Canada

‘Better dead,’ the killer said. ‘Much,’ the widow agreed

ANGELA FERRANTE April 19 1976
Canada

‘Better dead,’ the killer said. ‘Much,’ the widow agreed

ANGELA FERRANTE April 19 1976

‘Better dead,’ the killer said. ‘Much,’ the widow agreed

For 38-year-old Thomas Allaire, the debate on capital punishment becomes a personal and particular matter. A meager man with paper-white hands and faded blue eyes, he is serving a life sentence for killing Robert Cody, a young armored-truck guard, in an Ottawa holdup in 1970. Just 20 years ago the killing would have meant almost certain death on the gallows for Allaire. But as the law now stands, he could be free on parole in five years, after serving a decade in prison. Soon, federal legislation may remove hanging entirely. Thirtytwo-year-old Judith Cody, left alone to care for three small children, seethes at the thought of that happening. “With every murderer, I think there is something odd,” she says angrily. “Capital punishment is the.only thing that will stop them from doing something stupid.”

In a tiny grey cubicle inside Millhaven maximum security prison, Allaire doesn’t offer any excuses. Killing is the worst thing

a man can do, he agrees. But there is always another side to every story, and he tells it just for the record. From the beginning, Thomas Allaire was one of society’s losers. When he was seven, his mother left home and he and his two sisters were shipped off to orphanages until an aunt took them in. He remembers the beatings and drinking and the fact his father was intimate with his aunt. His younger sister was raped by a boarder when she was nine and his older sister married young, just to get away. In Hull, Quebec, where he grew up, he fell in with tavern conspiracies to “score” but soon became the comic bungling criminal. At 20, when he stole his first car, he accidentally rammed into a polie car. He was twice caught red-handed while trying to rob a television store. Once, when he was trying to sell a stolen coin collection, he accepted the dealer’s invitation to return in the afternoon, only to find the police waiting for him. By 1969, he had spent eight years in prison. “When parole arrived, I never applied. I had no job, no place to go. I didn’t want to go out and just come back,” he says. When he was let out the last time from Kingston Penitentiary, he added up the tiny tragedies of his life and figured: “The world owes me something.”

The “big job” was well planned. The getaway car, stolen two weeks before, was carrying stolen license plates and heavy tire chains for snow. He and his “friend” had visited the Miracle Mart on Carling Avenue in Ottawa several times, and knew the routine of the two guards from Industrial & Domestic Protection Co., who came for the day’s receipts. At 3 p.m. on December 12, Allaire, his face covered by a turtleneck, pushed a gun into a guard’s neck and slammed him against a wall. The gun fired. Although it was barely audible in the din of Christmas shopping, people turned to look just as Allaire’s mask slipped. The accomplice grabbed the fallen bags, containing $39,000, and they both ran. The expense of keeping underground in Montreal forced Allaire into a bank robbery with four others in April, but he was arrested shortly afterwards. “I didn’t go in there meaning to kill anybody,” Allaire still says. “I wasn’t made for violence.” Allaire’s route through the prison system is common for the habitual criminal. At first, he says, he had only his liberty to lose, and that wasn’t worth much. But he found himself becoming more aggressive as time passed and planning his next crime even before parole came around.

The prison system offered little incentive for change. “It’s just a warehouse here. They put someone here and forget him,” he says. Two years ago Allaire decided that change had to come from within, and he started his slow return to society. He began to work regularly at leathercraft and has saved several thousand dollars. Allaire says he could never have changed without the hope of eventual release. The law now before Parliament, which would replace the death penalty with a minimum 25-year sentence for capital murder, is “impossible,” he says. “If a guy does 25 years, he’ll be a vegetable. If you tell me to do that or take the rope, I’d take the rope. It’s not the law that must change, it’s the system.” Judith Cody never remarried. When her husband died, she got a $50,000 life insurance policy and $1,374, plus legal and medical expenses, from the Ontario Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. “But no amount of money can bring him back,” ! she says. “I’m still alone. You don’t find men like that again.” She is afraid now, too. Afraid to send her kids to school alone because of all the “creeps” around. Afraid the murderer will be given a new life while her husband’s was robbed forever. She doesn’t want to know what kind of a man Allaire is, or anything else about him. “He can rot in there as far as I’m concerned. It’s an eye for an eye.”

ANGELA FERRANTE