An enigma wrapped in a mystery

rue Taillade, Sommières, France

It was an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, set on Rue Taillade is one of the oldest streets in Sommières, which goes back to Roman times. The family home of Josephine Serrano, the mother of Richard Bros, is at the centre of the image. The address 36, rue Taillade. Above the entrance is the year of construction, 1536.

Childhood home of Richard Bros, 36 rue Taillade, Sommières, France

A mysterious death

Suicide of Richard Bros

I had come to Sommières to inquire about one of the most mysterious events of the FLQ era: the death of Richard Bros in a Police station in the North London borough of Islington, the 23rd of November 1970. His body was found in his jail cell, hanged. The question was, who hanged him?

A curious correlation

What made it curious was the correlation with events in Montreal, where the kidnapping of James Cross was reaching its dramatic end. On October 5, 1970, the Liberation Cell of the FLQ kidnapped British diplomat James Cross. The government of Pierre Trudeau rejected the terrorist demands.  The following day, the Chenier Cell of the FLQ, closely associated to the Liberation Cell, kidnapped Quebec Minister Pierre Laporte.

For almost sixty days, Cross was held in an apartment in North Montreal by the Liberation Cell of the FLQ.

The murder of Pierre Laporte

Meanwhile, in a house near the South Shore of the St. Lawrence, the Chenier Cell of the FLQ held Pierre Laporte, the Quebec Government Minister of Labour. In the early hours of the 16th of October 16, the federal government brought the War Measures into effect, and police fanned out in Montreal arresting suspected FLQ. The Prime Minister spoke to the House of Commons, and declared refusal of the demands of the FLQ. The following day, the Chenier Cell members strangled Pierre Laporte, and that evening, abandoned a vehicle with Laporte’s body in the truck outside a military base at St. Hubert military base outside Montreal.

Danger to Richard Bros

From that point, the life of Richard Cross, in the hands of the Liberation Cell of the FLQ, was at grave risk. Which concentrated the minds of Canadian and British authorities. British authorities, particularly Prime Minister Heath, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and MI5, especially its Director, Sir Martin Furnival Jones, had little confidence in the RCMP, Quebec Provincial Police and Montreal Police. The RCMP, MI5 and Canadian authorities had a problem: how could they ensure, once they had found James Cross, that his captors, led by Jacques Lanctôt, not murder him, just as the Chenier Cell had murdered Pierre Laporte.

Which made things interesting for the close friend of Lanctôt, born in Sommières, in the French Midi, then residing in a basement room at 34 Theberton Street, Borough of Islington, London: Richard Bros. MI5 began to look careful at Jacques Lanctôt.

Richard Bros, London
René Lévesque and the mystery of rue Taillade

It also suddenly became interesting to me one afternoon while walking up rue Taillade with Pierre Serrano, the brother of Josephine Serrano, the mother of Richard Bros. At one point, he paused, and pointed ahead to the apartment with pale turquoise shutters at the top of the rise. “that was the home of my parents. When he was a child, Richard lived with us there, along with his mother. When his father emigrated to Canada, to Quebec. One day, Richard came one day with the man who later became the Premier of Quebec, René Lévesque. They came one day and stayed the night, Lévesque in the apartment on the second floor, that of my parents of my parents. My parents moved into the apartment below, with Richard. I was not there at the time. I was working at Air France at their headquarters at Marignane. My parents told me about it when I returned to Sommiéres.”

Who introduced them?

I was stunned by the news. What was René Lévesque, founder of the Party Québécois, doing travelling to Sommiéres with a known felquiste, Richard Bros? At a time when to prospect of Quebec separation, led by a legitimate political party that could take power  in Quebec simply by winning the next election? Lévesque represented a key threat to Canadian unity, and was under intense surveillance by the RCMP, and other services, accordingly. He and Bros came from entirely different worlds. One, a politician at the highest level of Quebec politics. The other, a minor, marginal figure in the incoherent, turbulent and violent disorder represented by the FLQ? How did Lévesque and Richard Bros even meet, let alone travel together from Paris to a village in the Midi? Someone had introduced them, but who? And for what purpose? It meant no good for René Lévesque, leaving him open the threat, character assassination, and political destruction.

Questions would lead me to London, Zurich, Basel and Paris, where further mysteries awaited.

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