C O F F I N
It is now apparent to lead prosecutor Noel Dorion and his right hand man, Paul Miquelon that if they are patient, they can maintain control of this trial. They also know that by exercising control, their chances of extracting a guilty verdict from this jury are looking better all the time. One mistake, and the whole scene goes down the drain. Properly and carefully orchestrated, they have a chance, and a good one at that. They would make no mistakes. They simply could not afford to.
It was from now until conclusion of the trial that a baffled jury would pay dividends for the prosecution. The ability to do one part in French, followed by another part in English with no translation was a dream come true. The prosecution team would be most cautious in their selection of what should or should not, be available in both languages.
In preparation for trial the police had taken great pains to detail Wilbert Coffin's trip to Montreal after his return from the forest prior to the victim's bodies being located. They would piece together as accurately as they could information as to whom he visited and the money that he spent during the journey. For this venture, they would resort to putting words into the mouths of witnesses along the way.
Desperately, they needed to show that Wilbert Coffin spent many hundreds of dollars of which they knew that he would not have. This was top priority. If he spent a lot of money, then the task would be easy to sell the jury on the idea that he was spending currencey that belonged to Eugene Lindsey. On the other hand, if he spent little, with virtually nothing to show for, that would be a much more accurate picture of Wilbert Coffin.
Witness after witness was called. Expenditures of five dollars to twenty dollars were the order of the day. The prosecution constantly touted the story of Wilbert Coffin spending upwards of one thousand dollars from Eugene Lindsey's wallet. The problem of course, was the fact that Eugene Lindsey's wallet had been found in the forest, actually in a stream, and void of currency with no direct proof that the wallet ever contained any money upon entering the forest in the first place. It was simply conjecture, that could not be proven. Unfortunately, it was conjecture that could easily be sold to a mixed language jury. Time after time, Raymond Maher, the defense lawyer sat twiddling his thumbs with no cross examination, when in fact, he could have easily torn this theory apart with only the most elementary of lawyering skills.
Marion Petrie, the common law wife of Wilbert Coffin would be called by the prosecution as a hostile witness. Maher, to everyone's surprise vetoed this decision. The prosecution knew that they would get nothing particularly damaging to the defense from Ms. Petrie. What they did know was the fact that Raymond Maher would fight the idea from start to finish. In doing that, it would look to the jury as if she had something that she might be hiding, and thus, helping conceal his guilt. That is what they would push to the jury in summation, and effectively at that. It was not long into Ms. Petrie's testimony that Noel Dorion would realize that with Ms. Petrie, he had bitten off more than he wished to try and chew. Words could not be put into her mouth. She would not silence herself after a short answer to a question, as she would carry on and on, to the point of the prosecution having to cross examine their own witness. They would be glad to get her off the stand.
The closer that Wilbert Coffin's trip to Montreal was scrutinized, the more he emerged as someone who was virtually broke. Prosecutors would argue with witnesses on the thickness of money in Mr. Coffin's wallet. With some they argued was it one finger thick, and on some, was it two fingers thick. Again, this would be a hay day for a defense lawyer. Even a medicore lawyer could make mincemeat out of the prosecution at this point. Did defense Maher take advantage of this new found wealth in the middle of the trial? Oh no, not at all. He sat back and did nothing. Maher's helper, lawyer Gravel took the opportunity to consult with Wilbert Coffin, and it was decided that Mr. Coffin should go on the stand. Maher, as lead defense lawyer flatly denied the request.
I, Wilbert Coffin, mining prospector of York Centre, in the county of Gaspé, province of Quebec, having been properly sworn in, declare that:
1) I was found guilty on Aug.5 1954 in the village of Percé, county of Gaspé, for the murder of Richard Lindsay. I am presently held in the Bordeaux prison at Montreal, Quebec, waiting for my execution on Oct 21 1955.
2) I am innocent of the said crime. I am in no way guilty, neither of the murder of said Richard Lindsay, neither of the murder of his father, nor that of Frederick Claar.
3) At the time of the trial of the said affair, even though it was my expressed desire to testify on my own behalf, Mr. Raymond Maher, one of my lawyers advised me against doing it.
4) In the following paragraphs in this declaration I will furnish explanations concerning the different points brought out in the testimony of my trial, and these explanations are those that I wanted, under oath, to give in my proper defense at the trial.
5) If I fail to report any facts which, in the opinion of the authorities need further explanation, as requested I would be pleased to give these explanations if asked by these authorities.
6) I am 43 years old and have attended the High Church of England all my life. I have never had a judicial record.
7) I served for 4 1/2 years with the Black Watch regiment, at first, and then with the Armored Division of the 8th army. I was likewise a cook for 16 months in Italy and in Holland for the D.I.V.
8) During the past nine years, taking into consideration the time I was held as a result of my arrest for the charges of murder, I had a common law relationship with Marie Petrie of Montreal. As a result of this relationship, I am the father of a son named James who currently lives with his mother.
9) The proof formulated against me at my trial was exclusively circumstantial and based mostly on the fact that I was in possession of that which the prosecution pretended was an important sum of money and of various articles that belonged to the young Lindsay and his companions. These articles were a pair of binoculars, a pocketknife, a suitcase and a fuel pump.
10) If I had been able to testify in my defense in the trial, I would have been able to furnish proof about all the money found in my possession belonged to me, and that I’d only stolen the articles I’ve listed earlier from the truck abandoned by the three American tourists.
11) The day of June 10 1953 as was the evidence presented at my trial, I met three American tourists in the course of my prospecting in the woods of Gaspé.
12) Their truck was broken down, as they had complained to me, and their difficulties, according to them, were caused by a malfunction of the fuel pump.
13) Because they asked, I returned to Gaspé with young Lindsay where he bought a new fuel pump. I returned then with young Lindsay to the spot where I had at first met the American tourists with their broken truck. This was at the end of the afternoon, June 10 1953.
14) At the moment that young Lindsay and I rejoined the group, we saw that, during the time we were away, Lindsay the father and young Frederick Claar, who hadn’t accompanied us, were in the company of two other individuals who had arrived in a jeep, with license plates not of Quebec. They presented themselves as Americans, likewise on a hunting trip. We all ate together and then I left the group of the five Americans and went towards camp 21. Before leaving I told the Lindsay group that on my return from the woods about two days later, I would help them return to Gaspé if they were still broken down.
15) The fact is that when I returned on June 12, I found the truck abandoned by the three Americans and I waited in the vicinity for their return for several hours. I headed for Gaspé thinking that they had left with the other men from the United States that I had met here and described above.
16) Before leaving, however, and a bit under the influence of alcohol, I looked in the rear of their truck. I saw a suitcase and the fuel pump that we had procured at Gaspé the preceding June 10.
17) I looked in the suitcase and saw that it contained a pair of binoculars. I then put the suitcase and the fuel pump in my truck.
18) I didn’t steal the pocketknife that was recognized as belonging to young Lindsay. This knife was given to me by the young Lindsay on June 10th when we were returning from the trip to Gaspe towards the place where I had met him with his father and young Claar, and after he had bought the fuel pump.
During our trip to Gaspé, young Lindsay took out the knife that he carried with him and showed it to me. I admired it and told him I’d like to own one just like it. I made the remark to him that when they returned to the States, it would be easy to buy one just like it, and I asked him if I could buy it from him. I believed that this would be a nice souvenir. We didn’t discuss the knife any more until our trip back from Gaspé. At the end, he gave me the knife and wouldn’t accept any money for it.
19) When I came out of the woods on June 12, after having waited for the three Americans, as I’ve already said, those that I met earlier, and again returned to the town, I continued drinking and decided I would go, that night, to Montreal to see my common law wife, Marie Petrie. I had decided to go see her because, as was stated at my trial, I had told her in a phone conversation I had with her in May 1953 of my intention to come to Montreal soon, on a date I didn’t set at that moment.
20) As was presented at my trial, I continued to drink during my trip from Gaspé to Montreal, and I admit I spent more money than if I hadn’t been drinking.
21) As I will explain in a subsequent paragraph in this declaration, the money that I spent belonged to me and was not the property of the three American tourists.
22) On October 8 1955 I had an interview with my lawyers, Mr. Arthur Maloney CR of Toronto and Mr. Francois Gravel of Quebec and gave them the explanations about particular facts that they raised during the interview. I will state now these particular facts in the following paragraphs.
23) Mr. Maloney produced a photograph of a jeep with part of the body that was made of plywood, designed like Exhibit A in this declaration. In this declaration Mr. Maloney said that he had obtained this photograph from the Toronto Evening England that presented it as the photograph of a jeep that had been found in New Brunswick. After studying the photograph, I couldn’t judge if this was the same jeep as the one that occupied the two Americans I met with the Lindsay group. The fact that the two jeeps resemble each other, and that the two were constructed in the same way. The jeep I saw, occupied by the two Americans seemed to be constructed as though the plywood wasn’t put there by a manufacturer, but by someone with less experience in this kind of work, and it seemed to me that it was stained with some kind of oil or varnish. It could be that the jeep in the photograph marked exhibit A was the same jeep but I couldn’t swear to it.
24) Mr. Maloney asked me to explain as best I could the testimony in the trial concerning the fuel pump of the truck of Lindsay. An earlier examination of the truck revealed that the pump had no defects. I can’t say for sure whether it was defective or not, because I hadn’t examined it and wasn’t a mechanic, and if I had looked at it, I wouldn’t have known if it was defective or not. When I met the Lindsay group the morning of June 10, they indicated that this was the cause of the breakdown. Consequently we went to Gaspe, that’s to say young Lindsay and I went to Gaspe where he purchased a new one. I told him that maybe it was possible to fix part of the old pump, and we went, young Lindsay and I, to the garage of my brother to ask him if the old pump could be repaired. Young Lindsay didn’t bring the old pump with him and arriving at the garage of my brother, young Lindsay brought out a new fuel pump that he was going to buy and showed it to a man named Jack Hackett (who worked for my brother at that time, or if he wasn’t working then, he was certainly present.). Young Lindsay explained to Hackett that there was a small pin that wasn’t working inside the pump. Hackett then took the new fuel pump and explained how it worked to young Lindsay.
25) Mr. Maloney asked me to explain the deposition of Wilson Mc Gregor at the trial who said that on June 12 1953 I arrived at Murray Patterson’s after dinner and I said, " I just came out of the woods." And that there was something he thought was the barrel of a rifle in the back of the truck I drove. The fact is that McGregor was wrong in saying this happened on June 12. In realty it happened June 9th after my return from the woods that followed my excursion in the woods with Angus Mac Donald. Moreover, he couldn’t have seen the barrel of a rifle because I didn’t have a rifle in my truck on that date.
Angus Mac Donald in his sworn deposition at the trial testified that I didn’t have a rifle when we went together in the woods. McGregor himself swore an affidavit to the Minister of Justice or Solicitor General admitting that that which he had said was the barrel of a rifle could have been a commonplace piece of iron and swore also that he had never said to the police that this incident happened June 12. In his affidavit he declares that all he could confirm was that this happened during the second week in June.
26) Mr. Maloney also questioned me on the subject of the debts that I paid after my return from the woods.
27) Concerning now the testimony of Benny White, I bought from him a bottle of beer and one case of beer, for the total of $5.25, and the change he gave me, same as his testimony, was $14.75. This proves that I didn’t reimburse (tip?) him any sum of money. There was some discussion at the trial of a $5 for another case of beer for which I gave him $5, but I didn’t pay him for that at that time.
28) Concerning the testimony of Earl Tuzo, he loaned me $10 at the beginning of May 1953 before I received other money from other persons for work I had done for them. I left a revolver with him as a sort of guarantee.
On June 12th after deciding to go to Montreal, I thought I’d get the gun back, not because I needed it, but because I understood Tuzo’s mother didn’t like having a gun in the house. It’s Mrs. Frances Annett who told me this. Knowing that I intended to go to Montreal and thinking I wouldn’t return for some time, I thought it wise to retrieve the gun.
29) I admit having paid the $5 that I owed Ernest Boyle but, I repeat, knowing that I was going to Montreal, I didn’t want anyone to think I wanted to escape my obligations.
30) This concerns the fact that I forgot to say to my sister, Mrs. Felix Stanley, that I was going to Montreal, it’s just that I was never in the habit of telling my family where I was going and when I would return.
31) For that which concerns the testimony concerning the fact that I didn’t keep the rendez-vous that I made intending to meet Angus Mac Donald the morning of June 10, I must remark that McDonald wasn’t a woodsman. He really wasn’t effective in the woods. He got lost easily and the projects that we were doing required us to go quite far to cross this region. I remember speaking of that to Bill Baker the night of June 9 after going on this rendezvous with McDonald and my plan to meet him the next morning and after I was separated from him. In reality, at that moment there, I had the intention of keeping my rendezvous with McDonald. After rethinking the conversation that I had with Baker, I then decided to go alone. It wasn’t very convenient then to go to my camp to tell McDonald that I intended to change my plans. I hadn’t a single sentiment of guilt on the subject of the $20 that he had given me to defray our expenses because that was his part of the deal that he would have made or not with me. In the trial the lawyers for the Crown pretended that I had changed my plans to meet McDonald when I heard the rumours that were circulating around town to the effect that the three Americans were in the vicinity. The fact is that I never heard these rumours and I was never aware of the presence of the Americans in the area before I discovered them in the bush June 10. If I had had suspicious ideas regarding the Americans, I wouldn’t have gone to Gaspé with young Lindsay on June 10th and I wouldn’t have said to the witness McCallum when I saw him at the Gaspé hotel on June 10th that I had met the Americans, that I was in their company, and that I was going to rejoin them.
32) Much was said in my trial about the rifle, which I had borrowed from Jack Eagle and hadn’t returned to him. I remember getting this rifle from Eagle on the 6 or 9th of June. I took it home where I left it until my return from Montreal, July 20 1953. I didn’t have it with me at any time after depositing it at my house, and at any time then or around July 20. About the time of July 20, I took it to my camp because on my return from Montreal it was my intention to continue my prospecting work. I am not sure of the exact date that I took it to my camp, but it couldn’t be after July 20. If I acted thus, this was first as a safety measure and next because one granted a premium for the bears that were slaughtered.
I didn’t put Eagle’s rifle in my truck but I did put it outdoors along the track of my camp, right near a spruce (fir?) tree. The reason that I hid the rifle was so that the forest warden wouldn’t discover it. In the spring of 1952 I had paid a fine for shooting two deer in Gaspé and if I faced a new charge of being in the woods with a rifle, I could possibly go to jail. That is why I stored it in this spot. I never hid from my family the fact that I had this rifle nor the spot where they would find it. At no time did I authorize this to be removed, if it was, it was without my knowledge, because the police couldn’t find it when they searched the area. I regret that it was not possible to exhibit it. I told all this to Sergeant Doyon and I understand that Doyon admits that I explained this to him in a declaration that he made to Francois Gravel recently. It was hardly necessary to exhibit the rifle to help the prosecution make its case, because they knew the type and model of this rifle. Therefore the fact of exhibiting the rifle wouldn’t have helped their cause, and, in any event, if the rifle was removed or destroyed, it wasn’t me who was to blame.
33) The lawyers for the Crown insinuated that I returned to my camp after having exited the woods on June 12th and then I left the rifle there. They noted that I was seen about 3-31/2 hours in the morning at Seal Cove, immobilized in a ditch, and Seal Cove is just a slight distance from Gaspé. The fact is that I stayed broken down a long time before someone pulled me out about 3-31/2 hours. I stayed stuck, on the whole, more than two hours and, at that time, there was no one in the vicinity or on the spot who could help me.
34) The Crown attorneys insinuated that there was something suspect in the fact that Mr. Hasty of Val d’Or wasn’t successful in finding similar minerals that resembled the sample I showed him. He would have found the sample if I had gone with him but I wasn’t able to because the police asked me to help them search for the missing American tourists. Mr. Hasty couldn’t have understood the map I gave him, or again, the map wasn’t precise enough.
35) The next, the evidence of the Crown insinuated that when we were searching in the woods, I always looked to my right. I deny this. I looked in all directions and I wanted to help the searchers, as much as anyone. One certainty, during the search, no one insinuated this or accused me of this.
36) Agent Synett testified at the trial about an incident that occurred at Camp 21, when I participated in the search. This incident was supposed to have happened at lunch hour, July 21, and I had asked where was the brook before going to look for a bucket of water. I didn’t say anything like that. The fact is that a short time beforehand that morning, and in the presence of most, except for a team of searchers, I was photographed by a photographer for a Toronto journal. At the time, I was standing or kneeling down near the brook in question. In these circumstances, it is ridiculous to say I pretended not to know where to find the brook.
37) The Crown lawyers made a big case of the meeting I had with my brother, Donald, at the time of the inquest of the coroner and when I was arrested in Gaspé. The Crown wanted to insinuate that my brother and I hatched a plan about Eagle’s rifle. This isn’t true. I was eager to see my brother to see what he was doing to help me. I had been held for 16 days and didn’t know what was happening with my case and the question of the rifle of Eagle wasn’t discussed.
38) They made a big deal in the trial about a remark that I made to my father and in which I said that the police weren’t man enough to break me. I said this to my father after having been in custody for about 16 days during which the police questioned me non-stop and tried to force me to sign declarations and to make confessions that would have been false. This is what I wanted to say to my father by these words.
39) Just as I said in a declaration to the police and that was brought up in testimony in the trial, I got the $40 from the Lindsay group for the help I gave them. In the circumstances the amount wasn’t as the Crown pretended. In reality it was young Lindsay who gave me the money, as well as, if I remember right, Lindsay senior gave it to him to give to me. The Lindsay group were happy to know that I was in the area in case I needed to help them if they were unable to fix their truck and return to Gaspé. In the hopes that I could help them if it proved necessary, they gave me an important sum of money and the fact is that I waited a long time near the abandoned truck before I exited the woods, June 12th, with the intention of helping them.
40) I regret the deposition made by agent Synett to the effect that I told him I wasn’t going to return to camp 26 when I went in the woods with Mac Donald, When at the date I talked with Synett, I knew that MacDonald had already been questioned and had said, without any doubt, exactly where we would have gone. Certainly I remember clearly having said to Sergeant Doyon at what way Mac Donald and I were broken down at a site situated beyond (above) camp 26.
41) During the time I was in the company of the police and the group of searchers in the region of the camps, I distinctly remember on the road the tracks made by a jeep. I remember seeing such tracks between camps 24 & 25, and on different places on the access road in the region. I particularly instructed Mr. Maher, my lawyer, to try and have photos taken of these tracks as I felt that they still would be visible. No one took these photos. I am now in the belief that Sergeant Doyon had said to Mr. Gravel that he also had seen the jeep tracks.
It arrives that neither the; lawyers for the Crown nor the defense lawyers had ever poised that particular question during the trial. On the contrary, the lawyers for the Crown pretended in front of the jury that there were no jeep tracks in the region. In other words, they exploited evidence that the recent admission of Sergeant Doyon demonstrated to be a falsehood.
42) The lawyers of the Crown brought Dr. Burkett and Mr. Ford, who admitted being in Gaspé in a jeep but who proved they left the region June 5. In the process, they tried to imply that I wanted to throw the blame on them. Nothing could be further from the truth, because M. Burkett and Ford definitely weren’t the men I saw in the company of Lindsay June 10 1953.
43) I didn’t have a single need for money at the time of this occurrence. I owed a sum but no pressure was on me to pay immediately.
44) To return to the two Americans that I saw in the company of Lindsay, this is what I believe, that they were about 30 years old, maybe a little more, maybe a little less.
45) They made a great numbers of depositions on the subject of the money that I spent between Gaspé and Montreal, and some others on the subject of my behaviour during the trip to Montreal. This is easily explained. This money I earned and was paid to me by the following people, with the sum that they have verified, in payment for services rendered, principally for the staking of claims.
Greta Miller May 1953 50
Iva M Bryker May 1953 90
Mme James Caputo May 1953 40
Mervyn Annett May 1953 40
John E Eagle May 1953 50
Mme M. Petrie C. May 1953 50
P.G. Carey May 1953 60
D.H.Coffin May 1953 20
Mme James Annett May 1953 10
Earl Tuzo May 1953 20
Wm H. Petrie Coffin June 1953 70
Donald F. Coffin July 1953 50
46) Concerning the depositions of the witnesses, obtained from Benny White, Raymond Poirier and Eugene Despard, to the effect that I gave them each American 20 dollar bills in payment for their services, I can only say that I don’t remember if I paid in American or Canadian, if these bills were large or small paper. The fact is that amongst the money that I had were American bills. Could be that the people that paid me for staking their claims, and I’ve listed the names, paid me in American money. (This I can’t remember.) or that when I cashed certain cheques that were given to me for payment for the claims, one gave me American money. It is certainly possible that I obtained American money when I went to the taverns, same when I won money-playing games. A lot of American money was circulating in Gaspé and it wasn’t rare to give a Canadian bill and receive money in American change. I could easily have accumulated American dollars by accumulating Canadian or American in small amounts and exchanging it from time to time for larger bills because that was very common also. I didn’t pay any attention to the fact that I used American dollars or Canadian dollars in Gaspé because that just wasn’t important. Neither can I remember if the money ($20) I received from Angus Mac Donald was in American or Canadian dollars or if this was a single bill or two or many.
47) The details given in this declaration are made to my lawyers Mr. Arthur Maloney C.R. and Mr. Francois De B. Gravel Saturday October 8. They have retained the services of a stenographer and dictated the statement I gave them after checking that I found it exact.
48) I repeat that I am innocent of this crime and I don’t feel I had a fair trial, mainly because the evidence concerning the other jeep and the other Americans in the district of Gaspé wasn’t produced and the evidence of the existence of the tire tracks of a jeep on the road in the vicinity of the camps wasn’t mentioned at all.
They made me out to be a liar because they proved that Dr Burkett and Mr. Ford weren’t the men that I saw when I left the Lindsay group, and new evidence now proves that another jeep and other Americans were in the district. The police reporting on my case knew that and didn’t say it.
It also is now proved by Sergeant Doyon in his deposition to my lawyer M. Francois Gravel that there were jeep tracks on the route.
49) I would be pleased to be given the chance to be questioned by a member of the Ministry of Justice of our Federal Government to be able to explain at length all that I’ve said here, and all that again would be necessary.
Signed in the prison of Montreal, Bordeaux, Que.
9 October 1955
(S) Wilbert Coffin
Witnessed in front of me at the Bordeaux prison
This day of 9th October 1955
J.- Antonio Pilon
Juge de Paix, district of Montreal