Wednesday, February 25, 2015


2/25/1922 - A nightmare for France ends on this day in Versailles, when 52-year-old mass murderer Henri Desire Landru, aka Bluebeard, is executed by way of having his head separated from his neck by the razor sharp blade of a guillotine.

In a famous Mother Goose tale, the story is told of a wealthy man with a great estate who has a blue beard, so blue that it frightens the local women.  Finally though he talks a beautiful girl named Fatima into marrying him, and the couple is very happy ... happy until Fatima goes into a locked room Bluebeard has been using to kill and cut up the bodies of several ladies he has been rejected by, a locked room she has been told to never enter.  Caught when the madman finds blood from the room on the magic key he has given his wife (the blood will not wash off after it is dropped on the floor of the abattoir), an upset Bluebeard is in the process of adding Fatima to his corpse count, when at the last second, she is rescued by her two brothers and Bluebeard is killed.  Bluebeard, a myth, a legend, a fib to keep children quiet ... but Landru is the real thing (despite his beard not being blue)!

Bluebeard, the wife, and the key
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Seemingly normal growing up in Paris, after serving in the French Army from 1887 to 1891 (rising to the position of sergeant), Landru tries to establish himself as a clerk, but finds himself unemployed as a result of the manager of the business absconding with the company's money.  Instead of picking himself up and getting on with his life. Landru decides the easy money is for him too, and henceforth he will get it by swindling wealthy widows out of their riches.  Horrified at his son's shenanigans (during this period he also gets his cousin pregnant), and his association with a rogue's gallery of thieves, pimps, and local thugs, thinking his parenting has failed his son, Landru's father responds by committing suicide (a knotted noose around the neck does the job quite nicely).
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Covering his tracks by doing work as a second-hand furniture dealer and part-time auto mechanic, Landru finds a host of victims by posting advertisements in the "lonely hearts" section of various Parisian newspapers ... "Widower with two children, aged 43, with comfortable income, serious and moving in good society, desires to meet widow with a view to matrimony."  Using a number of aliases, his gift of gab, and simply vanishing into another identity after each crime, Landru is quite successful in separating widows from the wealth, but every so often, a woman will go after the con, and sometime around 1914, Landru decides it will be easier to continue operating with no victims around to accuse him to the police.  It is the perfect time for his escalation into murder ... WWI, just miles from the the front door of Paris, is making thousands of women into widows ... and no one seems to ask questions when people go missing, because people are going missing every day.
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At Work
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Madame Jean Marie Cuchet

Thought to have vanished up to 60 women (and anybody else that gets in his way) during his killing spree of five years, Landru will eventually be charged with 11 murders:
*Mme. Cuchet and her son are last seen in January of 1915 
*Mme. Therese Laborde-Line is last seen in June of 1915 
*Mme. Marie-Angelique Guillin is last seen in August of 1915 
*Mme. Berthe-Anna Heon is last seen in December of 1915 
*Mme. Anne Collomb is last seen in December of 1915
*Andree-Anne Babelay is last seen in April of 1916 
*Mme. Celestine Buisson is last seen in August of 1916
*Mme. Louise-Josephine Jaume is last seen in November of 1917
*Mme. Anne-Marie Pascal is last seen in April of 1918
*Mme. Marie-Therese Marchadier is last seen in January of 1919

His lucrative pastime ends however in 1919, compliments of the efforts of two women, Madame Pelat (nee Collomb) and Madmoiselle Lacoste (nee Buisson), who combine forces to search for their missing sisters.  Spying by chance in Paris the man her sister introduced her to as her fiance before vanishing, Pelat follows Landru to his home, then gets the authorities involved.  Investigating his places of business and homes (Landru also spends time at the town of Gambais in the south of France), French authorities find no bodies (though they dig up the backyards of two residences of the killer), but they do recover a load of other incriminating evidence against Landru ... furniture belonging to some of the missing women, heaps of discarded women's clothing, 290 bits of bone fragments and teeth (none of which that can be identified as belonging to any of the missing), and a book listing the name's of the vanished, along with the killer's notes on each of their finances.  It is enough for an arrest and a trial on 11 charges of murder.
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Searching a Landru abode
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The Stove Where Victims Went
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On Trial

On trial for his life, believing that he can not be found guilty without bodies to prove he is a murderer, Landru treats the legal proceedings like a joke ... refusing to answer questions about the missing women, offering his seat to a woman watching the event, proclaiming his love for his estranged wife Remy and their four children (who he hasn't seen in months), scribbling drawings while testimony is being given, and formulating a strategy with his lawyer, Moro Giafferi, in which it is claimed that he is a slave trader and sent all the missing women off to work at a brothel in Brazil.  Though charmed by some of his antics and answers, no one on the jury believes that he didn't do away with the women, and found guilty (the jury takes only two hours to reach their verdict), he is sentenced to have his head loped off ... an act that takes place at Versailles on 2/25/1922 (gift of gab still present, he talks the warden in to allowing him to die with his beard in its full glory and loudly refuses the ministrations of a priest ... his last words are, "I shall be brave.").
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Awaiting the Blade

Landru's story though doesn't end with the removal of his cranium ... the public hears his name again when the crimes of serial killer Marcel Petiot are uncovered after WWII (saying he can find safe harbor for them, Petiot vanishes dozens of Jews trying to flee Nazi Europe), in 1947, Charlie Chaplin will play a character modeled after Landru in the feature film, Monsieur Verdoux, and in 1967, it is discovered that he confessed after all; on the back of a sketch Landru draws of his kitchen and its infamous stove that he gives to his lawyer after the trial are the bone chilling words, "I did it.  It is not the wall behind which a thing takes place, but indeed the stove in which a thing has been burned."
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Petiot and empty Jewish luggage
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Last Walk for Charlie in Monsieur Verdoux

And if you wish (and are of a morbid disposition), you can have your own Bluebeard moment in Hollywood, California, where for a $15 admission fee (parking is free), you can enter the Museum of Death and actually have a chat with Landru's mummified decapitated head, there on display ... MERCY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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