The death of Paul Comtois #5


The next two witnesses described the circumstances surrounding the finding of the body among the still smoking ruins. Doctor Richard Authier explained that he was called to the site to examine a torso with no arms, no legs and no head. Brian Turpin, the fireman who found the body, went on to explain that, in his search, he had found a small metal box and a paten near where the body had been found. A paten is a plate usually made of precious metal and used to carry the Eucharistic bread. Is this proof that Paul Comtois went back to save the Eucharist? Another explanation is possible.

Paul Comtois led his daughter Mireille and his guests to safety through a small living room located directly in front of the chapel on the second floor of the mansion. He then went back to the passageway and a few seconds later Mireille heard a scream. The body was found on the first floor, under the passageway where he was last seen. When the floor collapsed the content of the chapel also fell to the first floor and it is likely that the sacred objects could have found their way close to the body.

Conrad Soucy the night watchman was then interrogated and he confirmed having started work at 10:30 p.m. and seeing the Lieutenant-governor, his wife and guests arriving at 11:30 p.m. He then explained that shortly after, just before midnight, he heard a sound coming from the entrance hall; he immediately went to investigate and saw that there were flames everywhere in the cloakroom. He also noticed on the floor what looked like burning paper. He immediately went up the staircase to advise the Governor but he was not in his room. He saw that the fire was climbing the main stairway and went to Mrs. Comtois’s room. She was there and wanted to search for her husband. He took her and led her outside using the staff staircase. He never saw Mr. Comtois or Mireille.

The next witness, Roland Guillemette, the night watchman responsible for all the premises outside the living quarters confirmed that in his last tour of the premises (between 11:30 and 12:00 p.m.) he had not seen anything unusual. His tour included the basement where he checked the 3 furnaces. He admitted that the cold rooms located near the furnaces were never checked although his tour brought him past them.

The next witnesses were other employees who were asked to testify about their actions and what they had seen during the event; Marcel Guillemette, the assistant maître d’hôtel, confirmed that the exterior light in front of the cold-storage unit was burnt. The night watchman was called back and was questioned further about the burning paper he thought he had seen on the floor of the hallway; he was asked if what he had seen might have been burning curtains. He could not tell. For having visited Bois-de-Coulonge a number of times, I wonder if a plausible explanation could have been the silk wallpaper that covered the walls in the hallway and along the stairs leading to the second floor. That silk wallpaper could have been mistakenly taken for the “burning paper”. That possibility was never raised during the inquiry.

There is no doubt that the coroner is attempting to corroborate the fire investigator’s conclusion to the effect that the fire was started by an electrical problem. On another front, the testimony by the fireman who found the paten and small box near the body seems to give credence to the theory that Paul Comtois went back to save the Eucharist. I remain a sceptic. The newspapers I consulted and the coroner’s report date back 50 years. Only this year did I find out what was in the small box.

My last blog on the subject will be published on Wednesday, December 14, 2016.

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