Madame le Corbeau
September 5, 1908
|Died||January 9, 1953
Bordeaux Prison, Montreal, Quebec
|Cause of death||Execution (hanging)|
|Motive||Life insurance money|
|Partner(s)||Albert Guay, Généreux Ruest (both executed)|
|Date||September 9, 1949|
|Location(s)||Cap Tourmente, Quebec|
|Target(s)||Canadian Pacific Air Lines Flight 108|
Marguerite Pitre (5 September 1908 – 9 January 1953), born Marguerite Ruest, also known as Marguerite Ruest-Pitre, was a Canadian conspirator in a mass murder carried out by the bombing of an airliner. The 13th and last woman to be hanged in Canada, she was executed on 9 January 1953 in Montreal, Quebec.
Pitre was born in Saint-Octave-de-Métis, Quebec. She ran a boarding house at Saint-Roch, and became known by her neighbours and later by the press as "Madame le Corbeau" ("Madame Raven") because she always wore black clothes.
Self-described jeweller and watchmaker Albert Guay—although at his trial it was suggested that he was actually a watch and jewellery salesman—was having an extramarital affair with 19-year-old waitress Marie-Ange Robitaille. Marguerite Pitre helped to arrange liaisons between them. Guay decided to murder his wife, the former Rita Morel; after he considered poisoning her, he finally decided to kill her by bombing an airliner on which she was embarked as a passenger. He asked Pitre's brother, clockmaker Généreux Ruest, to manufacture a bomb using dynamite, batteries, and an alarm clock. Pitre purchased the dynamite at a hardware store, claiming it was to be used to clear a field.
On 9 September 1949, Rita Guay was scheduled to board Canadian Pacific Air Lines Flight 108, a Douglas DC-3 aircraft, at L'Ancienne-Lorette, a suburb of Quebec City, Quebec, where it made a scheduled stopover during a flight from Montreal to Baie-Comeau. On the day of the flight, Albert Guay purchased a $10,000 insurance policy on his wife, which he would attempt to collect three days later. Pitre delivered the package containing the bomb to the plane, supposedly for mail delivery, Albert secreted it in Rita's luggage, and Rita boarded the plane for the flight to Baie-Comeau, unaware of the danger.
The flight was delayed five minutes at takeoff; this apparently thwarted Guay's desire to have the explosion take place over the Saint Lawrence River, which would have made forensic examination of the crash impossible with the technology then available to forensic scientists. The bomb instead exploded over Cap Tourmente near Sault-au-Cochon in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, causing the plane to crash and killing Rita Guay and all of the other 22 people on board.
Arrest and trial
Guay was arrested two weeks after the crash and put on trial in February 1950; he was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, and was executed in Montreal on 12 January 1951.
After his conviction, Guay issued a statement, claiming that Ruest and Pitre had knowingly abetted his plans; it has been speculated that Guay's motive in denouncing his accomplices was to buy time to delay his own execution, believing that he would be called to testify at their trials. As a result, Ruest was arrested on 6 June 1950, and Pitre on 14 June 1950. Ruest maintained his innocence, claiming that he thought the bomb was to be used to clear tree stumps from a field. He was tried, with Guay testifying against him, and convicted in November 1950; sentenced to death by hanging, and he was executed in Montreal on 25 July 1952.
Pitre attempted suicide, but failed. Her trial began on 6 March 1951. She, too, maintained her innocence, claiming that Albert Guay had told her that the package she was transporting on the day of the bombing contained a statue. Albert Guay already had been executed and therefore could not testify against her, but she was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
Marguerite Pitre arrived at Bordeaux Prison in Montreal at midnight on 8/9 January 1953, accompanied by two nuns, and climbed to the prison's third floor. After a few moments with her escorts, she entered the ante-room where the hangman was waiting for her. She walked to the gallows at 12:35 a.m. on 9 January 1953, and was pronounced dead 15 minutes later. Jail authorities said she displayed no fear and that "everything was normal."
Newspapers across Canada carried accounts of the hanging, with The British Columbian at New Westminster, British Columbia, reporting on 9 January 1953, under a large black heading "Madame Corbeau Goes to Gallows" that "Mrs. Marguerite Pitre, a 43-year-old [sic] Quebec City housewife who put a time-bomb aboard an airliner that later crashed and killed 23 persons, was hanged early today at Bordeaux jail as Canada closed the books on its most fantastic murder in history." (Marguerite Ruest-Pitre was actually 44).
In addition to being involved in Canada's worst mass murder to that date, Pitre also holds the distinction of being the last woman executed in Canada.
The incident in fiction
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The incident, subsequent trials, and executions of Guay, Ruest, and Pitre were notorious in Quebec and served as the inspiration for Le Crime d'Ovide Plouffe, a 1982 novel by Roger Lemelin and a 1984 film of the same name by Denys Arcand. In 1949, Lemelin had been a friend and neighbour of Guay, as well as being the Quebec correspondent for Time magazine.
- The Canadian Encyclopedia: "Sault-au-Cochon Tragedy". Accessed 30 November 2015
- Anderson, Frank W. (1982). Hanging in Canada: Concise History of a Controversial Topic. Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd. pp. 54–62. ISBN 0-919214-93-2.
- Causes célèbres du Québec, Dollard Dansereau, Editions Leméac, Montréal, 1974
- Jeffrey David Simon The terrorist trap: America's experience with terrorism, Indiana University Press, 2001 ISBN 0-253-21477-7, pages 47–49