The 1953 murder of Marie Anne Carrier


by Susan Peters

Every now and then a story emerges that shocks a nation. It is even more notable when it happens within our jurisdiction. Just that happened on October 16, 1953, when 14-year-old Stanley Dale Hutt noticed a naked female body in a ditch near Dixon’s Corners. He immediately ran to tell his father Merle Hutt, who initially did not believe him. When he went back to the ditch with his son, Merle realized that it was very much true.  At that point the police were called, and the eyes of the country were upon Dundas County. The story hit newsstands as of October 19 in the Ottawa Citizen and the Toronto Star. By October 20, the story was covered in Owen Sound, Hamilton, Niagara Falls and Kingston. It did not appear in the Iroquois Post or Morrisburg Leader until the 22nd since they were weeklies.

In the initial days, all that was known was that the naked body of a young lady was found face down in a ditch. She had been brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. Her identity was not yet known. According to local papers, the community was in fear of further attacks. Her body was moved by the Morrisburg Inspector Wright to the Leonard Keck Funeral Home. A notice was placed in newspapers across the area asking if anyone could identify the deceased. As she had been declared missing by her family, her brothers traveled to Morrisburg to identify her body. She was identified as 22-year-old Marie Anne Carrier of Bienville Quebec.The ordeal of identifying their sister must have been traumatic as she was stabbed 5 times, in the left eye, twice to the heart, and twice to the abdomen. There was also evidence of strangulation.  This was a crime of passion. 

Marie Anne Carrier was last seen on October 14 when she headed to an army parade drill. Sergeant Carrier was a serving member in the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Corps Reserve.  She was also a bank employee at Levis Quebec. The alarm was sent out when she failed to appear for work, as well as missing the drill. When her body was found in a ditch near Iroquois, the police and Army were both on alert to identify her body. At the same time, the Carrier family had declared her missing. 

The Carrier brothers were aware that their sister was dating a man named “Pete”. As a result, he was being sought for questioning. The newspapers all over Canada reported the story in salacious detail. The Army was able to ascertain that Pete was 24-year-old second Lieutenant Peter Ernest Robin Balcombe. He was a serving member of the Canadian Army and had recently transferred to Valcartier Quebec from Wainwright, Alberta. By October 19, there was a warrant for his arrest. This is where the story gets complicated. While Peter Balcombe had been dating Marie Anne Carrier for some months, and had given her an engagement ring, he was arrested near London in the home of his wife’s parents. Yes, you read that right! He was a married man and was also the father of two children, a three-year-old and an 8-week-old infant. As the story unfolded, once Marie Anne was aware that he was married, she broke up her relationship with him. He apparently offered to divorce his wife. His 22-year-old wife, Jean, was not aware of any of this. Clearly, he was living a double life. Jean Grey had married Balcombe at a church wedding in London in May of 1949.

By December 1953, Morrisburg was filled to the rafters with reporters as a coroner’s inquest was held. It was eventually moved to Cornwall due to the large numbers competing for space in the gallery. There was also a need to control paparazzi. Balcombe professed his innocence, while the Iroquois based coroner, Dr. C. R. Marcellus, testified to the shocking brutality of the crime. The wound to the heart was likely what killed her, but she had five stab wounds including one to her left eye. She had multiple cuts and abrasions indicating that she fought off her attacker. She was also strangled. This must have been unbearable to hear for Marie Anne’s mother and siblings who were present. It was suggested by a pathologist that the attacker must have studied anatomy as he was able to exert the most damage possible in a few strokes of the knife. It was brought up at the inquest that Balcombe was studying pre-med in university before he entered the army. Balcombe’s commanding officer noted that a stiletto knife was missing from his equipment. It was never recovered. It was also damning evidence that Balcombe had rented a cabin for a few hours, and blood stains along with his fingerprints and some women’s clothing were found there. The clothing was identified by Carrier’s family as belonging to her. There was also blood in Balcombe’s vehicle. Balcombe was remanded in custody in Cornwall and his trial was set for February.  

The jury trial was held in a very crowded court in Cornwall. The six-day long trial heard 27 witnesses for the Crown and six witnesses for the defense. Balcombe did not testify.  Apparently, he sat motionless when the jury declared him guilty of murder. He was sentenced to hang on May 25.  Balcombe appealed this conviction. While the newspapers were vague on the grounds for an appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada case (1954 CanLii 75 (SCC) Peter E. R. Balcombe vs Her Majesty the Queen) states that it was based on the question of jurisdiction.  While the body was dumped in a ditch in Dundas County, the question was whether the murder took place in Dundas County. Balcombe conjectured that if the murder took place in Quebec, he should have been tried in Quebec. Clearly this was a stalling tactic. The appeal failed.  

The other issue raised by Balcombe was that the saturation of tabloid reporting on the case prior to trial ensured that he did not have a fair trial. There was an associated court proceeding in which the publisher of several magazines was charged with contempt for having published salacious and often embellished reports of the case. Edward Bryan was charged with contempt of court, sentenced to 10 days in jail and fined $14,000 for having published and distributed the reports.

This case came to its conclusion in the early morning hours of May 25. While some American newspapers claimed that Balcombe had pleaded his innocence, the Canadian papers all said he said nothing while a crowd of about 500 teenaged hooligans hooted and hollered outside the Cornwall Jail. Someone set off fireworks, causing a commotion. He died a civilian, as he was released from the Army by cabinet order. As no one claimed his body, he was buried in the prison courtyard. This was the last execution by hanging at the Cornwall Jail. After this, the newspapers left this story well behind, and the other victims of this man went on with their lives.  One cannot begin to imagine the tragedy this all presented to the 15 siblings and mother of Marie Anne Carrier. The wife of Balcombe, Jean, was left with two very young fatherless children to raise. As quickly as the story lit up the headlines of papers across Canada, the story was forgotten. The Dundas County Archives has a collection of about 50 newspaper articles and other related documents available for researchers.


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