L'honorable Jacques Hébert
THE THOMPSON INCIDENT
(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
The order-in-council has given the Commission the mandate to investigate the “credibility of the statements made by Francis Thompson to the Miami police, in November 1958”.
In order to report with full knowledge of the facts, the Commission has inquired into all aspects of this funny incident and it has heard, on this sole subject, 36 witnesses and collected 66 exhibits.
The study of this question suggests the following division:
I Francis Gabriel Thompson’s personality;
II The Miami events;
III Notary J. Conrad Moreau’s trip;
IV Thompson’s alibi;
V Thompson’s credibility;
Notary J. Conrad Moreau’s trip
(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
Notary J. Conrad Moreau, 51 years old, was born in St-Gervais, Bellechasse; he always resided there and practiced his profession on Main Street.
His immediate neighbour, for some twenty years, was Dr. Armand Paradis, who passed away in March of this year.
For various reasons, the relationships between the two families were not at best: they were hardly seeing each other, they might say good day at Sunday mass, but were not in constant contact. For the past some twenty years or so, their friendship had gradually cooled off, up to the point where since 1960, notary Moreau and Dr. Paradis had not spoken to one another. Their wives were not on best term. We may imagine the coldness of their relations when we learn that the Paradis family was particularly moved, according to notary Moreau, when the latter had built, on the neighbouring lot, a new house in 1959-1960.
Notary Moreau’s parents regularly spent winter in Florida where they rented an apartment all year long, at West Palm Beach and, almost each winter, notary Moreau and his wife would go for a few weeks during which they visited the notary’s parents.
In November 1958, notary and Mrs. Moreau decided to spend 15 days in Florida and, according to them, they travelled with Eastern Airlines from Montréal to Miami. The notary’s register of deeds shows that no entry was made between the 22nd of November and the 6th of December 1958. Always according to them, notary Moreau and his wife left Montréal on an Eastern Airlines airplane before pilots went on strike and paralysed this company for several weeks.
Eastern Airlines files are destroyed after three years. Therefore, there is no documentary proof available for Mr. And Mrs. Moreau’s trip from Montréal to Miami; but the proof shows that pilots strike was declared at midnight, on the 24th of November 1958, and lasted until the 2nd of January. Mr. and Mrs Moreau’s version is therefore not invalidated, to say the least, with this proof.
In Miami, Mr. and Mrs. Moreau only stayed about an hour, and always together; the time to take a taxi at the airport and to go to the bus terminal to drive for 60 miles that separate Miami from West Palm Beach, where they were to stay at the Pennsylvania Hotel. The Commission has tried to verify at that hotel the dates where Mr. And Mrs Moreau stayed but came up against the destruction of the 1958 files.
Because of the strike that was still paralysing Eastern, notary Moreau had to make other arrangements to return home and could finally get on the plane of another company on the 4th of December. Confirmation of the date is given by the coincidence of the birth of a niece the same day and phone calls and telegrams that were then exchanged.
Nothing in the proof, not even the testimony of Mr. Paul Fournier, a grocer opposite Moreau’s house, allows us to doubt the truth of the facts reported by the notary and Mrs. Moreau and, for having seen them and having heard them as witnesses, the Commission does not find an intrinsic motive that would justify it to put aside their testimony.
Notary and Mrs. Moreau swear having stayed in Miami about an hour, to transfer from the plane to the autobus, then not having returned during their stay in Florida, having known nothing at the time of the Thompson incident, in short, not being implied in this affair. Thompson also solemnly affirmed that he had not received the visit of any Canadian, except that of Jacques Hébert, and that no such element that Mr. Hébert describes in his second book had influenced his decision. But there is more.
In fact, the circumstances surrounding Thompson’s detention, at the time, render extremely unlikely that a stranger be granted permission to have, without supervision, a contact with him during the short period of time he upheld his confession. i.e. from the 27th of November to the 1rst of December.
It is true that, in his second book, at page 153, Mr. Jacques Hébert puts in the mouth of a president of a television station in Miami this remark : « it is possible to buy a warden in paying the price ». The same person would have added :
« A warden would not have thought making a big mistake in allowing a « Canadian friend » to have a private interview with a detainee who, after all, was only accused of vagrancy. »
But the situation was otherwise. Thompson had been arrested, at first, suspected of theft. But as soon as were known his declarations, they posted in large prints, on the arrest report, the mention “no visitors”. Moreover, on Thompson’s jail card, to the benefit of the jailer, mention was made of the following :
« Statement by Milton Chesser that deft. has been making statements to Chesser and others that he, the deft., has murdered before and would do it again. On the other info received by Chesser it is extremely advisable to use caution with this prisoner. 11 -27 -58”
Detectives Chesser and Minix testified, as shows the jail card, that they were the only ones who had contact with Thompson, except Mr. Jacques Hébert and, under the circumstances above said, the Commission does not hesitate to rely on their testimony on this point.
Where does Mr. Hébert’s « hypothesis » come from in his second book, pages 154 à 158, saying that to retract his confession and thus save the Union Nationale of a possible scandal, Thompson would have accepted a heavy sum of money ($10,000.00 or $100,000.00 says the author) from notary Moreau who would have made, for this purpose, a hasty trip of three days to Miami, in his quality of very important person from the Union Nationale and political organizer for Mtre Noël Dorion?
We are entering here a domain where imagination, envy, imprudence and audacity all play together.
On the fiftieth anniversary of Le Devoir, in January 1960, that is more than a year after the Thompson incident, Mrs. Armand Paradis, notary Moreau’s neighbour, spent eight days in Montréal, and on this occasion she went to pay her subscription to Cité Libre. Mr. Hébert had his office in the same building. Mrs. Paradis was a great fan – it was her right – of Mr. Jacques Hébert : a subscriber to the newspaper « Vrai », she also had read all his books, and from time to time, wrote him and made comments on the books he published.
During this interview, Mrs. Paradis spoke to Mr. Hébert of notary Moreau’s trip to Florida and gave him a postcard that the latter had sent to Mr. and Mrs. Paradis from West Palm Beach on the 3rd of December 1958. Mrs. Paradis had testified that it was quite by chance that she had this postcard in her purse when she met Mr. Hébert, more than a year after the event in question!
Be that as it may, it was obviously agreed between them that Mrs. Paradis would play the amateur detective since on the 24th of April 1960, she wrote from St-Gervais to Mr. Hébert :
« I believe that you are waiting from me a sign of life, following our last meeting. I regret to tell you: nothing new. I prepared the ground; even traps, without immediate result even though I do not lose confidence. Of course, because of my situation, my means of action are limited, you will agree.
I hope that the steps you took were more successful, even though I am convinced that justice and truth are two great ladies little wooed and very hard to approach.
Considering my weak means, I am always ready to cooperate.
With my best wishes of success. »
Subsequently, Mr. Hébert wrote Mrs. Paradis that he could meet her at the Clarendon Hotel, in Québec City – Mrs. Paradis had expressed the desire to not talk about this affair with Mr. Hébert at St-Gervais – and, in fact, the interview took place at a date however that the proof had not specified.
It appears that Mrs. Paradis has then given Mr. Hébert most of the information – not all, however, upon which he has constructed his hypothesis and, to do so, Mrs. Paradis relied exclusively on what seemed to her a coincidence of dates between notary Moreau’s departure for Florida and Thompson’s retraction. Mrs. Paradis had not had personal knowledge of notary Moreau’s departure and she did not know if his wife had accompanied him; before the Commission, she was not able to specify what might have invalidated the version of the interested parties.
On the other hand, Mrs. Paradis declared and repeated, before the Commission, that « it began like a prank, this story », that « it began in a prank, that affair » and that she had told so Mr. Hébert. Notary Moreau had moreover testified also that Dr. Paradis « was making many jokes ».
And yet, it is apparently only on this information coming from Mrs. Paradis, without verifying either the exactness or the seriousness, that Mr. Hébert has constructed his hypothesis. It is not without interest to note that notary Moreau denied her publicly in an affidavit that he had published in Québec newspapers on the 18th of December 1963, a few days after the publication of Mr. Jacques Hébert’s book.
What’s more, Mr. Hébert had added a few elements that pepper the story, but Mrs. Paradis, this time, denied having given him : let us say simply, without developing, that the proof has sometimes destroyed them (the political influence question) and sometimes ignored them (the financial situation).
Of all this, it remains from the proof made before the Commission that notary J. Conrad Moreau had nothing to do with the Thompson incident in any way whatsoever and he has been dragged into this affair reluctantly on the strength of village gossips, as a result of what we have called hereinabove, on the one hand, Mrs. Paradis’ imagination and envy and on the other, Mr. Jacques Hébert’s carelessness and audacity.
Whatever the cleverness of the process that consists of expressing a « hypothesis » to drag a citizen on the public place, that we end up in « acquitting » (page 158), the Commission does not see any justification to this chapter of Mr. Hébert’s book and finds difficult to qualify with enough severity the conduct of an author who shows such a lack of responsibility and who shows such sovereign contempt for the reputation of others. (TO BE CONTINUED)