Canada

To hell and back

GRAHAM FRASER November 14 1977
Canada

To hell and back

GRAHAM FRASER November 14 1977

To hell and back

Canada

SHERBROOKE

On October 27, a shaking, sobbing Charles Marion came stumbling out of the woods near Sherbrooke Airport into the arms of his son. Exhausted, bearded and stinking, he bore all the marks of an 82-day ordeal that had made him the central figure in one of Canada’s longest kidnappings.* It began last August when two armed men broke into Marion’s summer cottage. The 57-year-old credit manager of La Caisse Populaire de Sherbrooke Est was dragged off in his own camper. His secretary, Aline Yergeau, staying at the cottage for the weekend, was tied to a toilet bowl. She was found, screaming hysterically, the next day by Marion’s wife, Denise. Police spent three million dollars trying to find him. Twice a ransom was dropped off. Twice kidnappers escaped what seemed a perfect trap, but without their loot. It ended only after the family rounded up $50,000 (well below the original one million demanded by the kidnappers from the credit union).

Marion, in the meantime, had been kept chained in a corner of a basement, left in complete isolation for up to seven days at a time, with no toilet. Once freed, he was whisked off to seclusion in a hospital.

Apart from its extraordinary duration, the Marion kidnapping was full of oddities that quickly made it a drama that was part soap, part cops-and-robbers and part tragedy. At first there was a flurry of messages from the kidnappers, while the credit union and the police tried to lure them into telephone negotiation. On September 2, the kidnappers announced that they were accepting Sherbrooke TV reporter Normand Maltais as go-between to deliver messages and, eventually, the ransom.

* Canada’s longest kidnapping was in 1976, when a 12year-old Port Moody, BC, girl was heldfor 181 days, sexually abused and mentally tortured in an underground cell. British Trade Commissioner James Cross was held for 60 days by his FLQ kidnappers in 1970.

After that, the Marion affair took on the distorted dimension of an event refracted through competing media. The CBC-affiliate, CKSH, a distant second in Sherbrooke behind the Telemedia competition, seized upon the participation of one of its reporters and began its newscasts daily by announcing how long the kidnapping had lasted. It soon became the instrument for the credit union to reply to the kidnappers’ communiqués.

For their part, the kidnappers used Le Journal de Montréal, a particularly sordid tabloid, to put out their messages, once issuing a threat to behead Marion.

Maltais, once a well-known broadcaster and an outlet for FLQ communiqués during the October Crisis, now is guaranteed a job indefinitely in Sherbrooke, and Montreal radio stations are trying to lure him back to the big time.

Although Maltais had been an emissary before, this adventure nonetheless proved a bitter experience. Both the drops were unsuccessful and on the second attempt, suitcases were stuffed with paper instead of money. For Marion and his family, however, the kidnapping stripped open their lives to rumor and speculation. Suggestions were made in the press that Marion had been having an affair with his secretary and had planned his own kidnapping after being passed over for the branch

manager’s job at the credit union. Although the family stoutly denied both charges, questions continue to swirl around them. If Marion was not involved, why did the ransom demand suddenly drop from between $250,000 to $500,000 part way through the negotiations to a mere $50,000 paid by the family and not the credit union? Why did Quebec police repeatedly leak reports that they were convinced of Marion’s involvement? Marion is reportedly trying to sell his story for $250,000, but in keeping with the mystery of the case that may merely lead to more questions.

GRAHAM FRASER