|THE GAGNON MURDER STORY
THE CADILLAC OF LEGEND
There are tail fins and tall tail fins. There are also tales and tall tales. However, one car has the tallest of both, an incredible white 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Seville, the Gagnon Murder Car.
We've all heard the story of an ultra low mileage collector car which was taken off the road and preserved through time because of the sudden death of the owner (often in the car). This story is the most frequently told old car fable, and it is chronicled in folklorist Professor Jan Brunvand first book on "Urban legends" - the popular American folk tales. The story always describes a fantastically valuable car which was discovered and purchased by a friend of a friend or cousin of a cousin of the person telling the tale. And the car can never be seen. Until now, that is -- you're looking at it.
About twenty years ago, the current owner was talking about old cars with an acquaintance when the all-too-familiar "death car" story came up. Yet something important was different about the story this time - the acquaintance offered to call to see if the car was for sale. He called, it was for sale, and the current owner bought it the next day.
When the current owner saw the car, the last time it had been driven was on the 8th of February, 1959, the night the owner had been kidnapped and shot to death in the front seat. The mileage was only 2,216.
(The following information came from newspapers articles in Rhode Island and New Hampshire)
The original owner of the car was what is termed an entrepreneur today. In the early fifties Maurice Gagnon took a chance on a new technology, injection molding. He was a taxi driver with ambitions; he bought a machine and began making plastic costume jewelry in his garage. Within eight years he would own 3 businesses. By 1959, one of the businesses made costume jewelry and employed 150 people. Gagnon was tremendously successful and had just traded his stainless steel roofed 1958 Cadillac Brougham on the flashiest car of the day - the new 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.
Other people coveted his possessions, though, and a few thugs burglarized his residence one evening. They were caught only miles away and were facing a very long prison term. Things were different in 1959, burglary of a private residence after 6 PM could get you life imprisonment in Rhode Island.
For months the thugs tried threats and bribes to get Gagnon to tell the police that it really wasn't a burglary. He wouldn't, and the night before their arraignment, two of the criminals kidnapped him as he exited a bowling alley which he had just bought for tinkering and relaxation. The criminals pistol whipped him to try to get him to change his story. Apparently he wouldn't give in even then, and they shot him in the head.
It wasn't a well planned or well executed crime. They drove the Cadillac and its murdered owner from Rhode Island through Massachusetts into New Hampshire and left the car in a dark parking lot late that night in Nashua. One of the murders then walked to a diner to call a friend to pick them up. It took several hours for their friend to find them. In fact, it came out at the trial that the driver stopped at a police station en route to ask directions. Plus, he came to get them in a car which was listed as stolen.
Neither the murderers nor their driver got out of town that night. The driver picked up one of the two and then headed out of town the wrong way. When he drove back through town, two alert rookie foot patrolmen were observing this out-of-state car from a darkened doorway on Main Street. As it approached, they stepped out in front of it. The driver stopped, the policemen climbed into the back seat of the car and began questioning the two men. The men said they were in Nashua to visit a friend and gave the name of a person known to be a bookie. The driver was told to drive around the block to the Police Station where the driver and his passenger were taken into custody on suspicion. It was bitterly cold and snowing in Nashua that night and, while trying to find a place to keep warm, the second murderer was eventually spotted, chased and caught after he ran into a dead end alley by the school house.
All three Rhode Island men were detained in jail on suspicion and held for interrogation when the detectives came on duty in the morning. The murderers might have been released if it wasn't for the curiosity of two children who saw the new white Cadillac on their way to school. The expensive, tall-finned car looked out of place sitting alone in what was then a depressed mill town. When the kids drew close, they discovered a blood-stained body slumped on the front seat.
The trial which followed became the most sensational and bizarre criminal proceedings in New Hampshire's history. It ended many months later, on a Saturday at about midnight, when an overwhelming body of circumstantial evidence convinced the jurors to bring a unanimous verdict of guilty. As the clerk of court polled each juror, the wailing and sobbing of the accuseds' relatives grew so loud the clerk had to stop several times and repeat his questions. While polling the sixth juror, the clerk dropped to the floor and died of heart failure in the center of the court room.
The tragedy of that night wasn't over even then. While the judge was sentencing these two men to hang for the brutal premeditated murder of a wealthy Rhode Island businessman, in Kansas two men were murdering another wealthy business man and his family. These killings would also shock the nation, and are still famous today as the basis for the book and movie "In Cold Blood".
It's a rare find to locate a 40 year old car which has its original tires, and this car has all five - with full tread. Rarer still, it has the complete original exhaust system. And have you heard of a car of this vintage which has the very same battery it rolled off the assembly line with? Now you have.
The Cadillac was missing something important however: the carpets. After researching the trial through newspaper accounts in several states, the current owner learned that the carpets might have been taken as evidence. It took another three years of pestering judicial officials before the carpets and original floormats were located in a cardboard box in the basement of the new courthouse. Why was such a valuable car not driven? It was held for almost 15 years by the State of New Hampshire as evidence while the murderers appealed their death sentences. As fate would have it, the death penalty was overturned by the US Supreme Court and the convicted murders were paroled. Only then was the car returned to the plastic molding company where it was stored in one of the factory warehouses until purchased by the current owner over twenty years ago. Click on the link below "GAGNON MURDER CAR" to see the lowest mileage 1959 Cadillac in existence.
Fins have their place in history as the most notorious automotive styling trend of all time. Started by Cadillac in the late forties, fins were copied by nearly all domestic and foreign manufactures, including Mercedes Benz. Look at a Chris Craft boat catalog of that era and you'll see that the fin craze transcended even the wheeled wonders of the day. However, fins reached their boldest statement in the 1959 Cadillac.
And the flag ship of the 1959 Cadillac fleet was the Eldorado. Standard were a 3 carb "Q" motor, dual exhaust with resonators full air suspension with automatic and manual adjustment, and power everything including trunk pull-down and release. Only a few features were optional and this car had one of the most exciting new toys, cruise control.
1959 Cadillac Eldorados came in two models, the Biarritz (convertible) and the Seville (coupe). Although the Biarritz model is beautiful and is much more commonly seen, many styling aficiandos consider the smooth, sweeping pillar-less roofline of the hardtop coupe to best display the 1959 Cadillac's styling. And there is no doubt that styling is the 1959 Cadillac hallmark.
To learn about 1959 Cadillacs, click on "The 1959 Cadillac - its Historical Significance" or click on "Eldorado -- The Crown Jewel" to learn more about the most prized models of the 1959 Cadillac.
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