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The Mysterious Disappearance of  Pauline Picard

A young girl goes missing from her family home only to be discovered 300 miles away with apparent amnesia. That is until her remains are found months later

Sometimes strange events sound like they could have been plucked straight out of the plot from a movie, but  fact can often be much stranger than fiction. And that’s just the case with the incident of Pauline Picard, a young French girl who went missing in 1922 right off her family’s farm in Brittany, France. The story got stranger and stranger as events unfolded and it was, in fact, her potential recovery that turned the entire investigation and searches completely on its head.

These days when a child goes missing and is miraculously found, it is a joyous event that usually causes a tragedy to turn into a happy ending. But in the case of Pauline Picard, the so-called ‘happy ending’ only made things more complicated.

In April of 1922, two-year-old Pauline Picard went missing from her family home in Goas Al Ludu, France. There was a thorough search performed by the local police as well as volunteers, but no results were found. Everything seemed bleak for the Picard family until a few weeks later when they received word of a young girl, matching Pauline’s description, who had been found wandering around the Cherbourg area. Her mother identified her via photograph and the officer who found the girl was satisfied that it was the same person.

The mystery of how the little girl had travelled over 300 miles away was brushed aside at the time due to the relief of her safe return. The Picards travelled to retrieve their daughter, but the happy reunion was not without some strange occurrences. The little girl seemed very distant with her parents and didn’t respond when spoken to in her native Bretron dialect. Her parents and the police all assumed it was due to the trauma of the kidnapping and the Picards took their daughter home.

Paris, May 26, 1922 – A baffling mystery is exciting the inhabitants of the small Brittany village of Goas Al Ludu, near Chautelin, in the Brest district. Early in April a little girl, Pauline Picard, disappeared from her parent’s farm, not the slightest clue existing as to what had become of the child and all searches proving fruitless. Finally, it was thought she must have been carried off by gypsies, although none had been observed in the neighbourhood at the time of her disappearance.

Just when the parents had given up hope of finding their daughter, it was reported from Cherbourg that a small girl had been found wandering there, whose age and appearance corresponded to that of the missing Pauline. The Picards immediately hurried to Cherbourg and declared the child theirs. A curious fact, however, was that the child did not seem to recognise the parents and remained mute when addressed in Breton, although Pauline had been used to speak that language. Taken home, the child was recognised by neighbours, and the police officer who accompanied her from Cherbourg was satisfied that she really was Pauline Picard, although there was no indication as to how she had reached Cherbourg.

The adventure thus appeared to have reached a happy ending, until a startling discovery was made which makes the whole affair more mysterious than ever.

A farmer crossing a field about a mile from Goas Al Ludu discovered the horribly mutilated body of a small girl, entirely naked and the head cut off. Close by, carefully folded, lay the clothes. The farmer hurried to the village and returned with gendarmes, followed by the inhabitants, among them the Picards, who recognised the clothes as those worn by Pauline the day she disappeared. The body could not be identified, the face having been partly devoured by foxes.

Although it would seem almost incredible that the parents should make a mistake, the Picards are now uncertain whether the child they have been nursing for more than a month is really their own, and the police are faced with by a three-fold task – to discover the murderer, identify the murdered child, and, if she is proved to be Pauline Picard, discover the identity of the little girl from Cherbourg.

May 27:

Now a closer investigation of the circumstances under which the body was found and the medical examination have added still further to the detectives’ difficulties. So careful was the search made at the time of Pauline’s disappearance that the body would have been discovered had it been lying where it was found. Everything now points to the theory that it was placed there, together with the neatly folded clothes, quite recently. The most startling discovery of all, however, is that the unrecognisable head found close to the child’s body is not the skull of a small child but of a grown man, thus introducing a second victim of an unknown murderer.

One slight clue is reported as to the possible identity of the murderer. A few days ago a middle-aged farmer, Yves Martin, visited the Picards and said he understood their daughter had been found. When told that she had, he asked, “Are you sure it’s Pauline?” Then he added, “God forgive me. I am guilty.” Then in wild laughter, he rushed from the farm and the following day was taken to a lunatic asylum raving mad. It is thought possible that he killed Pauline – if the dead child was Pauline.

The Strange Tale Of Pauline Picard.

Things became even more bizarre when the autopsy on the skull found near the body was found it was too large to have belonged to the young girl they’d discovered. In fact, the skull didn’t even belong to a woman; it was the skull of an unidentified full-grown male. This opened the case even wider, now there were two victims with a kidnapper and potential murderer still on the loose somewhere in the area.

Ultimately, and tragically, no conclusion could be reached in the case that seemed to have a never-ending list of questions. Was the hysterical man who questioned Pauline parents her killer? Did he kill the man to whom the skull belonged? Or did the skull belong to Pauline’s killer? Who then were the parents of the girl from Cherbourg and how could the Picards have so grossly misidentified her? Sadly, no answers could be found. In fact, even with the Picard’s identification of her clothes there was still have no proof that the body found on their property was actually Pauline’s. The young girl from Cherbourg was sent back to be put in an orphanage and the Picards spent the rest of their days with the mystery of their daughter’s fate.

A Summary translated from the Le Petit Parisien articles.

May 8, 1922: “Why was this two-year old stolen?”

Little Pauline Picard, who was stolen one month ago from her parents’ farm in Bretagne, has been found in Cherbourg.

A few days ago, in Cherbourg, a little girl of approximately two years was found abandoned in the hallway of a house on rue Coypel (Coypel street). No one can get her to speak/she does not speak, she is believed to be mute. She was taken to the city hospital where, since the day she arrived, she has been making everyone happy through her sweetness, even though no one has heard the sound of her voice. An investigation by the Cherbourg police has established that, a few days before she was found on Coypel street, she was seen in the company of a poorly/badly-dressed woman, who tried to abandon her in a store. People ran after the woman and returned the child to her. The woman has since been unlocatable.

Brest, 7th May – “Le Matin” has reported the mysterious disappearance, in the Monts d’Arree, of a 2-year old girl. This child, Pauline Picard, was playing in the yard of her parents’ farm when she suddenly disappeared. The gendarmes and police inspectors spent the next month searching the country but found no trace of the child. People began to think that little Pauline had been eaten by a wild boar. But yesterday morning, newspapers in Paris reported that a girl “chaussee de sabots” (don’t know what that means) was found/recovered in Cherbourg. The photograph of this child was immediately shown to Mme Picard who burst into tears.

“That’s my daughter,” she cried, “my poor little Pauline! But how did she end up so far from us?”

M and Mme Picard did not want to wait for further information; certain that it was their daughter who was found in Cherbourg, they took the train this morning to reunite with her.

This news caused great emotion in Gaos-al-Ludu and the area around the Monts d’Arree. People are asking who could have taken young Pauline and why someone would do so. People today are talking about two strangers who were seen in the area at the beginning of April, but the description of these strangers is very vague.

May 8- The subtitle says that Pauline was found one month after disappearing from her parent’s farm. She was found abandoned in the hallway of a local home and was brought to the hospice. She’s mute but is a very kind girl by her actions. The little girl was seen a few days earlier in town with a poorly clothed woman who tried to abandon her in a store but was chased down and given the child back. The article says Pauline disappeared while playing on the farm and was believed to be eaten by a wild boar, searches have been ongoing for a month. After the little girl was found, a photo was shown to her mother who burst into tears saying “that’s my daughter”. The parents got on a train to go see their daughter, the whole town is overjoyed and wondering what happened to Pauline, to end up so far from home.

May 9- The article mentions the parent’s journey to see the little girl. Once at the hospice they see her and the girl has no reaction to seeing the parents and she remains mute. The parents speak to her in Breton and she appears to understand nothing. The parents say that she is, in fact, their daughter, mention that she’s lost weight, used to understand Breton and even spoke some. They stay with her, talking, caressing her and she remains indifferent towards them. The hospice sent her home with the parents in hopes that her surroundings will spark her memory and get her talking.

May 10- Although the girl still hasn’t spoken, the parents continue to state that she is Pauline. When asked if they are sure, the father replies that of course, she has the same hair he had at his age and knows her blue eyes, he says they’re bringing her home to Bretagne. Medically she has no issues, not deaf or mute. The clothing she was found in is not recognisable by her parents, the pants she was in show wear.

May 12- Neighbours see her and claim she is Pauline. Police are with her and the parents at this time. Some suggest she’s mute out of fear or by choice, having heard it suggested by others.

May 12- Upon return to the farm the siblings immediately recognise the little girl as Pauline. She has said three words in Breton on the train ride. The article states that there is no doubt anymore that she’s Pauline. The article suggested that a chimney sweep came into town, enticed Pauline with candy and abducted her. A neighbour says she saw two strangers in town who hung around the farm during the time the disappearance took place. They question the fact that she is Pauline, wondering if it’s all a strange coincidence that she seems like Pauline.

May 12- the article says that the little girl is certainly Pauline, she has used Breton, asking for bread and calling the family cat. She looks like an underfed version of herself. They mention the chimney sweep, who has a previous conviction of violence, and two strange men who watched Pauline. They hope the police can find the men in question.

May 14- Article suggests she is Pauline. She’s travelled around the farm with her parents and seems frightened passing the area where she was allegedly abducted. She’s beginning to recall things and return to her old self. Police search for the woman who left her in Cherbourg.

May 26- the mutilated body of a little girl is found by a cyclist. She’s nude, decapitated and decomposing, her clothes very neatly folded alongside her. The parents recognise the clothing, cannot identify the body but are now anxious and asking if it could be Pauline. The field where the body was found had been canvassed multiple times during the search for Pauline.

May 27- A cyclist found the body of a young girl 800 meters from the family farm. The body is badly mutilated and in the process of decomposing, the head, hands and feet are missing. Her clothing is neatly placed by the body. Her parents recognise her dress. The town is in shock. A doctor examines the body and determines a medical examiner needs to see it to provide more information. The article puts into question who the body is and who the little girl is. It mentions Yves Martin, a farmer gone mad, who visited the Picard farm, stayed silent while visiting.

May 27- the body is seen by many curious townspeople. An exam was done and the severed head was found to be an abnormal size for a child. The parents state that the clothing is the clothes Pauline wore the day she disappeared and question who the little girl they’ve been caring for, for a month, is. The claims that the little girl was speaking Breton are false, she only let’s out sounds. The article mentions Mr Keramon, the umbrella salesman. He worked as a farmhand for the Picard’s and had been invited to breakfast the day of Pauline’s disappearance. He cuddled her a lot and had been heard telling Pauline (twice) that he’d find her a good home near another town. Around 1pm he is left alone with Pauline and is overheard telling her that she’s going with him. Police followed the path he would have taken to leave town and decide he couldn’t have committed the crime based on timing. He was jailed and released on May 10 for fraud, police search for him but aren’t convinced he’s guilty of anything.

May 28- States that the family has 9 children, including the little girl they thought was Pauline, who at 2.5yrs, does not speak or walk and reacts to family in the same way she does strangers. They state the body found is Pauline. It states that the father, who originally was unsure if the little girl found was Pauline, is now saying he’s convinced she’s Pauline. The article quotes a back-and-forth conversation with the father and police where he denies the body is Pauline but admits that the clothes are hers, and that both the body and the girl are so much like Pauline. He later admits that the body is Pauline. An exam of the body shows it was a murder; the head was crushed, with multiple injuries to the torso including one made by a sharp object like a knife. The fact that the area where the body was found had been searched by multiple people is pointed out. Two accounts or passing by and noticing no body are included in the article. Yves Martin visits the family, asks if Pauline is back, and asks if they’re sure it’s her, says he’s guilty and leaves with a crazy look in his eyes. Now they mention an umbrella salesman Mr Keramon who was sentenced to 5 years for rape, he was in the area of the farm when Pauline went missing. The father says he saw Pauline during the time Keramon would have been nearby. They still have to find the little girls, real parents.

May 28- originally, after finding Pauline’s body it was thought that she ran away from home, was tired and weak, fell and was eaten by scavengers. This, however, can’t explain why the body was found in an area already searched multiple times, or how her torso and stomach were intact, that being a body part often eaten first by scavengers. The parents are still uncertain as to which child is theirs. The article questions the fact that the body appears after the news is out that Pauline was found, and asks if someone could have abducted her, lost her and planted a dead body that resembled her. Mr Keramon, the umbrella salesman alibi checks out and he is no longer a suspect. The same story of the crazy Yves Martin is mentioned

May 29- they are looking for the rest of Pauline’s bones and such, a lot taken by a Fox and other scavengers. They share the idea that she saw her sisters coming back to the farm and decided to run away (playing?) And that the colder nights and the landscape caused her to be lost, perhaps no one heard her crying, there was a storm that night. Apparently, no doctor report goes against this possibility, nor does it confirm it. It does mention again how searchers passed by and found nothing where her body would later be. They also talk about the little girl and are no closer to finding out who she really is. She doesn’t have the same features as the rest of the Picards. They question if she’s gotten used to her new family and what will happen to her.

May 29- the woman who they thought originally had abandoned the little girl is found, she, however, has her daughter with her and so they speculate the little girl was left by people leaving for America. She may be returned to the town she was found in to be adopted by a local family.

May 30- The writer questions the future of the little girl and if the Picard’s will be able to let her go

June 13- Someone claims the girl is her daughter Poupette May, mentions a birthmark that the little girl does not have.

June 14- The little girl leaves the Picard family, is to be kept at a hospice. The exam of Pauline’s body offers no conclusive info.

June 15- the little girl is sent back to Charbourg and Mr Picard wishes she could have stayed with them.

June 27- The article suggests that townsfolk believe Pauline is alive and was adopted by a rich family to fill the void of their lost child. They say the body found is the rich family’s child and they took Pauline because she was a similar age, looks, etc.

July 14- The little mute girl is starting to speak and may share info to determine who she really is.

August 11- the little girl remembers her time with the Picard’s, she speaks now and recalls the names of the Picard children and animals from the farm.

August 12- The little girl starts to speak and speaks the same language as the Picard mother and children (Breton). She lists off the Picard children’s names and things on the farm and speaks Breton very clearly. The article questions if she’s recalling her time on the farm or if in fact, she’s Pauline Picard. The final line says maybe it’s a little premature to say but maybe now Pauline Picard has been found.

Ultimately, and tragically, no conclusion could be reached in the case that seemed to have a never-ending list of questions. Was the hysterical man who questioned Pauline parents her killer? Did he kill the man to whom the skull belonged? Or did the skull belong to Pauline’s killer? Who then were the parents of the girl from Cherbourg and how could the Picards have so grossly misidentified her? Sadly, no answers could be found. In fact, even with the Picard’s identification of her clothes there was still have no proof that the body found on their property was actually Pauline’s. What happened to the young girl from Cherbourg was she sent back to be put in an orphanage?

The Picard’s spent the rest of their days with the mystery of their daughter’s fate.

When missing little girl Pauline Picard was returned to her family they were overjoyed—but was it really her? The headline in Le Matin, May 8, 1922, reads, “Why has this two-year-old baby been stolen? We find in Cherbourg the little Pauline Picard which was removed a month ago, in the courtyard of the farm of her parents in Brittany.

It is maybe possible that answers lie in the strange emotions of grief and mourning. After all, Mrs Picard could have very well simply wished too hard that the Cherbourg girl was her daughter and found herself willing to ignore the obvious holes in that theory. Our crazed local man, Yves Martin, is still considered the prime suspect by many, though his ultimate fate after entering the asylum was never known. As for the most mysterious part of this? The skull was never identified and no missing men were postulated as possible identities. This is not the only time in history that mistaken identity and an apparent amnesia of native language has baffled the public: Anna Anderson, ironically during that same year in 1922, was identified as the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia, despite apparent language barriers, to controversial opinions and an ultimate public refusal of the woman’s claims.

Today most accept at this point the body located on the property was Pauline’s, the identity of the owner of the disembodied head remains a mystery. And as for the strange doppelganger from Cherbourg? She too has been lost to the pages of history.

Note: This article relies on reports by French reporting agencies (as translated). Some details from the New York Times report are inconsistent with those original French sources. English translations of French newspapers, Le Matin and Le Petit Parisien, are by nursejessika on

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