( A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
A taxi was waiting
On the 2nd of September 1955, the honourable Justice Abbott of the Supreme Court denied Coffin permission to appeal to the Supreme Court from a final decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench at Québec.
The 3rd of September 1955, Leslie Coffin and Weston Eagle obtained from Wilson MacGregor the statement that we have talked about, at length, regarding what he had seen in the back of Coffin’s pick-up truck on the 12th of June 1953.
The same day, Mrs. Stanley, Wilbert Coffin’s sister and other persons, obtained a series of receipts from people who pretended having made to Wilbert Coffin payments before the tragic event of 1953. The late quest for a new proof in view of obtaining a new trial had began for good.
During the night of the 5th to the 6th of September 1955, around 1.30 in the morning, Wilbert Coffin escaped from the Québec prison, located on the le Parc des Champs-de-Bataille leading out to Grande Allée ; he returned voluntarily to the prison a few hours later.
The events that took place outside the prison during that night were, before us, the subject of a brief enquiry.
No one has asked information about what had happened inside the prison walls before the escape although the complete file of Mr. Eugène Létourneau, the Québec prison director, would have been made available to anyone who had wanted to obtain explanations ; all we know is that Coffin, while he was outside the prison walls, had a set of keys and a revolver that he had made of soap with his hands and that he would apparently have used for his escape
As to what happened, once Wilbert Coffin had reached the Grande Allée, we have received different versions on important points ; it is however established affirmatively that after having left the prison, Wilbert Coffin jumped in a taxi cab driven by Mr. Gaston Labrecque, who, apart from being a taxi driver was a professional wrestler, that Coffin requested he be driven first to the crossing of the road leading to the Québec bridge, then, to the other side of the river, at the cross-road of Montréal – Rivière-du-Loup, that after a conversation with Labrecque, that might have lasted nearly half an hour, he asked to be driven back to Québec to Mtre Raymond Maher’s residence where he was accompanied by Mtre Maher to the prison.
The driver Labrecque has given of his trip with Coffin three different versions : the one that he has given to Mr. Napoléon Allard, sergeant at one the Québec Provincial Police stations at Québec, the very night of the escape, the affidavit he has signed the following day, on the 7th of September 1955, at Mtre Gravel’s home who had drafted it, lastly, the testimony that he has given before this Commission. Between these three accounts, there are differences interesting enough and important
1. In his statement at the police station, Labrecque asserted that Coffin called his taxi when he was parked on Bourlamaque street, near Grande Allée ; in his affidavit at Mtre Gravel’s, he stated that he was driving eastbound on Ste-Foy road, when « I was asked for a pick-up by a man unknown to me. I stopped my car and I asked this customer where he wanted to go. His answer was that he wanted to reach the Québec Bridge. I immediately took the direction of the bridge”. Before this Commission, the driver Labrecque stated that he had parked his car at the crossing of Ste-Foy road and Bourlamaque street, a cross-road located more than a quarter of a mile north of Bourlamaque street and Grande Allée, when at last Coffin jumped into his cab.
2.The three versions are nearly identical as to the trip he made between the moment Coffin jumped into his taxi and that where the taxi cab had reached the crossing at the exit south of the Québec bridge and the national road to Montréal – Rivière-du-Loup ; they differ however as to the manner Coffin divulged his identity to Labrecque, as to the exact moment where he showed Labrecque his soap revolver that he carried and as to the character and the duration of the conversation that Coffin and Labrecque had whether before or after having shown the revolver. 3. The three versions are uniform on the fact that Coffin had shown that he did not know where to go and on the fact that eventually Coffin decided to go to Mtre Maher’s in order to return to jail, but they are, if not contradictory at least different as to the reason that prompted Coffin to decide to return to Québec ; at one time, it would seem that it was Coffin who would have personally expressed regret for his break out, at another time, it would seem that Labrecque would have convinced him of the uselessness of his run away, at another time, it would be Me Maher who would have persuaded him that his escape might be interpreted as an admission; it does not appear, in other aspect, that at any moment of the conversation during the long stop on the other side of the Québec bridge, Coffin had threatened Labrecque and that the latter might have, at any moment, felt any fear whatsoever. However, the version given by Labrecque, in the affidavit drafted by Mtre Gravel, was written in words giving clearly to understand that Coffin had escaped in a moment of despair, that he regretted his action and that he had expressed at least twice to Labrecque his desire to return to prison.
The last allegation in the affidavit signed at Mtre Gravel’s home is particularly characteristic of the colour that one attempted to give to that event: « Wilbert Coffin seemed to me to be an honest man and a gentleman and I cannot believe that he is a murderer ». There are however in the Holy History multiple examples of fallen angels.
Mtre Maher stated having heard Labrecque assert, at the police station, that he had picked up Coffin at the corner of Grande Allée and Bourlamaque street, while he was parked at 1.15 hour or at 1.20 hour in the morning at this place little frequented by pedestrians at that late hour.
We were also told that when he broke out of jail, Coffin was dressed with prisoner’s clothes and that he was not wearing an overcoat.
No proof was made to indicate that when Coffin called the taxi driver Labrecque, he was running or was out of breath when jumping in the cab.
There is no doubt in our mind that Labrecque tried to mislead us in asserting that Coffin had jumped in his taxi cab at the corner of Ste-Foy road and Bourlamaque street rather than at the corner of Grande Allée and Bourlamaque street, which is the crossing nearest to the Québec jail.
I cannot conceal that I remain puzzled before the following facts: the chance quasi providential that at that late hour of the night, the taxi driver Labrecque was parked at the corner of the closest crossing from the Québec jail, the variants and contradictions about this subject in the three versions of Labrecque, the easiness with which Coffin was able to jump in the taxi cab of Labrecque, the latter having not seen that he was wearing prison clothes, the fact that Labrecque has apparently not been on guard in hearing Coffin express uncertainty as to the place he wanted to be driven to before the taxi had reached the other side of the river, the apparent absence of nervousness on the part of Labrecque when he learned the identity of his passenger and when the latter showed him a revolver at which time Labrecque ignored that it was made of soap, the quick decision taken by Coffin whether on his own initiative, to be driven first to Mtre Maher’s with the purpose of returning eventually to the prison, the fact that Coffin knew the absence from Québec of Mtre Gravel, the fortunate coincidence that Labrecque knew, like Coffin, and Mtre Gravel and Mtre Maher and that, in fact, he was himself a client of Mtre Gravel, and specially the easiness with which Coffin could break out of jail, without observing that when he was picked up by Labrecque there has not been apparently any one in his pursuit, lastly, the rapid use that Mtre Gravel has made of the circumstances surrounding this break out, when Labrecque visited him the following day, to attempt to transform them into and indirect proof of the innocence of Coffin.
Mr. Hébert has written several pages of his book on the escape of Coffin ; adorning the account, embroidering the conversations Coffin had with the driver Labrecque and with Mtre Maher, giving to Coffin’s statements a touching accent, interpreting the interview that Coffin would have had with the Governor of the prison on his return and his attitude when he returned to his cell, he writes, in dazzling words what follows:
P.93 « Is it a culprit who, after having crossed over the Québec bridge, stops suddenly, hesitates, discusses, shouts his innocence to a taxi driver instead of using those precious minutes to disappear in the bush ?
Is it a culprit who once again seeks advice from a lawyer who had so badly defended him ?
Is it a culprit who, on the advice of this lawyer, returns to his cell from which he would logically only come out to go to the gallows? »
Unfortunately, Mr. Hébert forgot or ignored certain facts that I just enumerated and which give to this escapade a colour pretty much different ; Labrecque’s affidavit drafted by Mtre Gravel was useful to him ; as it was also useful to Edward Belliveau (pages 96-97) for writing a less embellished account of Coffin’s escape; it is odd, however, that he did not thought well to talk about the theory that, according to Mr. Belliveau, Mtre Paul Miquelon, the Crown attorney, would have voiced on the escape and which was as defendable as that of Mrs. Belliveau and Hébert.
Be that as it may, there is no doubt, surely, that neither Mtre Maher nor Mtre Gravel, who was at La Malbaie, had anything to do with this escape.
Was this escape as spontaneous and Wilbert’s return to the prison was it as spontaneous as Labrecque had wanted, specially with what implies the affidavit drafted by Mtre Gravel? The circumstances that I just described may only leave a serious doubt to subsist in my mind.