Marcel Petiot

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Marcel Petiot
Marcel Petiot mugshot
BornJanuary 17, 1897
DiedMay 25, 1946(1946-05-25) (aged 49)
Cause of deathExecuted by guillotine
Resting placeCimetière parisien d'Ivry
Other names"Captain Valery"
"Docteur Satan"
OccupationGeneral practitioner
Criminal statusExecuted by guillotine on 25 May 1946
Spouse(s)Georgette Lablais (m. 1927)
Parent(s)Félix Petiot and Marthe Bourdon
MotiveGain, serial killer
Conviction(s)Guilty on all charges (April 4, 1946)
Criminal chargeMultiple assassinations
PenaltyCapital punishment (April 4, 1946)
WeaponsPoison (by injection of cyanide)
Date apprehended
31 October 1944

Marcel André Henri Félix Petiot (17 January 1897 – 25 May 1946) was a French doctor and serial killer. He was convicted of multiple murders after the discovery of the remains of 23 people in the basement of his home in Paris during World War II. He is suspected of the murder of around 60 victims during his lifetime, although the true number remains unknown.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Marcel Petiot was born on 17 January 1897 in Auxerre, Yonne, France. At the age of 11, Petiot fired his father's gun in class and propositioned a female classmate for sex.[citation needed] In his teenage years, he robbed a postbox and was charged with damage of public property and theft. Petiot was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, resulting in charges being dropped when it was discovered that he had a mental illness.[citation needed]

Later accounts make various claims of Petiot's delinquency and criminal acts during his youth, but it is unclear whether they were invented afterwards for public consumption. A psychiatrist reaffirmed Petiot's mental illness on 26 March 1914. After being expelled from school many times, he finished his education in a special academy in Paris in July 1915.[3]

Petiot volunteered for the French Army in World War I, entering service in January 1916.[3] He was wounded and gassed during the Second Battle of the Aisne, and exhibited more symptoms of a breakdown. Petiot was sent to various rest homes, where he was arrested for stealing army blankets, morphine, and other army supplies, as well as wallets, photographs, and letters; he was jailed in Orléans. In a psychiatric hospital in Fleury-les-Aubrais, Petiot was again diagnosed with various mental illnesses, but was returned to the front in June 1918. He was transferred three weeks later after he allegedly injured his own foot with a grenade, but was attached to a new regiment in September. A new diagnosis was enough to get him discharged with a disability pension.[3]

Medical and political career[edit]

After the war, Petiot entered the accelerated education program intended for war veterans, completed medical school in eight months, and became an intern at the mental hospital in Évreux. He received his medical degree in December 1921 and moved to Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, where he received payment for his services both from the patients and from government medical assistance funds. At this point, Petiot was already using addictive narcotics. While working at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, he gained a reputation for dubious medical practices, such as supplying narcotics and performing illegal abortions, as well as for petty theft.[1][4]

Wedding photo - Marcel Petiot and Georgette Lablais, 1927

Petiot's first murder victim might have been Louise Delaveau, an elderly patient's daughter with whom Petiot had an affair in 1926. Delaveau disappeared in May of that year, and neighbors later said they had seen Petiot load a trunk into his car. Police investigated but eventually dismissed her case as a runaway. That same year, Petiot ran for mayor of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne and hired somebody to disrupt a political debate with his opponent. He won, and while in office embezzled town funds. The following year, Petiot married Georgette Lablais, the 23-year-old daughter of a wealthy landowner and butcher in Seignelay.[5] Their son Gerhardt was born in April 1928.[4]

The prefect of Yonne received many complaints about Petiot's thefts and shady financial dealings. He was eventually suspended as mayor in August 1931 and resigned. However, Petiot still had many supporters, and the village council also resigned in sympathy with him. Five weeks later, on 18 October, he was elected as a councilor of Yonne Département. In 1932, he was accused of stealing electricity from the village and lost his council seat. By this point, he had already moved to Paris.

In Paris, Petiot attracted patients by using fake credentials, and built an impressive reputation for his practice at 66 Rue de Caumartin.[4] However, there were rumors of illegal abortions and excessive prescriptions of addictive remedies. In 1936, Petiot was appointed médecin d'état-civil, with authority to write death certificates. The same year, he was briefly institutionalized for kleptomania, but was released the following year. He persisted in tax evasion.

World War II activities[edit]

After the 1940 German defeat of France, French citizens were drafted for forced labor in Germany. Petiot provided false medical disability certificates to people who were drafted. He also treated the illnesses of workers who had returned. In July 1942, he was convicted of overprescribing narcotics, even though two addicts who would have testified against him had disappeared. He was fined 2,400 francs.

Petiot later claimed that during the period of German occupation, he was engaged in Resistance activities. He supposedly developed secret weapons that killed Germans without leaving forensic evidence, planted booby traps all over Paris, had high-level meetings with Allied commanders, and worked with a (nonexistent) group of Spanish anti-fascists.

There is no evidence to support any of these statements. However, in 1980, he was cited by former U.S. spymaster Col. John F. Grombach as a World War II source.[6] Grombach had been founder and head of a small independent espionage agency, later known as "The Pond", which operated from 1942 to 1955.[7] Grombach asserted that Petiot had reported the Katyn Forest massacre, German missile development at Peenemünde, and the names of Abwehr agents sent to the U.S.[6] While these claims were not supported by any records of other intelligence services, in 2001, some "Pond" records were discovered, including a cable that mentioned Petiot.

Fraudulent escape network[edit]

Petiot's most lucrative activity during the Occupation was his false escape route. Under the codename "Dr. Eugène", Petiot pretended to have a means of getting people wanted by the Germans or the Vichy government to safety outside France. Petiot claimed that he could arrange a passage to Argentina or elsewhere in South America through Portugal, for a price of 25,000 francs per person. Three accomplices, Raoul Fourrier, Edmond Pintard, and René-Gustave Nézondet, directed victims to "Dr. Eugène", including Jews, Resistance fighters, and ordinary criminals. Once victims were in his control, Petiot told them that Argentine officials required all entrants to the country to be inoculated against disease, and with this excuse injected them with cyanide. He then took all their valuables and disposed of the bodies.

At first, Petiot dumped the bodies in the Seine, but he later destroyed the bodies by submerging them in quicklime or incinerating them. In 1941, Petiot bought a house at 21 Rue le Sueur, near the Arc de Triomphe. He purchased the house the same week that Henri Lafont returned to Paris with money and permission from the Abwehr to recruit new members for the French Gestapo.[3]

Petiot failed to keep a low profile. The Gestapo eventually found out about him and by April 1943, they had heard all about this "route" for the escape of wanted persons, which they assumed was part of the Resistance. Gestapo agent Robert Jodkum forced prisoner Yvan Dreyfus to approach the supposed network, but Dreyfus simply vanished. A later informer successfully infiltrated the operation, and the Gestapo arrested Fourrier, Pintard and Nézondet. Under torture, they confessed that "Dr. Eugène" was Marcel Petiot.

Nézondet was later released, but three others spent eight months in prison, suspected of helping Jews to escape. Even under torture, they did not identify any other members of the Resistance because they knew of none. The Gestapo released the three men in January 1944.

Discovery of murders[edit]

On 11 March 1944, Petiot's neighbors in Rue Le Sueur complained to police about a foul stench in the area and large amounts of smoke billowing from a chimney of the house. Fearing a chimney fire, the police summoned firemen, who entered the house and found a roaring fire in a coal stove in the basement. In the fire, and scattered in the basement, were human remains.[3]

Le Matin of 14 March 1944 reporting the discovery of 21 Rue Le Sueur

In addition to those found in his basement, human remains were also found in a quicklime pit in the back yard and in a canvas bag. In his home, enough body parts were found to account for at least ten victims. Also scattered throughout his property were suitcases, clothing, and assorted property of his victims.

The media reaction was an intense media circus, with news reaching Switzerland, Belgium, and Scandinavia.[8]

Evasion and capture[edit]

During the intervening seven months, Petiot hid with friends, claiming that the Gestapo wanted him because he had killed Germans and informers. He eventually moved in with a patient, Georges Redouté, let his beard grow, and adopted various aliases.

During the liberation of Paris in 1944, Petiot adopted the name "Henri Valeri" and joined the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) in the uprising. He became a captain in charge of counterespionage and prisoner interrogations.

When the newspaper Resistance published an article about Petiot, his defense attorney from the 1942 narcotics case received a letter in which his fugitive client claimed that the published allegations were mere lies. This gave police a hint that Petiot was still in Paris. The search began anew – with "Henri Valeri" among those who were drafted to find him. Finally, on 31 October, Petiot was recognized at a Paris Métro station, and arrested. Among his possessions were a pistol, 31,700 francs, and 50 sets of identity documents.

Trial and sentence[edit]

Petiot was imprisoned in La Santé Prison. He claimed that he was innocent and that he had killed only enemies of France. He said that he had discovered the pile of bodies in 21 Rue le Sueur in February 1944, but had assumed that they were collaborators killed by members of his Resistance "network".

However, the police found that Petiot had no friends in any of the major Resistance groups. Some of the Resistance groups he spoke of had never existed, and there was no proof of any of his claimed exploits. Prosecutors eventually charged him with at least 27 murders for profit. Their estimate of his gains ran to 200 million francs.

Petiot went on trial on 19 March 1946, facing 135 criminal charges. René Floriot acted for the defense, against a team comprising state prosecutors and twelve civil lawyers hired by relatives of Petiot's victims. Petiot taunted the prosecuting lawyers, and claimed that various victims had been collaborators or double agents, or that vanished people were alive and well in South America under new names. He admitted to killing 19 of the 27 victims found in his house, and claimed that they were Germans and collaborators – part of a total of 63 "enemies" killed. Floriot attempted to portray Petiot as a Resistance hero, but the judges and jurors were unimpressed. Petiot was convicted of 26 counts of murder, and sentenced to death.

On 25 May 1946, Petiot was beheaded, after a stay of a few days due to a problem in the release mechanism of the guillotine, and buried at Ivry Cemetery.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

Mercel Petiot's murder of Jews and his fraudalent escape network were depicted in the 1990 French film Docteur Petiot that chronicles his life between 1941 and 1944. Petiot was portrayed by actor Michel Serrault.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Smith, Jo Durden (2004). 100Most Infamous Criminals. New York: Metrobooks. ISBN 0-7607-4849-7.
  2. ^ Newton, Michael. "Dr. Marcel Petiot". Archived from the original on 2006-12-10.
  3. ^ a b c d e f King, David (2011). Death in the City of Light (1st ed.). New York: Crown. ISBN 978-0-307-45289-4.
  4. ^ a b c "Crime Library: Serial Killers: Dr. Marcel Petiot". Archived from the original on 2012-10-07. Retrieved 2013-06-11.
  5. ^ King, David. Death in the City of Light. Crown.
  6. ^ a b Stout, Mark. The Pond: Running Agents for State, War, and the CIA. Archived from the original on 2011-11-10. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
  7. ^ "'The Pond': US Spy Agency that Operated Before CIA Revealed in Classified Documents Disclosure". 29 July 2010. Archived from the original on 31 July 2010. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  8. ^ King, David, 1970- (2011). Death in the city of light : the serial killer of Nazi-occupied Paris (1st ed.). New York: Crown. ISBN 9780307452894. OCLC 696099199.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


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