The Real Dr. Hannibal Lecter: Marcel Petiot



In 1942 Gay Paris had been reduced to a dull, dreary place filled with people who were almost starving: The Nazis had occupied. Known for their brutality, the invaders weren't behind this: Body parts started showing up. Headless torsos wrapped up in trunks were being pulled from the river Seine; legs, arms, and other appendages were found all over town; everything mutilated beyond recognition as to hinder identification of the victims: Faces were removed, as were finger tips. One thing was clear: From the precision of the dissection someone skilled in surgery had turned to murdering.

Meanwhile word spread through night clubs and caf├ęs that if you needed to escape the Nazis there was a secret network that would get you to South America. The mastermind behind it? A Dr. Marcel Petiot.

Petiot had been a weird kid. A bed wetter up to the age of 12, he often refused to sleep preferring to take long nighttime walks instead. Very intelligent, he quickly found an interest in erotic literature. He also showed signs of delinquency: Harming animals and stealing things. The petty thefts would develop into kleptomania. He grew up to serve in World War 1, became a doctor who helped the poor, a rising political star within the Socialist Party, a member of the French resistance, and, he was also a serial killer.

There were always signs that there was something wrong with him. Institutionalized as a young man, he used his military pension to go to medical school and then became a doctor in an asylum, himself. Settling in the town of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne there were a few murders, disappearances, and suspicious deaths, but nothing would be pinned on him: Aside from being the mayor he was also the town's coroner.

Petiot was well liked by many, often giving the poor free medical care. But he was also signing them up for government assistance without them knowing it and collecting the money himself. Considered to eventually become a minister in the French federal government, his political career ended in scandal: He stole everything! From little trinkets, to gasoline, he even rerouted electricity to his home! If it was there for the taking he had to have it.

The doctor was eloquent and charming, and even wrote poetry and sketched. His philosophy was that all great fortunes and colonies have been made through theft, war, and conquest: It's only natural to take whatever you wanted because the law of the jungle prevails. Morality was created by those who possess so that no one takes their things.

In 1943 the Germans caught wind of Petiot's secret organization that smuggled people out of the country. They infiltrated it and arrested those involved. The Doctor had used a barber shop to make first contact with those he'd help escape but would really kill. Now he and three of his accomplices were in prison. Under torture he led his interrogators to believe that he was not the leader of the organization, instead he worked for another physician and that he was just a middleman who knew nothing. Unexpectedly, the Germans let the prisoners go and Petiot went back to killing.

He had a mansion at 21 rue Le Sueur. While he lived with his wife and son somewhere else, this property would become the gruesome site where many wealthy people were led expecting to be on the road to freedom, only to be killed and dismembered in the basement. Petiot would explain that they needed a vaccination before the trip to Argentina and inject them with a poison like strychnine. But hooks hanging from the ceiling and a hidden room complete with a viewing glass later gave police reason to believe that many died slowly as the mad Doctor watched. And collecting the money, gold, and jewellery that the victims had hoped to take with them, he lived like a king in wartime France.

The bodies were piling up. On March 11, 1944, neighbours complained of smoke and a terrible smell coming from the mansion. The fire brigade and then the police were called. Petiot wasn't home and he'd quickly go into hiding. His story was that he was with the Resistance and the murdered had been the enemies of France (when many were really Jews trying to escape the Holocaust). This led to police officers being conflicted as to whether they should arrest him. But as the investigation continued the barbarity of the crimes could not be looked over. He never left Paris and was soon recognized at a train station.

After a dramatic trial where he professed his innocence, Petiot was sentenced to death.


He spent his last days writing poetry and sketching. When he was led to the guillotine he was remarkably in a good mood. Petiot's last words were: "Gentleman, I have one last piece of advise: Look away. This will not be pretty to see." Then the head of France's homicidal doctor ended up in a wicker basket.


Serial killers, French serial killers, France mass murder, murder in Hitler germany, France history, executions in France
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