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Thriller Thursday: A Real Life Bluebeard

Old fairy tales are scary as hell. In The Legend of Bluebeard (“La Barbe bleue”, Tales of Mother Goose, Charles Perrault, 1697), a hideous man with a strange blue beard and a wealthy estate is known to have had several wives who disappeared. His new wife is soon left alone on the estate, and he hands her a set of keys. She may open any room she wishes, except for the small closet at the end of the basement. Naturally, as soon as he was gone, the wife rushed to the basement closest, only to find the seven previous wives of Bluebeard, their throats slashed from ear to ear. Bluebeard discovers her treachery and vows her to death, but her brothers arrived to save her. The wife inherited his fortune, and she and her family lived happily ever after.

A children’s fairytale, meant to teach God only knows what, but in the early 1900s, one of the world’s first lonely hearts predators killed ten women, earning the chilling nickname Bluebeard.

Henri Landru, France’s real life “Bluebeard.”

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

He killed ten of them.

Born in 1869 to an average family, Landru’s childhood was uneventful. His mother was a housewife, his father a fireman at Paris’ Vulcain Ironworks. Landru attended Catholic school and was drafted to the French Army at the age of 18. In 1891, he managed to seduce his cousin, who bore him a daughter. He married another woman two years later, quit the military, and began working as a clerk.

Landru after his arrest in 1919.

Unfortunately, his employer swindled Landru out of a large sum of money. This turned Landru to a life of crime and revenge. Many of his victims were windows he’d meet through his legitimate furniture business. Lonely and faced with poverty, these widows made easy targets.

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

Madame Cuchet

His first known murder victim is Madame Cuchet, a 39-year-old widow. She was nearly destitute when Landru swept in to save the day. Cuchet’s brother was suspicious of Landru, but she ignored his warning. She and Landru moved to a villa in Vernouillet with her son. Mother and son were last seen alive in 1915. Landru’s wife was later presented with Cuchet’s watch as a present.

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

Madame Laborde-Line

Then came Madame Guillen, a 51-year-old widow, followed by Madame Heon. Both visited Landru’s villa in Vernouillet and disappeared.

Andree Babelay, a servant girl, also disappeared. No one knows why Landru chose to kill her–she certainly had no money to offer.

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

Madame Buisson

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

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

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

All of Landru’s known murder victims.

Remember the first Gambias victim, Madame Buisson? Two years after she’d disappeared with Landru, her son passed away. Her sister began searching for the woman, finally writing to the mayor of Gambais. She told the mayor her sister’s intention had been to run away with a man named Guilett (Landru’s alias). The mayor suggested she meet with the family of Madame Collumb, who had also vanished under similar circumstances in 1917.

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

Landru’s arrest.

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

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

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

An image of Landru heading to the guillotine.

In February, 1922, Landru faced the guillotine. He showed little remorse for his actions, although he did express embarrassment his wife would discover the affair he was having at the time of his arrest. Some argue that because Landru killed for financial gain rather than a sexual motive, he can’t be classified as a serial killer. Rather, he overlaps categories, becoming a sort of Black Widow spider, taking what he needed and killing his mate with no remorse.

What do you think? Was Landru more complex than the modern serial killer? Did he receive a fair trial, or should he have been released for lack of a true body?

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Thanks to Catie Rhodes for the topic!

27 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: A Real Life Bluebeard”

  1. I enjoy these older tales. It’s interesting to imagine how the investigators ever caught anyone before modern forensics. It must have been a whole different game, back then.

    • Me, too. I think I’ll do more of them. Catie is really good at finding these sorts of topics, lol. Yes, modern forensics have changed so much. I’ve no doubt Jack the Ripper would have easily been caught with them. Thanks!

  2. beverlydiehl

    Oooh, suitably creepy guy. Not sure whether he’s a “classic” serial killer or not – he must have had some kind of payoff from the romantic angle, or why not simply swindle men?

    I actually love the story of Bluebeard, as orally told and then explained by Clarissa Pinkola Estes on her Women Who Run with the Wolves audio series. (There’s a book, too, but I recommend the CD’s or MP3’s – some things are MEANT to be listened to.)

    I sometimes get noxious fumes from my neighbors, but I’m pretty sure it’s only cigarette smoke.

    • I agree, Beverly. Even if he wasn’t a sexual sadist or sexually driven, I think he still enjoyed the control he had over these women. And for whatever reason, saw them as disposable.
      I’d never heard of Bluebeard until Catie told me about him. I’ll have to check those audios out. LOL at the noxious fumes. I can’t even imagine. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Bluebeard is one of the stories I vividly recall reading as a child. It was a chilling tale that I read over and over, even though it scared me to pieces to see that woman with the keys in hand and making the discovery that her husband was a vicious murderer.

    In the Landru case, I think the bones and circumstancial evidence were certainly enough to convict. I am impressed with Buisson’s sister. Much like Bluebeard’s wife, she discovered the truth and stopped the killings through her actions. It’s a shame no one put two and two together before her discovery. Great post, Stacy. This was chilling as well.

    • I’d never heard of it until Catie told me, but I love it. Love the classic fairy tales as they were meant to be, not the watered down modern stuff.

      I agree, I think there was enough to convict, and I love the parallel you draw between the sister and Bluebeard’s wife. That’s very true! Thanks so much:)

  4. Oh, man. When I read the part about him installing the oven in his house, I almost threw up my coffee. o.O I knew what was coming–nothin’ good. How serendipitous that the sister was so dogged in her determination to find him, and recognized him coming out of a shop! Wow. I hate to imagine how many more lives he would’ve destroyed if she hadn’t. He’s definitely complex, but he seems to fit a lot of the characteristics of today’s psychopath–remorseless, superficially charming, viciously egotistical and at odds with the law.

    • Yeah, that was pretty gross. Dahmer-esque, although he boiled his victims, I think. Yes, I think the sister is the true hero of the story, especially for a lady of that time period. She was determined. And I agree, he might overlap, but he was a psychopath. However, I feel like there must be some more to the beginning of his story. I just felt like a piece was missing, but couldn’t find it.

  5. CREEPY!!! I think he was every bit a serial killer much like those we’ve seen throughout history – killing without remorse or regard. Especially when you think of the lengths he went to make families think the women were still alive – arg!
    I think he received a fair trial and love that even back then, they’d convict without a body but with enough other corroborating evidence!!!
    Great post!

    • I do, too. And you’re right – what he did to make the families believe the women were alive is probably the coldest part. Amazes me, and it goes to remind us how different times were back then.


  6. I find the argument about whether or not he was a serial killer very interesting. There really are sociopaths who are climbers–i.e., they manipulate and use people to either meet their social or financial needs. Because they have no conscience, it makes sense that these sociopaths would kill to achieve their means. But I wonder if that qualifies them as a serial killer. You’ll get no definitive answer from me.

    I enjoyed reading this. I had never researched the case much, so it was interesting to see what you dug up.

    • I did, too. Yes, there are many sociopaths out there who are climbers and manipulators. Some take it a step further by killing, and some don’t, which is very interesting to me. I’d love to hear what someone like John Douglas had to say about Landru’s being labeled a serial killer.

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed, and thanks for the topic!

    • I know, right? The legend of Bluebeard predates this case, but there are quite a few fairy tales that are based on actually stories. Catie Rhodes did a post about that (urban myths, actually), and it was very interesting.

  7. When they got Landreau justice was justice. If your crime warranted it you sacrificed your life. One question: Why do all the crimes of the 19th century all seem so nostalgic?

      • The 19th century crimes seemed so genteel no matter how hideous they were. I can see Landreau saying “Pardon me, sir.” as he knelt before the guillotine.

      • Okay, that makes sense, and you’re absolutely right. I don’t envision him being as brusque or angry as modern day killers.

  8. Oh dear–creeper, creeper, CREEPER! What is it about these guys that they can suck a person in and pretend to be someone they are not so well? I find it fascinating. Disturbing too, but fascinating.

    • LOL, isn’t it? I loved it. Catie’s so great at coming up with creepy stuff. I don’t know, but it’s amazing they can do it once, let alone hundreds of times. I think it lies in their ability to scope out the vulnerable and then manipulating. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. What a pair of interesting fellows you share with us today! You know, I don’t think I ever read the old Bluebeard tale. Now I have to look it up.

    It’s good that the Buisson sister finally put a stop to Landru. He would have killed dozens and dozens more if he’d gotten the chance. He deserved his fate a hundred times over.

    Thanks for the great post! (And by “great” I mean, eww… horrible… creepy… disturbing!) 🙂

    • THanks so much, Laura! I’d never heard of Bluebeard, either, but it’s now one of my favorites, lol. I love creepy fairy tales.

      I agree, Landru would have kept killing until he died. He had a pretty good system and without modern forensics – and the modern technology that keeps families in touch – and could have been unstoppable.

      Thanks for commenting:)

  10. Stephen Lewis

    Thanks this is very interesting. I recently wrote a piece on Bluebeard too.

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