The Widow Gras or Jeanne Bricourt: The Jekyll and Hyde Murderess and Courtesan of France

Widow Gras. Public domain.

The Widow Gras or Jeanne Bricourt, also sometimes called Jeanne Brécourt, was considered the female version of a Jekyll and Hyde murderess and one France’s most notorious courtesans. She was born Eugénie Arménaïde Bricourt on 8 April 1837 in Paris and was the neglected child of a printer and a vegetable seller. Because she was so neglected, a Baroness took pity upon her and became her benefactress. However, when Jeanne was eleven, her parents removed from the Baroness’s care and forced her to sell gingerbread, which she did for the next six years. Continue reading

The First Morphine Murderer Edme Castaing

Auguste Ballet, Hippolyte Ballet, and Edme Samuel Castaing. Public domain.

The opiate and pain medication morphine began to be marketed to the public in 1817, and, four years later, in 1821, a young man by the name of Edme Samuel Castaing graduated from the School of Medicine in Paris as a physician. He had been an outstanding student during his school years and won many awards. Many people considered him to be an upstanding and honest person, but problems for Castaing began when he found himself facing financial difficulties. A few years earlier, in 1818, he had vouched for a friend on a loan and when it came due in 1820, his friend could not pay the required 600 francs. Thus, the burden fell upon Castaing, but he was already under financial pressure having fathered two children with his mistress.

Castaing had befriended two brothers, Auguste and Hippolyte Ballet. Auguste was the older of the two having been born on 21 March of 1798, while Hippolyte was born a year later on 17 August 1799. The brothers had received a handsome inheritance when their parents died. Although Hippolyte was thrifty Auguste was not. Thus, soon after their parent’s deaths, Hippolyte visited the family lawyer, a man named Lebret, and told him that he planned to make a will to protect his money. Continue reading

19th Century Romance and Murder in France

romance and murder in France
Marseilles, Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A story of romance and murder in France begins with a 30-year-old man named Antoine Roure, who was described as tall, strong, with a long face and blue eyes. He also had a beard and dark-blond hair. He belonged to one of the richest families in Marseilles, possessed a considerable fortune, and owned a villa in Blancarde in a nearby suburb of Marseilles.

In 1874, Roure obtained lodgings at a house in Marseilles, and it was there that he met the daughter of the owner, Rose Delahaye. At the time, she was barely 17 years old, but Roure was immediately intrigued and she fell madly in love with him. It became all the more romantic for Delahaye after Roure promised to marry her, and, in fact, his promise of marriage caused Delahaye to begin an intimate relationship with him. Continue reading

Théroigne de Méricourt and Charlotte Vanhove: The Political Activist and the Actress

Théroigne de Méricourt on the eve of the French Revolution. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Théroigne de Méricourt was a political activist during the French Revolution. In 1793, she composed a series of placards that called for the political involvement of women, and on 15 May 1793, as she crossed the Feuillants Terrace to deliver a speech when female supporters of the Jacobins attacked her. They stripped her naked and beat her so severely she could have died had she not been rescued by Jean-Paul Marat, a political theorist, radical journalist, and icon to the Jacobins.

After the beating, Théroigne was never the same. She suffered from headaches, mental troubles, and erratic behavior. On 20 September 1794, she was certified insane and spent more than twenty years institutionalized. Ultimately, she became a patient at one of the leading mental institutions at the time, the Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris and survived intermittently lucid but constantly speaking about the Revolution. Continue reading

The French Sherlock Holmes, Detective Eugène François Vidocq

Eugène François Vidocq. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The French Sherlock Holmes, detective Eugène François Vidocq, was born on the 24 July 1775* in Arras in the Pas de Calais, Nord, France. He was the third child of a baker named Nicolas Joseph François Vidocq and his wife Henriette Françoise Dion. Vidocq earned the nickname le Vautrin (“wild boar”), and this was the same name that the French author Honoré de Balzac later used for a fictional character based on Vidocq in his La Comédie humaine series. Moreover, the famous writer Victor Hugo based two characters from his book titled “Les Miserables” on Vidocq – both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert. If being immortalized by two famous writers was not enough, Vidocq earned the nickname “French Thief Taker,” a name similar to that used by London’s Jonathan Wild, a notable crime figure who was called the “Thief Taker General” and who operated on both sides of the law in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Continue reading

Polite Robber of the 18th Century: Louis Mandrin

Polite Robber of the 18th Century: Louis Mandrin
Louis Mandrin at Age 36, Author’s Collection

Louis Mandrin was a well-known French smuggler and highwayman during Louis XV’s reign. He was also extremely popular during his lifetime and considered the Robin Hood of France because he rebelled against Louis XV’s tax collectors. The tax collectors, called fermiers, collected taxes for salt (the gabelle), tobacco, and farming. The tax collectors had to pay a specific amount to the king, but they could exact what they wanted from the people, and as many were greedy, most people hated them.

Mandrin became legendary for his exploits. He also formed a gang, became its leader, and targeted unpopular tax collectors, which gained him loyalty and support from the local population as they too felt abused by the tax collectors. He also, supposedly, at least once, presented himself as a polite robber, and one nineteenth century English newspaper published an article about the robbery, which is provided below verbatim:

“In the year 1754 Mandrin made his appearance at the gates of Montbrison, and, being numerously escorted no one ever thought of offering the least resistance. He then took up quarters in the town, levied no contributions on the inhabitants, and maintained the strictest discipline among his troops; even ordering one of his companions to be shot for having stolen an object of trifling value. Continue reading

Attempted Assassination of Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th Century

Attempted assassination of Napoleon Bonaparte
Illustration of the Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Threats against Napoleon’s life were not rare. In fact, there were many assassination attempts. One failed royalist assassination attempt, known as the plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise, occurred on Christmas Eve in 1800. It resulted in a bomb blast and left Napoleon badly shaken but unscathed. Another failed attempt involved snuff. In this case, royalists infiltrated a group of workmen restoring Malmaison with a plan to switch Napoleon’s good snuff for poisoned snuff, but before they could bring their plan to fruition, it was discovered. The next failed attempt occurred in 1804 when royalists planned to kidnap Napoleon. However, instead of kidnapping him, the conspiracy was discovered and the conspirators arrested.

Despite all the failed attempts to kill Napoleon, one eager young lad decided he had the wherewithal to assassinate Napoleon after he became Emperor. Fortunately, before the young lad could carry out his dastardly deed, French Police discovered his intentions. The result of the police’s discovery resulted in a New York newspaper publishing an article about it in 1828. Here is their report provided almost verbatim: Continue reading

Dreadful Murder in France in 1818 by a Peddler

Dreadful Murder in France in 1818 by a Peddler: French Rabbit Pelt Peddler
French Rabbit Pelt Peddler, 1737. Courtesy of Met Museum.

A dreadful murder in France in 1818 by a peddler had everyone talking. It also had newspapers everywhere reporting on the horrid event that occurred in Brie. It all began when a peddler and his wife presented themselves at a farmer’s door named Monsieur Pinard around nightfall in June of 1818. They asked if they could spend the night at Pinard’s house. Monsieur Pinard agreed and a small room was given to the couple.

The next day was Sunday. Monsieur Pinard, the peddler, and his servants went to Mass in a neighboring village. Because Madame Pinard had just had a baby, she was still confined to her bed and recovering. For this reason, she had her 6-year-old son stay home to help take care of her. The peddler’s wife was also ill, so she stayed behind too.

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The French Robin Hood or the Prince of Smugglers: Louis Mandrin

Louis Mandrin at Age 36. Author’s Collection.

Louis Mandrin has been called the French Robin Hood or the Prince of Smugglers. He became famous for rebelling against the tax collectors of France during the time of Louis XV. The tax collectors, known as fermiers, were (tax) farmers who collected taxes for the King. However, besides the pre-agreed tax amount, the tax collectors often tried to collect something for themselves. Many of them were greedy, and, therefore, they were extremely hated and highly unpopular with the French people.

The first time that Mandrin experienced a problem was in 1748. Mandrin’s father had died and he taken over his business. At the time, Mandrin had a contract with the French government to supply mules to the French army in Italy. To do so, his 97 mules had to travel to Italy and in so doing they had to cross the Swiss Alps. This was an extremely difficult task because of cold weather and a variety of other factors. Unfortunately, along the way, most of the mules died so that when Mandrin reached his destination, only 17 mules survived. The survivors were in such a sorry state, the fermiers refused to pay him for the animals. Continue reading

Accused Glasgow Murderess Known as Madeleine Smith From the 1850s

Accused Glasgow Murderess Known as Madeleine Smith: Madeleine Smith
Madeleine Smith. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The accused Glasgow murderess known as Madeleine Smith was alleged to have killed Frenchman Pierre Emile L’Angelier (or Emile L’Angelier) in 1857. L’Angelier originally came from the Channel Islands, an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. The two began a secret love affair in 1855 that involved hundreds of love letters and clandestine meetings at her bedroom window. One of these clandestine meetings resulted in Madeleine losing her virginity to L’Angelier.

L’Angelier had left the Channel Islands to seek his fortune in Scotland in 1851. When he first arrived in Scotland, he lived in grinding poverty and depended on the charity of inn keepers. Eventually, he began working as a clerk at a warehouse and then began assisting a gardener as an apprentice for moderate wages. By steadiness and assiduity, he improved his lot over time. Continue reading