REPORT OF THE BROSSARD COMMISSION ON THE ENQUIRY IN THE COFFIN AFFAIR (NOVEMBRE 27TH 1964)
VOL. 1 CHAPTER 5 (PART VI)
THE JEEP WHOSE PRESENCE IN THE GASPÉ PENINSULA AND IN THE VICINITY HAS BEEN SEEN BY « EYE » WITNESSES AT THE TIME WHEN THE MURDERS WERE COMMITTED.
- IV –
DR. BURKETT’S AND MR. FORD’S JEEP
It was established at the trial that one Dr. Burkett and one Mr. Ford, two Americans from Pennsylvania, came hunting bears in the woods surrounding Gaspé from the 27th of May to the 4th of June 1953 and that they returned to Pennsylvania a few days before the arrival of the Lindseys in Gaspé.
Dr. Burkett and Mr. Ford were not called to testify at the Coroner’s inquest nor at the preliminary inquest.
Russell Patterson, their guide, testified at the last sitting of the Coroner’s inquest on the 27th of August 1953.
Here is what Dr. Burkett, Ford and Patterson say as to the jeep and as to the clothes they wore :
DR. GORDON BURKETT, at the inquest :
As to the jeep: (it was) a greyish army-type jeep, a standard civilian jeep but very similar to army-type with canvas top and canvas curtains... the metal work was grey. As to the canvas, he is not sure whether it was grey or not.
As to the occupant: he was 43 years old in 1953. He is now 54, but has remained young in appearance.
As to the clothes he wore on the 27th of May: « I would have, I believe, my regular army O’D.’s. They would be khaki colour and perhaps an army shirt, khaki colour, or a cotton shirt. I am not sure.. and a canvas, tan, hunting coat, or I could have had on a fatigue jacket. Now, that is a longer jacket that you use in the service. Might have had that, I would not remember for sure. I would say I was wearing khaki-coloured garments”.
RUSSEL PATTERSON, at the Coroner’s inquest:
« ((Our jeep was) in wood with canvas and plastic windows. The color was light grey with a darker canvas, and old canvas”. He declares not having noticed, during their hunting party, other American cars, but had the opportunity to speak to several people in the woods « a lot every day ». They met, at times, other hunting parties.
RUSSEL PATTERSON, at this enquiry :
As to the jeep : (it was) grey, in very good condition, a canvas top also in very good condition ».
He is 5’ 11” tall and weighs now 146 pounds.
He was, in 1953, 25 or 26 years old.
THE TAPP BROTHERS’ JEEP
On the morning of the 27th of May 1953, Alwin and Gerald Tapp from Moncton, Nouveau Brunswick, were at the Baker Hotel grill when they spoke with two individuals one of whom appeared to them as an American who had come to Gaspé to hunt.
During the month of September 1955, Gerald Tap read in the newspapers that Coffin’s lawyers were petitioning for a new trial and that new proof had been discovered, more particularly, a proof to the effect that a physician from Toronto (Dr. Wilson) had seen a yellow jeep with two Americans dressed in army clothes, in the Gaspé area « at about the time ». His brother and he decided then to get in touch with Mtre Gravel who advised them to keep quiet and that he would communicate himself with an attorney in Moncton. They were summoned to that Moncton lawyer’s office and both signed, on the 27th of September 1955, affidavits that were subsequently transmitted to the Department of Justice and which are respectively exhibits 22 and 23 of the exhibit 20.
GERALD TAPP, in his affidavit of the 27th of September 1955 :
On the 27th of May, around eleven o’clock a.m., he took a pint of beer at the Baker Hotel in the cocktail lounge in the back of the hotel with a man 5’6 or 7 tall, stocky and weighing between 165 and 170 pounds and whose age could be between 35 and 45 years.
« Part of his dress : American-Army issue clothing; rubber boots with high leather tops ».
“He was a businessman or a professional of some kind. He said he had been in the area during the war”.
Ten minutes later, entered in the lounge a man whom he believed to be the guide of the former, this man was between 5’8 and 6’, tall, was slim, was between 25 and 30 years old and could weigh around 160 pounds..
« Dark complexion – a local man ».
Clothing of rougher type: breeches and bush shirt and high leather boots.”
The first one asked him: “Is everything in the jeep?”
GERALD TAPP, during this enquiry :
The man with whom he talked was an American who said he was coming from Pennsylvania to Gaspésie to hunt bears. « He was a very pleasant man and some sort of a professional man.
He was between 30 and 35 years old, 5’ 6 or 7 tall, “a bit on the stocky side. He knew the area quite well because he had been stationed in an American unit at Sandy Beach or somewhere around the area as an instrument player in an orchestra”. He had brown khaki pants, American –Army issue and also wore long boots, leather or rubber, is not sure. They were bush boots.
The other man was almost 6’, tall, very slim and looked like a local man, a local bush-man, dressed exactly the same with American-issue clothing”.
His brother saw the jeep when he looked out the window, but, he, Gerald, did not see it.
The guide had American Army-issue pants on and he had dark collared shirt and I am almost sure that the sleeves of his shirt were rolled up.
“When the guide said: “The jeep is ready”, I turned and saw the front part of a jeep and the one that I saw, to the best of my knowledge and memory, was a faded brown or a brown turning grey. It looked to be a war-surplus jeep. It would be something in between. It would be like a brownish army paint that had faded. It had a canvas top. Ignores its colour.
He is positive they were at Baker’s Hotel on the 27th of May.
RUSSEL PATTERSON, in his affidavit dated the 3rd of October obtained from him by sergeant Vanhoutte declares:
On the evening of the arrival of Ford and Burkett, he and Ford drank beer in the lounge of Baker Hotel.
On the morning of the 27th of May, « we drove the jeep behind the Baker’s Hotel and he and Ford; went in for a pint of beer. »
In this affidavit, Patterson does not mention having seen, on the morning of the 27th of Ma, met one or some strangers.
Heard during this enquiry, Patterson, after having denied having signed a declaration dated the 3rd of October, he is obliged to recognize his signature on the affidavit that we showed him and he added: “If I signed it, then it was true.”
He declared before us having been questioned one night by of Coffin’s defence lawyers. This lawyer was accompanied by Donald Coffin. This interview would have taken place a little while after Coffin was charged with murder..
It was only after having heard about the Tapp’s affidavits that the Québec police officers decided to make a new investigation. It is during this investigation that they obtained the affidavit from Russel Patterson on October 3rd 1955.
In his report of the 3rd of October 1955, Mr. Vanhoutte declared that one Mr. David Miler, waiter at the Baker Hotel grill, declared to him remembering having seen Russel Patterson and Mr. Ford in the hotel grill, around the 27th of May 1953 and also having seen the Tapp brothers, but declared also not being able to connect the two groups one to the other. (To be followed)