headshot of Henri Landru

When Life (i.e., True Crime) Imitates Art

We’re starting a new feature here at misterio press in which we bring you some real-life examples of mysteries. Today, Stacy Green is dusting off a true-crime tale from her Thriller Thursday archives, a real life Bluebeard.

line drawing of Bluebeard

Barbe bleue by Gustave Doré (public domain)

In The Legend of Bluebeard (in Tales of Mother Goose, Charles Perrault, 1697), a hideous man with a strange blue beard and a wealthy estate, has had several wives who disappeared. His new wife is soon left alone on the estate, after he hands her a set of keys and tells her she may open any room she wishes, except the small closet at the end of the basement. Naturally, as soon as he is gone, she rushes to the basement closet, only to find the seven previous wives, their throats slashed from ear to ear. Bluebeard discovers her treachery and vows to put her to death, but her brothers arrive to save her and they kill Bluebeard. The wife inherits his fortune, and she and her family live happily ever after.

A children’s fairy tale, meant to teach heaven knows what, but in the early 1900’s in France, a real-life lonely-hearts predator earned the chilling nickname of Bluebeard.

Short and bald, with bushy eyebrows to match his equally overgrown beard, Henri Landru wasn’t exactly an Adonis. He wasn’t the type of man you’d expect to woo hundreds of women, let alone bilk them out of their life savings. And yet he did. A second-hand furniture dealer and automobile mechanic, something about Landru lured women to him.
headshot of Henri Landru

He killed at least ten of them.

Born in 1869 to an average French family, Landru’s childhood is reported to have been uneventful. He attended Catholic school and was drafted into the French Army at age 18. He married in 1891, quit the military, and began working as a clerk.

Unfortunately, his employer swindled Landru out of a large sum of money. Landru was furious and turned to a life of crime and revenge. He began swindling lonely widows he met through his legitimate furniture business.

Between 1900 and 1908, Landru served several stints in prison for fraud. He was released in 1908 with the understanding he would re-enlist in the French Army. Instead, he honed his skills and continued to prey on vulnerable women.

His first known murder victim is Madame Cuchet, a 39-year-old widow. Cuchet’s brother was suspicious of Landru, but she ignored his warning. She and Landru moved to a villa in Vernouillet with her son. Mother and son were last seen alive in 1915.

Landru later gave Cuchet’s watch to his wife as a present.

Next was an Argentine widow, Madame Laborde-Line. She told friends she was marrying an engineer from Brazil, but the two moved in together. Laborde-Line was last seen in July 1915.

Then came Madame Guillen, a 51-year-old widow, followed by Madame Heon. Both visited Landru’s villa in Vernouillet and disappeared. Andree Babelay, a servant girl, also disappeared. No one knows why Landru chose to kill her–she certainly had no money to offer.

Landru eventually left Vernouillet for a new home in Gambais, where he had a large cast-iron oven installed.

drawing of oven in Landru's kitchen

Landru’s own drawing of the special oven he had installed in his kitchen (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

His first known Gambais victim was Madam Buisson. It took Landru almost a year to estrange the wealthy widow from her family. She was last seen in 1917.

Madame Louise Leopoldine Jaume disappeared in September 1917.  Annette Pascal vanished in the spring of 1918. Marie Therese Marchadier disappeared in late 1918 after visiting Landru in Gambais.

For years, Landru wasn’t suspected in these women’s disappearances. He worked hard to separate his victims from their families, then worked even harder to make the families believe their loved ones were alive long after he’d killed them. He sent postcards, forged letters, pretended to be an attorney, etc.

Then the sister of Madame Buisson, the first Gambias victim, began searching for her. She wrote to the mayor of Gambais, telling him that her sister’s intention had been to run away with a man named Guilett (Landru’s alias). The mayor suggested she meet with the family of Madame Collumb, who had also vanished under similar circumstances in 1917.

Landru’s aliases were soon discovered, but his known residence at Gambais was empty. Buisson’s sister refused to give up. She remembered what her sister’s lover looked like, and in 1919, spotted Landru strolling out of a shop. She lost him in the crowd, but the owner of the shop told her the man’s name was Guilett, and he lived on the Rue de Rochechouart with his mistress. Landru was soon arrested.

Landru's mug shot

Landru’s mug shot

They didn’t have much to hold him on. Police searched the homes and gardens in Gambais and Vernouillet but only found a memo book where Landru had recorded his finances. Authorities spent two years investigating, eventually discovering that he had met all the women mentioned in his notebook through marriage advertisements, and they had all disappeared. He’d also recorded one-way trips from Paris for each victim, but round-trips for himself.

Still, no bodies. The break came when neighbors at Gambais mentioned noxious fumes coming from the kitchen. Police searched the iron stove and found bones, as well as women’s fasteners. Landru was charged with 11 counts of murder.

In 1919, there was no term like “serial killer.” Only Jack the Ripper was widely known to have killed multiple people, and a murderer like Landru was a shocking affront to the French people. His trial lasted a month. He believed that without a body, he could stonewall the court and kept virtually silent during trial. A jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to death.

In February, 1922, Landru faced the guillotine. He showed little remorse for his actions, although he did express embarrassment that his wife would discover the affair he was having at the time of his arrest.

Some argue that because Landru killed for financial gain rather than sexual motives, he can’t be classified as a serial killer. Rather, he’s more of a Black Widow killer, killing his mate for gain, with no remorse.

What do you think? Do you think Landru is a true serial killer? Should he have been convicted, with no actual bodies?

Posted by Stacy Green. Stacy has a bunch of impressive writing credentials, including a degree in journalism, but she considers her greatest achievement to be her daughter, Grace. She is the author of the stand-alone thriller, Into the Dark, and Tin God, the first book in the Delta Crossroads mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    August 13, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Wow, Stacy, what an interesting story! So this guy had a wife (alive) this whole time? Who was the woman you mentioned at the end? Was she the next intended victim, or someone he’d married early on? Is this the same woman who got Cuchet’s watch?

  • Reply
    Original vs. Remake: A Kiss Before Dying | Catie Rhodes
    August 13, 2013 at 9:57 am

    […] Ready for more fun and games? Head on over to the Misterio Press blog to read about a real life Bluebeard. Click here. […]

  • Reply
    Stacy Green, Author (@stacygreen26)
    August 13, 2013 at 11:41 am

    The mistress or the sister? His first victim’s sister had a big part in bringing him down, and as for the last mistress, there isn’t a lot about her. I would guess she could have easily become a victim.

  • Reply
    shannon esposito
    August 14, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Sounds guilty to me! It’s so amazing that an ugly little troll of a man could have seduced so many women. Scary.

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