France’s First Serial Killer Martin Dumollard

Frances’s first serial killer Martin Dumollard was discovered after he attempted to murder a young servant from Lyons named Marie Pichon. Although the murder happened in France, his story was particularly appealing to people in England and of the incident the Norfolk Chronicle reported:

“[In late May of 1861] about eleven o’clock at night, a woman knocked at the door of M. Joly, an inhabitant of the village of [Balan], and asked for shelter and protection from an assassin, out of whose hands she stated, she had just escaped in a miraculous manner. The terror depicted in her countenance, her disordered garments, and the bruises on various parts of her body, bore witness to the reality of the danger which she had encountered.”[1]

Martin Dumollard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Joly took Pichon in and then immediately contacted police at Montluel. When Pichon spoke to authorities she stated:

“She had, she said, come from Lyons, where she had been living as a domestic servant. That same morning, as she was crossing the bridge de la Guillotiere, she was accosted by a countryman, clad in a blue blouse, with a hump on his back, and having a scar and a swelling on his upper lip. … He told her that he was employed as a gardener at a chateau near Montluel, and that he had been sent to Lyons by his master for the purpose of engaging a domestic servant. The place was a most advantageous one, the wages being 250f. a year … the work was easy, and consisted mainly in attending to three cows. Thrown off her guard by these unexpected proposals and the apparent simplicity of the stranger, … Pichon accepted the tempting offer [packed her belongings and readied a box of clothes].”[2]

Pichon and Dumollard took the train and arrived after nightfall at the train station in Montluel. They gathered their belongings and Dumollard put Pichon’s box on his shoulder and told her they would take a short cut to their destination. They then proceeded to walk briskly for some time through a lonely and dark pathway and passed several fields. Suddenly in the middle of a meadow, Dumollard stopped and said he was tired of carrying the heavy box. He told Pichon he would return with a coach from the chateau the next day and retrieve the box with her clothing and belongings.

They then resumed their walk, but by now Pichon was feeling uneasy and when they began to ascend a hill, she noticed Dumollard arming himself with a big stick and some stones. Her apprehension grew and she suddenly realized she had been deceived and refused to go any farther. It was then Dumollard tried to drop a cord with a slip knot over her head, but she raised her arms and his murderous “diabolical instrument” only caught her bonnet. She then fled in terror into the darkness and although she fell and injured herself, she escaped and reached safety at Joly’s farm.

Dumollard’s attempt to harm Pichon and her escape. Author’s collection.

When authorities heard Pichon’s story, they conducted a search for the box, but none was found. Authorities also realized that Pichon’s story had similarities to stories about other women who had disappeared in the area. For instance, like Pichon, other victims were domestic servants and had been lured to the area under similar circumstances. The man described as having lured the women fit the same description as the man who Pichon described, a man with a scar and possibly a cleft lip, called a harelip at the time. This caused authorities to theorize that Pichon had “providentially escaped” from the same attacker of the missing women.

Authorities began questioning everyone and soon they focused on a house at Mollard, a hamlet in the commune of Dagneux. It was in the general area that Pichon had been led on the night of her attack. Neighbors were already suspicious of Dumollard, whom they called “Raymond,” and his wife. He had no obvious occupation and that made neighbors suspicious, and they also had other good reasons to be wary of him:

“[His bad character] coupled with the grave and dissimulated behaviour of his wife, the strange nocturnal excursion of the husband, and lastly, the striking resemblance, he bore to the description of the malefactor who was ‘wanted,’ induced the juge de paix to proceed to the house of … Martin Dumollard, who had already been twice convicted of robbery.”[3]

Martin Domallard’s house. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One description of Dumollard stated:

“He was of average height, of insignificant aspect, with nothing in his appearance that betokened the monster, or even an exceptional organisation. His most disagreeable feature was a deep scar combined with a swelling on his lip, which left the impression that he had a hare-lip, which, however, he had not. This malformation was very noticeable, and made the task of recognising him an easy one. His hair was black, and his ‘horse-collar’ beard was of the same colour. His expression was a mixture of cunning, cowardice, and timidity, but in no way remarkable.”[4]

Investigators soon visited Dumollard and asked him to account for his time on the day that Pichon escaped her attacker. Dumollard was evasive, as was his wife Marie Anne Martinel, who looked like a simple, hardworking, and good-tempered country woman. In addition, when questioned the couple gave contradictory replies, which raised further suspicions with authorities that something was amiss and that Dumollard was likely the assailant.

Martin Dumollard and his wife Marie Anne Martinel. Author’s collection.

Further damaging evidence was collected when police searched Dumollard’s residence. Investigators found thousands of pieces of women’s clothing that ranged from garters and stockings to shawls, hats, and dresses. Authorities later discovered 1250 pieces of clothing and identified them all as belonging to Dumollard’s victims. They also determined the clothing thefts were one of the reasons for the murders.

As evidence point to Dumollard as being guilty, a judge ordered him arrested, which happened on 2 June 1863. Pichon then identified him as her assailant but Dumollard denied that he was her attacker. However, her identification was corroborated by the testimony of several other people who had seen him in her company in Lyons on the day in the question.

Dumollard’s trial was held between 29 January and 1 February 1862 in the Bourge-en-Bresse court. Attendance was high, and newspapers estimated between 4,000 to 5,000 spectators attended. He was defended by Marius Lardière from Dagneux and Mr. Villeneuve. The prosecution consisted of Louis Gaulot, Prandière, and Joachim Jeandet and was presided over by Marilhat and assisted by the Vice-President of Varennes and thirty-six jurors, all from the communities surrounding Ain.

One of Dumollard’s lawyers, Marius Lardière. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Evidence discovered by police investigators was presented at trial and corroborated by about 70 witnesses. In addition, there were hundreds of personal items and pieces of clothing that were identified as belonging to a variety of Dumollard’s victims. Reports about his indictment were also presented and the Cardiff Times stated:

“[T]he victims always being servants decoyed from Lyons, who only escaped death by flight and leaving their property in the hands of the accused, the acte d’accusation relates the particulars of the last murder committed by him on the 26th of February, 1861, and concludes by stating that during the eight years in which the prisoner has pursued his career of crime, six of his victims were murdered after being violated, and nine other girls providentially escaped from their assailant, though four of the latter number were compelled to leave in his hands the property which had excited his cupidity.”[5]

Dumollard’s murders had great repercussions in France. He was one of the first known serial killers in that country and people could not believe that such an evil person lived among them. Of those considered to be his victims were Marie Baday February 1855, Olympe Alubert 4 March 1855, Josephte Charletty 22 September 1855, Jeanne-Marie Bourgeois 31 October 1855, Victorine Perrin November 1855, unidentified woman in the woods of Montmain in November or December 1855, Julie Fargeat 18 January 1859, unidentified woman in the Sainte-Croix mill 11 December 1859, the Laborde daughter in the inn February 1860, Louise Michel 30 April 1860, and Marie-Eulalie Bussod 25 or 26 February 1861.

Deliberations by the jury took about 30 minutes, and, not surprisingly, Dumollard and his wife were found guilty. The Court of Assizes of Ain then sentenced him to death and his wife to twenty years of penal labor. He appealed his case, but the French Court of Cassation rejected his appeal on March 7th, and he was told that he would be executed the next morning on 8 March to which he coolly replied, “As well to-morrow as later.”[6]

At six o’clock the night before his execution his irons were struck off, and he saw his wife, something he had previously refused to do. They ate one last supper together that consisted of bacon, sausages, black puddings, mutton chops, and roast meat. During the meal, according, to newspapers, Marie Anne cried, and he talked to her “very sensibly” and “business-like.” He told her that if she ever gained a pardon that she should not return home partly because her family and friends would “receive her badly” and partly because people would point at her.

The next day when Dumollard was executed and the details reported:

“When the time came for setting out for the place of execution, he was allowed to change the prison dress for his own clothes. He picked out the worst for his own wear, and put aside the others, saying they were for his wife. At eleven o’clock he left the Bourg prison in a cart, spread with straw, and accompanied by the chaplain and two gendarmes, travelled through the dead of the night, arriving at Montluel at four in the morning … [and] placed in a room prepared for him at the Hotel de Ville, the lock-up house being out of order. A cup of coffee and a glass of sherry were then given him, which he sipped with much relish, taking especial care to melt the sugar. On the curé of Montluel being presented to him, he said, ‘I know I am very guilty for having followed bad advice, but I pay for others.’ After this he was alone for nearly an hour and half with the curé and the chaplain, and whatever confession he made must have been at this interview. At six o’clock the justice of the peace who had arrested him, and who was charged with the direction of the execution, informed the two priests that the hour was approaching. He afterwards pressed Dumollard with many questions, urging him to make a full confession, but the latter replied that he had nothing more to say, and that if he had any declaration to make he should not have waited for that echeance – a mercantile term, signifying the moment at which a bill is due.”[7]

Dumollard seemed fine until the final preparations of his execution “toilette” began:

“[I]t was observed that his nerves seemed to fail him a little. He, however, insisted on walking to the scaffold, although a carriage was in readiness. His waistcoat was thrown over his shoulders to keep him warm. He mounted the steps of the scaffold with assistance, embraced the chaplain, helped the executioner to take off his coat, and – all was over.”[8]

After his death, people were still fascinated by his story and the fact that he was a serial killer. For instance, the famous wax sculptress Madame Tussaud installed a waxen effigy of him at her museum in the Chamber of Horrors that was extremely popular with the public. The famous French writer Victor Hugo also mentioned him in Les Misérables when he stated:

“At five years, the reader will say, that it is improbable; but alas ! it is true. Social suffering begins at any age. Have we not seen, recently, the trial of a certain Dumollard, an orphan, who turned bandit, and who from the age of five, as the official documents tell us, was alone in the world and ‘worked for a living and stole’?”[9]

Victor Hugo. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After he was guillotined in front of 5,000 spectators, his body was buried in an indeterminate place, and his severed head was sent to the Medical School of Lyons where studies were undertaken to analyze his skull. In addition, The London Mercury printed the following shortly after his death:

“A telegram from Lyons states that Dumollard was executed at Montluel at eight o’clock on Saturday morning. He died without making any confession. It is said that a speculator offered a very large sum of money to Marie Pichon, the servant who miraculously escaped Dumollard’s clutches, to make an exhibition of herself, but that she contemptuously rejected the proposal. This girl must be quite a character. She lately wrote to Dumollard a long religious letter, exhorting him in appropriate terms, though not in very good spelling, to think of his latter end, but, with an eye to the main chance not at all inconsistent with scorn for money proffered at the cost of womanly dignity, she concluded her sermon by the expression of hope that he would think it right to send her the price of the gown which was spoilt while he was trying to murder her.”[10]

As to Dumollard’s wife, she died in 1875 at the Auberive prison in Haute-Marne where she was incarcerated.


  • [1] Norfolk Chronicle, “Extraordinary Trial for Murder in France,” February 8, 1862, p. 2.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Cardiff Times, “Sensational Stories of French Life,” September 8, 1894, p. 2.
  • [5] Norfolk Chronicle, p. 2.
  • [6] Lancaster Gazette, “Execution of Dumollard, the French Murderer,” March 15, 1862, p. 7.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] V. Hugo, Les Misérables: Part First: Fantine (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1887), p. 235.
  • [10] Liverpool Mercury, “Execution of Dumollard,” March 11, 1862, p. 7.

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