“A man in love is incomplete until he has married. Then he’s finished” – Zsa Zsa Gabor
It’s a well-known fact that women usually live longer than men, and while this may be partially attributable to a closer association with power tools and a certain fatal tendency towards easy distraction, the simple truth is that your darling dearest will likely outlast you. This is particularly true if you marry a serial killer. And if your dearly beloved also happens to dabble in the darker side of the occult, well, let’s just say it behooves you to have your affairs in order. My own wonderful wife of fifteen years is Puerto Rican, and while I’m admittedly more afraid of the fact that she now owns a fashionably pink taser and keeps asking me to teach her how to shoot a gun, I do occasionally run across the odd ward against the evil-eye or candle to La Virgen de la Caridad de Cobre, but thankfully none of these ritual accoutrements seem to be specifically directed at me. I’m at least 75% sure. And as she likes to point out, my Arabic surname suggests that my ancestors were likely engaged in auguries involving sheep entrails, so I can shut the hell up. Which I do, because after all, she has a taser. For better or for worse, as they say, since everyone comes with their own metaphysical baggage. Except for Canadians. There is a certain expectation that marrying a Canadian entails a lot of mild-mannered politeness, fondness for maple syrup, and obsession with hockey. A matrimonial proposal to a daughter of Canada seems like a good actuarial gamble, until you hear tell of the story of Marie-Josephte Corriveau, who not only gruesomely dispatched multiple husbands, but seems to have engaged in rather nefarious activities in the afterlife. It’s always the quiet ones.
Marie-Josephte Corriveau (1733-1763) was born in St. Vallier, Quebec (called “New France” at the time), and was the only surviving child of ten children born to Joseph Corriveau, a farmer, and his wife Françoise Bolduc. At the tender age of sixteen, Marie-Josephte Corriveau married twenty-three year old farmer Charles Bouchard and had several children. I can’t be certain what teenage rebellion looks like among Canadians, and understandably I have always assumed it went no further than say, rejection of the merits of ice-fishing, but apparently it extends to murder, as it was widely believed that the death of Charles Bouchard in 1760 was somewhat suspicious. Rumor around St. Vallier was that Marie had summarily dispatched Charles Bouchard by pouring molten lead into his ear whilst he slept, but prosecutors never pursued this line of inquiry. I like to think that even the most incompetent Canadian crime scene investigation could discern the difference between death by natural causes and melted brain, but who am I to judge. Besides, Canadian coroners at the time had a little more to be worried about. They were busy being invaded by the British. Between about 1754-1763, the French and British were engaged in the Seven Years War across Europe, Central America, West Africa, the Philippines, and North America. In the North American theater of operations it was referred to as the French and Indian War, fought mainly on the border between New France and the British colonies. The 60,000 French settlers and their Native American allies were badly outnumbered by some two million British colonists, especially because France refused to substantially reinforce its troops as it was more concerned with the rise of Prussia in central Europe. While open hostilities ended in North America by 1760, it was with the 1763 Treaty of Paris that France ceded its Canadian territories to the British. A sizable portion of the British troops in Canada at the time were reassigned to fighting the Spanish in the West Indies, but the remaining forces spread out to establish control over the Canadian provinces. Martial law was declared, and British military courts handled local jurisprudence. By 1761, about fifteen months after the untimely death of Charles Bouchard, Marie-Josephte Corriveau had remarried another St. Vallier farmer named Louis Étienne Dodier. On January 27, 1763, Dodier was found dead in his barn from multiple head wounds. This being Corriveau’s second dead husband under suspicious circumstances, the local townsfolk began to grumble about foul play (Corriveau and her father were at the time said to be unhappy with Dodier) and brought it to the attention of the occupying British authorities.
In November, 1749, a woman named Corriveau married a habitant of St. Vallier. After eleven years of matrimony, the man died in that parish on the twenty-seventh of April, 1760. There was a vague rumor that “La Corriveau” had got rid of her husband by pouring melted lead into his ear whilst he was asleep. There is no evidence to show that the justice of that day took any steps to ascertain the truth or falsehood of the accusation; and three months after the decease of her first husband, La Corriveau was again married on the 20th July, 1760, to Louis Dodier, another habitant of St. Vallier. After having lived together three years, it is related that at the end of the month of January, 1763, La Corriveau took advantage of her husband being in a sound sleep, and broke his skull, by striking it repeatedly with a broc, which is a sort of three-pronged pitchfork. To conceal her crime, she dragged the corpse into the stable and placed it at the heels of a horse, so as to make it appear that the wounds inflicted with the pitchfork had been caused by the animal kicking. La Corriveau was in consequence, conjointly with her father, accused of murder. The country being then under military law, the trial took place before a court-martial. The miserable Corriveau exercised such influence over her father, that she persuaded the old man to proclaim himself guilty of the murder (de Gaspé, 1864, p304).
A military Tribunal was assembled, and such were Corriveau’s reputed dark powers that she convinced her father to plead guilty to the murder, for which he was sentenced to death, but complications arose when Joseph Corriveau reportedly confessed to his priest that he actually had nothing to do with Dodier’s death. Marie-Josephte Corriveau was brought back before the court, and sentenced to be executed, according to courtroom documents kept by a British Major, Thomas Mills, rather blandly stating, “General Order. Quebec, April 15, 1763. The Court-martial, whereof Lt.-Col. Morris was president, is dissolved. The General Court-martial having tried Marie Josephte Corriveau, for the murder of her husband, Dodier, the Court finding her guilty, the Governor (Murray) doth ratify and confirm, the following sentence: that Marie Josephte Corriveau do sufferer death for the crime, and her body to be hung in chains wherever the Governor shall think fit. (Signed,) Thomas Mills, Town Major (de Gaspé, 1864, p305). So, Marie-Josephte Corriveau was executed, and in a weirdly anachronistic return to the Dark Ages, her body was displayed in a hanging, iron cage. By the 18th Century, you usually had to commit some woefully treasonous act against an aristocratic personage to merit such attention. Either way, this turned out to be a bad idea.
Conformably to the sentence, Marie Josephte Corriveau was hung near the Plains of Abraham, at the place called “les Buttes” at Nepveu, formerly the usual place of execution. Her body was put in an iron cage, and this cage suspended on a stake at the cross-roads in Point Lievis, near the place where the Temperance Monument now stands, about twelve arpents to the west of the church, and one arpent from the road. The inhabitants of Point Levis not much liking this spectacle, asked of the authorities to have it taken away, as the sight of the cage and the rumored nocturnal noises and apparitions frightened the women and children. As nothing was done, some courageous young men went during the night, and taking down La Corriveau and her cage, deposited them in the ground at the end of the cemetery, outside the enclosure. This mysterious disappearance and the tales told by those who, during the night, had heard the grating of the iron hooks, and the rattling of the bones, made La Corriveau pass into the regions of the supernatural. After the burning of Point Levis church in 1830, they enlarged the cemetery, and this was how the cage was within the enclosure when it was found by the grave-digger in 1850. The cage, which then only contained the bone of one leg, was made of strong iron bars. It was in the form of a human being, having legs and arms, with a round box for the head. It was in good preservation, and was deposited in the sacristy cellar. This cage was secretly taken away some little time afterwards and shown at Quebec as a curiosity. It was afterwards sold to Barnum’s Museum, where it may still be seen (de Gaspé, 1864, p305).
This rather ignominious post-mortem display was likely unwise, since “La Corriveau” as she came to be known was thought to be not only a murderess, but a sorceress as well. Clearly, she bore grudges, and if I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that a witch with a grudge rarely lets a trifling matter like death interfere with her nefarious activities. All curses and hauntings with that lot, and Corriveau did not disappoint.
The Island of Orleans and the channel between it and the south shore are still believed by some people to be haunted by the ghost of a famous sorceress and murderess, La Corriveau, a friend of the will-0’-the-wisps of the island. All sorts of strange and terrible stories are told about this woman. She is said to have lived in a little village called St. Vallier and to have murdered her husband by pouring boiling lead into his ear when he was asleep. For this crime, according to the stories, she was brought to Quebec and tried by a special court held in the Ursuline Convent. She was condemned to death and was hung up in a big iron cage on the high road near Levis, the little village directly across the river from Quebec, where everyone could see her. The stories go on to tell how one night, sometime after La Corriveau’s death, her friends, the will-o’-the wisps of the island, were having a great festival. The whole shore was blazing with their evil lights. La Corriveau saw their lights and longed to join her friends, but she knew that she could not cross the St. Lawrence, which is a consecrated river, unless she could get some Christian to carry her over. That night a farmer, Francois Dubé, was driving from Point Levis to his home in the little village of Beaumont. He had to pass La Corriveau’s cage on his way, and being a kind man he took off his cap and said a prayer for her as he passed it. Soon after he heard a sharp tap, tack, tap, tack, on the road behind him. It was La Corriveau’s ghost that had followed him and the tap, tack was the sound of her cage striking the road as she dragged it along with her. She soon caught up to him, and jumping on his back ordered him to carry her across the St. Lawrence to join the will-o’-the-wisps on the island. He refused, for he would not commit such a sin. “I’ll strangle you if you don’t obey me,” she cried, “and I’ll ride your soul across to the island.” In spite of this threat Francois Dubé refused to listen to her. Furious, La Corriveau threw her bony arms around his neck and strangled him, so that he lay unconscious and powerless to resist her. Then she rode his soul across the dark river and joined her friends. Ever since then, people say, La Corriveau’s ghost has haunted the channel between the island and the south shore, and part of the island itself. On wild, windy nights the country people often imagine that they hear the clanging of her cage above the wail of the wind (Boswell, 1938, p31-32).
Marriage can be trying at times, but here’s a pro tip free of charge. If you smell molten lead or your blushing bride is hovering over you in your sleep with a hammer, odds are good that the whole arrangement has gone south and it’s time to file for a comparatively painless no-fault divorce. On a side note, hanging an executed criminal’s body in a cage to rot tends to bring out the worst in the deceased, and when said corpse is also believed to have been in league with the powers of darkness, you’re really just poking a sleeping tiger, and subsequent spectral activity is nearly inevitable. Don’t let this outlying case of matrimonial murder dissuade you from finding that special someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with, but make sure you and your beloved are on the same page as to how to measure the “rest of your life”. In the end, it’s said that even though women typically live longer than men, married men outlive single men. This is especially true if the ex-husband died of natural causes. So get out there and find your match, but bear in mind the sagacious words of comedian Johnny Carson, survivor of four marriages when he observed, “Married men live longer than single men. But married men are a lot more willing to die”.
Boswell, Hazel. French Canada: Pictures And Stories. New York: Viking , 1938.
Aubert de Gaspé, Philippe, 1786-1871. The Canadians of Old. Quebec: G. & G. E. Desbarats, 1864.