Saturday, February 03, 2007

Wilbert Coffin's Final Journey
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Upon the trial jury rendering their verdict of guilt on the part of the defendant, Wilbert Coffin, Judge LaCroix imposed the standard prescribed punishment. Wilbert Coffin was sentenced to hang by the neck until he was dead. The date was August 10, 1954, exactly one year to the day since he had first been arrested. Wilbert Coffin's family were devastated, and so it began, an eighteen month walk to the gallows.
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At this point, though naturally upset and in much turmoil, Wilbert still managed to exhibit that ever present smile to his wife Marion and his Mom and Dad. Wilbert Coffin was still confident that the same system of justice that had found him guilty would eventually find him innocent and free him from this tangled web. Little did he know, this tangled web would never release it's ugly grip.
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Wilbert Coffin's first date with the executioner was set for November 26, 1954. This would provide time for the standard thirty day limit on an appeal application to be considered. This was also the time period that Raymond Maher would announce that he would no longer be representing Wilbert Coffin. Down deep Maher knew that the Coffin family would no longer wish his services. After such a fall from grace , his old family buddy, Maurice Duplessis also knew that Maher would never be able to practise law again, with his bumbling of this case, his drinking problems, and most importantly, the likelihood that he stole what could have been an evidence exibit from Wilbert Coffin's trial and had it destroyed. True to form, Duplessis to the rescue. What does he do? He appoints Raymond Maher to the Rental Review Board for the province of Quebec.
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Lawyer Francois Gravel would remain as Wilbert Coffin's defense lawyer. As well, he brought on board his boss from Toronto, Mr. Arthur Maloney. This duo would serve as Wilbert's counsel for the remainder of his life. It was this pair of lawyers who would prepare and present an application for appeal for Wilbert's coviction for murder.
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This application would of course fail, and in the final days leading to his execution date, a new application was introduced, which would result in the execution date being moved back to accommodate the new appeal process. The applications were being applied for on the basis of errors being made in the original process, and the introduction of new evidence, as well as evidence that had been suppressed. It is important to note that an appeal can only be granted where it can be demonstrated that an error of law application occured, or that the original trial judge made errors during the trial process, or in his summation to the jury.
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There would be seven separate dates for Wilbert Coffin to be executed. This was a record in the Canadian Judicial system. One can only imagine the mental strain associated with the proposed date with the hangman on seven different occasions spanning a time frame from November 26, 1954 for the first one, to the final date of February 10, 1956. Each appeal of course, would be based on the hope and belief that it will be different this time, only to be discovered in the last days that it had failed, and a new process was being formulated to try it again.
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For the greater part of his wait for the final disposition of his case, Wilbert Coffin would be housed in the Quebec City Jail. Wilbert was no stranger to this place. He had been held here before his trial. This place contained many bad memories, and it contained some good memories for Wilbert, as this was the place where he had experienced brutal physical treatment from the Quebec Provincial Police. On the good side, this was also the place where he was shown the most respect since his days at the Gaspe' jail with Sgt. Henri Doyon. At the Quebec jail Wilbert had gained the friendship and respect of the jailer, Eugene Letourneau, and as well the guard team that secured the jail.
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It was not uncommon at Quebec jail for Wilbert to enjoy a game of cards with the jail staff. He drank coffee with them, they brought him books, writing paper and other comforts. The staff were unanimous in their belief that Wilbert Coffin was a victim of the system in Quebec, and did not look upon him as a true guilty party.
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Marion Petrie, Wilbert's wife was free to visit and was always treated cordially by the staff. This was very important to Wilbert as it gave him the chance to see and talk to the love of his life. More importantly, it provided Wilbert the opportunity to talk and look at pictures with Marion about their son, James. Wilbert would receive small packages in the mail from his family members, and staff always ensured that he received them.
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Sometime during the Fall of 1955, the monotony of jail was taking it's toll on Wilbert Coffin. These thoughts would be consistent with someone travelling on a one way ticket with no return journey in sight. Wilbert hatched a plan that could be instrumental to freedom. He had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Since handguns were not readily available at the Quebec jail, Wilbert decided to settle for second best. Second best would be manufacturing his own. Though minimal in quantity, nonetheless, certain supplies and a generous sampling of good old ingenuity would be necessary to accomplish this feat.
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The main body of this handgun would be carved from a bar of soap. This could easily be borrowed from the sanitation supplies at the jail. He needed a knife. This was readily available from meal utensils. The soap would not present a color consistent with the black finish on a handgun. Wilbert requested that Marion bring him in some black model and exhibit paint that was easily available at a hardware or toy store. One of the guards was kind enough to bring him in a particular tool to drill the muzzle on his new "weapon of mass destruction." These requests were made of course without knowing what Wilbert had in mind, thus it would appear, there was no reaction to his requests. At least that is how it looked on the surface. The weapon was now complete, and was ready to do it's job.
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As I write this part of the story, I ask you to take the time as I have to answer a couple of basic questions about this escape coming up. If you are thinking that it would have been impossible to over power five burly jail guards, and lock them in a cell with or without their permission, then you share my thoughts. Truly, those people were convinced that Wilbert Coffin was an innocent man.
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Five days before a scheduled execution date Wilbert produced his gun to two of the guards, with the instructions to round up all the guard staff and lock them in his cell. This part of the task now being complete, Wilbert exited the main door of the jail. There just happened to be a taxi cab waiting at the main door, a rather strange place for a cab to be waiting. Wilbert entered the cab, immediately told the driver who he was, and the driver explained that he was pleased to meet him, and that he would take him anywhere in his cab that he wished to go.
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Prior to his escape, Wilbert had requested from family members to obtain for him certain maps of the area of southern Quebec going eastward toward the Gaspe' peninsula. It is prudent to assume here that it was Wilbert's plan to stick to the forest on foot. Knowing the forest and his ability to navigate the terrain, Wilbert Coffin would very much have a definite edge on any who may come looking for him.
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At this point Wilbert's trust of the system directed him to contact his legal cousel. Not being able to contact Francois Gravel by telephone, Wilbert elected to call none other than Raymond Maher who was at his home in Quebec City. You will recall, it was lawyer Maher who had either failed him miserably at the trial, or had completely sold him out. Either way, Wilbert Coffin looked to him for guidance once again.
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Raymond Maher's advice to Wilbert was that he must turn himself in, and let the system work for him. It was five days before a scheduled execution date and he informed Wilbert that things would turn around. He persuaded Wilbert to come and pick him up and he would go back with him to turn himself in. Maher would be thinking, this would be a way for he himself to look good, as he would be the one who would be recognized as the one who brought Wilbert Coffin in.
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By now the news was out to the rest of the country. News services across Canada carried the same headline. "Sadistic Murderer From Gaspe' Escapes" Be on the lookout. As family members heard the news they were silently praying that he would take to the forest. They knew that he would never be found there. Wilbert Coffin knew however, he would be a marked man with the Quebec Provincial Police. He knew that he would be shot on sight. Maher convinced him of that.
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The plan was formulated. After picking up Maher they would return to the Quebec jail with Wilbert Coffin lying on the floor in the rear area of the car. Wilbert Coffins taste of freedom lasted less than two hours.
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It is important here to ponder and ask a question. The question would be of course, would it make sense if Wilbert Coffin had truly been guilty to immediately return himself to those holding him captive, namely the government of Quebec? I think not. I think a guilty man would have high-tailed himself far away from Quebec City.
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It was immediately decided upon Wilbert Coffin's return to the Quebec jail that he would be transferred to Montreal's Bordeaux Jail. It was felt within the system that Wilbert Coffin had become too close to those employed at Quebec jail. The only way to erase that problem was to transfer him.
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Lew Stoddard
February 06, 2007
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The next posting will be the final in the series detailing Wilbert Coffin's last days. It was split into two parts from today's posting, mainly because of the volume of information that Lani and I have received. At the conclusion of that posting, I shall immediately be presenting to you the real story as to why Wilbert Coffin was hanged. As I have told you, this will be ugly, this will be sad, and you will find it most upsetting. I should also add that it is not based on my editorial opinion. It is based on documents that are factual. Nothing will be spared , names will be named, and many of these players are still with us today. These are the people who caused the death of Wilbert Coffin. I ask for your comments today and the next two postings. It is important to know where Canadians stand on this terrible travesty of justice.

34 comments:

Carla mcIntyre said...

Hello Mr. Stoddard,

This is truly one of the best postings ever on your Wilbert Coffin story. You have done a grand incredible job on this. You have me so curious on this last one that you talk about. I am glad for it, it needs to be exposed. God Bless you Sir.

Carla McIntyre
Port Credit

Tony said...

Truly an impressive story, and narrated by an impressive guy. Keep up the goos work. It is people like you who will make the difference with the government in the end.

Tony
Toronto

Bob Wilde said...

People had better get behind you on this. If they are interested in it, then they should jump on board here and tell Canada while she is listening. Tomorrow will be too late.

Bob Wilde
Nanaimo

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr Stoddard,
Great posting, we are behind you 100% on this. Let the truth shine bright sir. Your doing a great job.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Stoddard,
Could you please post the address to which one can purchase the Gaspe calendars sold by Mrs.Steward. thank-you

Darryl L said...

When you sum it all up as you do Mr. Stoddard, I think it is a foregone conclusion as to where the feelings of most Canadians would be on this matter.

If it doesn't bring out their feelings, then they simply do not care about or system of justice and protection of our citizens.

Great work on this so far, and I anxiously await your final findings. As someone said a few days ago, it is a pity that yourself and others who think and talk as you do were not around when all this happened.

Darryl L
Calgary, Alberta

C Burrows said...

Too bad that Wilbert Coffin went back. Very definitely, it displayed innocence, not guilt.

C Burrows
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Lew Stoddard said...

Message to anonymous. . .

Thanks for the reading the site. The following is the e-mail site where you may directly order a calendar in support of clearing Wilbert Coffin's name. The name of the person that you are e-mailing in charge of the calendar sales is Rhonda Stewart. Thank you once again. Here is the e-mail address.
clear_wilbert_coffin@yahoo.ca

Lew Stoddard

Cyril and Mary T said...

Such a sad sad end to such a bitter tale. In most sad stories, things get bad and then slowly get better toward the end. This one I know does not get better as it goes on. It gets very much worse, as I know the ending. Poor family left behind, I cannot bear to think about it, must be so cruel, especially knowing that Wilbert Coffin was not guilty, and to be powerless to do anything about it.

Cyril and Mary T
Saskatoon, Sackatchewan

Kirstin R said...

My husband and I have been reading this site since early July. We have also done much outside reading of material on this case.

Lew without doubt you are number one in our books for an interesting presentation of the facts. You have done all this without all the usual sensation banter that is always the way.

You have made a teriffic contribution here to the history of our country. Young journalism students can very definitely take an example from you.

By the way, before I close I must say that I just read the new posting for today. I love the bit of humor that you have inserted into a very serious project. You have done that in a very dignified way, and yet kept the integrity of the story intact.

Kirstin R
Thunder Bay, Ontario

Len T said...

Just read your posting with my morning coffee and toast. We look forward to your writing Sir. I am not exactly sure as to how or why you embarked upon writing this story but I do congratulate you.

I am very much looking forward to the final things coming up that you related to, which will name names and new players etc. Sounds like it could rot the socks off some of the starched collars and pin stripes that strut around. Give it your best shot Lew. We are behind you here in Yellowknife.

Len T
Yellowknife, NWT

g Michaud said...

excuse please my english.i believe mr coffin he was not guilty.i am french and have many friends who are english too but does not matter what we are we are all people who lives togeter and this not rite what they did. my father he lived in gaspe when this happen and he always said very very bad. my daughter she read me your story every time and thank you.

g Michaud
St. hubert

C Tremblay said...

Months back Lew I commented on this site. You have come a long long way and are still at it. I am impressed with the work you are doing. I hope the federal government will listen to the people on this. Everyone should be sending their member of parliament a copy of this story.

C Tremblay
Trois Rivieres

B Alders said...

Hey Canada wake up while the time is right. Soon it will be too late.

B Alders
Toronto

C Cairns said...

I agree with the last commenter. The time is now. Get in touch with all the rest of Canada but make your Ottawa member of parliament be heard. Send them e-mails, send them copies of the story, but get after them.

C Cairns
Sarnia, Ontario

J McLean said...

I agree with G Michaud. We are all Canadians who really live under one roof. Time to unite here and force Ottawa to settle this thing now. Fifty plus years is terrible for something that should never have happened.

J McLean
Fort McMurray, Alberta

Anonymous said...

Frb 06/07
With a vote 280-0 The House of Commons voted to reopen the Coffin case. Please find attached the transcript of that debate.

Fantastic News !!!
Well done all !
we can see the light at the end.

Gary Coffin

Anonymous said...

To above note sorry, but did not inclose the attached the transcript of that debate.
I am sure Lew or others will bring this more light as things develop.

Nephew Rick said...

The House of Commons voted on a motion to speed up the process but the review is under way now and AIDWYC is also working on it. As always we thank the people who have come forward with information and beg others to follow suit. I believe that Lew, Aunt Marie, Aidwyc and you the readers and commentators are making the politicians pay attention. This is a good thing. Keep up the good work. Thanks again Lew.

Anonymous said...

-- And in our thanks let us not forget that a huge deal of credit has to be given to Cynthia Patterson of Gaspe. She was responsible for contacting Raynald Blais and convincing him to present the petition to the Government. It is through her efforts that the debate and vote came about at this time.

Best wishes for continued success.

M Franks said...

Message To All,

Before we start patting each other on the back and embracing each other in the corner we should remind ourselves there is a very long way to go in this thing yet. Don't get caught up in all the hype.

Think back a few months after this Cabot thing and there were many screaming victory. It was mr. stoddard on this site who said then it was a long way from being over and he was quite correct.

There is a huge difference between being encouraged and being successful.

M Franks
Burlington, Ontario

P Cormier said...

A message to M Franks,

You took the words right out of my mouth. If anything, this is the time to apply the pressure on the government now. Their hearing improves when you have their attention.

This is the time I believe that a site like this can work wonders to draw support from Canadians for a cause such as this.

Continue to give it Hell Mr. Stoddard.

P Cormier
Quebec

Marvin W said...

I am represented federally by one of the Toronto area constituencies. I spoke to our local office recently with respect to wrongful convictions in Canada. I mentioned this case, and also this web site. They are aware of both. That to me was encouragement, it shows that you are reaching the politicians and the voters through your efforts here. My congratulations to you for that Mr.. Stoddard.

Marvin W
Tpronto

Family member from Quebec said...

I hope and pray that all Canadians will keep up the pressure on this thing. There is a mighty big mountain to scale yet. It can be done, but without hard work it won't happen.

It is still not too late to bring forth ideas and evidence, and keep the spirit high. Thanks one and all. A special thanks to you Lew Stoddard.

Family member from Quebec

M B said...

I realize that they have voted in the House Of Commons regarding this affair. They were compelled to do that. It does not change anything. They were required by law to have that vote as there was an application for them to do so. That is democratic process. It settles nothing.

The same things now have to take place that had to take place before the vote. Do not let up, it is a long rocky road yet. The politicians want you to think they have our best interests in mind, but again, leave no stone unturned.

M B
Trenton, Ontario

Brad H said...

Message to M B. .

You say it correctly. It is a long road to walk yet. I do not mean to be a pessimest, but at same time I don't believe in getting mired in false hope either.

I do believe there is a chance in all this. It does mean pulling together all the way.

Brad H
Ottawa

Susan G said...

There is no second best on this thing folks. There is success or failure.

Success means we never give up the fight and failure indicates that we accept at this point that we are going to win with no further work only to find out a bit further on that we have lost because we got lazy and waited for the process to do it for us.

Susan G
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Arnold said...

If the process was flawed as you say Lew from the beginning with the inquest, then I do not understand why it ever happened in the first place or why it should be so difficult to overturn.

Arnold W
Thunder Bay, Ontario

Judy T said...

I have come to the conclusion that nothing surprises me anymore. I would like to say this whole thing could never happen in Canada, but I know that it did and will again probably. How sad.

Judy T
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Sam L said...

It is a sad day indeed when we have to go begging for what is right, just, and decent. Wilbert Coffin did not do anything wrong it would appear, other than stop to assist someone facing a dilemma. Look at what he faced as a consequence for his measure of good will. Totally unbelievable.

Sam L
Calgary, Alberta

Anonymous said...

Lew, I must congratulate you on your great investigative reporting. Like it was mentioned before "too bad you were not Mr. Coffin's attorney" he surely would have lived to a ripe old age. Keep up the good work and know that we are all pulling for you. To the Coffin family,(especially Marie) it looks like there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel - don't ever give up - You deserve to clear Wilbert's name.

Pulling for you in Ontario.

Marie Coffin Stewart, Wilbert's Sister said...

Today marks 51 years since my brother Bill( Wilbert Coffin) hung for a crime he did not commit. A few family members had prayers at the gravesite. So very sad.
I went to Ottawa to the debate, in the House of Commons, pertaining to my brother's case. The debate was Monday afternoon, Feb.5th,2007. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, Feb.6th, the members had a vote. Every member in the House of Commons, who was present, and voted, all 280 of them, voted for the gov't to try and move more quickly on this case.A completely unanimous vote!! This is a big step forward, but we have a long way to go yet. There is so much paperwork to review. It is unbelievable, the support of the people. So many of you have supported us in our fundraisers. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We have also received donations of money for our support of AIDWYC. Again many thanks. Should anyone wish to buy a calendar,of our lovely Gaspe, to support AIDWYC's work on the case, they are still available. Again, many thanks!!
To you the readers of this site, please continue with your comments. They mean so much to all of us. The heartache of this terrible injustice will never go away. The pain will always remain, but I pray to God everyday to please see that my brother Wilbert's name will be cleared,and we the family can have some measure of peace. Thank you. Marie

Lew Stoddard said...

Message To All Readers Of The Page. . .

Due to maintenance of the site, I am forced to delay posting for one more day of my current episode of my story on the Wilbert Coffin case. As soon as the server is up and running, I shall post without further delay. I ask you to bear with me.

I also want to take this opportunity to personally thank Mr. Wendall Stanley of Gaspe.

Wendall took the initiative and did what everyone should have been doing over the years. Wendall challenged a major news outlet to cease and desist the practise of publishing and broadcasting untrue and erroneous material with reference to this case.

Specifically Wendall submitted his opinion to the CBC regarding one of their last broadcast and print editions where they depicted Wilbert Coffin as one who was charged and convicted for the murder of three people. This of course is false and misleading.

Wendall e-mailed me a copy of his letter to the CBC regarding this matter. CBC followed up by responding by e-mail that they would look into the matter. They did. They followed up with a note on their site indicating that they were wrong and offered the accurate report.

I support this 100% and now it is time for the other large outlets to do the same thing. I urge everyone to this. It is the only way that it will get cleaned up.

Lani Mitchell has followed suit and contacted The Montreal Gazette and CTV expressing her views, and suggesting they should do the same thing in their reporting.

If these news outlets expect interviews from folks, it shows no respect whatsoever when the news item airs or is published and it begins with this same garble gook all over again, like they have done for the past half century.

Once again Wendall, I thank you. You have truly expressed words that needed to be said.

Lew Stoddard

niece Debbie said...

Just want to thank all you readers, for your encouraging words! Speaking publicly was never easy for my mother,Marie Coffin Stewart. In school she was the child cringing behind her book,at her desk,hoping the teacher would pass her by, when students were being called upon to present an oral report, or read aloud. But she has taken the challenge, in spite of the fact that every time, before she speaks out publicly,for Uncle Bill, her stomach is in knots. Then, she says, she puts his face before her, thinks about what he endured,and says "This is for you, Bill." We are proud of her. Readers, we are truly appreciative of your encouragement. You help give her, and my entire family courage and confidence, to continue the fight to clear Uncle Bill's name. Knowing we are surrounded by fellow Canadians, who are standing up for justice, along with us, means so, so much. To all who are helping us along this pathway, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Debbie