The Red Inn, known as l’auberge rouge, became notorious in the nineteenth century after a hostel customer named Jean-Antoine Enjolras was found dead with a smashed skull. Evidence seemed to point to the proprietors of the inn — Pierre and Marie Martin — and their employee, Jean Rochette. Because of that the three were arrested. The ensuing trial (which is sometimes dubbed “The Crimes of Peyrebeille”) was sensational, and beside being charged with murder, the Martins and Rochette were also accused of the horrid crime of cannibalism.
The Martin’s started operating the Red Inn 25 years earlier in 1805. It was located in the southern French commune of Lanarce in Ardèche and bordered on Issanlas and Lavillatte. Pierre Martin had started out as a poor farmer. However, he and his wife had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and accumulated a sizable fortune that amounted to 30,000 gold Francs (worth approximately 600,000 Euros today). Additionally, Pierre Martin had a not-so-friendly reputation: He was feared by his neighbors because he was somewhat of a bully and his forceful reputation was further solidified after he began using henchman to get his way.
Trouble for the Martin’s began when a local horse dealer named Jean-Antoine Enjolras appeared at the inn on 12 October 1831. He was searching for a missing heifer, and he soon came up missing himself. This resulted in local authorities investigating his disappearance, and it was then that authorities learned Enjolras had patronized the Red Inn.
A day later, Enjolras’s body was discovered close to the inn by the Allier River. Enjolras’s skull was bashed in and his knee badly crushed. Shortly thereafter, on the 25th of October, Pierre Martin and his nephew, André, were arrested on suspicion of murdering Enjolras. Their arrests were followed by the arrest of Martin’s servant, Jean Rochette on the 1st of November. The next day, despite the belief at the time that a woman could not commit murder, Martin’s wife, Marie, was also arrested.
Some time later, on 18 June 1833, the trial of the “four monsters” began in the commune of Privas. The belief was Enjolras had been murdered while being robbed. At trial it was ascertained Enjolras had been drinking at the inn and Marie had given him some tea shortly before he disappeared. Laurent Chaz, a local non-speaking French beggar, who was also an alcoholic, testified he was at the inn on the night of the murder. Chaz claimed he was thrown out because he couldn’t afford a room and that he sought shelter in a shed where he witnessed Enjolras’s murder. Disposal of Enjolras’s body was confirmed by a man named Claude Pagès who testified Pierre Martin, Rochette, and some unknown third person used a cart to transport Enjolras’s body to the river.
At the time of the trial the Code Napoleon allowed hearsay evidence. The hearsay evidence was overwhelming and had little to do with the facts. Instead testimony fed off dislike for Pierre Martin, false rumors, and jealousy over the Martin’s large fortune. Witnesses made wild allegations including that Marie used corpse pieces to make stews, human hands were seen boiling on her stove, corpses (even of young children) were cooked in her ovens, walls and floors were covered in blood, and sickening smells were constantly spewing forth from the inn’s smoky chimney.
Despite the 100 plus witnesses that testified against the accused, the person who perhaps did the most damage to the defense was Rochette’s own lawyer. At trial, he declared his client a murderer, although he also claimed it was not Rochette’s fault because Rochette could not escape the bad influences of the Martins. Such statements helped to convict the Martins and Rochette. Moreover, when summation occurred, the president of the court essentially supported the prosecution and ignored the defense’s arguments that consisted of claims that Chaz’s claims couldn’t be trusted because he was a drunk and that Enjolras had probably died of a heart attack because of his drinking.
When the verdict came down, André Martin was found “Not Guilty,” and despite all the testimonies of cannibalism and numerous murders, Rochette and the Martins were found guilty of just one crime: Killing Enjolras. Their sentence was death by guillotine, and their executions occurred at noon in front of the Red Inn on 2 October 1833. Thirty-thousand spectators attended and heard Rochette’s last words, “Cursed masters, what have you not made me do!” Rochette’s words, some people said, confirmed that Rochette and the Martin’s were guilty of much more than killing Enjolras.
Years later, in 1966, Felix Viallet and Charles Almeras reexamined the case. They reaffirmed the guilt of the Martins. However, since their reexamination, other scholars have raised doubts about the validity of the trial and the truthfulness of the testimonies. Contemporary historian Thierry Boudignon is one scholar who asserts the trial was a miscarriage of justice. He claims the trial involved dubious testimony and unreliable witnesses. Boudignon also maintains the trial was nothing more than attempt to make an example out of the Martins and that Chaz’s testimony was translated in such a way that it influenced the jury to find the Martin’s and Rochette guilty.
- Boudignon, Thierry, L’Auberge rouge, 2007
- L’auberge rouge, 1833
- “L’Auberge rouge, à Peyrebeille,” on le Progres
- Viallet, Felix and Charles Almeras. “La Légende Et L’histoire De L’auberge Sanglante,” in la Tribune, 1966.
- Woloch, Isser, The New Regime, 1995