Killer Maids: The Brutal & Tragic Case of Christine & Léa Papin
The case of the Papin Sisters is one that is still infamous in France to this day. The treatment they received from their employers, coupled with mental illnesses, had the community sympathize with the duo.
The Papin Sisters' Early Lives
The Papin sisters did not have an easy start in life. Both were born to Clémence Derré and Gustave Papin in Le Mans, France. Christine was born on March 8, 1905, and Léa was born on September 15, 1911. They had an older sister named Émilia, who grew up to become a nun.
Shortly after Christine's birth, her mother was considered unfit to raise her, so she was sent to live with a paternal aunt and uncle, where she lived happily for the next seven years. After Léa was born, she was given to a maternal uncle, who raised her until his death.
Allegations arose in 1912 that Gustave raped his daughter Émilia when she was about 10 years old. Clémence believed her daughter seduced her own father and decided to send Émilia to the Bon Pasteur Catholic Orphanage, which was a place known for its brutality. Soon after, Christine and Léa joined their older sister at the orphanage, where their mother intended them to stay until the age of 15. After which, they would be eligible for employment opportunities.
In 1918, Émilia cut all ties with her family after she entered a convent and became a nun. Christine also felt she received a calling to become a nun, but her mother forbade this and placed her in employment.
Christine was trained in numerous household duties and was described as a hard worker, but also one who was insubordinate at times. Léa was described as being quiet and obedient, but she was considered to be less intelligent than her sister. They preferred to work together as maids wherever possible, and their mother often forced them to seek better-paid employment.
Working For The Lancelin Family
In 1926, Christine and Léa found the perfect employment opportunity working for the Lancelin family. Members of the family included Monsieur René, who was a retired solicitor, his wife Madame Léonie, and their younger daughter Genevieve. This arrangement was perfect for the sisters; they were fed, housed, clothed, and were still receiving payment.
After a few months of impeccable service, Christine convinced Madame Léonie to hire Léa as the family's chambermaid. The Papin sisters were dedicated to their duties and worked long days to complete their tasks. After a while, things started to go downhill for the Papin sisters.
Monsieur Lancelin never spoke to the Papin sisters during the seven years they were employed for him. More unsettling was the fact that Madame Léonie gave her orders to the sisters via written notes.
A few years into their employment, Madame Léonie developed depression and began to take her mental illness out on the sisters. Madame Léonie criticized everything the Papin sisters did, and there were even some occasions in which she physically assaulted them. The abuse had gotten worse; there were occasions when Madame Léonie even slammed the girls' heads against walls. Then, the unthinkable happened.
Monsieur Lancelin was supposed to meet his wife and younger daughter on the evening of Thursday, February 2, 1933, for dinner at a family friend's home. Madame Léonie and Genevieve were out shopping that day, and when they returned home in the afternoon, there were no lights on in the house.
The Papin siblings explained to Madame Léonie that after retrieving an iron from a repair shop, they had plugged the iron into an electrical socket, which then blew a fuse. They were going to wait until morning to repair the fuse, but the early arrival of Madame Léonie and Genevieve turned this issue into a big one.
This caused Madame Léonie to fly into a rage and attack the sisters on the first floor of the Lancelin home. Christine, also enraged, picked up a pewter jug and smash it over Léonie's head. Genevieve attempted to help her mother by attacking Christine, but she too was unable to stop Christine's murderous rage.
What happened next is truly jaw-dropping. Christine gouged Genevieve's eyes out and instructed Léa to do the same to Léonie. Christine then ran to the kitchen to retrieve a knife and hammer and returned with them to finish the attacks. With both women rendered helpless due to their eyes being torn out, the Papin sisters struck blows to each woman's head.
Toward the end of the assault, the Papin sisters lifted the mother and daughter's skirts and mutilated their bottoms, thighs, and genitals. Continuing to make a statement of how angry they were with their employers, the sisters covered Léonie with Genevieve's menstrual blood. Experts who responded to the attack later determined that the assault lasted for two hours.
After committing the murders, the Papin sisters went to their room and changed out of their clothing, and lit a lone candle, waiting for their crimes to be discovered.
Monsieur Lancelin became concerned after his wife and daughter failed to show up for dinner, so he went home to investigate with one of his friends. They found the house enveloped in complete darkness, and all of the doors locked. Monsieur Lancelin contacted the police, and with their help, was able to break into the townhouse where his wife and daughter's unrecognizable bodies were discovered.
The sisters were found naked together in their bed, and a bloody hammer with hair on it was found on a chair within the room. The Papin sisters immediately confessed to the double murders. They claimed this was done in self-defense.
The Ensuing Trial and Those Who Defended The Papin Sisters
During the trial, both sisters defended each other and confessed solely to the crimes that were committed. A decision was made to send the two to separate prisons while awaiting punishment. Christine was extremely distressed that she couldn't see Léa, and at one point, prison officials allowed them to see each other. It was reported that Christine threw herself at Léa, unbuttoned her shirt, and begged her to "Please, say yes!", hinting at a possible incestuous relationship.
In July 1933, Christine experienced a psychotic episode- she attempted to gouge her own eyes out and had to be put into a straightjacket for her protection. She made a statement to the investigating magistrate that she had experienced a similar episode on the day of the Lancelin murders.
The defense pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Their lawyer stated that the Papin sisters displayed signs of mental illness, such as appearing in a daze and limiting eye contact with others. Three doctors were appointed by the court and they each conducted psychological evaluations of both girls to determine their mental states. All three doctors concluded that the Papin sisters had no mental disorders and were deemed sane to stand trial. They also believed that Christine was just affectionate to her sister due to family ties, not because of an incestuous relationship.
This case had garnered a lot of attention from the public, and the psychological community argued that the Papin sisters suffered from "Shared Paranoid Disorder". This was believed to occur when groups or pairs of people are isolated from the world, causing the development of paranoia and the domination of one partner over the other. This was displayed particularly by Léa, who had a meek and gentle personality that was overshadowed by Christine's dominance.
It was later revealed during their trial that some of the Papin sisters' relatives suffered from various mental disorders. They had an uncle who had committed suicide and another cousin who was living in an asylum.
The public supported the sisters and believed the murders were committed due to poor treatment from their employers. Some empathized with the Papin sisters, stating that the duo had simply rebelled against the upper class.
The courts decided that the Papin sisters were guilty after jurors from the trial deliberated for only forty minutes. Christine was initially sentenced to death at the guillotine, but her sentence was commuted to life in prison. Léa was given a sentence of ten years of hard labor since it was believed that she was under the influence of her sister.
Christine did not do well in prison, and the separation from her sister contributed to her developing depression. eventually, Christine began to starve herself and died due to cachexia on May 18, 1937.
Léa did not have such a tough time in prison and was released in 1941 after serving eight of her ten-year sentence because of good behavior. After her release, Léa moved to the town of Nantes and was joined by her mother. She assumed another identity and lived in obscurity, working as a hotel maid. Some accounts stated that she died in 1982; other accounts believed she was living in a hospice in 2000 and died in 2001.
This case continues to garner attention due to the horror and fascination that accompanied the Papin sisters. No one would ever know what drove the duo to murder their employers in such a brutal way.