(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
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.
(Abstract from Jacques Hébert’s book)
Pages 31 et 32 :
« The three Americans followed that advice and, in the course of the day on the 9th, returned to Gaspé. In the afternoon, they drove again on a bush road, following this time the Gaspé-Murdochville road which also gives access to the camps. These camps (where the hunters were murdered) are completely isolated in the depth of the bush, but it is interesting to note that several roads lead to them.
The hunters’ murderers could have come back from the camps through several ways:
1- Going directly to Murdochville and joining the Québec road running along the coast.
2- Going on the Murdochville road, driving to New-Richmond where the Maine frontiers could easily be met by two different roads running through New-Brunswick.
3- Reaching Gaspé by the direct road, but ending the trip on the Gaspé-Murdochville road.
4- Using the Tom’s Brook road that joins the Gaspé road several miles further east.
5- Going to Gaspé by the road bordering the Saint-Jean river ; in a jeep, it was easy to ford the stream that had stopped the Lindsey’s truck.
6- On the same road, avoiding Gaspé and driving directly to : Douglastown, then Matapédia and to the Maine frontier, through New-Brunswick. And let’s say no more about it !
Here are details that might have interested a Justice system more desirous of finding the true culprit (?) than overwhelming a suspect. »
Before this Commission, Mr. Maurice Hébert was heard again ; the last two paragraphs of the above quotation were read to him.
Mr. Maurice Hébert repeated what he had said at the trial and that, at the time of the murders, it was not possible to return to Gaspé or go to Murdochville by the Saint-Jean river road because the bridge had been swept away and because, according to his experience, at that time of the year, the Saint-Jean river cannot be forded with a jeep (the Americans’ truck was not able to do it), the water level reaching from three to twelve feet above the river bed.
From Mr. Maurice Hébert’s testimony, one can draw the conclusion, with certainty more than reasonable for this Commission, that in June 1953, no vehicle, no jeep in particular could leave, starting from the area where the murders were perpetrated, the Gaspé peninsula otherwise than through Gaspé or Murdochville ; starting from those two centres, it was obviously possible to go on the Gaspé-Matapédia highway and the highway leading from Murdochville to the belt way of the Gaspé peninsula or perhaps so, which seems however to appear more than doubtful, going on a road little suited for motor vehicles leading from Murdochville to the transgaspesian road crossing the Gaspé peninsula from Saint-Anne-des-Monts to New Richmond and of which a part of it was little suitable for motor vehicles west of Murdochville.
However, according to the proof submitted at the trial, before Murdochville, there were gates to pass by, and there were some also from the other side, before Gaspé. This proof having been submitted to the jury by witnesses that the defence could cross-examine at leisure, we do not have to re-examine it.
Nevertheless, admitting the possibility that the gates were constantly ill-watched and that, from that time, one or several American jeeps could have been able to enter the peninsula between Gaspé and Murdochville without their occupants being reported to the gate-keepers, let’s see if the proof reveals if there was a quasi-invasion of American jeeps as suggested by Belliveau and Jacques Hébert and if they left tracks.
Is it true, as proof was made at the trial, that when the pick-up truck was found, left on the road leading to the lumber camps, where the remains of the victims were found, no jeep tracks were seen ?
This question is important; indeed, in paragraph 41 of his affidavit of the 9th October 1955, Coffin declared having seen jeep tracks between camps 24 and 25 and at four or five different places on a side road in the area, having instructed Mtre Maher to try to have pictures taken of those tracks and that the latter did not take any, having been informed of sergeant Doyon’s declaration to Mtre François Gravel that he too saw the marks of a jeep; Coffin declared that neither the Crown attorneys nor the defence attorneys had never asked sergeant Doyon questions about this issue, and that a recent admission from sergeant Doyon showed the falsehood of the Crown’s pretension that there were no jeep tracks in the area.
Sergeant Doyon was the officer of the Provincial Police in charge of the Gaspé station ; it is he who received the first telephone call on the 5th July from Mr. Claar, senior, investigating about his son and his two hunting companions ; it is he also who remained in charge of the investigation until the arrival of captains Matte and Sirois, on the morning of the 23rd July ; he only took part in the search when, on the 15th July, a first cadaver was found; it is also him who was the first one to be in contact with Coffin on his return from Montréal, on the 21st July, to visit with him, in company of the police officer Sinnett, on the 21st July, the places that Coffin had been through with the prospector MacDonald and the young Lindsey on the 8th , 9th and 10th June.
Sergeant Doyon testified at the trial on what follows:
He carried searches to find the name or names of the persons to whom Coffin might have referred to when he talked about the jeep of two other Americans ; the only ones he found were those of Dr. Burkett and one Mr. Ford, his hunting companion ; he did not find « personally » other « parties » of Americans who had come with a jeep in the same period of time in the Gaspé area. He saw no tracks of the famous jeep Coffin had talked about « because there were no tracks printed like those of chains that could be seen at certain places » (Coffin had declared to Doyon that he had to put on chains on the wheels of the pick-up truck his friend Baker had lent him when he went in that area with MacDonald on the 8th and 9th June.) During his cross-examination by Mtre Louis Doiron, one of the defence attorneys, Doyon repeated that he and Sinnett had not found at that place where the truck of the Americans was abandoned, « jeep tracks … « tracks printed like chain tracks that had been shown us by the accused himself ».
(To be continued)