EXCERPT FROM THE BROSSARD REPORT, PART VI, VOLUME 2,
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;
VI - Conclusions.
B) THE QUESTIONING OF WILBERT COFFIN, MARION PETRIE AND LEWIS SINNETT;
C) THE VINCENT PATTERSON CASE;
D) THE TWO PRISONERS WHO WERE PROMPTED TO TESTIFY AGAINST COFFIN
After this long journey, we arrive at the crucial question : what credibility may we give Thompson’s declarations to the Miami police?
If we accept Thompson’s alibi, the answer is self evident. But as there is no absolute certainty on this subject, it matters to examine the question on the merit, without taking into consideration that alibi.
Had Thompson’s confession any value per se? Should we rather prefer his retraction? What are then worth Thompson’s explanations?
Let us note, by way of preliminary, that Thompson has not a good reputation for those who have known him.
Warren Holmes, from Miami, stated in plain language that he would not believe Thompson, even under oath.
His uncle, Moise Thompson, declared before this Commission that his nephew is a liar.
His sister, Mrs. Cecilia Square, said that one day Thompson called her from Toronto and only told her his name – so that her sister would accept the telephone costs –after having used two different aliases; and she was her own sister calling him.
On the other hand, he declared to the Miami police that he could read French but could not read English; the proof made before the Commission revealed that the opposite was true.
Obviously, Thompson’s propensity to bend the truth to his fancy must be taken into account with regard to his retraction as well as his confession and we will have to resort to external elements for corroboration. But we shall first examine the confession. At first sight, Thompson’s confession strikes the imagination because it contains references to facts that are indisputably connected to the murder of the American hunters : two hunters murdered with a rifle, father and son, in a wooded area, at a certain distance from Gaspé, a theft of about $600.00 in cash on the victims’ bodies, as well as a thermos bottle and a rifle, transportation in a jeep.
But if we read this confession not superficially but with due reflection, we realize that the real murderer could not be unaware of some of the things Thompson does not tell, nor commits flagrant errors. For example, I shall mention the most important:
a) Murders were committed in June and not in September or October;
b) The event took place in the province of Québec, not in New Brunswick;
c) The event took place at some 60 miles, not 20 miles from Gaspé;
d) No jeep was stolen in Gaspé, at that time;
e) There were three victims and not two;
f) There were, at the two places, several log cabins and not only one cabin made of planks to which Thompson refers with certainty;
g) Several other items were stole from the hunters, other than those mentioned by Thompson, of which the famous multi-usage knife.
One would have to discuss a long time to explain those gaps and, in spite of their observation, connect Thompson through his “confession” to the murder of the American hunters. In chapter 16 of his second book, Mr. Jacques Hébert makes a considerable effort to make this connection. Unhappily, he admitted before the Commission that he had not himself read Thompson’s confession: the Miami police had not shown it to him. Later, however he would have obtained a summary from Mr. Henri Doyon. But let us hear Mr. Hébert :
« Q. When were you informed of this questionnaire?
A. I obtained knowledge of it partially.
Q. Ah! Partially?
A. That’s what I said, partially by Mr. Doyon whom I had sent to Miami, sent is too much to say, because one of his friends gave him a lift for the most part of it gratuitously. He also had a contact with the Miami police and they had shown him and he had jotted down a few notes that surprised him. Wherein. And when he came back he summarized it for me, he had made me understand what was in it. »
This circumstance probably explains, but does not justify Mr. Hébert committing diverse errors in revealing Thompson’s confession, errors that all tend to give to this confession the look of the exactness that it did not have. We shall mention three in particular.
A page 144 of his second book, Mr. Hébert writes :
« Thompson has clearly told the police that he had murdered « Eugene Lindsey and his son Richard from Hollidaysburg Pennsylvania”. There are precise souvenirs if we consider that five years and a half had passed since the murder. »
Therefore, not only Thompson’s written confession does not contain any mention of the names and origins of the victims, but the Miami detectives have also formally denied that Thompson has ever made such mention verbally; he only spoke of hunters “father and son”.
At page 145 of the same book, Mr. Hébert writes :
« He speaks of a place where Eugene Lindsey was murdered with lots of details really disconcerting. He describes with precision camp 24: an old cabin made of planks near which there was another one, broken down. »
This time the quotation is exact but it is the connection Mr. Hébert makes with camp 24 that is inaccurate : a photograph of this camp does not show that Thompson speaks with « lots of details absolutely disconcerting », but on the contrary his description is far from the truth.
At page 146 of the same book, Mr. Hébert adds :
« But for those who know the Coffin affair, what is maybe the most interesting from Thompson’s declaration, is the explanation his gives of the sleeping bags, blankets and various items that the hunters had brought to camp 24. Thompson says he has thrown those items along the Tom’s Brook Road, from the moving jeep. »
Now, Thompson does not mention anywhere in his confession “sleeping bags and blankets” and he does not speak of the Tom’s Brook Road. On the other hand, and mostly, he never said that he has thrown those items “from the moving jeep”. He only declares that:
« About 10 miles from the scene of the crime the thermos and bloodstained jacket worn by (me), were thrown away. »
There are, in Mr. Hébert’s book, many embellishments that are however inaccurate and do not show the real contents of Thompson’s confession.
Nevertheless, it matters to answer the question Mr. Hébert asks at page 48 of his book :
« If Thompson is sound of mind, as those who have examined him so believe, why would he confess being a murderer while he is suspected of having committed an insignificant theft? »
Once again, one must first point out an error in the question itself: Thompson was not suspected of an insignificant theft. He was detained, at first, for « investigation of larceny » and he was now charged with « breaking and entering and grand larceny ». The proof reveals – and Thompson knew – that because of his antecedents he could expect at least five years in jail and possibly a more severe sentence.
Under the circumstances, Thompson’s explanation is plausible and the proof has revealed that we have already seen other similar cases: Thompson manoeuvred to attempt to obtain his extradition to Canada and avoid imprisonment in the United-States.
But then, where did he get that information which is at the origin of his confession and which made it plausible, at least for the American policemen who were not aware of the details of the Coffin affair.
According to one opinion, he would have been, if not the murderer, at least the accomplice or a witness or a murderer’s confident.
The complicity thesis or the presence at the time of the murder does not hold more than that of the murder itself and for the same reasons.
Would Thompson have been told a secret which he would have used the way we know? – It is possible, but Thompson denied it vehemently and nothing in the proof enables us to verify this hypothesis.
Urged however to reveal his source of information, Thompson explained that he had roomed, from the middle to the end of 1953, at Mrs. Minnie Dean’s place, at 139 Parliament, Toronto. According to Thompson, Mrs. Dean, liked detective and mystery stories, read regularly the reports in the Toronto Globe and Mail on the Coffin affair and discussed with him about it. That is when he learned of various details which he used in 1958; he simply added certain precisions that a prison inmate suggested to him and with whom he thought opportune to discuss it, at that time.
Once more, the Commission took time to verify Thompson’s words and, once more, the eleven years that have passed since the tragedy have not made its work easy.
On the one hand, however, the Commission has read the reports published at the time in the Globe and Mail. Actually, they contain most of the facts mentioned in his confession.
On the other hand, the Commission checked Thompson’s coming and going for that period of time. It appears indeed that in 1953 and for some thirty years before, Mrs. Marion (Minnie) Dean, who was a widow, lived at 139 Parliament, in an apartment building where she rented rooms. Mrs. Dean died on the 25th of December 1957 at the age of 74 years.
According to his grand-son Richard Bernard Dean, she was interested in detective and mystery stories. According to Mrs. Clifford Daverick and her daughter Mrs. Violet Allen, Mrs. Dean was also an assiduous reader of daily newspapers. Mrs. Allen says that she also went often with Mrs. Dean to see horror movies that Mrs. Dean enjoyed particularly.
At that time, Richard Dean lived almost continually at his grand-mother’s place. He remembers very well the Daverick family who stayed there three years and he has also recognized in Thompson’s photograph a roomer who had spent a few months at his grand-mother’s place at the same time the Davenricks did and he was known under the name of Gilbert. The young Dean remembers this particularly because Gilbert had an Indian face that struck his imagination.
Mr. and Mrs. Daverick also identified Thompson’s photograph, and their daughter, who then was Mrs. Violet Allen, furnished an element of extreme precision that corroborates Thompson’s presence at Mrs. Dean’s place during the year 1953. Now she was alone on that day and in despair she decided to have a conversation with Gilbert to fight boredom. She also identified Thompson’s photograph.
The Commission has no reason to doubt the testimonies of Mrs. Dean’s grand-son and the three members of the Daverick family. Now, the 18th anniversary of Mrs. Allen fell, according to the proof, on the 19h of July 1953 and, at that moment, Thompson, under the name of Gilbert, roomed at Mrs. Dean’s.
Finally, Mrs. Allen also said that she had often seen Thompson speak with Mrs. Dean. Thompson, for his part, declares that he did so to be polite with Mrs. Dean who seemed in search of someone to discuss the reports on the Coffin affair.
Under the circumstances, the Commission is not justified to reject Thompson’s explanation on his source of information that he used for his confession in 1958 and, considering the absence of proof tending to reach another conclusion, the Commission believes that it is plausible to accept Thompson’s version on this point : it explains in a satisfactory manner how he knew about the facts he used and some of the inaccurate details he furnished. (TO BE CONTINUED)