THE JEEP THAT THE TAPP BROTHERS HAVE SEEN.
REPORT OF THE COMMISSION OF ENQUIRY INTO THE COFFIN AFFAIR (27 NOVEMBER 1964)
VOL. 1 CHAPTER 5 (Part VII)
THE JEEP WHOSE PRESENCE IN THE GASPÉ PENINSULA AND IN THE VICINITY WOULD HAVE BEEN « SEEN » BY EYE WITNESSES AT THE TIME THE CRIMES WERE COMMITTED.
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DR. BURKETT’S AND MR. FORD’S JEEP (continuation from page 157 of the Brossard report)
During this enquiry, the Commission has taken the initiative to organize a meeting of the Tapp brothers, on the one hand, and Messrs. Burkett, Ford and Patterson, on the other. This meeting took place a few minutes before these five persons were heard again by the Commission. This confrontation was not conclusive, the diverse witnesses, without denying having met, had only vague souvenirs that they might have met. However, MR. GERALD TAPP made to the tribunal the following comments:
« There is a lot of the features and characteristics of the two that we had seen at Baker’s Hotel. I could not swear whether it is them or not.”
Mr. Tapp adds that Patterson appeared to him more talkative that the man he had seen in the hotel grill and that Mr. Ford, even though being of the same height that the man he had met, appeared to him having more hair than he had. He adds that Patterson has declared that he was always wearing a « buckskin jacket and a hat » while the souvenir that he has of the man he has seen at the hotel, was that he was wearing a dark shirt with rolled up sleeves and was not wearing a hat.
He declares : « There are some points of resemblance that I could make… Mr. Ford bears some resemblance and has some characteristic of the man that I talked to. And, Mr. Patterson, he does have some points of resemblance, also.”
For his part, PATTERSON declares: “I cannot be sure about the younger man”, the youngest Tapp brother, “but the bigger one, I feel quite sure I have never seen him”. He does not believe that the youngest Tapp brother was the person to whom he spoke, even though he might have seen him.
On the other hand, the proof has established that Mr. Ford, today and then a music merchant, has, during the last war, with American army musicians gone on a concert tour that led him to the outmost bounds of the Gaspé peninsula, that he has always played music with a copper instrument, this description is close to one of the Tapp brothers’ souvenirs according to which the man he met at the hotel, in company of whom, he had drinks, (this man) had told him having stayed with American soldiers at Sandy Beach or somewhere in the vicinity, as musician in an orchestra.
In spite of the relative success of the confrontation, understandable enough after ten years, between people who only had met a few minutes in a dark hotel cocktail lounge, it seems little doubtful that the jeep, whose part was seen by one of the Tapp brothers in the Baker Hotel yard, on the morning of the 27th of May 1953, the very morning of Dr. Burkett’s departure for the bush and his companion Ford and his guide Patterson, was that of Dr. Burkett and in which Messrs. Ford and Russel Patterson had come to pick up Dr. Burkett, if we take into account the fact that no other jeep was seen in the vicinity of the Baker Hotel by the Tapp, to the exception of an old local jeep belonging likely to the hotel.
As it was established at the trial that the jeep that Coffin pretended having seen could not have been that of Dr. Burkett, it would follow then that this jeep that the Tapp brothers have seen could not have been that of Coffin.
On the other hand, the description of Dr. Burkett’s jeep given by Dr. Burkett and Russel Patterson « of metal colour, grey, with a brown canvas top » « the canvas was brown, a faded brown, a light brown, something like fawn » does not correspond to the description that Coffin has made in writing of the jeep he would have seen and which would have been « an old jeep made with wood, of a dark color » neither, more particularly, to the description made to sergeant Doyon and that the latter reported to the trial, to wit, that it was of yellow colour, in plywood, in veneer.
I must therefore reach the conclusion that the jeep the Tapp brothers had spoken to the Québec Provincial Police, during the Coroner’s inquest, and that they reported in a more elaborate manner in the affidavits transmitted to the Department of Justice through Mtre Gravel, was not the one that Coffin could have seen.
It is wrongfully that Mr. Hébert has the Tapp brothers, at page 163 of his second book, give a description of the jeep they have seen, that it would have had a body in plywood, and has them to say that the two hunters that they have seen were between 25 and 30 years old. Only one Tapp brother has seen the top of the jeep and he says that it was of canvas and he estimates the age of the hunter to whom he has spoken to be between 35 and 45 years old, in the affidavit that he has signed on September 1955. Is also wrong the statement that the Tapp brothers gave in an affidavit to the police (presumably before the trial), their affidavit being in 1955.
Mr. Belliveau’s affirmation is also wrong (p. 101) that the Tapp brothers were at Gaspé « just before the crime could have been committed and fell into a conversation with a man they believed would be in his early thirties. »
On the other hand, we must remember that what we know today, for sure, we know it after a long enquiry and the information that was communicated to us was certainly not in the hands of the Québec Provincial Police and of the Crown attorneys at the time of the trial. We shall come back to this subject later on.
But let us remember also the information given by Russel Patterson that a short while after Coffin had been charged, that he was examined by a defence attorney accompanied by another person. (to be continued)
Next week, we will talk about the jeep that Lorne J. Patterson pretended having seen.