Mission of the Holy Spirit
For a history of the Mission and its doctrines, one should consult the fine: http://site.ifrance.com/mission. The Mission was located on Great Island in the West Branch of the Westport river in the 1920’s, but one of its members ran into trouble with the law, and the Mission abandoned the area. Because of the public interest in the Mission at the time and the somewhat sensational nature of the case, the legal proceedings were covered extensively in the local newspapers. We here print articles – without comment – from the New Bedford Standard of November 16-22, 1925 (minus the headlines). The interest for us is the existence of the Mission in town and its nature and history: the newspaper reflects attitudes of the time.
November 16, Monday
Adelard Giasson, who was indicted in February by the Bristol County Grand Jury on a charge of conspiracy with Eugene Lafleche, alias Joseph Manseau, to steal money from Eugene Martel, Elias Sendenlen and John Abdullah, went on trial in the criminal session of the Superior Court in Fall River this afternoon. Lafleche, indicted with Giasson, had not been brought to trial as he had never been found by the authorities. Government officials say that as far as can be made out, he died in California. Giasson, through his counsel, pleaded not guilty.
Giasson, Lafleche and two others, whose names have not been learned, came to Fall River from Montreal. Lafleche, known as the “Holy Ghost” and “Master” set up a religious colony on Goat Island in the west branch of the Westport river. Giasson posed as a confidant of Lafleche, it is alleged.
It is charged in the indictment that Giasson and Lafleche induced a number of people to give up property to join the “organization.”
Residents of Fall River are understood to have comprised the majority of victims. It was not until about a year ago that some of the members became suspicious. An investigation was started and indictments returned last February.
November 17, 1925
A fantastic case of dupery in the name of religion is being unfolded before Judge Hugo A. Dubuque in Superior Court, Fall River, through the trial of Adelard Giasson, charged with conspiracy to defraud persons of their property.
Giasson, reputed secretary and confidant of Eugene Lafleche, vanished head of the Mission of the Holy Ghost, a religious cult which a few years ago made its headquarters on Goat Island in the Westport River, the prosecution charges aided Lafleche to delude persons into surrendering their property to “the Mission” under the belief that they were thereby purchasing passports for entrance into heaven.
Promise Eternal Life
Testimony by self confessed dupes of the organization assert:
That Giasson introduced Lafleche as God in person, and absolute controller of the world.
Witnesses were deterred from consulting lawyers before transferring their property to the cult by the statement that lawyers were agents of the devil.
Eternal life and a short cut to heaven eliminating purgatory were rewards promised for joining the society.
Members were assured by Lafleche that killing priests and lawyers was not a crime.
Members were tricked into signing agreements to work for other members for no compensation other than board, lodging, and clothing.
Lafleche asserted the society would soon own all of Fall River, and eventually be so powerful that it would rule the whole United States.
Giasson, second in authority in the hierarchy of this strange religious cult, was indicted by the February Grand Jury. At the same time, an indictment was returned against Lafleche, also known as Joseph Manseau, and, to his followers, as the Holy Ghost or The Master. Looked upon as the representative of Deity on earth, his followers were religiously guided by all of his instructions, but since the Master disappeared in March, 1923, some of those followers have come to look upon him in a different light. The indictment charges that those who were defrauded were Eugene Martel, Elias Swindenler and John Abdullah. Lafleche or Manseau, the Holy Ghost and The Master, is said never to have been seen by any other member of the colony other than Giasson after the two left Fall River in the Spring of 1923. At least, Lafleche never returned, and it was said in court that he is supposed to have died in California. Giasson returned to the colony and he is standing trial alone.
The strange testimony begun yesterday was continued in Superior Court this morning. Joseph Belanger, who was a member of the Mission of the Holy Spirit for ten months, was one of the witnesses called this morning. During the whole ten months, according to his own statement, he received no wages and turned all that he earned in to the society. He was first introduced to Giasson, Belanger said, in 1922, when Giasson asked him whether he would like to meet God. Giasson then conducted him, the witness said, to Eugene Lafleche as God in person. After some conversation, the witness said, Lafleche offered to buy for him any property he desired in Fall River. Being a poor man, he explained, he was much interested, and said so to Lafleche. He attended a meeting, he testified, at which Lafleche proclaimed himself the Holy Ghost, God, and Christ all in one. He promised Belanger that if he joined the society he would never die.
Would Own Fall River
Lafleche, the witness continued, urged Belanger to join the society, promising that it would within two years own the whole of Fall River, would have its own mayor, and would be powerful enough to elect a President and rule the whole United States. At first Belanger actually believed these assertions, he testified in answer to a question. He said he was told by Lafleche that the world was coming to an end April 17, which was the birthday of Lafleche. The year was not mentioned. When asked why he left the society in March 1923, if he believed the world was coming to an end in April, Belanger said he did not believe that. “If I had believed that I would have stayed in the society,” he explained.
Believed It at First
Belanger was cross-examined by counsel for the defendant as to whether, having been brought up a Roman Catholic, he actually believed all that Lafleche told him.
“Oh, I believed it at first,” he said. “I believed it one day, and the next I didn’t know what to believe.”
“Well, if you didn’t think everything was all right, why didn’t you get out of the society?”
“I was so far in I wanted to stay and see what was going to happen.”
Wanted to Recoup Money
Belanger admitted he began to feel he was being hoodwinked, but stayed in that he might recoup the money the society owed him. The amount, he asserted, was$1400. He brought suit for that sum, he said, and made a settlement with the society, receiving $300 for himself and $200 for his lawyer. Laughter greeted this remark. The counsel for the defense commented. “Well, that was a fair division.” Among other quotations from Lafleche, Belanger recalled Lafleche saying that it was perfectly all right to kill a priest or a lawyer.
“Well, you knew that wasn’t right, didn’t you?” queried the cross-examiner.
“Why, certainly, that was the reason I quit,” the witness replied. “I didn’t want to kill anyone.”
Was Big Man
Asked to describe Lafleche’s general appearance, Belanger said he was a big man, with long hair, weighing 270 to 300 pounds. Sometimes he wore “a nightdress” and sometimes trousers. The police once entered the Fall River house where Lafleche was stopping and ordered him to put some clothes on, Belanger added.
The next witness was Elias Swindeller, who said he was invited to meet Lafleche at 850 King Philip street. Lafleche talked with him there about joining the mission. He didn’t join after the first visit. Later he was invited to visit the colony at its settlement on Goat Island in the Westport river. There he heard Lafleche called by such names as God and the Holy Ghost.
The testimony of Eugene Martel, who was on the witness stand yesterday, was concluded at this morning’s session. Martel’s appearance today was distinguished by his wearing a bright yellow shirt, which added color to an already colorful session.
Two Take Stand
Two witnesses were on the stand yesterday afternoon. Samuel J. McLaren, Fall River, a former rent collector for the colony, who admits that he has recovered from his delusion, and Eugene Martel, who told the jury that his experience as a member of the community cost him between $7,000 and $8,000. The tales that the witnesses told brought from the bench several interventions to inquire just what they meant.
Though it all sat Giasson, a rather bald looking, slightly built man, with hair brushed back from his forehead, his face wreathed in an almost constant smile. Giasson will take the stand later on to tell his story. He is defended by John M. Peakes, Boston, and William E. Fuller, Fall River. Assistant District Attorney Edward T. Murphy is presenting the government’s case.
Martel Sees Humor
Martel has been the most interesting of the witnesses. He now sees the humor of the situation in which he placed himself, and smiled all through his testimony. His personal history as he gave it to the court is not without interest, aside from his connection with the colony. He is now 22.
Born in Canada of French-Canadian parents, Martel drifted into the ironworker’s trade, and became interested in the cult when he was a structural iron worker in New York City. Martel was one of that craft of daring workers who put in place the steel skeleton ribs of a skyscraper. He said his work paid him $125 a week, when he met Lafleche and Giasson in New York. Then there was a woman member of the cult to whom he was introduced, a Madame Goddard, several times referred to during the course of the trial as now in Montreal. It was from Lafleche, he said, that he learned of the tenets of the organization that they represented, and, what Lafleche said, was supported by the corroboration of Giasson and Madame Goddard.
One Controlled World
Among other things he said he was informed that Lafleche had absolute control of the world, was, in fact, the representative of the Deity on earth, and had announced that the world was to come to an end as soon as 144,000 persons had been brought within the organization then being created by Lafleche. He was shown the Bible, he said, in which it was declared that only 144,000 persons would be saved and the rest of those on earth thrown into Hell.
There was the promise that then there would be no more wars and even the Devil would be put to work. As a sign that he was the representative of God on earth, the witness said, Lafleche showed a red scar in his breast, which, The Master declared, was a sign of his divinity. As other evidence of his divine powers he was told that he had at one time raised a man from the dead in Montreal. All these statements of Lafleche were said to be true by Giasson and by Madame Goddard, the witness testified.
Tithes His Wages
As an inducement to become one of them and be consecrated as a charter member of the organization, Martel said, Lafleche proposed to sell to him at a very good bargain a house on King Philip street in Fall River, saying that if Martel would give him $200 he would be given the house valued at $9,500, the arrangement being that Martel was to make up the remainder by tithing a tenth of his wages to the organization.
Martel testified that not only did he tithe a tenth of his wages, but getting such wages as he did he was able to turn more over to the order. After Lafleche, Giasson and Madame Goddard left New York to come to Fall River. Martel said he continued sending to them his wages, even including money to pay taxes on the King Philip street house, which he said, he had never seen until he came to Fall River. He admitted he never had a deed of the property. Asked why he was willing to part with his money without something more tangible in return, Martel said the inducement was that by paying taxes to God he was paying for his entrance into heaven.
Lawyers Agents of Devil
Martel admitted that he had at one time suggested seeing a lawyer, but he said that it was explained to him that lawyers were simply representatives of the Devil. He said he at one time needed $200 with which to pay some bills, and wrote to Lafleche in Fall River, he said he was invited to come to Fall River for the first time.
He said he met Lafleche and Giasson at 850 King Philip street, and later accompanied Lafleche and other members of the colony to the island in Westport. There, he said, he was consecrated by eating bread, salt and wine given to him by Lafleche, and later after he had signed a paper he said he was given $300.
Relieved of Going to Hell
Asked to explain what he thought he gained by being consecrated, Martel said he thought he was thereby relieved of going to Hell. He said that Lafleche also told him a girl would be chosen for him to marry whose spirit would be one with his. He said he believed strongly in all that he was told about the divine powers of Lafleche. He believed in him up to the time that Lafleche disappeared.
Under cross examination Martel went more into details concerning the paper he had signed while at Great Island. He asserted that when he signed the paper it was blank, but later he learned he had signed what purported to be a promise on his part to work for Sylvester Talbot, another member of the colony, for no other compensation than his board, lodging and clothing so long as he remained at the island colony. This was signed in March 1923, and it was the next day, he said, Lafleche disappeared.
“What do you call this paper, “a declaration of peonage?” questioned Judge Dubuque.
McLaren as the colony rent collector, testified to collecting rents from the tenants in the King Philip street house over a considerable period, receiving at the rate of $21 a week, while he also collected from $30 to $35 a week from tenants on Birch street. He admitted the colony acquired the property in his name, although he said he did not consider it belonged to him. Later on, he did object when it was proposed to transfer the property to another, he said. He was finally induced to consent to the transfer when told that unless he did so, The Master would induce his wife to leave him, he declared. The witness freely said he had thought that Lafleche was other than a human being, one who possessed divine powers, and he continued to believe this until Lafleche went away.
November 18, 1925
Though Eugene Lafleche, vanished leader of the strange religious colony that had its headquarters on Goat Island in the Westport River is dead, his spirit is still the head of the sect, declared the first witness called today by the defense in the trial of Adelard Giasson, who is alleged to have conspired with Lafleche to defraud persons of their property under the guise of religious leadership. The case is being heard in Superior Court, Fall River.
Joseph Hache, the witness, stoutly asserted that Lafleche possessed supernatural powers of healing during his lifetime. Lafleche cured Mrs. Hache of cancer in 1914, Hache declared, and he firmly believed the testimony of a woman who said she saw Lafleche bring to life a man whom a physician had pronounced dead.
Sought to Regenerate World
The same witness substantiated the testimony of prosecution witnesses who asserted the sect had taught that when its membership reached 144,000 the world would come to an end and the 144,000 would assuredly by saved. He denied that it taught that all others were doomed to perdition. Hache declared the sect sought to “regenerate the world to God by baptizing children before they were born, through instruction given their mothers.”
The defense opened late yesterday afternoon with a preliminary statement that it would disprove assertions that Lafleche “taught some of the preposterous things you have heard here.” It promised to disprove charges that Lafleche and Giasson had purchased property with money obtained through fraud, and to establish that when Lafleche left Fall River he and his followers as well thought he was being persecuted, and his followers willingly gave him money that he might go to California. “In short,” said Attorney John E. Peakes, the defense will deny that there ever was any conspiracy here in which Giasson was involved.” The defense proposed to base much of its defense on the contention that the Goat Island colony was simply resorting to a communistic system of life after the manner of the Appostles [sic] of Christ, in its handling of matters concerning the labor, wages, and property of members.
Not Acting Criminally
Mr. Peakes in his opening said that however unwise the sect may have been in adopting the way of living it chose, members were not therefore doing anything criminal.
Giasson and eight others, sworn as witnesses yesterday afternoon were called to the stand today to give their version of the manner of living on the part of those who joined what was known as the Mission of the Holy Spirit.
Hache, the first of the nine to testify today, said the proper name of the sect to which he is still loyal was “The Mission of the Divine Spirit,” and that the organization was formed in Montreal by Eugene Lafleche, who had been the head of the order since 1914 and whose spirit still continues as head of the order, although he is now dead. The religious teachings of the order, he asserted, were based on the 14th chapter of the Revelation of John in the New Testament.
When Hache was asked to state briefly the religious tenets of the sect, Judge Hugo A. Dubuque interrupted to say, “I don’t think we want to go into that.” A long conference at the bench followed after which the witness was again asked to tell briefly the basis of his faith, without making any comparisons with other faiths. Gesticulating liberally, Mr. Hache proceeded for five minutes to outline what he declared were the tenets of the Mission. He pounded the rail of the witness stand and spoke as a preacher might.
Sought Children of Peace
The object of the Mission, he said, was to regenerate the world to God, to ask that the children should come to God from their mothers. It was the duty of the teachers of the sect, he said, “to teach the mothers before the child was born so that the child might come into the world a child of peace and that all the world should live in peace, to wipe out all the crime in the world today, to have joy come to the world from the bosom of the mother, that all should live as brothers and be sociable and peaceful, to live in harmonious relations with each other, respecting one another.” Mr. Hache was restrained from launching into a discussion of the League of Nations, his counsel interrupting with “Let’s keep out of politics” when the witness began on the League.
When Judge Dubuque interposed “What you have said isn’t much different from the ideals of another religion. How did you propose to bring this about?” Hache replied that the plan was to baptize the child while the mother was bearing it. Asked who were the members designated to do the teaching, he said he and several others were teachers in the colony.
Gives Wages to Master
The system of living in the colony, Mr. Hache explained, provided that each member should turn in all his wages to the head of the order. In return for this the members received clothing, food and lodging. He did not use the word communism, but made it clear that it was a system of communism under which the colony lived.
Mr. Hache was asked whether he believed it was true that the world would come to an end when 144,000 persons had joined the Mission of the Divine Spirit. He declared he did believe it. “It is true,” he said. The 144,000 would be the elect to be saved. The authority for this belief could be found in the 14th chapter of the Revelation of John.
Counsel for the defense inquired whether it was the teaching of the order that all outside of the sect were doomed to Hell. Hache denied that the sect taught such a thing.
Mr. Hache was asked whether his sect had any marriage ceremony. He replied that all the members of the colony, so far as he knew, were married under the laws of Canada and the colony had no marriage ceremony of its own.
Believe Dead Man Was Raised
Lafleche could perform miracles, Hache said, when queried on this subject. He told of a meeting in Westport at which a woman present asserted that she had seen Lafleche raise from the dead a man who had been pronounced dead by a physician. “I certainly do,” he replied, when asked whether he actually believed that. Lafleche cured Hache’s wife of a cancer, the witness replied, to a question as to whether he had personal knowledge of any miracles being performed by The Master. This happened in Montreal in 1914, he asserted. His wife then weighed 140 pounds; she now weighs 225.
Giasson Faces Charges Alone
It has been difficult for the court and jury to unravel the thread of truth in what is admittedly a strange case. Giasson faces alone the charge that was brought against him jointly with Eugene Lafleche, the missing leader, who has been known under such names as the Holy Ghost and The Master.
The government’s witnesses have testified that they were induced to part with their properties by hearing advantages pointed out to them by Lafleche, among others the claim on his part that in return for what they gave up, the members of the society would receive an entry into Heaaven.
State Detective Talks
This has been the purport of the testimony of Joseph Belanger, Eugene Martel, Eilias Swidey, alias Swindenler; John Abdullah, his wife, Julia, and the other government witnesses who have testified. State Detective Francis W. Clemmey testified to a conversation with Giasson at the time of the latter’s arrest, after Lafleche had disappeared, and Giasson at that time said, the witness declared, that before he would disclose the whereabouts of Lafleche he would put a noose around his neck. Giasson at that time explained the disappearance of Lafleche by saying that, as Christ had had to leave Jerusalem because of the persecution of the Jews, so Lafleche had had to leave Fall River because of the persecution of his enemies.
The claim that Giasson acquired any properties through money given to him by those who allege they were duped is disputed by the defense. Mr. Peakes said the defense would show where every dollar came from that was used in the purchase of properties ever standing in the name of Giasson. Mr. Peakes said that not a cent of any of the money lost by those who assert they were duped went into the Giasson properties.
Religious Issue Passed Over
“We shall deal briefly with the religious issue in this case,” said Mr. Peakes. “We shall go into it only enough to permit these people to tell of what you may say was their simple faith. You may not believe in the system which they adopted, but however unwise it may have been at least it was not criminal.
“They will say that they followed the teachings of this man Lafleche, or Manseau, or The Master, as he was also known, but they will say that he never taught some of the preposterous things you have heard here. We will show that not a dollar of the money ever contributed by Martel went into the properties acquired by Giasson, that whatever monies Martel contributed they were given to Manseau or The Master, if you will, simply as a contribution in the support of his religion, as any one might contribute to a church.
Aided Starving Family
“As for the man Belanger, we will show that he, with his wife and children, were taken in by this society when they were practically starving, and that for a year they were fed, clothed and lodged by the society. We shall go into a brief statement of their religious ceremonies to show that they have never violated any of the laws of the state. The teachings as expounded here as those of Manseau or Lafleche we shall show these people never heard of.
“We shall show that when Lafleche left Fall River in the Spring of 1923 he thought he was being persecuted. It will be shown that these people assisted Lafleche to leave Fall River and gave him money that he might go to California. In short, the defense will deny that there ever was any conspiracy here in which Giasson was involved.
Swear in Women
Among those sworn by the defense were two women, one of them who has frequently been referred to as Madame Goddard, a woman often present when Lafleche was allegedly referred to as God or the Holy Ghost. Madame Goddard, a widow at the time, has since married and is now Mrs. Armandine Bergeron, residing in Montreal since her removal from Fall River. She reached Fall River yesterday from Montreal. Another defense witness coming from Montreal is Mrs. Eliza Croteau, said to have been at one time the wife of a brother of Giasson. She has also been referred to during the trial. The presentation of the government’s case has taken a day and a half. The government rested at 3:30 yesterday afternoon, and following a brief recess the defense opened its case to the jury.
Among the government witnesses testifying yesterday afternoon was Elias Swidey, or Swindenler, as he is otherwise known, a Syrian who is the proprietor of a poolroom in Fall River. This witness testified that in July, 1922, he brought a civil action against Lafleche in the sum of $10,000. The declaration read in court, was to the effect that the plaintiff, Swidey, had been induced to loan to the defendant, $6,000 on the claim that the latter was the exalted head of a religious sect. The declaration set forth that the plaintiff had since ascertained that the defendant did not hold the exalted position reputed to him.
Taught to Disobey Laws
Swidey asserted that one of the teachings of Lafleche was that it was not necessary to obey the laws of the country. John Abdullah, 1785 South Main street, Fall River, reputed to have joined the society on the promise that he was to be transformed into St. Peter, testified to meeting Giasson and Lafleche at his store, where he was introduced by Tophy Faria another Syrian. Later, he said, he went to the King Philip street house, and there met Lafleche, who, he was told, was God. He said that Lafleche had told him that while in Montreal he (Lafleche) had brought the dead to life and had also opened the door of Heaven. He had given to Lafleche, he said, $4,300, which included $1,300 belonging to the wife of the witness.
Thought He Was God
Abdullah remained a member of the society for eight or ten months and told of attending meetings where Lafleche was referred to as the Holy Ghost.
“What did you give him the money for?” interrupted Judge Dubuque.
“Well, I thought he was God, because he said he had raised the dead and had opened up Heaven,” answered the witness.
Cross-examined by Mr. Peakes, the witness said he could speak little English and French, but his conversations with Lafleche, he said, were carried on through an interpreter. Giasson told him that Lafleche was God, the witness said, and Giasson had also asserted that Lafleche had raised the dead and had opened the Heavens. Abdullah said Tophy Faria left Fall River at about the same time that Lafleche went away and he said he had not seen him since.
Clemney on Stand
State Detective Clemney told of investigating this case in March, 1923. He said he talked with Giasson at Fall River police station March 14, 1923, at which time the defendant had denied that he ever knew Swidey or Abdullah. The witness said Giasson denied knowing where Lafleche was and rather than tell asserted he would put a noose around his neck. The witness said that Giasson had denied that Lafleche ever owned any houses in Fall River and that all property was held in the name of Giasson. He said Giasson had told him that it was on May 10, 1920 that the defendant had just come to Fall River from Montreal, having at the time $1,300. In the following December, the witness said, Giasson had declared he had bought a block of six houses on Bank, North Seventh and North Eighth streets, paying $19,000, on which there was a mortgage of $11,500.
Says Giasson Bought Property
To make it possible to buy the property, the witness said, Giasson had said that he had been given $10,000 by Eliza Croteau, another $3,800 had been given him by Armand Laporte, Montreal, and he had put in $1,000 of his own savings. The witness said that Giasson had also admitted buying the island in Westport for $450, had erected three cottages on the island and another house on the mainland near the island
Admitted Sending Money
He said that after Giasson refused to tell where Lafleche had gone Giasson had admitted sending money to Lafleche. The witness said he later learned that Lafleche was located at 304 Morgan avenue, Los Angeles, Cal. Since then, the witness said, he had learned that there was good reason to believe that Lafleche was dead.
Inspector Tells of Talk
Joseph D. Dufresne, police inspector in Fall River, corroborated the testimony given by State Detective Clemmey. He said that he had asked Giasson if he really believed all the stories told about Lafleche being God, and Giasson replied that he did believe it. The witness said he then remarked to Giasson that if Lafleche was all he claimed to be he need not run away from Fall River. Giasson’s reply was that Jesus Christ had been forced to leave Jerusalem because of the persecution of the Jews and that perhaps Lafleche was faced with the same problem. Julia Abdullah, wife of John Abdullah, testified that she had seen her husband give $1,300 to Lafleche.
Court is Delayed
Court was delayed an hour in opening this morning by a conference between counsel for the defense and Judge Dubuque. When the judge came to the bench, he addressed himself to the reporters, saying that it had been brought to his attention that he had been represented in some newspapers as making statements which he had not made. He expressed the opinion that reporters had best keep clear of direct quotations in attributing statements to the court. He warned against such treatment of the case as might cause a mistrial. Judge Dubuque said it had been brought to his attention that he had commented when a paper was introduced in court in which it appeared that a member of the colony had signed an agreement to work for nothing more than his food, lodging and clothing. “Is this a declaration of peonage?”
“I withdraw that and instruct the jury to disregard it,” said Judge Dubuque.
All the parties in court are entitled to a fair trial, the Judge commented. The jury is the sole judge of the facts brought out on the witness stand and should disregard all statements coming to them other than from the witnesses on the stand.
“We must expect to be criticized. If the Lord Almighty came to earth, there would be somebody to criticize him,” said Judge Dubuque. “Whatever we do we must expect to be criticized.”
November 19, Thursday
Adelard Giasson, on trial under charge of conspiracy to defraud persons of their property in his erstwhile capacity of chief aide to Eugene Lafleche, vanished leader of the Mission of the Holy Ghost, was called to the witness stand in Superior Court, Fall River, just before the 1 P. M. recess today, to testify in his own defense. At meetings of the cult in Montreal, Giasson said, he required no Bible to read from, since he knew the whole of the Scriptures by heart and could quote from them at will. He became a follower of Lafleche in 1917, meeting “The Master,” April 17 of that year, a significant date because it was Lafleche’s birthday. The number of miracles already credited to Lafleche in the course of the trial was augmented by testimony of witnesses this morning and yesterday afternoon.
Stopped Rain, He Says.
Merely by thrusting out his had Lafleche caused a downpour of rain to cease, a defense witness, Francois X. Gosselin, Montreal, gravely testified this morning. Lafleche miraculously cured her husband, Joseph Bergeron, of consumption after physicians had said both his lungs were hopelessly diseased, Mrs. Armandine Bergeron, frequently referred to in past testimony as Madame Godard, asserted yesterday afternoon. Mrs. Bergeron asserted she had thrice seen Lafleche undergo a transfiguration, dwindling and then returning to his normal size. She said he predicted far in advance the death and resurrection of a man whom he brought to life after a physician had pronounced the man dead.
Lived in Montreal.
Lafleche made his home with her and her first husband in Montreal, Mrs. Bergeron testified. Later he and Giasson boarded and roomed with her in Fall River. The close association only strengthened her firm conviction that Lafleche had divine powers, including the ability to perform miracles, her testimony disclosed.
Religion and material things were not mixed in the Mission of the Holy Ghost, Mrs. Bergeron explained, when business affairs were brought up. She testified that the house she purchased at 850 King Philip street, in Fall River, for $4500 she had tried to sell to Eugene Martel, one of the alleged dupes, for $9500. “So you planned to make $5000 out of a brother of the order?” questioned Assistant District Attorney Edward T. Murphy, who referred to other testimony that one of the objects of the order was that all should live in peace and harmony, respecting mutually and not taking advantage of one another. Mrs. Bergeron admitted that she had planned to make $5000 on the transfer.
“Did you think that making $5000 out of a brother was an act of brotherhood and consistent with the teachings of your society?” interrupted Judge Hugo A. Dubuque, who has frequently taken a hand in questioning the witnesses.
Didn’t Mix Two.
She replied that material things were apart from the religion of the society.
“Then you didn’t mix religion and material things?” suggested Judge Dubuque.
She replied that was true.
Says He Is Canada Native
Adelard Giasson, the defendant charged with conspiracy, gave his age as 45, and said he was a native of Canada, and had lived there the greatest part of his life. He worked at various trades, but principally in the lumber business. He first joined the Mission of the Divine Spirit in 1917 in Montreal, through the invitation of Joseph Hache, who has been described as one of the teachers in the Order. It was after he became a member of the society that he first met Eugene Lafleche. This was April 17, 1917. He had attended practically all the meetings held by the society, two or three times a week and regularly on Sunday. Lafleche was not always present.
Could Quote Bible.
Asked whether he read the Bible at these meetings, Giasson said he had not need to read from it, as he knew it by heart and could quote from it freely. Prior to becoming a member of the Mission, he was a member of the Catholic Church, Giasson said. After he came to Fall River, the witness continued, he went to New York and was accompanied on his first trip by Lafleche. He went to New York a second time with Mme. Godard. While they were in New York he and Madame Godard lived in the same house, he said. He worked as a steel worker, earning as much as $60, $65, $70 a week.
Seven witnesses for the defense were called in rapid succession this morning. Through their testimony, the defense seeks to establish that the Mission of the Divine Spirit, the mysterious cult which had its headquarters on Goat Island, Westport, was well supplied with money received from property which the colony owned in Fall River.
Says He Got Rents
Philip Gosselin, one of the witnesses, a resident of Goat Island and a member of the Mission, testified he collected rents from property in Fall River which returned from $125 to $140 a week. In putting in this evidence, counsel for the defense said he was seeking to show that the colony was supported from receipts of its property in Fall River. The witness was asked whether he had ever tried to collect $250 from Elias Swidey, who is one of the government witnesses in this case. Gosselin said he had been authorized to collect this money by Eugene Lafleche, the man who was known as the Master or the Holy Ghost. Swidey has testified that he loaned $6,000 to the colony. Gosselin said he never knew of this.
Believed in Powers.
With other witnesses who were called today, Gosselin testified to belief in the miraculous powers they allege Lafleche possessed. Armand Lecourt, another witness, resident of Montreal and member of the cult since 1915 testified he had loaned $3,500 to Giasson in the Spring of 1921. At another time he loaned Giasson $1,300.
As to his religious beliefs, the witness said he considered Lafleche The Master, or Holy Spirit, possessed of miraculous powers.
Loaned Money to Giasson.
Mrs. Alexander Giasson, wife of a brother of the defendant, testified she came to Fall River April 1, 1922, and that she loaned Adelard Giasson $2,000 in November, 1921. She had been a member of the Mission in Montreal. After coming to Fall River, she said, she attended the Mission of the Divine Spirit and also visited the island headquarters of the colony in Westport. She had heard of the miraculous powers of Lafleche and believed in them. While she lived in Fall River and on Goat Island, her bills were paid by the defendant, Giasson, she asserted.
Francois X. Gosselin, Montreal, testified to having witnessed Lafleche perform a miracle. The Master, he said, at a time when it was raining, put out his hand and the rain stopped. Gosselin also had loaned money to Giasson, he testified, to the amount of $2000.
Asks If He Had Umbrella
The cross examination of Mr. Gosselin by the Assistant District Attorney, Edward T. Murphy, was very brief, consisting of one question.
“Do you carry an umbrella, Mr. Gosselin?” he asked.
“Why, no,” replied Gosselin.
George Theoret, a young man, well dressed, apparently in the early 20’s, testified he was present on Goat Island when Eugene Martel, on of the complainants, signed the paper in which Martel agreed that during the time he was a member of the colony, he would work for no wages other than his food, clothing and lodging. This paper was read to Martel before he signed it, Theoret averred. The significance of this testimony lay in the fact Martel had testified he had signed the paper not knowing its contents.
Follower Since 1913.
Edmound Theoret, brother of George, corroborated the latter’s statement concerning the reading of the paper before Marcel signed it. Magloire Gosselin, of Montreal, was the last witness of the morning. A gray-haired, fine looking man, testified he had been a follower of Lafleche sine 1913. He said he had visited in Fall River and also been to the island in Westport. Gosselin is the father-in-law of Samuel J. McLaren, one of the government witnesses, who acted as rent collector for the colony. Mrs. Bergeron was the second of the defense witnesses called yesterday. She was on the stand following the examination of Joseph Hache, who described himself as one of the teachers of the sect. Both Hache and Mrs. Bergeron said they believed in the miraculous powers that Eugene Lafleche, head of the order, is supposed to have possessed.
Spirit Still Heads Order.
Though Lafleche is now reputed to be dead, Hache said that his spirit is still at the head of the order, and asserted that even the testimony which he himself gave on the stand was inspired by the spirit of Lafleche. Hache, a tall, spare man, with a heavy mustache, head bald through the center and with plenty of hair over his ears, answered questions concerning the religious belief of his sect with the gestures of a preacher. While not having himself witnessed any of the miracles imputed to Lafleche, other than having his wife cured of cancer, he said Mrs. Bergeron had actually seen the miracle performed of a man being raised from the dead. Mrs. Bergeron failed to substantiate this. She did say at first that she had seen this miracle performed by Lafleche, but changed this to say that she had heard the declaration from another woman in Montreal and that later Lafleche had himself confirmed the truth of the miracle.
Describes Dagger Scar.
She then said The Master, one of the names given to Lafleche by his followers, predicted a long time before that the death of the man referred to would be followed by his resurrection. Hache said that Lafleche had shown to him a scar in his left breast as a sign of his divinity, and Mrs. Bergeron said she too had seen this. She described it as having the appearance of a dagger.
Hache had testified that Lafleche was the Third Person of the Trinity, or the Holy Ghost. Mrs. Bergeron said that she had three times seen Lafleche in a transfiguration, first seeing his figure large in size and then gradually diminishing and disappearing. Both defense witnesses have denied that they had even known of Lafleche being in more than one place at the same time, although they said that they had heard of such a thing. Both said sincerely that they believed in the teaching of The Master, that he was divine and possessed miraculous powers.
Introduces New Testament
John M. Peakes, who is chief counsel for the defense in the case, introduced yesterday a copy of the New Testament, and had the witness, Hache, read a part of the 14th chapter of the Revelation of John, which it is represented, is the basis of the belief of the society that the world is to be redeemed when 144,000 persons are made members of the order. The first, second, and third verses of the 14th chapter, read as follows:
“And I looked, and, lo, a lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.
“And I heard a voice from Heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder; and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps;
“And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders’ and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.”
Lafleche Had Child.
Mr. Hache furnished the information as to the religious teachings of the sect in answer to questions asked by the defense counsel. Assistant District Attorney Murphy’s questions were mainly with reference to more mundane affairs. In his cross examination in the afternoon, Hache had said that he met Lafleche first in Montreal in 1914, at which time he said Lafleche was living apart from his wife. Lafleche, he said, was the father of one child, a girl. The witness said he was in Montreal at the time that Lafleche raised a man from the dead. He said the miraculous power of Lafleche to raise the dead to life was often talked about in the colony. Lafleche taught that the world would come to an end when the people were regenerated. It was the Master’s teaching, he said, that it would be on April 17 in some year that the world would come to an end.
Saw Scar Over Heart.
The witness said he saw on the left breast of Lafleche, over the heart, a scar. This was a sign, he said, that Lafleche possessed the same spirit as Jesus. It was the claim of Lafleche, he said, that he possessed an eternal spirit, that God spoke through him. He also recognized, he said, that Lafleche was the third person of the Trinity – God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
Lafleche Inspired Him.
The witness said he himself believed he was inspired in what he was then saying by the spirit of Lafleche. He said he believed it his duty to carry on the teaching work of Lafleche. Hache said he never had anything to do with the financial arrangements of the colony.
Mrs. Bergeron, now a resident of Montreal, took the stand amid a rustle of anticipation, for she has been referred to often during the trial. She said she married Mr. Bergeron in Montreal in November, 1922, when he was a member of the mission.
Joined Mission in 1915.
Mrs. Bergeron said she first met Lafleche in 1915 in Montreal, and became a member of the mission in August, 1915. She has since then been a member, she said. When she first knew Lafleche, he was a constable in Montreal. She said that Lafleche lived in her home for a number of years, and for a time was too sick to work.
She said Lafleche continued to live at her home after the death of her husband. She first came to Fall River, she said, in 1920, and in that year she bought property on King Philip street for $4,500, paying therefor $300, the rest being on a mortgage. When she came from Montreal she brought with her $950. When she went to live at the King Philip street house, she said, Lafleche came there to live also. Later Giasson came to live at the same house. She said she furnished Lafleche with board and room.
Goes to New York.
The witness said she went to New York in August, 1920, remaining there until the following February. She followed Lafleche and Giasson to New York, she said and all three lived in the same house. All the bills in New York, she said, were paid by Giasson. In New York she met Eugene Martel, one of those who claims to have lost money while a member of the society. There was some talk about Martel buying her house for $9,500. She said she first received $200 from Martel on account and there was a second payment of $100.
Returns Money to Him.
She said that Martel never paid any more on the house, and she later returned to him $290. There was introduced in court a paper which was an agreement to release both parties from the original agreement to transfer the King Philip house. When she went to Montreal, she said, the King Philip street property was transferred to Samuel J. McLaren, as trustee for no consideration, with the idea that he was to look out for the property in her absence.
Denied Going Into Trance.
The property was later transferred to Giasson and then later back to the witness.
Referring to the declaration that Martel has said she went into a trance in New York, the witness denied she ever went into a trance. She also denied telling Martel that if he didn’t pay money to the Master, something would happen to him. She said she loaned Martel $125 with which to pay for a party he had given. She said that she never saw Lafleche make $100 grow into $300, as testified by Martel.
He Was Master to Her.
Asked as to how she looked upon Lafleche, she said he was the master to her. She said her husband had been miraculously cured of consumption by Lafleche. She believed he possessed divine power, she said. She had seen Lafleche three times in a transfiguration, first in his usual size and then growing smaller. Mrs. Bergeron said that in her presence there was frequently talk of the miracles performed by Lafleche.
Desired to See Mission Grow.
Cross-examined by Mr. Murphy, Mrs. Bergeron said she desired to see the Mission of the Divine Spirit grow and expand. Mrs. Bergeron first said she was present and then later corrected herself to say that another woman told her that Lafleche had raised a dead man to life. She had had the woman’s report corroborated by The Master himself, she said. The Master had predicted a long time before, she said, that the death of this man would result in his resurrection. She said she had seen the mark of a dagger near the heart on the breast of Lafleche.
She denied that she had ever occupied the same room with Lafleche. She left Fall River to go to Montreal to be married, she said. She never saw The Master in more than one place at a time, Mrs. Bergeron stated, but she said that others had told her that The Master had been seen in different places at the same time.
February 20, 1925
At 3:15 this afternoon the jury in the Giasson case brought in a verdict of guilty. The jury had been out since 12:30.
If Adelard Giasson sincerely believed that Eugene Lafleche, vanished leader of the Goat Island, Westport, religious colony, was the Holy Ghost, and the jury is convinced he so believed, Giasson is entitled to a verdict of not guilty, Judge Hugo A. Dubuque declared this morning in concluding his charge to the jury in Superior Court, Fall River, which has sat all week on the trial of Giasson, charged with conspiracy to defraud, in the name of religion.
Implies Case of Ignorance.
“Does it not seem to you as though this is a case of ignorant, mentally retarded people, attempting to solve one of the deepest and most difficult problems of the world?” queried Judge Dubuque in the course of his charge. He explained that the accusation against the defendant is a misdemeanor and not punishable by a State’s Prison sentence.
The charge that Lafleche, the alleged supernaturally endowed leader of the Mission of the Holy Ghost, lived with Madame Godard, now Mrs. Armandine Bergeron, as man and wife in Fall River, was the final blow struck at the defense offered by Giasson. It was delivered in rebuttal testimony offered for the government yesterday afternoon by Ferdinand Chausse, 168 Hall street, Fall River, and his son, Albert Chausse. They asserted that Lafleche and Madame Godard lived at 168 Hall street as man and wife for a month early in 1920, coming there first in February.
She Denies Relation.
Mrs. Bergeron, the former Madame Godard, was called by the defense in counter rebuttal, and denied she had ever lived anywhere with Lafleche in such a relation.
In concluding his charge, Judge Dubuque said, referring to the defendant, “This man says that he believed Eugene Lafleche was the incarnation of the third person of the Trinity, or, in other words, that he was the Holy Ghost. If he really believed this, and you believe he was sincere, then he is not guilty. But if you believe he was insincere, that he did not believe it himself, but that he made the statement to defraud others of their property, then he is guilty.
“Religion gives no right to its followers to filch money from my pocket.”
Definitions of conspiracy were read to the jury by Judge Dubuque. A conspiracy might have an unlawful object to be accompanied by lawful means; it might have a lawful object to be accompanied by unlawful means, he said.
The offense charged against Giasson is a misdemeanor, not punishable by a State’s Prison sentence, the judge explained. The gist of the offense lay, he said, in whether or not there had been an agreement between the defendant and others to deprive others of their property. There might be an agreement, even though there was no overt act. An agreement would not necessarily have to be in writing, it might not have been expressed orally, it might consist in an attitude, a sign, a nod of the head.
Says Religion is Sacred.
Religion is a sacred thing, said Judge Dubuque, referring to the religious activities that have been prominent in the case. It is protected by the Constitution. Man is free to believe or not to believe, as he chooses, but he has no right under the cloak of religon or a profession of charity to deprive others of their property. In this case, he continued, it is the claim of the government that fraud was perpetrated in the name of religion. The followers of the Mission of the Holy Ghost have said that they expected to redeem the world.
If Sincere, They Had Right.
“Does it not seem to you as though this is a case of ignorant, mentally retarded people, attempting to solve one of the deepest and most difficult problems in the world?” queried Judge Dubuque. “If they were sincere in their belief, however, they had a right to it, so long as they did not defraud others.”
The judge referred to the fact that he had asked one of the witnesses, if she considered her attempt to sell for $9,000 property that had cost her $4,500 was consistent with the teachings of her religion. She replied, he said, that she considered the transaction perfectly proper.
“I don’t agree with that”, said Judge Dubuque. “I blame a man for getting what is more than just and reasonable.”
John E. Peakes, counsel for the defendant, spoke for an hour in arguing for a verdict of not guilty for Giasson, his client. It seemed to him, he said, that these simple people were guided by an abiding faith in a man whom they truly believed divine.
“I don’t believe he was divine,” exclaimed Mr. Peakes. “You probably don’t believe it. But is it criminal, is it illegal? These people may have been deluded, but whatever they had done has not been criminal.” In closing his argument, Mr. Peakes read the first three verses of the 14th chapter of Revelation, which had been referred to in the case as the basis of the belief of the sect. The argument for the government was made by Assistant District Attorney Edward T. Murphy. The whole issue, he declared, was whether or not there had been a conspiracy. Religion, he averred, was not an issue, for it is recognized that religion is an absolute essential and a basis of civilization and government.
Used Religion as Mask.
“We do not object to what they believe,” Mr. Murphy said. “Even the devil can quote Scriptures. All of us recognize that true religion makes life possible.
“The crime here is not their religion but that they used their religion as a mask for their own private advantage. It was not wrong if Giasson saw a miracle, but he says he didn’t. We claim that he told these people who were deluded that he had seen a miracle and therefore he deceived them.”
The last minute attack yesterday upon the character of Madame Godard and Lafleche appeared to come as a serious blow to the defense. John E. Peakes, counsel for the defendant, sought to break down the testimony of Chausse and his son as to their certainty of the identity of the two who came to their house as Lafleche and Madame
Godard. Mr. Peakes did learn that the government had only just come into possession of the knowledge as to what they would testify. Father and son said they had never uttered a word about Lafleche and Madame Godard being at their house until they told the story to State Detective Francis W. Clemmey Tuesday night. This was after the case had gone to trial.
Names Madame Godard
Another rebuttal witness was Sheriff Oliva St. Denis, Fall River, who does an insurance and real estate business in Fall River. He had had Lafleche among his customers and he testified to an occasion when Lafleche broached the subject of buying the property at 850 King Philip street, Fall River, which has often been referred to in the trial as the property of Mrs. Bergeron. When the matter of purchasing the property was first broached, the property was to be in the name of Lafleche, the witness said, but when the matter of Lafleche having a wife from whom he was separated was made known to the witness he said he suggested that Lafleche consult a lawyer as to the legality of the separation as it might affect his owning real estate. Rather than do this, the witness said, Lafleche had suggested that the property be put in the name of another and he named Madame Godard. This was done, he said, and the witness said that he understood in subsequent transactions that when either the name of Lafleche,Giasson or Madame Godard was used, it actually meant that they were associated in some way as a single unit.
Another piece of testimony offered through Mr. St. Denis was an additional blow to the defense. There has been frequent reference in the case to the so called “Declaration of Peonage” made by Eugene Martel, one of the complainants, a government witness and a former member of the colony, who claims he was defrauded out of between $6,000 and $7,000. This statement is one which Martel swore on the stand he had signed when it was no more than a blank sheet of paper and he said he understood it to be simply his testimony to the belief in the divine powers of Lafleche.
He professed that he was shocked when he found that he had signed an agreement, the terms of which were that he was to work for the Mission of the Holy Spirit for no wages other than his food, clothing and lodging. Defense witnesses, whose names were on the paper, said that the paper as it then appeared had been read to Martel before he signed it.
Came With Papers.
Mr. St. Denis testified that on one occasion Lafleche came to him with a piece of paper, blank other than for a number of names, and another smaller piece of paper on which was written out by hand practically the same words set forth in the so called “Declaration of Peonage.” He said he had asked him to copy onto the paper bearing the names, the words written out on the smaller paper so that the names might appear as signatures to the document. The witness said he refused to do it, and told Lafleche that he as asking him to do an illegal thing, that it was unlawful to add a document to the signatures.
Cross examined by Mr. Peakes, Mr. St. Denis said he did not know who had written the paper presented in court. He said he had not.
Court sat into yesterday afternoon that the evidence might be completed, leaving the arguments of counsel and the charge of Judge Hugo A. Dubuque for today.
The long examination of the defendant, Giasson, was to establish the facts as to how he came into possession of what, are described as three valuable pieces of real estate in Fall River, and the farm and island in Westport, all of which he holds either in his own name or as trustee. Giasson admitted that in the event the colony broke up and was dispersed, it would leave him in the possession of a good deal of property. He now says that he holds the property for the benefit of the members of the colony.
(Continued on page 14 of later edition)
Giasson added testimony to his belief in the divinity of Lafleche, recognizing him as having a spirit that was eternal, one that was in existence at the time that Christ was on earth although it did not become embodied in human form until the human appearance of Lafleche. Of those in court, Giasson is apparently the last one to have seen Lafleche alive, for he testified to visiting Lafleche in California in September, 1924, and remaining with him until February of this year.
He denied that he had sent Lafleche any money up to two or three months ago. The witness said he had not told the police where Lafleche was, because the latter had committed no wrong
Mortgaged to Lafleche.
Giasson, resuming the stand in the afternoon, said in answer to a question from Mr. Peakes that he paid $8,000 for the Birch street property, subject to a mortgage for $4,000. After purchasing the property, he said, he mortgaged it to Lafleche for no consideration. Later he sold the property for $12,000, the price at which he had acquired it.
Owns Goat Island.
Giasson also bought more property on Banks street subject to a mortgage of $11,400, and then he acquired it he gave another $4,000 mortgage. The farm in Westport was purchased from Louis Champagne in Oct. 1921, subject to an $800 mortgage. The farm was purchased for $2,100, which price included the mortgage. Great Island, or Goat Island, he said, was purchased by him in 1921, and everything there, he said, is owned by him. From the Bank street property Giasson said he received from $90 to $95 a week. When he came to Fall River, he said, he had $1,500, and he had since sold property in Montreal for $5,500. He said at this time he paid back to Armand Laporte the $3,500 that had been loaned to him.
Never Saw Miracle.
Giasson said he had never seen Lafleche perform a miracle, but he said he had heard about him performing miracles. He said he believed that Lafleche could raise the dead to life. The witness said he has told of the miracles Lafleche had performed to Swidey, Abdullah and Martel, the three complainants. He said he had heard that Lafleche predicted an earthquake, and that the world would come to an end some day when Lafleche raised his hand. He said his belief was that the world was to come to an end when those in the world were redeemed.
Believed in Master.
Giasson said he believed Lafleche could do all that The Master claimed he could do. He denied that Lafleche taught it was right to kill people or that all those not in the Mission were going to Hell. Neither did he teach it was proper to break any laws. Not being a married man, he said, Lafleche had not induced him to separate from a wife.
Denies Crying Spell
He said he had never seen Swidey, Martel or Abdullah ever give any money to Lafleche. He denied he had ever seen Mrs. Bergeron have a crying spell or go into a transe.
“Ever have a crying spell yourself?”
“What, me? No, no,” he answered in apparent disgust.
He denied that Lafleche had ever said that the Mission would some day own the whole world. The witness said that he did believe that the world would eventually belong to the children of those redeemed by the Mission. He himself believed, he said, that the Mission would some time govern the world. He said the Mission had supported Joseph Belanger and his family while they were at the Mission colony in Westport.
Lafleche Never Worked.
When members of the society work for the colony, such as working on contracts taken by Giasson as a contract painter, he said they never take any money. Their wages, he said, come to him and he takes care of those who work. He said he gave money to Lafleche besides supporting him and buying his clothing. Lafleche never worked, he said. When Lafleche left Fall River in the Spring of 1923, he said, he did not know how much money he had with him. He said that he and several members of the Mission accompanied Lafleche to Los Angeles. He remained in Los Angeles until August, 1923. He went again in September, 1924, he said, and remained with The Master up to February of this year. He said he had sent The Master money, as much as $150 at a time. He said he had sent $400 or $500 to his brother in California. He denied he had sent money to Lafleche until two or three months ago.
Believed Him God’s Messenger.
Giasson said he had never tried to get anyone to give money to him or Lafleche. The witness said he believed Lafleche was the third person God had said would come to the earth. The first was Jehovah, the second was Jesus Christ and the third was Lafleche.
“Do you believe that today?”
“I believe it more than ever today. He taught me the Revelation and the explanation of the teachings of God.
“Do you think Lafleche’s spirit is guiding your society today?”
“I don’t think we want to go into that,” interrupted Judge Dubuque, and that ended the inquiry into religion.
Lafleche Was Ill.
Asked as to where Gustave Robitaille, one of the original members of the Mission, now is, Giasson said the last he knew of him he was in California. Cross examined by Mr. Murphy and asked why he had not told the police where Lafleche was at the time he was first questioned about him, Giasson said he knew Lafleche was sick at the time and he did not want him disturbed.
“Then your loyalty to Lafleche came ahead of your loyalty to the police?” questioned Mr. Murphy.
“No, I did not want Lafleche troubled for he had committed no crime.”
Giasson denied that the teaching of Lafleche permitted the members of the society to be dishonest with those outside the society. He said in doing business there was nothing to prevent him from making a profit.
“Didn’t you know that what you were doing was deceiving the public?” questioned Judge Dubuque, referring to the fact that Giasson had testified that he had given a $14,000 mortgage on a piece of property for no consideration. Giasson replied he had placed the mortgage in order to sell it for more at a later time.
Found Stay Profitable.
Mr. Murphy called the attention of Giasson to the fact that he had testified he had sold property for $12,000 while the deed bore stamps indicating he had received $14,000 for it. The witness denied he knew anything about that. In answer to other queries, Giasson replied he had come to Fall River to make money, and that he had found his stay profitable. In New York, he said, it was the custom of Lafleche to preach and expound the teachings of the Mission. He admitted he discussed with others the teachings of The Master. Martel, he suggested, had never understood the teachings of The Master. Giasson said he now operates the properties of the Mission, and he was asked what would happen if everyone now in the Mission would eventually leave. He admitted that in such a case he would have considerable property on which there were now mortgages amounting to $15,900.
Giasson said he was aware that Lafleche was living apart from his wife, but he said he did not consider this a mark of divinity.
“Did you think there was anything particularly spiritual in his going around with Madame Godard?” asked Mr. Murphy.
Giasson replied in the negative.
Asked if he thought Lafleche was eternal, Giasson said he believed his spirit was on earth at the time Christ came, but that it was not until later that his spirit was clothed with a body. He said he believed that though the body of Lafleche is now dead, his spirit is alive the same as Christ is alive.
Giasson admitted he went into business to make money but he said he did not know the [——] of Lafleche or that the latter knew the business of the witness.
“Well, if he was the Deity, he must have known what your object was?” questioned Mr. Murphy.
“Yes,” replied the defendant, “he probably did.”
The defense closed at 5:10 and then the government called its witnesses in rebuttal.
November 22, Sunday
“The world has said that we are a mission of conspirators, that we are rogues, that we are bandits, that we are swindlers, that we are simpletons fit for the insane asylum.”
Joseph Hache, preacher of the Mission of the Divine Spirit, a sect almost unknown to the world until the trial of one of its members, Adelard Giasson, last week in Superior Court, Fall River, spoke.
He stood in the assembly hall of one of the three simple buildings on Goat Island, Westport, that house a little colony of the followers of Eugene Lafleche, founder of the Mission. Yesterday afternoon a brilliant sun and cloudless sky reflected through the windows from the smooth blue surface of the Westport River, in dazzling contrast to the gloom which has settled upon the little group remaining on the island.
With every bitter phrase, Mr. Hache swung his cane as one would heave an axe, his friendly, weather-beaten face growing stormy as he spoke. The conviction of Giasson, material leader of the colony, for conspiracy to defraud, carried with it extra bitterness for his staunch friends. The trial had brought ridicule upon the colony and Mr. Hache deplored most of all, had clouded the name of Lafleche, reverenced by his followers as the incarnation of the Holy Ghost.
Uncertainty as well as unhappiness has descended upon believers accustomed to frequent Goat Island and an allied settlement just across from it on the mainland. Giasson owns, subject to mortgages and loans, every stick and stone of the property. He hopes to appeal when sentence is pronounced in Fall River Tuesday, and eventually clear himself. If he fails, the colony has visions of confiscation of all his property, Goat Island and Westport mainland as well as the tenement property in Fall River, which figured prominently in the trial, consequent homelessness, and possibly deportation to their native Canada for themselves. What authority Mr. Hache has for such an outlook he did not say, but he sees it as a possibility.
“We will prove to the world, though,” Mr. Hache went on, “that we are peaceable people, children of peace, living and preaching peace.” Peace in Mr. Hache’s vocabulary connotes honesty and fair dealing as well.
The Goat Island community is sad, depressed, uneasy of its future, but its faith in the teachings of the departed Lafleche and in the pale, thin, blue-eyed Giasson, who has made the communal system of living possible, is unshaken, Mr. Hache made clear. The colony is convinced that it had had proof of the rightness of its belief, which centers about a ceremony of consecration and teaching of expectant mothers, that their unborn children may also be consecrated and come into the world “children of peace.” The millennium, the seventh day of the world, will come when 144,000 such children of peace have been born. A child so born cannot do otherwise than lead a godly life.
“The Eternal did send us at last a comforter,” said Mr. Hache reverently, dropping his voice, “and that comforter was Lafleche, the incarnation of the Holy Ghost. We have had proof that we have the right faith. For mothers who have been consecrated as Eugene Lafleche taught, the pains of childbearing and childbirth have been wiped out.”
Mr. Hache’s own children were born before he knew Eugene Lafleche, but in the three years he has lived on Goat Island three “children of peace” have been born there painlessly, Mr. Hache avers, in the consecration prescribed by the Master. One of them, wee Eugene Gosselin, lives now with his parents on the island. Pink cheeked, blue-eyed, he lived up to his title as a child of peace by sitting demurely on Mr. Hache’s knee and playing peacefully at other times with bits of wool and shingle.
Indeed, one of the functions of the island, Mr. Hache said, is to be a birthplace for children of peace. When Mr. Giasson acquired the island and turned it over to the Mission – Mr. Giasson was not there to speak for himself, having gone to Fall River to see friends who testified for him in the trial, off on their return journey to Montreal – he had two special objects in view. One was to establish a place of refuge where the Mission might take care of the aged, the poverty-stricken, the crippled, the invalid among its members. The other was to provide a peaceful spot where mothers-to-be might have quiet and healthful surroundings and good care, as well as religious instruction, before their children were born.
The ceremony of consecration is a simple one, Mr. Hache said. The preacher, who in the Mission of the Divine Spirit bears the title of “Servant of the Master,” lays his right hand on the head of the woman to be blessed and recites a prayer which was composed by Eugene Lafleche – quite a long prayer. Instruction of the upbringing of children in the ways of peace, given privately and in the general meetings, completes the consecration.
The inspiration for this ceremony comes from the Scripture record of the Immaculate Conception, Mr. Hache revealed. He had explained that the community services, which are held on Friday evening, regarded as the beginning of the Sabbath, and on Sunday afternoon, include the singing of hymns and begin and end with recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
“You’ll find no blood in our hymns,” said Mr. Hache. “Most of them we have composed ourselves. My son, Romeo, has written the words of some of them. The foundation of salvation was not the blood of Christ shed on the cross. That was murder. Our guide to salvation was the consecration of His mother, while she was a virgin, by which He was born a Son of God.
There are no crosses to be seen in the assembly hall at Goat Island. It is merely a big, sunny room, looking out on three sides upon the river. Mirrors are set between white paneled walls; the polished inlaid hardwood floor was laid as a labor of love by men of the colony; the great grand piano was brought over from the mainland in a row-boat; a single huge tufted black leather rocking chair was the gift of the colony to Eugene Lafleche – for he as a big man and the other furniture is austerely angular. Simple chairs, worn, inexpensive rugs, and a stove propped on four pieces of wood complete the furnishings. There are no crosses anywhere on Goat Island. This emblem of Christianity is abhorrent to followers of the Mission of the Divine Spirit.
Sacred images, pictures, the symbol of the cross, Mr. Hache disposed of with the comment, “We don’t want any idols. The cross was a scaffold. We have no crosses here. We don’t want a scaffold staring us in the face.”
The followers of Eugene Lafleche, most of whom where born and brought up Roman Catholics, though they referred to no other faith than their present one, have given up every trapping of religion. This afternoon, as Mr. Hache pictured a typical service, they will gather in an informal circle in the center of the big room. He will take his stand behind an inlaid table made by a member of the Mission and all will silently “raise their spirits” to God. Then comes unison recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and perhaps a hymn, Mrs. Hache, who was a music teacher, playing the accompaniment.
Mr. Hache, clad perhaps in the coarse black trousers, blue shirt, and red sweater he wears on week days, will speak. He may take a subject from the Bible: “I may have my mind so full of things to say that I will not need to look at the Bible for a text.” More hymns, questions and answers perhaps, and again the prayer. No candles, no robes, nothing but a devout spirit to distinguish this from any ordinary gathering.
Mr. Hache, and the other servants of the Mission, were consecrated as preachers and teachers by Eugene Lafleche in Montreal. Every member of the Mission has been baptized in the spirit in a similar way. Mr. Hache estimates that the Mission numbers all told nearly 1,000 members, most of them in Montreal and some in Ottawa, some in Windsor Mills, some in other Canadian cities, a group in Fall River, and, at present, but ten on the Westport River island. In the summer there are more. They come from Canada to spend five or six weeks there and on the mainland across. This function of the property, recreation and an opportunity for young people of the families of members to become acquainted and perhaps form friendships that may result in consecrated marriages, was a third object for which Mr. Giasson established it.
The Goat Islanders do not behave like conspirators. Their communal life is apparently an open book for anyone who may choose to look into it. The Standard’s representatives stood on the opposite shore, surveying a small leaky rowboat moored there, the one link in communication to the island. Beside them loomed a tall white structure, apparently a triple tenement house of two stories above a foundation story containing several garage spaces and large storerooms, which has undoubtedly puzzled many motorists by its presence on the wooded, unpopulated road leading to Westport Harbor. It is an unfinished community dwelling belonging to Adelard Giasson, erected to house members of the Misison of the Divine Spirit.
The visitors were observed from the island. Romeo Hache, 21 year old son of the preacher, came sculling across in a second rowboat before they could launch the first. Scarcely asking a question beyond whether they wished to go to the island, he helped them into the boats and sculled back, muscles like iron shooting the boat ahead. A third boat was tied up to the island shore on which he beached his passengers. In those three boats, propelled by oars, every piece of timber, all the brick, pipe, glass, furniture, and much of the stone used on the island was brought over from the mainland.
Joseph Hache came down to the shore to welcome the strangers. He talked freely, except of miracles. Ah, he could tell things, he said – but what was the use? People would mock and disbelieve, as they had mocked and disbelieved in the courtroom, yet it was all true. Eugene Lafleche, who had directed the building of the community hall, with broad verandas all around and two tenements above, had performed miracles on that island. Eugene Lafleche was not dead. He had said before his death that he would have to leave this world because he had come before his time. Mr. Hache bowed his head to hide welling tears.
“He was a power, that man. A wonderful man.” Mr. Hache lifted his head again.
In one of the two tenements in the community house Adelard Giasson lives with Mr. and Mrs. Philip Gosselin and little Eugene. In that same tenement, before the Gosselins came, Eugene Lafleche lived with an 80-year old man named Bourgeois for nearly a year. The other tenement is empty just now. Mr. Giasson is single, Mr. Hache said, and has never been married. He had money, more than the court permitted him to reveal, thanks to his difficulties with the English language. When he became a member of the Mission he felt there was no reason why he should keep his money for himself. He wanted to do good with it, and therefore acquired the Westport property, the three-acre island, the 50 acres across on the shore, and houses in Fall River from which the revenue is used to support the Goat Island colony.
Mr. Hache is no parasite on Mr. Giasson’s bounty, according to his own story. He is a machinist, and he came to Westport at Mr. Giasson’s request to assist in building up the island. He installed the water system which brings running water to the island from the brow of the hill on the 50-acre lot, through a pipe laid along the bottom of the river. He plumbed the houses and helped with the rip-rap walls which are being built along the shore and above it. He has also worked on Mr. Giasson’s houses in Fall River. In both places his work was his contribution to the Mission. He gave Mr. Giasson just before the trial a paper to show that there was no account to be settled between them. In return he has received all that was needful for himself and his family. “We have no need to look to tomorrow for our slice of bread,” he says. If he must go back to Canada, he will go serene in the confidence that he can again take up his trade and earn a living.
Two smaller houses of no architectural pretensions whatever, with staircases and chimneys of clay conduit pipe, stand opposite each other, perhaps 50 yards apart, back of the community house on the island. The lower floor of the house to the south contains the community dining room and kitchen. A long table set with a white cloth and the plainest of cheap chairs furnishes the green-painted dining room. In that dining room, says Mr. Hache, the colony takes communion three times a day – every time they eat a meal. They invoke the divine blessing on the food they eat to build up their bodies for the service of God. That is a more real, a better communion, he said, than the communion of bread and wine he administers on rare occasions in the community hall.
“We don’t even take a glass of water unless we ask the Lord to bless it,” said Mr. Hache. “We don’t eat an apple even without invoking a blessing [—–] mean that [——-] do for a moment raise our spirits to God.”
There are no taboos as to food in the Mission of the Holy Ghost. Whatever the stores sell or the land produces or the sea yields up is deemed proper food, regardless of what day of the week it may be. There is a taboo on strong drink. “The Divine Spirit and the whisky spirit don’t go together,” says Mr. Hache with the ready humor which characterizes him.
A small storehouse near the dining hall contains the community’s provisions, including the products of a garden patch and vegetables from the farm tilled by Adelard Theoret, another member of the colony dwelling with his family on the hill on the mainland. Upstairs in the single tenement lives the widow of Giasson’s brother, Alexander Giasson.
In the opposite house Mr. Hache, his wife, their son Romeo, and their daughter Loretta, occupy the lower tenement. Upstairs dwells a Mrs. Lajoie. That is the whole present population of the island. Mr. and Mrs. Theoret and their children, including three young ones who attend public school at Westport Harbor, are the whole population of the mainland tract. The Haches assist on the Theoret farm, where two cows graze and supply milk for the community. The Theorets come over and help with work on the island.
Wood is cut in the 50-acre tract and brought by boat to the island. Tall woodpiles bear witness to much rowing and chopping and sawing. A row of horseshoes hanging at the end of a wood pile tells a tale of the simple game in which the men stretch their muscles after a siege with hoe or axe. There is still work to do on all the houses. The ice last year played havoc with a laboriously laid stone wall which was awaiting a protecting coat of cement. A flock of about 40 chickens and some 75 ducks furnish more work. A 20-foot avenue from one side of the island to the other is planned. It is half done. The clearing of the ground must by done by hand. The plan is to turf it and plant it with geometrical beds of flowers. Mr. Hache, the hydraulic engineer, hopes to have a jet of water spout from a boulder in its center.
The women of the Westport colony keep busy with the tasks that are usually women’s work, sewing, washing, cleaning. The sparsely furnished rooms, the window curtains, the aprons the women wore as they were glimpsed to and fro, appeared spotlessly clean. Each married woman takes care of the domestic needs of her own household. They share the work of the community kitchen.
“What about dancing?” was a query directed to Mrs. Alexander Giasson. The polished floor of the assembly hall suggested dancing. Her shocked “No indeed. I don’t dance,” indicated that that amusement is frowned upon. Mr. Hache said merely that they get enough dancing doing their work. As for dance music – jazz is murder music, he said. It is the sort of music to drive men mad enough to do crazy things.
But the goat islanders are not puritanical. Bathing is a favored amusement, and they have improved the beach with which nature endowed the island by a tower-like structure which is to furnish showers for returning bathers. A square wooden tank surmounts the structure. The sight of it, as he showed his visitors over the island, [led] Mr. Hache again to bitterness.
“There,” he said, “is the tower in which the Boston newspapers say we worship the sun. Yes, we stand up on there and worship the sun, and sun’s rays are conducted down through little pipes for people who can stand inside the tower and take sun baths! That’s what the world learns about us. It reminds me of what the Judge said in Fall River, that everybody must expect to be misunderstood and criticized. Why bother to explain to people who don’t want to believe the truth?”
And with utmost cordiality Mr. Hache escorted his visitors back to their boats.