An absorbing account of a real life serial killer operating in Paris during the German occupation. This book covers the entire case. I won this one on a giveaway on THE RAP SHEET. Thanks again to J. Kingston Pierce.
Police enter a house in which smoke was coming from a chimney, foul odors, and flooding neighboring homes. No one seemed to be home. What the police found was a charnel house in the basement, bodies chopped into pieces, some burning in an oven, a lime pit with more found, piles of bones.
The house was owned by a Doctor Marcel Petoit and the hunt was on.
It would take eight months to arrest Petoit and the head investigator, Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu turned up more evidence along the way. Some eighty suitcases of clothes and other personal items Petoit’s brother had control of, evidence of other bodies similarly taken aprt and dumped in rivers over the last few years.
Massu never got to arrest Petoit or question him. He was arrested for collaboration when Paris was liberated, later cleared of all charges, and resumed his police career. It must be noted that he was a friend of Georges Simenon who said in later years he was part inspiration for his Inspector Maigret character.
I must say French legal laws are considerably more lax than those here in the States. The trial took on farcical notes as Petoit questioned witnesses along with the judge, the lawyers, often screaming loud profanities as he did. He was a colorful character with a dose of charisma and was winning the jurors over in the eyes of many.
His claim was that the people he killed were Nazi collaborators, that he worked for a resistance organization, and was merely carrying out DeGaulle’s order that crimes commited in the name of France were not crimes. He was charged with 27 murders for the trial, claimed 60 himself, thirty of them German soldiers, and other estimates ranged as high as 150, maybe more.
In reality, most were Jews trying to get out of Paris before the Gestapo caught them. The same with the criminals he supposedly aided with his escape network. The modus operandi was the same. 50,000 francs up front, bring the rest sewed into garments, no initials that might contradict false papers. They were supposed to be headed to South America. Petoit would later claim furniture, property, furs, jewelry, anything of value. No one knows exactly how much of a fortune he amassed. He owned several properties around Paris and never claimed more than 25,000 on his taxes.
It’s never been found.
What I found fascinating about this book was the amount of research put into it. Eleven pages of bibliography. During the hunt for Petoit, the capture, and the trial, the author sprinkles in some of the goings-on in France at the time, like D-Day, every day activities and the movements of several notables living there as well: Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso, and even Georges Simenon offered his help in the investigation.
I’d never heard of this man, Petoit, before reading this book, yet the case was, is, quite prominent if one knows where to look. It can be ordered HERE.