A recent news article about a man with four wives at one time was accompanied by a photo of a man few would consider handsome.Yet he was able to sweet talk four women he met on social media and weasel his way into their hearts and bank accounts, gaining $20,000 from one victim. Yet he will face no jail time! He’s not the first unassuming man to take advantage of women, nor will he be the last. The year 1919 saw the arrest of such a man–the year’s most notorious serial killer.
During WWI, the nation of France suffered the loss of over 1 million men. Most casualties were junior officers and a large proportion came from the countryside. Although women had stepped into men’s roles during the war, the country hadn’t granted them full rights. Women were unprotected without a man–and not well protected from men either.
Although married to his cousin, Henri Landru saw opportunity in this situation of inequality. Between 1912 and 1919, he took out newspaper matrimonial advertisements. He had several locales and aliases and I will tell about his last.
Using the name Georges Dupont, he rented a villa in Gambais, south of Paris and bordering the Rambouillet Forest. The villa was surrounded by walls and boasted a large garden. It was close to the cemetery, the Seine, and far from neighbors. Despite its remoteness, neighbors recalled dark smoke from the chimney on occasion. At his villa, he entertained women, ten or more, all widows in their 40s. They and their bank accounts were never seen again. (Click here for a map of the region and vacation rentals.) All in all, he may have killed twenty women.
Landru was described as “nice but shabby” and his attempts at chivalry were noted as grossly exaggerated. He enjoyed dressing as an eighteenth-century nobleman, eschewing love at first sight, and bestowing flowers and compliments on lonely women. Young Annette Faucher met him through her infatuated aunt. She recalled, “He made me sit in a chair and uncoiled my hair. He went down on his knees, took my hands, fixed me with his eyes, and said, ‘Annette, I am your master, you belong to me.'” She added,”he must be the devil.”
Investigations into Landru began when a policeman noticed sparks and thick smoke coming from his chimney. It was a warm day. A woman was missing. His home and yard were searched. Coincidentally, Monsieur Henri had documents referring to single woman–all of them missing. Landru claimed he had purchased furniture from them. The only corpses on site were three strangled dogs and one cat. To be fair to Landru, French citizens did on occasion burn their possessions during the war, rather than have them seized by the Huns. Police were convinced he was a murderer, wooing lonely women and robbing them. They combed through his villa and dragged a nearby pond. They found a bone fragment from an eye socket and a stocking. Part of a shinbone was found under wall next to the cemetery.
This was enough to arrest him in April 1919. As the police drove away with him, angry women pounded on the car. He met his end via guillotine.
You can read more about him here. He’s been the subject of fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps his head is in a museum.
I’ve posted about how much things have changed since 1919. We know about vitamins. We know about antibiotics. We brush our teeth. Women can vote. We can’t cure lonely hearts. And misogyny still has a grip on us, with nearly 90% of women reporting harassment. Sexist attitudes prevail, particularly in the South. Sexism and authoritarianism go hand in hand. What do authoritarian societies do? They take away women’s rights.
Landru was referred to as a Bluebeard. Bluebeard was a man in a French folk tale who killed a series of wives. He had an unsavory blue beard but kindly women convinced themselves that it wasn’t so bad. One has to wonder if things like war and lack of women’s rights are orchestrated to give bad men access to good women. And ladies, we need to ask ourselves why we have such low standards. Be familiar with signs of a bad man. Things must change.
Much of the information for this post came from this source.