Sworn statement made by Ernest de
W. Mayer who was the United States
Consul at Québec City in the Summer
of 1953 when the bodies of three American
hunters were found in the Gaspé bush.
Letter addressed to Van Zandt, member of
Congress, from the Department of State on
July 30th, 1953.
EXCERPT FROM THE BROSSARD REPORT
PART VII, VOLUME 2, PAGES 410 AND FOLLOWING
ON CERTAIN MAJOR INCIDENTS IN THE COFFIN AFFAIR
(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
The Commission has studied, up until this day, this important part of the proof related directly to the events connected to the murder of the hunters and to the means set forth in Coffin’s defence by his counsels, lawyers, or others : it will now study certain major incidents of the affair.
THE SELECTION OF CROWN REPRESENTATIVES
In his second book “I Accuse the Assassins of Coffin” Mr. Hébert blamed in hard words the provincial administrators for having been, in the choice of police officers and lawyers entrusted with the carrying out of the police and judicial investigations, guided by political reasons, mean and not honourable. I quote the following passages from chapter 2 of the book: Page 19
« the provincial government was more anxious to repair hastily the damages caused by the affair to the tourist industry than to seek the truth. For Mr. Duplessis, it was not an ordinary murder, but an attack on an important source of revenue for the Province. Lastly, my recent investigations have given me the proof that the provincial government has undergone strong American pressures, some of them even coming from the State Department. »
p. 20 « To control damages, it was necessary – was it not the lesser things to do? – to find quickly someone guilty of this horrible murder, to punish him rightly and have him pay with his life for this triple murder. »
The tourist industry was not represented at the trial by a witness for the prosecution officially delegated by a syndicate, a hotel keepers association or the minister of Finance, but the shadow of this absent witness has certainly overhung the little Percé courthouse. »
p. 21 « Therefore, no one has known in Québec of the pressures made by the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Club which has a membership of more than 200 000, some of whom frequented assiduously Québec lakes and bushes, some others were likely to come one day or other spend their dollars in Mr. Duplessis’ province.
This powerful association knew the high reputation it had with the provincial authorities : as soon as it learned the tragic death of three hunters from Pennsylvania in the gaspesian bush, it did not hesitate to intervene in this case and let the Attorney General know that it wanted that some “action” be taken.
p. 22 « In the course of the investigation, Van Zandt had made public a letter that he had received from the American Consul in Québec City the assistant of the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.”
Let’s get to the bottom of these different questions.
Have the judicial authorities of the province undergone foreign pressures in the police investigation on the disappearance of three American hunters ?
There were indeed a few interventions, but they were not numerous and were of a normal and regular character.
Worried by the prolonged absence of their son, Mr. and Mrs. Claar communicated, for the first time, with the Provincial police in Gaspé on the 5th of July 1953, a month after the departure of the three hunters for Gaspé. Having not received information before the 9th, they communicated again with, this time, not the police, of which sergeant Doyon was in charge in Gaspé, but with someone they knew had been Mr. Lindsey’s guide, then, they left for Gaspé where they arrived around the 12th of July and the following days.
Apparently, following news published in Altoona local newspapers, Blair County Unit Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Pennsylvania, from where the hunters had left, took upon itself to send, on the 22nd of July, a telegram comprising, inter alias, the following request: « It was resolved that we appeal to you to lend support in any way you think possible in the efforts of the police and other searchers in solving the mystery of our three missing Pennsylvania hunters ; any efforts on the part of your organization in helping to bring quick action in clearing the mystery and seeing that justice is done will be greatly appreciated”.
On the 24th of July, the Canadian National Sportsmen’s Show answered the Altoona Association, among other things, what follows:
« While we will be only too glad to assist your Association in any way possible, we do not believe that our entry into the complicated situation in Québec would be proper, nor do we think that it is in any way necessary… In addition, we feel that the administration of these matters in the province of Quebec is in the hands of wise and capable officials, and while there might appear to be some confusion at the present time, we believe that you can rely upon them entirely for proper investigation and action and that adequate justice will be handed out for any wrongs or criminal actions that may have occurred. We believe that, in the long run, you will be quite satisfied with Québec and Canadian activities with reference to this entire situation.”
On the same day, the Canadian National Sportsmen’s Show transmitted to Mr. Georges Léveillé, Director of the Provincial Tourist Bureau, a copy of the telegram received from Altoona and copy of his answer to this telegram ; it added :
« I do think that their wire was caused by a certain amount of hysteria and requires no action, but felt that you should be informed in this matter.”
This correspondence was transmitted on the 31st of July 1953 to the Honourable Antoine Rivard, Solicitor General. Superior police officers of the Provincial police were already on the spot for more than a week.
Mtre C. E. Cantin declared to us that his decision to attach importance to this case was neither dictated by the Attorney General nor the Solicitor General nor by pressure exerted by the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, the American Consul, Ernest de W. Mayer, and Mr. Van Zandt, member of Congress, representing Pennsylvania ; his decision was taken because the affair had, under sergeant Doyon’s command, ill-started, that the bones of the hunters having been discovered only one month after their disappearance and after their likely murder were in a state of decay excessively advanced and that, moreover, it was the first time they had a proof that bones had been displaced and broken by bears, by wild animals.
As to the steps taken by the American Consul, the Commission has obtained from him the following information :
Following a request made by Mr. Van Zandt, house representative for Pennsylvania, on the 24th of July 1953, the Department of the United States Secretary of State requested information about the affair from its Consul in Québec City and informed Mr. Van Zandt on the 30th of July as follows:
« The Department has also been informed by the American Consul that the case is being closely followed by Solicitor General Rivard and other high provincial officials who are confident that they will solve the crime despite the difficulties arising from the time lapse between the deaths on June 11 or 12 and the discovery of the bodies a month later. The Consul has been assured that this confidence is based on clues or evidence which cannot be presently disclosed.”
What was that information obtained by the Consul and in what circumstances?
Mr. Mayer being not able, as former Consul, to come and testify before the Commission, we have obtained from him a sworn declaration in which he gives us the following information :
(NOTE: BY CLICKING ON THE PICTURES AT THE TOP OF THIS WRITING, YOU MAY READ THE FORMER CONSUL’S SWORN DECLARATION TO THE BROSSARD COMMISSION.)
A. « I am not sure that I learned of their (hunters) disappearance before learning of their death. If I did, it was through newspaper reports.”
A. “I remember inquiring only once about the case from Québec Provincial officials…”
A. “To the best of my recollection, no special report about the matter was made at the time by me personally or by my office, but possibly routine forms entitled “Report of the Death of an American Citizen” were forwarded to the Department of State.”
A. “ I did not at any time bring such pressure to bear on the Government of the Province of Québec, or any of its representatives or police officers in order to find and bring to trial the party responsible for the death of the three American hunters.”
Q.”What did you do, when you learned that one Wilbert Coffin had been arrested and charged with the murder of one of the hunters? Will you file all correspondence bearing on that subject, either with the Government of the Province of Québec and its officials, or with the U.S. State Department or the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs?
A. “ I took no action at that time or subsequently.”
On the other hand, we have received from the Secretary of State for Canadian external affairs, on the 14th of April 1964, copy of a note from the United States Embassy in connection with the Coffin affair in which the Embassy states precisely what follows:
« The United States Government has, of course, assured the Commission, through the United States Consul General at Quebec, that United States authorities made no more than the normal representations regarding the welfare of United States citizens. The United States Government would like to avail itself of this opportunity to state this assurance again.”
There they are those famous pressures that were exerted by the United States Department on the honourable Maurice Duplessis, his government, the Solicitor General, the Department of the Attorney General and police officers, there it is the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs fidgeting impatiently on which the author took, as a basis to attribute to those responsible for the administration of justice in the province, petty motives, utilitarian and imaginary; I say “imaginary” because the author has never been in contact, before the writing of his book, with any of the afore-mentioned officers.
The last pettiness is the reference that the author (Hébert) makes, in support of his assumptions, to an article in the magazine « Liberty » published several months after the execution of Coffin, in April 1956. As if the feelings and opinions of some chronicler of this magazine could represent the opinions of the Québec administrators of justice. (To be continued)