Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thriller Thursday: DesGroseilliers Family Held Hostage at Home

It was 60 years ago today – November 26, 1955 – that the "reign of terror" began for Victor DesGroseilliers (a distant cousin of my mother) of Cornwall, Ontario. He and his family were held hostage in their home for five hours during a robbery. [1]
Desgroseilliers family hostages in 1955
"Five Hours of Terror" (Ancestry.ca)

Here’s a timeline of those events.

Evening:
Victor, a Dominion supermarket manager, and his wife Thérèse are out at friends playing bridge. Eldest son Robert (16) is home, while his brother Roland (15) and his sister Louise (5) are sleeping. A man knocks at the front door of the modest bungalow on Bryden Avenue; he asks if Robert’s father is home. He replies that he is out, but that he will be back about midnight. The man says he’ll return at that time and leaves. Robert tries to telephone his father, but “the telephone wouldn’t work”, Robert later said. (The “thieves had carefully cut the wires”, according to the police.) [2]

About 12:15 a.m.:
The man is back at the house, but Robert’s parents still aren’t home. He asks if he can wait; Robert says yes and the man sits in the living room. Robert notices that the man is “very nervous and uneasy” and that he keeps his left hand in his overcoat pocket. [3]

A few minutes later:
The man says he hears someone at the door and gets up; he lets a man in. Robert sees that this second man has a white handkerchief around his face and carries what looks like a sawed-off shotgun. The first man removes his hand from his coat pocket and holds what appears to be a German Luger. The men tell Robert to go wake his brother.

As Victor and Thérèse drive up to their house, they notice a man entering their home. Concerned, Victor walks into his house and heads toward the kitchen saying, “What is going on here!” [4] Suddenly, the kitchen light goes on and Victor and Thérèse find guns pointed at them.

The family is told to sit on the kitchen floor. The gunmen make them face the wall and tie them up with cords they brought with them. When those aren’t enough to bind them, the gunmen cut more cords from the house’s Venetian blinds. They then tell Victor they want his keys to the grocery store and the combination of its safe.

A short while later:
The gunmen leave, but the family hears someone outside. Soon, the men return telling Victor they could not open the safe. They ask him to repeat the combination number and then one gunman leaves. The other gunman notices a bedroom and asks whose it is. He’s told that it’s Ghislaine’s room, but that she will not be home for a while.

About 3 a.m.:
Ghislaine (20) and her friend Laurent Langlois (23) arrive back home from a dance. As they open the front door, they hear her mother say in French, “Don’t let Laurent in … don’t let Laurent in.” At that moment, Laurent feels a gun at his back; someone tells him, “Shut up or I’ll blast you.” [5]

Laurent and Ghislaine are pulled into the kitchen. A gunman “[ties] a rope from [Laurent’s] neck to the cellar door knob”. [6] He if moves or twists, the rope gets tighter. A handkerchief is stuffed into his mouth and secured with adhesive tape.

The gunmen laugh at “the sight of the captives spread over the kitchen floor”. They talk about how “big a hole the bullets in the gun would make [in the hostages]”. [7]

Sometime later:
The gunmen blindfold Victor and take him to the grocery store, about two miles away from his home. The family is warned that “If anybody moves my friend [outside] will take care of you.” [8]

At the store, the gunmen force Victor to open the safe, which is located “just inside the well-lighted, all glass front” supermarket. The gunmen begin to put the safe’s money ($17,451.00) into carrying cases. [9] Suddenly, they hear the store’s door lock being tested. It is a Cornwall police officer who is on his night rounds. One of the men puts a gun to Victor’s back and threatens him to not make a sound. After the officer leaves, the gunmen re-tie Victor and place him behind a counter. The robbers leave the grocery store.
Victor DesGroseilliers held hostage in 1955
"Five Hours of Terror" (Ancestry.ca)

About 5:20 a.m.:
Victor manages to free an arm and calls the police. Road blocks are set up, but the thieves escape.

Postscript

Victor and his family could not identify the four gunmen when police showed them pictures of suspects. Laurent thought they sounded Italian when they spoke. He said some were about 5’11” and others over 6’ tall. They wore long overcoats, and white masks and caps over their eyes. Louise said they had “funny faces”. [10] Nevertheless, one of them, 30-year-old Irwin William Stata, was captured the next night in Brantford, west of Toronto. [11] He later pleaded guilty at his trial and was sentenced to ten years in penitentiary. Stata was on parole the night he committed the Cornwall armed robbery. He had served ten years of an 18 year sentence for manslaughter. [12]

Sources:

1. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 28 November 1955, p. 1; digital images, Ancestry.ca (http://ancestry.ca : accessed 23 November 2015), Newspapers & Publications.

2. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal, 28 November 1955, p. 1.

3. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal, 28 November 1955, p. 1.

4. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal, 28 November 1955, p. 1.

5. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal, 28 November 1955, p. 3.

6. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal, 28 November 1955, p. 3.

7. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal, 28 November 1955, p. 3.

8. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal, 28 November 1955, p. 3.

9. “Admits $17,451 Cornwall Robbery”, The Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 14 December 1955, p. 1; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 23 November 2015).

10. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal, 28 November 1955, p. 3.

11. “Five Hours of Terror”, The Journal, 28 November 1955, p. 1.

12. “Cornwall Robber Gets 10 Years”, The Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) Evening Journal, 21 December 1955, p. 1; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 23 November 2015).

Copyright © 2015, Yvonne Demoskoff.

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