I have some follow-up thoughts on the 1985 murder of Francine Da Sylva, but in order to get there, I need to revisit two other unsolved murders we've covered: the 1979 death of Nicole Gaudreault and the 1975 strangulation and incineration of Diane Thibeault. Solving for x involves bringing an unknown variable to one side, then seeing how other elements line up with that variable - that's what we're going to do here – move and reconsider some variables.
Thibeault was found in a vacant lot at the corner of St. Dominique Street and Dorchester Boulevard in downtown Montreal. Riding past on his bicycle at 4:30 in the morning, 16-year-old Jean Brisson noticed a fire in a vacant lot on Saturday morning, August 2, 1975. When he approached the fire, which was in danger of igniting a nearby abandoned house, he saw legs and immediately notified the police.
When Montreal police detectives Roy and Lemieux arrived, they found the still smoldering body of 25-year-old Diane Thibeault: dyed jet-black hair, pale skin, naked from the waist down, wearing a partially burned blue sweater with yellow stripes, with a piece of burning wood embedded in her vagina.
Thibeault had been beaten to death, strangled then set on fire. In his police report, Agent Roy noted, "The victim was sexually assaulted." Thibeault was a denizen of The Main, a "Lower Depths" enclave of downtown Montreal known for drugs and prostitution. Near the body, police found a floppy hat, two scattered shoes, a comb, and a purse containing $26.40 in cash (the equivalent of more than $125 in today's dollars). Thibeault was petite; 4 foot 9 inches, weighing approximately 82 pounds – her assailant could have manhandled her like a ragdoll.
According to the newspaper Allo Police, Thibeault frequented local "flop houses" and was known to hang out at the bars along Saint-Laurent: Chez Frafa, Capitol, Brasserie Alouette, and the Rialto. She had lots of "friends" along The Main. Given her lifestyle, police were none too aggressive in solving the murder. It wasn't until three years later, in 1978, that they began to focus on a suspect.
Roger Moreau met Thibault at his mother's rooming house four weeks before her death. His mother introduced Diane as her tenant. Coincidentally, three days later, Moreau was drinking with his brother-in-law, Edmond Turcotte, when Turcotte asked him if he knew Diane Thibeault because he got her pregnant and if he ever saw her again, he was going to give her a beating, "she'll remember it for the rest of her life…" Shortly before her murder, Moreau observed Turcotte and Thibeault in a bar near Saint-Zotique Street. The two were drinking beer and making out, so he assumed the couple had reconciled. After the murder, when Moreau saw photos of Diane in Allo Police, he immediately called the police and said," If you're looking for Diane, look for Edmond Turcotte, " then he hung up.
La Presse reporter Nicolas Berube covered the story in 2018. Berube interviewed former detective sergeant Jacques Duchesneau who was assigned to the case in 1975. Duchesneau later became Director of the Montreal Police, then Member of Parliament for Saint-Jérôme – Thibeault's hometown - from 2012 to 2014. Asked to explain why it took the police three years to follow up on the lead, Duchesneau explained, "We were pretty busy …. "
Edmond Turcotte was working as a cook at the New Spiro restaurant on Peel Street when police arrested him in November 1978. He was taken to the Sûreté du Québec headquarters on Parthenais Street and subjected to a polygraph test. After a lengthy interrogation, Turcotte confessed to the murder.
Turcotte's confession – lengthy and in grisly detail – is the subject of a podcast I also did in 2018 and was the basis for Berube's La Presse story. For today, I'd like you to focus on dates and the geography of this case: the morning of the murder, August 2, 1975, Turcotte and Thibeault were drinking at Cabaret Rodéo on Saint-Laurent Boulevard. The Rodéo (later named Lodeo) was quite famous; it's where Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay set his play about Montreal's underbelly, Sainte Carmen of the Main, in 1976. The couple next moved to a rooming house near Saint Catherine Street. Turcotte then beat, raped, and strangled Diane Thibeault, but he did not leave her there. He dragged her half-dead to the vacant lot at St. Dominique and Dorchester, where he set her on fire and left her for dead.
As the case moved to trial, the police assumed they had a slam-dunk win on their hands. The coroner had ruled that "Diane Thibeault died a violent death on August 2, 1975, death for which you, Edmond Turcotte, must be held criminally responsible." That's not the way things turned out.
Turcotte went to trial in late November 1978. La Presse tells us that his lawyer was a defense attorney named Réal Charbonneau: that's sort of true. More on that later. Nicolas Berube spoke to Charbonneau on 2018. Incredibly, he was still practicing law. Charbonneau remembered the case and the "incredible chance" he experienced during the trial. The judge was André Biron, a good judge but a young judge. Though he does not directly say it, Charbonneau clearly felt Biron could be easily manipulated. Charbonneau was permitted to introduce the testimony of a psychiatrist who suggested that Edmond Turcotte was "slightly deficient" mentally. In doing so, Biron became convinced that Turcotte's confession could not have been given voluntarily and would not admit it as evidence.
Charbonneau offered this final, cold assessment of the case's dismissal:
"That's it, life, huh? I do not think that the police put eight investigators to find another accused after that … He was acquitted, he was acquitted … If he had been another judge, who had not had that experience, he might have had a different attitude on the perception of facts. All this is chance. It is providence. "
The La Presse reporter, Nicolas Berube, tried to track down Edmond Turcotte – who today would be seventy-four – by following his police record. Turcotte's most recent offense was from 1997, a charge of theft in Joliette, for which the decision was withdrawn. At the time, Turcotte had been living in nearby Sainte-Julienne. When Berube visited Turcotte's former residence, he found a well-kept mobile home and children's toys but no Edmond Turcotte.
I think I know why Berube never found Edmond Turcotte. To understand that, you have to know more about Turcotte's attorney Réal Charbonneau.
Edmond Turcotte was not "slightly deficient." He had enough of his mental faculties to hold down a job as a line cook. He could order drinks at a bar and turn on the charm with the ladies. He was not coerced into a confession as his lawyer Réal Charbonneau had suggested. To look at his confession transcript, Turcotte was ordered and methodical in his thoughts. He asked for a cup of coffee, so his police interrogators ordered coffee. And he was quite clear in his motive: Diane Thibeault was a "nothing" and a "cow" and, therefore, presumably deserved to die according to Turcotte's chauvinistic worldview. The one thing police detectives didn't do during Turcotte's interrogation was allow him to see his lawyers—more than anything, that probably led to his acquittal.
Réal Charbonneau's career as a Montreal defense attorney was colorful, to say the least. In 1980 he was charged with contempt of court for failing to show up in court to represent his client, a man accused of the kidnapping and rape of a 13-year-old. Charbonneau alleged that the error was due to a mix-up between him and his legal associate, Frank Shoofey. Charbonneau and Shoofey often worked on cases together in this era, and in this instance, Shoofey decided that Charbonneau would represent the case of the pedophile on his own. The only problem was that Shoofey had failed to notify Charbonneau that he had abandoned him in this affair.
A word on Shoofey, who we've talked about before numerous times. Like one of his best friends, Jean-Pierre Rancourt, Shoofey was known as a mob lawyer (Rancourt writes a glowing chapter about his legal counterpart in his autobiography, Les Confessions d'un Criminaliste). Less known for his work as a negotiator in the recovery of Brother Andre's heart (we will be here all day if we go down the rabbit hole of creepy Quebec Catholicism), Shoofey famously represented Montreal gangster Richard Blass, later gunned down by Quebec police for the murder of Italian mobster, Paul Violi. On October 15, 1985, Shoofey himself was murdered in the hallway outside his fifth-floor law office at 1030 Cherrier across from Parc La Fontaine in the Plateau ( remember my heeding about dates and places). The other point to track here is that Shoofey and Charbonneau had a long association as legal comrades documented in the public record, over a decade from about 1975 until Shoofey's murder in 1985.
In 1982 Charbonneau got in trouble again when he was banned from a coroner's inquest by Roch Heroux, then failed to show up for his court appearance on obstruction of justice charges. What exactly Charbonneau did in that coroner's inquest is unknown, but he was immediately the target of an arrest warrant. By 1984 the matter was settled with Charbonneau ordered to contribute $5,000 towards a center for drug addicts.
Remember when bikers' bodies started popping up in the St. Lawrence River in 1985? Charbonneau was in the middle of that too. Charbonneau represented Laurent "L'Anglais" Viau and Guy "Brutus" Geoffrion, both gunned down in a Hells Angels clubhouse, a purging incident that would become infamously known as the Lennoxville Massacre. Among Charbonneau's transgressions representing The Hells, he was accused of encouraging a client to sign a false affidavit about the bombing of an apartment building on de Maisonneuve Blvd. in 1984 that killed four people.
In 1987 Charbonneau was sentenced to 18 months in prison in the case of that apartment bombing. He appealed and, in 1993, was granted a new trial. By 1997 Charbonneau was acquitted and never served a day behind bars. In 2003 Réal Charbonneau was in the news again, tossed from a Hells Angels megatrial for repeatedly arguing with the judge. When he was called to trial for the contempt case, Charbonneau was again a no-show. The matter was finally sorted out in 2006 – by this time, Allison Hanes doing the reporting for The Gazette – with Charbonneau slapped with a rebuke by the Quebec bar association.
In 1986, The Gazette's William Marsden interviewed another noted criminal lawyer, Sydney Leithman, who at the time was becoming the heir apparent to the then recently gunned-down Frank Shoofey. Among Leithman's clients were Italian mob kingpin Frank Cotroni, the East End Gang's Claude Dubois, and West End Gang leader Billy MacAllister. Leithman told Marsden how he started building his business representing clients in "whorehouses and gambling establishments." In Leithman's words, "The small little client today can provide you with the big case tomorrow."
It begs the question that Leithman sort of answers: why do guys like Charbonneau represent apparent "lowlifes" like Edmond Turcotte (or, for that matter, Jean-Pierre Rancourt representing Fernand Laplante)? Because they know they are connected to money. Leithman was once asked to take on a client who did not appear well-healed, so he inquired of a police source, "Do you think this guy has any money?" The police officer replied, "Well, Sydney, the charge is drug-dealing."
Charbonneau and Leithman were cut from the same cloth. In fact, in the matter of the phony affidavit, Charbonneau claimed it was Leithman who drew up the document. Charbonneau would not have taken on a client like Edmond Turcotte if he were just some low-level petty criminal who murdered a whorehouse prostitute. Charbonneau represented Turcotte because he was connected to money and was more than likely an earner for some Montreal mob outfit.
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Solving for X part II will be released shortly.
This is unrelated to the story but so funny: "we will be here all day if we go down the rabbit hole of creepy Quebec Catholicism". :)
Much needed comic relief I guess in an otherwise sad story about this poor woman.