The Murder of Comte d’Antraigues and His Wife

Emmanuel Henri Louis Alexandre de Launay, comte d’Antraigues, was a French citizen. While living in France, d’Antraigues become involved in an incident known as the Favras Plot. When his involvement was discovered he fled to avoid execution. His mistress, a celebrated French operatic soprano named Madame de Saint-Huberty, followed him. They eventually married and lived in several countries before finally settling in Russia. However, the comte and his wife were expelled in 1806 because he published a pamphlet against Napoleon and the French Empire. Because of the expulsion, the comte and his wife moved to England.

Comte d'Antraigues, Public Domain

Comte d’Antraigues. Public domain.

In England, the comte bought a home on the West End. He also purchased a summer home at Barnes Terrace, a district in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. While residing at Barnes Terrace, the comte and comtesse went to town every Wednesday. One Wednesday, 22 July 1812, the comte called for his carriage at 8:00am, and, about 9:00am, the 52-year-old comtesse was ready and waiting outside in the carriage for her husband.

Madame Saint Huberty. Public domain.

 

The 58-year-old comte, who was colossal in stature and had an “imposing countenance,” was planning on visiting a friend and had his hat and some papers in his hand. As he was descending the staircase his Italian footman, named Lorenzo (or perhaps Lawrence) Stelli, was waiting at the bottom of the stairs for him. When the comte was about six steps away from Stelli, he suddenly aimed a pistol and fired at him.

The pistol Stelli used was one he had stolen from the comte, along with a Turkish dagger called a poignard or poniard that the comte had purchased in Constantinople. Fortunately, Stelli’s shot missed its target and the bullet passed by the comte, but the comte was so shocked, he stood frozen. It was then that Stelli rushed forward and proceeded to stab him in the shoulder with the stolen poignard. “Though the blow was mortal, the [comte still had] … enough strength to walk up to his room.”[1]

Poignard or Poniard

Poignard or Poniard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the meantime, the comtesse heard the shot and reentered the house. When she entered she shrieked in disbelief as Stelli attacked her. He “plunged, in the most furious manner, the poniard into her breast. She fell … without any groans, saying only, ‘Lorenzo, Lorenzo!'”[2] But the “bewildered and frantic” Stelli was not finished.

He rushed to the comte’s bedroom, where the comte was dying and seized one of “four pistols which the [comte] had constantly for his protection at his bedside.”[3[ Without hesitation, he put the pistol into his own mouth and pulled the trigger. The bullet “shattered his head in the most dreadful manner. He died on the spot and fell [face down] by the side of his [dying] master.”[4]

comtesse d'Antraigues, Courtesy of Wikipedia

comtesse d’Antraigues. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the meantime, the coachman, a man named David Hebditch, raised the alarm, and a servant, who had been with the comtesse, rushed to get medical aid. Two surgeons — Matthew Ball and Mr. King — came to the house to render aid. The comtesse lost a lot of blood and died within minutes of Ball’s arrival. However, King found the comte sitting on the bed trying to dress his own wound, and, after the surgeons did an examination, it was determined there was little they could do, and the comte died within 25 minutes of the stabbing.

Later, when an investigation was conducted, it was learned that a month prior to the incident, a servant had heard a pistol shot in the comte’s bedroom and went to investigate. When she entered the room it was full of smoke, and when the smoke cleared, she discovered Stelli in the room. He told her nothing was wrong, and only later did he admit he had fired one of the comte’s pistols but exactly which pistol he fired or why remained unclear.

It was also unclear why Stelli killed the comte and comtesse. Initially, it appeared as if he had no reason as he had been employed by the Antraigues for no longer than three months. Investigators discovered the comtesse treated her servants badly and they also learned Stelli was going to be let go by the Antraigues within the next few days. There was conjecture that Stelli might have learned about his upcoming dismissal, but it was never determined if Stelli actually murdered the Antraigues’ for personal rather than political reasons, as the comte had been involved in the Favras plot, and Napoleon, the future Louis XVIII, and others had reasons to wish the comte dead.

An inquest was conducted the next day at a public-house located opposite the Antraigues’s home. According to newspapers, the jury visited the “horrible spectacle” and inspected “the dreadful spectacle presented itself of three lifeless bodies drenched in blood, extended upon the floor.”[5] After the jury returned to the public-house, they also cross-examined witnesses and then held their deliberations, which lasted a few minutes. The jury returned a verdict of “Felo de se … [and] … and declared, that they fell by the murderous blow of an Italian Assassin, named Lorenzo* Stelli.”[6]

After his death, Stelli was buried in a shallow grave. But he was not left in peace for long. A newspaper reported that stagecoaches full of passengers began arriving to view “the disgusting scene” and Stelli’s grave was opened. According to the papers:

“A letter from Barnes complains of a gross indecency by which the inhabitants of that village were on Thursday annoyed. The body of the murderer … has been buried not 100 yards from the houses, and not more than four feet under ground. On Thursday the grave was opened more than once, and the corpse exhibited to gratify the horrible curiosity of some idle people. The indecency was aggravated by the two hearses containing the bodies of the unhappy Count and Countess d’Antraigues, after a brisk trot over the common, drawing up by the assassin’s grave, where the attendant satiated themselves with a deliberate view of the body. Two stage coaches, accompanied by a crowd of horsemen, women, and children, contemplated this disgusting scene for 20 minutes.”[7]

*Sometimes called Lawrence instead of Lorenzo.

References:

  • [1] “The Late Dreadful Murders,” in Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 29 July 1812, p. 4.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] “Dreadful Murder at Barnes, Surrey,” in Caledonian Mercury, 25 July 1812, p. 3.
  • [6] “Dreadful Murders at Barnes, Surry” in Oxford University and City Herald, 25 July 1812, p. 3.
  • [7] —, in Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 28 July 1812, p. 2.

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2 Comments

  1. Ann Marie Ackermann on July 23, 2016 at 7:25 am

    Your post made me wonder if the stiletto is named after this case and after Stelli. You could describe that jnife as a stiletto….

    • Geri Walton on August 1, 2016 at 7:49 am

      Wikipedia said this “The Italian word ‘stiletto; comes from the Latin stilus, the thin pointed Roman writing instrument used to engrave wax or clay tablets in ancient times. The stiletto began to gain fame during the late Middle Ages, when it was the secondary weapon of knights.” Interesting though that Stelli is so close to stiletto.

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