MURDER AND OTHER CRIMES
LECTURE: NOVEMBER 23 2012 rd
TOPIC: MURDERING MOTHERS
➔ Professor was surprised by how much sympathy was displayed with the way in which the
Jackie Bates book was written.
◦ When a mother commits the murder of her own child it creates great shock because it is
◦ Mother who kills her own children is described as “unnatural” which is still viewed in this
◦ Example:Andrea Yates (before 1964) “unnatural?”
◦ Refer to ppt. for quote on how she is described as deranged and sick committing an
unnatural act. It is the MOST unnatural thing possible in the world for a mother to kill her
◦ If a female murderer is unnatural what does this tell us about how society views people
today? What does a natural woman look like if existing? → passive, loving, sympathetic,
has a mystical bond with their child. These are very stereotypical yet very powerful in
Western culture. → this description is essentialist (necessary traits used to describe a natural
woman). This description is rejected by feminists and historians.
◦ These roles are not biologically based and inevitable. It is socially constructed.
➔ The Jackie Bates book is a lot more than just about a mother and her child.
➔ 1 Case
◦ Avillage in Quebec called Ste. Philomene de Fortierville → 50 miles east of Quebec City
◦ Refer to Aurore, the “Martyred Child” ppt. Slide
▪ Aurore Gagnon
▪ Born May 31 1909 th
▪ Died February 12 1920
▪ Father: Telesphore Gagnon
▪ Mother: Marie-Anne Caron (died 1918)
▪ Stepmother: Marie-Anne Houde
▪ Infant mortality was not uncommon back then but this little girl was not an infant when
she died. She was passed early childhood, fell into a coma and died with good health.
▪ Her death immedthtely raised questions in terms of the abuse she had suffered.
▪ February 12
• Doctor was called to her death bed and found her in a coma covered in strange
• Required an autopsy.
◦ February 13 carried out by a friend specialist
◦ He found 54 distinct wounds caused by blows to the child's body
◦ Many superficial wounds were observed
▪ Example: internal openings, black patch, openings on knees with puss, skin
deep wounds everywhere all over her legs in particular etc.
• Believes these wounds could have been caused by a whip etc. →
• Conclusion: she had succumb to the blood poisoning and exhaustion.
• Wounds were not treated and got infected causing her to die. • Parents arrested for mistreatment of their daughter.
◦ Preliminary inquires: Father's was held February 24th-25 and Mother's was held
March 11 .th
◦ March 18
▪ Judge decided there were grounds to have them brought to trial for the
mistreatment of their daughter.
◦ The father
▪ 37 years old
▪ Had four children with his first wife
▪ Aurore was the second child
▪ His wife died on January 1918
▪ He married a widow which was not unusual and became the step mother
▪ What is weird is how the step mother had the same name as the first wife
◦ 1920 → 2 months after the death ofAurore
▪ Prosecution presented their case first
▪ She died due to physical abuse and neglect
▪ Her abuse was an ongoing secret
▪ State called a number of family and friends to get more information
▪ Rumors about her abuse had become worrisome
▪ The father and mother told a friend that they had beat her because she was a
bad kid so to speak.
▪ They claimed to the court her injuries were from playing outside by throwing
around rocks and sticks.
▪ Another person claimed saying that the girl had injuries at one point and the
step mother said that it was due to falling in the snow.
▪ The judge was still pushing the matter believing it had to be abuse.
▪ The doctor was dumbfounded by this little girl dying with such severe
▪ When the doctor asked where the father was she said he was in the woods
and the doctor found this weird being that the girl was going to die in a few
▪ Marie-Jeanne Gagnon was the older sister
▪ Aurore was burned by having put her hands on the stove, the step mother
would pull her hair out, took her bed away. The older sister was told to stand
at the window to see if someone was coming when this abuse took place.
Why did she not speak earlier?
▪ Defense tried to shake this sister's testimony but she stuck to it. There were a
dozen witnesses who had elaborated on this.
▪ The Defense knew they had no chance by the end of the trial for the
Prosecution's case was way too strong.
▪ The plea went from not guilty to not guilty for reason of insanity.
▪ The step mother was actually pregnant at the time and the father said the wife
had become different since she became pregnant → more mean, stubborn
• He stated she was a good woman when she was not pregnant but scary when she became pregnant and that he did not want to push her.
• This was an excuse to say she was not legally responsible because it is
like saying she has postmortem depression.
◦ April 1 1920
▪ Jury deliberated for only 10 minutes
▪ Rejected argument of insanity
▪ Guilty of murder of her step daughter
▪ Sentence was to be hanged on October 1 st
▪ People felt quite saddened by this
◦ Trial for father began two days later
▪ He is portrayed as a cowardly husband
▪ He participated in the abuse
▪ He stated he did so because he was manipulated by his new wife through
hearing untrue stories about how his daughter behaved.
▪ Verdict: manslaughter
▪ Did not end with the guilty verdicts
▪ Received a life sentence in prison, after 5 years he was paroled → some say
it was because he had cancer, others said it was because of his good behavior.
▪ He did get released and then re married
▪ As for the new wife she could not be executed with being pregnant
▪ After she gave birth she was sentenced to life in prison
▪ She was released in 1935 after serving 15 years and died less than a year
◦ Years following the first World War
▪ Perceived danger to society, decline in traditional family behaviors and
▪ Anxiety arose with the idea of women being allowed to vote
▪ Women in Quebec could not vote until 1940
▪ Institution of marriage itself changed (stricter divorce laws).
▪ Anxiety around birth rates → issue due to Quebec having large families. It
was a matter of survival. It started to eventually fall dramatically.
▪ Politicians said that women could no longer limit themselves in terms of
family size due to selfish reasons such as independence.
▪ Re marriage, step relationships and domestic violence were not singled out as
a cause for concern.
▪ Gagnon case was an isolated incident and not an indication of other possible
abuse cases in Quebec.
▪ Gagnon family was very traditional, Catholic, step mother played her role as
a mother → not a family perceived as a threat.
▪ Many plays were written about the case over the years, it has inspired 6
novels, a couple major films etc.
▪ Why has it remained so well known?
• Phenomenon of child abuse → universal and not particular to Quebec
• Popular culture → characters like the evil step mother, child victim →
universal characters that can fit into almost any context. nd
➔ 2 Case
◦ Referred to as the “Torso Murder”
◦ People on a picnic discovered a body in the woods near Hamilton mountain. Only thing
found was the Torso. Body had been dumped probably 2 weeks earlier.
◦ Body parts sawed off
◦ White male
◦ 40-45 years old
◦ Dismembered with a saw → amateur did it
◦ Cause of death unknown
◦ The body did not match the description of any missing people