In his report, Justice Brossard, in a 116 page chapter, studies meticulously each one of the numerous jeeps that were mentioned in the Coffin affair. Since it is an important part of the proof and it caused much ink to flow and gossips to circulate, I shall reproduce these pages in the next weeks.
REPORT OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON THE COFFIN AFFAIR (27TH NOVEMBER 1964)
VOL. 1 CHAPTER 5
THE JEEP WHOSE PRESENCE IN THE GASPÉ PENINSULA OR IN THE VICINITY WOULD HAVE BEEN SEEN BY « EYE » WITNESSES AT THE TIME THE CRIMES WERE PERPETRATED.
At the sitting of the 27th of July 1953 Coroner’s inquest, Wilbert Coffin, who was not yet held as a « material witness » and was not accused, was called to testify. He declared that, on the 10th of June, in the end of the afternoon, when he accompanied the young Lindsay to his other two hunting companions, he saw a jeep with an American licence plate whose two passengers were talking with Mr. Lindsay, senior, and the young Claar, who had stayed in the bush by their broken pick-up truck.
At the trial, Sergeant Henri Doyon, told about the trip he had made in the bush with Wilbert Coffin and constable Sinnett on the 21st of July 1953, on Coffin’s return, and related that Coffin had mentioned to him his meeting with the two other Americans in a jeep with an American licence plate.
At the trial, the Crown submitted that following searches made by members of the Provincial Police, and particularly, in the registers of gate-keepers in charge of controlling, at the entrance and at the exit, the traffic on the roads leading to the forest, the only American jeep whose presence had been noted in the bush, between the 27th May and the 12th June 1953, was that of Dr. Burkett and one Mr. Ford, accompanied with their guide, Russell Patterson, for hunting bears; the Crown also submitted as proof that the American jeep seen by the Savidant brothers, both residing in the area, was that of Dr. Burkett and of Mr. Ford and that this jeep had left the Gaspé several days before the 10th of July.
At the time of the Coroner’s inquest as well of that of the trial, newspapers reported Wilbert Coffin’s declarations and the proof relating to Dr. Burkett’s jeep. On September 1955, at the time where Coffin’s attorneys were desperately trying, with the support and nervous interventions of relatives and friends of Coffin and even strangers, to save their client in transmitting to the Department of Justice a great number of affidavits and declarations relating to the facts that appear to have caught, in priority, the attention of the justices of the Appeal Court, the newspapers published the news that one Dr. Wilson and his wife might have seen, around the 5th of June, on board of a ferry crossing to Rivière-du-Loup, a jeep with an American licence plate and whose occupants were young people and that they would have lost sight of this jeep as soon as it left the ferry where they assumed they hit the road of the Gaspé coast.
Following the publication of these news, certain persons communicated with newspapermen, some with one of Wilbert Coffin’s attorneys about jeeps they pretended having seen in the area at the time of the crimes ; other people were found tardily, in fortuitous circumstances, sometimes surprising, as was the case of Dr. and Mrs. Wilson, on the fall of 1955 only.
In these different cases, is there one jeep only or are there several different jeeps, one of which might have been related to the one Coffin claims having seen ?
That is one of the most serious problems and the most important of which the Commission was seized.
Under the certain and extremely clever dictation of his lawyers, Coffin spoke, in his long affidavit of the 9th October 1955, of the presence of several jeeps in the area where the murders were perpetrated, more particularly, in paragraph 41 (related to jeep tracks which he would have seen and about which we shall be concerned in this report) and in paragraphs 23 and 48 which read as follows :
“23. Mr. Maloney (one of Coffin’s lawyer) produced a photograph of a jeep closed in with plywood and marked as Exhibit « A » to this statement. Mr. Maloney informed me that he obtained this photograph from the Toronto Evening Telegram who represented it to be a photograph of a jeep that had been found in the Province of New Brunswick. Having studied the photograph I am not in a position to swear that it is the identical jeep occupied by the two Americans whom I met with the Lindsay party after my return from Gaspé on June 10th with Lindsay Jr. The fact is the two jeeps looked very much alike and both were built in the same way. The jeep which I saw occupied by the two Americans looked as though the plywood was installed not by a factory but rather by someone not thoroughly experienced in such matters and it seemed to me that it was stained with some kind of oil or varnish. It may well be that the jeep shown in the photograph marked « Exhibit « A » is one and the same jeep but I am not in a position to swear to it.
48. I repeat I am innocent of this crime and I feel I was not given a fair trial, chiefly that evidence about the presence of another jeep and other Americans in the Gaspé District was held back and that evidence of the marks of a jeep on the road in the vicinity of the camps was also held back. I was made to look as though I was a liar because it was proved that Dr. Burkett and Mr. Ford were not in the district after June the 5th. The fact is, as I said before, Dr. Burkett left the Lindsey party and new witnesses have now come forward who prove another jeep and other Americans were in the district and that the police connected with my case knew this and held it back. It is now proved too by Sergeant Henri Doyon’s admission to my lawyer François de B. Gravel that there were jeep marks on the road. »
On the other hand, Messrs. Belliveau and Hébert, but more so Mr. Jacques Hébert, poured out much ink on the subject
Therefore, this part of the report will be relatively longer than the great majority of the others.
Before studying the proof concerning the presence of one or several jeeps, it is appropriate to consider two questions certainly as important as the others, to wit :
a) were the jurors sufficiently informed about the roads leading to the camps in the vicinity of which the murders were perpetrated? And
b) is it exact, as the proof was submitted at the trial, that, at the time of the discovery of the American hunters’ pick-up truck abandoned on the road leading to the lumber camps where the victims’ remains where found, no jeep tracks were seen? -I-
WERE THE JURORS SUFFICIENTLY INFORMED ABOUT THE ROADS LEADING TO THE CAMPS IN THE VICINITY OF WHICH THE MURDERS WERE PERPETRATED ?
TOPOGRAPHY OF THE AREA
At Coffin’s trial, a great number of game and fish wardens and guides in the Gaspé area, all people who had participated in the search of the three American hunters, were heard about the trips they had made in the course of their searches ; a good number of police officers including sergeant Doyon, and constables Sinnett, Vanhoutte, Fradette, Dumas and Fafard testified also about their own searches in the company of the other hunters or independently ; all of them, with no exception, described the place where the abandoned pick-up truck was found and where the hunters’ cadavers were found as being in the surrounding of the lumber camps known as camps 21, 24, 25 and 26 ; many of them, if not all of them, described also by which road they had gone to those camps ; the camps were obviously those of a lumber operation and were located near a river which seems to have been identified as the north branch of the St-Jean river.
Regarding the topography of the area, an important witness was Mr. Maurice Hébert, now Inspector with the Provincial Police in charge of the Judicial Identity Department for the east of the province ; in June and July 1953, his main duty consisted in surveying the region for various cases, presumably criminal ; it is in this capacity that he was examined at the trial. Mr. Hébert described the roads on which one could reach the lumber camps where the crimes were committed ; firstly, two main roads a) the road leading from Gaspé to Murdochville along the St-Jean river, south of the York river, going through camps 21, 24, 25 et 26 where the crimes were perpetrated and connecting, westward, with the main road Gaspé-Murdochville. He described a secondary road know as Tom’s Brook Road and connecting the Gaspé-Murdochville to the one that runs along the St-Jean river, eastward, from the place where the camps were ; he mentioned more particularly the existence of a great number of paths leading to the forest from these diverse roads, hardly suitable for automobiles. Mr. Hébert and many other witnesses stated that on the road running along the St-Jean river, between the above mentioned camps and Gaspé, a bridge spanning St-Jean river was flooded away ; it is there that, on the 9th June, the American hunters arriving from Gaspé had tried to ford the St-Jean river, were not able to do it with their truck and had to be helped out by a party of four, hunters, fishermen, game or fish wardens who arrive on the spot; the three hunters had to turn back to Gaspé to take the Gaspé-Murdochville road, then the secondary road Tom’s Brook to go to the place where their pick-up truck stopped running; it is there where, the following day, Wilbert Coffin met them and where the pick-up truck, a month later, was found abandoned at a distance of two miles approximately from the first set of above-mentioned lumber camps.
Mr. Maurice Hébert and all the witnesses who were cross-examined by the defence attorneys who had every opportunity to obtain from them any additional information that they thought appropriate and necessary. This proof, Mr. Jacques Hébert had no knowledge of it, neither in its essence nor in its details, since, of his own admission, he had never read, before the present enquiry, the joint dossier which contained all the proof, and he had not read the notes of the Court of Appeal justices.
Armed with the ignorance of the proof submitted at Coffin’s trial, and substituting his ignorance of the cross-examinations to which the many witnesses which I already mentioned were submitted by the defence attorneys and the knowledge that Coffin’s attorneys might have had of them, the whole with the same casualness and the same presumptuousness that he displayed towards the justices of our highest courts, Mr. Jacques Hébert wrote, in his second book the following lines :