Thursday, March 10, 2016

They're still talking about the murder at PDAC...

This is a story I wrote several years ago, based on the original murder story which I covered in the 1980s.
They were still talking about at it the prospector's convention this year. 
Some people thought it was an urban legend!
"You bastard," the dying man shouted.
Those were the last words that Timmins "Timmy" Bissonnette was ever to hear from his lifelong friend Guy Maurice Lamarche just moments after Bissonnette shot Lamarche with a .38 calibre pistol.
It was 25 years ago this week that the people of Timmins and the Canadian mining exploration community were stunned when the news of the shooting flashed out from The Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto where the annual Prospectors and Developers Convention was underway.
It was the tragic end of a friendship that had begun years earlier when two Timmins boys became close friends, drinking buddies and lifelong pals.
It was the supper hour on Monday March 9th, 1987. It was the first full day of the convention. Lamarche was standing near the top of the up-escalator leading to the main exhibit hall at the Royal York. Lamarche was well known to the mining crowd and was smiling and greeting many friends and associates.
That was standard procedure for Lamarche, who was described by many of his friends as not merely handsome, but dashing. While many men might be comfortable in jeans and a tee-shirt, Lamarche was right at home wearing expensive tailor-made tuxedos.
Bissonnette, wearing a fedora hat and a beige trench coat had worked his way through the crowd and, according to witnesses, seeing Lamarche, he moved toward the escalator.
Suddenly, there was a commotion and some shouting.
"He's going to shoot me. The son of a bitch!" one witness recalled hearing.
A 6:20 p.m. a shot rang out. Many of the witnesses at the scene never saw the first shot fired, but they heard it. And then turning their attention toward the noise, they saw Bissonnette fire a second shot into Lamarche.
Months later, during the murder trial, it would be revealed that Bissonnette had fired the first shot as Lamarche was turning away. The bullet hit Lamarche in the back and spun him around. Bissonnette fired a second bullet that hit Lamarche in the heart, court was told.
With that Bissonnette turned and ran down the upward-moving escalator. Shocked spectators moved to help Lamarche, now laying on the carpet and bleeding heavily.
Bissonnette left the hotel, ran out onto Front Street, and jumped into a taxi that drove away. Witness Lloyd Bardswich told court he followed Bissonnette, saw the taxi and he himself got into another taxi and gave chase. Within two blocks, Bardswich was able to get the attention of a police officer and point to Bissonnette.
Toronto Police Sergeant Emory Gilbert would testify that Timmins Andre Bissonnette, age 54, was arrested and searched. Police recovered a silver-plated pearl-handled revolver with two spent cartridge casings.
As Bissonnette was being taken into custody, Lamarche was rushed to Toronto General Hospital, roughly one mile north of the hotel.
Guy Maurice Lamarche, age 53, was pronounced dead at 6:49 p.m.
Police would eventually learn that both men were known to each other, that they were both from Timmins and had business dealings with each other.
But the question that was being asked in Timmins and at the convention was, what had happened that these two former close friends had become such deadly enemies.
"I can't tell you what happened," said the 79-year-old Bissonnette in an interview with The Timmins Times last week. "My thing with him was personal, him and I. Something happened and I don't want to get into that."
Court transcripts however, reveal there were some hard feelings that arose over money.
In the early 1980s Lamarche, who was a well-known mining stock promoter, was found guilty of defrauding a bank when loans were secured to allow clients to buy mining stock. Lamarche did not put the all money into the stocks, but into a personal account. Lamarche pleaded guilty. He was fined $200,000 and ordered to make restitution.
Bissonnette told the court that Lamarche became angry when Bissonnette could only scrape together about $13,000 to help Lamarche pay off the fine.
Bissonnette also told the court that over the years he had given Lamarche between $125,000 and $150,000 to help him out when he needed it.
In return, Bissonnette told the court, Lamarche had promised to give him $100,000, several hundred mining shares and would allow him to stay in his luxury condo on the Toronto waterfront for several weeks.
In the mid-1980's Bissonnette had financial hard times. He had to sell his night club. Court was told he hired a private detective to find Lamarche since he heard Lamarche had been successful in stock promotions in Holland and England.
In March 1987 Bissonnette was in Toronto where he confronted Lamarche and asked him to share the wealth.
Bissonnette told the court that Lamarche told him that day "I changed my mind, you're not going to get no money." He further testified that Lamarche had threatened to "have him blown away" by some thugs that Lamarche knew from Amsterdam.
"You won't need no money," Lamarche allegedly told Bissonnette "You're going to be dead in a couple of days," Bissonnette said he was told.
Bissonnette returned to his hotel room and got the gun. He then headed over to the Royal York.
Looking back on it all, Bissonnette said he regrets his actions that day.
"Oh yeah, very much so. I spent 18 years in prison. I should never have went there that day.
"It should have never happened, but I was angry, or whatever it was," Bissonnette said quietly.
He said that he and Lamarche were once as close as brothers.
"Well we grew up together, you know. He was a good guy, a good talker and he was a good hustler. I was a hustler. I was making money. I lived in Puerto Rico. He used to come and live in my apartment. I had a beautiful penthouse," said Bissonnette.
He also recalled that Lamarche was popular with women.
"Yeah, we used to hang around Vegas together. And wow, all the broads loved him," he laughed.
Bissonnette's case eventually went to trial in February 1988. Although he was initially charged with first-degree murder, Bissonnette argued that the killing was not premeditated. After several days of testimony, the case was put in the hands of the jury on February 5, 1988.
Seven hours later, the jury determined that Bissonnette was guilty of second degree murder.
A week later, on February 11th, associate chief justice Frank Callaghan sentenced Bissonnette to life in prison with a minimum of 13 years before any parole would be considered. Callaghan said the killing was motivated more by stupidity than by evil. Callaghan basically said Bissonnette was not an evil man.
Prison time can be hard time for anyone, but Bissonnette endured. In the words of the prison underworld, Bissonnette was respected, connected and protected.
Bissonnette said connections with "the Quebec mob" meant he, as a middle-aged man, could do prison time in safety.
"There was lots of respect. No problem. I got close to two, three tough guys," he recalled.
"I looked after them. I had some money on the street. I took care of a couple of families."
But the salad days for Timmy Bissonnette were definitely over. He would eventually spend 18 years behind bars. It was a far cry from those easy days when he owned a swank nightclub in Puerto Rico. Still, his jail cell was adorned with photos of himself with famous entertainers and athletes of the 1960s and 1970s.
"I owned a bar you know. It was a big nightclub in San Juan. It was called Danny's Living Room. It was open for 40 years! You don't see restaurants and bars open 40 years," he said.
"I became rich. I was a rich guy you know. I had a home on the beach in Puerto Rico, an apartment in Las Vegas at the same time. And I was married five times," he said.
"Did ya know I used to hang around Las Vegas?" he asked.
"I was close with the Rat Pack. Dean Martin, yeah, Dean Martin was close to me. I have picture of us in my apartment," he laughed.
The nightclub not only attracted famous people, but also old friends and acquaintances from Timmins.
One Timmins man, who knew Bissonnette well, said part of his success in San Juan was because the bar was open 24 hours a day. San Juan had several large hotels and casinos where famous entertainers would perform. Once their show was done, they liked to get away from the crowds and the hip place to go was Danny's. That's how Bissonnette came to rub elbows with the rich and famous.
"There was Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra," Bissonnette recalled with a laugh. "We should sit down and talk some day. I can tell ya all about 'em."
That sense of celebrity paid off eventually when Bissonnette realized he could do something good while in prison.
One day, he was given a brand new sweatshirt from a Superbowl game. Bissonnette, knowing that his fellow inmates made a few dollars a week doing menial jobs, decided to raffle the sweatshirt. He was able to raise roughly $500 which he donated to a children's wish foundation.
"It's to help those little kids with cancer," said Bissonnette.
Known inside the prison as Mr. B, he continued the fundraising effort for children.
He said he still works to help raise money for various foundations especially since he too is a cancer survivor, having overcome a struggle with leukemia a few years ago.
Bissonnette now lives in the Greater Toronto Area, where he is still on parole.
"I did 18 years in the joint, but I will be on parole for the rest of my life," he said matter of factly.
He added that he remembers his early days fondly, growing up in the town he was named after. He worked as a shoe-shine boy, a newspaper boy, helping milk delivery and washing store windows on Third Avenue.
When he was 19, he joined a travelling carnival and travelled across Canada, the U.S. and Latin America. Eventually he partnered with other "carnies" and began making serious money running big shows and games of chance.
All in all, Bissonnette said he has few regrets in life, save for that fateful day in March, 25 years ago at the prospector's convention. "I should never have went there," he said again.
Bissonnette is sensitive to the fact that he took the life of a fellow man, another human being.
"Yeah, I think of that often. I'm Catholic. I go to church. And you know, between you and me, I light a candle once in a while," Bissonnette said softly.
"I feel bad for the family you know. They've got to live without their father. And the grandkids won't see their grandfather ... all because of what I did, you know. That's a little rough for them."

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