Jules Bonnot

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A 1910 police photo of Bonnot taken in Lyon, France.

Jules Bonnot (October 14, 1876 – April 28, 1912) was a French illegalist famous for his involvement in a criminal anarchist organization dubbed "The Bonnot Gang" by the French press. He viewed himself as a professional and avoided bloodshed, preferring to outwit his targets. Often posing as a businessman, his taste in expensive clothing earned him the pseudonym "Le Bourgeois" among comrades.

Youth[edit]

Bonnot was born on October 14, 1876 in Pont-de-Roide, a town in Doubs, France (the same département in which anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was born). At the age of five, his mother died, leaving Bonnot in the care of his father (a factory worker) and grandmother.

As a teenager, Bonnot served time in prison on two occasions (the latter, for assaulting a police officer) and was compelled to leave his work at the factory after being accused of stealing copper shavings.

At the age of 21, Bonnot was conscripted for service in France's infantry, where he served three years as a truck auto mechanic. He was an excellent rifleman and left the army as a corporal first class.

Criminal path[edit]

Bonnot was married to Sophie-Louise Burdet in August 1901, but soon ran into problems at work. He associated with anarchists and was blacklisted as an agitator. After moving to Geneva, Bonnot acquired a job, but was fired after he hit his boss with an iron bar. In 1907, Sophie left Bonnot, taking their child with her.

In 1908, Bonnot began to associate with anarcho-individualists involved in counterfeiting. Along with several Italians, he began forging ten-franc pieces and carrying out minor thefts and burglaries. Eventually, using Bonnot's automotive skill, they progressed to the theft of luxury-cars in France and Switzerland.

In 1910, Bonnot began posing as a businessman in order to visit the homes of wealthy lawyers in Lyon. He would 'case' the property and then return to rob it.

The Bonnot Gang[edit]

Main article: Bonnot Gang

In December 1911, having moved to Paris to avoid arrest, Bonnot joined a criminal anarchist affinity group led by Octave Garnier. On December 21, the gang made national news when they robbed a messenger of the Société Générale Bank in broad daylight and then fled in a limousine (the first ever criminal use of a "get-away" car). They were branded "les bandits en auto" by the press and a wave of panic swept the nation.

Although Bonnot was never the leader of the group, the gang was dubbed the "Bonnot Gang" by the press after Bonnot appeared, armed with a Browning automatic, in the office of the Le Petit Parisien to file a complaint about the daily paper's coverage of the group. Bonnot was quoted as having stated, "We'll burn off our last round against the cops, and if they don't care to come, we'll certainly know how to find them."

This show of bravado coupled with the gang's criminal activities led to a general state of hysteria within middle-class French society.

Death[edit]

Bonnot dead.

In an effort to escape capture, the gang split up in April 1912.

On April 24, three policemen surprised Bonnot in the apartment of a suspected fence. He shot at the officers, killing Louis Jouin, the vice-chief of the French police (Sûreté Nationale), and wounding another officer before fleeing over the rooftops. Part of the 100,000 franc reward was later given to the widow of Jouin.

On April 28, police tracked Bonnot (now France's "most wanted" criminal) to a house in the Paris suburb of Choisy-le-Roi. They besieged the residence with 500 armed police officers, soldiers, firemen, military engineers and a lynch mob of local citizens. Armed with three Brownings and a Bayard pistol, Bonnot succeeded in wounding three police officers.

By noon, after sporadic firing failed to extract Bonnot from the house, Paris Police Chief Louis Lépine ordered the building bombed, using a dynamite charge. The explosion demolished the front of the building. Barely conscious, lying underneath a mattress, Bonnot was shot ten times in the upper-body before Lépine shot him non-fatally in the head. Afterwards police had to prevent the spectators from lynching Bonnot. They simply told the crowd that Bonnot was already dead.

Bonnot was moved to the Hotel-Dieu and pronounced dead at 1:15 PM. He was buried in an unmarked grave and police refused to release his last will and testament.

Although demonized by large sections of French society (including most of the Left), Bonnot's death was mourned by those sympathetic to individualist anarchism.

Last days of Bonnot are a part of storyline in the French movie The Tiger Brigades (Les Brigades du Tigre, 2006). Bonnot is played by Jacques Gamblin.

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