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Born in Paris on August 9, 1899, Obrecht was the nephew of the chief executioner Anatole Deibler. He learned of his uncle's job at ten, when a series of postcards depicting an execution were published in September 1909. Following the death of his own son, who was born only one month after Obrecht, Deibler had a fatherlike relationship with young André, and the affection between the two men never ceased.
Obrecht joined the executioners' team on April 4, 1922, as second assistant. By day, he worked in a factory as a machine operator. He remained as second assistant until 1939, when Anatole Deibler died. Due to financial obligations Deibler's widow allowed Obrecht's cousin Jules-Henri Desfourneaux and not Obrecht to succeed Deibler despite her late husband's indication that he would prefer Obrecht as his successor. Obrecht subsequently took Desfourneaux's former place as first assistant.
Obrecht and Desfourneaux disliked each other. Obrecht thought his cousin too slow and badly organized. In late 1943, after having executed many French resistance fighters, Obrecht and his colleagues and friends, the Martin brothers, quit. Obrecht resumed his job in 1945, but his animosity towards his cousin had grown. After an execution in 1947, the cousins fought and Obrecht decided, for the second time, to quit.
When Desfourneaux died in 1951, Obrecht wrote to the ministry of Justice, proposing his candidature as chief executioner. This was agreed and on November 1, 1951, he was officially nominated. On November 13 he performed his first guillotining as chief in Marseilles when he executed the police killer Marcel Ythier.
As time passed by, the number of executions decreased. In the early 1970s, Obrecht learned he had Parkinson's disease. Though his health was poor, he guillotined four men, Roger Bontems and Claude Buffet in Paris on November 28, 1972 (kidnap and murder of a nurse and a jail warden during a prison mutiny, although Bontems was actually found innocent of murder), Ali Benyanès in Marseilles on May 12, 1973 (murder of a 8-year-old girl during a hold-up) and finally, also in Marseilles, Christian Ranucci on July 28, 1976 (for the kidnapping and murder of a young girl). Many think Ranucci was in fact innocent.
On September 30, 1976, Obrecht resigned his job. The next day, his title was handed to his nephew by marriage Marcel Chevalier who had been his assistant since 1958. Chevalier performed the final two guillotinings in France
Obrecht died on July 30, 1985 in a Nice hospital. Four years later, reporter Jean Ker, who interviewed him many times, released a book called "Le Carnet Noir du Bourreau" (The Executioners' Black Diary), a biography. Obrecht left an image of himself as a normal man albeit a womaniser, quite authoritative at work and, more than anything else, lonely because of his job.
|Chief Executioner of the French Republic
November 1, 1951 – September 30, 1976