Paris, City of Lights. Its landmarks welcoming millions of tourists per year, its small hidden squares where stopping by feels great, and its neighborhood-villages, its gorgeous fountains, its iconic bridges, its museums, the Eiffel Tower… there is no doubt about it, the French capital knows the way to people’s hearts. But what do you know about the darkest face of Paris?
All along its history, the French capital has encountered murderers now famous for their crimes roam around the streets. From Landru to “The Beast of the Bastille” Guy Georges, via Doctor Petiot and the Cabard and Miquelon duo, discover the stories of the most infamous Parisian criminals over the years, and over the course of the streets!
Let us head to the Cité neighborhood in Paris 4th arrondissement for a creepy news item. Early 15th century; the economic crisis is hard in the kingdom at war, famine is growing in the capital’s households, and the king, Charles VI, rules the country with an iron fist – not really in a velvet glove. On the street called rue des Marmousets-en-la Cité (destroyed when Paris was transformed in the Second Empire to build Hôtel-Dieu), a barber, Barnabé Cabard, and a pâtissier, Pierre Miquelon, team up for a gruesome purpose: earning money at all costs.
They divide up roles: Cabard will have to slit clients’ throats with a razor and get their money, while Miquelon will have to get the bodies thanks to a trapdoor leading to his cellar and make them disappear… by transforming them into pâtés en croute, then sold in his store! Rumor even has it that king Charles VI was fond of it. One day, one of the victims’ dog barks so much that it alerts the police. The two murderers are arrested, confess their crimes, and end up burnt alive in iron cages, on the place de Grève, the same day their sentences were given.
At that time, it was usual that houses where crimes occurred were destroyed. This is what happened even though a small expiatory pyramid stood there until 1536. Although this criminal case might be an urban legend – there is no official document about it – this story may remind you of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd movie – that was based on this very story.
In November 1814, a severed head, wrapped in a cloth, is fished out by the Seine boatmen. A human trunk is discovered the same day, not far from the Louvre, and then two sliced thighs by the Champs-Elysées. A grim puzzle put together and displayed at the morgue of the Île de la Cité so that Parisians can try and identify the body. It has been done a month later: a woman identifies the body as being Auguste Dautun’s.
Funny coincidence: a few months earlier, the aunt of the latter, Jeanne-Marie Dautun, was found stabbed and robbed at her house by her valet, on rue de la Grange Batelière in Paris 9th arrondissement. Same scenario at Auguste Dautun’s house on rue Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois in Paris 1st arrondissement: when the police came in the victims’ blood covered flat, they discovered the drawers had been emptied out.
The investigator’ suspicions quickly focus on both victims’ brother and nephew, Charles Dautun. Interrogated, the latter cracks and confesses the murders. The motive of these horrendous crimes? Greed. As he spent all his savings, this former medical student – latter soldier – decided to extort money from his own family members, not without having killed them ahead. Found guilty in 1815, he ends up guillotined.
The case of the “triple assassination of the rue Montaigne” will take over the covers of the French daily newspapers for over a month. On March 17, 1887, a triple homicide occurs in Paris 8th arrondissement, on 17 rue Montaigne – now rue Jean-Mermoz. The three victims had had their throats slit, almost severed. They are Claudine-Marie Regnault – a courtesan also known as Régine de Montille – Annette Grémeret – her maid – and Marie Grémeret – the latter’s 9-year-old daughter. Once again, the motive is unscrupulous: Régine de Montille’s jewels, diamonds, and valuables have been stolen.
After investigating for several days, the police are alerted by a Marseille brothel Madam who claims one of her clients – a certain Henri Pranzini – pays his tricks with jewels and gems. The same day, Pranzini is arrested at the Grand-Théâtre in Marseille. There are many evidences against this former solder and trafficker in his spare time, while the police experiment taking fingerprints. Found guilty of the three murders, he is sentenced to capital punishment and guillotined on August 31, 1887 in front of the Grand Roquette jail in Paris 11th arrondissement.
After his execution, a molding of his head is made in wav, and blown glass and covered in human hair to study criminals’ physical traits. The latter is still displayed at the Musée de la Préfecture de Police! As for his body, it was sent to the School of Medicine. And another scandal follows. As a matter of fact, Pranzini’s corpse skin is said to have been tanned by a tanner on rue de la Verrerie, as ordered by a Security senior officer – a former police body – to make two leather card holders.
Women have also marked the Parisian criminal landscape. Arrived in Paris from her birth Brittany, Jeanne Moulinet marries Jean Weber in 1893 and settles in the Goutte d’Or neighborhood. Shortly after, three of her children are found dead in odd circumstances. On March 2, 1905, once again: Jeanne Weber’s sister-in-law’s 18-month infant suddenly fell ill under her watch and dies. On March 25 of the same year, Weber’s niece, 7-year-old Germaine, suddenly suffers a “suffocation” crisis. The child survives until the day after and dies of diphtheria, while her aunt is sitting her for the second day in a row. Red marks have been found on children’s necks every time without even alerting doctors.
One week later, on April 5, 1905, Weber sits her 2-year-old nephew, Maurice. Back at home their sisters-in-law find Jeanne – enraged – standing on the little boy with his neck covered in hematomas. A complaint is filed but the public prosecutor’s department coroners – Doctor Socquet – and lecturer in legal medicine at Paris university – Léon Thoinot – conclude the eight murders attributed to Weber were natural deaths.
Cleared, considered as an innocent victim, Jeanne Weber leaves for Indre under a false name. After two other child murders, she ends up confessing her crimes to the police who commit her. Freed, considered “of sound mind”, by doctors and back in Paris, she is caught strangling the 10-year-old son of an innkeeper, and will be found mad on December 19, 1908 before she is sent to asylum, where she will later die, on July 5, 1918, of nephritis.
We cannot speak of the most infamous serial killers in Paris without speaking of “The Bluebeard of Gambais” aka Henri Désiré Landru. After years of odd jobs, swindles, stays in prison and labor camps in French Guiana, from 1914, Landru foments a stratagem to make easy money. The idea is simple: pretending to be a wealthy lonely widower to seduce young and lonely – often widows from the First World War – and wealthy women. In just 4 years, Landru will use a hundred pseudonyms to escape from the law and seduce many women by recruiting them thanks to short matrimonial adverts published in that time’s dailies, before robbing them and killing them.
First working in La Chaussée-près-Gouvieux, in Vernouillet, and then Gambais, Landru ends up settling in Paris, at 22 rue de Châteaudun, in the 9th arrondissement. This is where the infamous criminal will burn – in his stove and fireplace – his victims’ body parts he did not took the woods, such as heads, hands, and feet. Families of several victims end up filing a complaint and after years of investigation, Landru is arrester at his mistress’, at 76 rue de Rochechouart.
During the perquisition completed at his house in Gambais, the police will later find over 1.5kg of burnt human bones, 47 teeth, as well as many items that belonged to the victims, such as pins, buttons, pieces of corsets and staples. At the end of the trial during which he strongly denied and multiplied good words and provocations, Landru is sentenced to death for the 11 murders, and his guillotined in Versailles on February 25, 1922.
Following Landru’s lead, Marcel Petiot is on top of the most infamous serial killers in Paris. WWI soldier, Petiot graduates from Paris Medical School, after being taken out of service for psychiatric disorders. On August 11, 1941, as France had fallen under German occupation, he purchases a hotel particulier at 21 rue Le Sueur in Paris 16th arrondissement, and starts major works to prevent visibility from the outside.
Like Landru – who benefited from WWI widows – Doctor Petiot makes the most of the Second World War. As a matter of fact, starting 1942, he becomes Doctor Eugène and offers French Jews and people threatened by the Gestapo to help them move to unoccupied France, and even escape from the country thanks to a clandestine network to Argentina. To do so, he asks his future victims to come and meet him in the middle of the night at his hotel particulier with a suitcase filled with jewels, silverware, and cash. Pretending to vaccinate them before their grand journey to South America, Doctor Petiot gas the unfortunates to death, and cut them into pieces. Even worse, Petiot gets some perverse pleasure out of observing his victims agonize through the spyhole set on the real gas chamber created from scratch in his cellar.
To make the body disappear, the criminal then puts them in a well filled with quicklime to prevent the smell of decaying bodies from spreading in the neighborhood. But the neighborhood – concerned by the black smoke floating above Petiot’s house along with pestilential smell – ends up calling the police that will find 72 suitcases that belonged to the victims, filled with valuables, 655 kilos of varied items including coats, dresses, men’s suits, and shoes, as well as several butchered human bodies, ready to be burnt in two big wood ovens. Sentenced for the murders of 27 people at the end of a highly mediatic trial – during which Petiot tries to imitate Landru’s cynicism – Doctor Petiot is guillotined on May 25, 1946, claiming 63 murders until the very end.
In 1984, it was not easy to be an old lady in Paris 18th arrondissement. Since the year begun, many old, fragile, and lonely ladies have been attacked at their homes, robbed from their poor savings, and violently and sadistically assassinated. Rue Lepic, rue Nicolet, boulevard de Clichy, rue Marc-Séguin, rue Pajol, as well as rue des Trois-Frères and rue Armand-Gauthier… The assassin seems to know Paris 18th arrondissement by heart!
From 1985 to 1987, more old ladies are killed, but this time in the 11th, 12th, and 14th arrondissements. The police are on high alert. Helped by a victim who escaped and who managed to make a detailed police sketch of her assailant, Berthe Finalteri, police officers eventually identify the killer: Thierry Paulin, a young Martinique man with bleached blond hair, working as a waiter at Paradis Latin, figure in the Parisian night world, and drag queen in his spare time, who lives like a Prince thanks to his victims’ savings.
On December 1, 1987, Paulin is randomly identified by a police chief, rue de Chabrol, in Paris 10th arrondissement, and arrested. Held in custody, he confesses the murders of 21 people and gives the name of his partner and lover, Jean-Thierry Mathurin. On December 24, 1987, 24-year-old Paulin is charged for 18murders – three not matching the information the police had. 22-year-old Mathurin is accused of 8 murders. But Paulin dies of AIDS at the Fresnes prison, on April 16, 1989, before he could get to trial.
1991-1997, 7 years during which the Parisian people will tremble. A killer is out in town. Young humanities student at the Sorbonne, Pascale Escarfail is found killed at her home on January 24, 1991 at 41 rue Delambre. Three years later, on January 7, 1994, 27-year-old Catherine Rocher is killed in an underground parking lot on Boulevard de Reuilly. “The Beast of the Bastille” – as the press starts to call him – does it again on November 8, 1994, by killing Elsa Benady in an underground parking lot in Paris 13th arrondissement, and then Agnès Nijkamp – found with her throat sliced – at her home on December 10, 1994 in Paris 11th arrondissement. Will then follow the violent murders of Hélène Frinking in July 1995, Magali Sirotti in September 1997, and Estelle Magd in November 1997, interspersed with missed murder attempts. In all, seven young women are found rapped, tied up, and their throats slit at their homes or in underground parking lots.
On June 16, 1995, Elisabeth Ortega escapes from the killer and makes a police sketch – but it will later end up erroneous. The investigation – or rather investigations – shuffles along! As a matter of fact, several police departments take care of the investigations, without even making the right comparisons between them. It is only in late 1997 that a bound is made between the crimes and it is proven there is a serial killer in the streets of Paris. As the police forensic department is barely starting with the DNA research, the profile of the killer found on crime scenes is eventually made (the now infamous SK1 profile – for Serial Killer 1) and compared to the suspects who went through the police and let go. And they got a match!
On March 26, 1998, RTL radio station unveils on air the name of “The Beast of the Bastille” – to the great displeasure of the criminal police – he is called Guy Georges. A few hours later, a police officer – now with the killer’s criminal identity shot – randomly runs into Guy Georges in the street and arrests him in front of the Monoprix store of Boulevard de Clichy in Paris 9th arrondissement. After denying and then confessed the facts held against him during an exhausting trial for the plaintiffs, Georges is eventually sentenced to life prison in 2001 for killing 20 people. Following this case, the Automated National File of Genetic Prints is instated in France. As a matter of fact, having such a method to compare DNAs, at the time of the murders, would have enabled to foil Georges after his 5th murder.
Dates and Opening Time
Starts 8 April 2021