Théodore Gardelle – Executed for Dismembering a Corpse

On Thursday, 19 February 1761, a maid named Anne Windsor acquired the key to the street door of her mistress’s residence. Windsor’s mistress was Mrs. Anne King, “a woman of light character.”[1] King also let rooms to gentlemen, and one of these gentlemen boarders was Théodore Gardelle who was born in Geneva, Switzerland.

Théodore Gardelle by Samuel Ireland, Public Domain

Théodore Gardelle by Samuel Ireland. Public domain.

One story about Gardelle (although likely untrue) is that Gardelle became acquainted with the Enlightenment writer Voltaire in Geneva. He then painted Voltaire’s picture on a snuff-box, and Voltaire was supposedly so impressed by Gardelle, he sent him to Paris with a recommendation.

Painting by Théodore Gardelle of Voltaire, Courtesy of British Museum

Painting by Gardelle of Voltaire.  Courtesy of British Museum.

While in Paris, Théodore Gardelle was advised to seek his fortune in London and appeared there around 1760, a year before socialite Eliza de Feuillide and the famous wax sculptress Madame Tussaud were born. Gardelle then began boarding with King. On this particular day as Windsor was busy going about her daily chores, she found Gardelle in his room busily at work wearing a “red and green nightown.”[2] When Gardelle saw her, he asked Windsor to do some errands that included delivering two letters and acquiring snuff, which resulted in Gardelle giving Windsor his snuff-box and a guinea so that she could obtain a penny-worth of snuff.

Windsor told King about Gardelle’s request, but King said, “Nanny, you can’t go, for there’s nobody to answer at the street door.”[3] As Windsor wanted to go out, she told King that Gardelle would sit in the parlor. Then Windsor went to Gardelle, repeated what had been said, and he agreed to sit in the parlor. Immediately after Gardelle entered the parlor, King called out, “Who is there?” When she opened her bedroom door, she discovered Gardelle sitting at a table studying a French grammar book. Prior to this Gardelle had drawn a picture of King, and she had teased him so mercilessly about the drawing, he had become insulted and upset. Unfortunately, the first thing King said to Gardelle was something about the drawing.

This instantly provoked Théodore Gardelle and he crossed over to her. As Gardelle did not speak English well and because he was upset, he accused her of being “an impertinent woman.” King thought Gardelle’s remark was uncalled for, and, in response she hit him on his chest in such a violent fashion, he later claimed he thought no woman could hit a man so hard. Gardelle responded by pushing her, and, unfortunately, King’s foot caught on an oilcloth on the floor and she fell backwards, hitting her head against her bedstead.

Blood immediately gushed from King’s mouth. Gardelle ran to help her, but King was so incensed she threatened him and told him that she would see him punished for what he had done. Not wanting to have criminal record and terrified about what she could do to him, Gardelle claimed he again attempted to help her. King fought him off, all the while crying and threatening that he would be punished for harming her.

Théodore Gardelle now tried to quiet King. But she refused to be quiet and screeched even louder. At that point Gardelle grabbed an ivory comb with a sharp pointed end and threatened her that if she continued to cry out, he would use it. This did little to calm the situation because King cried even louder, and it was at that point that Gardelle struck her in the throat with the sharp end of the comb.

Blood spurted from the wound and it went everywhere. Realizing what he had done, Gardelle tried to stop the flow of blood onto the floor by wrapping King in her bedding. Then according to Gardelle, he was so shock about what had happened, he stood motionless for some time before he swooned and fell down beside her.

The next thing Gardelle remembered was regaining consciousness. He was fearful Windsor would return and discover what had happened. So, he rushed from the room and because he was unsteady, Gardelle staggered and hit the wainscot, which caused a huge bump over his eye.

When Windsor returned, all was quiet and there was no evidence of any crime. She did not find Théodore Gardelle even though she looked for him. Eventually, however, he ppeared. When Windsor saw him, she noticed he had changed his clothing. She also noticed that he looked confused and that he had covered his eye with a patch, which he said he hurt by accident. Gardelle then gave Windsor another letter and told her to take the letter to Suffolk Street and wait for an answer. When Windsor returned, she found him sitting in the parlor, and when she asked about King, Gardelle told her she had left with a gentleman in a hackney-coach. However, Windsor did not believe him because she believed King had not had enough time to dress, obtain a hackney, and leave.

To see if King was there, Windsor went to her bedroom but found her door locked. As Windsor was attempting to determine King’s whereabouts, behind the scenes, Théodore Gardelle was trying to decide what to do. He finally decided that he had to discharge Windsor because she was asking too many questions about King. This confused Windsor as she was unsure why she was being discharged. Windsor thought her discharge might have something to do with King and Gardelle being intimate. So, Windsor remained into the evening hoping to speak to King. But she never appeared. As it was late and because Windsor now believed the situation could not be rectified, she accepted what “Gardelle paid her, six shillings for a fortnight and two days’ wages, and … five or six shillings over.”[4]

As Windsor was leaving, she saw the footman who worked for Mr. Wright. The footman’s name was Pelsey. Windsor told Pelsey she had been discharged. She also mentioned that King had been in her room all day without food or drink, and that perhaps Pelsey could ensure she came out. But Pelsey told Windsor he had errands to do for his master and could not stay.

By seven o’clock that evening, Windsor and Pelsey were gone and Théodore Gardelle was alone. Gardelle then went to King’s room, ascertained she was dead, and remove her bedding and stripped off her clothes.  He took the bedding and placed it into a water tub in the wash-house to soak, and he took King’s blood-soaked shift and put it in a bag in his room, the same bag that also contained his bloody night shirt.

Over the next two days Pelsey inquired several times about King. Gardelle reassured him that he had seen her and that was all was well, but after Pelsey questioned him yet another time, Gardelle lied and told him that King had taken an extended trip. About the same time, another gentleman who had been intimate with King, named Mozier (or perhaps Muzard), called for King. He had planned to take her to the opera, but Gardelle repeated his lies that she had taken a trip.

Mozier sensed something was wrong, but thought it was that Gardelle was troubled because Windsor had been discharged and King was not there. To help Gardelle, Mozier found another cleaning woman. Her name was Sarah Walker, and she was more than a cleaning woman. She was also a prostitute. Moreover, Walker decided Gardelle needed even more help and she hired a char-woman named Pritchard.

With Walker and Pritchard now tending to Gardelle’s household needs, Mozier thought Gardelle’s problems were solved. But behind the scenes, Gardelle still had problems. For one thing, he was sleeping with Walker and was now just worried about someone discovering King’s dead body, but also worried someone might discover he was sleeping with Walker.

To solve that problem, on Monday, Théodore Gardelle began the rumor that Walker was King’s relative and that she was staying there until King returned from her trip. When Pelsey heard the story, he did not believe it for several reasons. First, he had noticed Walker’s clothes in Gardelle’s room, and, second, he knew that she had slept in Gardelle’s room and concluded the two were being intimate.

Despite the obvious lies, Pelsey still was not suspicious or overly concerned that King was absent. In fact, it took several days before he become suspicious, and, in the meantime, Gardelle continued to lie about King’s absence. If Pelsey had been more observant, he might have discovered that over the course of the past five days, Théodore Gardelle had been busy conducting some gruesome business.

It seems that every evening Gardelle set himself to getting rid of King. He did this by sawing and cutting her into bits and pieces using a large kitchen knife. After sawing off bones, he would toss a few at a time into the parlor fireplace. He also threw her bowels down “the necessary” and her flesh he busily scattered about in the cock-loft where he hoped it would “dry and perish without putrification.”[5]

Gardelle Disposing of Mrs. King, Public Domain

Gardelle disposing of Mrs. King. Public domain.

As Gardelle’s grisly dismemberment and disposal progressed, Wednesday passed like all the previous days. Then, on Thursday, a week after King’s death, Théodore Gardelle told Walker that King would be home that evening and he dismissed her, giving her two of King’s shifts and money for lodging. However, Gardelle did not dismiss Pritchard and she continued in her duties at Mrs. King’s.

The next day, as Pritchard was going about her duties, she discovered water was not coming out of the cistern. She mentioned this to Pelsey and they went to investigate. In the wash-house they found King’s bedding soaking in the water-tub. Knowing that Pritchard had not put the items in the water-tub, Pelsey thought something amiss and sought out Windsor, the maid who had earlier been dismissed.

Windsor said that she had not placed the bedding there and she became frightened and concerned when she learned that King was supposedly visiting elsewhere. Windsor stated her fears to Pelsey and she also told him that she believed King had never left the premises. This in turn caused Pelsey to become alarmed and he told his master who then informed an apothecary, named Mr. Barron.

Barron thought the circumstances suspicious and decided to investigate. He stopped by to inquiry about King, and Théodore Gardelle told him that she had gone to Bath or Bristol. Barron then inquired of others and learned that no one other than Gardelle had heard or seen King for several days. Barron then sprang into action and took Windsor to a justice on Saturday, where she gave a deposition and where a warrant was obtained for Gardelle.

Constables arrived to take Théodore Gardelle into custody, and, when he learned he was being charged with murder, he swooned. When he recovered, the constable requested the key to King’s room, but Gardelle insisted King had it with her. So, the constable gained entry through a window and once inside found wet bedding and what appeared to be blood. The constable also discovered signs of a struggle and blood splatter about the room. This caused him to investigate further, and he went to Gardelle’s room where he found King’s blood-soaked shift and Gardelle’s bloody night shirt locked in the bureau. In addition, the constable also ascertained that Gardelle had robbed King of a “Gold Watch, two Diamond Rings, and about ten Guineas in Money,”[6] although at trial Gardelle claimed he had no designs to rob King and that he took the items only to lend credence to his story.

With all the evidence, Théodore Gardelle was arrested and taken into custody. While jailed, he became so distraught he attempted to kill himself. He took forty grains of opium, which apparently was not enough to even help him sleep. He then swallowed more opium, but apparently no amount of the drug was enough to produce the fatal symptoms he desired, although it did alert authorities to his suicidal tendencies. Thus, authorities began to guard against him taking his own his life.

At the trial, some people claimed Gardelle’s story was a lie and that all along he planned to harm King. They claimed that was why he sent Windsor off to do errands. Whatever the truth, Gardelle was convicted at Old Bailey for “wilful Murder” on 2 April 1761. Two days later, on the 4th of April, he was riding in a cart on the way to meet his maker.

Sites Mentioned, Author's Collection

Sites mentioned in this post. Author’s collection.

The cart carrying the condemned man traveled down Fleet-Street and the Strand. Along the route, spectators greeted Gardelle by hissing, hollering, and name-calling. When the cart arrived at Leicester Square, it stopped opposite King’s house. The cart remained there for a few minutes, just long enough for an angry mob to give Gardelle “a shout and huzza of contempt”[7] before continuing on to Haymarket where gallows had been erected. It was there a rope was thrown round Gardelle’s neck and the noose tightened (supposedly with Gardelle’s help).

An hour-long prayer was given, during which time it was reported Théodore Gardelle trembled in fear. After he was hanged, his corpse was removed and hung in chains at Finchley Common, before it was delivered to London surgeons to be “dissected and anatomized.”

References:

  • [1] Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 7, 1908, p. 846.
  • [2] Nichols, John, The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 31, 1761, p. 173.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Knapp, Andrew and William Baldwin, The Newgate Calendar, Volume 2, 1825, p. 299.
  • [5] Nichols, John, p. 177.
  • [6] “Thursday’s Post,” in Oxford Journal, 7 March 1761, p. 2.
  • [7] “Murder of Long Ago,” in New Zealand Herald, 20 September 1924, p. 2.

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