The Malefactors Register
The tenant of the villa in question, the mayor told the family of Buisson, was not Monsieur Fremiet, the fiance of Collomb, or Guillet, the fiance of Buisson, but M. The villa was unoccupied but recently lived in. In , her search paid off. She spotted Landru coming out of a dry goods shop and followed him, only to lose him in the crowd. Immediately, the police were summoned and Landru was arrested. But on what charge should he be held, the authorities wondered. Clearly murder was suspected, but where was the body? There was no evidence that Landru had killed anyone and the strong-willed killer was unwilling to discuss anything with authorities.
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They returned to Gambais, where a thorough search was undertaken. The gardens were excavated looking for bones, but the only remains police found were those of a pair of dogs. They searched his old villa at Vernouillet and came up equally empty. All the police had to go on was a cryptic memorandum book where Landru had meticulously recorded his income and expenses.
But within the copious notes were several names that interested authorities.
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Cuchet, Bresil, Crozatier, Havre. Buisson, A. Collomb, Andree Babelay, Mme.
Louis sic Jaume, A. Pascal, Mme Thr.
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They suspected this was a list of victims. But again, they had no bodies. Confident in the erroneous knowledge that he could not be convicted of murder without a body, Landru kept silent and refused to talk with police. For two years, authorities investigated the disappearances of his victims, yet Landru never admitted anything. Slowly, they learned that each of the women in the ledger met Landru through his marriage advertisements and disappeared.
Stupidly, Landru recorded the purchase of one-way tickets from Paris to Gambais for each of his victims, while marking round-trip tickets for himself.
The Malefactor's Bloody Register
The gardens in Gambais and Vernouillet were dug up time and time again. Authorities tried to link Landru to purchases of acids and other chemicals, to no avail. Finally, neighbors at Gambais told authorities of the noxious fumes that often emanated from the kitchen. The stove that Landru had installed shortly after his arrival in Gambais was inspected and horrific evidence of murder was uncovered. In the ashes police found small bones, undoubtedly human, as well as burned, but still recognizable fasteners of the kind worn on the clothes of French women. Landru had disposed of his victims by burning their remains.
How they were killed was still a mystery, but what had happened to Mmes. Collomb and Buisson, as well as the nine others, was clear. Two years after his arrest, Landru was charged with 11 counts of murder and set for trial. Consider the time it occurred. He was arrested in April at his home in Paris with his mistress, year-old Mlle. Fernande Segret, whom he had picked up on an bus in the city.
France was still recovering from the bloodiest war in the history and the peace talks at Versailles were not going well for them. Shortages and economic depression abounded and a case that promised sex, gossip and gruesome killing was delightfully played up by the papers as a diversion from the dreary day-to-day life of post-war France. The French system of justice had been instituted in and while not, as is commonly believed, assuming the guilt of the accused until innocence is proven, it is heavily weighted against the person on trial.
Not only does the chief judge of the three-judge panel serve as an interrogator, the French allow questioning of the accused for the sake of investigation in front of the jury during the trial.
Often the defendant is expected to rebut any adverse claims by witnesses immediately after the testimony concludes. For days he stood before withering interrogation by the court without changing his story.
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Every time new evidence was unearthed, Landru merely shrugged his shoulders and denied everything or refused to discuss it. His strategy was a tactical blunder, wrote Lord Birkenhead. His evasions and quickness to answer with sarcasm only succeeded in proving that he was the kind of man who would deceive women like his victims. It took the jury just two hours — after nearly 25 days of testimony — to decide Landru had killed the 11 women.
The penalty for such a crime was death. French justice is swift. Just two months passed from the time of his conviction until Landru received word that his execution was imminent. The French system did not inform the condemned until very shortly before the execution. The guillotine is a curious method of execution and although it is generally held to be humane, there is some question about how quickly one dies after being decapitated.
Every vital element survives decapitation…it is a savage vivisection followed by premature burial. Piedlievre and Fournier go on to discuss how the brain is capable of breaking down complex sugars in the neurons into oxygen for as long as six minutes after decapitation. Regardless, in February , Landru was brought before the guillotine. Landru bade farewell to his attorneys and presented them with some artwork he had drawn while in prison. Had they looked inside the frame, his attorneys would have found a written confession from Landru admitting his crimes and the means by which he disposed of the bodies, but this was not discovered until nearly five decades later.
He declined to hear a Mass and rejected the traditional glass of brandy from his jailer. Landru indignantly refused to make a statement, saying the very question was an insult. Landru stood before the guillotine, which had been the preferred form of execution in France since its revolution a little over a century before. He knelt down and within moments, the blade had fallen ending the life and crimes one of the coldest mass murderers of all time. On an overcast Tennessee morning about a month before the election, State Senator Tommy Burks was more concerned about the work to be done on his Putnam County farm than about the upcoming vote.
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There was no reason for him to feel otherwise. A conservative Southern Democrat, Burks was highly regarded by his constituents and was almost assured of reelection. Looper had a history of bizarre behavior. His reputation was such that Burks presciently expressed concerns to a friend about what Looper might do during the campaign. Looper believed because he was the only Republican in office in Putnam County, he was the victim of an ongoing political plot to ruin him.
Worse than his paranoia was his ambition. He was frequently levying outrageous charges against perceived opponents or praising himself in lengthy press releases that he faxed across the country at county expense. An alternative newspaper, The Putnam Pit , supported Looper and advanced his conspiracy theories. The paper remains convinced that Looper was set up by a Cumberland County political cabal.
His election to county office was more luck than anything Looper himself did. The Democrats had such a stranglehold on the seat that the GOP establishment did not even put up a candidate. Looper added his name to the ballot as a Republican without any knowledge of the party. However, the long-serving assessor was accused of malfeasance in office and was under a cloud of suspicion. Voters — but not as many as one might expect — simply chose the only other name on the ballot. Low Tax was both corrupt and inept, although the ineptitude was far more troubling than over-staffing the office with political cronies and his own lackadaisical approach to showing up for work He was enrolled in law school across the border in Georgia and would be absent from work for days at a time.
Assessments were not recorded if they were made at all, tax records were not updated and Putnam County missed the state deadline to distribute tax bills, prompting the state to step in. Once an audit was completed the state took control over the office. Looper was left to manage his press releases and dream up new conspiracies. Undeterred, Looper put his own name on the ballot to challenge Tommy Burks. The party considered the race such a lost cause that it provided no support. Looper did not want or need their help. He had a plan.