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;
Francis Gabriel Thompson’s personality
Born forty years ago in the St. Regis Indian reservation, on the Québec, Ontario and United States frontiers, Francis Gabriel Thompson resided there until he was 10 years old, and returned for short stays in 1939-40 and 1953-54.
He left the reservation at the end of the summer of 1954, escorted by the Royal Mounted Police to be confined to a mental hospital in Brockville, Ontario, on the 16th of August : he had just sawn his boat in two and had planned to navigate on the Saint-Lawrence river on one half of it!
Three months later, Thompson escaped from the hospital. However in i1961, he was confined again in a mental hospital in Alberta.
In 1964, at the time of the inquiry, he was living in Vancouver under a borrowed name.
It was a habit because for the past twenty years he had been known under the names of François Gilbert (pronounced in the French manner), Francis Gilbert (pronounced in the English manner), Michael Eugene Bonaparte and maybe Wilfred Seymour, plus his real name.
During that time, from 1941 to 1963, Thompson collected some twenty convictions, from the provinces of Québec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia and the states of New York, Montana and Florida.
Prematurely aged physically, with a little education, Thompson seems to have acquired a certain veneer that allows him to write and express himself adequately and even pepper his answers with philosophical sentences.
Does he show, however, some attachment to truth? The evolution of his religious beliefs sheds some interesting light on this matter.
Brought up in the Roman Catholic religion, Thompson stops, around 1947, to believe in the existence of God. In the following years, his philosophy may be summed up, according to his own words, as follows:
« My belief, prior to nineteen sixty-one (1961) was to get by in this world, whatever… however way you can find best. That the teaching of any church was something similar to rubbish; that there was absolutely no proof that such a deity as the Holy One exists.”
However in 1961, he was converted to the Church of God and believes once more in the existence of a Supreme Being.
We notice thus that, from 1947 to 1961, Thompson believed in nothing. Truth? Let us listen again to Thompson :
« Q. Did you think that Truth should be said in answer to questions that were being put at some time or other?
A. Sometimes yes, sometimes, no.”
Briefly, Thompson presents himself like a forty year old Indian who has lived by his wits, has always had problems with justice and had to be treated in mental hospitals. In the period that concerns that inquiry, 1958, he believed in nothing and had only a little respect for truth.
What importance may we give to his statements to the Miami police?
The Miami events
The course of the events spreads over a period of ten days.
In the night of the 24th and 25th of November 1958, around 12:30 a.m., constable Zambuto, of the Miami police, arrested Thompson. On the 25th of November, the owner of the yacht “Pudlu”, moored in Miami harbour, reported the disappearance of various items come of which had just been found in Thompson’s possession without being able to give valuable explanations. It was the third theft on board of that yacht within a few days
On the 25th of November, detectives Chesser and Minix, of the Miami police, were assigned to this case and proceeded to a first examination of Thompson. During the day, Thompson finally admitted his theft on the yacht, with an accomplice, and signed a confession in due form.
The following day, 26th November, the detectives proceeded to a new examination on two previous thefts on the same yacht, but Thompson denied. Then, on the 27th of November, Thompson, in the course of an examination by Chesser, stated suddenly that he was the author, with Johnny Green, of the murder of two American hunters in the bay of Gaspé area, in New Brunswick. Chesser, at 9:15 p.m., referred the case to the Québec Provincial Police.
On the 28th of November, colonel Léon Lambert, assistant director of the Québec Provincial Police for the Québec area, wires Miami and asks for a photograph and the fingerprints of the suspect and his statement. At the same time, he telephones Miami and he is informed of the events and he accept to send a series of twenty questions that will allow them to better judge the seriousness of Thompson’s confession.
Assistant Attorney General Charles-Edouard Cantin thinks fit to obtain more information before sending Québec Police officers to Miami and gives instructions for the drafting of the questionnaire. Inspector J. Alphonse Matte does it, Mtre Cantin revises it and adds to it, colonel Lambert translates it and, the same day, around 11 : 45 a.m., he transmits his questions over the phone to detective Chesser of Miami.
On the 29th of November, detective Minix examines Thompson, gets answers to the twenty questions received the day before, verifies the answers with Thompson and sends the whole by mail, the same day, to the Québec Provincial Police that receive it on the 1rst of December. Colonel Lambert transmits the document, on reception, to the assistant attorney general and requests instructions.
Meanwhile, press agencies had spread the news about Thompson’s confession, newspaperman Marcel Thivierge had made, at the expense of his agency, a $50.00 phone call to Miami, from Mtre Francois de B. Gravel’s office, in Québec City, and Mr. Jacques Hébert had left for Florida.
Until then, contrary to what Mr. Hébert writes in his second book, at page 149, the Québec Provincial Police had not hesitated; on the contrary, it had acted with remarkable speed, in a file that took place a few years ago.
Whatever the same author writes, at page 170, there is no proof that the Québec authorities had shown « hostility » towards the Miami police. On the contrary, detectives Chesser and Minis vigorously denied that statement.
Anyway, the same day where the assistant general attorney, the assistant director of the Québec Provincial police and inspector Matte examined the answers given by Thompson to their questionnaire, they concluded to a hoax – we shall see later if they were right – this same day, the 1rst of December, Thompson repudiated his admissions, declared that he was innocent of the murder of the Americans and that he had confessed this crime solely to escape from American justice, which would be more severe towards him, and to obtain his extradition to Canada.
Mr. Hébert arrived in Miami the following day, on the 2nd of December. At this moment, the Department of the Attorney General of Québec had decided to close its file, given Thompson’s retractation, which confirmed the opinion reached by them on this subject.
In Miami, however, it was decided to submit Thompson to a lie detector test administered by Mr. Warren B. Holmes; Mr. Holmes is an expert highly qualified in this field, who administered some twelve thousand of these tests and got some 350 confessions from murderers, who, until the time they were submitted to his examination, had denied their guiltiness. Mtre Raymond Daoust, Q.C., Mr. Hébert’s attorney, has recognized publicly before this Commission Mr. Holmes’ high qualifications.
Let us only say that at the end of this experience, conducted according to the customary data, Mr. Holmes had to conclude to the falseness of Thompson’s confession. Mr. Hébert’s attempt to weaken this conclusion in attacking on the flank the questions bearing on the driving of an automobile vehicle or on the use of firearms by Thompson, failed.
After this experience, Mr. Hébert had a few minute interview with Thompson. Both of them stated that they could discuss in private. Messrs. Chesser, Minix and Holmes, on the contrary, stated that at no time Messrs. Thompson and Hébert were left alone. Anyway, the results of this interview were negative.
What was the reaction of those who participated in or attended this lie detector test? In his second book, Mr. Jacques Hébert writes, at page 149 :
« Detectives Chesser and Minix whom I have questioned at length could not explain Thompson’s sudden change of attitude and remained under the impression that he had spoken the truth the first time. »
At page 152, Mr. Hébert adds :
« I say goodbye to detectives Chesser and Minix who were completely shaken by the test result. They can hardly believe that the first admissions of Thompson were not founded. Like me, they remain convinced that Thompson is the murderer or an accomplice of the murder, or a witness of the murder, or maybe a confidant of the real murderer.”
Before this Commission, Mr. Hébert, heard as a witness, has sustained those affirmations. Messrs. Chesser and Minix however contradicted them bluntly and they denied having said such words or expressed similar convictions.
On the other hand, Mr. Jacques Hébert also reported his conversation with Mr. Holmes, at the end of the test : page 51 of the same book. This time, Mr. Holmes recognized that what was reported was true in substance. But he added:
« the only thing that he has done is he has taken my frank expression to him and twisted them a little bit to apply to Thompson which was not the impression or statement which I gave to him at the time. »
Eight days had elapsed, during which the press of America was moved, since the 27th of November, while Thompson had confessed to the crime, until the 4th of December, when the lie detector test confirmed, at least in Holmes’ opinion, that the truth was to be found in the retractation and not in the confession.
What might have induced Thompson to make his confession and retract it?
Thompson has said, given his file, that he feared getting a heavy sentence. Drawing from his souvenirs, he imagined that he could declare himself guilty of a murder – and of two murders – believing that he might thus be deported to Canada where he could show his innocence.
It is the ultimate result that foresaw the chief of Miami detectives, to whom spoke newspaperman Marc Thivierge, of Québec City, on publishing Thompson’s confession.
It is also the version to which Thompson has always stood by, to Messrs. Chesser, Minix, Holmes, Jacques Hébert, in his declaration to Mr. Lucien Descent, on the 22nd of December 1963 and his personal letter to his friend David George, on the 6th March 1964
The reason for his retractation remains however obscure.
To Mr. Holmes, he declared that he hated police officers and wanted to ridicule them.
Before this Commission, Thompson testified that he had an understanding with the Miami chief of police: if he at last spoke the truth, his deportation to Canada would be guaranteed.
It is on the strength of this promise that Thompson would have then retracted his confession.
One thing is certain, the grief filed against Thompson was finally put aside, on the 28th of January 1959, for lack of proof and Thompson was eventually deported to Canada.
If it is true that he had this intention, his plan was successful.
Should we, however, rather see, in his sudden flip flop, the result of notary J. Conrad Moreau’s manoeuvre? (TO BE FOLLOWED)