The investigation that helped Truscott get a new appeal.
In 1959, a popular schoolboy, just 14 years old, was convicted and sentenced to hang for the rape and murder of his 12-year-old classmate. That summer, Canada lost its innocence and the shocking story of Steven Truscott became imprinted on the nation's memory. First published in 2001, "Until You Are Dead" revealed new witnesses, leads and evidence never presented to the courts. Now this national bestseller is fully revised and updated, and takes readers from that fateful night in 1959 up to the new appeal granted to Truscott in 2006. Julian Sher's award-winning and insightful chronicle details Steven Truscott's dramatic final battle - with the help of his family, investigative journalists and lawyers - to clear his name once and for all.
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August 11, 2002
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Excerpt from Until You Are Dead (updated) by Julian Sher
By Friday evening, a tumultuous week was coming to an end in Clinton. As much as they could, the children and adults in the PMQs around the air force station tried to follow life's normal pursuits. Steve was looking forward to some fun and adventure over the weekend. Some fishing, some baseball, maybe another trip into the woods to work on the tree house. As the sun dipped in the horizon, Steve headed over to one of his favourite places around the base, Lawson's farm -- unaware that he was about to spend his last hour of liberty for the next ten years.
It looked like rain, Bob Lawson thought as he rushed to finish the evening chores -- a godsend after the crop-scorching heat all week. Lawson was eager to get a little haying done. "If you start the lawn mower, I can cut the grass," suggested his mother, Alice Lawson.
Bob was in the barn with the cows when he heard a loud, clanging racket. A fifteen-foot metal chain attached to the farm dog had somehow got tangled up in the mower and was slowly dragging the terrified mutt toward the sharp, spinning rotors. Lawson knew he was too far away to get to the mower in time. He caught sight of Steve rushing up the driveway to the farm. Fortunately, the mower stalled, and the chain stopped only a few feet before the dog would have had an unappetizing encounter with the rotors.
Laughing, the boy began to untangle the chain from the lawn mower. Still, the Lawsons felt that Steve was more reserved than usual. "Steve seems a little quiet this evening," Alice Lawson told her son. Perhaps Lynne's death had shaken the boy, Bob thought. The day before, Steve had dropped by the barn and appeared to be bewildered by events: "I heard they found Lynne in the bush," Lawson remembers Steve telling him. "How did she get there?"
With the Lawsons' dog safe from the marauding mower, Steve hopped on Lawson's new Ferguson 35 tractor. "He loved being on that tractor," Lawson recalls. "I would often let him ride on it. Steve was good with machines." The lanky boy stood on the tractor's floorboard, leaning against the fender, while the farmer rode across his land. When they got to the edge of the crops, Steve jumped off and perched himself on a large rock. For safety reasons, Lawson never let Steve stay on the tractor when he hooked it up to the harvester. As Lawson began haying, Steve rested on the rock, gazing out at the paths and trails where the children played hide-and-seek and picked berries. He saw the thick expanse of Lawson's bush where only a few weeks earlier he and his friend Leslie had built a tree house.
"He was sitting on that stone, but next time, when I turned the tractor around and came back, he was gone," Lawson recalls. "I guessed he had walked back to the barn."
Bored, or perhaps anxious to get home for a bite to eat, Steve headed back down to the county road.
He never made it home.
At the Goderich OPP station, Inspector Harold Graham had made up his mind. Jocelyne's story about a date and the phone call with the results from the laboratory analysis of Lynne's stomach contents pointed the finger at the Truscott boy. "At ten minutes to seven, I had him picked up," Graham said. He sent out Const. Donald Trumbley to bring in the boy -- preferably without his parents' knowledge. "I asked the constable to try and get him away from home." The OPP cruiser pulled up to the gateway at the Lawson farm.
"Would you get into the car and come with me? We want you to read over your statement," Trumbley explained, referring to Steve's interview with Graham that morning.
"Yes," said the teenager, without a moment's hesitation. Looking back forty years later at that fateful moment, Steven explains that in 1959 young people had an abiding respect and trust in authority. "Back then when you're fourteen years old, you looked up to the police. When they told you to get in the car, you got in the car," he says. Steve never thought to question where Trumbley was taking him, much less to ask about his legal rights.
Trumbley pulled into the Goderich police post with his teenage passenger and took the boy into a small room at the back of the station. Steve had no reason to believe he was doing anything but signing a witness statement. The police did not tell him he was no longer simply a witness, that he had instead become their chief suspect. They did not tell him this trip to the station was, to all intents and purposes, an arrest. Certainly, they wanted his signature-but not just on a statement. What the OPP wanted from Steven was a confession and they were going to do everything they could to get one, even if that meant bending a few rules to the breaking point.
When Steven walked into that police station Friday, he was walking into what, in hindsight, can only be described as a trap, carefully planned and well executed by Harold Graham. Twenty minutes before dispatching Trumbley to pick up Steve, Graham had another officer, Sgt. Charles Anderson, obtain a search warrant for the Truscott home. Anderson then contacted Dr. David Hall Brooks, the chief medical officer on the base "and advised him of what we had planned to do."
Graham had a very specific objective in mind -- get Steven alone, without any interference from his parents. Years later, at a police convention, he boasted about his well-planned strategy: "I was well aware of the judge's guidelines that it is preferable to have a parent or social worker present when you are questioning a juvenile," he explained to his appreciative audience. "I was also well aware that it would be an exercise in futility, so I chose to disregard those guides."
Graham's was a bold admission of how far the police were willing to go to get their man, even if their man happened to be a fourteen-year-old boy. "Judges can always set their own guides for prisoners, they are not laws," Graham said defiantly. And he was right. The Juvenile Delinquents Act in 1959 did not require the police to ensure a youth's parent or guardian was present; today it is the law. Still, while Graham had not strictly violated any laws, he seemed to forget that the police had not told Steven he was a "prisoner" or even officially a suspect. At the boy's murder trial three months later, the judge was unsparing in his criticism of the police's tactics that night: "The ordinary safeguard should have been taken and he should have been warned. He was undoubtedly under arrest. It was clear he would never have been allowed to go."
"Will you read this aloud," the inspector told the boy as he handed him a typed statement based on Steve's interview earlier that day. Steve read the text out loud and, according to Graham's account, asked for only one minor change. He said his return to the school was not at 8:00 p.m., but closer to 7:50 or 7:55 p.m. "That was crossed out . . . and changed, and he said then it was correct, and I asked him to sign it and he did," Graham said. Steven signed the statement at eight o'clock, ten minutes after their meeting began.
The inspector from the Criminal Investigations Bureau, a veteran of a decade's worth of homicide cases, now had the boy exactly where he wanted him: alone in a room in a police station. Every police officer hopes they can crack a murder case with a confession, thereby saving the courts time and trouble. For the next hour and a half, Graham, assisted by Constable Trumbley, probed and prodded Steven.
Graham began by questioning his story of seeing a car at the highway. "I told him it was difficult to understand that because the distance was so great and I asked him if he was sure," the inspector later recounted.
Yes, Steve said, he was sure.
Was he sure that he had seen Lynne with her thumb out at the highway?
Well, the boy said, he had not actually seen her thumb; he had seen her arm out.
Graham noticed a crescent-shaped scratch on Steven's left arm. How did he injure himself, the police officer asked.
On a tractor in Lawson's barn, came the reply.
Then Graham moved to the guts of the interrogation: "Have you ever taken a girl into Lawson's bush?" he asked.
"No," Steve said.
"Have you ever made a date to take a girl into Lawson's bush?"
"Have you ever spoken to Jocelyne Gaudet about going into Lawson's bush?"
"Were you at Jocelyne Gaudet's house on Tuesday night?"
"No, I haven't been to Jocelyne Gaudet's home since last winter," Steve answered, according to Graham's account.
"Have you ever phoned Jocelyne Gaudet?"
"No, I have never telephoned Jocelyne Gaudet." Steve said. "The only conversation I have had with her is in school." It was a strange question. Had Jocelyne told the police about a phone call to arrange the alleged secret date? If so, the police apparently considered it an unreliable claim, for the police would never again mention a phone call to Jocelyne.
There is no official record of what went on for the duration of the ninety-minute interrogation. The two police officers were the only witnesses. Graham took only a single sheet of notes. Today, Steven Truscott remembers the first hours of his slow, steady slide into the abyss of incarceration: "They would take turns questioning me and calling me a liar," he says of Graham and Trumbley. "One would come in and question you. He would leave the room. The other one would come in and he would say: 'You lied. You did this, you did that.' They keep questioning you and calling you a liar, and you just can't believe what's going on. In your mind, you can't understand what's happening. And all through the whole thing I stuck to what I had said."
If the OPP inspector was hoping the boy would crack, he was sadly disappointed. "He steadfastly maintained that his statement was true in every detail," Graham later reported.
Throughout his ordeal that night -- and indeed, throughout all his forthcoming days in court -- Steve never cried, at least not in public. Much like his mother, the fourteen-year-old held his emotions in close check. "I just wasn't brought up that way -- it's kind of not the air force way," he says today in reflection. "I knew I hadn't done anything. I had nothing to be afraid of."
That did not mean the boy was not scared out of his wits as he sat in a police interrogation room. Why hadn't the police contacted his parents?
Doris Truscott was in a panic. It was 9:30 p.m. and there was still no sign of her son.
"Where is he?" she wondered. "He should have been home -- it's very seldom he's late."
Bob Lawson was baling his final load of hay for the day in his barn when a pair of headlights lit up the driveway to his farmhouse. As he walked over to the car, he saw Doris Truscott roll down her window. The farm was the only place she could think her boy might be this late at night.
"Have you seen Steve?" she asked. "It's getting dark and it's not like Steve to stay out late."
"I saw Steve earlier, but not for a couple of hours," the farmer informed her.
Doris was filled with a sense of dread. One schoolchild had already gone missing and turned up dead in the bush. Where in heaven's name was her boy?
At the OPP station in Goderich, Graham had decided to take Steven to the RCAF guardhouse in Clinton. He ordered one of his men to find Steve's father, Warrant Officer Dan Truscott. The police got Steven to the guardhouse on the base around 9:25 p.m. Ten minutes later, his father arrived "in a hostile attitude," according to Graham. The inspector had kept Steven in custody -- getting him to sign a statement and then questioning him about a murder -- for two and a half hours without even informing his parents. But the OPP man could not grasp why a parent would be upset at the officers who had swept away his son without notifying anyone.
"The father asked me in a belligerent manner how and where Steven had been picked up," Graham said. Dr. Brooks painted a slightly more sympathetic picture, reporting that Steve's father "naturally was the anxious parent who wanted to know what had happened to his son and why he was there."
For his part, the frightened boy felt relieved at least one of his parents was on hand. "My dad was there, so I figured, you know, he's not going to let anything happen," Steve says.
Dan Truscott immediately wanted to know if his son had been taken into police custody with his own consent.
"I asked him to get into the car to accompany me to read the statement and he got in willingly," Trumbley reported.
Dan turned to his son: "Is that right, Steven?"
"Yes," the boy answered.
Graham attempted to allay the father's fears. "I told them that Steven had been brought in on my instructions and as a result of our investigation thus far certain suspicions had been directed toward Steven." The OPP inspector explained he wanted doctors to examine the boy.
Steve's father asked to speak with the boy alone and took him into an adjoining room. "I told him they were accusing me and calling me a liar," Steve recounts. "It was quite clear they were trying to pin this on me." Dan emerged from the chat with his son a few moments later.
"I refuse to allow Steven to be examined by a doctor," he said. "Steven says you accused him of murdering Lynne and called him a liar."
"I didn't accuse him of murdering Lynne at all," Graham replied. "I pointed out certain features from his statement that indicated he was lying. My only duty is to try to determine the truth."
"Steven never goes out with girls," his father reportedly said.
"We have information that he had a date with a girl that night," Graham replied, referring to Jocelyne's story of her rendezvous with Steven in the bush. "Will you consent to a medical examination of Steven?"
It was a pivotal moment. Ever the military man eager to do the right thing, Warrant Officer Dan Truscott was not one to question rules and regulations. He turned to his friend, Sgt. Charles Anderson of the OPP. "What do you think about it, Charlie?"
"I think you should consent to the examination," Anderson suggested. "It looks bad if you don't consent to the doctor examining Steve." (Truscott could not know that Anderson was hardly a neutral advisor. Under Graham's orders, he had already taken steps to secure a search warrant for the Truscott home, even before Steven was picked up. Lawyers would later convince a judge that Anderson's comments were an unfair police inducement.)
In any event, it is doubtful that Dan Truscott could have wrested his son away from the police, even if he wanted to. "It was apparent to me it was unlikely he would get the boy home," Dr. Brooks reported. In the end, Steve's father bowed to authority; he turned to the OPP officers surrounding his son and agreed to the medical exam. Nobody asked Steve what he thought.
Initially, there was some question about whether Brooks should conduct the exam, but after consulting with the commanding officer, it was determined it would be better if an outside, civilian doctor performed the task.
The police asked Dan Truscott for the name of his family doctor. He mentioned that in the past, they had consulted a Clinton general practitioner, Dr. John Addison. Addison had briefly seen Steven twice in October 1957 for a urinary infection, and had treated Steven's brother Bill for a threatened appendix.
Dr. Addison arrived at the guardhouse around 10:35 p.m. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, he had been practising medicine in Clinton since 1943. A stern-looking man with dark hair, a trim moustache and black glasses, Addison was well liked by the local citizenry. Presumably, the family doctor was supposed to be more dispassionate than Dr. Brooks, the military doctor working closely with the police. But Addison's first move was to consult with the air force medical man. "I met Dr. Brooks first, who outlined a bit of the story that had transpired before as to why they wanted me to examine the prisoner," Addison said later. "I had known . . . that this boy was the possible suspect of the rape." Hardly a good start for a neutral observer.
"He accompanied me into the adjoining office," Brooks said. "An examination of Steven then took place."