Photo of the Day

Drawing of the execution of Henri Désiré Landru. This killer suitor lured numerous victims into sham marriages, then murdered the women and burned their bodies in his fireplace.

Bluebeard Meets Madame Guillotine

Henri Désiré Landru never cut an imposing figure; he was a slight and modest man with an unassuming visage and a bushy beard. In his homeland of France, however, Landru is most commonly associated with a sinister folktale figure named Bluebeard. And it isn’t his impressive facial hair that evokes the comparison.

It’s difficult to tell the story of the early 20th-century serial killer Henri Landru without first telling the French folktale La Barbe Bleue, otherwise known as Bluebeard. The tale tells the violent story of a young woman who weds a nobleman and discovers her new husband has a closet full of horrifying secrets. The most famous surviving version of the tale was written by Charles Perrault and published in 1659.

The story begins with the inevitable “once upon a time” and details a man named Bluebeard who has married many women but all have disappeared.

The tale tells the story of a wealthy violent man in the habit of murdering his wives and the attempts of one wife to avoid the fate of her predecessors. “The White Dove”, “The Robber Bridegroom” and “Fitcher’s Bird” (also called “Fowler’s Fowl”) are tales similar to “Bluebeard”.

This children’s tale is known throughout history, the lesson presumably being that one should not heed the human instinct of curiosity, rather be cautious instead, for inside the door of truth may be a grim and horrifying sight. In the early twentieth century, France met the new Bluebeard, a man that was not depicted in worn and tattered children’s books. Henri Désiré Landru was Bluebeard in the flesh, a man without remorse, a villainous and greedy creature who murdered his wives and stalked the streets of Paris with an air of undeserved dignity.

The tale goes as follows: The fictional Bluebeard was a criminal, who lured women into marriage then slaughtered them one by one, inheriting their wealth…

Bluebeard, his wife, and the keys in a 19th-century illustration by Gustave Doré.

The Wife goes toward the Forbidden Room. Illustration by Walter Crane.

The Legend of Bluebeard

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man with a grand estate filled with the finest riches, but he was cursed with a blue beard that scared away any woman or girl who laid eyes upon him. His neighbour had 2 beautiful daughters, one of whom Bluebeard asked to marry. However, neither of the girls wanted to marry him because they were frightened, not of his blue beard, but because of the mysterious disappearance of his 7 previous wives. To persuade the daughters, Bluebeard invited them over to his estate so that they could get to know him. They obliged, and Fatima, the younger and more beautiful of the sisters, eventually began to find that Bluebeard was not so terrifying after all, and they wed.

One day, Bluebeard told his new wife that he had to go on an important business trip. “Here,” said Bluebeard, handing her keys to the estate. “This is the key to my safe, where I have stored my gold and my precious stones. And here is a key that opens every room in the estate…but this small key,” Bluebeard said, his face suddenly turning stern, “is the key to the closet at the end of the basement. Open any room you wish, but do not venture into the basement and unlock that closet.” The man drew his wife near to him, so close she could feel the bristles of his blue beard. “If you should ever open it, then you shall feel my wrath.”

Fatima promised to obey his wish and Bluebeard left. But just as soon as her husband was gone, Fatima rushed down to the basement because she was filled with curiosity about what was behind the closet door. She stood in front of the door, contemplating the words of her husband; however, temptation won and she finally opened it. When her eyes adjusted to the light, Fatima was shocked to see the awful contents of the closet. The floor was covered in curdled blood, and in the blood laid the bodies of Bluebeard’s 7 wives, their throats cut from ear to ear.

Stunned, Fatima dropped the key on the floor. When she retrieved it, she saw that the key was stained with blood and frantically tried to clean it. But the key was a magic key and no matter how hard she scrubbed, the blood would not go away. That evening, Bluebeard unexpectedly returned home from his business trip early. He immediately asked his wife for his keys, and trembling in fear, she handed them to him. “Why” he asked in a voice that chilled her to the bone, “is there blood on this key?” Fatima denied knowing of the blood stain, but Bluebeard’s anger rose as he threatened that she would join the other 7 wives on the floor in the closet in the basement.

Fatima threw herself to his feet and pleaded for forgiveness, but Bluebeard did not soften. “Give me a little time to make my peace with God, since it is necessary that I die,” she begged. Bluebeard agreed to a quarter of an hour. When he left, Fatima called upon her older sister and asked her to tell her visiting brothers, who were en route by horseback, to please hurry. When her time was up, Bluebeard returned to kill her. At the last moment, when the man was about to deliver the final blow, Fatima’s brothers broke into the castle and rescued their sister. Bluebeard attempted to flee, but the brothers caught and killed him.

Bluebeard had no heirs, so his fortune was left to Fatima. She used the money for a dowry for her sister and as a reward for her brothers; the rest she kept for herself. Fatima eventually met and married a good man, had children, and lived happily ever after.

The events of Henri Désiré Landru’s life seem to eerily jump straight out of the pages of this chilling folktale. His murders mirror those within the story to the extent that he became known as the “Real-Life Bluebeard.”

Henri Désiré Landru.

Henri Desirè Landru

He was shorter than most, with a bald head and a long, brownish-red beard which gave him the appearance of some mythical forest creature. His brows were thick and bushy and arched above his dark eyes, giving the impression that he was always shocked or surprised. By physical appearance, Henri Landru looked more like a clown than a killer who swindled more than 300 women out of their life savings.

But there was something special about this bourgeois second-hand furniture dealer without a conscience that vulnerable women found irresistible. And for 10 of them, their willingness to believe the lies Landru told them would cost them more than their meagre fortunes — the price they paid for falling under the spell of this wretch was their lives.

Henri Désiré Landru was born on April 12, 1869, to poor but happy and hardworking parents. After bearing a daughter, they longed for a son, and Henri was a welcome and tremendously joyful edition to the family. Henri’s middle name Désiré is French for the term “much desired”. From an early age, Henri was taught to be a good natured and honest young man. His father worked as a book salesman and his mother was a dressmaker. Schooled by monks, Henri was an intelligent and well-spoken boy who sang in the church choir and took great pleasure in being an altar boy. The Landru family was very close, and Henri’s parents worked hard to bring him up proper and well-behaved.

Henri served in the French military from 1887 to 1891, earning himself the proud title of sergeant. It seems that he could have led a very prosperous and decent life, but Henri soon learned how to lie, cheat, and steal. Growing up underprivileged, he realised that he would not like to remain that way throughout his life. Instead of earning his money, he found that stealing was much easier and decided to pursue a life of crime to support himself.

After leaving the military, Henri became entangled in misdeeds, befriending local hoods, pimps and thieves. He married his cousin, Remy, at 24 and had four children with her. Though he did try to work honest jobs, his preferred occupation was petty theft which landed him in jail numerous times. Police found Henri to have little to no sense of responsibility when it came to the admission of his crimes. Henri’s father was so distraught over his son’s repeated felonious behaviour, he became incredibly depressed. He thought he had brought up Henri as a good and respectable man, but it appeared that Henri’s defiance was unstoppable. Henri’s father then hung himself, believing he had failed Henri completely.

Landru went into business as a clerk. His employer, however, was unscrupulous and absconded with the money Landru had given him as a bond, leaving a strong impression on Henri. Incensed with this blow which fate had dealt, Landru apparently made a vow to get “revenge” through a life of crime.

Despite his standing as a deacon and member of the choir of his church, Landru became a swindler in addition to his legitimate businesses as a furniture dealer and garage owner. His targets were most often the middle-aged widows whom he would meet through the furniture business. Used to following the direction of their husbands and faced with the prospect of long, lonely, poverty-stricken lives, these women would come to him to sell their possessions. Landru would prey on their fears and in addition to taking their possessions, would woo his victims and entice them to let him invest their meagre pensions, which he would promptly steal.

The scam worked well for some time, until 1900, when Landru made his first appearance in a French courtroom as a criminal. He was sentenced to a two-year prison term for fraud after he tried to withdraw funds from the Comptoir d’Escompte using a fake identity. Upon his arrest, Landru attempted (some say pretended to attempt) suicide in jail.

He remained married to Mme. Remy and for the next decade, Landru was in and out of prison seven times serving as much as three years at a time. Sometime around 1908, he apparently struck upon the scheme that would eventually bring him face-to-face with the guillotine.

In that year, Landru, already serving a sentence in a Parisian prison for fraud, was brought to Lille to stand trial for another scam. He had placed a matrimonial advertisement in a newspaper, portraying himself as a well-to-do widower seeking the companionship of a similarly situated widow.

In return for some counterfeit deeds, Landru persuaded a 40-year-old widow to part with a 15,000-franc dowry. Mme. Izore was left destitute and sought recompense through the courts. She would have to content herself with the knowledge that Landru would serve an additional three years for by the time the gendarmerie caught up with Landru the dowry was gone.

He was released shortly before World War I, most likely with the understanding that he would re-enlist in the French Army. He had already driven his father to suicide over his lawlessness and left his family penniless and humiliated. Landru’s mother had died in 1910. He drifted around the countryside, well aware of the fact that he had been convicted in absentia for various other offences and sentenced to lifelong deportation to New Caledonia.

Villa Ermitage at Gambais.

Once the war started, Landru, who was still married to but estranged from Remy, began the scams that lead to his downfall. Perhaps it was the war with its here-to-fore-unknown measure of death that turned Landru into a murderer; perhaps it was the years spent in undoubtedly harsh French prisons, or perhaps it was something else.

The Earl of Birkenhead, eminent Oxford don and author of Famous Trials of History, discounts the theory that Landru was driven by bloodlust to kill his female suitors. “There seems to be no evidence of that,” he writes in the marvellous 1929 follow-up to Famous Trials. “A man who embarks on this kind of adventure must shake himself free of entanglement…It is therefore inevitable that a proportion of the women would be difficult to shake off and some must have shown no great disposition to hand over their property.

“The obvious means of overcoming their attachment,” Birkenhead surmises, “was to destroy them, and to do so was only too easy…We must, therefore, postulate that he was callous and inhuman — an assumption which offers no difficulty, seeing that his very mode of life was impossible for any other kind of man.”

There is not a lot known about Landru, but by his actions, it is possible to develop a simple profile of this modern Bluebeard. His victims, both the living and the dead, were among the more vulnerable members of society, so he was clearly without conscience (few serial murderers are ever stricken by remorse or guilt for their actions, except to say that they are sorry to have been captured). There were so many victims of his confidence schemes — the contemporary estimates numbered about 300 — that he was clearly greedy.

He was probably a romantic man, able to sweep lonely women off their feet, and since his physical appearance was more comical than handsome, he must have been a smooth, fast-talker. His sexual appetite reportedly was ravenous.

Landru was intelligent and silver-tongued, not only with the ladies but also with his fellow soldiers and other men. All the while he was taking advantage of women, Landru was also defrauding weary recently discharged soldiers of their pensions.

Henri Désiré Landru and Fernande Segret.

Landru was not a simple psychopath like other serial murderers. He had a sense of right and wrong but did not apply the same rules to himself. He justified conning one soldier out of his detachment pay because the man had a mistress, despite the fact that Landru also had a mistress and was cheating on her as well as on his wife. He showed a sense of remorse over some of his actions — not his homicides — expressing embarrassment in court that his wife, the long-suffering Remy, would find out that he had been cheating on her because of certain testimony!

Putting a label on Henri Landru is difficult because he does not really fit into a specific crime classification. At best he can be called a multiple murderer, rather than a serial or spree killer.

He cannot really be considered a serial killer, because serial killers are currently defined as persons who kill three or more victims, in different locales and in either an organised or disorganised fashion, with some sort of cooling off period between the killings. Most often the killings are the culmination of a build-up of anger or lust, and the murderer finds a sense of release after the slaying. They have a great deal of control over their victim selection and time of the crimes, and their identities are not usually known until the time of arrest. Landru meets some of these criteria, but the time gaps between slayings were caused by his need to get close to his victims in order to obtain financial reward. If sex or anger was at the root of his murderous need, Landru could easily have killed his victims shortly after he got to know them. Or better yet, his selection of victims would have been more random.

Spree murderers, on the other hand, are killers whose crimes take place in different locales, in a disorganised fashion, but within a fairly short period of time. Often, spree killers are not in control of victim selection or the time of the killing. They are usually on the run from at least the first offence (often before). Law enforcement agencies often know the identity of a spree killer before the arrest. Henri Landru was in control of his victim selection and at the time of their deaths. He was not pressured into a “hurry-up” situation by law enforcement pursuit and never appeared to be on the lam despite his conviction in absentia.

Landru’s car.

Landru killed for money or to rid himself of a tiresome or inconvenient lover. His method of killing is unknown, but evidence at his villa suggests that the slayings were most likely clean and that the victims were probably not defiled in any way. It is possible that Landru killed during a sex act, but there is no evidence that suggests this was the case. Lust was not his primary motive, and he is distinctive among multiple murderers because anger, revenge or sexual release were at best secondary motivators.

Most killers for financial gain do not destroy the evidence of their victims’ deaths. In insurance or inheritance scams, proof of death is often required — few killers want to wait a decade or so to collect their ill-gotten reward. But Landru obviously took great pains to cover up his crimes. He sought to avoid detection and make it look like his victims were still alive.

In effect, Landru created a different classification of multiple killer; he was the male version of a Black Widow spider, one that takes what it needs and then kills its mate without remorse. Henri Landru combined the worst characteristics of the most terrible type of criminal.

The phrase lonely-hearts killer, sometimes also want-ad killer or matrimonial bureau murderer, is a journalistic term of art that refers to a person who commits murder by contacting a victim who has either posted advertisements to or answered advertisements via newspaper classified ads and personal or lonely-hearts club ads

Long before there was Internet dating, there were places where men and women who were too shy or busy to meet face to face could find romance. Calling themselves “matrimonial bureaus,” these organisations were known mostly as the “lonely hearts clubs,” and they flourished through the middle of the 20th century.

 When World War I broke out in 1914, Landru continued to prey upon widows, many of whom lost their husbands during the war, but this time the schemes ended in murder.

He began placing ads in the “lonely hearts” columns of newspapers, usually along the lines of “Widower with 2 children, aged 43, with comfortable income, affectionate, serious, and moving in good society, desires to meet widow or unattached lady, aged between 35 and 45, with view to matrimony.” For a French widow, such an advertisement was highly appealing. Landru was a charismatic man who promised his victims a comfortable life. He also had a reputation of possessing an insatiable sexual appetite.

His first victim was 39-year-old Jeanne Cuchet, who had a 16-year-old son and owned a millinery shop. In December 1914, Cuchet helped Landru furnish a villa in Vernouillet, and for a short time, the 3 of them lived there.

He told her his name was Monsieur Diard and that he was an engineer. Their relationship flourished over time but was not without its ups-and-downs.

Landru’s scheme was almost revealed before it had a chance to flower after Cuchet and “Diard” had a falling-out. Cuchet begged her family and brother-in-law to accompany her to Diard’s villa near Chantilly, with the hopes of ironing out their differences. Landru was not in when they arrived, but the family apparently felt enough at home to search the villa.

Her brother-in-law found a chest filled with many letters from other women and informed Cuchet that her lover was a fraud. She chose to disregard her family’s advice to dump the imposter, and instead furnished a villa at Vernouillet, outside Paris and became estranged from her family. Diard, Cuchet and her son moved to the villa. Shortly after the three moved into Vernouillet, Landru opened a bank account with 5,000 francs, which he claimed was part of his inheritance from his father. In all likelihood, the money came from Cuchet.

But after January 4, 1915, Jeanne and her son were never seen again. Landru gained 5000 francs and a gold watch that he gave to his real wife, even though by this time they were separated.  Soon after Cuchet’s disappearance, Landru’s wife was presented with Cuchet’s watch as a present. Landru placed another ad on May 1 and attracted the attention of his next victim, Thérèse Laborde-Line, the widow of an hotelier. She had told friends that she was planning to marry a charming engineer from Brazil but frustrated with the red tape, the pair decided to dispense with the ceremony and move in together.

Afterwards, a man that her former neighbours identified as Landru came back and collected her furniture, sending some to his villa and the rest to a garage in Niuelly. Laborde-Line was last seen alive on June 26, and Landru immediately sold off her securities and personal belongings.

The gardens in Gambais and Vernouillet were dug up time and time again.

Marie-Angélique Guillin answered the same advertisement and arrived at Landru’s villa on August 2. She disappeared after a few days. Landru sold her securities and, using forged papers, obtained another 12,000 francs from her bank account. Also in 1915, a Madame Heon, visited Vernouillet and disappeared.

Whether or not there were others between the murders of Heon and 19-year-old Andree Babelay, a servant girl who disappeared in March 1917 en route to visiting her mother, only history knows. And why Babelay was slain is also a mystery. She was as poor as a church mouse and had nothing to give Landru but her charms. Did she, like Fatima in the legend of Bluebeard, stumble across Landru’s secret, or was she killed merely because he could not rid himself of her? Regardless, poor Babelay followed the fate of Landru’s other victims and was never seen alive again after meeting up with Landru.

After Babelay disappeared, Landru, apparently busy with other scams like his detached soldier scam and a petrol fraud, left Vernouillet for a new villa in Gambais and promptly had a large cast-iron oven installed. He laid low for almost two years but soon returned to his murderous ways.

Landru courted Madame Buisson, a wealthy widow, for nearly a year before he succeeded in creating an estrangement from her family. She moved with him to Gambais, without her son, who went to live with his aunt. In April 1917, Buisson was seen for the last time.

His next victim at Gambais was Mme. Louise Leopoldine Jaume, who disappeared in September 1917. After her disappearance, Landru’s new neighbours in Gambais noticed black, noxious smoke pouring from his villa.

Annette Pascal, 38, followed Jaume by vanishing in the spring of 1918, and finally, Marie Therese Marchadier, an “entertainer” known among the non-commissioned officers of French Army as “La Belle Mythese” and who had retired to relative anonymity in Paris, was visited by Landru who wanted to purchase her furniture. A friendship blossomed and she accompanied the murderer to Gambais in late 1918 and promptly disappeared.

In all, at least 10 women and one boy (and two dogs) had disappeared after meeting Landru, yet no police had ever suspected him of any misdeeds. It would take a pair of anxious families to bring Bluebeard at long last to justice.

His Victims.

List of victims

  1. Mme. Jeanne-Marie Cuchet (last seen January 1915)
  2. Mme. Cuchet’s son, André Cuchet (last seen January 1915)
  3. Mme. Thérèse Laborde-Line (last seen 26 June 1915)
  4. Mme. Marie-Angélique Guillin (last seen 2 August 1915)
  5. Mme. Berthe-Anna Héon (last seen 8 December 1915)
  6. Mme. Anne Collomb (last seen 25 December 1915)
  7. Andrée-Anne Babelay (last seen 12 April 1916)
  8. Mme. Célestine Buisson (last seen 19 August 1916)
  9. Mme. Louise-Joséphine Jaume (last seen 25 November 1917)
  10. Mme. Anne-Marie Pascal (last seen 5 April 1918)
  11. Mme. Marie-Thérèse Marchadier (last seen 15 January 1919)

Landru had taken great pains to separate his victims from their families, but after their deaths, he took equally strong measures to assure the families that their loved ones were alive and well.

Two of Guillin’s friends received postcards from Landru, saying that Guillin was unable to write herself. He forged a letter from Buisson to her dressmaker and another to the concierge of her Paris apartment. Landru represented himself as the attorney of Madame Jaume, who was divorcing her husband and successfully closed out her bank accounts.

Two years after Buisson met Landru, her son, who was living with her sister, passed away. Obviously, the family wanted to notify Mme. Buisson, but was unable to find her. Her sister remembered that Buisson had whispered her intention of running away to Gambais with a “Monsieur Guillet.”

She wrote to the mayor of Gambais, seeking help in locating either Buisson or Guillet. The mayor replied that he knew of neither of them, but perhaps she should meet the family of a Madame Collomb, who was also missing in Gambais. She had vanished under similar circumstances.

Unbeknownst to anyone, Collomb had disappeared after meeting Landru in early 1917.

The tenant of the villa in question, the mayor told the family of Buisson was not Monsieur Fremiet, the fiancé of Buisson, but M. Dupont. However, when the police went to Villa Ermitage, as Landru’s estate was known, they could not find Fremiet, Dupont, Diard (the name given to Collomb’s family) or Landru. The villa was unoccupied but recently lived-in.

Mademoiselle Lacoste, Buisson’s sister, was not discouraged. She had seen “Fremiet” so she began combing the streets of Paris near Fremiet’s old residence looking for him. In 1919, her search paid off. She spotted Landru coming out of a dry goods shop and followed him, only to lose him in the crowd.

She returned to the store and found out that the man’s name was not Fremiet, but Guillet, and that he lived in the Rue de Rochechouart with his mistress. Immediately, the police were summoned and Landru was arrested.

But on what charge should he be held, the gendarmerie wondered? Clearly, murder was suspected, but where was the body? There was no evidence that Landru had killed anyone and the strong-willed “Bluebeard” was unwilling to discuss anything with authorities.

They returned to Gambais, where a thorough search was undertaken. The gardens were excavated looking for bones, but the only remains police found were those of a pair of dogs. They searched his old villa at Vernouillet and came up equally empty.

In April 1919, an arrest warrant was issued for Landru, who, upon noticing the police trailing him, tossed a notebook out of his apartment window. Authorities soon recovered the booklet, and found within its pages a list of women that Landru had dated along with recordings of their financial assets.

But within the copious notes were several names that interested authorities. On one page was the entry: “A Cuchet, G. Cuchet, Bresil, Crozatier, Havre. Ct. Buisson, A. Collomb, Andree Babelay, M. Louis (sic) Jaume, A. Pascal, M. Thr. Mercadier.” Buisson and Collomb were missing and the authorities soon learned that the whereabouts of the Cuchets were also in question. They suspected this was a list of victims. But again, they had no bodies.

Confident in the erroneous knowledge that he could not be convicted of murder without a body (such a conviction is possible under French law), Landru kept silent and refused to talk with police. For two years, authorities investigated the disappearances of his victims, yet Landru never admitted anything.

Slowly, they learned that each of the women in the ledger had met Landru through his marriage advertisements and had disappeared. Interestingly, Landru had recorded the purchase of one-way tickets from Paris to Gambais for each of his victims, while marking round-trip tickets for himself.

The gardens in Gambais and Vernouillet were dug up time and time again. Authorities tried to link Landru to purchases of acids and other chemicals, to no avail. Finally, neighbours at Gambais told authorities of the noxious fumes that often emanated from the kitchen. The stove that Landru had installed shortly after his arrival in Gambais was inspected and horrific evidence of murder was uncovered. Authorities found damning evidence: approximately 290 bone and tooth fragments were strewn about the fireplace.

In the ashes, police found small bones, undoubtedly human, as well as burned, but still recognisable fasteners of the kind worn on the clothes of French women. Landru had disposed of his victims by burning their remains. How they were killed was still a mystery, but what had happened to M. Collomb and M. Buisson, as well as the nine others, was clear.

Two years after his arrest, Landru was charged with 11 counts of murder and set for trial.

Landru would seduce the women who came to his villa and after he been given access to their assets, he would kill them – probably by strangulation – and burn their dismembered bodies in his oven.

There is little doubt that Landru’s trial captivated his countrymen. Consider the time it occurred.  France was still recovering from the bloodiest war in the history of civilisation and the peace talks at Versailles were not going well for them. Shortages and economic depression abounded and a case that promised sex, gossip and gruesome killing was delightfully played up by the papers as a diversion from the dreary day-to-day life of post-war France.

Also, take into account that in 1919 there was no such term as “serial killer.” Although multiple murder wasn’t unknown in Europe, it was still a novelty (unlike present day, when the concept of a serial killer is as ubiquitous as a pickpocket was in the 19th century).

The murders committed by Jack the Ripper across the English Channel were just 40 years prior and a human monster who could kill so many without remorse was still an aberrance to the French and English alike. The idea that a Frenchman, a Parisian no less, could be capable of such atrocities had a profound impact on the society.

During his trial Landru traced a picture of his kitchen, including in it the stove in which he was accused of burning his victims. He gave this drawing to one of his lawyers, Auguste Navières du Treuil. In December 1967 the drawing was made public, written in pencil on the back Landru had written “Ce n’est pas le mur derrière lequel il se passe quelque chose, mais bien la cuisinière dans laquelle on a brûlé quelque chose” (It is not the wall behind which a thing takes place, but indeed the stove in which a thing has been burned). This has been interpreted as Landru’s confession to his crimes.

Landru’s oven and suitcases were used as evidence in court. In 1936, the daughter of the defence lawyer found a message scribbled on a drawing handed to him from Landru that had been hanging on the wall of his office. It read: “I did it. I burned their bodies in the kitchen stove.”

The French system of justice had been instituted in 1848 and while not, as is commonly believed, assuming the guilt of the accused until innocence is proven, it is heavily weighted against the person on trial. Not only does the chief judge of the three-judge panel serve as an interrogator, the French allow questioning of the accused of the sake of investigation in front of the jury during the trial.

The French system also allows relatives of the victim to bring suit for damages during the course of the trial, and the victims’ legal counsel can question the accused and argue before the jury.

Clinging to his mistaken belief that he could not be convicted without evidence of a body, Landru’s defence was essentially to stonewall the court. Time after time he would refuse to answer questions and would reply that it was no one else’s business what he knew of their disappearances.

He also believed that because he had been judged sane enough to stand trial, his innocence was assured.

“In acknowledging I am sane, they are thus establishing my innocence,” he told the media, which covered the trial with an enthusiasm unmatched for the time.

For days he stood before withering interrogation by the court without changing his story.

“I have nothing to say,” he said over and over, much to the frustration of observers. Every time new evidence was unearthed, Landru merely shrugged his shoulders and denied everything or refused to discuss it. “What of your relationship with Madam Guillin?” he was asked in open court.

“I am a gallant man and will say nothing,” Landru replied to the exasperated magistrate. “I cannot think of revealing the nature of my relations with Madam Guillin without the lady’s permission.”

Landru did his best to stonewall the court at his trial. Historical records suggest he showed little remorse when questioned and avoided responsibility when confronted with his crimes.

Henri Désiré Landru at trial.

During the course of the trial, Landru’s health began to fail. He began to provide statements of fact in response to questions, but the prosecution easily refuted his allegations. His strategy was a tactical blunder, wrote Lord Birkenhead. “Where explanations are obviously needed,” he wrote, “unless an unfavourable inference is to be drawn, the failure to afford these explanations…will tend to confirm the inference.”

Landru’s impudence before the court clearly grated on the jury. His evasions and quickness to answer with sarcasm only succeeded in proving that he was the kind of man who would deceive women like his victims.

It took the jury just two hours – after nearly 25 days of testimony – to decide Landru had killed the 11 women. The penalty for such a crime was death.

Henri Désiré Landru in the slammer.

French justice is swift. Just two months passed from the time of his conviction until Landru received word that his execution was imminent. Unlike American justice, where a prisoner is well aware of his or her execution date, the French system does not inform the condemned until very shortly before the execution.

The guillotine is a curious method of execution and although it is generally held to be humane, there is some question about how quickly one dies after being decapitated.

Two doctors in the 1960s wrote that “death is not instantaneous. Every vital element survives decapitation…it is a savage vivisection followed by premature burial.” Drs. Piedlievre and Fournier go on to discuss how the brain is capable of breaking down complex sugars in the neurones into oxygen for as long as six minutes after decapitation.

Eyewitness accounts also call into question the swiftness of the onset of death after beheading. “Did it, those who saw the grimacing heads in the basket wondered, kill instantaneously?” writes Colin Wilson. “In the 1790’s this question was much debated, as when Charlotte Corday’s head was held up and slapped by the assistant executioner, men swore that it not only blushed but ‘showed most unequivocal signs of indignation.'”

In an even more graphic account written in 1905, a French doctor experimented with the head of an executed criminal:

“The head fell on the severed surface of the neck … I was not obliged even to touch it in order to set it upright. Chance served me well for the observation, which I wished to make.

“Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. This phenomenon has been remarked by all those finding themselves in the same conditions as myself for observing what happens after the severing of the neck…

“I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. The face relaxed, the lids half closed on the eyeballs, leaving only the white of the conjunctiva visible. … It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: “Languille!” I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions — I insist advisedly on this peculiarity — but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.

“Next Languille’s eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me.

“After several seconds, the eyelids closed again, slowly and evenly, and the head took on the same appearance as it had had before I called out.

“It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. There was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was one further movement — and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead.

“I have just recounted to you with rigorous exactness what I was able to observe. The whole thing had lasted twenty-five to thirty seconds.”

Regardless, in February 1922, Landru was brought before the guillotine.

Severed head presented as Landru’s in the Museum of Death in Hollywood. Crowned by the severed head of French serial killer Henri Landru, the morbid Museum of Death in Hollywood, California, boasts all manner of macabre memorabilia from crime scene photographs and coffin collections to replica execution devices and autopsy instruments.

Landru bade farewell to his attorneys and presented them with some artwork he had drawn while in prison. Had they looked inside the frame, his attorneys would have found a written confession from Landru admitting his crimes and the means by which he disposed of the bodies, but this was not discovered until nearly five decades later. He declined to hear a Mass and rejected the traditional glass of brandy from his jailer. Landru indignantly refused to make a statement, saying the very question was an insult.

Landru stood before the guillotine, which had been the preferred form of execution in France since its revolution a little over a century before. He knelt down and within moments, the blade had fallen and one of the coldest mass murderers of all time died without ever expressing remorse for his crimes.

France made in Hollywood – Photos

Henri Désiré Landru: France’s Seductive Serial Killer – The Lineup

Henri Désiré Landru – Wikipedia

Henry Desire LANDRU – Murderpedia

Serial Killer Central: Henri Désiré Landru – “Bluebeard”

Henri Desire Landru (‘The French Bluebeard’), Found Guilty of Eleven …

Henri-Désiré Landru (Dr. Strange character)

Morbid Mementos in Hollywood’s Museum of Death | Urban Ghosts

Henri Désiré Landru: France’s Seductive Serial Killer – CrimeFeed


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