Archive for the ‘crime and justice’ Category

trunk affaire

Readers who remember the O.J. Simpson’s trial fever will have a small idea of the immense frenzy that surrounded the Bloody Trunk Affair in 1890. Never was there a murder case where a suspect in custody was cheered by the crowd, thrown flowers, blown kisses, exchanged hand-shakes with officials and reporters, travelled first-class, displayed elegant gowns, and enjoyed gourmet food. The four-foot eight waif Gabrielle Bompard (21) did all that after having admitted that she was, indeed, somewhat guilty of murder.

Gabrielle Bompard

Gabrielle Bompard

Gabrielle grew up in Northern France, the daughter of a widowed metal dealer. A burden to her father’s live-in mistress, the young girl was dumped into boarding schools and convents where she repeatedly misbehaved until she was sent packing. Finally, at her father’s request, she was locked up in a corrective institute where she remained until the age of twenty.

Once released, she decided to seek fortune in Paris. The little money she had brought with her soon ran out and it was then that her path crossed with that of Michel Eyraud’s. She became his mistress. In his fifties and no longer handsome, Eyraud proudly displayed his youthful paramour in the boulevard cafés. Once an army deserter, he had spent many years in the Americas until an amnesty allowed him to return to France. He spoke several languages and was an accomplished crook. At the time he met Gabrielle, his bumpy business career was nearing its end and he would soon be accused of fraud unless he found enough money to plug up the hole. He turned to Gabrielle for help.

The plan was simple: Gabrielle was to lure a rich man to an apartment where they would rob and kill him. As modest as the plan was, its execution was anything but. First, the would-be murderers travelled to London, where they purchased a trunk large enough to accommodate a human body. Next on the shopping list was fabric to sew into a body bag, followed by a rope, a pulley, and a silk cord to use as a noose. Back in Paris, Eyraud hammered the pulley into a crossbeam and installed a curtain across an alcove to hide a chair and the hanging rope. Here he would wait for the victim. Now the couple only needed to snare a man known for carrying large sums of money and susceptible to the lure of the fair sex. Among their boulevard acquaintances, they chose Toussaint-Augustin Gouffé, who was manifestly interested in Gabrielle’s charms. Gouffé was a skirt-chaser extraordinaire (investigation revealed that during the month before his death he slept with twenty women) and he readily accepted Gabrielle’s invitation to a romantic candle-lit evening.

gouffeAt first, everything went according to the plan: Gabrielle, clad in a dressing gown tied with the cord, skillfully maneuvered Gouffé onto a chaise longue next to the curtain. Her role was to playfully tie the silk cord into a noose and slip it over the victim’s head. Something went wrong at that moment. Gabrielle froze, as she later claimed, and Eyraud brutally took over. In the subsequent struggle, the pulley gave under the weight of Gouffé, who crashed to the floor and had to be strangled by hand.

Gabrielle spent a sleepless night alone with the trunk containing Gouffé’s body, while Eyraud rejoined his marital bed. His unsuspecting wife later reported that he snored loudly that night. In the morning, the couple hired a cab and had the trunk transported onto a train to Lyons. Once there, they rented another vehicle and drove to a remote place above a river. They dumped the body down the steep embankment, after which Eyraud destroyed the trunk and disposed of the debris further down the road. Now was the time to start anew in another country.

George Garanger

George Garanger

The couple landed in Dover as Monsieur Labordère and his teenage son. The petite Gabrielle, her long hair chopped off, made a convincing boy. Several days later they boarded a transatlantic steamer heading for Canada. They were now known as E.B. Vanaerd, a wealthy businessman, and his daughter Berthe. They travelled from Québec to Montréal, and on to Vancouver, to end up in San Francisco. Along the way they met Georges Garanger, a wealthy Frenchman. Garanger immediately fell under Gabrielle’s spell, which was most convenient as Eyraud needed another victim to fleece and kill. Completely confident in Gabrielle’s obedience, he allowed the pair to travel East, presumably to meet Gabrielle’s aunt and settle an inheritance. He planned to wait for them in New York and to kill Garanger there. It was a fatal error. Gabrielle, tired of Eyraud’s frequent brutality and in love with the handsome Garanger, warned her new lover as soon as they were out of Eyraud’s reach. Instead of going to New York, the two diverted to Canada and from there to Europe. During the voyage, Gabrielle slowly unburdened herself, but Garanger did not fully grasp the reality until they reached Paris.

Meanwhile in France, the investigation of Goussé’s disappearance started without a clue. Weeks later, a decomposed body found near Lyons

François-Marie Goron, head of the Paris Sûreté

François-Marie Goron, head of the Paris Sûreté

was connected to the missing man thanks to the intuition of François-Marie Goron, the brilliant head of the Paris Sûreté. Goron did not hesitate using the press to gather information from any member of the public willing to co-operate. The intrigued public was more than willing. When the reconstructed bloody trunk was exposed in the Paris morgue for a week’s duration, thousands of people—Frenchmen as well as foreign visitors—patiently waited for hours to catch the sight. Two names were linked with the missing Goussé: Michel Eyraud and Gabrielle Bompard, both shining by their absence since the victim’s disappearance in July. The big hunt began, first in France, then in England, and on to America. From each destination, the detectives returned with a wealth of information. There was no doubt whatsoever about the couple’s involvement with the Goussé’s murder. Long before Gabrielle’s return to France, both she and Eyraud became the world’s most wanted criminals.

Gabrielle, playing Eyraud’s victim, surrendered herself to the police, the faithful lover Garanger at her side. The press and the public went wild. Perhaps unconscious of the severe charges held against her, she thrived on her fame, or rather infamy. Her every appearance, whether it was a transfer from prison to the Palace of Justice for interrogation, or a trip to the crime sites, drew huge attendance. Her portraits appeared in print and the most trivial details, from her fashionable attire to the food she ordered, were deemed worthy of public interest. Pleased with so much attention, Gabrielle did her best to charm the crowd.

A mug shot of Michel Eyraud

A mug shot of Michel Eyraud

Waiting in vain in New York, the betrayed Eyraud was alerted by the American newspapers that a French investigative team was on his heels. He quickly removed himself to Cuba, but his luck ran out. Apprehended in Havana and transported in a cage to France, he knew that he was finished. Now that the two criminals were safely locked up, the stage was set for an action-packed trial. Gabrielle pleaded extenuating circumstances. She acted under the influence of hypnosis, she claimed. Eyraud would have none of it. Seething with hatred for her betrayal, he wanted her to share his all-too-sure death sentence. According to him, he never hypnotised Gabrielle; he was actually a lap dog carrying out her orders. However, Gabrielle had an extensive background in hypnotism and many witnesses reported her ability to fall into a deep sleep during hypnotic séances dating as far back as her childhood.

Today, we cannot fully understand the status of hypnosis in the 19th century. Not only was it the playground of the idle classes, but it was seriously considered by respected scientists. At the time of the trial, hypnosis was the battleground of two schools, one led by the neurologist Charcot and his team in Paris and the opposing School of Nancy headed by Professor Liègeois. “Is it possible that the accused killed under the influence of hypnosis and therefore is not responsible for her action?” was the burning question of the trial. “Absolutely not,” thundered the Paris team. “Absolutely yes,” countered the opponents. In the end it fell to the jury to decide the outcome. The jury knew that, by acquitting Gabrielle, they would create a dangerous precedent. However, the accused was young and personable. Some extenuating circumstances could be admitted, couldn’t they? Gabrielle Bompard was sentenced to twenty years of which she served twelve. Michel Eyraud was publicly guillotined soon after the trial. Thus ended the cause celèbre of the Bloody Trunk.

Related post:

Saint-Lazare: Women in prison

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As terror stalks the streets of Paris, one is forced to remember the 1890’s when the situation was similar; when men and women infected with extreme ideas and with no regard for human life carried out deadly attacks on innocent people. While the Islamists work for the ideal of the Caliphate—a world-wide state where everyone will be either Muslim or dead—the anarchists of the 19th century advocated a government-free, self-managed society. Have you heard of the anarchists lately? Not so much, I’d say. That’s the fate of all insane movements.


aniche bomb au cafe terminus arrestation dynamite a la chambre dynamite au commissariat ravachol

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The Gangs of Paris

Saint-Lazare: Women in prison 

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Jean Béraud: Boulevard St. Denis

Jean Béraud: Boulevard St. Denis


William Walton, author of Paris from the Earliest Period to the Present Day (published in 1899) writes:

Paris may be said to be a very well-policed city. The police regulations are intelligent, and cover all those points in which the safety, or comfort, or peace of mind of the majority of well-meaning citizens may be menaced or disturbed by the inconsiderate action of individuals, and yet these strict ordonnances, which might become harsh or tyrannical, are generally administered with discretion and, in the case, for example, of the peripatetic vendors of vegetables, the marchands and marchandes des quatre-saisons—with due consideration for the difficulties of the poor.

Great care is taken to assure the free circulation in the streets, with one very important exception: the householder must not deposit any garbage, or mud, or broken bottles on the sidewalk, he must wash his shop-windows only between certain hours in the morning, he must not beat nor shake carpets out the window nor in the streets, he must not put his flower-pots in the windows where there is any danger of their falling on the passer-by, he must not keep domestic animals in such numbers or of such a kind as to be disagreeable to his neighbor, he must not burn coffee, nor card the wool of his mattresses, on the public highway, and he must not set out chairs or tables on the sidewalk. This last regulation, however, is practically a dead letter, all the cafés, big and little, on the wide trottoirs of the boulevards and on the two-foot sidewalks of the narrow streets, monopolize from a half to three-fourths of the pavement for pedestrians. The latter file along cheerfully on the curb-stone, or turn out in the street altogether, and make no protest. In the poorer quarters, a great number of domestic occupations and maternal cares are transferred to the street in front of the dwelling; in fact, the fondness of the French for out-of-doors is one of their most striking characteristics. The women and young girls will sit sewing or knitting in the streets or the public parks, and the men at the open-air tables of the cafés, in the wettest and rawest of days, and the women of the lower orders, concierges, workwomen, small shopkeepers, etc., constantly go with their heads uncovered. This healthy hankering of all classes for the open air contrasts very strongly with their imbecile terror of fresh air, or courants d’air, in a closed vehicle or under a roof.

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The Gangs of Paris: Les Apaches



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In the Parisian Prostitutes series we met la gigolette. ( …She is the mistress of the garroters of La Vilette or the stabbers of Grenelle. She it is who beguiles the passer-by, decoys him into an ambush, and she whistles for her souteneur, who rushes up with his companions “to do for the cove”…) Now let me introduce you to la gigolette’s male counterpart: the Apache.

In the Victorian times, Paris suffered an overwhelming criminality – 48 times stronger than that of today. Eight thousand policemen faced some 30 thousand mobile gang members in addition to other criminals. Known for their fierceness, the gangs were called Apaches. Moving only in groups, these young men from disadvantaged neighborhoods employed swindle, street robbery and pimping. They were recognizable by the “doe eye”, a small tattoo around the eyes and their attire consisted of bell pants, a half-opened jacket revealing a jersey or a crumpled shirt, cap on head, and meticulously polished shoes.

The Apache culture included original weapons and combat techniques best described in the website The Dirty Tricks of the French Apache.

apaches armes

The Apache Danse is a cultural heritage equal to the famous cancan. The performance of a dominating male and an abused female was very violent and sometimes caused injury to the dancers. Here is a 1935 version (as I had troubles with embedding this video, you must click on the link below the picture, but the spectacle is well  worth the effort):

apache dance


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Mark Twain and the Cancan

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The following text by Octave Uzanne comes from the book The Modern Parisienne, published in 1910. 

A much more formidable species is the gigolette, who is also to be found on the outskirts of Paris.  She is the mistress of the garroters of La Vilette or the stabbers of Grenelle. She it is who beguiles the passer-by, decoys him into an ambush, and she whistles for her souteneur, who rushes up with his companions  “ to do for the cove”. She frequents the evil places known as bals musettes, a sort of dancing halls, where the habitués empty salad bowls of mulled vine à la Française and where every dance costs a penny. The dancers are workmen who have fallen into evil courses, souteneurs, garotters, thieves of all kinds, servant girls and workgirls on the spree, the vilest prostitutes, and “police narks”.

The gigolette is almost always young, and often pretty or else she has the fascinating ugliness which in many Parisiennes is a more deadly bait than beauty. She evades the vigilance of the police as much as possible and tries as long as she can to avoid being “put on the list”. If she is arrested as a result of some robbery with violence: or taken up in the course of a police raid, she regards her term at St. Lazare as a disagreeable experience: but she is not in the least reformed  when she is discharged, and the very severe regimen of this prison has no effect on her except to breed ideas of vengeance, in which she is sedulously encouraged by her amiable friend and bully.

So long as she is not registered she wanders hither and tither, following her “p’tit homme” from lodging to lodging: for owing to the attentions of the police, with whom he has often a crow to pick, he is frequently obliged to change his address. As soon as she gets on the list, a definite  space on the side of such and such street or a certain beat on a boulevard is assigned to her. There she “does her turn” and walks backwards and forwards hooking her arm into those of passers-by. If she transgresses the limits set by the police, she is liable to a fine: but when their backs are turned she does so all the same, and this leads to terrible quarrels with her colleagues who are in possession of another part of the street—quarrels which end in blows and are conducted after the fashion of the dog-fights of Constantinople. When she secures a customer she takes him to a room at some low hotel.

Meantime, her souteneur sits at a table at a neighbouring wine-shop or hides in the recess of a door, keeping a close watch on her movements. If she lets slip an opportunity he abuses and beats her; he insists that she shall “give her mind to her work”. When he thinks she has made enough he fetches her back to their headquarters at Belleville or La Vilette, or in one of the streets  in the Clignantcourt Quarter which are affected by this class. She surrenders all her money to the souteneur, and if she attempts to divert any and is awkward about concealing it he gives her a sound trashing. When times are good and she has got hold of some “oofy Johnny” or cleaned out a drunken man, her lover allows her a night off, and then they go together to the dancing-hall. As a rule she spends most of the night drinking, so she sleeps late, rises about eleven, has her absinthe, and she spends the day in taverns with her bully and his friends, who for their part are accompanied by their women. She is usually faithful to her man. If he goes to prison for a short term she is not unfaithful to him and does not join forces with another “type” unless her original master is sent to penal servitude. In such a case it is not unusual for the bully to choose one of his boon companions whom he indicates his successor.

However constantly she may be beaten and maltreated by her petit joyeux , she continues to adore him, and even if he ends by stabbing her she dies heroically without peaching. If by exception she does denounce him she very rarely escapes the vengeance of other souteneurs.  She may change her quarter as much as she likes, she always ends by being knocked on the head. With the women of her own class she has frequent disputes , especially if they try to take her man away from her. Then follow battles in which the knife plays its part. The happy man who is the subject of the quarrel watches the fray as a gratified spectator, and awards himself to the conqueror as the prize of victory. The fortune of these women are so closely linked to those of their souteneurs that if by any chance, such as the passing caprice of some rich protector who sets up house for her, one of them rises a step in the ranks of prostitution, she does not leave her bully, but installs him in some corner of the flat. From which he emerges if the miché is not generous enough.

Prostitutes of this type pursue their occupation so long as they are not too old or too much exhausted by debauchery, drunkenness, or disease. The older they grow the younger are their souteneurs. I heard of prostitutes of forty or fifty whose souteneurs were only from sixteen to eighteen years of age. Of course, as they age and become faded their takings diminish, and instead of walking up and down the pavement, they hire a room at a franc a night in some house of ill-fame, where, half-invisible in the shadow, they call for custom.

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Saint-Lazare :  Women in prison





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By William Walton, published in 1899

Searching a prisoner at Saint-Lazare

Saint-Lazare, on the Faubourg Saint-Denis, is at once a hospital, a police station, and a prison for women, and its methods and regulation have long been the object of earnest denunciation. As a prison for women, it is divided into two sections, for those accused, and for those condemned to less than two months’ imprisonment; among the latter are women of the town, who have a special hospital. The only condamnées who remain for any length of time within these walls are the sick, nursing women having a child less than four years of age, and those enceinte. There is a special crèche for the newly-born babies,—for there are no less than fifty or sixty births annually. The nursing mothers, whether convicted or only accused, have special dormitories, and there is a shady garden for the wet-nurses. The prostitutes are provided with a special section. These unfortunates have not passed before any court; they have been condemned without appeal by a Chef de Bureau of the Préfecture de Police to an imprisonment of from three days to two months. During the day, the inmates are assembled in a workroom under the surveillance of one of the Sisters of the Order of Marie-Joseph, to whom is confided a general oversight of the workrooms and the dormitories. These prisoners take their meals in common, take their exercise walking in a long file, and at night sleep in a great chilly and crowded dormitory. Those who have merited it by their conduct are given one of the cells of the ménagerie, a double story of grated cells, furnished each with a bed, a stool, a shelf, and an earthenware vessel. The menagerie was formerly devoted to the service of the correction maternelle.

Saint-Lazare: Morning prayer in the section of prostitutes

In the great dormitories, there may be witnessed each morning such a scene as that reproduced in the illustration, the prayer addressed to the image of the Virgin on the wall, decked out with faded artificial flowers and with tapers in front of her; following the example of the Sister, all stoop with more or less reverence before this symbol and utter with more or less sincerity from impure lips the prayer for a pure heart. This grand dormitory is a great hall containing more than eighty beds arranged in four rows. The red tile floor is of irreproachable cleanliness, the eighty beds, with their gray blankets and white bolsters, are arranged with military symmetry. But this cleanliness and this good order, it is claimed, count but for little in the amelioration of these unfortunates, gathering contamination from each other in this indiscriminate herding together.

According to the law, those merely accused, the prévenues, and those actually convicted, are kept apart from each other, but in each of these two classes no distinctions are made—the homeless unfortunate, arrested for délit de vagabondage, is associated with the criminal guilty of infanticide or assassination. Even the little girls of ten and twelve years are kept together in the same promiscuousness, those already hardened in criminal ways corrupting the more innocent.

The prévenues enjoy certain privileges; they are not obliged to work, though it is but seldom that they refuse to take up some of the light sewing which occupies their leisure and brings them in small sums of money; they are not obliged, when they take their exercise, to walk round and round in a circle in the préau, forming in line only at the entrance and the exit. The formalities of search and interrogation, upon entering the prison, are the same for all, as are the general regulations and the discipline. All rise at five o’clock in summer, and at six or half-past six the rest of the year, and all go to bed at eight; all receive meat with their bouillon only on Sundays. The children are more favored in this respect, being furnished with eggs, roast meat, etc.

Everywhere are seen in these gloomy and unwholesome halls and corridors “the austere and consoling figures” of the Sisters of Marie-Joseph. They wear a dark robe, sometimes with a white apron, a white cornette under a black veil which has a blue lining, and they supervise all the details of the monotonous life of the prison. Rising in the dawn, a half-hour before any of the prisoners, they perform their devotions, and one of them rings the bell which summons all to leave their beds; they direct the workrooms in which the prisoners sew, a Sister sitting upright in a high chair, like a teacher presiding over her class, and they keep a watchful eye during the night on all the sleepers, in all the dormitories, great and little. Their hours of service as guards are from five or six o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock in the evening. After this hour, until the morning again, two Sisters remain on watch in the first section of the prison and one in the second. Their sole comfort and recompense is found in prayer and meditation in the mortuary chamber of Saint Vincent de Paul, now transformed into an oratory for their use. There is also a chapel for the use of the inmates, as well as a Protestant oratory and a synagogue.


Related post: Prostitutes in Paris

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