The seeds of murder were sown long ago in Clarence Brousseau’s brain; they flowered into baleful brilliance one night in June

McKENZIE PORTER September 15 1949


The seeds of murder were sown long ago in Clarence Brousseau’s brain; they flowered into baleful brilliance one night in June

McKENZIE PORTER September 15 1949


The seeds of murder were sown long ago in Clarence Brousseau’s brain; they flowered into baleful brilliance one night in June


ONA sultry Saturday night last June Clarence Brousseau, besieged by 100 police in his frame house at 687 Lome Street, Sudbury, slew three men, wounded four others, then turned his hunting rifle on himself.

Just five hours before, the grizzled, craggy, taciturn, 47-year-old pipefitter had been a rational, apparently harmless member of a union delegation discussing some minor business in a lawyer’s office.

Why then did this unremarkable man—who might have been a neighbor of yours surrender himself to tragic passion simply because his wife didn’t want him to take their two boys fishing?

In search of the answer to this riddle I went to Sudbury to reconstruct the story of Clarence Brousseau’s life. In this unhappy background I found the seeds of murder.

What, happened to Brousseau might happen to

any man who surrenders himself completely to an obsession. Brousseau’s obsession was hunting. Since his boyhood days in the pine woods of Northern Ontario he had wanted to be a hunter. Instead he found he had to work in an acid plant in an industrial city where sulphur fumes replaced the scent of the hemlock. Finally, his sorely frayed reason snapped.

The frustrated hunter ended his days hunting the greatest quarry of all man. Even in his last hour, when he must have sensed impending death, he [licked off policemen from hundreds of surrounding spectators with a sniper’s accuracy, yet left unharmed a priest who administered sacred rites to a victim not 10 yards from the muzzle of his gun.

His whole life follows the pattern of the would-be hunter. As a boy of 12 he shot his first deer through the heart at 50 yards. As a youth he planned to

be a guide in the woods, but the depression excluded this as a full-time job. He collected boats and fishing tackle and guns (including the old BSA rifle with which he ended his life) as other men collect stamps. On week ends he headed for the bush. And, though he was too old to serve in the war, he dressed himself up as a soldier, had his picture taken and nurtured the fiction that he had been an army sniper.

A psychiatrist who knows the Brousseau story says that he showed the symptoms of a paranoid personality. This is a disorder of the mind which leaves the patient rational but subjects him to delusions of grandeur and makes him suspicious of those around him. According to the British Encyclopedia of Medical Practice the paranoid’s “morbid beliefs are seldom an abrupt recent development”; it notes that there is usually a wide gap between the patient’s own self-esteem and ambition on one hand and his actual achievements and reputation on the other. It adds that “a series of humiliations and rebuffs . . . may often be traced . . . from childhood onward.”

A Spat Started a Tragedy

THE tragic Brousseau story reached its climax at 10 p.m. that Saturday June 18 when police charged the bullet-raked house and found Brousseau dead and empty of blood on the kitchen floor, the dog he loved whimpering over him. He had drilled one round through his neck, under his chin, yet remained conscious. He had reloaded while still standing and killed himself by placing the weapon against his abdomen, leaning over the muzzle and pressing the trigger with his thumb.

His wife Olive, who had taken shelter next door with their two sons, Clarence, 10, and Milburn, 7, swooned when she heard of the epilogue to the domestic row. She was taken a few yards down the street to the home of one of her brothers, Ronald Rollins.

Earlier Rollins had taken Mrs. Brousseau’s side in the family spat which touched off the tragedy. When Brousseau, after acting strangely, tried to set off on a fishing trip (packing a shotgun) in the early evening, Mrs. Brousseau had feared for the boys’ safety. Rollins agreed that the boys should not go. His intervention precipitated a tussle over a 12-bore gun—which went off—and the arrival of the police.

In the two - hour gun battle which followed, Brousseau exacted this toll from those who, in his insanity, he believed were his persecutors:

KILLED: P.C. Edward Terrell, P.C. Gerard

Dault, James Germa.

WOUNDED: Sgt. Lloyd Hanwell, David McKenny, Ontario (Red) Venturi, W. J. Pellerin.

Clarence Brousseau was born in the hamlet of Nairn, 35 miles west of Sudbury on the road to Sault Ste. Marie. Nairn lies in the fork above the conflux of the Spanish and Vermilion Rivers. The sturne from these floods, which swarm With pickerel, bass and trout, jewels tall pines reaching back for hundreds of miles into a lake-studded hinterland s£hel tering the movement of bears, wôlves, beavers, deer and moose.

Brousseau had four brothers and three sisters.

Their mother, descended from British stock, was an Anglican. She must have been the dominating parent for she broke a long-standing tradition and brought up the children in her faith instead of in the Roman Catholic creed of her husband.

Brousseau senior was a French Canadian with a bronze skin and high cheekbones. He was a harness maker. The coming of the automobile, however, drove him out of his saddlery onto the roads to sweat out a living. He was poor.

As a boy Clarence Brousseau often ranged the forests at his father’s heels and brought back venison, fish and fowl for the family table. At 12 he shot his first buck when the beast was in full gallop before hounds. At 14 he bagged his first moose, threw down his rifle in disgust, said, “It’s like shooting a horse!”

In his teens he went with three of his brothers to the nickel mines at Sudbury. The city, so near his own bailiwick, may have shocked him. If he could have seen it from the air he would have noticed that it looked like the ashes of a bonfire in the middle of a meadow.

For 10 miles around sulphur fumes from the giant smelters seared the rock of all vegetation. This left a heaving, jagged wilderness, barren to the eye and heavy on the mind. Even today, now that tall stacks throw the fumes clear of the city and most houses shine bright against sombre background, there is often an acrid choke in the air.

But though things have improved since Brousseau first went to Sudbury, for many of the tough miners life there is still a matter of work, women and liquor.

Brousseau must have compared unfavorably these aspects of civilization with the simpler pleasure that was to be found on the lakes of Whitewater, Ministic, Weequed and Fairbank.

In the Woods, his Aim True

In his early 20’s he would sometimes drink 12 pints of beer to forget Sudbury. For a while he forgot the bush. He said to a friend: “I don’t go for

that bush stuff any more. Give me a bottle of beer instead.”

He escaped for a time to seek his fortune in the mines of northern Manitoba. But 18 years ago the depression drove him back to Sudbury. He got a job as a pipe-fitter in the Copper Cliff plant of Canadian Industries Ltd. This factory sucks a small percentage of the sulphur out of the International Nickel Company’s smelters, passes it through retorts, distills it into acid.

Brousseau told his brother Art, who now keeps a cluster of hunters’ cabins at Nairn, that when he first took the job one whiff of the fumes would send him reeling and retching out of the plant.

Later he said he got used to the gases and they no longer shook him. But he believed they were getting at him slowly. He complained of “a lump of charcoal burning out my guts.” His workmates thought this an exaggeration. The CIL plant was known for its cleanliness and safety. Many men who worked in the nickel veins 5,000

feet below envied Brousseau his job.

He went on drinking. In 1930 Art persuaded him to start hunting and fishing again to keep his drinking down. The bush soon recaptured Brousseau. He spent most of his free time with Ins brother in the woods. He became a magnificent shot.

Twelve years ago he married Olive Rollins. Neighbors say she was always an excellent wife to him. She is a toll, grey-haired, well-built woman in her late 40’s.

Brousseau worked energetically to provide for a family. Latterly he averaged $60 a week. He paid for his house, today worth around $6,000. He gave his wife tasteful furniture. The kitchen was equipped with a $600 refrigerator, an expensive electric stove and a modern sink. Hardwood flooring was installed throughout. Although the exterior remained shabby white clapboard the interior shone under Mrs. Brousseau’s duster like a hospital waiting room.

True they let an upstairs room to a couple. But this was the Sudbury idea of social service when rooms were hard to get. There was no social stigma attached to it.

Kept in Town, He Drank

Brousseau was not hard up. He owned two cars, a 1940 Pontiac for general purposes and a model A Ford bought specifically for hunting on account of its high clearance. He also owned a boat, a canoe and two outboard motors. He had several rods and reels worth $50 apiece, a good shotgun, and the old BSA rifle which killed him.

He worked so well he attracted the eye of the plant superintendent, E. H. Jordan. Brousseau’s chums said he was earmarked for promotion to foreman.

But at week ends the first thing he thought of was fleeing to the bush. Mrs. Brousseau occasionally reproached him for leaving her and the two boys during his only free time. But Brousseau would get into his Model A and leave.

Once when she persuaded him to stay at home over a week end Brousseau went out and got drunk. During a quarrel when he returned he struck her. She called in her brother, Ronald Rollins, from two doors away. Rollins restored order. Brousseau went to bed muttering.

Toward the end of the war he was uncomfortable in the presence of soldiers. When they started talking about shooting Germans, Brousseau turned the talk to the shooting of buck.

Mrs. Brousseau was proud of her two brothers who were in the army and hung in the house a photo of them in uniform. Whereupon Brousseau, who was too young for the 1914 war and too old for the 1939 war, did an odd thing. He donned a diced Glengarry and battle dress belonging to a nephew and had his picture taken. Sometimes he would show this around. Among people who did not know him well a widespread belief developed that he had served in the army as a sniper. Brousseau did not discourage this.

A friend says: “He got the idea that people were criticizing him for not being in the army. He had no need to worry at his age. But it was a sore point with him.”

It became clear to some people that Brousseau felt inferior to most men in the city. He was only at ease with hunters who knew his qualities. One day as he drove away he was seen to shake his fist at the city.

Gradually he began to avoid Sudbury folk. He became morose. He told one storekeeper: “Too many

people in this town are watching me.” He would come home from the plant complaining of the fumes and moaning because he had not been promoted.

Often this became the excuse for a few days hunting and fishing. His wife wanted him to be more sociable, to go visiting and to receive guests. But he bucked at this. He didn’t like reading. And he didn’t like the radio.

He didn’t drink a lot but just enough to become churlish when the effects were wearing off. Several times Mrs. Brousseau had to call in her brother to make Brousseau stop beating her.

He was a good father to his sons. But most of his talk with them was about hunting and fishing. Sometimes Mrs. Brousseau caught him teaching them how to hold a rifle correctly. She didn’t like it.

About two years ago a neighbor shot himself a few yards away from the Brousseau home. Clarence Brousseau was one of the first to find the body. When he saw it he fainted. The next day he was twitted about his collapse. How was it, asked one of his acquaintances, that a great sniper would faint at the sight of a dead man?

Brousseau rushed away and drove out to Nairn. He stayed for several weeks with his brother Art. Some mornings he would be friendly with his brother. On other occasions he would snarl at him. But the longer he spent at Nairn, the more fishing he put in, the more relaxed he became.

Art Brousseau says: “When he was in the bush he became sort of quiet and at peace with himself. But when he was in Sudbury it seemed like the devil got into him.”

Brousseau’s absence from the CIL plant was felt. E. H. Jordan drove especially out to Nairn to persuade him ! to return to work. From this time on Brousseau gave his wife an anxious ! time.

Within a few months he had gone j out into the street and attracted a small j crowd by making a loud speech against j Freemasons. Soon afterward he delivered a similar public attack on Orangemen.

A few weeks before his death he told his wife that a clique was blackballing him. When she said she did not understand him he became angry and started to attack her. Along came her brother to her defense. By this time Brousseau had not exchanged a civil word with his brother-in-law for three years.

The Start: a Shotgun Blast

At 7 on the morning of fateful June 18 Brousseau ate a breakfast of bacon and eggs in silence. Mrs. Brousseau didn’t like the way he looked. When he had gone to work she learned from her boys that their dad had promised to take them fishing. Mrs. Brousseau didn’t think her husband was in a fit condition to be trusted with them.

Leaving his work at midday Brousseau had several beers with some of his friends. He told them he was off fishing. But instead of going immediately he decided to accompany them to the lawyer’s office of J. E. LaCoureiere on some business connected with the Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers of which he was a member.

Brousseau was next noticed by one of his wife’s brothers. This man was driving past the Brousseau home to work in the Frood mine at about 4 p.m. He saw Brousseau sitting alone and j looking moody in his Pontiac on the front drive.

j At half past six Brousseau had still not touched his supper of meat pies, cheese, apples and milk which lay on the kitchen table. Around 7.30 he collected his two boys and his fishing gear. Mrs. Brousseau was disturbed by two things. Brousseau was using

the Pontiac instead of the usual Model A. And among his kit he included a shotgun though game was out of season. Mrs. Brousseau told police later she feared her husband might be going to shoot the boys.

Determined he should not depart she summoned Ronald Rollins. When Brousseau saw Rollins he roared and sprang out of the car brandishing the shotgun. Rollins twisted the gun out of Brousseau’s hand and it went off during the struggle.

The boys began to cry. Mrs. Brousseau got them out of the car and shepherded them to a neighbor’s apartment above the Hamilton Electric Company’s showroom next door.

Rollins told Brousseau that unless he cooled off the police would be called. Brousseau snarled: “If you bring any cops here Fll blow the daylights out of the whole darn gang of them.” Then he vanished into the house, yelling something about getting his rifle. From an apartment over the electrical showroom Rollins called the police.

The time was 7.52. A knot of neighbors gathered on the sidewalk.

Within two minutes two police cruisers contacted by radio pulled up outside No. 687 Lome Street. They contained Sgt. Hanwell, and Constables Rochon, Terrell and Dault. While Hanwell was instructing Terrell and Dault to enter by the front door as he and Rochon went round to the back, a shot rang out from the front window. Terrell jackknifed in the front garden with a bullet through his chest.

The neighbors scattered. Rochon and Dault took cover behind Brousseau’s car. Hanwell sprinted to the rear of the house. Before he turned the corner to approach the back porch he poked his revolver round cautiously.

A rifle bullet nicked his wrist and he dropped his weapon. Picking it up he returned to the front.

Rochon was covering the house from behind the car. Dault had gone round to adjacent Byng Street to clear it of neighbors who were gawking and offering Brousseau easy targets. Hanwell dashed up into the Hamilton Electric Building to get an over-all view of the Brousseau home. As he was looking through a window Brousseau fired a third shot.

One hundred yards up Byng Street, which runs at right angles to Lome Street and can be seen from the Brousseau back windows, Dault was picked off from scores of neighbors by a bullet which passed through his right eye. The shot had been fired through foliage, by a man used to shooting at game in the woods.

A Body in the Gutter

This was no drunk against whom the law was manoeuvring. It was surely a maniac. But his brain, hands and eyes were steady enough for lethal accuracy over filed-down rifle sights.

By this time a third police cruiser carrying Det. Greenfield arrived. One of the Byng Street residents called an ambulance from Barnard’s Funeral Parlor. This came screaming along Lome Street with Alfred Dawson at the wheel and David McKenny alongside. Greenfield rode up Byng Street on the step toward Dault’s body.

As the three men were trying to lift Dault into the ambulance Brousseau pumped three shots into McKenny. McKenny ran bleeding into an adjacent house and survived. Greenfield flattened and crawled to shelter. Dawson roared the ambulance out of the firing line with the rear doors still swinging

open and bullets thudding into the interior.

Dault’s body remained in the gutter.

Back at police headquarters Chief Jack McLaren, an army veteran in his late 30’s, called in all off-duty officers. Many turned up in civilian clothes. McLaren applied for the assistance of Inspector Wilkinson of the Ontario Provincial Police who responded and supplied rifles. The RCMP were also asked to help. A number of the International Nickel Company’s police joined the posse.

About 100 police of these various forces converged on the Brousseau home about 8.20. Up to this time the half-dozen officers surrounding the house had been replying to Brousseau’s fire with revolvers, which are accurate only at short range.

Brousseau could have been smoked out earlier if Sudbury police had been equipped with a gas bomb projector. This is like a heavy - bore shotgun which will hurl a container 75 yards. Chief McLaren said in his report later: “Although the best of equipment would not have saved Terrell and Dault ... a proper gas gun would have ended this affair possibly before I arrived.”

As it was Brousseau came under a steady fusillade of rifle and shotgun fire. One bystander says: “You could tell from the way Brousseau was firing back that them bullets ripping into his home was getting him madder and madder.”

Unauthorized civilians joined in the barrage. It was impossible to control the fire. After a while nobody could distinguish Brousseau’s fire from that of his besiegers.

Excitement spread through the district. Sudbury telephone wires crackled with calls to friends from people living near the scene: “We’ve a gun fight right on our doorstep!” Traffic began to move toward Lome Street. Stores closed down so the proprietors could go out to watch. The movie houses were half empty. All the customers in one beverage room quit in a body for the scene.

In restaurants waiters tuned the radio to Sudbury CKSO which was broadcasting a running commentary. This was so vivid—records are still played in Sudbury homes that customers could no longer stand secondhand information and left to join the crowds surging along Lome Street.

Hysterics in the Press

Estimates place the number of spectators at between 3,000 and 5,000. Hundreds lay behind the embanked railroad running past Brousseau’s front door parallel wit h Lome Street,. Police stopped all traffic. Eastward-bound cars were blocked halfway back to Copper Cliff, seven miles distant. It was impossible to drive out of Sudbury westward. Streetcar drivers sat on the steps of their halted vehicles smoking cigarettes.

There was a feeling of danger and death in the city. You could hear the firing inside the Nickel Range Hotel, a mile away. Once Brousseau whipped open his back door and made defiant gestures.

An onlooker says: “Brousseau could have shot scores of civilians, women and kids too. But he concentrated on the cops.” These, obviously, were the real prey in Brousseau’s mind.

About 8.20, just as Chief McLaren arrived, Sgt. Han well came down from the apartment above the electrical showroom. He found about 15 men peeping round the corner at No. 687, not 10 yards from Brousseau’s ramparts. Hanwell ordered them to safety round the far side of the building.

One of these men was 57-year-old James (ferma, a long-standing friend of Clarence Brousseau’s. Germa argued that he should be allowed to go into the house where, he said, he was sure he could quieten Brousseau. Hanwell refused him permission. Continuing his argument (ferma stepped for a fraction of a second a foot beyond cover. He fell dead with a bullet through the nape of his neck. Significantly he was wearing blue pants and shirt and police type suspenders.

Brousseau was running from room to room. It was never certain from which window his next shot would come.

By 9 police were firing from behind the embankment, from (he roofs of the electrical building and the Northern Ski Factory behind Brousseau’s home, from adjacent houses and gardens. The unauthorized firing increased. No. 687 began to look like a colander.

Don Delaplante of the Toronto Telegram wrote hysterically: “In that hell heroes were born—and heroes died. It was a nightmare I can never forget.”

Cracked one Sudbury man, a former infantry company commander: “If it had taken me so long to get one German out of a wooden house, and if I’d suffered so many casualties in doing it, I’d have got a court martial.”

At the height of the gunplay Father H. R. Brennan of Our Lady of Perpetual Help walked into Brousseau’s front yard and administered the last rites to Constable Terrell who had lain (here for more than an hour. Later when he was asked didn’t he think he was running a big risk the priest replied quietly: “Of course not.”

Brousseau continued to snipe over the priest’s head at other targets. W. J. Pe.llerin and Ontario (Red) Venturi, among the more curious watchers, were hit by ricochets.

Chief McLaren determined there should be no more deaths. He threatened with suspension 13 officers who wanted to rush the house. McLaren himself threw a tear gas homb into the house from the roof of the electricity building. Part of the contents splashed back and burned his shirt off. Most of the gas seeped inside No. 687.

When it was nearly 10 and darkness promised added difficulties Chief McLaren and Sgt. Wilson, covered with rifle fire by Det. Watkins, risking more shots from their own side than from Brousseau, dashed into the front garden and threw tear gas bombs into both front windows.

Then they made a zig-zag run to the rear. There they met Constable Cummings who had reached the

objective on his own from the back staggering out of the kitchen door, coughing from the fumes.

Brousseau, he said, was dead.

Sudbury coroner Dr. Gilles Desmarais said Brousseau had been dead 20 minutes. Powder burns ringed his self-inflicted wounds. His beloved spaniel Topsy, who had been with him throughout the siege, whimpered over his body. Brousseau’s shirt and pants were so wet with sweat he looked as if he had been in the river. He was steaming like a fresh-killed stag.

Phone Call to the Dead

All over the house was a trail of blood from grazes on Brousseau’s body. The polished floors were splashed with sweat.

Outside a great shout went up. “They’ve got him!”

The multitude moved on the house.

Three hundred people packed themselves into the tiny garden. “Don’t break the fences,” a neighbor shouted plaintively. “We’ll have to pay for them.” Souvenir hunters removed spent bullets from the cupboard.

A white-coated boy wriggled among them crying “Ice cream! Get your ice cream here!”

Inside the telephone rang. A reporter standing in a pool of Brousseau’s blood answered it. A voice said: “Is that you Clarence?” “No,” said the

reporter, adding curiously: “What do you want with Clarence?” The voice replied: “I want to speak to him.” The reporter said: “I’m sorry you can’t. Clarence is dead.” The caller hung up.

Crowds surrounded the house all night and all the following Sunday.

A few days later Brousseau was buried out at Nairn at the scene of his boyhood memories, near the base of his many hunting trips. Among the pallbearers was his boss, E. H. Jordan.

On the third Sunday after the shooting, concerts in three Sudbury cinemas raised several thousand dollars for the bereaved police families; a brewery company came through with a $1,000 cheque. A Baptist women’s organization raised $100 for Mrs. Brousseau, bringing the total of a private collection to around $800.

On the Monday morning after these concerts Mrs. Brousseau, who with her two sons had taken up residence again in No. 687, calmly hung out the washing.

Brousseau’s brother Alf said: “Clarence always wanted to bring them kids up to be great hunters. But I figure they’re gonna be city slickers from now on.” ★