rock to inform other searchers that he was going to a particular place where he could be reached if necessary.
This note left by Thomas Miller was found at the place where he had left it and near this place constables Fafard, Fradette and Dumas collected the scattered pieces and brought them to the office of the Provincial Police in Gaspé and handed them to sergeant Doyon ; these scattered pieces remained apparently, for a while, on sergeant’s Doyon desk were they could have been seen by newspapermen and photographers who frequented the Provincial Police in search of news. The existence of this note, which was absolutely of no significance whatsoever with regard to the discovery and the condemnation of the author of the murders, were subsequently forgotten until the day in 1956 where sergeant Vanhoutte, who had replaced sergeant Doyon as officer in charge of the station in Gaspé, found the pieces of this note in a file concerning the Coffin affair which was left there by sergeant Doyon. They were then transmitted to the Provincial Police office in Québec City, where, on captain Matte’s instructions, they were assembled as best as possible on a sheet that was handed over to captain Matte ; this note was filed as exhibit before this Commission.
Captain Alphonse Matte has asserted before us that he only saw Thomas Miller’s note so reconstituted only when it was brought to him in Québec City by sergeant Vanhoutte.
Regarding this note, were examined by the Commission, Mr. Thomas Miller, constables Fafard, Dumas and Fradette, Mr. Synnett, Mr. Maurice Edwards, Mr. Wilfrid Carter, Mr. David Johnson, captains Matte and Sirois, Mtre C.E. Cantin, assistant attorney general and a few others.
THOMAS MILLER recognized exibit 25 as being a partial reconstitution of the note that he has left in the woods for the use of other searchers and in which he spoke of Mullin’s camp : he recognized his writing (identical to that of the reproduction of this note which he wrote during the sitting); he recognized that the date appearing in the upper right corner of the note was “13th 53” and that one could not see the indication of the month; he recalls, however, having written this note in the month of July in the course of searches; he recognized lastly part of his signature.
Former constables FAFARD, DUMAS, and FRADETTE described the circumstances wherein these scattered pieces of the note were found in the woods at the time searches were made between the 10th and 20th July 1953 and declared having brought them with them to the office of theGaspé Provincial Police ; they did not see them again.
Former officer SYNNETT was examined at length on his activities in the course of the police investigation following the disappearance of the American hunters. He spoke of a note dated 13th of June which, to the exception of the date, the text was « unreadable ». He identified this note, as being exhibit 25, then asserted having seen three notes, the one represented by exhibit 25, a note left by young Clarar’s parents when they visited in the woods at the time of searches, and the note dated 13th of June but unreadable.
He was then confronted with the text of the interview he had given on television ; in the course of this interview, he spoke of a note dated 13th of June on which one could read the words « I shall meet you at Mullin’s camp. »
He admits that after that interview on television, he might have declared to a representative of the newspaper “La Presse” that he might have made a mistake on television « about the note that no message appeared on and the one that is partially written ».
What must be taken into account in Mr. Synnett’s testimony, on the one hand, rather confused, is that, at the time of his television interview, he appeared to have referred to Miller’s note while speaking of a note dated 13th of June and that, on the other hand, the would-be note dated 13th June was unreadable and consequently could not be connected to whomsoever and certainly not to one of the three American hunters.
Mr. GÉRALD GODIN, who participated in the recording of certain programs for the CBC French network and produced, in this capacity, the recording of Lewis Synnett’s interview on the 1st of December 1963, but was aired only several days later, declares after this recording , he saw at Mtre Nöel Dorion’s office, in Québec City, a photostat of exhibit no 25 and that the same night he phoned Mr. Synnett because doubts had crossed his mind and that of Mr. Pierre Nadeau’s, one of the two television animateurs then, in the course of this conversation, the only note that Mr. Synnett described was the Thomas Miller’s one.
A lady JEAN THOMAS, then at the employ of the newspaper « La Presse », called Mr. Synnett a few days after his television interview ; it appears from that telephone conversation that the note that Synnett pretended having been dated 13th of June was, according to him, dated « June 53 », that it was torn and « glued with Scotch tape » and that it was not the one that the searchers had found and had handed over to him or at least that there was a resemblance to it.
It appeared to us obvious that Synnett went right off the track on television, that truly he has seen only one note, that this note was the one that Thomas Miller signed ; it is the only conclusion one may draw in comparing his television interview with the information that he has communicated to this Commission and what he has communicated to Mr. Godin and Mrs. Thomas. This former police officer that the Provincial Police never wanted to rehire after his voluntary resignation for financial reasons, has given us the impression, not only in this part of his testimony, but in all the rest of his testimony, that he had accounts to settle with the Provincial Police. In fact, of all the testimonies of former Police members that we have heard, this one is the one to which we may grant the least credibility.
Mr. MAURICE EDWARDS, then photographer for the Toronto Daily Star, has seen articles on sergeant Doyon’s desk at the Gaspé police station ; the only photograph of a note that he has taken was the one on which the names of Mr. And Mrs. Claar appeared ; in other respects, he remembers having seen on Mr. Doyon’s desk, from a distance of ten feet, a note that was torn, about which he does not remember if it was entirely torn or if it was only « ripped on the edges », a note that he has never read, that he has not tried to read, and that he has never touched! Obviously, it was Miller’s note. It is impossible to conclude from his testimony, as Mr. Belliveau seemed to have been able to do so in reading the photos taken by Mr. Edwards, if one judges so taking into account his hint to « the matter of a note », that Mr.Edwards has never seen a note signed by one of the American hunters and dated 13th of June 1953.
Messrs. Wilfrid CARTER and David JOHNSON, two technicians at the employ of the Provincial Government, who appear to have taken the initiative to carry searches in the bush before sergeant Doyon himself intervenes, both of them declare having never seen or having had knowledge of this mysterious note in the course of intensive seaches that they themselves made.
Mtre Charles-Edouard Cantin, who, according to what he declared to us in the course of the inquiry, followed the Coffin case « with more attention than to any other case that he had to look after since he is in charge as Assistant Attorney General because of the difficulties that it involved », and that he had given precise instructions, after the discovery of the cadavers of young Lindsey and Claar, to the police officers “to go and scuffle the woods”, he states that he has never heard of the existence of such a note before the year 1958, when M. Hébert’s first book was published and that he does not believe having read in Mr. Belliveau’s book the reference to the existence “of a note”, otherwise not described.
No one in Gaspé or in Percé, has ever heard of this note before it was mentioned in Mr. Belliveau’s book and, obviously, in M. Hébert’s subsequent books.
In particular, Mtre Louis Doiron who was one of Coffin’s counsels, has never heard of them neither before nor after the trial, not event before the present enquiry. The same goes for captain MATTE and Mr. VANHOUTTE and even Mr. DOYON.
The truth is that, in the course of searches in the woods, three notes were found: that of Miller, that of Mr. and Mrs. Claar, and and a third one which was an old grocery list. The truth is also that the existence of this note was the product of fertile imagination and that the accusations which were based on the would-be existence and disappearance of this note were only inspired at the onset by a vague allusion to this note by Mr. Belliveau, allusion being based on absolutely nothing tangible and real, and groundless commentaries published then in the Toronto newspapers.
The categorical affirmations made by Mr. Hébert that this note had existed, that it bore the date of 13th June 1953 and that it was signed by one of the hunters illustrate well the little care some writers or authors or newspapermen take in verifying the exactness of facts before launching in the public groundless news ; the two pages monsieur Hébert has devoted to this note, in his last book, are a tissue of gratuitous and false affirmations from which the author draws injurious conclusions for the Crown and the defence (to the exception of Mtre Gravel, of course), and for the police who “would have kept concealed the document” and the Provincial authorities “who have lied”.
To support his statements, M. Hébert has event attributed to Mr. Belliveau rather categorical statements which the latter denied having made ; Mr. Belliveau, as he had moreover declared in an article published in the newspaper « La Presse », in December 1963, has stated to us never having seen the famous mysterious note and having no information as to its contents, in one word, that he knows nothing about it ; even although he might have talked about this note with M. Hébert, he does not believe possible, under the circumstances, that he might have said the followings words that M. Hébert attributes to him, in these terms, at page 39 of his second book:
« I have had a long talk about this note with John Edward Belliveau : « There is not doubt in my mind, said he. There are two notes found in the course of searches in the bush. The first note had been found under a rock, it was crumpled up and torn. Signed by one of the three hunters, bearing a date, it was the proof that at least the signer was alive on the 13th of June, which is the day after Coffin’s departure. The second note was neither crumpled up nor torn. It was found on the windshield of Lindsey’s pick-up, it was bearing Clarence Claar’s signature, the father of Fred, one of the victims. Clarence Claar was taking part in the search and has walked near the pick-up at such a moment in the day. One may not say as much for the first one…»
Visibly annoyed by the reading of this passage, Mr. Belliveau stated before the Commission what follows :
« It is conceivable that one of the hunters did sign a note, and it is possible it had the date which Hébert mentions. The fact is that I myself never saw such a note and have no information about the contents or signature. If Mr. Hébert has further information about this note or its signature, I hope he can furnish the proof. At the same time, I do not enjoy being mentioned as an authority for such a fact.”
And voilà how one accuses people of being criminals for having concealed some proof!