Marcel Petiot was a French doctor who suffered from mental illness, but he was still sound enough to conduct a cunning fraud that eventually led to theft and murder.
Petiot was born on January 17th, 1897, in Auxerre, France. He was a highly intelligent child, but he exhibited serious behavioral problems in school. One such occasion took place when he was 11; he had taken his father's gun to school and fired it in class, then asked a female classmate for sex.
When Petiot was 17, he was arrested for robbing a postbox, and was charged with theft and damage to public property. He underwent a psychiatric evaluation, and the charges against him were dropped against him after it was revealed that he suffered from mental illness. Another psychiatrist later confirmed Petiot's mental illness on March 26th, 1914.
Due to being expelled multiple times from school, he had to finish school at a special academy in Paris in July 1915.
In January 1916, Petiot volunteered to serve in the French Army during World War I, and was wounded during the Second Battle of the Aisne. After this incident, he began showing more symptoms of a breakdown. Eventually, Petiot was sent to several rest homes, and he was soon arrested for stealing army supplies such as morphine, blankets, letters and photographs.
Petiot was again diagnosed by a psychiatrist in Fleury-les-Aubrais as having multiple mental illnesses, but he soon returned to the front lines in June 1918. He allegedly injured his own foot with a grenade, and was transferred from the front three weeks later, but was sent to another regiment in September that same year. A new diagnosis eventually got him discharged from the army with a disability pension.
Medical & Political Career
Although Petiot was mentally unstable, he enrolled in an educational program for war veterans, finished medical school in eight months, and became an intern at a mental hospital in Évreux. Petiot was given his medical degree in December 1921 and moved to Villeneuve-sur-Yonne.
At this point, he was addicted to using narcotics. During his time in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, he earned a reputation for performing illegal abortions, supplying drugs and committing petty theft.
It is believed that Petiot's first murder victim was an elderly woman named Louise Delaveau. Petiot had an affair with her daughter some time in 1926. Delaveau disappeared in May 1926, and neighbors later said that they observed Petiot putting a trunk into his car.
Petiot ran for mayor of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne that same year, and hired someone to sabotage his political opponents' debate. He won, and during his time in office he embezzled town funds. In 1927, Petiot married 23 year old Georgette Lablais, who was the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Seignelay. She conceived a son in April 1928, and named him Gerhardt.
Due to numerous complaints of Petiot's thefts, he was suspended as mayor in August 1931, and decided to resign. He still had many supporters, and was elected as a councilor of Yonne Département. He was accused of stealing electricity from the village in 1932, and lost his council seat. At this time, he was living in Paris, and had a reputation as a good doctor there.
Fraudulent Escape Network During WWII
Under the alias "Dr. Eugène", Petiot pretended to offer means of moving persons wanted by the German government to safety outside of France. He and his three accomplices, Raoul Fourrier, Edmond Pintard, and René-Gustave Nézondet, charged victims 25,000 francs for an arranged passage to Argentina or somewhere else in South America through Portugal. Victims included Resistance fighters, Jews and ordinary criminals.
Once victims were in Petiot's control, he told them that Argentine officials required them to be "vaccinated" before entering the country. This gave him an opportunity to inject them with cyanide, and after the victims were deceased, Petiot robbed their bodies of valuables and disposed of them.
In the beginning, victims were dumped in the Seine river, but eventually Petiot either burned the bodies or submerged them in quicklime. Petiot purchased a home at 21 Rue le Sueur in 1941.
On March 11th, 1944, Petiot's neighbors complained to police of a foul odor in the area and large amounts of smoke coming from his chimney. Fearing a chimney fire, the police called for firemen, who then entered Petiot's home and discovered a large fire in a coal stove in the basement. In the fire and scattered around the basement, were human remains.
Investigation of Petiot's basement.
Upon further investigation, human remains were also discovered in a quicklime pit in Petiot's backyard and in a canvas bag. Enough body parts were found to account for at minimum, ten victims. Suitcases and other items belonging to victims were also found throughout the home and property.
Petiot fled and hid with various friends for the next few months, and told them that he was wanted because he murdered Germans and informers. Eventually, he moved in with a patient named Georges Redouté, grew his beard, and took on several different aliases.
Petiot joined the French Forces of the Interior under the name "Henri Valeri" during the liberation of Paris in 1944. He soon became a captain in charge of prisoner interrogations and counterespionage.
Petiot's defense attorney from in previous 1942 narcotics case received a letter from his client that he was innocent of any published allegations. This alerted police to the fact that Petiot was still in Paris. A new search was conducted, and "Henri Valeri" was one of the people drafted to locate Petiot.
On October 31st, after seven months of hiding, Petiot was recognized at a Paris Metro station, and arrested. He had a pistol, 50 sets of identity documents and 31,700 francs on his person.
Trial, Sentence and Death
Petiot claimed that he was innocent, and that he only murdered enemies of France. He said that he had only discovered the pile of bodies at his home on 21 Rue le Sueur in February 1944, but was under the assumption that they were put there after being killed by members of his Resistance "network".
Police determined that Petiot had no friends in any major Resistance groups, and some of the groups he spoke about didn't even exist. He was eventually charged by prosecutors with 27 murders for profit. His gains were estimated to be 200 million Francs.
Petiot went on trial on March 19th, 1946, and faced 135 criminal charges. He taunted the prosecutors; claiming that the victims were either double agents or collaborators. He even claimed that some of them were alive and well in South America with new identities. Petiot eventually admitted to killing 19 victims, sticking to his claims that they were German enemies. He was convicted of 26 counts of murder, and sentenced to death.
On May 25th, 1946, Petiot was beheaded by the guillotine. He was 49 years old.