Attention: Film and documentary producers : WW2 French serial killer … proposal for one-off dramatized documentary …

  A proposal for a one-off dramatized television documentary based on the true-crime book ‘Die in Paris’ by Marilyn Z. Tomlins, published in the U.K. by Ravencrest Books Ltd.   The Subject: Dr Marcel Petiot, WW2 French serial killer. Dr Marcel Petiot was one of the 20th Century’s most notorious – and prolific –  murderers. […]

Marcel Petiot as a young doctor


A proposal for a one-off dramatized television documentary based on the true-crime book ‘Die in Paris’ by Marilyn Z. Tomlins, published in the U.K. by Ravencrest Books Ltd.

My book Die in Paris – the paperback. (Copyright Marilyn Z.tomlins)


The Subject:

Dr Marcel Petiot, WW2 French serial killer.

Dr Marcel Petiot was one of the 20th Century’s most notorious – and prolific –  murderers.  (More than seventy years after his murder spree, he remains France’s most prolific killer.)


These days it would be fashionable – and certainly accurate – to call Marcel Petiot a serial killer.

The statistics of the ‘Petiot Case’ are horrific; methodology chilling in the extreme. To know more about this man and what he did is a journey into the basement of the human condition.

He was guillotined in Paris in 1946 for the murder of 26 people. Those investigating thought he had murdered (slaughtered in a way too bestial even for an abattoir) at least 200. As one police inspector said wryly: “To be on the safe side, I’ll settle for 150.”

Petiot charmed and lured people (the term ‘innocents’ would be too inaccurate, too glib: some of his victims were hardened gangsters) in with the promise of an escape route from Nazi-occupied France. What he gave them was death by intense violence followed by incineration and incarceration (of the little that was left) in quicklime.

Was he mentally ill?    These days signs of mental illness in Petiot, when still a child, might have been spotted and reacted to more effectively. In early 20th Century, rural France, Petiot’s unchecked illness was fomented by circumstances and environment. His guile and the ineptitude of the law enforcement officers were such that his early crimes went unpunished as later, so many would go almost unnoticed. The world he lived in was a far cry from the media and legal microscope we live under – for better and worse – in the west. War became his camouflage and his opportunity. Without it, we can surmise that his crimes would have been less in number, and would have come to light sooner. War was his friend.

The war within him was the greater conflict, and was his enemy; yet his madness was his ally, too. Insanely deluded, he could construct a heroic status for himself that was believed by people society called sane – hundreds and thousands of them. Such was his state of mind that the awful suffering he caused could be perfectly self-justified.

I have carried out extensive research of Marcel Petiot which led to me writing my book – Die in Paris – published by the London-based publisher Dave Lyons of Raven Crest Books. That research is available to program makers.

Knowing the story of Marcel Petiot as I do, I am sure it lends itself to a filmed documentary treatment. I also evince the obvious: that there will be a multi-demographic appetite for a big screen movie. If probed with an ideal balance of scientific objectivity and dramatic flair, bestial human behaviour can be bleakly fascinating.  This one is not only a tale of sheer horror, but it also carries a political message: what the consequences are when a nation does not resist aggression from another nation, in other words, when it capitulates to an enemy. It also offers an opportunity to debate capital punishment. Although I suffered no illusions as to Petiot’s crimes, I could not help to feel immense sympathy for him in the final moments of his life when he was led to the guillotine. I reminded me of Sean Penn in ‘Dead Man Walking’.

Another major draw is Petiot’s physical attractiveness, and not only his, but that of his brother Maurice and of Georgette, his wife. Petiot looked like Johnny Depp and Georgette was typically Parisian – petite, mignonne (slender and cute) and chic. Audrey Tautou (she was in The Da Vinci Code) and Juliette Binoche come to mind.

 There is also the fact that this story did not take place in a backwater village or one of Paris’s poorer arrondissements. It happened in the capital’s wealthiest, most beautiful area – the Champs-Elysées/Étoile district with the Eiffel Tower visible at the end of Rue le Sueur where the murder house stood at Number 21.

The life and crimes of similar characters – Crippen, Bundy, Jack the Ripper et al –have been examined at length in the TV documentary format and on the big screen, however, the life and crimes of the good ‘Doctor’ Marcel Petiot have not. Why? Mainly because the French still can’t come to terms with how they had capitulated to Hitler and his Nazis and had then collaborated with them, even rounding up people to be sent to the death camps. These days they blame their collaboration and the Occupation on ‘Vichy’, as if Vichy was some creature from outer space. The French therefore do not want to speak of Petiot. In fact, so difficult is it to research Petiot that the last books about him in English before my ‘Die in Paris’ were published in 1980 – 36 years ago.



Dr Petiot’s murder house (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)


The ashes of Petiot’s victims as found by the police.


The stove in which Petiot burnt the remains of some of his victims.


The House in Auxerre where Petiot was born (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins


Auxerre on the river Yonne where Petiot was born and grew up.


Guillotine in Paris’s Police Museum (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)



Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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