Frederik Claar's valise found
The honourable senator
La plaidoirire par
EXCERPT FROM THE BROSSARD REPORT, PART VII, VOLUME 2,
(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;
VI - Conclusions.
B) THE VINCENT PATTERSON CASE;
C) THE QUESTIONING OF WILBERT COFFIN, MARION PETRIE AND LEWIS SINNETT;
D) THE TWO PRISONERS WHO WERE PROMPTED TO TESTIFY AGAINST COFFIN
PARTE VII, VOLUME 2, CHAPTER 6 (page 466)
Excerpt from the Brossard report
THE QUESTIONING OF WILBERT COFFIN, MARION PETRIE AND LEWIS SINNETT
In the reproduction, in the Toronto Star issue of the 11th of February, of Wilbert Coffin’s last will and testament and in his own reproduction of this will and testament in the book of Mr. Belliveau, one reads: « I would like that the public know since my arrest, I was not fairly treated ».
It was not a faithful reproduction of the document signed by Coffin, as written by Mtre Gravel; Coffin had said, from the hand of Mtre Gravel, “Since my arrest I never had a fair deal and I do hope no repetition of such unjust affair will occur in my province ».
Coffin had not expressed any such griefs in his affidavit of the 9th of October. Had he expressed any before? Had he been subjected to ill-treatments?
Let us point out that there is more than a nuance, that there is in fact, a difference between « I was not fairly treated » and « I never had a fair deal »; the first expression may refer to moral and physical treatments whereas the second refers rather to the methods used to obtain his conviction and execution.
At page 23 of Mr. Belliveau’s book, one may read what follows :
« He said he was brutally treated under a five-hundred watt light in the fire station basement. Once, he said, he was grilled for eighteen hours at a stretch. When he was thirsty water would be brought and then snatched from him before he could drink. Cigarette would be given and snatched away. When he was dropping from fatigue, he would be slapped back into a chair”.
Drawing obviously his inspiration from this passage of the book of Mr. Belliveau, at least from a passage corresponding to his reports, Mr. Hébert writes in his second book what follows :
« But if we believe Coffin, he would have been questioned, on one occasion at least, during 18 hours without interruption. When he asked for water, he was offered a glass and then it was snatched from his hands. They did likewise with cigarettes. He was also questioned while a 500 watt light grilled his eyes. It goes without saying that the police denied all that… »
« Matte first tried to force Coffin into a confession. He used all the methods that could imagine his sick brain. The failure was total. Coffin was innocent; when we know him, we understand without pain that the Gestapo experts themselves would not have succeeded to have him say the contrary. »
Mr. Belliveau told us that he does not remember from whom he obtained this information; one thing is for sure, he did not get them from Wilbert Coffin; From whom, then? Surely, not from those who submitted Coffin to examinations; they all came and said the contrary. Then? We are forced to conclude to hearsay or an excess of imagination.
Examined on this subject during this inquiry, Mr. Hébert, denied having drawn his inspiration from Belliveau, which does appear to us as being an inaccuracy, gave, as a sole source for this passage, the information he obtained from Donald Coffin; he tried to add to it, during the inquiry, information of the like received from Mrs. Marion Petrie.
Donald Coffin declared to us that all his brother Wilbert had told him was that he had been questioned for several hours and these questionings were interrupted for maybe half an hour, during which time he rested before the questioning resumed; Donald stated that his brother had expressed no other grief than that.
For her part, Mrs. Marion Petrie told us that she might have heard from Mr. Eugène Létourneau, officer in charge of the Québec jail, information regarding the questionings Coffin was subjected to wherein he was blinded by lights; this information, she might have gathered in the course of a joint interview between her, Mr. Létourneau and Wilbert Coffin. Mr. Létourneau denied ever having been in the presence of Mrs. Petrie and Wilbert Coffin, in any circumstances, denied that Coffin ever was questioned at the very jail, to his knowledge, denied ever having reported to Mrs. Petrie Coffin’s declarations regarding his questionings, denied being aware of a pretended three day questioning to which Coffin was submitted, denied ever being aware of any questionings, either by night or by day, at the Provincial Police , denied that Coffin has ever told him that he was blinded by lamps in the course of his questionings; on one occasion, Coffin told him that that it was long, and in a third circumstance: “They cursed after me.”
Wilbert Coffin was apparently submitted to four main questionings by officers of the Provincial Police, captain Matte, captain Sirois, sergeant Vanhoutte and sergeant Fradette. Three of these questionings took place in Gaspé, the first one on the 28th of July 1953, the second on the 6th of August of 1953 (this is the one that was followed by the signature of a statutory declaration). The third one, on the 9th of August; the fourth one took place in Québec City.
All those officers responsible for those questionings have been heard by this Commission. On the one hand, they all unanimously recognized that the questionings were long, arduous, difficult, tiresome for all those who took part in them and above all, obviously, for the one who was subjected to them, often slow because of Coffin’s attitude, but on the other hand, they stated that during those questionings, Coffin was not molested, threatened, roughed or subjected to malicious deprivation. I abstract from their respective testimonies what I consider the essential part of it.
Jean-Charles Vanhoutte :
It is untrue to say that we lighted before Coffin’s eyes a 500 watt lamp, that we offered him water that we snatched away from him, a minute later, that we did the same for cigarettes; occasionally, during questioning, captain Matte and captain Sirois offered Coffin cigarettes; he, himself, bought cigarette tobacco for Coffin at the end of a questioning and had all he could eat sandwiches in Doyon’s apartment adjoining the Provincial Police office, in Doyon’s absence. We did not use photographers’ portable flash.
Captain Raoul Sirois :
No violent action was, at any time, exerted on Coffin. We never offered Coffin glasses of water to take them back at the last minute; as for cigarettes, it was the same; he admits that on one occasion, at least, he was called a liar.
Captain Matte :
The first questioning of Coffin took place on the night of the 27th or 28th of July and lasted from midnight until four o’clock in the morning, in the presence of Mr. Vanhoutte.
The second questioning he submitted Coffin to, took place on the night of the 9th to the 10th of August from 8 o’clock in the night until nine o’clock in the morning. The witness used the usual method : his intelligence purely and solely; to use his muscles would not have been intelligent, he says. Roughness, says the witness, has never given anything; he never has, himself used roughness; he never used the methods that are attributed to him in the book “I Accuse the Assassins of Coffin”; the statements in the book are entirely false; he always has treated human beings as they should, be they prisoners or not.
Coffin’s third questioning, at Québec City, was most amicable because Coffin is a « gentle fellow and very polite> ».
The witness considers particularly revolting and dirty the statements in the books of Messrs. Belliveau and Hebert that he would have used a 500 watt lamp to blind the detainee during questioning.
As to the questioning that took place on the 6th of August, he is not the one who did it; let us recall that at that moment, captain Matte was in Montréal where he just had obtained from Mrs. Petrie serious and exceptional information and he wanted Coffin to be questioned before the latter would learn the information communicated by Mrs. Petrie.
Mr. Fradette confirmed his colleagues’ statements for this part of the questionings he attended.
Indeed, questioning from 10 to 12 hours, in the night, is great hardships for the one who is submitted to it; police officers have, however, explained to this Commission that the night is the best time for questioning, according to them, for not disrupting their regular day workload.
Defendants who are seriously suspected of obnoxious murders certainly have the right to be treated humanely, but they cannot expect and have no right to expect being treated as if they were v.i.p’s on television. From this angle, it is unjustly, too often, that police officers whose task is eminently unrewarding, are accused of having manhandled suspects for not having questioned them with too much tenderness; criminal lawyers often complain about ill-treatments given their clients and with much publicity in the newspapers; it pleases those who are frustrated, the perpetual grumblers, those who are fearful and specially the enemies of order and authority; it also pleases those who believe that individual freedom entitles them to violate that of the others.
The murder of the three Americans for which Coffin was seriously suspected had nothing particularly enlightening; since the police seriously considered Coffin guilty as they discovered his lies, they could not be inclined to treat him as a victim; therefore, let us observe that despite this, that Wilbert Coffin’s attorneys, apparently, never expressed any grief as to the treatments their client underwent before the eve of his execution.
Therefore, I conclude that Coffin did not have serious reasons to complain of ill-treatments and the only reproach that he has ever made as to an « Unfair deal » that he would have been submitted to, could only refer to proceedings that led him to the gallows, rather than the treatments he had been the object from the part of Provincial Police officers.
I also conclude that is ill-founded, denied by many facts and in itself insulting the accusation made by Mr. Hébert against captain Matte that he has « used all means that could imagine his sick brain to attempt to get admissions from Coffin »; surely, captain might have, before Coffin was charged, tried, as it was otherwise his duty and right, to obtain admissions from Coffin, but no proof was made that he used means of Gestapo experts; the word Coffin told his father on the morning of the Coroner’s inquest that “they are not man enough to break me” and that the Crown has entered as evidence before the Percé jury was interpreted by the latter and by the justices of appeal courts. The proof submitted to us confirmed that this word was not alluding to ill-treatment, for which Coffin otherwise never complained.
Furthermore, Coffin was so little ill-treated by the Provincial Police that, on the night of the 26th to the 27th of August 1953, at Gaspé, instead of lodging in municipal cells that the Provincial Police officers considered too dirty to lodge a suspect, he spent the night in the Police headquarters which part of it was occupied by sergeant Doyon and that he spent the night on the couch of his home; I accept, on this point, the version given by sergeant Doyon, his spouse and her sister, in preference to those of two police officers whose testimonies were neither convincing nor very intelligent. And as to the conditions wherein Wilbert Coffin was lodged that night, I must recognize that Mr. Hébert has described them correctly in his book; doubtlessly, they were favourable to sergeant Doyon, his main, if not his unique informant; but this may not excuse Mr. Hébert for having been totally unjust towards captain Matte and the other police officers, as we have just seen. (TO BE FOLLOWED)
YOUR COMMENTS, PLEASE.