Saturday, November 04, 2006

Stoddard Online

Stoddard Online Part One Of Two of "The Baker Family Of Gaspe". . . .

There are two types of reading material. That which is based on fact, and that which is based on rumour and outright primitive untruths , which in reality, is nothing short of being a pack of lies. It is the latter unfortunately, that creeps into a storyline and emits that sense of intrigue that seems to be a prerequisite for interest, into an otherwise boring chain of events. Such is the chain of events involving Bill Baker in the Wilbert Coffin case.

William Baker, and his brother John Baker, were prominent citizens in the town of Gaspe' during the chronology of the Coffin case in the 1950's. Though business partners in the hospitality business, the public's perception of the two brothers would vary greatly. On the surface, John would become known as the quietier astute one , contrasting to Bill's more outward approach to life. It was only fitting that these two unique personalities would co-own with their wives, the two main hospitality outlets in town, the Ash Inn and The Baker Hotel. To add to this unique mixture, brothers John and Bill, would marry sisters, June and Enid.

With the hospitality industry, whether it be on a small scale in a town such as Gaspe', or in a larger centre, it involves people mixing and mingling with others. It has to create that atmosphere that folks relate to, enjoy being involved with, and emit a reason to want to come back. This is where personality traits set the stage for success or failure.

In Bill Baker's case, it was important to Bill that he be accepted into his community. It was important that Bill Baker know his community and that his community know him. In the spring and summer months, the horizons of Bill Baker broadened with the influx of tourists, chiefly from the United States, and as well, from the rest of Canada. Gaspe', located in one of the more rugged areas of Canada, was as well, attractive to a generous sampling of European adventurers. With this healthy mix of visitors, it afforded Bill Baker the chance to showcase his offerings to the elite, as well as the everyday folk from around the world.

William Austin Baker (Bill Baker) was born and raised an Irish Catholic. Bill would meet a young lady by the name of Mary June Miller. After some time Bill and June wished to marry. This was the point in Bill's life that he would discover the control that could be exercised by the dogma associated with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. This church body flatly refused them permission to marry. As a remedy to the situation, Bill and June were married in the Anglican church.

A few months back when I was conducting research for this story I decided that I would not go with all the so called "he told me, she told him, I heard it from my second cousin who was a next door neighbor" stories that were flooding the country about this man Baker, from Gaspe'. It was important yes, that I learn about Mr. Baker. It is no secret that Bill Baker was a close friend and business partner of Wilbert Coffin.

I do not pretend to portray Bill Baker as someone that he was not. It was, and still is my objective to present to you the Bill Baker that he really was. I have come to the conclusion that by following this course of action, many misconceptions about this man will be cleared up. Clearly, that has to be done. As I prepare this posting some fifty years after the death of Bill Baker, rumours are still flying, not only the old ones embellished, but new ones that I haven't heard about until now. That is evidenced by two new e-mails that I have received in the past two days since my announcement that I was publishing this piece.

Was Bill Baker a colorful character? Of course he was. He was Bill Baker. He had his own unique style and way of doing things. Was Bill Baker a drunk as many portray him? I guess to answer that question accurately, one has to look at his total life span. He died at a very early age, and in his later years he hardly drank at all. True, in his younger years he liked to party with the boys, and the bars in the hotels provided just the venue. Bill Baker liked the latest toys. He liked new cars and new trucks. He could afford them, so why not?

Through my web site, "Stoddard Online", I had been soliciting for people to come onboard who may be able to assist in my quest to learn about the Coffin affair. Lani Mitchell, the former Lani Baker, who was a daughter of John and Enid Baker was kind enough to post a comment on my site. Upon contacting Lani, I quickly discovered that her main interest was solving, and discovering the truth about the Wilbert Coffin case. Her words to me were that she wanted to do her part to bring closure, and help provide to Marie Stewart (Coffin) some support, and do her part in proving Wilbert Coffin's innocence.

Another interesting aspect of Lani's assistance was the fact that she was willing to help with no strings attached. Lani expressed to me that she wanted everything exposed possible. She explained further that in doing so, she was leaving herself wide open for criticism, as there were mountains of rumours floating around the country regarding the Baker family. Her exact words to me were that she was willing to help, no matter where the road may lead. Immediately, we embarked upon the journey.

I knew from the onset that it was important to reach conclusion on the Baker situation. I went public and requested folks with information to come forth. I explained that I did not want rumour mill information. Nothing short of personal or documented information would be considered. There already existed a library of the junk, and indeed, I was not interested in rewriting a mound of trash. I was determined that it would be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Too many lives had already been destroyed as a result of this mess, and I had no plans to rekindle the flame.

As a starting point I set up a meeting with Lani Mitchell in her home for the evening of July 11, 2006. To prepare for the meeting I had suggested to Lani that I would be asking her many questions that would be of a personal family nature, and perhaps she could make a few personal notes for the meeting. Lani readily agreed. One day before the meeting, Lani called me and asked if I would have objections to inviting her cousin Marnie to the meeting. Marnie is the daughter of Bill and June Baker. Of course, I would have no objections.

On the afternoon of the meeting Lani called again and said she was not sure if Marnie would be attending, but that she was hopeful that she would. You must understand here, this was very emotional for Marnie. It would be very very difficult for her. Marnie was very close to her Dad. This would be the very first time that she had ever spoken out regarding this matter, so one can quickly understand that she had fifty years bottled up inside her with reference to her Dad's death. It would be the sudden death of her Dad that sparked all the controversy over the possible involvement of Bill Baker in the Wilbert Coffin affair.

As Bill Baker died just a very short time after Wilbert Coffin's execution, instantly, the rumours started. As the stories got bolder over the years, it is now written that Bill Baker died two weeks to the day after the execution. This is not accurate, however, it fuels ghoulish and mind boggling tales that a certain segment of society dwells upon. I will be dealing with this in deeper detail in part two of the Bill Baker part of this story.

I wish to point out that what you are about to read next is a story from the heart. This story has never been told before. Marnie could never discuss it for the past half century. As well, it was not discussed in their home after her Dad died. There have been many accounts written over the years relating to Bill Baker's death. Most accounts have not been entirely truthful, and in fact, most of what has been written, have done little more than to destroy a family already embroiled in the destruction of a small community. One of the most disturbing tales that the family has had to endure is the constant bombardment of literary trash suggesting that Bill Baker committed suicide, or that he may have died from a heart attack, brought on by a self inflicted gunshot wound.

Before I introduce you to the piece, one should consider one thing about all those writing these outlandish tales of Bill Baker's death. There was not one of them there to witness the event. There was not one of them there after the event, and not one of them ever interviewed the family. That is what I have done here, fifty years later. Here is Marnie's response in letter form to the questions that I asked of her. I am presenting it to you in it's exact form. The only adjustment that I have made to the letter is that I have covered her last name to protect her privacy.

Hi Lew,

As per our conversation on Tuesday evening, July 11th,2006, I will repeat in writing, the events that occurred on the evening of my father Bill Baker's death.

During the afternoon my father had been at the Doctor's office for a cortisone injection to help relieve his back pain caused by arthritis that developed over the years. He stated that he wasn't feeling well after he got home.

We had dinner together. Afterwards, I was to deliver Jay's birthday present to my Aunts house up behind the Ash Inn. While I was out, dad went to the bedroom to rest, still not feeling well. My mum joined him. Just before I arrived back ,( mum told me later) he was choking, so he got up to go to the bathroom to get a drink of water hoping it would clear his throat. She heard a glass crash in the sink and heard him fall.

Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, when he passed out and fell backwards, he hit his head on the edge of the porcelain toilet directly behind him. She said," that fall broke his neck." She said that she went screaming out into the bar at the other end of the hotel for help. She was panicking.

When I walked in the side door ( our living quarters) I could hear a commotion going on in the bedroom. I walked up to the open doorway like any curious 7 year old. There, lying on the floor, was my father. There were some men in the room trying to do CPR and mouth to mouth. (Although they were doing their best, this procedure would be useless if his neck was broken). I remember Charlie LeBlanc and I think,Timeau Biliveau (sp) and a couple of other men in the room. There was a sort of gurgling sound coming from my father's throat and my mother was hysterical. I didn't see any blood in the bedroom or bathroom. I think it was Charlie who realized that I was standing in the doorway watching all of this and shouted, "There's Marnie, get her out of here!"

My mother would never talk about it when I was growing up. Years later, before she died we did talk a little. She explained that my Dad had rheumatic fever in his teens and as a consequence damaged his heart. Cortisone was a new miracle drug on the market and Dad wanted to try this new medication in hopes of relieving his back pain.

When he died from his heart attack and they wanted to do an autopsy she had to try and protect our family doctor. She was afraid that the cortisone may have caused an adverse reaction, leading to the heart attack. The last thing she wanted to see was a well respected, honest doctor, who lived with integrity and was loved dearly by our family,implicated in any way or dragged through any interrogation possibly creating another miscarriage of justice. It may have been the cortisone or it may have been just a weak heart. Heart problems are predominant in the Baker family.

When Wilbert was accused of the murders, my dad would take me on visits with him in his car. He talked privately with certain persons, making sure I wasn't within earshot. These conversations seemed to be very serious. Sometimes I played with kids who lived at that particular house or played outside. I later realized he was trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He was desperately trying to solve who did this. I think he was making some progress but the whole atmosphere changed when the Quebec people took over. There was one occasion in particular when we were being followed. One thing was for certain, that my father was trying to help Wilbert and would never knowingly have done anything to harm him.

After the trial, the name Duplessis was never mentioned around my mother.
In truth, I believe my father died of a broken heart.

Lew, Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. As Trudeau said at Government House, "A tragic case".
It was a dark day in Canadian History, horrifically tragic for the Coffin Family and our family was never the same. Its still gut-wrenching to revisit it after all those years. My father was devastated and in turn our whole family.

What amazes me is how so many people in those times embraced rumours as gospel truth. Do not judge, lest ye be judged.
I feel heartbroken over Marie. The pain never goes away. I think it's the yearning for what could have been,compounded with the loss.
I thank God for the time I did have with my dad and the joy he brought into our lives.

Marnie ##########

I am sure that you are now beginning to see how wagging tongues wreaked havoc in the years following this case. It has caused hurt and emotional scars that have lasted for over fifty years. It is not difficult to understand why some family members would simply pack up and disappear to a place far away from the memories of Gaspe'.

In tomorrow's posting I shall be presenting to you my personal interviews with Keith Baker, who is a son of Bill Baker. Keith, very generously gave of his time while in Vancouver, to help me set the record straight with regards to his family, and in particular, his Dad. As well, I shall present comments to you from Lani Baker (Mitchell). I shall be talking about as well the Baker family as a group. I have been extended the invitation to view the portrait collection of family photos, and as well, the opportunity to view movie film reproduced on video tape which depicts family outings, not unlike the type most of us are accustomed to.

To complete the Bill Baker connection to the Wilbert Coffin case, you will also see the threads as to how the two, Bill Baker and Wilbert Coffin joined forces originally, and the reasons why.

In closing today, just a reminder
to purchase and wear a Poppy, in recognition of the memory of those gallant folks who made it possible that we enjoy the freedoms that we have today in Canada. November 11, should be a day that we shall never forget.

Lew Stoddard
Posted to site November o7, 2006


Kate Ashton said...

I can tell already Lew that you have done a complete research of this family. I can also tell that you have presented a very very traumatic family event in a way that is tastefully done, and yet be able to present the facts.

Other journalists could learn so much from your style.

Kate Ashton
North Bay, Ontario

Jill M said...

I am not sure why I have always placed mr. Baker in my mind as some sort of tyrant. Thus far he appears to be like most other folks. I sort of feel guilty already.

Jill M
Edmundston, New Brunswick

Barney N said...

Good posting today Lew. Good to see you back. Knew you would resurface real swiftly. Can't keep an old warlord down.

Barney N
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Lucy Quinn said...

Hey Man, know you are not feeling good, but glad you are back again. Thus far I find the posting on the Baker family very enlightening. I am glad you found these family members to talk to about this case. I am sure it has been very hard for them and the Coffin family, as the Bakers also lost their Dad when they were all very young

Lucy Quinn
Calgary, Alberta

Jim H said...

Mr. Stoddard, you do a good job of expressing the role of the baker family. It looks good and it is only half done. I did not realize that you found living talking members of this family after all these years. This should shut a lot of people up, especially those who wrote it like they were there, especially that caharacter who wrote that Noose Book. I think he is so full of crap in his book that he is wallowing in it.

Jim H
Mont Joli, Quebec

Anonymous said...

This is so interesting for me. I was born in 52 and went to school with Mr.Coffin's family and knew them very well. I must say "in our house" it was always known that Wilbert Coffin did not do these murders. I find it very gratifying that finally there is a possibility that his name will be cleared and his family will get their peace. We have always respected his family for having to go through this life dealing with the knowledge that their family member was put to death needlessly. I have always been an opponent of the death penalty and feel that this case made that decision for me. God Bless The Coffin Family and I hope that the government will finally do the correct thing by clearing Wilberts name. I also knew Marnie Baker when she lived in Gaspe and respect her for answering your questions regarding her father. I am sure it is very hurtful for her to read the comments regarding her father. Let us not rush to judgement about Mr Baker as this is what happened to Wilbert Coffin. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to air our comments, for someone like me who will always call Gaspe "home" even after not living there for 34 years it is important that the truth come out for all involved.

Wallace D said...

In life one should expect to receive what they supposedly paid for.

I am mad, I am hurt, I feel betrayed, and it is all because I bought a book awhile back that I was lead to believe would present a fair and accurate description of the Wilbert Coffin Affair.

That particular book was titled "To Build A Noose". As I get more and more into the story that you present here, I can see more and more what I actually bought for a book.

Your writings are obviously accurate, as you back everything up with documents or a personal interview or statement. Your version in many key areas varies drastically from what I read in that book.

My opinion is this, I challenge the author to come forward, show his documentation, and name his sources. If he is not willing to do that, then I suggest that the books value is questionable.

It is terrible the things that are suggested in this book with reference to Mr. Baker's death. That poor girl who wrote that letter to you Sir is writing about her Dad, not some unknown out there, but her Dad. What right does someone have to suggest these things in the name of truth that are written in this book?

In several other key areas, the author of this book is not accurate. His story differs than that presented in police reports with respect to location of bodies. He states emphatically that thse boys were shot, when in fact, there is no evidence. I have learned that from your documented postings.

Just post a note on here please where I can get a refund for the purchase price of the book. For once, the free version of the story on this site satisfies my taste more than the store bought copy. Thank you.

Wallace D
Guelph, Ontario

Davis M said...

A message to Lew Stoddard.

Great story that you are writing. You write it well. You present it well. I am glad to see the segment on the Baker family. I think they have been treated most unfairly over the years. I can also see that thse two ladies are both maintaining their support for the Coffin family, in spite of their loss.

Davis M
Courtenay, B C

Tara said...

I like the way that you have chosen o do this story. You have taken the whole thing apart piece by piece, and now you are reconstructing it. A most amazing feat when you consider that fifty plus years of water has gone under the bridge.

It does certainly prove though that if one is stubborn, puts their back to the wall, and refuses to give up, mighty mountains can be scaled.

You are to be admired Mr. Stoddard, and I am hoping there is some sort of literary award that would recognize your achievements here. You are certainly deserving of it. I am a first year journalism student and I follow your style very closely.

Tara McDougall
Toronto, Ontario

Gerald D said...

I want to join the scores of others who have wished the Coffin family well.

Your independent writings on this case surely opens the door to much hope for their desire to overturn the conviction of Wilbert Coffin.

Gerald D
Digby, Nova Scotia

Lew Stoddard said...

Message to Wallace D and others. .

I wish to point out to you that it is not the mandate of this site to promote or endorse any product or service. It never has been, and it never will be.

Equally, it is not, and never has been the mandate of this site to compare the works of one with another.

Unless otherwise stated, I present my own work on this site, and assume whatever responsibilities may be attached. Every effort is made to satisfy myself that what I am posting falls within the guidelines of what I have set for the site.

I do not get caught up in what others have written. Simply put, I could not care less. Consequently, this site is not to be construed as a vehicle for literary reviews and product comparisons. There are other sites that cater to that sort of activity.

As well Wallace, as administrator and host of this site, I wish to point out that without guidance, it would be very easy for the forum to become like many others. As long as I am steering the ship, I can assure you Sir, that won't happen.

Lew Stoddard
Host of "Stoddard Online"

S Sanderson said...

Good Morning from the maritimes! Lew it is good to see you back. Hope you are feeling better. Have never commented on here before, but am an avid reader of your site. Actually have been reading it since before you commenced the Wilbert Coffin story.

I was not aware of this affair, being in my mid thirties, but my Dad and Mum certainly are.

I directed Dad to this site about two months ago and he too reads it all the time. They are both in full support of the Coffin family on this. They are also planning to pursue a petition in favor of Wilbert Coffin. My father is the type to talk up a storm and will get lots of signatures.

Great web site here, great following, and a very great and meaningful topic that you are writing on. Your wording in your writings certainly encourage people to take a hard look at this affair. Keep up the good work Sir.

S Sanderson
CFB Gagetown, N B

Blair said...

Just last week I commented on this site regarding my thoughts and concerns on any involvement that this Bill Baker fellow may have played in this affair.

I have to admit, though I have now only seen the first part of your writings on Bill Baker, suddenly, there is a human face emerging on this man, something that I believe has been missing for a half century. Yes, he is starting to come across like a good cross section of us all. I am most anxious to read the balance of this. Perhaps, many of us have been too harsh. Certainly, we have been on this lady Marnie who wrote the letter that you published, especially considering we are talking about her Dad.

Antigonish, Nova Scotia

M Dempsey said...

I guess the problem has been that some people just haven't looked at the fact that this family were business people in the community, they worked there, they did their business there, and their kids went to school there like everyone else.

Bill Baker, I guess was always seen to be a figure in the Wilbert Coffin affair.

Yes, it is very true that innocent people paid a very heavy price, all because local society told the rest of the world that Mr. Baker was in partnership with Wilbert Coffin.

Because Wilbert Coffin was allowed to hang, the Baker family were sentenced to a slow death in the community, and guilty of nothing more than association.

M. Dempsey
Fredericton, N B

Danielle Laurier said...

I don't know why it is that when tragedies take place, they always seem to take the innocents with them.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have figured that kids that I had never heard of, meaning the Baker kids, would have had to endure this mess just like the Coffin family did.

This is an absolute nightmare. It is about time that the government acknowledged all this and set it straight.

Danielle Laurier
Quebec, Quebec

Lani Baker Mitchell said...

M. Dempsey and others,
I appreciate your thoughts on my Baker family, and would agree that the family was guilty of nothing more than counting Wilbert Coffin as a friend. Consequently we found ourselves drowning in a flood of dirty water not of our making.We were a family who had settled in the Gaspésie in the early 1700's and it was home, in every sense of the word.That we did pull up roots and move West created a difficult time for all of us. Simply put,we love Gaspé and we are evidenced by both the death of my Dad(1997) and then Mom (2003), who's only wish was to return to be buried ' at home.'Their graves sit amongst the other family members right in Gaspé.
I do however want Lew's readers to understand that the people of Gaspé were not the ones who set us adrift in muddy waters. Small town gossip is a natural part of small town life, and would have subsided with time and finding the truth. Sadly the press latched on to anyone who expressed an opinion or speculation, fuelled certainly by the Quebec police who ' ran the show,' and then came writers who merely rehashed old rumours as if they were the truth.I can honestly say that we Baker children were kept protected from all of this by our dear extended families and friends in Gaspé. It was taboo to bring it up in our presence when we were younger.
It's only because I am rather ' introspective' and one who needs to know the ' why ' that I have pursued this all of my life. I just always knew that something was horrifically wrong with the case. I have read every book and seen any documentary made on this case. I've talked at length with all my older family,as well as many many other older Gaspesians and have a good sense of the chain of events and reasons that some thought Uncle Bill was involved. My older sister and I, who loved our Uncle Bill,lived with the pain and anger my Dad and Mom, June, and Uncle Bill's children felt. As for Marni, who is really more a younger sister to me than cousin, we have shed tears together after our first meeting with Lew, and it doesn't matter how many times I read Marni's letter to Lew about her dad's death,it always moves me beyond any words I can use here.
I do have a few pertinent things to share with Lew's readers, but would like to read Lew's second part of this ' chapter' first before saying more.

Gabe and Wanda said...

I have commented on this message board before Mr. Stoddard, and I referred to you as a Pitbull. More than ever I mean that now. You are taking this Wilbert Coffin story to a whole complete new level, and one I might add, that is necessary. You are putting not only a community face on it, but as well, the faces of those who have been touched in a most unfair fashion.

I guess it has always been just an accepted fact that Bill Baker must have had something to do with it, or knew something about it.

I for one, have always been convinced of Wilbert Coffin's innocence, and I have always been convinced that Bill Baker was determined to do whatever he could to prove that. Why can people not accept that? Why has it been necessary to crucify this family. As Ms. Mitchell Baker points out they were guilty of nothing more than claiming Wilbert Coffin as a friend.

I thank you Lew for going that extra mile and doing the Baker story within the Wilbert Coffin story. Maybe then some folks will start to wake up as to what the events really were.

That was a great piece that you did regarding the autopsy reports and bullet diameters. It causes one to rethink real fast about the way this thing turned out.

And just before anyone jumps to conclusion out there, no I do not know Lew, and no, I have never personally corresponded or made personal contact with him in any way regarding this affair. Just thought that I would let you know.

Gabe and Wanda
Hope, B C

A Neice from Gaspes' Homeland said...

Hello Lew,

Hope you are well.

It has been quite some time since I have made any comments here, but I have tried to keep up and have now just caught up completely.

Glad you brought up the Bakers, as they have suffered as well. Gossip is a cruel habit, but in fact, Gossip does happen everywhere, and heavily in small towns. It does not help when journalism raises the gossip to peak levels.

Since I have had to catch up, I hope that you do not mind if I make some comments regarding some past posts.

First of all, I am not surprised that the young men were not shot. No exit hole. No bullets or casings around the perimeter. A shot would have been heard, by the other victim, and most likely there would have been more signs of violence. No shattered bones. Mr. Stoddard mentioned that it might have been possible that the cloths were removed so that the bodies would have been eaten quicker. In past comments I mentioned the fact that the cloths were removed was very important, as well that important items were left behind. Items not stolen that were valuble were left behind, making this murder sound personal!

Mr. Coffin, called and asked if he could have money before leaving for Montreal, Why? if he had stolen money from a wallet why ask for more?

Mr. Coffin & his companion requested a permit on the 8th of June, 4 day permit, which would mean that his permit expired on the 12th, the same day he did in fact go back into town. Good comment about the request for another permit on the 10th, with one of the victims, why did he need a permit?? He did not. Why would the pass be given to Mr. Wilbert Coffin, but the name on the permit be William, Everyone knew Wilbert, they would not mistake the names.

Someone stated that only 2 Americans other than the victims, were given permits that spring, and their names were mentioned. However on the same day, which by the way was listed as June 9th not June 8th, 1 American : HM Lasson from Detroit, Michigan was listed as being given a permit. Now does that not make 3 Americans + the 3 victims? Another discrepency. One Patterson said that he met the 3 victims on June 9th, where their truck was in River, the Victims told said Patterson that they had entered the day before. That makes the 8th of June, How is it that the record shows the 9th of June, Could it mean that the record of the permit was added that day when the said Patterson met up with them???

I have to stop here, there are so many discrepencies here, that it is not hard to see that Mr. Coffin was really railroaded, and that he was also a victim of these murders.

Lew, you have brought this case to life again, and if The government does not do something about it now, they are as guilty as the justice system back then.

Comment for people who feel offended that names were mentioned in Mr. Stoddard posting:




A Neice from Gaspe's Homeland.

Lew Stoddard said...

Message to Neice of Gaspe's homeland

Just a note. As soon as I have completed the Baker family portion of this story, I shall be back again presenting evidence brought forth by the crown, as well as presenting documents for the defense. At that time you will see other gate entry pages which shall answer your concerns.

As well, much evidence will be presented in the form of documentation which will adequately describe the financial facts pertaining to Wilbert Coffin. Please be patient. I thank you though in a big way for your deep interest in the case. Trust me, there is lots to come yet. Please stay tuned.

Lew Stoddard
Host of "Stoddard Online"