The odd criminal saga of a scion of the Canadian establishment, and his mysterious girlfriend

NICHOLAS KÖHLER December 12 2005


The odd criminal saga of a scion of the Canadian establishment, and his mysterious girlfriend

NICHOLAS KÖHLER December 12 2005



The odd criminal saga of a scion of the Canadian establishment, and his mysterious girlfriend


As federal agent Tom Depenbrock approached San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge on his way to work one morning in October, he heard a man’s voice crackling over the news talk station on his car radio. It was some guy named Clarkson— Stephen Clarkson, a Canadian political science prof—discussing the Iraq war. “Clarkson,” thought Depenbrock. “Hmmm. Must be a common name in Canada.”

The previous day, an investigation led by Depenbrock’s team with the U. S. Diplomatic LT> Security Service, a branch of the State Depart-

^ ment that deals with passport fraud, had led T to the arrest in Florida of a Canadian fugitive

Q named Christopher John Clarkson, 59, a man

in linked to the notorious bank robbers known ^ as the Stopwatch Gang. On trial for conspir¡¡j acy to import cocaine in 1976, that Clarkson ^ had jumped bail and fled Ottawa, winding 2 up in the U.S. under a new identity. By the


time of his arrest 30 years later, friends and neighbours in Weston, Fla.—an affluent suburb tucked between Miami and Fort Lauderdale—knew him as successful commercial real estate agent Stephen Willis Duffy. His second wife, Janice Caron, a psychologist, was shocked when agents arrested him at work. “His mother did come and visit him—and she was from Canada,” the woman told authorities, trying to make sense of it.

Little did Depenbrock know that Stephen Clarkson, the man on his radio that morning, was indeed the captured man’s kin—his uncle, in fact. In Christopher Clarkson, the U.S. agents had stumbled across a scion of one of Canada’s most prominent establishment families, a bright, well-educated man who was, for a time, a nephew by marriage to Adrienne Clarkson, the former governor general. Nor did Depenbrock know the full story: of a love affair that, three decades earlier, had led two

young people from Ottawa—a would-be gangster with literary aspirations and a beautiful, dark-haired French-Canadian—to disappear first to South America, then the American underground, where they lived hidden behind the names of two dead children.

Clarkson, 28 years old when his trial began, seemed an unlikely coke importer. A journalism-school graduate and the son of a decorated military man, he grew up on bases around the world before settling into an upper-middle-class Ottawa existence. “Chris gave the impression of somebody well-bred, well-educated, a man about town—a young man on his way up,” said a defence lawyer who worked his drug trial. “He thought he was a savoir-faire boy,” recalled Peter Carisse, a retired OPP officer. “Very self-confident and a little cocky.” And why not? The Clarkson family, with its business tycoons and academics, helped establish the Clarkson Gordon accounting firm (long since subsumed into Ernst & Young), a bastion of the Canadian elite. Nor was his father, Col. John Clarkson, an ordinary man. On Dec. 23,1943, as part of the Italian campaign, the 48th Highlanders had pushed two kilometres into enemy territory when they found themselves under attack. A record of the incident says Clarkson, then a lieutenant, ran across miles of German-ridden territory for the help that would save his comrades. That earned him a military cross and prompted Charles Comfort, the war artist, to paint his portrait. “In the United States, he would be called a war hero,” said Stephen Clarkson. “We don’t use the word much, do we?”

Yet the Clarkson family is no stranger to controversy. They have suffered rifts—Stephen’s children were for years estranged from their mother, Adrienne. There has also been ignominy: in 1993, Edmonton police charged Geoffrey Clarkson, a millionaire professor and Stephen’s older brother, in connection with the bizarre case of photographer Con Boland, who was doused with sulphuric acid and claimed to have been injected with HIV-laced blood. The charges, which also implicated Geoffrey Clarkson’s lover, Marilyn Tan, an ex of Boland’s, were later dropped. In 1974, the

‘He had a great-looking girlfriend he left behind,’ said one lawyer. But that wasn’t quite true.

year Christopher Clarkson allegedly flew to the Caribbean to cinch a coke deal, his father John, the war hero, took his own life. “He left no note,” said Stephen Clarkson, John’s brother. “We could never figure out the reason.” Christopher Clarkson’s trials began the morning of Tues., March 4,1975, when police raided his home outside Aylmer, Que., near Ottawa, and charged him with conspiracy to import cocaine. A search of his home uncovered a used plane ticket to Miami, a gun and, reportedly, his passport slipped beneath a rug. Within a year, he would go on trial alongside three men whose names now recall some of the strangest moments in Canadian crime: Patrick Mitchell, the larger-than-life Ottawa character who later led the Stopwatch Gang on a string of well-oiled bank heists across the United States, all committed in under 90 seconds; his partner Lionel Wright, called the Ghost for his silence and pale skin; and Thomas Harrigan, the son of an Ottawa bookie whose past scrapes with the law included questioning by L.A. police in the 1969 Sharon Tate murders, later attributed to the Manson Family.

Federal prosecutors said that in the spring of1974, Clarkson and Harrigan travelled to Curaçao, in the Netherlands Antilles, and wrapped four kilos of coke—worth $1 million in 1976—in an odoriferous llama-skin rug for shipment to Ottawa International Airport. Mitchell, prosecutors said, had

financed the deal with money from a daring gold robbery orchestrated a month earlier at the same airport, where an accomplice tipped police off to it all.

The trial was something of a carnival. Mitchell and Wright, denied bail, nevertheless ate lunches from the best restaurants in Ottawa, delivered by Mitchell’s friends. Clarkson, meanwhile, sat in the prisoner’s box writing notes on the proceedings. Beyond the bagged coke that sat in the courtroom as evidence, Clarkson—a sharp dresser with green eyes and long blond hair—could look

out at his girlfriend, Martha Annette LeTourneau, a great beauty who sat in the gallery most every day drawing covetous stares from the other men in the courtroom. After a day’s proceedings, Clarkson, Harrigan and LeTourneau would join the defence lawyers across the street at the Albion Hotel, where they drank with police and prosecutors, blurring the order of the court.


An Arizona man was arrested for running onto Lincoln Financial Field during a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers. He was seen scattering a mysterious powder from a plastic bag. The dust turned out to be the ashes of his late mother, a huge Eagles fan. As he crossed the 30-yard line, he knelt, made the sign of the cross, and lay down on the field. He was tackled by security guards and charged with defiant trespass.

The day of Clarkson’s escape, the four defence lawyers had retired to the Albion for lunch. Clarkson and Harrigan arrived also and sat at a nearby table, where they began to receive a procession of friends. Lunch soon bled into early evening. As the night wound down, the pair approached the table where the lawyers sat and shook their hands. It was the last they would see of them. When neither man appeared again for trial the judge, in an unprecedented move, elected to try them anyway, in absentia. A month later, with four findings of guilt, they received 20 years in jail; Mitchell and Wright, earning a break for time served, got 16. Before long, the jailed men too escaped custody and fled to the U.S., forming the Stopwatch Gang.

Stories of the fugitives abounded—that Mitchell still slipped back into Ottawa for meals at his favourite restaurants, or that Clarkson was a lawyer in California. But as time wore on, each man—one by one—reappeared in police custody (Mitchell remains today in an American jail). Only Clarkson was at large, with police intelligence placing him

in the late ’70s in Florida and South America, still allegedly importing coke. During one encounter in Colombia, he is said to have received a gunshot wound to the foot. And still the trial lawyers in Ottawa joked among themselves about the cost of Clarkson’s illicit freedom. “He had a great-looking girl□ friend he left behind,” one lawyer, lamenting s

LeTourneau, said. But as authorities later * discovered, Clarkson did not leave Martha LeTourneau behind that winter in 1976.

Christopher Clarkson’s life as 6l-year-old Stephen Willis Duffy began to unravel in June 2005. As part of a post-Sept. 11 push to investigate false identities, Special Agent Dan Glick of the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service had started work on a list of names provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles—individuals who’d been issued driver’s licences but who were also listed as dead with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. One was Duffy. The real Duffy was born in Seattle, Wash., in 1944 and drowned in his family’s swimming pool in L.A. four years later. But a

social security card had nevertheless been issued in his name in 1971, then a series of passports. Criminal databases showed that police in L.A. had arrested one Stephen Willis Duffy on Dec. 26,1991, charging him with battery (authorities say he got into a shoving match with another man at a Christmas party).

But LBI records showed too that on Jan. 5, 1968, police in Daytona Beach, Lia., had arrested a man with matching fingerprints for disorderly conduct. His name, he told police then, was Chris John Elliott Clarkson, born April 20,1946, in Canada. Glick called through to the RCMP. Nothing came up. “I don’t know how many RCMP guys we went through in different provinces before we finally got an idea that this guy might be even just wanted,” said Glick. The problem was, young Clarkson had given the arresting officer in Llorida a false birthday and his father’s middle name. To the RCMP database, the bad information meant nothing. But Glick kept hounding the Canadians. Eventually, an officer recognized the Clarkson name and sent down his fingerprints. They matched those of Stephen Willis Duffy, Llorida real estate agent. “He had hoodwinked everyone he came in contact with—they thought he was a nice, quiet guy,” said Depenbrock, special agent in charge in San Lrancisco. “He just got a little too comfortable in his situation.”

On Oct. 18, the day of Clarkson’s arrest, Glick flew to Los Angeles and walked into a travel agency to question Catherine Ann Duffy, his ex-wife. “She was shocked—she didn’t believe her husband was involved in any of these activities,” said Special Agent Lando Sales, who accompanied Glick. But in the interim, investigators discovered that the woman’s identity was fake and, like Clarkson’s, also based on a dead child. When two days later Sales returned to the travel agency

to arrest her, she admitted she was Martha Annette LeTourneau, and was “apologetic, co-operative”—and repentant. “She said she was stupid, young and in love,” Sales said.

Under questioning, LeTourneau told them how she’d left Ottawa with Clarkson for South America, where, she now claims, he supported her for four years as a construction worker. In the late ’70s, they moved to L.A., where he handed her a new identity as Catherine Ann Duffy, née Evans. They had a daughter, now 23, who authorities say was unaware of her parents’ past. Prior to their divorce in the mid’90s, Clarkson opened an unsuccessful restau-

rant. Then he left for Llorida, beginning yet another life with second wife Janice Caron.

Stephen Clarkson, who says he knew of his nephew’s daughter, told Maclean ’s Christopher had kept in touch with his immediate family over the years, but that no one has talked to him since his arrest. Both Christopher Clarkson and LeTourneau now face as many as 10 years in jail for passport fraud, and at some point will likely be deported as illegal aliens back to Canada, where Clarkson still has a 20-year sentence hanging over him. Someday, the prodigal son will come home—albeit to a Canadian prison cell. M