Door Jammed

It was around 2:45 A.M. on November 5, 1995. Then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his wife, Aline, were home, sleeping, in their bedroom at 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of the nation’s head of government. But they weren’t alone.

About thirty minutes earlier, a man named Andre Dallaire had entered the residence. Dallaire, 34 at the time of the intrusion, had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic as a teen, and he’d later state that voices in his head led him to enter the prime minister’s home. He wasn’t there just to say hi, though; murder was on the agenda. Dallaire was armed with a pocket knife and was putting on gloves when Aline opened the bedroom door, having heard some strange noises in the hall. She went to investigate and noticed the would-be assassin standing there. She fled — she ran back the bedroom, slammed the doors, and called the police.

In most cases, a story like the above would have tragic results — the attacker would break down the door and, if the residents weren’t able to defend themselves, he’d probably take both of their lives. (And if they were able to defend themselves, the attacker and, perhaps, the residents would both end up in the hospital if not worse.) In other cases, the story would be a hero’s tale: the police arrive in time and subdue the attacker before the assailant could knock down the doors and carry out his murderous plan.

But in this case, something prevented both a double-murder and a heroic rescue. Instead, the story ended up with a strange albeit thankfully peaceful ending. That something?

Door locks.

When Mrs. Chretien retreated to the bedroom, she had the foresight to lock both sets of door leading into the bed chamber. Apparently, the locked door was enough of a deterrent for Dallaire — when faced with the barrier, instead of breaking his way through, he simply gave up. He didn’t even try and run. When police arrived, he was outside the door, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “seated quietly on an upholstered bench with his knife, holster, gloves and stocking cap neatly lined up on the floor in front of him.” The locked door saved the Chretien’s lives.

However, another locked door almost doomed the Chretiens. Dallaire was apprehended about six to ten minutes after Mrs. Chretien called for help — that’s an incredibly long response time, especially given that there’s an always-manned guardhouse just outside 24 Sussex Drive. The reason for the delay? The Mountie who was dispatched to the residence arrived at the front door only to realize that he left the house keys back at that guardhouse, and he had to run back to get them.

Thankfully, a locked door proved just as frustrating to Dallaire’s efforts as it did to the police officer’s.

Bonus Fact: In April of 1964, two politically-motivated university students tried to kidnap Alec Douglas-Home, then the Prime Minister of the UK. Douglas-Home, a Conservative, realized that the would-be abductors wanted to remove him and his party from power, and used this objective to thwart the kidnappers’s plans. According to Wikipedia, Douglas-Home told the kidnappers that if they succeeded, the Conservatives would gain the sympathies of the electorate, and would likely win the next election in a landslide. He then offered the kidnappers some beer. They accepted and gave up on their plot.

From the ArchivesWine and Cheese with the Queen: The UK’s palace intruder.

RelatedA door lock that doesn’t require a key.