It was a typical late spring day on May 25th, 1892 when Clement Goyette, a Montreal-area stone cutter, was arrested and charged with the loathsome crime of attempted murder. The incident in which he was involved, and that eventually led to foul play on the life of Montreal constable Télésphore Rompre, was serious enough in that Goyette actually shot the police officer at close range, clearly with the intention to kill.
The confrontation between the law enforcer and the law breaker was over Rompre’s endeavour to arrest Goyette for some banal offence committed in the streets of this city. The policeman was shot on the right side of his abdomen but was, nevertheless, able to hang onto the criminal while awaiting the arrival of help.
Within a day or so, Goyette was brought before the Court of Queen’s Bench where such a convincing case was made by Crown Attorney J. L. Archambault that the jury took all of five minutes to arrive at its guilty verdict. The scofflaw was ultimately sentenced to seven years at St. Vincent de-Paul-Penitentiary. So vile was his demeanour that the High Constable of the period, Monsieur Bissonnette, commented: “That man will end his days on the scaffold. I never saw a more wicked face and every action since his arrest suggests crime.” And Chief Justice Lacoste stated unequivocally that he could have sentenced Goyette to life in jail but chose not to because of the prisoner’s relatively young age. If only the honourable judge had chosen the life term (as we will learn later), two innocent lives would have been saved.
Upon being sentenced, the felon made a desperate but futile attempt to escape. In all events, for his ‘good’ behaviour, he served only five of the seven year sentence. However, once out of prison, Goyette was in constant trouble with the authorities. Then came the dark night of January 24, 1904.
On that tragic Sunday evening, Clement Goyette was entering his third week of working for one Daniel Colligan, a well-respected and successful farmer of Irish origin. Colligan was a happy and contented man of about sixty years of age. An industrious individual, he had married twice, with ten children from the first union and another nine from the second. Needless to say, as there was always work to do about the farm, Colligan had enthusiastically hired Goyette.
There, about four miles from the tiny French Canadian village of Alfred, on the Ontario side of the border with Quebec, Goyette attended to various chores as a farm labourer. He himself had approached Colligan earlier that month about working for him and nothing in the first two weeks of their association hinted at what was to come. In fact, although Goyette was occasionally sullen and taciturn, the two men appeared to get along quite well.
Around five o’clock, Sunday, January 26th, the family (as was their custom) gathered for evening tea. Goyette was invited to join them, and he did. There was not the slightest inkling of tension or quarrel, and certainly nothing to suggest what was soon to happen.
With the tea finished, the two men headed for the farm yard to attend to the end of the daily chores. Colligan buttonholed his thirteen-year-old son, Thomas, to participate as well, which later proved to me a fateful decision. The three set out for the barn. Exactly what happened after their departure from the family home remains shrouded in mystery. One version survives, that of Goyette, rendered to the authorities the day after the brutal murders.
“On Saturday, Colligan had trouble with his wife and abused her, and I did not like that. On Sunday we played poker in the afternoon for cents, and drank a good deal. I was still uneasy about the way he had abused his wife the previous day, and I was not in good humour.
“In the evening we went to do the chores, and after I had fed the horses in the barn the young boy came in and said: ‘Pa is not glad because you feed the horses too much.’ I said I did not feed them too much, but when his father came in a few minutes afterwards, he also said that I was feeding the horses too much. I told him also that I was not, and then he said: ‘Well, I am boss and you will have to do what I say.’
“I said: ‘We will see who is boss,’ and jumped at him. I clinched with him and we both fell on the floor and I caught him by the throat and choked him good and hard. Then the little boy took a stick and cut me on the head and that made me good and mad. I jumped over the manger on to the floor of the barn looking for something with which I could hit him, and I saw the broad axe which we had been using to drive spikes. I grabbed it and jumped back and caught Colligan before he was able to get up. I cut him with the axe over the head till he did not move. Then I ran after the young fellow and grabbed him and cut him with the axe till he fell down.
“I then went back to Colligan and turned him over, and as he didn’t move I took all the money I could find in his pocket and put it in mine. I then left the barn and shut the door behind me, and as I was coming out, Mrs. Colligan was coming out of the house. She asked me where her husband was, and I told her to go into the house. One of the little girls came out also.
“The little girl started for the road. I called her back, as I knew she was going for the neighbours. I went into the house and nailed the door and said ‘I want what money you have here.’ Mrs. Colligan said, ‘I don’t think there is any, but I will show you.’ I asked her to go upstairs ahead of me with a lamp. I followed. We found no money. We came downstairs and I told her to come and have a drink. She refused. I forced her to take a good big drink. I then asked her if there were no money at all in the house. She said no, and then I tried to kill her.”
And, indeed, Goyette did try to kill to Mrs. Colligan. He succeeded in cutting her severely about the arms and head before several of the children and a few neighbours successfully overpowered the frenzied farm labourer. There is little doubt, however, that if there had been no intervention by others, Goyette would have eliminated the entire family.
The captured killer was quickly taken to Alfred where he was temporarily held in Chene’s Hotel until the arrival of the appropriate authorities. Alcohol was immediately presented as a possible cause for the drama. Initially, Goyette himself refused to speak to anyone.
The day after the tragedy the sleepy little town of Alfred was numb with shock. Neighbours and friends streamed to the scene of the homicides to offer whatever comfort they could to Mrs. Colligan and the surviving children. Surprisingly, the former was well enough to provide the following version of the events-
“He (Goyette) had been drinking a little but not sufficient to cause any of us any alarm, and he seemed to be in the best of humour all day. It was just about supper time when Goyette and my husband and son went to the barn together, to attend to some small chores. What happened there God only knows, and Goyette is the only human being who can tell. After they had been in the barn for about 15 minutes or so, I saw Goyette come back to the house and as he entered he seemed perfectly rational and looked exactly as he did when he went out. There was nothing to his appearance to frighten me or give me the slightest suspicion of what he had done, and I did not notice until afterwards that he was wearing my husband’s cap.
“As he came he had two sticks in his hand and walking over to the stove he picked up a hatchet that was lying nearby and then without any warning whatever started to attack me. Although I was stunned for a moment, I immediately started to ward off his blows to the best of my ability and one of the children promptly came to my rescue and helped me by worrying the murderer to such an extent that he could not get at me, while the other child ran to the neighbour’s for help.
“Then Providence came to my aid in permitting the handle of the axe to break and in trying to recover the axe Goyette lost so much time that when he resumed his attack the neighbours came rushing in and secured him, after a struggle in which he fought with what seemed to me the strength of a dozen men. Although I was almost fainting with excitement, my thoughts flew immediately to my husband and son and when I noticed that Goyette wore my husband’s cap I felt a horrible certainty that my husband and son had become his victims. Hoping against hope I urged the neighbours to go to the barn and when they went there they found that my fears were only too well grounded.”
Incontrovertibly, the sight which awaited them was particularly gruesome. The body of Mr. Colligan was found in a pool of blood beneath a horse with his son’s corpse not too far away. The head of the former was almost severed from the body with an oblique cut “which started from the left ear and cleaved through the neck to a point below the chin. The head of the boy was split in two from the back.”
The Coroner’s Inquiry had no difficulty in finding Goyette guilty of murder and now it was up to the Magistrates’ Court to continue with the judicial process against the accused. It was to take place at the Colligan farmhouse where the very crimes were committed.
It was late Monday evening when the proceedings finally commenced. About fifty people were squeezed into the tiny family kitchen, all of whom were silhouetted by the flickering of a strategically-placed oil lamp. Crown Attorney Maxwell sat grim-faced and silent as Police Magistrate J. W. Langrill vigorously composed the text of the charges against Goyette. Present also were constables and various witnesses to the horrible event and its sequel. Sitting amongst all these people was the sullen and silent Clement Goyette. He was a powerful man and, accordingly, heavily manacled.
Beyond the kitchen through the open door to the sitting room could be seen the cold, now rigid bodies of the two victims. Their remains were gently covered with white, yet nevertheless blood-stained sheets. Father and son lay side by side. In yet another neighbouring room could be heard the sobs and sighs of Mrs. Colligan, herself grievously wounded from the vicious assault of the unstable assailant. The occasional echo of a child running about the farmhouse could also be heard.
Eventually Crown Attorney Maxwell bellowed in a clear, crisp voice the words “Stand up”. There was no question that it was an order and at that, Clement Goyette stood. The charges against him were read in French with the shackled prisoner displaying absolutely no emotion, his face being totally blank. When asked if he understood the charges, the countenance of the accused changed only a little – perhaps now just a hint of cunning.
The indispensable testimony of Mrs. Colligan was taken from her bedside. When the magistrate ordained the presence of Goyette in the room, Colligan’s widow pleaded with the official not to place him in her sight again. Respecting her wishes, the defendant was kept just outside the door where he could hear the testimony of the terrified woman. Nevertheless, and now displaying some interest in the proceedings, he periodically attempted to peer acrimoniously into his victim’s room through the opening in the doorway.
After Mrs. Colligan’s disposition was taken, there followed in the melodramatic style of newspaper reporting of the time, the attestation of the daughter. The Montreal Star recounted that “the little girl’s evidence was taken. Sleeping in a little room, the child was awakened for the ordeal of the questioning. Her school teacher carried the child down in her arms. Then her glance fell upon the man Goyette, and with a sob of fear, she threw her arms around the teacher’s neck and cried with the terror of it all. It was a scene of unutterable pathos. The child and the man. The former crying in terror, the latter with the lust of hate blazing from his eyes.”
The child’s testimony, again according to The Star, “clinched the case.” Still, Goyette refused to enter a plea, and with that, the proceedings were remanded until the following morning.
Before leaving the farmhouse, however, the unidentified Montreal Star reporter slipped into the room where the two bodies lay. He gingerly pulled back the sheets covering them and was horrified at what he saw. “The head of the man was completely split open, and the force of the blows must have been terrific. The boy’s head was cleft in twain, and the features were almost unrecognisable. Near by, on a small table, the axe with which the direful deed was done, was lying. The handle was broken. One side of it was splashed with blood and fragments of flesh and hair clung to the keen blade.”
The stable itself, only some fifty feet away, also provided the Montreal journalist with quite an eyeful of unmitigated trepidation. “The very hollow in which the head of the man had rested, the evidences of the ghastly struggle, and the signs of the death fight that had taken place were all there,” he wrote.
Several people testified as to what they had seen. The first was one James Watson who was also a farmer. He resided on lot 36, just next to the Colligan property. He had last seen him alive about a week earlier. On the evening of the murders, Watson was called upon by the tiny Tessie Colligan to come quickly to their home. On his way, he managed to get his two brothers, Thomas and Dan, to go along with him. Before entering the Colligan kitchen, they eventually obtained the assistance of yet a fourth man – another neighbour by the family name of Brady. Upon entering the farmhouse, the four of them succeeded, with difficulty, in subduing the mighty Goyette. A few minutes later, again according to Watson, they ventured into the barn where they made the macabre finding. His brother Tom was with him when the axe was found and it was a short time later, during the legal proceedings, that it was formally identified as the murder weapon. Afterward, the brothers witnessed the prisoner being placed in a sleigh for the short trip into Alfred.
The next testimony was that provided by one Dr. Adhemar Gibault who was called to the Colligan farmhouse around 8:30 the night of the murders. Dr. Gibault testified that when he arrived there around 10:00, he found Mrs. Colligan on her bed with her head covered in blood. After describing to those assembled the nature of her wounds, the doctor then explained how he dressed them and how he eventually made his way to the stable. There he confirmed the deaths of the father and son, going into considerable forensic detail in presenting his evidence to the panel. Dr. Gibault’s description was indeed gory, especially in so far as the head wounds were concerned. His graphic depiction of the boy’s body was particularly gruesome.
The deposition of Mary Elizabeth Colligan, the 14-year-old daughter of the murdered man, proved most titillating. She, too, was threatened by Goyette and confirmed that she and her bloodied mother gave the aggressor a total of $25 in order to escape (or so they hoped) with their lives. At that point, the Colligan girl attempted to flee but was hotly pursued by Goyette who eventually caught her, dragging her back to the farmhouse. Once there, he then demanded liquor and threatened to kill his prey if none were produced. The desperate killer was given some and he violently insisted that the girl drink with him as well. She did. Most fortunately, at the very point Goyette ordered the fourteen-year-old to remove her clothes, Mr. James Watson broke into the kitchen with the other men. Together, again according to the Colligan daughter’s testimony, they pounced on the criminal and overpowered him.
The unnamed Montreal Star reporter also gained access to Clement Goyette himself. As previously mentioned, Goyette had been brought into Alfred and sequestered, for his own protection, in a hotel in that town. There, he was heavily shackled and under the constant guard of two burly men who had been specially sworn in as constables. By all accounts the murderer had not slept well.
“Good morning, Goyette,” The Star journalist called out, as he was admitted to the room. At that moment, the accused was attempting to eat breakfast, a task rendered all the more complicated by the heavy manacles on his hands. “Did you sleep well?,” the reporter persisted. Goyette shrugged an unconvincing ‘yes,’ while all along not looking up. “Tell me, Goyette, did the boy hit you over the eye, or was it Brady?” To this interrogative, The Star details that the prisoner “looked up and his repulsive face was terrible in the hate that blazed forth from it. With a vile oath, he spat on the floor and answered that is was indeed Brady.”
A few moments later Goyette confirmed his intention to kill Mrs. Colligan as well but, switching to French, he said that the women “went down on her knees and begged for her life. Then she made the sign of the cross and I did not kill her.” Afterward, asked why he had killed “these two people,” the accused responded “because the young fellow made me mad.” Expressing absolutely no regret and seeming totally rational, the interview came to an end with the arrival of the Crown Attorney.
The story of the vicious murderer is next picked up in the February 12 edition of The Montreal Star which reported, somewhat surprisingly, that Clement Goyette had become a model prisoner. “That fierce look of hatred and malice has left his face. He no longer hangs his head and growls when spoken to, but appears to be glad to have a kind word spoken to him and a kind act performed for him.”
Friends of Goyette put together the necessary money to hire a Montreal lawyer to defend him. Accordingly, one Leopold Houle was hired on February 1 to represent the interests of the accused. Houle was well familiar with his client as it was he who took part in the separation proceedings initiated by the inmate’s wife in August of the previous year. However, when he first met with the prisoner, the barrister was told in no uncertain words that no money should be spent on his defence and that, besides, since “he was not long for this world” any funds should be given to his young daughter in Montreal. “Give my child anything that they might spend on me.”
After all was said and done, it was a surprise to no one – least of all Goyette himself – that the mercurial murderer was sentenced that winter to death on the gallows in late April of that same year.
Interestingly, according to a February 12 Star report, Goyette spoke quite often with “gaol officials about his hanging.” He went as far as to ask them if “it was a hard death or if it took long to hang a man.” With his spiritual advisor, Goyette would discuss quite easily his life and impending death. He was often seen reading a prayer book and studiously examining religious prayer cards which had been given to him. He came to cause prison officials absolutely no trouble.
Goyette, who was 36 years of age and born in Lavaltrie, Quebec, was married and the father of a six-year-old daughter, Marie Alice. His wife (Marie Louise Goyette née Maillet), who resided at 71 Rivard Street, Montreal, at the time of the crime, met with a Star reporter to speak of her husband. She said that they had been married nearly seven years and that, at first, her spouse was a kind and considerate partner. He later, however, fell in with “evil companions”, and the bottle. After the birth of their daughter in 1898, Goyette changed for the better for a little while only to return to his volatile ways later. In all events, she felt that she had no choice but to leave him and Mrs. Goyette eventually heard that her husband had left Montreal in August 1903 “for the purpose of getting work in the shanties.”
According to one newspaper report, Goyette became deeply depressed when he came to believe that his crime would not be forgiven in the afterlife. He based this belief on the fact that he had given neither of his victims time to make their amends with the Almighty, so why should God forgive him.
At one point, Goyette seemed so despondent that Judge Constantineau offered to have paid, as an act of charity, the board of the convict’s wife so that she might remain with her husband in L’Orignal up to the day of his execution. When Goyette learned of this, he insisted that it not be done and that, again, if there were any money to be spared it should be used for his daughter in Montreal.
On Monday, April 4, Clement Goyette received the day visit from Montreal of his brother and nephew. They reported that the prisoner was “resigned to his condition, but always very sad.” However, he was apparently “eating and sleeping better” and determined to remain clear-headed right to the end. In this capacity, he was assisted by a spiritual advisor, Reverend Father Berube.
In a somewhat bizarre twist to this thoroughly tragic story, The Star reported on April 22 just six short days before Clement’s death, a woman from Margaret Street, Ottawa, claiming to be the estranged wife of Clement Goyette, visited the prisoner only to realise at the meeting that the man was not her husband. Accordingly, Goyette would leave only one widow, and she was a resident of Montreal.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, just a few days before the end, Goyette greeted visitors warmly and with a broad smile. As he explained it, he preferred death to commutation, and wanted to get on with the former.
On April 27, ‘Radcliffe’, the government hangman, arrived at L’Orignal, where the execution was to take place the following day. While awaiting the grim task, he lodged that evening with the local sheriff.
The following morning, April 28, Clement Goyette kept his rendez-vous with death and he was as courageous as one could expect one to be in such a situation. His final meal was his supper the night before after which he received the visit of his brother and brother-in-law who both said their good-byes. After prayers, he slept with difficulty until 4:00 in the morning. A short time later, he requested a glass of milk and, at the same time, thanked his guards for all the kindness they had shown him. Mass was said at 6:00 by Reverend Edward of the Capuchin order.
A few minutes before 8:00, the Sheriff, the Gaoler, the Turnkey, and the Executioner all arrived at the door of Goyette’s cell. The death sentence was read and, perhaps somewhat oddly, Radcliffe and Goyette then shook hands. The prisoner’s arms were then belted by Radcliffe and the macabre and tenebrous procession to the scaffold began. Reports indicated that Goyette walked steadily to the drop with Father Edward at his side, both praying aloud. The inmate was so focused and meditative in his demeanour that he did not even notice his open grave to the side of the gallows.
Once upon the scaffold, Goyette took his position on the trap. The black cap was placed over his head, his arms and legs were strapped, the noose adjusted about his neck. Having almost completed his work, Radcliffe then stepped aside. Reverend Edward had just begun a final prayer when the trap fell and the doomed felon disappeared from view.
Although Goyette’s neck was broken by the drop, his heart continued to beat for another twelve minutes, after which the black flag was raised over the jail. His body was left hanging a while longer before it was taken down, placed on a stretcher, and examined by Coroner Lawlor who, with great officialism, determined the cause of death to have been due to ‘hanging’. Goyette’s remains were then placed in a coffin and quickly buried.
The Montreal Star concluded in its April 28th edition that “Goyette’s end was the sequel to one of the most brutal tragedies which has ever taken place in the history of the country.”
Who could possibly disagree?
First published in Connections, the quarterly of the Quebec Family History Society, in March 2005.