THE OLD REGIME POLICE BLOTTER: Provincial murders
Following some colorful murders in Paris last week, here are a few from the
PICARDY (ABBEVILLE) - THE DINNER OF VIEULAINE
Though local, this case was so famous at the time that accounts of it (without the killer's name) were printed in English. I have partially summarized
one of the more well-known accounts, from the nineteenth century Abbeville historian Louandre. He probably based his account on a local manuscript which
still exists but (for reasons unknown to me) cannot be reproduced. In the 1950's, some local schoolchildren also researched the case and produced a privately printed volume on the case, which I cite here as well:
In 1764, a case famous for the number and the nature of the crimes, the age and the condition of the accused, passionately occupied every mind.
Charles-Francois-Joseph de Valines, squire, lord of Valines, was the sole object of his parents' love; but the cruel character of his games and pranks, the most perverse inclinations gave early signs of what he would be. He was studying at the college of Aire, when he committed a crime at the house of a friend of his father's, who was his host. This shameful offense having gotten him expelled, he returned at seventeen to the village of Valines, where his father,
suddenly attacked by vomiting, expired on July 12, 1763. A few days later, Madamede Valines, prey to the same sufferings, followed him to the tomb. Nothing
was rumored at first of these events; because the parricide had used every resource of hypocrisy and appeared inconsolable. Six weeks had barely passed
when M. de Vieulaine, his maternal uncle, of whom he was the sole heir, invited him to dinner with several people. This was for him a new opportunity for a
crime. He entered his uncle's kitchen, sent off the servant, threw arsenic in the soup, and left after refusing to dine.
The modern (privately printed) account tells how M. de Vieulaine then tasted the soup before his guests, found it strange-tasting, had his wife
taste it, followed by several guests, and even a locksmith who was working downstairs. Fortunately, when they began to have stomach cramps, the cook made
everybody drink milk. One old marquis refused (!) and died. Every one else survived.
"Suspicions were aroused. An investigation was opened, and although the poisoner denied everything, he was condemned to death by the Presidial." At the
time, sentences of nobles were automatically appealed to the Paris Parlement, which confirmed this one.
"Valines was returned to Abbeville in a carriage drawn by six horses, and two police officers guarded him day and night." (The carriage was in fact
armored, very unusual for the time.) Valines still had not confessed, but "a few minutes before the execution... (September 6, 1764), he was again put to the question, and his confession was complete." (The other account says that the mere sight of the torture implements was enough.)
Condemned to the wheel and to be burned, Valines walked to the scaffold surrounded by five executioners; one held ropes, the other a candle, the third a pot filled with fire, another an iron bar. The pyre, formed of fifty bales of hay, a hundred sticks of wood and four cords of wood, had been set up in the market. Valines knelt while a huissier on horseback read the sentence. The reading done, singing of the Salve Regina began; the parricide was attached with his face covered on the wheel [actually a St. Andrew's cross], and one of the executioners broke his limbs with the iron bar. Valines, shattered, stayed a full hour on the instrument of torment, and was still alive when they set him on the pyre. The fire was maintained all night, and although the sentence declared that his ashes were to be thrown to the wind, the porter of the Capuchins had them collected and buried in the cemetery of his convent. The people of Abbeville, who had forgotten his crime in seeing him repent, sought out his bones the next day, as in fact people had sought those of la Brinvilliers and of Desrues to serve as relics.
Francois-Cesar Louandre, HIstoire d'Abbeville, (II, 141-143)
LIMOUSIN - FROM DOMESTIC RECORDS
The domestic records (books of reason, etc.) of Limousin and Marchois include references to a number of murders. (The French here is often slightly
archaic and very regional.) The first (and most dramatic) is told over several pages, so I have condensed it here:
Tuesday, May 24 of the said year 1695, the Tuesday of Pentecost, the venerable Father Jean Chabelard, worthy priest, was killed in his house in Lorette, and this between vespers and eight o'clock at night, and with an ax blow to the head; after which he was thrown in his well, in the courtyard; after which murder his little nephew, son of his younger brother, and about eight years old, who lived with him to do his little errands, being then out of the house, who coming into the said chapel and finding the door of the house open, after going in, the murderers who were inside threw themselves on the
innocent, took him by the throat and threw him alive, with his uncle, into the well, which is the greatest cruelty and catastrophe committed in this region, what makes it all the more cruel was that it was committed against two innocents for whom the public had such approbation [sic] that they could not be consoled.
On Thursday, June 16, 1695, an anonymous letter informed M. du Francour, the vice-senechal, and others that a stolen chalice, jewelry and other items
could be found at the foot of a tree in the garden of Parinaud, called Ganou, and that the rest of the jewels could be found in the well of Jacques Crouzaud, called Marillot. Du Francois and de la Borde, the royal prosecutor, having had Marillot's well dug up, "found there in a purse wrapped in a sheet or cloth, part of the stolen jewels, and in the garden of the said Ganou, the chalice at the foot of a plum tree which was found at the second thrust of the shovel; on which proof was seized the said Crouzaud. who had hidden himself in the wheat spread about in his garden." Parinaud was then found in the
neighboring Chailloux woods, and a great deal of furniture found in his house. Two or three days later du Francoius sent Pierre Michelle, "archer, his second father-in-law" to arrest Jean Mourix, from Chatrie, whom had been seen by Leonard Andrivet, the miller of Vachi[...] coming by the mill on the day of the murder. All these suspects were then questioned as well as witnesses who had come forward after 'monitors' - proclamations - were read from the pulpit.
"It is notable that the murder caused so much terror and fear throughout this town where the bravest were panicked and worried and that, for over three
weeks, no one felt at all secure." Guibert, Nouveau Recueil de Registres Domestiques Limousins et Marchois (Tome II,124-125)
The other accounts are more summary, though not without drama:
Antoine Bousset and Jean Ambroise were broken on the wheel and then strangled after nine blows, Saturday, May 23, 1778, at five in the afternoon, for having committed robbery with breaking and entering and trying to commit murder at the La Roche mill, parish of Anzesme, with assembly and carrying weapons, July 22, 1776.
Recueil (II, 292)
Therese Paquet, native of St. Martin-Chateau, for having hidden her pregnancy and strangled her child with a selvedge, was hung and strangled, April 12, 1783, at four in the afternoon, the Saturday before Palm Sudnay, by the executioner [literally, "master of works"] of Moulins, that of this town being ill.
Recueil (II, 297)
Pierre Depin called Pomeret, from the village of Neuville, parish of Agen, wandering since earliest childhood as thief and murderer, was hung on January 5, 1789 at six-thirty in the evening, not in the least having wanted to confess; and tired out justice, the confessors, the company of white penitents, the marshalsey and the company of the royal regiment of Guienne-cavalry assigned to this town, ranked in battle formation on the Marchedieu plaza and in details, from at least three o'clock in the afternoon until almost seven o'clock at night, without wanting to leave the prison yard, to the point that it was necessary to bind him to a chair and that the executioner dragged him from the said yard to the foot of the scaffold without being able to make him climb the ladder, and in the middle of which he strangled him, after working hard, [the condemned man?] yelling to split stone.
Recueil (II, 297-298)
LANGUEDOC-ROUSILLON (VILLENEUVE) - THE KILLERS UNDER THE ARCH
Viscount Gautier de Brecy's memoirs tend to be self-congratulatory overall. With that reservation, here is his account of a case from 1788 in the south of France:
A large handsome road had been finished for some time, joining Villeneuve to the town of Nimes, a league away from Villeneuve; on this road was a bridge with one arch, for drawing off rainwater. Evildoers and murders had the idea of using the arch of this bridge to take cover and hide from the sight of travelers, to demand their money or their life; and soon the bodies of several travelers were found beneath this bridge, from whom the evildoers had probably stolen purses and belongings. Not far from this bridge was a wood, very broad, which provided the evildoers a ready retreat to escape the
surveillance of what was formerly called the marshalsey. A second attempt, a second murder increased the fears and concerns of the inhabitants of Villeneuve, and, from this day, together with M. de la Croix, traveling inspector for these territories, we had the generous idea of suggesting to willing landowners to beat the woods and search there, presumed to be a hide-out for the murderers. M. de la Croix was then traveling in Villeneuve; he joined me at the head of our troop; we went throughout the wood, some on horseback, some on foot, armed with guns; but our searches were in vain. Our gathering had been known at once, and probably the murderers heard of this and sought and found a safer refuge. The commander of the province heard of our efforts; he offered congratulations and thanks to me, as to M. de la Croix. He sent several squads of infantry to search, or at least to block the murderers' attempts. Their efforts were made with as much skill as zeal, and after fifteen days, two murderers were found and arrested, and their punishment promptly ordered and executed. (188-190)
Gautier de Brecy, Memoirs Veridiques et Ingenus de la Vie Privee, Morale et Politique d'un Homme de Bien