They called him MoÃ¯se: Moses in English.
He looked the part, with his long, straggled, gray and ginger beard, piercing blue eyes, and shamanic poise.
No one really knew what he was up to in my Aunt Marie’s old home – or was it Aunt Maude’s? I always forget. Marie and Maude – my great aunts, actually – were identical twins, who survived to the age of 100. The house across the street and down a little from my Uncle Paul’s belonged to one of them, but I cannot recall which. In her later years, she had to give it up, and people began to rent it.
It was a lovely country home: I recall it having a broad verandah [they call them “?sun porches’ in the East] and caramel-colored shutters over creamy clapboards. It was situated on the main street of the little Gaspé, Quebec town called New Carlisle (SEE: http://www.infogaspesie.com/villages/baie_des_chaleurs/new_carlisle/new_carlisle.html). My mother was born and raised in that town, and I have dozens of relatives there still.
Colorful Quebec separatist Rene Levesque was born in New Carlisle, and for many years – until MoÃ¯se became one of the most notorious men in Canadian history – this was its greatest claim to fame. Of more colloquial repute, they have also amassed a lovely array of fire hydrants painted to look like cartoon characters (SEE: http://www.geocities.com/athens/Forum/5443/firehydrants2.html).
I do not recall the exact year that MoÃ¯se came to New Carlisle, but I was very young – perhaps 9 years old, which would make it 1978. My family was in Gaspé for the month of July – a trip we made every second summer. As always, we stayed in the house where my mother was born, and where her twin brother still lives.
Across the street, and about two houses down, was the house of my great aunt Marie (or was it Maude?). When we arrived, I remember my uncle telling my mother that a group of hippies, led by a religious fanatic who called himself Moses – MoÃ¯se – had rented the home for the summer and it was going to trash. There were more than 15 adults living in that house, and several children as well. The yard was messy and filled with brush, but I seem to remember them having a nice garden out back.
Mom and Dad had heard of MoÃ¯se. Most people in Quebec had. He was somewhat notorious, but at that time no one knew exactly what he had been up to. They knew only that he was leader of a commune, that he wore his hair and beard, and sometimes a cloak, to look like his namesake, and he spouted prophesies about god and death and the end of the world.
I, naturally, was fascinated with the new people, and I spent many long hours in the front porch watching the goings on across the street. No one knew then that MoÃ¯se would go on to become Canada’s most brutal serial killer, and a man whose sadistic and perverse tortures would earn him a place as one of the cruelest men in the history of the world.
Everyone thought that MoÃ¯se was crazy, but they weren’t sure if he was dangerous. Just in case, I was warned to never go near the house, or talk to any of the strange hippies who lived there. I was timid enough to heed my mother’s warnings, but my curiosity knew no bounds. Hour upon hour I watched that house, and once in a while I ventured out to the front yard of the house next door for an even better vantage point. So much went on, it was like having my own little movie theatre out front.
Everyone seemed happy. They wore cutoffs and colorful shirts, and every day most of the household was outside and working. They gardened, and worked on vehicles. They chopped wood and built things. I did not see much of the children, but they were there too, in the back of the house farther from the highway, and everything seemed ok. The women outnumbered the men by about two to one, and helped out with much of the work that went on outside. I don’t know if Gabrielle Lavallee was one of those women, but she might have been. No one knew who she was, of course, until about ten years later when MoÃ¯se hacked off her arm with a meat cleaver and cauterized it with a piece of hot scrap metal.
I remember that the commune worked very long hours on a little shack right at the front of the property, bordering the highway. It was like a little vegetable stand, with a table like structure surrounded by a low hut. On the top was a large, plywood sign. I was fascinated with that sign, because the women were painting huge, colourful figures upon it. I don’t recall it having words, but I think there was a big blue whale or fish on it, with a cartoon like grin. I remember the colours quite vividly.
No one in my family was artistic, and I was enthralled with this group, who all seemed to me to be so blessed with creativity. I secretly hoped that they would use the booth to open a little souvenir stand, so that I could talk my mother into taking me over to see it. I pictured these people making the most extravagant crafts, like the fabulous wooden boats that many of the fishermen would make and sell on the side of the road for only a few dollars.
I don’t know what they ever did with that booth. For days I watched it being built and painted, but finally we went home to Calgary, and the stand was either unused, or used at times when I was not around. I burned with curiosity. Some time earlier the commune, in another location, started an “?organization’ called The Ant Hill Kids: Arts and Crafts, through which they raised money selling fruits and craft items. I suspect that their booth in Gaspé was something similar.
I saw so much that summer – a glimpse into the everyday lives of a commune, but now that I know what I know – what we all know about MoÃ¯se – I shudder as I think of what might have gone on beyond those walls. It was not long after this time that MoÃ¯se maimed a young boy by hacking off his penis in an attempt to correct a urination problem. MoÃ¯se – whose real name is Roch Theriault – committed every imaginable depravity against his wives, children, and followers – and we’ll never know how much went on in that house.
It is important to note that at this time we just thought he was a hippie and doomsday prophet. People thought perhaps the house was host to orgies, drug parties, wife swapping, and other acts performed by those who shun society’s rules, but that’s all.
I cannot explain, then, why my one brief encounter with the Savage Messiah made such an impression on me, and still does.
I have yet to see the movie: (SEE: http://www.christalfilms.com/moise/)
Next week – a glimpse into the madman’s eyes:
Tamra lives in Calgary with her husband and two cats. A fulltime AU student, she splits her free time between her duties as an AUSU councillor, writing her first novel, and editing written work by other students and friends.