Part 3 out of 5
advantageous to herself.
The Prince was then sixty-six years old. In the course of nature
he was almost bound to predecease her. His wealth was enormous,
and out of it Sophie wanted as much by bequest as she could get.
She was much too shrewd, however, to imagine that, even if she
did contrive to be made his sole heir, the influential families
who had an eye upon the great possessions of the Prince, and who
through relationship had some right to expect inheritance, would
allow such a will to go uncontested. She therefore looked about
among the Prince's connexions for some one who would accept
coheirship with herself, and whose family would be strong enough
in position to carry through probate on such terms, but at the
same time would be grateful enough to her and venal enough to
further her aim of being reinstated at Court. Her choice in this
matter shows at once her political cunning, which would include
knowledge of affairs, and her ability as a judge of character.
It should be remembered that, in spite of his title of Duc de
Bourbon, Sophie's elderly protector was only distantly of that
family. He was descended in direct line from the Princes de
Conde, whose connexion with the royal house of France dated back
to the sixteenth century. The other line of `royal' ducs in the
country was that of Orleans, offshoot of the royal house through
Philippe, son of Louis XIII, and born in 1640. Sophie's
protector, Louis-Henri-Joseph, Prince de Conde, having married
Louise-Marie, daughter of the great-grandson of this Philippe,
was thus the brother-in-law of that Louis-Philippe, Duc
d'Orleans, who in the Revolution was known as ``Egalite.'' This
was a man whom, for his political opinion and for his failure to
stand by the King, Louis XVI, the Prince de Conde utterly
detested in memory. As much, moreover, as he had hated the
father did the Prince de Conde detest Egalite's son. But it was
out of this man's family that Sophie selected, though ultimately,
Before she arrived at this point, however, Sophie had been at
pains to do some not very savoury manoeuvring.
By a dancer at the Opera, called Mimi, the Prince de Conde had an
illegitimate daughter, whom he had caused to be educated and whom
he had married to the Comte de Rully. The Comtesse de Rully and
her husband had a suite at Chantilly. This was an arrangement
which Sophie, as reigning Queen of Chantilly, did not like at
all. While the Rully woman remained at Chantilly Sophie could
not think that her sway over the Prince was quite as absolute as
she wished. It took her six years of badgering her protector,
from 1819 to 1825, to bring about the eviction.
But meantime (for Sophie's machinations must be taken as
concurrent with events as they transpire) the Baronne de
Feucheres had approached the son of Philippe-Egalite, suggesting
that the last-born of his six children, the Duc d'Aumale, should
have the Prince de Conde for godfather. If she could persuade
her protector to this the Duc d'Orleans, in return, was to use
his influence for her reinstatement at Court. And persuade the
old man to this Sophie did, albeit after a great deal of
badgering on her part and a great deal of grumbling on the part
of the Prince.
The influence exerted at Court by the Duc d'Orleans does not seem
to have been very effective. The King who had dismissed her the
Court, Louis XVIII, died in 1824. His brother, the Comte
d'Artois, ascended the throne as Charles X, and continued by
politically foolish recourses, comparable in history to those of
the English Stuarts, to alienate the people by attempting to
regain that anachronistic absolute power which the Revolution had
destroyed. He lasted a mere six years as king. The revolution
of 1830 sent him into exile. But up to the last month or so of
those six years he steadfastly refused to have anything to do
with the Baronne de Feucheres--not that Sophie ever gave up
manoeuvring and wheedling for a return to Court favour.
About 1826 Sophie had a secret proposition made to the King that
she should try to persuade the Prince de Conde to adopt as his
heir one of the brothers of the Duchesse de Berry, widow of the
King's second son--or would his Majesty mind if a son of the Duc
d'Orleans was adopted? The King did not care at all.
After that Sophie pinned her faith in the power possessed by the
Duc d'Orleans. She was not ready to pursue the course whereby
her return to Court might have been secured--namely, to abandon
her equivocal position in the Prince de Conde's household, and
thus her power over the Prince. She wanted first to make sure of
her share of the fortune he would leave. She knew her power over
the old man. Already she had persuaded him to buy and make over
to her the estates of Saint-Leu and Boissy, as well as to make
her legacies to the amount of a million francs. Much as she
wanted to be received again at Court, she wanted more just as
much as she could grab from the Prince's estate. To make her
inheritance secure she needed the help of the Duc d'Orleans.
The Duc d'Orleans was nothing loth. He had the mind of a French
bourgeois, and all the bourgeois itch for money. He knew that
the Prince de Conde hated him, hated his politics, hated his very
name. But during the seven years it took Sophie to bring the
Prince to the point of signing the will she had in mind the son
of Philippe-Egalite fawned like a huckster on his elderly and, in
more senses than one, distant relative. The scheme was to have
the Prince adopt the little Duc d'Aumale, already his godchild,
as his heir.
The ways by which Sophie went about the job of persuading her old
lover do not read pleasantly. She was a termagant. The Prince
was stubborn. He hated the very idea of making a will--it made
him think of death. He was old, ill, friendless. Sophie made
his life a hell, but he had become dependent upon her. She
ill-used him, subjecting him to physical violence, but yet he was
afraid she might, as she often threatened, leave him. Her way of
persuading him reached the point, it is on record, of putting a
knife to his throat. Not once but several times his servants
found him scratched and bruised. But the old man could not
summon up the strength of mind to be quit of this succubine
At last, on the 29th of August, 1829, Sophie's `persuasions'
succeeded. The Prince consented to sign the will, and did so the
following morning. In its terms the Duc d'Aumale became
residuary legatee, and 2,000,000 francs, free of death-duty, were
bequeathed to the Prince's ``faithful companion, Mme la baronne
de Feucheres,'' together with the chateaux and estates of
Saint-Leu-Taverny, Boissy, Enghien, Montmorency, and
Mortefontaine, and the pavilion in the Palais-Bourbon, besides
all the Prince's furniture, carriages, horses, and so on.
Moreover, the estate and chateau of Ecouen was also given her, on
condition that she allowed the latter to be used as an orphanage
for the descendants of soldiers who had served with the Armies of
Conde and La Vendee. The cost of running this establishment,
however, was to be borne by the Duc d'Aumale.
It might be thought that Sophie, having got her way, would have
turned to kindness in her treatment of her old lover. But no.
All her mind was now concentrated on working, through the Duc
d'Orleans, for being received again at Court. She ultimately
succeeded in this. On the 7th of February, 1830, she appeared in
the presence of the King, the Dauphin and Dauphine. In the
business of preparing for this great day Chantilly and the Prince
de Conde were greatly neglected. The beggar on horseback had to
be about Paris.
But events were shaping in France at that time which were to be
important to the royal family, to Sophie and her supporters of
the house of Orleans, and fatal in consequence to the old man at
On the 27th of July revolution broke out in France. Charles X
and his family had to seek shelter in England, and
Louis-Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, became--not King of France, but
``King of the French'' by election. This consummation had not
been achieved without intrigue on the part of Egalite's son. It
was not an achievement calculated to abate the Prince de Conde's
hatred for him. Rather did it inflame that hatred. In the
matter of the famous will, moreover, as the King's son the little
Duc d'Aumale would be now in no need of the provision made for
him by his unwilling godfather, while members of the exiled royal
family--notably the grandson of Charles, the Duc de Bordeaux,
certainly cut out of the Prince's will by the intrigues of Sophie
and family--were in want of assistance. This is a point to be
remembered in the light of subsequent events.
While she had been looking after herself Sophie Dawes had not
been unmindful ofthe advancement of hangers-on of her own family.
She had about her a nephew and a niece. The latter, supposed by
some to have a closer relationship to Sophie than that of mere
niece, she had contrived to marry off to a marquis. The Marquise
de Chabannes de la Palice need not here concern us further. But
notice must be taken of the nephew. A few million francs,
provided by the Prince de Conde, had secured for this James Dawes
the title of Baron de Flassans, from a domain also bestowed upon
him by Sophie's elderly lover. De Flassans, with some minor post
in the Prince's household, acted as his aunt's jackal.
If Sophie, after the election to kingship of Louis-Philippe,
found it necessary to be in Paris a great deal to worship at the
throne her nephew kept her well informed about the Prince de
Conde's activities. The old man, it appeared, had suddenly
developed the habit of writing letters. The Prince, then at the
chateau of Saint-Leu expressed a desire to remove to Chantilly.
He was behaving very oddly all round, was glad to have Sophie out
of his sight, and seemed unwilling even to hear her name. The
projected move to Chantilly, as a fact, was merely a blind to
cover a flight out of Sophie's reach and influence. Rumour arose
about Saint-Leu and in Paris that the Prince had made another
will--one in which neither Sophie nor the Duc d'Aumale was
mentioned. This was a move of which Sophie had been afraid. She
saw to it that the Prince did not get away from Saint-Leu.
Rumour and the Prince's conduct made Sophie very anxious. She
tried to get him to make over to her in his lifetime those
properties which he had left to her in his will, and it is
probable enough that she would have forced this request but for
the fact that, to raise the legal costs, the property of
Saint-Leu would have had to be sold.
This was the position of affairs about the middle of August 1830.
It was believed the Prince had already signed a will in favour of
the exiled little Duc de Bordeaux, but that he had kept the act
secret from his mistress.
On the morning of the 11th of the month the Prince was met
outside his bedroom in his night attire. It was a young man
called Obry who thus met the Prince. He was the old man's
godchild. The old man's left eye was bleeding, and there was a
scratch on his cheek as if made by a fingernail. To Obry the
Prince attributed these wounds to the spite of the Baronne de
Feucheres. Half an hour later he told his valet he had hit his
head against a night-table. Later again in the day he gave
another version still: he had fallen against the door to a secret
staircase from his bedroom while letting the Baronne de Feucheres
out, the secret staircase being in communication with Sophie's
For the next ten days or so the Prince was engaged in contriving
his flight from the gentle Sophie, a second plan which again was
spoiled by Sophie's spies. There was something of a fete at
Saint-Leu on the 26th, the Prince's saint's day. There was a
quarrel between Sophie and the Prince on the morning of the 26th
in the latter's bedroom. Sophie had then been back in Saint-Leu
for three days. At midnight on the 26th the old man retired
after playing a game or two at whist. He was to go on the 30th
to Chantilly. He was accompanied to his bedroom by his surgeon
and a valet, one Lecomte, and expressed a desire to be called at
eight o'clock. Lecomte found a paper in the Prince's trousers
and gave it to the old man, who placed it on the mantelshelf.
Then the valet, as he said later, locked the door of the Prince's
dressing-room, thus --except for the entrance from the secret
staircase--locking the old man in his room.
The Prince's apartments were on the first floor of the chateau.
His bedroom was approached through the dressing-room from the
main corridor. Beyond the dressing-room was a passage, turning
left from which was the bedroom, and to the right in which was an
entrance to an anteroom. Facing the dressing-room door in this
same passage was the entrance to the secret staircase already
mentioned. The staircase gave access to the Baronne de
Feucheres' apartments on the entrance floor. These, however,
were not immediately under the Prince's rooms. An entresol
intervened, and here the rooms were occupied by the Abbe Briant,
a creature of Sophie's and her secretary, the Widow Lachassine,
Sophie's lady's-maid, and a couple named Dupre. These last, also
spies of Sophie's, had their room direcdy below the Prince's
bedroom, and it is recorded that the floor was so thin that they
could hear not only the old man's every movement, but anything he
Adjacent to the Prince's room, and on the same floor, were the
rooms occupied by Lambot, the Prince's aide, and the valet
Lecomte. Lambot was a lover of Sophie's, and had been the great
go-between in her intrigues with the Orleans family over the
will. Lecomte was in Sophie's pay. Close to Sophie's apartments
on the entrance floor were the rooms occupied by her nephew and
his wife, the de Flassans. It will be seen, therefore, that the
wing containing the Prince's rooms was otherwise occupied almost
completely by Sophie's creatures.
You have, then, the stage set for the tragedy which was about to
ensue: midnight; the last of the Condes peaceably in his bedroom
for the night, and locked in it (according to Lecomte). About
him, on all sides, are the creatures of his not too scrupulous
mistress. All these people, with the exception of the Baronne de
Flassans, who sat up writing letters until two, retire about the
And at eight o'clock next morning, there being no answer to
Lecomte's knocking to arouse the Prince, the door is broken open
at the orders of the Baronne de Feucheres. The Prince is
discovered dead in his bedroom, suspended by the neck, by means
of two of his own handkerchiefs knotted together, from the
fastening of one of the French windows.
The fastening was only about two and a half feet off the floor.
The handkerchief about the dead man's neck was loose enough to
have permitted insertion of all the fingers of a hand between it
and the neck. The second handkerchief was tied to the first, and
its other end was knotted to the window-fastening, and the dead
man's right cheek was pressed against the closed shutter. The
knees were bent a little, the feet were on the floor. None of
the usual indications of death by strangulation were present.
The eyes were half closed. The face was pale but not livid. The
mouth was almost closed. There was no protrusion of the tongue.
On the arrival of the civil functionaries, the Mayor of Saint-Leu
and a Justice of the Peace from Enghien, the body was taken down
and put on the bed. It was then found that the dead man's ankles
were greatly bruised and his legs scratched. On the left side of
the throat, at a point too low for it to have been done by the
handkerchief, there was some stripping of the skin. A large red
bruise was found between the Prince's shoulders.
The King, Louis-Philippe, heard about the death of the Prince de
Conde at half-past eleven that same day. He immediately sent his
High Chancellor, M. Pasquier, and his own aide-de-camp, M. de
Rumigny, to inquire into the matter. It is not stretching things
too far to say that the King's instructions to these gentlemen
are revealed in phrases occurring in the letters they sent his
Majesty that same evening. Both recommend that Drs Marc and
Marjolin should be sent to investigate the Prince's tragic death.
But M. Pasquier mentions that ``not a single document has been
found, so a search has already been made.'' And M. de Rumigny
thinks ``it is important that nobody should be accused who is
likely to benefit by the will.'' What document was expected to
be discovered in the search? Why, a second will that would
invalidate the first. Who was to benefit by the first will?
Why, the little Duc d'Aumale and Dame Sophie Dawes, Baronne de
The post-mortem examination was made by the King's own
physicians. During the examination the Prince's doctors, MM.
Dubois and Gendrin, his personal secretary, and the faithful one
among his body-servants, Manoury, were sent out of the room. The
verdict was suicide. The Prince's own doctors maintained that
suicide by the handkerchiefs from the window-fastening was
impossible. Dr Dubois wrote his idea of how the death had
The Prince very likely was asleep in his bed. The murderers must
have been given entrance to his bedroom--I have no wish to ask
how or by whom. They then threw themselves on the Prince,
gripped him firmly, and could easily pin him down on his bed;
then the most desperate and dexterous of the murderers suffocated
him as he was thus held firmly down; finally, in order to make it
appear that he had committed suicide and to hinder any judicial
investigations which might have discovered the identity of the
assassins, they fastened a handkerchief about their victim's
neck, and hung him up by the espagnolette of the window.
And that, at all hazards, is about the truth of the death of the
Duc de Bourbon and Prince de Conde. There was some official
display of rigour in investigation by the Procureur; there was
much play with some mysterious papers found a good time after the
first discovery half-burned in the fireplace of the Prince's
bedroom; there was a lot put forward to support the idea of
suicide; but the blunt truth of the affair is that the Prince de
Conde was murdered, and that the murder was hushed up as much as
possible. Not, however, with complete success. There were few
in France who gave any countenance to the theory of suicide.
The Prince, it will be remembered, had a practically disabled
left arm. It is said that he could not even remove his hat with
his left hand. The knots in the handkerchiefs used to tie him to
the espagnolette were both complicated and tightly made.
Impossible for a one-handed man. His bed, which at the time of
his retiring to it stood close to the alcove wall, was a good
foot and a half away from that wall in the morning. Impossible
feat also for this one-handed man. It was the Prince's habit to
lie so much to one side of the bed that his servants had to prop
the outside edge up with folded blankets. On the morning when
his death was discovered it was seen that the edges still were
high, while the centre was very much pressed down. There was, in
fact, a hollow in the bed's middle such as might have been made
by some one standing on it with shoes on. It is significant that
the bedclothes were neatly turned down. If the Prince had got up
on a sudden impulse to commit suicide he is hardly likely, being
a prince, to have attempted remaking his bed. He must, moreover,
since he could normally get from bed only by rolling on his side,
have pressed out that heightened edge. Manoury, the valet who
loved him, said that the bed in the morning looked more as if it
had been SMOOTHED OUT than remade. This would tend to support
the theory of Dr Dubois. The murderers, having suffocated the
Prince, would be likely to try effacing the effects of his
struggling by the former method rather than the latter.
But the important point of the affair, as far as this chapter on
it is concerned, is the relation of Sophie Dawes with it on the
conclusion of murder. How deeply was she implicated? Let us see
how she acted on hearing that there was no reply to Lecomte's
knocking, and let us examine her conduct from that moment on.
Note that the Baronne de Feucheres was the first person whom
Lecomte and the Prince's surgeon apprised of the Prince's
silence. She rushed out of her room and made for the Prince's,
not by the secret staircase, but by the main one. She knew,
however, that the door to the secret staircase from the Prince's
room was not bolted that night. This knowledge was admitted for
her later by the Prince's surgeon, M. Bonnie. She had gone up to
the Prince's room by the main staircase in order to hide the
fact, an action which gives a touch of theatricality to her
exhibited concern about the Prince's silence.
The search for documents spoken of by M. Pasquier in his letter
to the King had been carried out by Sophie in person, with the
aid of her nephew de Flassans and the Abbe Briant. It was a
thorough search, and a piece of indecorousness which she excused
on the ground of being afraid the Prince's executors might find a
will which made her the sole heir, to the exclusion of the Duc
Regarding the `accident' which had happened to the Prince on the
11th of August, she said it was explained by an earlier attempt
on his part to do away with himself. She tried to deny that she
had been at Saint-Leu at the time of the actual happening, when
the fact was that she only left for Paris some hours later.
When, some time later, the Prince's faithful valet Manoury made
mention of the fact that the Prince had wanted to put the width
of the country between himself and his mistress, Sophie first
tried to put the fear of Louis-Philippe into the man, then,
finding he was not to be silenced that way, tried to buy him with
a promise of employment.
It is beyond question that the Prince de Conde was murdered. He
was murdered in a wing of the chateau in which he was hemmed in
on all sides by Sophie's creatures. It is impossible that Sophie
was not privy, at the least, to the deed. It is not beyond the
bounds of probability that she was an actual participator in the
She was a violent woman, as violent and passionate as she was
determined. Not once but many times is it on record that she
physically ill-used her elderly lover. There was one occasion,
it is said, when the Prince suddenly came upon her in a very
compromising position with a younger man in the park of one of
his chateaux. Sophie, before the Prince could utter a protest,
cut him across the face with her riding-whip, and finished up by
thrashing him with his own cane.
Here you have the stuff, at any rate, of which your murderesses
of the violent type are made. It is the metal out of which your
Kate Websters, your Sarah Malcolms, your Meteyards and Brownriggs
fashion themselves. It takes more than three years of scholastic
self-discipline, such as Sophie Dawes in her ambition subjected
herself to, to eradicate the inborn harridan. The very
determination which was at the back of Sophie's efforts at
self-education, that will to have her own way, would serve to
heighten the sick rage with which she would discover that her
carefully wrought plans of seven years had come to pieces. What
was it that the Abbe Pelier de Lacroix had in ``proof of the
horrible assassination'' of the Prince de Conde, but that he was
prevented from placing before the lawyers in charge of the later
investigation, if not the fact that the Prince had made a later
will than the one by which Sophie inherited so greatly? The Abbe
was the Prince's chaplain. He published a pamphlet declaring
that the Prince had made a will leaving his entire fortune to the
little Duc de Bordeaux, but that Sophie had stolen this later
will. Who likelier to be a witness to such a will than the
It needs no great feat of imagination to picture what the effect
of such a discovery would be on a woman of Sophie's violent
temper, or to conceive how little the matter of taking a life
especially the life of a feeble old man she was used to bullying
and mishandling--would be allowed to stand in the way of rescuing
her large gains. Murder of the Prince was her only chance. It
had taken her seven years to bring him to the point of signing
that first will. He was seventy-four years of age, enfeebled,
obstinate, and she knew of his plans to flee from her. Even
supposing that she could prevent his flight, could she begin all
over again to another seven years of bullying and
wheedling--always with the prospect of the old man dying before
she could get him to the point again of doing as she wished? The
very existence of the second will was a menace. It only needed
that the would-be heirs of the Prince should hear of it, and
there would be a swoop on their part to rescue the testator from
her clutches. In the balance against 2,000,000 francs and some
halfdozen castles with their estates the only wonder is that any
reasonable person, knowing the history of Sophie Dawes, should
hesitate about the value she was likely to place on the old man's
The inquiry begun in September of 1830 into the circumstances
surrounding the death of the Prince was cooked before it was
dressed. The honest man into whose hands it was placed at first,
a M. de la Hurpoie, proved himself too zealous. After a night
visit from the Procureur he was retired into private life. After
that the investigators were hand-picked. They concluded the
investigation the following June, with the declaration that the
Prince had committed suicide, a verdict which had its reward--in
advancement for the judges.
In the winter of 1831-32 there was begun a lawsuit in which the
Princes de Rohan brought action against Sophie and the Duc
d'Aumale for the upsetting of the will under which the latter two
had inherited the Prince de Conde's fortune. The grounds for the
action were the undue influence exerted by Sophie. The Princes
de Rohan lost.
Thus was Sophie twice `legally' vindicated. But public opinion
refused her any coat of whitewash. Never popular in France, she
became less and less popular in the years that followed her legal
triumphs. Having used her for his own ends, Louis-Philippe
gradually shut off from her the light of his cod-like
 Lacenaire, the notorious murderer-robber in a biting song,
written in prison, expressed the popular opinion regarding
Louis-Philippe's share in the Feucheres-Conde affair. The song,
called Petition d'un voleur a un roi son voisin, has this final
``Sire, oserais-je reclamer?
Mais ecoutez-moi sans colere:
Le voeu que je vais exprimer
Pourrait bien, ma foi, vous deplaire.
Je suis fourbe, avare, mechant,
Ladre, impitoyable, rapace;
J'ai fait se pendre mon parent:
Sire, cedez-moi votre place.''
Sophie found little joy in her wide French possessions. She
found herself without friends before whom she could play the
great lady in her castles. She gradually got rid of her
possessions, and returned to her native land. She bought an
estate near Christchurch, in Hampshire, and took a house in Hyde
Park Square, London. But she did not long enjoy those English
homes. While being treated for dropsy in 1840 she died of
angina. According to the famous surgeon who was at her bedside
just before her demise, she died ``game.''
It may almost be said that she lived game. There must have been
a fighting quality about Sophie to take her so far from such a
bad start. Violent as she was of temper, greedy, unscrupulous,
she seems yet to have had some instincts of kindness. The
stories of her good deeds are rather swamped by those of her bad
ones. She did try to do some good with the Prince's money round
about Chantilly, took a definite and lasting interest in the
alms-houses built there by ``the Great Conde,'' and a request in
her own will was to the effect that if she had ever done anything
for the Orleans gang, the Prince de Conde's wishes regarding the
use of the chateau of Ecouen as an orphanage might be fulfilled
as a reward to her. The request never was fulfilled, but it does
show that Sophie had some affinity in kindness to Nell Gwynn.
How much farther--or how much better--would Sophie Dawes have
fared had her manners been less at the mercy of her temper? It
is impossible to say. That she had some quality of greatness is
beyond doubt. The resolution of character, the will to achieve,
and even the viraginous temper might have carried her far had she
been a man some thirty years earlier in the country of her
greater activities. Under Napoleon, as a man, Sophie might have
climbed high on the way to glory. As a woman, with those traits,
there is almost tragic inevitability in the manner in which we
find her ranged with what Dickens called ``Glory's bastard
VI: ARSENIC A LA BRETONNE
On Tuesday, the 1st of July, in the year 1851, two gentlemen,
sober of face as of raiment, presented themselves at the office
of the Procureur-General in the City of Rennes. There was no
need for them to introduce themselves to that official. They
were well-known medical men of the city, Drs Pinault and Boudin.
The former of the two acted as spokesman.
Dr Pinault confessed to some distress of mind. He had been
called in by his colleague for consultation in the case of a
girl, Rosalie Sarrazin, servant to an eminent professor of law,
M. Bidard. In spite of the ministrations of himself and his
colleague, Rosalie had died. The symptoms of the illness had
been very much the same as in the case of a former servant of M.
Bidard's, a girl named Rose Tessier, who had also died. With
this in mind they had persuaded the relatives of Rosalie to
permit an autopsy. They had to confess that they had found no
trace of poison in the body, but they were still convinced the
girl had died of poisoning. With his colleague backing him, Dr
Pinault was able to put such facts before the Procureur-General
that that official almost at once reached for his hat to
accompany the two doctors to M. Bidard's.
The door of the Professor's house was opened to them by Helene
Jegado, another of M. Bidard's servants. She was a woman of
forty odd, somewhat scraggy of figure and, while not exactly
ugly, not prepossessing of countenance. Her habit of looking
anywhere but into the face of anyone addressing her gave her
rather a furtive air.
Having ushered the three gentlemen into the presence of the
Professor, the servant-woman lingered by the door.
``We have come, M. Bidard,'' said the Procureur, ``on a rather
painful mission. One of your servants died recently--it is
suspected, of poisoning.''
``I am innocent!''
The three visitors wheeled to stare, with the Professor, at the
grey-faced woman in the doorway. It was she who had made the
``Innocent of what?'' demanded the Law officer. ``No one has
accused you of anything!''
This incautious remark on the part of the servant, together with
the facts already put before him by the two doctors and the
information he obtained from her employer, led the
Procureur-General to have her arrested. Helene Jegado's past was
inquired into, and a strange and dreadful Odyssey the last twenty
years of her life proved to be. It was an Odyssey of death.
Helene was born at Plouhinec, department of Morbihan, on
(according to the official record) ``28 prairial,'' in the
eleventh year of the republic (1803). Orphaned at the age of
seven, she was sheltered by the cure of Bubry, M. Raillau, with
whom two of her aunts were servants. Sixteen years later one of
those aunts, Helene Liscouet, took Helene with her into service
with M. Conan, cure at Seglien, and it was here that Helene
Jegado's evil ways would appear first to become manifest. A girl
looking after the cure's sheep declared she had found grains of
hemp in soup prepared for her by Helene.
It was not, however, until 1833 that causing death is laid at her
In that year she entered the service of a priest in Guern, one Le
Drogo. In the space of little more than three months, from the
28th of June to the 3rd of October, seven persons in the priest's
household died. All those people died after painful vomitings,
and all of them had eaten food prepared by Helene, who nursed
each of them to the last. The victims of this fatal outbreak of
sickness included Helene's own sister Anna (apparently on a visit
to Guern from Bubry), the rector's father and mother, and Le
Drogo himself. This last, a strong and vigorous man, was dead
within thirty-two hours of the first onset of his illness.
Helene, it was said, showed the liveliest sorrow over each of the
deaths, but on the death of the rector was heard to say, ``This
won't be the last!'' Nor was it. Two deaths followed that of Le
Such a fatal outbreak did not pass without suspicion. The body
of the rector was examined by Dr Galzain, who found indications
of grave disorder in the digestive tracts, with inflammation of
the intestines. His colleague, Dr Martel, had suspicions of
poison, but the pious sorrow of Helene lulled his mind as far as
she was concerned.
We next find Helene returned to Bubry, replacing her sister Anna
in the service of the cure there. In three months three people
died: Helene's aunt Marie-Jeanne Liscouet and the cure's niece
and sister. This last, a healthy girl of about sixteen, was dead
within four days, and it is to be noted that during her brief
illness she drank nothing but milk from the hands of Helene. But
here, as hitherto, Helene attended all the sufferers. Her grief
over their deaths impressed every one with whom she came in
From Bubry Helene went to Locmine. Her family connexion as
servants with the clergy found her room for three days in the
rectory, after which she became apprentice to a needlewoman of
the town, one Marie-Jeanne Leboucher, with whom she lived. The
Widow Leboucher was stricken ill, as also was one of her
daughters. Both died. The son of the house, Pierre, also fell
ill. But, not liking Helene, he refused her ministrations, and
recovered. By this time Helene had become somewhat sensitive.
``I'm afraid,'' she said to a male relative of the deceased
sempstress, ``that people will accuse me of all those deaths.
Death follows me wherever I go.'' She quitted the Leboucher
establishment in distress.
A widow of the same town offered her house room. The widow died,
having eaten soup of Helene's preparing. On the day following
the Widow Lorey's death her niece, Veuve Cadic, arrived. The
grief-stricken Helene threw herself into the niece's arms.
``My poor girl!'' exclaimed the Veuve Cadic.
``Ai--but I'm so unhappy!'' Helene grieved. ``Where-ever I
go--Seglien, Guern, Bubry, Veuve Laboucher's--people die!
She had cause for grief, sure enough. In less than eighteen
months thirteen persons with whom she had been closely associated
had died of violent sickness. But more were to follow.
In May of 1835 Helene was in service with the Dame Toussaint, of
Locmine. Four more people died. They were the Dame's
confidential maid, Anne Eveno, M. Toussaint pere, a daughter of
the house, Julie, and, later, Mme Toussaint herself. They had
eaten vegetable soup prepared by Helene Jegado. Something
tardily the son of the house, liking neither Helene's face nor
the deathly rumours that were rife about her, dismissed her.
To one as burdened with sorrow as Helene Jegado appeared to be
the life conventual was bound to hold appeal. She betook herself
to the pleasant little town of Auray, which sits on a sea arm
behind the nose of Quiberon, and sought shelter in the convent of
the Eternal Father there. She was admitted as a pensionnaire.
Her sojourn in the convent did not last long, for queer disorders
marked her stay. Linen in the convent cupboards and the garments
of the pupils were maliciously slashed. Helene was suspect and
was packed off.
Once again Helene became apprentice to a sempstress, this time an
old maid called Anne Lecouvrec, proprietress of the
Bonnes-oeuvres in Auray. The ancient lady, seventy-seven years
of age, tried Helene's soup. She died two days later. To a
niece of the deceased Helene made moan: ``Ah! I carry sorrow.
My masters die wherever I go!''
The realization, however, did not prevent Helene from seeking
further employment. She next got a job with a lady named Lefur
in Ploermel, and stayed for a month. During that time Helene's
longing for the life religious found frequent expression, and she
ultimately departed to pay a visit, so she said, to the good
sisters of the Auray community. Some time before her departure,
however, she persuaded Anne Lefur to accept a drink of her
preparing, and Anne, hitherto a healthy woman, became very ill
indeed. In this case Helene did not show her usual solicitude.
She rather heartlessly abandoned the invalid--which would appear
to have been a good thing for the invalid, for, lacking Helene's
ministrations, she got better.
Helene meantime had found a place in Auray with a lady named
Hetel. The job lasted only a few days. Mme Hetel's son-in-law,
M. Le Dore, having heard why Helene was at need to leave the
convent of the Eternal Father, showed her the door of the house.
That was hasty, but not hasty enough. His mother-in-law, having
already eaten meats cooked by Helene, was in the throes of the
usual violent sickness, and died the day after Helene's
Failing to secure another place in Auray, Helene went to Pontivy,
and got a position as cook in the household of the Sieur Jouanno.
She had been there some few months when the son of the house, a
boy of fourteen, died after a sickness of five days that was
marked by vomiting and convulsions. In this case an autopsy was
immediately held. It revealed an inflamed condition of the
stomach and some corrosion of the intestines. But the boy had
been known to be a vinegar-drinker, and the pathological
conditions discovered by the doctor were attributed by him to the
Helene's next place was with a M. Kerallic in Hennebont. M.
Kerallic was recovering from a fever. After drinking a tisane
prepared by Helene he had a relapse, followed by repeated and
fierce vomiting that destroyed him in five days. This was in
1836. After that the trail of death which had followed Helene's
itineracy about the lower section of the Brittany peninsula was
broken for three years.
In 1839 we hear of her again, in the house of the Dame Veron,
where another death occurred, again with violent sickness.
Two years elapse. In 1841 Helene was in Lorient, domestic
servant to a middle-aged couple named Dupuyde-Lome, with whom
lived their daughter and her husband, a M. Breger. First the
little daughter of the young couple died, then all the members of
the family were seized by illness, its onset being on the day
following the death of the child. No more of the family died,
but M. Dupuy and his daughter suffered from bodily numbness for
years afterwards, with partial paralysis and recurrent pains in
Helene seems to have made Lorient too hot for herself, and had to
go elsewhere. Port Louis is her next scene of action. A
kinswoman of her master in this town, one Duperron, happened to
miss a sheet from the household stock. Mlle Leblanc charged
Helene with the theft, and demanded the return of the stolen
article. It is recorded that Helene refused to give it up, and
her answer is curious.
``I am going into retreat,'' she declared. ``God has forgiven me
There was perhaps something prophetic in the declaration. By the
time Helene was brought to trial, in 1854, her sins up to this
point of record were covered by the prescription legale, a sort
of statute of limitations in French law covering crime. Between
1833 and 1841 the wanderings of Helene Jegado through those quiet
Brittany towns had been marked by twenty-three deaths, six
illnesses, and numerous thefts.
There is surcease to Helene's death-dealing between the years of
1841 and 1849, but on the inquiries made after her arrest a
myriad of accusers sprang up to tell of thefts during that time.
They were petty thefts, but towards the end of the period they
begin to indicate a change in Helene's habits. She seems to have
taken to drink, for her thefts are mostly of wine and eau de vie.
In March 1848 Helene was in Rennes. On the 6th of November of
the following year, having been dismissed from several houses for
theft, she became sole domestic servant to a married couple
called Rabot. Their son, Albert, who was already ill, died in
the end of December. He had eaten a farina porridge cooked by
Helene. In the following February, having discovered Helene's
depredations from the wine-cupboard, M. Rabot gave her notice.
This was on the 3rd of the month. (Helene was to leave on the
13th.) The next day Mme Rabot and Rabot himself, having taken
soup of Helene's making, became very ill. Rabot's mother-in-law
ate a panade prepared by Helene. She too fell ill. They all
recovered after Helene had departed, but Rabot, like M.
Dupuy-de-Lome, was partially paralysed for months afterwards.
In Helene's next situation, with people called Ozanne, her way of
abstracting liquor again was noticed. She was chided for
stealing eau de vie. Soon after that the Ozannes' little son
died suddenly, very suddenly. The doctor called in thought it
was from a croup fever.
On the day following the death of the little Ozanne Helene
entered the service of M. Roussell, proprietor of the
Bout-du-Monde hotel in Rennes. Some six weeks later Roussell's
mother suddenly became ill. She had had occasion to reproach
Helene for sullen ill-manners or something of that sort. She ate
some potage which Helene had cooked. The illness that ensued
lasted a long time. Eighteen months later the old lady had
In the hotel with Helene as fellow-servant there was a woman of
thirty, Perrotte Mace, very greatly relied upon by her masters,
with whom she had been five years. She was a strongly built
woman who carried herself finely. Perrotte openly agreed with
the Veuve Roussell regarding Helene's behaviour. This, with the
confidence reposed in Perrotte by the Roussells, might have been
enough to set Helene against her. But there was an additional
cause for jealousy: Jean Andre, the hotel ostler, but also
described as a cabinet-maker, though friendly enough with Helene,
showed a marked preference for the younger, and comelier,
Perrotte. The Veuve Roussell fell ill in the middle of June. In
August Perrotte was seized by a similar malady, and, in spite of
all her resistance, had to take to her bed. Vomiting and purging
marked the course of her illness, pains in the stomach and limbs,
distension of the abdomen, and swelling of the feet. With her
strong constitution she put up a hard fight for her life, but
succumbed on the 1st of September, 1850. The doctors called in,
MM. Vincent and Guyot, were extremely puzzled by the course of
the illness. At times the girl would seem to be on the mend,
then there would come a sudden relapse. After Perrotte's death
they pressed for an autopsy, but the peasant relatives of the
girl showed the usual repugnance of their class to the idea.
Helene was taken red-handed in the theft of wine, and was
dismissed. Fifteen days later she took service with the Bidards.
These are the salient facts of Helene's progression from 1833 to
1851 as brought out by the investigations made by and for the
Procureur-General of Rennes. All possible channels were explored
to discover where Helene had procured the arsenic, but without
success. Under examination by the Juge d'instruction she stoutly
denied all knowledge of the poison. ``I don't know anything
about arsenic--don't know what it is,'' she repeated. ``No
witness can say I ever had any.'' It was believed that she had
secured a large supply in her early days, and had carried it with
her through the years, but that at the first definite word of
suspicion against her had got rid of it. During her trial
mention was made of packets found in a chest she had used while
at Locsine, the place where seven deaths had occurred. But it
was never clearly established that these packets had contained
arsenic. It was never clearly established, though it could be
inferred, that Helene ever had arsenic at all.
The first hearings of Helene's case were taken before the Juge
d'instruction in Rennes, and she was remanded to the assizes for
Ille-et-Vilaine, which took place, apparently, in the same city.
The charges against her were limited to eleven thefts, three
murders by poisoning, and three attempts at murder by the like
means. Under the prescription legale twenty-three poisonings,
six attempts at poisoning, and a number of thefts, all of which
had taken place within the space of ten years, had to be left out
of the indictment. We shall see, however, that, under the
curious rules regarding permissible evidence which prevail in
French criminal law, the Assize Court concerned itself quite
largely with this prescribed matter.
The trial began on the 6th of December, 1851, at a time when
France was in a political uproar--or, more justly perhaps, was
settling down from political uproar. The famous coup d'etat of
that year had happened four days before. Maitre Dorange,
defending Helene, asked for a remand to a later session on the
ground that some of his material witnesses were unavailable owing
to the political situation. An eminent doctor, M. Baudin, had
died ``pour maintien des lois.'' There was some argument on the
matter, but the President ruled that all material witnesses were
present. Scientific experts could be called only to assist the
The business of this first day was taken up almost completely by
questions on the facts produced in investigation, and these
mostly facts covered by the prescription. The legal value of
this run of questions would seem doubtful in the Anglo-Saxon idea
of justice, but it gives an indication of the shiftiness in
answer of the accused. It was a long interrogation, but Helene
faced it with notable self-possession. On occasion she answered
with vigour, but in general sombrely and with lowered eyes. At
times she broke into volubility. This did not serve to remove
the impression of shiftiness, for her answers were seldom to the
Wasn't it true, she was asked, that in Locmine she had been
followed and insulted with cries: ``C'est la femme au foie
blanc; elle porte la mort avec elle!''? Nobody had ever said
anything of the sort to her, was her sullen answer. A useless
denial. There were plenty of witnesses to express their belief
in her ``white liver'' and to tell of her reputation of carrying
Asked why she had been dismissed from the convent at Auray, she
answered that she did not know. The Mother Superior had told her
to go. She had been too old to learn reading and writing.
Pressed on the point of the slashed garments of the pupils and
the linen in the convent cupboards, Helene retorted that somebody
had cut her petticoats as well, and that, anyhow, the sisters had
never accused her of working the mischief.
This last answer was true in part. The evidence on which Helene
had been dismissed the convent was circumstantial. A sister from
the community described Helene's behaviour otherwise as edifying
After the merciless fashion of French judges, the President came
back time and again to attack Helene on the question of poison.
If Perrotte Mace did not get the poison from her--from whom,
``I don't know anything of poison,'' was the reply, with the
pious addendum, ``and, God willing, I never will!''
This, with variations, was her constant answer.
``Qu'est-ce que c'est l'arsenic? Je n'en ai jamais vu d'arsenic,
The President had occasion later to take her up on these denials.
The curate of Seglien came to give evidence. He had been curate
during the time of M. Conan, in whose service Helene had been at
that time. He could swear that M. Conan had repeatedly told his
servants to watch that the domestic animals did not get at the
poisoned bait prepared for the rats. M. Conan's servants had
complete access to the arsenic used.
Helene interposed at this point. ``I know,'' she said, ``that M.
Conan had asked for arsenic, but I wasn't there at the time. My
aunt told me about it.''
The President reminded her that in her interrogaion she had
declared she knew nothing of arsenic, nor had heard anyone speak
of it. Helene sullenly persisted in her first declaration, but
modified it with the admission that her aunt had told her the
stuff was dangerous, and not to be used save with the strictest
This evidence of the arsenic at Seglien was brought forward on
the second day of the trial, when witnesses began to be heard.
Before pursuing the point of where the accused might have
obtained the poison I should like to quote, as typical of the
hypocritical piety exhibited by Helene, one of her answers on the
After reminding her that Rose Tessier's sickness had increased
after taking a tisane that Helene had prepared the President
asked if it was not the fact that she alone had looked after
``No,'' Helen replied. ``Everybody was meddling. All I did was
put the tisane on to boil. I have suffered a great deal,'' she
added gratuitously. ``The good God will give me grace to bear up
to the end. If I have not died of my sufferings in prison it is
because God's hand has guided and sustained me.''
With that in parenthesis, let us return to the evidence of the
witnesses on the second day of the trial. A great deal of it had
to do with deaths on which, under the prescription, no charge
could be made against Helene, and with thefts that equally could
not be the subject of accusation.
Dr Galzain, of Ponivy, who, eighteen years before, had performed
the autopsy on Le Drogo, cure of Guern, testified that though he
had then been puzzled by the pathological conditions, he was now
prepared to say they were consistent with arsenical poisoning.
Martel, a pharmacist, brother of the doctor who had attended Le
Drogo, spoke of his brother's suspicions, suspicions which had
recurred on meeting with the cases at Bubry. They had been
diverted by the lavishly affectionate attendance Helene had given
to the sufferers.
Relatives of the victims of Locmine told of Helene's predictions
of death, and of her plaints that death followed her everywhere.
They also remarked on the very kind ministrations of Helene.
Dr Toussaint, doctor at Locmine, and son to the house in which
Helene had for a time been servant, told of his perplexity over
the symptoms in the cases of the Widow Lorey and the youth
Leboucher. In 1835 he had been called in to see Helene herself,
who was suffering from an intermittent fever. Next day the fever
had disappeared. He was told that she had been dosing herself,
and he was shown a packet which had been in her possession. It
contained substances that looked like kermes-mineral, some
saffron, and a white powder that amounted to perhaps ten grammes.
He had disliked Helene at first sight. She had not been long in
his mother's service when his mother's maid-companion (Anne
Eveno), who also had no liking for Helene, fell ill and died.
His father fell violently ill in turn, seemed to get better, and
looked like recovering. But inexplicable complications
supervened, and his father died suddenly of a haemorrhage of the
intestinal canal. His sister Julie, who had been the first to
fall sick, also seemed to recover, but after the death of the
father had a relapse. In his idea Helene, having cured herself,
was able to drug the invalids in her care. The witness ordered
her to be kept completely away from the sufferers, but one night
she contrived to get the nurses out of the way. A confrere he
called in ordered bouillon to be given. Helene had charge of the
kitchen, and it was she who prepared the bouillon. It was she
who administered it. Three hours later his sister died in agony.
 Or, simply, kermes--a pharmaceutical composition, containing
antimony and sodium sulphates and oxide of antimony--formerly
used as an expectorant.
The witness suggested an autopsy. His family would not agree.
The pious behaviour of Helene put her beyond suspicion, but he
took it on himself to dismiss her. During the illness of his
father, when Helene herself was ill, he went reluctantly to see
her, being told that she was dying. Instead of finding her in
bed he came upon her making some sort of white sauce. As soon as
he appeared she threw herself into bed and pretended to be
suffering intense pain. A little later he asked to see the
sauce. It had disappeared.
He had advised his niece to reserve his sister's evacuations.
His niece replied that Helene was so scrupulously tidy that such
vessels were never left about, but were taken away at once to be
emptied and cleaned. ``I revised my opinion of the woman after
she had gone,'' added the witness. ``I thought her very well
HELENE. I never had any drugs in my possession--never. When I
had fever I took the powders given me by the doctor, but I did
not know what they were!
THE PRESIDENT. Why did you say yesterday that nothing was ever
found in your luggage?
HELENE. I didn't remember.
THE PRESIDENT. What were you doing with the saffron? Wasn't it
in your possession during the time you were in Seglien?
HELENE. I was taking it for my blood.
THE PRESIDENT. And the white powder--did it also come from
HELENE [energetically]. Never have I had white powder in my
luggage! Never have I seen arsenic! Never has anyone spoken to
me of arsenic!
Upon this the President rightly reminded her that she had said
only that morning that her aunt had talked to her of arsenic at
Seglien, and had warned her of its lethal qualities. ``You deny
the existence of that white powder,'' said the President,
``because you know it was poison. You put it away from you with
The accused several times tried to answer this charge, but
failed. Her face was beaded with moisture.
THE PRESIDENT. Had you or had you not any white powder at
HELENE. I can't say if I still had fever there.
THE PRESIDENT. What was that powder? When did you first have
HELENE. I had taken it at Locmine. Somebody gave it to me for
THE PRESIDENT. Why didn t you say so at the beginning, instead
of waiting until you are confounded by the witness? [To Dr
Toussaint] What would the powder be, monsieur? What powder
would one prescribe for fever?
DR TOUSSAINT. Sulphate of quinine; but that's not what it was.
Questioned by the advocate for the defence, the witness said he
would not affirm that the powder he saw was arsenic. His present
opinion, however, was that his father and sister had died from
injections of arsenic in small doses.
A witness from Locmine spoke of her sister's two children
becoming ill after taking chocolate prepared by the accused. The
latter told her that a mob had followed her in the street,
accusing her of the deaths of those she had been servant to.
Then came one of those curious samples of `what the soldier said'
that are so often admitted in French criminal trials as evidence.
Louise Clocher said she had seen Helene on the road between Auray
and Lorient in the company of a soldier. When she told some one
of it people said, ``That wasn't a soldier! It was the devil you
saw following her!''
One rather sympathizes with Helene in her protest against this
From Ploermel, Auray, Lorient, and other places doctors and
relatives of the dead came to bear witness to Helene's cooking
and nursing activities, and to speak of the thefts she had been
found committing. Where any suspicion had touched Helene her
piety and her tender care of the sufferers had disarmed it. The
astonishing thing is that, with all those rumours of `white
livers' and so on, the woman could proceed from place to place
within a few miles of each other, and even from house to house in
the same towns, leaving death in her tracks, without once being
brought to bay. Take the evidence of M. Le Dore, son-in-law of
that Mme Hetel who died in Auray, His mother-in-law became ill
just after Helene's reputation was brought to his notice. The
old lady died next day.
``The day following the revelation,'' said M. Le Dore, ``I put
Helene out. She threw herself on the ground uttering fearsome
yells. The day's meal had been prepared. I had it thrown out,
and put Helene herself to the door with her luggage, INTO WHICH
SHE HASTILY STOWED A PACKET. Mme Hetel died next day in fearful
I am responsible for the italicizing. It is hard to understand
why M. Le Dore did no more than put Helene to the door. He was
suspicious enough to throw out the meal prepared by Helene, and
he saw her hastily stow a packet in her luggage. But, though he
was Mayor of Auray, he did nothing more about his mother-in-law's
death. It is to be remarked, however, that the Hetels themselves
were against the brusque dismissal of Helene. She had
``smothered the mother with care and attentions.''
But one gets perhaps the real clue to Helene's long immunity from
the remark made in court by M. Breger, son-in-law of that Lorient
couple, M. and Mme Dupuyde-Lome. He had thought for a moment of
suspecting Helene of causing the child's death and the illness of
the rest of the family, but ``there seemed small grounds. What
interest had the girl in cutting off their lives?''
It is a commonplace that murder without motive is the hardest to
detect. The deaths that Helene Jegado contrived between 1833 and
1841, twenty-three in number, and the six attempts at murder
which she made in that length of time, are, without exception,
crimes quite lacking in discoverable motive. It is not at all on
record that she had reason for wishing to eliminate any one of
those twenty-three persons. She seems to have poisoned for the
mere sake of poisoning. Save to the ignorant and superstitious,
such as followed her in the streets to accuse her of having a
``white liver'' and a breath that meant death, she was an
unfortunate creature with an odd knack of finding herself in
houses where `accidents' happened. Time and again you find her
being taken in by kindly people after such `accidents,' and made
an object of sympathy for the dreadful coincidences that were
making her so unhappy. It was out of sympathy that the Widow
Lorey, of Locmine, took Helene into her house. On the widow's
death the niece arrived. In court the niece described the scene
on her arrival. ``Helene embraced me,'' she said. ``'Unhappy
me!' she wept. `Wherever I go everybody dies!' I pitied and
consoled her.'' She pitied and consoled Helene, though they were
saying in the town that the girl had a white liver and that her
breath brought death!
Where Helene had neglected to combine her poisoning with detected
pilfering the people about her victims could see nothing wrong in
her conduct. Witness after witness --father, sister, husband,
niece, son-in-law, or relation in some sort to this or that
victim of Helene's--repeated in court, ``The girl went away with
nothing against her.'' And even those who afterwards found
articles missing from their household goods: ``At the same time
I did not suspect her probity. She went to Mass every morning
and to the evening services. I was very surprised to find some
of my napkins among the stuff Helene was accused of stealing.''
``I did not know of Helene's thefts until I was shown the objects
stolen,'' said a lady of Vannes. ``Without that proof I would
never have suspected the girl. Helene claimed affiliation with a
religious sisterhood, served very well, and was a worker.''
It is perhaps of interest to note how Helene answered the
testimony regarding her thieving proclivities. Mme Lejoubioux,
of Vannes, said her furnishing bills went up considerably during
the time Helene was in her service. Helene had purloined two
Helene: ``That was for vengeance. I was furious at being sent
Sieur Cesar le Clerc and Mme Gauthier swore to thefts from them
Helene: ``I stole nothing from Mme Gauthier except one bottle of
wine. If I commit a larceny it is from choler. WHEN I'M FURIOUS
It was when Helene began to poison for vengeance that retribution
fell upon her. Her fondness for the bottle started to get her
into trouble. It made her touchy. Up to 1841 she had poisoned
for the pleasure of it, masking her secret turpitude with an
outward show of piety, of being helpful in time of trouble. By
the time she arrived in Rennes, in 1848, after seven years during
which her murderous proclivities seem to have slept, her
character as a worker, if not as a Christian, had deteriorated.
Her piety, in the face of her fondness for alcohol and her
slovenly habits, and against her now frequently exhibited bursts
of temper and ill-will, appeared the hypocrisy it actually was.
Her essays in poisoning now had purpose and motive behind them.
Nemesis, so long at her heels, overtook her.
It is not clear in the accounts available to me just what
particular murders by poison, what attempts at poisoning, and
what thefts Helene was charged with in the indictment at Rennes.
Twenty-three poisonings, six attempts, and a number of thefts had
been washed out, it may be as well to repeat, by the prescription
legale. But from her arrival in Rennes, leaving the thefts out
of account, her activities had accounted for the following: In
the Rabot household one death (Albert, the son) and three
illnesses (Rabot, Mme Rabot, the mother-in-law); in the Ozanne
establishment one death (that of the little son), in the hotel of
the Roussells one death (that of Perrotte Mace) and one illness
(that of the Veuve Roussell); at the Bidards two deaths (Rose
Tessier and Rosalie Sarrazin). In this last establishment there
was also one attempt at poisoning which I have not yet mentioned,
that of a young servant, named Francoise Huriaux, who for a short
time had taken the place of Rose Tessier. We thus have five
deaths and five attempts in Rennes, all of which could be
indictable. But, as already stated, the indictment covered three
deaths and three attempts.
It is hard to say, from verbatim reports of the trial, where the
matter of the indictment begins to be handled. It would seem
from the evidence produced that proof was sought of all five
deaths and all five attempts that Helene was supposed to be
guilty of in Rennes. The father of the boy Ozanne was called
before the Rabot witnesses, though the Rabot death and illnesses
occurred before the death of the Ozanne child. We may, however,
take the order of affairs as dealt with in the court. We may see
something of motive on Helene's part suggested in M. Ozanne's
evidence, and an indication of her method of covering her crime.
M. Ozanne said that Helene, in his house, drank eau de vie in
secret, and, to conceal her thefts, filled the bottle up with
cider. He discovered the trick, and reproached Helene for it.
She denied the accusation with vigour, and angrily announced her
intention of leaving. Mme Ozanne took pity on Helene, and told
her she might remain several days longer. On the Tuesday
following the young child became ill. The illness seemed to be a
fleeting one, and the father and mother thought he had recovered.
On the Saturday, however, the boy was seized by vomiting, and the
parents wondered if they should send for the doctor. ``If the
word was mine,'' said Helene, who had the boy on her knees, ``and
the child as ill as he looks, I should not hesitate.'' The
doctor was sent for about noon on Sunday. He thought it only a
slight illness. Towards evening the child began to complain of
pain all over his body. His hands and feet were icy cold. His
body grew taut. About six o'clock the doctor came back. ``My
God!'' he exclaimed. ``It's the croup!'' He tried to apply
leeches, but the boy died within a few minutes. Helene hastened
the little body into its shroud.
Helene, said Ozanne, always talked of poison if anyone left their
food. ``Do you think I'm poisoning you?'' she would ask.
A girl named Cambrai gave evidence that Helene, coming away from
the cemetery after the burial of the child, said to her, ``I am
not so sorry about the child. Its parents have treated me
shabbily.'' The witness thought Helene too insensitive and
``That's a lie!'' the accused shouted. ``I loved the child!''
The doctor, M. Brute, gave evidence next. He still believed the
child had died of a croup affection, the most violent he had ever
seen. The President questioned him closely on the symptoms he
had seen in the child, but the doctor stuck to his idea. He had
seen nothing to make him suspect poisoning.
The President: ``It is strange that in all the cases we have
under review the doctors saw nothing at first that was serious.
They admit illness and prescribe mild remedies, and then,
suddenly, the patients get worse and die.''
M. Victor Rabot was called next. To begin with, he said,
Helene's services were satisfactory. He had given her notice
because he found her stealing his wine. Upon this Helene showed
the greatest discontent, and it was then that Mme Rabot fell ill.
A nurse was put in charge of her, but Helene found a way to get
rid of her. Helene had no love for his child. The child had a
horror of the servant, because she was dirty and took snuff. In
consequence Helene had a spite against the boy. Helene had never
been seen eating any of the dishes prepared for the family, and
even insisted on keeping certain of the kitchen dishes for her
At the request of his father-in-law Helene had gone to get a
bottle of violet syrup from the pharmacist. The bottle was not
capped. His father-in-law thought the syrup had gone bad,
because it was as red as mulberry syrup, and refused to give it
to his daughter (Mme Rabot). The bottle was returned to the
pharmacist, who remarked that the colour of the syrup had
changed, and that he did not recognize it as his own.
Mme Rabot having corroborated her husband's evidence, and told of
Helene's bad temper, thieving, and disorderliness, Dr Vincent
Guyot, of Rennes, was called.
Dr Guyot described the illness of the boy Albert and its result.
He then went on to describe the illness of Mme Rabot. He and his
confreres had attributed her sickness to the fact that she was
enceinte, and to the effect of her child's death upon her while
in that condition. A miscarriage of a distressing nature
confirmed the first prognosis. But later he and his confreres
saw reason to change their minds. He believed the boy had been
poisoned, though he could not be certain. The mother, he was
convinced, had been the victim of an attempt at poisoning, an
opinion which found certainty in the case of Mme Briere. If Mme
Rabot's pregnancy went some way in explaining her illness there
was nothing of this in the illness of her mother. The
explanation of everything was in repeated dosing of an arsenical
The witness had also attended Mme Roussell, of the Bout-du-Monde
hotel. It was remarkable that the violent sickness to which this
lady was subject for twenty days did not answer to treatment, but
stopped only when she gave up taking food prepared for her by
He had also looked after Perrotte Mace. Here also he had had
doubts of the nature of the malady; at one time he had suspected
pregnancy, a suspicion for which there were good grounds. But
the symptoms that later developed were not consistent with the
first diagnosis. When Perrotte died he and M. Revault, his
confrere, thought the cause of death would be seen as poison in
an autopsy. But the post-mortem was rejected by the parents.
His feeling to-day was that Mme Roussell's paralysis was due to
arsenical dosage, and that Perrotte had died of poisoning.
Helene, speaking to him of Perrotte, had said, ``She's a chest
subject. She'll never get better!'' And she had used the same
phrase, ``never get better,'' with regard to little Rabot.
M. Morio, the pharmacist of Rennes from whom the violet syrup was
bought, said that Helene had often complained to him about Mme
Roussell. During the illness of the Rabot boy she had said that
the child was worse than anyone imagined, and that he would never
recover. In the matter of the violet syrup he agreed it had come
back to him looking red. The bottle had been put to one side,
but its contents had been thrown away, and he had therefore been
unable to experiment with it. He had found since, however, that
arsenic in powder form did not turn violet syrup red, though
possibly arsenic in solution with boiling water might produce the
effect. The change seen in the syrup brought back from M.
Rabot's was not to be accounted for by such fermentation as the
mere warmth of the hand could bring about.
Several witnesses, interrupted by denials and explanations from
the accused, testified to having heard Helene say that neither
the Rabot boy nor his mother would recover.
The evidence of M. Roussell, of the Bout-du-Monde hotel, touched
on the illnesses of his mother and Perrotte. He knew nothing of
the food prepared by Helene; nor had the idea of poison occurred
to him until her arrest. Helene's detestable character, her
quarrels with other servants, and, above all, the thefts of wine
he had found her out in were the sole causes of her dismissal.
He had noticed that Helene never ate with the other domestics.
She always found an excuse for not doing so. She said she had
stomach trouble and could not hold down her food.
The Veuve Roussell had to be helped into court by her son. She
dealt with her own illness and with the death of Perrotte. Her
illness did not come on until she had scolded Helene for her bad
Dr Revault, confrere of Guyot, regretted the failure to perform a
post-mortem on the body of Perrotte. He had said to Roussell
that if Perrotte's illness was analogous to cholera it was,
nevertheless, not that disease. He believed it was due to a
The President: ``Chemical analysis has proved the presence of
arsenic in the viscera of Perrotte. Who administered that
arsenic, the existence of which was so shrewdly foreseen by the
witness? Who gave her the arsenic? [To Helene] Do you know?
Was it not you that gave it her, Helene?''
At this Helene murmured something unintelligible, but, gathering
her voice, she protested, ``I have never had arsenic in my hands,
Monsieur le President--never!''
Something of light relief was provided by Jean Andre, the
cabinet-making ostler of Saint-Gilles, he for whose attention
Helene had been a rival with Perrotte Mace.
``The service Helene gave was excellent. So was mine. She
nursed Perrotte perfectly, but said it was in vain, because the
doctors were mishandling the disease. She told me one day that
she was tired of service, and that her one wish was to retire.''
``Did you attach a certain idea to the confidence about
``No!'' Andre replied energetically.
``You were in hospital. When you came back, did Helene take good
care of you?''
``She gave me bouillon every morning to build me up.''
``The bouillon she gave you did you no harm?''
``On the contrary, it did me a lot of good.''
``Wasn't the accused jealous of Perrotte--that good-looking girl
who gave you so much of her favour?''
``In her life Perrotte was a good girl. She never was out of
sorts for a moment--never rubbed one the wrong way.''
``Didn't Helene say to you that Perrotte would never recover?''
``Yes, she said that. `She's a lost woman,' she said; `the
doctors are going the wrong way with the disease.'
``All the same,'' Andre went on, ``Helene never ate with us. She
worked night and day, but ate in secret, I believe. Anyhow, a
friend of mine told me he'd once seen her eating a crust of
bread, and chewing some other sort of food at the same time. As
for me--I don't know; but I don't think you can live without
``I couldn't keep down what I ate,'' Helene interposed. ``I took
some bouillon here and there; sometimes a mouthful of
bread--nothing in secret. I never thought of Andre in
marriage--not him more than another. That was all a joke.''
A number of witnesses, friends of Perrotte, who had seen her
during her illness, spoke of the extreme dislike the girl had
shown for Helene and for the liquids the latter prepared for her.
Perrotte would say to Helene, ``But you're dirty, you ugly
Bretonne!'' Perrotte had a horror of bouillon: ``Ah--these
vegetable soups! I've had enough of them! It was what Helene
gave me that night that made me ill!'' The witnesses did not
understand all this, because the accused seemed to be very good
to her fellow-servant. At the bedside Helene cried, ``Ah! What
can I do that will save you, my poor Perrotte?'' When Perrotte
was dying she wanted to ask Helene's pardon. Embracing the dying
girl, the accused replied, ``Ah! There's no need for that, my
poor Perrotte. I know you didn't mean anything.''
A witness telling of soup Helene had made for Perrotte, which the
girl declared to have been poisoned, it was asked what happened
to the remainder of it. The President passed the question to
Helene, who said she had thrown it into the hearth.
The most complete and important testimony in the trial was given
by M. Theophile Bidard, professor to the law faculty of Rennes.
The facts he had to bring forward, he said, had taken no
significance in his mind until the last of them transpired. He
would have to go back into the past to trace them in their proper
He recalled the admission of Helene to his domestic staff and the
good recommendations on which he had engaged her. From the first
Helene proved herself to have plenty of intelligence, and he had
believed that her intelligence was combined with goodness of
heart. This was because he had heard that by her work she was
supporting two small children, as well as her poor old mother,
who had no other means of sustenance.
(The reader will recollect that Helene was orphaned at the age of
Nevertheless, said M. Bidard, Helene was not long in his
household before her companion, Rose Tessier, began to suffer in
plenty from the real character of Helene Jegado.
Rose had had a fall, an accident which had left her with pains in
her back. There were no very grave symptoms but Helene
prognosticated dire results. One night, when the witness was
absent in the country, Helene rose from her bed, and, approaching
her fellow-servant's room, called several times in a sepulchral
voice, ``Rose, Rose!'' That poor girl took fright, and hid under
the bedclothes, trembling.
Next day Rose complained to witness, who took his domestics to
task. Helene pretended it was the farm-boy who had perpetrated
the bad joke. She then declared that she herself had heard some
one give a loud knock. ``I thought,'' she said, ``that I was
hearing the call for poor Rose.''
On Sunday, the 3rd of November, 1850, M. Bidard, who had been in
the country, returned to Rennes. After dinner that day, a meal
which she had taken in common with Helene, Rose was seized with
violent sickness. Helene lavished on her the most motherly
attention. She made tea, and sat up the night with the invalid.
In the morning, though she still felt ill, Rose got up. Helene
made tea for her again. Rose once more was sick, violently, and
her sickness endured until the witness himself had administered
copious draughts of tea prepared by himself. Rose passed a
fairly good night, and Dr Pinault, who was called in, saw nothing
more in the sickness than some nervous affection. But on the day
of the 5th the vomitings returned. Helene exclaimed, ``The
doctors do not understand the disease. Rose is going to die!''
The prediction seemed foolish as far as immediate appearances
were concemed, for Rose had an excellent pulse and no trace of
In the night between Tuesday and Wednesday the patient was calm,
but on the morning of Wednesday she had vomitings with intense
stomach pains. From this time on, said the witness, the life of
Rose, which was to last only thirty-six hours, was nothing but a
long-drawn and heart-rending cry of agony. She drew her last
breath on the Thursday evening at half-past five. During her
whole illness, added M. Bidard, Rose was attended by none save
Helene and himself.
Rose's mother came. In Rose the poor woman had lost a beloved
child and her sole support. She was prostrated. Helene's grief
seemed to equal the mother's. Tears were ever in her eyes, and
her voice trembled. Her expressions of regret almost seemed to
There was a moment when the witness had his doubts. It was on
the way back from the cemetery. For a fleeting instant he
thought that the shaking of Helene's body was more from glee than
sorrow, and he momentarily accused her in his mind of hypocrisy.
But in the following days Helene did nothing but talk of ``that
poor Rose,'' and M. Bidard, before her persistence, could only
believe he had been mistaken. ``Ah!'' Helene said. ``I loved
her as I did that poor girl who died in the Bout-du-Monde.''
The witness wanted to find some one to take Rose's place. Helene
tried to dissuade him. ``Never mind another femme de chambre,''
she said. ``I will do everything.'' M. Bidard contented himself
with engaging another girl, Francoise Huriaux, strong neither in
intelligence nor will, but nevertheless a sweet little creature.
Not many days passed before Helene began to make the girl
unhappy. ``It's a lazy-bones,'' Helene told the witness. ``She
does not earn her keep.'' (``Le pain qu'elle mange, elle le
vole.'') M. Bidard shut her up. That was his affair, he said.
Francoise meantime conceived a fear of Helene. She was so scared
of the older woman that she obeyed all her orders without
resistance. The witness, going into the kitchen one day, found
Helene eating her soup at one end of the table, while Francoise
dealt with hers at the other extreme. He told Helene that in
future she was to serve the repast in common, on a tablecloth,
and that it was to include dessert from his table. This order
seemed to vex Helene extremely. ``That girl seems to live
without eating,'' she said, ``and she never seems to sleep.''
One day the witness noticed that the hands and face of Francoise
were puffy. He spoke to Helene about it, who became angry. She
accused her companion of getting up in the night to make tea, so
wasting the sugar, and she swore she would lock the sugar up. M.
Bidard told her to do nothing of the sort. He said if Francoise
had need of sugar she was to have it. ``All right--I see,''
Helene replied sullenly, obviously put out.
The swelling M. Bidard had seen in the face and hands of
Francoise attacked her legs, and all service became impossible
for the girl. The witness was obliged to entrust Helene with the
job of finding another chambermaid. It was then that she brought
Rosalie Sarrazin to him. ``A very good girl,'' she said. `` If
her dress is poor it is because she gives everything to her
The words, M. Bidard commented, were said by Helene with
remarkable sincerity. It was said that Helene had no moral
sense. It seemed to him, from her expressions regarding that
poor girl, who, like herself, devoted herself to her mother, that
Helene was far from lacking in that quality.
Engaging Rosalie, the witness said to his new domestic, ``You
will find yourself dealing with a difficult companion. Do not
let her be insolent to you. You must assert yourself from the
start. I do not want Helene to rule you as she ruled
Francoise.'' At the same time he repeated his order regarding
the service of the kitchen meals. Helene manifested a sullen
opposition. ``Who ever heard of tablecloths for the servants?''
she said. ``It is ridiculous!''
In the first days the tenderness between Helene and the new girl
was quite touching. But circumstance arose to end the harmony.
Rosalie could write. On the 23rd of May the witness told Helene
that he would like her to give him an account of expenses. The
request made Helene angry, and increased her spite against the
more educated Rosalie. Helene attempting to order Rosalie about,
the latter laughingly told her, ``M. Bidard pays me to obey him.
If I have to obey you also you'll have to pay me too.'' From
that time Helene conceived an aversion from the girl.
About the time when Helene began to be sour to Rosalie she
herself was seized by vomitings. She complained to Mlle Bidard,
a cousin of the witness, that Rosalie neglected her. But when
the latter went up to her room Helene yelled at her, `` Get out,
you ugly brute! In you I've brought into the house a stick for
my own back!''
This sort of quarrelling went on without ceasing. At the
beginning of June the witness said to Helene, ``If this continues
you'll have to look for another place.'' ``That's it!'' Helene
yelled, in reply. ``Because of that girl I'll have to go!''
On the 10th of June M. Bidard gave Helene definite notice. It
was to take effect on St John's Day. At his evening meal he was
served with a roast and some green peas. These last he did not
touch. In spite of his prohibition against her serving at table,
it was Helene who brought the peas in. ``How's this?'' she said
to him. ``You haven't eaten your green peas--and them so good!''
Saying this, she snatched up the dish and carried it to the
kitchen. Rosalie ate some of the peas. No sooner had she taken
a few spoonfuls, however, than she grew sick, and presently was
seized by vomiting. Helene took no supper. She said she was out
of sorts and wanted none.
The witness did not hear of these facts until next day. He
wanted to see the remainder of the peas, but they could not be
found. Rosalie still kept being sick, and he bade her go and see
his doctor, M. Boudin. Helene, on a sudden amiable to Rosalie
where she had been sulky, offered to go with her. Dr Boudin
prescribed an emetic, which produced good effects.
On the 15th of June Rosalie seemed to have recovered. In the
meantime a cook presented herself at his house to be engaged in
place of Helene. The latter was acquainted with the new-comer.
A vegetable soup had been prescribed for Rosalie, and this Helene
prepared. The convalescent ate some, and at once fell prey to
violent sickness. That same day Helene came in search of the
witness. ``You're never going to dismiss me for that young
girl?'' she demanded angrily. M. Bidard relented. He said that
if she would promise to keep the peace with Rosalie he would let
her stay on. Helene seemed to be satisfied, and behaved better
to Rosalie, who began to mend again.
M. Bidard went into the country on the 21st of June, taking
Rosalie with him. They returned on the 22nd. The witness
himself went to the pharmacy to get a final purgative of Epsom
salts, which had been ordered for Rosalie by the doctor. This
the witness himself divided into three portions, each of which he
dissolved in separate glasses of whey prepared by Helene. The
witness administered the first dose. Helene gave the last. The
invalid vomited it. She was extremely ill on the night of the
22nd-23rd, and Helene returned to misgivings about the skill of
the doctors. She kept repeating, ``Ah! Rosalie will die! I
tell you she will die!'' On the day of the 23rd she openly
railed against them. M. Boudin had prescribed leeches and
blisters. ``Look at that now, monsieur,'' Helene said to the
witness. ``To-morrow's Rosalie's name-day, and they're going to
put leeches on her!'' Rather disturbed, M. Bidard wrote to Dr
Pinault, who came next day and gave the treatment his approval.
Dr Boudin had said the invalid might have gooseberry syrup with
seltzer water. Two glasses of the mixture given to Rosalie by
her mother seemed to do the girl good, but after the third glass
she did not want any more. Helene had given her this third
glass. The invalid said to the witness, ``I don't know what
Helene has put into my drink, but it burns me like red-hot
``Struck by those symptoms,'' added M. Bidard, ``I questioned
Helene at once. It has not been given me more than twice in my
life to see Helene's eyes. I saw at that moment the look she
flung at Rosalie. It was the look of a wild beast, a tiger-cat.
At that moment my impulse was to go to my work-room for a cord,
and to tie her up and drag her to the justiciary. But one
reflection stopped me. What was this I was about to do--disgrace
a woman on a mere suspicion? I hesitated. I did not know
whether I had before me a poisoner or a woman of admirable
The witness enlarged on the tortures of mind he experienced
during the night, but said he found reason to congratulate
himself on not having given way to his first impulse. On the
morning of the 24th Helene came running to him, all happiness, to
say that Rosalie was better.
Three days later Rosalie seemed to be nearly well, so much so
that M. Bidard felt he might safely go into the country. Next
day, however, he was shocked by the news that Rosalie was as ill
as ever. He hastened to return to Rennes.
On the night of the 28th-29th the sickness continued with
intensity. Every two hours the invalid was given calming
medicine prescribed by Dr Boudin. Each time the sickness
redoubled in violence. Believing it was a case of worms, the
witness got out of bed, and substituted for the medicine a strong
infusion of garlic. This stopped the sickness temporarily. At
six in the morning it began again.
The witness then ran to Dr Pinault's, but met the doctor in the
street with his confrere, Dr Guyot. To the two doctors M. Bidard
expressed the opinion that there were either worms in the
intestines or else the case was one of poisoning. ``I have
thought that,'' said Dr Pinault, ``remembering the case of the
other girl.'' The doctors went back with M. Bidard to his house.
Magnesia was administered in a strong dose. The vomiting
stopped. But it was too late.
Until that day the witness's orders that the ejected matter from
the invalid should be conserved had been ignored. The moment a
vessel was dirty Helene took it away and cleaned it. But now the
witness took the vessels himself, and locked them up in a
cupboard for which he alone had the key. His action seemed to
disturb Helene Jegado. From this he judged that she had intended
destroying the poison she had administered.
From that time Rosalie was put into the care of her mother and a
nurse. Helene tried hard to be rid of the two women, accusing
them of tippling to the neglect of the invalid. ``I will sit up
with her,'' she said to the witness. The witness did not want
her to do so, but he could not prevent her joining the mother.
In the meantime Rosalie suffered the most dreadful agonies. She
could neither sit up nor lie down, but threw herself about with
great violence. During this time Helene was constantly coming
and going about her victim. She had not the courage, however, to
watch her victim die. At five in the morning she went out to
market, leaving the mother alone with her child. The poor
mother, worn out with her exertions, also went out, to ask for
help from friends. Rosalie died in the presence of the witness
at seven o'clock in the morning of the 1st of July. Helene
returned. ``It is all over,'' said the witness. Helene's first
move was to look for the vessels containing the ejections of the
invalid to throw them out. These were green in hue. M. Bidard
stopped her, and locked the vessels up. That same day justice
M. Bidard's deposition had held his hearers spellbound for over
an hour and a half. He had believed, he added finally, that, in
spite of her criminal conduct, Helene at least was a faithful
servant. He had been wrong. She had put his cellar to pillage,
and in her chest they had found many things belonging to him,
besides a diamond belonging to his daughter and her wedding-ring.
The President questioned Helene on the points of this important
deposition. Helene simply denied everything. It had not been
she who was jealous of Rosalie, but Rosalie who had been jealous
of her. She had given the two girls all the nursing she could,
with no intention but that of helping them to get better. To the
observation of the President, once again, that arsenic had been
administered, and to his question, what person other than she had
a motive for poisoning the girls, or had such opportunity for
doing so, Helene answered defiantly, ``You won't redden my face
by talking of arsenic. I defy anybody to say they saw me give
The Procureur-General invited M. Bidard to say what amount of
intelligence he had found in Helene. M. Bidard declared that he
had never seen in any of his servants an intelligence so acute or
subtle. He held her to be a phenomenon in hypocrisy. He put
forward a fact which he had neglected to mention in his
deposition. It might throw light on the character of the
accused. Francoise had a dress hanging up to dry in the mansard.
Helene went up to the garret above this, made a hole in the
ceiling, and dropped oil of vitriol on her companion's dress to
Dr Pinault gave an account of Rosalie's illness, and spoke of the
suspicions he and his colleagues had had of poisoning. It was a
crime, however, for which there seemed to be no motive. The
poisoner could hardly be M. Bidard, and as far as suspicion might
touch the cook, she seemed to be lavish in her care of the
patient. It was not until the very last that he, with his
colleagues, became convinced of poison.
Rosalie dead, the justiciary went to M. Bidard's. The cupboards
were searched carefully. The potion which Rosalie had thought to
be mixed with burning stuff was still there, just sampled. It
was put into a bottle and capped.
An autopsy could not now be avoided. It was held next day. M.
Pinault gave an account of the results. Most of the organs were
in a normal condition, and such slight alterations as could be
seen in others would not account for death. It was concluded
that death had been occasioned by poison. The autopsy on the
exhumed body of Perrotte Mace was inconclusive, owing to the
condition of adipocere.
Dr Guyot spoke of the case of Francoise Huriaux, and was now sure
she had been given poison in small doses. Dr Boudin described
the progress of Rosalie's illness. He was in no doubt, like his
colleagues, that she had been poisoned.
The depositions of various witnesses followed. A laundress said
that Helene's conduct was to be explained by jealousy. She could
not put up with any supervision, but wanted full control ofthe
household and ofthe money.
Francoise Huriaux said Helene was angry because M. Bidard would
not have her as sole domestic. She had resented Francoise's
being engaged. The witness noticed that she became ill whenever
she ate food prepared for her by Helene. When she did not eat
Helene was angry but threw out the food Francoise refused.
Several witnesses testified to the conduct of Helene towards
Rosalie Sarrazin during her fatal illness. Helene was constant,
self-sacrificing, in her attention to the invalid. One incident,
however, was described by a witness which might indicate that
Helene's solicitude was not altogether genuine. One morning,
towards the end of Rosalie's life, the patient, in her agony,
escaped from the hold of her mother, and fell into an awkward
position against the wall. Rosalie's mother asked Helene to
place a pillow for her. ``Ma foi!'' Helene replied. ``You're
beginning to weary me. You're her mother! Help her yourself!''
The testimony of a neighbour, one Francoise Louarne, a domestic
servant, supports the idea that Helene resented the presence of
Rosalie in the house. Helene said to this witness, ``M. Bidard
has gone into the country with his housemaid. Everything SHE
does is perfect. They leave me here--to work if I want to, eat
my bread dry: that's my reward. But the housemaid will go before
I do. Although M. Bidard has given me my notice, he'll have to
order me out before I'll go. Look!'' Helene added. ``Here's the
bed of the ugly housemaid--in a room not too far from the
master's. Me--they stick me up in the mansard!'' Later, when
Rosalie was very ill, Helene pretended to be grieved. ``You
can't be so very sorry,'' the witness remarked; ``you've said
plenty that was bad about the girl.''
Helene vigorously denounced the testimony as all lies. The woman
had never been near Bidard's house.
The pharmacist responsible for dispensing the medicines given to
Rosalie was able to show that arsenic could not have got into
them by mistake on his part.
At the hearing of the trial on the 12th of December Dr Pinault
was asked to tell what happened when the emissions of Rosalie
Sarrazin were being transferred for analysis.
DR PINAULT. As we were carrying out the operation Helene came
in, and it was plain that she was put out of countenance.
M. BIDARD [interposing]. We were in my daughter's room, where
nobody ever came. When Helene came to the door I was surprised.
There was no explanation for her appearance except that she was
DR PINAULT. She seemed to be disturbed at not finding the
emissions by the bed of the dead girl, and it was no doubt to
find them that she came to the room.
HELENE. I had been given a funnel to wash. I was bringing it
M. BIDARD. Helene, with her usual cleverness, is making the most
of a fact. She had already appeared when she was given the
funnel. Her presence disturbed me. And to get rid of her I
said, ``Here, Helene, take this away and wash it.''
The accused persisted in denying M. Bidard's version of the
M. Malagutti, professor of chemistry to the faculty of sciences
in Rennes, who, with M. Sarzeau, had been asked to make a
chemical analysis of the reserved portions of the bodies of
Rosalie, Perrotte Mace, and Rose Tessier, gave the results of his
and his colleague s investigations. In the case of Rosalie they
had also examined the vomitings. The final test on the portions
of Rosalie's body carried out with hydrochloronitric acid--as
best for the small quantities likely to result in poisoning by
small doses--gave a residue which was submitted to the Marsh
test. The tube showed a definite arsenic ring. Tests on the
vomit gave the same result.
The poisoning of Perrotte Mace had also been accomplished by
small doses. Arsenic was found after the strictest tests, which
obviated all possibility that the substance could have come from
the ground in which the body was interred.
In the case of Rose Tessier the tests yielded a huge amount of
arsenic. Rose had died after an illness of only four days. The
large amount of arsenic indicated a brutal and violent poisoning,
in which the substance could not be excreted in the usual way.
The President then addressed the accused on this evidence. She
alone had watched near all three of the victims, and against all
three she had motives of hate. Poisoning was established beyond
all doubt. Who was the poisoner if not she, Helene Jegado?
Helene: ``Frankly, I have nothing to reproach myself with. I
gave them only what came from the pharmacies on the orders of the
After evidence of Helene's physical condition, by a doctor who
had seen her in prison (she had a scirrhous tumour on her left
breast), the speech for the defence was made.
M. Dorange was very eloquent, but he had a hopeless case. The
defence he put up was that Helene was irresponsible, but the
major part of the advocate's speech was taken up with a
denouncement of capital punishment. It was a barbarous
anachronism, a survival which disgraced civilization.
The President summed up and addressed the jury:
``Cast a final scrutiny, gentlemen of the jury,'' he said, ``at
the matter brought out by these debates. Consult yourselves in
the calm and stillness of your souls. If it is not proved to you
that Helene Jegado is responsible for her actions you will acquit
her. If you think that, without being devoid of free will and
moral sense, she is not, according to the evidence, as well
gifted as the average in humanity, you will give her the benefit
of extenuating circumstance.
``But if you consider her culpable, if you cannot see in her
either debility of spirit or an absence or feebleness of moral
sense, you will do your duty with firmness. You will remember
that for justice to be done chastisement will not alone suffice,
but that punishment must be in proportion to the offence.''
The President then read over his questions for the jury, and that
body retired. After deliberations which occupied an hour and a
half the jury came back with a verdict of guilty on all points.
The Procureur asked for the penalty of death.
THE PRESIDENT. Helene Jegado, have you anything to say upon the
application of the penalty?
HELENE. No, Monsieur le President, I am innocent. I am resigned
to everything. I would rather die innocent than live in guilt.
You have judged me, but God will judge you all. He will see then
. . . Monsieur Bidard. All those false witnesses who have come
here to destroy me . . . they will see. . . .
In a voice charged with emotion the President pronounced the
sentence condemning Helene Jegado to death.
An appeal was put forward on her behalf, but was rejected.
On the scaffold, a few moments before she passed into eternity,
having no witness but the recorder and the executioner, faithful
to the habits of her life, Helene Jegado accused a woman not
named in any of the processes of having urged her to her first
crimes and of being her accomplice. The two officials took no
notice of this indirect confession of her own guilt, and the
sentence was carried out. The Procureur of Rennes, hearing of
this confession, took the trouble to search out the woman named
in it. She turned out to be a very old woman of such a pious and
kindly nature that the people about her talked of her as the
It were superfluous to embark on analysis of the character of
Helene Jegado. Earlier on, in comparing her with Van der Linden
and the Zwanziger woman, I have lessened her caliginosity as
compared with that of the Leyden poisoner, giving her credit for
one less death than her Dutch sister in crime. Having
investigated Helene's activities rather more closely, however, I
find I have made mention of no less than twenty-eight deaths
attributed to Helene, which puts her one up on the Dutchwoman.
The only possible point at which I may have gone astray in my
calculations is in respect of the deaths at Guern. The accounts
I have of Helene's bag there insist on seven, but enumerate only
six--namely, her sister Anna, the cure, his father and mother,
and two more (unnamed) after these. The accounts, nevertheless,
insist more than once that between 1833 and 1841 Helene put away
twenty-three persons. If she managed only six at Guern, that
total should be twenty-two. From 1849 she accounted for Albert
Rabot, the infant Ozanne, Perrotte Mace, Rose Tessier, and
Rosalie Sarrazin--five. We need no chartered accountant to
certify our figures if we make the total twenty-eight. Give her
the benefit of the doubt in the case of Albert Rabot, who was ill
anyhow when Helene joined the household, and she still ties with
Van der Linden with twenty-seven deaths.
There is much concerning Helene Jegado, recorded incidents, that
I might have introduced into my account of her activities, and
that might have emphasized the outstanding feature of her dingy
make-up--that is, her hypocrisy. When Rosalie Sarrazin was
fighting for her life, bewailing the fact that she was dying at
the age of nineteen, Helene Jegado took a crucifix and made the
girl kiss it, saying to her, ``Here is the Saviour Who died for
you! Commend your soul to Him!'' This, with the canting piety
of the various answers which she gave in court (and which, let me
say, I have transcribed with some reluctance), puts Helene Jegado
almost on a level with the sanctimonious Dr Pritchard--perhaps
quite on a level with that nauseating villain.
With her twenty-three murders all done without motive, and the
five others done for spite--with her twenty-eight murders, only
five of which were calculated to bring advantage, and that of the
smallest value--it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Helene
Jegado was mad. In spite, however, of evidence called in her
defence--as, for example, that of Dr Pitois, of Rennes, who was
Helene's own doctor, and who said that ``the woman had a bizarre