Infanticide … and French mothers …what no one ever speaks of …

Infanticide … and French mothers … what no one ever speaks ofBy Marilyn Z. Tomlins It was a cool morning in 1844: Friday, April 5.A woman, one Marie Poirier, of the village of Bonneuil-Matours, some 250 miles southeast of Paris and on the River Vienne, was walking across an adjoining wood when she came across […]

Infanticide … and French mothers … what no one ever speaks of
By Marilyn Z. Tomlins

It was a cool morning in 1844: Friday, April 5.
A woman, one Marie Poirier, of the village of Bonneuil-Matours, some 250 miles southeast of Paris and on the River Vienne, was walking across an adjoining wood when she came across another Bonnimatoise, a 24-year-old unmarried woman named Françoise Laglaine.
Françoise, a domestic maid, was sitting on an upturned tree trunk. She appeared in great pain.
“No,” said Françoise when Marie asked her whether she needed assistance.
She was, she said, menstruating and had a rather bad stomach ache, but she could manage. Marie, who was also a domestic maid, wished Françoise well and continued on her way.
At the end of the day, Marie was again walking through the wood, and approaching the spot where she had that morning come across the suffering Françoise, she saw her two sisters-in-law, farm laborers, standing at the upturned tree trunk. They were looking at something on the ground. As Marie saw when she joined them, the tree trunk was covered in blood and a trail of blood led from it. The three women followed it.
The trail of blood led to a shallow grave. Not actually a grave, but a small heap of soil, twigs and leaves, approximately an inch deep.
The three cleared the soil, twigs and leaves away with their bare hands and saw the tiny, naked body of a baby. Common sense telling them that the baby could not be alive, they quickly covered the little body again and set off home.
Three days later, on Monday, April 8, Marie went to knock at the door of the local gendarmerie.
Françoise had denied to Marie and the latter’s two sisters-in-law that she had given birth to a baby that she had then killed, but Marie’s Christian Catholic conscience would not allow her to let a human being lie rotting in a wood; the baby, she thought, should have a proper burial.
The baby, a little girl, was 17.72 inches long and weighed 22 lbs. The police surgeon who carried out an autopsy said that judging by her nails and hair, she had been a full-term baby. His study of her lungs showed that she had been born alive but was almost immediately asphyxiated. This might have been done somewhat violently; there were bruises to the little head and the left eye had almost been ripped from its socket. Such injuries might of course have been caused during a rough, unassisted birth, but there was a gaping wound in the baby’s skull and part of her brain was missing. There had therefore been violence.
On Tuesday at 4 a.m. the gendarmes arrested Françoise. She had gone to hide in the wood where she had buried her newborn.
Incarcerated in the prison in the town of Châutelrault, 12 miles from Bonneuil-Matours and also on the River Vienne, Françoise admitted to the examining magistrate, Judge Jacques Dautriche, that she was the mother of the baby. She said that she had gone into labor at two o’clock of the morning of the fifth and the baby was born eight hours later. She had intended to tell her parents that she was pregnant but before she had had an opportunity to do so, she’d gone into labor; she was no more than seven months pregnant she said.
“The child was not breathing. And she wasn’t moving. I thought she was dead and I buried her,” she told the judge.
About who had fathered her child, Françoise said not a word. That was her legal right, although she, unlettered, might not have known this. In the nineteenth century it was against French law for a mother of a child, or for the child, or anyone else for that matter, to try to establish or demand the identity of the father of the child. This law has since been amended so that today a woman can go to court to legally establish who had fathered her child, or the child could do so to establish who their biological father was, but only if the man in question (his family should he be deceased) consent to provide DNA samples. But back in 1896, the French senator, Paul Strauss, had already spoken out about such an injustice. Commenting on another infanticide case, he had said: “Where is the seducer, the cause of the pregnancy? Why isn’t he with the accused? If the seduced girl has obviously violated the laws of nature and of humanity …the fault is especially with the one who has abused her weakness and tenderness… The seducer remains unknown… Responsibility belongs to both.”
On Monday, April 29, Françoise was transferred to the town of Poitiers, the prefectural capital of the region (Poitou-Charente), some 15 miles away, and was incarcerated in the local prison to await her trial. Her first court appearance was on Tuesday, May 14 when witnesses from her village testified to her “loose morals.” The court was adjourned until Friday, May 24. On that day she was acquitted.
The young woman’s acquittal was not unusual. Whereas in the Middle Ages women who killed their newborns were burnt at the stake as witches, in mid-19th century France mothers committing infanticide had become such a regular occurrence that doctors had suggested that infanticide should not be considered a crime. It had not however occurred to the doctors to qualify infanticide as a puerperal insanity act. It was simply something that happened; the people were poor and a baby was an extra mouth to feed.
The French Christian economist and anti-bourgeois, Eugène Buret, wrote of the poor of Paris – the Paris of Victor Hugo’s time: : “If you make your way into the old districts …wherever you go you will see men and women branded with the marks of vice and destitution, half-naked children rotting in filth and stifling in airless, lightless dens. Here in the very home of civilization, you will encounter thousands … reduced by sheer besottedness to a life of savagery; here you will perceive destitution in a guise so horrible …that it inspires disgust and horror, or it assaults all the senses at once …”
Therefore, Françoise, a penniless domestic maid, was considered a poor miserable and after the seven weeks of her incarceration awaiting trial and her acquittal, she returned home to Bonneuil-Matours.
She had not cut open her baby’s head and had not eaten part of the little girl’s brain. This was what she said and it was assumed that was she was speaking the truth despite that women at that time did believe that if they ate the newborn’s brains, God would take pity on them and forgive them their sin. As the police surgeon was unable to establish whether this was indeed what had happened in the case of Françoise, he suggested that a stray dog or some other animal had probably fed off the little corpse.
There were to be many more infanticide cases where the murderous mother was to be acquitted. From the time of Françoise’s acquittal to the end of the nineteenth century the rate of acquittal was 38 percent, then in the first years of the twentieth century the rate of acquittal rose to 50 percent. The judges always found extenuating circumstances. They would describe the women as poor; she had been abandoned by her lover; she was single or she was married and the father of the child was not her husband; her employer – perhaps he was a farmer or a teacher or lawyer, even the priest in her parish – had raped her and to have the child would have meant dismissal which in turn would have meant destitution for her and her child. But almost never would they find the women cold-blooded killers, describe them, for example, as having killed their newborns for egotistical reasons, that the woman was a music hall artiste or a circus acrobat, perhaps a prostitute, and pregnancy would have disfigured her, or that she was a “bad” woman, one who just wanted to enjoy herself – sleep with men – without accepting the responsibility of a resulting pregnancy. No, always would they say that she had killed her newborn because of the hopelessness of the misery of her personal circumstances – her poverty or the abandonment of her lover
. And never, as the twentieth century progressed, would a judge have acquitted a murderous mother because he believed that she had killed her newborn because she had temporarily become a déséquilibrée. (For this to happen we would have to wait for the twenty-first century.)
There was however ambiguity in how the French courts judged infanticide because not only was infanticide a crime punishable by death, but so too was concealing a birth. It was only in 1901 during the French Third Republic that the death penalty for infanticide was abolished. It remains so.
In France’s Fifth Republic (see Note xv), infanticide does not in exist as such though. Under Art. 221-4-1 of the French Penal Code, infanticide is qualified as the “assassination of a minor under the age of 15” and it carries a life sentence. It is an “assassination” and not a “homicide”, because French law makes a distinction between slaying someone in a burst of sudden anger, like a crime passionnel when a spouse or lover kills an unfaithful partner, and a premeditated taking of life. When there has been no medical supervision during pregnancy, no preparation for the confinement, and the pregnancy was concealed from everyone, even from the father of the child, then, French law declares the slaying as “premeditated.”
Thus, the crime becomes an “assassination”, or, as it would be called in the United States of America, “first-degree murder.” Until France abolished the death sentence (see Note xiv), as a rule, punishment for first-degree murder was death on the guillotine, that of second-degree murder was life imprisonment, though it, too, could have fetched a sentence of capital punishment.
We step forward to the twenty-first century.
It was the summer of 2006: half of the month of July was over. The weather in Paris was hot and sultry. Three million Parisians had abandoned the city to spend their annual vacation in the countryside or at the seaside.
On Sunday, July 9, France had been runner-up in the FIFA World Cup which was held in Germany, and the “Tour de France” annual cycling race would be ending on Paris’s Avenue des Champs-Ėlysées on Sunday, twenty-three. There was therefore a lull in television viewing: One of the summer’s great sporting events had ended; the other, would be ending soon. Consequently, the people watched the newscasts at 8 p.m. and then they switched off the television set.
One evening, a news item caught their attention. A respected and respectable French couple – Jean-Louis and Véronique Courjault – living and working in Seoul, South Korea, was being accused by the South Korean authorities of infanticide. French Ministry of Justice archives show that there are between sixty and a hundred suspected infanticide cases in France annually. Most of these cases come to light when suspicious hospital staff members draw the police’s attention to a patient with gynecology problems that indicate she’d recently given birth despite her denials. For various reasons – cost of an investigation being a major one – the hospital’s suspicions do not proceed beyond becoming a statistic in police archives.
Yet, despite such high numbers of infanticide, suddenly, there was a case that within days would have all of France talking.
The French shared the indignation of Mr. Courjault, 41, an engineer with an American company in Seoul, and the 40-year-old Mrs. Courjault, at the infanticide accusation. They were back in France, in their town of Chinon, like Bonneuil-Matours where Françoise Laglaine had killed her newborn, on the River Vienne, on vacation. They appeared on television, pale and visibly shaken. How could some “foreigners” accuse two such decent French nationals of having killed two of their newborns and having left the bodies in the family freezer the French asked themselves.
The story was that Mr. Courjault, having been called back to his Seoul office for an urgent meeting, had, on looking for something in the freezer that stood in a small annex to the kitchen of the couple’s luxurious apartment, found two plastic bags, and in them were, as he could see, the bodies of two babies. Suspecting foul play – someone must have left the bodies there knowing he and his wife and their two young sons would be away for a while – he summoned the police. The South Korean police had allowed him to return to France, but not before he had supplied a DNA sample. They already knew that they could obtain Mrs. Courjault’s DNA from a hospital where she had undergone an ablation of the uterus. Quickly, the South Korean police had notified their French counterparts that the two DNA samples matched those of the two dead babies, both boys. One boy had weighed 7.5 lbs on birth and the other 7.9. Both were perfectly formed and had been full-term births.
Promptly, the French police arrested the two Courjaults despite that they, and most of their compatriots, continued to accuse the South Koreans of Francophobia, and the Seoul media of indulging in the “lynching” of the couple.
Three months later, the two still free and living in Chinon, Mrs. Courjault broke down under another police interrogation and confessed that she had indeed killed the two babies. She had suffocated them immediately after birth, she said. Her husband, she added, had not known about the births; of course, she had not even told him that she was pregnant.
She had more to admit to the police.
She said that she had already killed one of their newborns before they had gone to live in Seoul. She had done so in 1999, in the village of Villeneuve-la-Comtesse, not far from Chinon. That little body she had burnt in the fireplace of their home and she had buried some charred remains in the garden. She could not remember whether the baby had been a boy or girl.
She was duly charged with the “assassination of a minor under the age of 15” and incarcerated in the prison of the town of Orléans. She was to be tried for the killing of the three newborns.
Mr. Courjault was briefly taken in for further questioning but was almost immediately released but under contrôle judiciaire sans caution. He was to remain under investigation for the “non-assistance to a person in danger” which under Art. 223-6 of the French Penal Code is a punishable offence that carries a five-year incarceration and a €75,000 fine. At his wife’s trial that began on Tuesday, June 9, 2009 in the town of Tours, 71 miles from the prison in Orléons, he told of how, on having heard from the police that she had confessed to them, he had asked her, “You did it?” and she had replied, “Yes. I did it.” Police officers who had been with the couple at that moment, testified that Mr. Courjault had taken his wife in his arms and had hugged her very hard. Both had been in tears.
On Thursday, June 18, late in the evening, Judge Georges Domergue found Mrs. Courjault guilty of the “assassination of a minor under the age of 15” and she was sentenced to eight years incarceration. On being sentenced, she portrayed no emotion.
During her trial, she had told the court, in a voice that was hardly above a whisper, that she had not planned to kill her newborns. She had previously told a psychiatrist appointed by the court to assess her mental state that, after the birth of their second “child (born in 1997) she and her husband had decided not to have more children and that she had consequently concealed the three subsequent pregnancies from him. And not only from him. From all in both their families. Even from her sister-in-law, a physician. “As far as I was concerned they were never children,” she had told the psychiatrists. “I could not feel them move inside me. It was just part of myself. An extension of myself that I was killing.”
She was good at concealing her pregnancies. On her wedding day in 1995 she was four months pregnant but only her husband-to-be was aware of that; she had told him only a few weeks previously when he had told her that he would marry her immediately.
“Véronique was always round and she always wore loose dresses and blouses to hide her shapelessness so when she was pregnant she looked just as she always did and there was no way that anyone could tell that she was going to have a baby,” her sister-in-law, the physician told journalists at the trial.
Both the court-appointed psychiatrist and one called in by Mrs.Courjault’s defense team had their own explanation for why she had never accepted and admitted a pregnancy. They had diagnosed her with suffering from “pregnancy denial.” This was, as they claimed, not a crime that should be punished with incarceration: No, it was a mental health issue, a medical condition which should be treated with counseling. There were, they said, women who “lost their heads” on discovering that they were pregnant. They would therefore ignore the biological changes in their body; they would, for example, convince themselves that the nausea they were experiencing in the early mornings was an ordinary stomach upset. Consequently, not pregnant in their minds, they would not prepare a layette and they would certainly not plan for the birth. They would not even allow themselves to think of what they would do on the commencement if their contractions; they would deal with that when it happens. Then, after delivery, they would not think of the newborn as a separate being. No, the baby would be part of themselves, part of their own body and it was for them to do with it as they wished.
The judge wanted to hear nothing of all of this. He said that Mrs. Courjault had killed her three newborns because “She did not want them. She said so on her arrest.”
Mr.Courjault on having heard the lenient sentence, had rushed from the court room to telephone their two teenage sons. “I can tell you there is great joy at home,” he told waiting journalists. He added that he was certain that his wife would be home in “a few months” and that she would be “with her children again. We will be able to reconstruct our family.”
His certainty that his wife would be home “in a few months” is correct. Deducting the years she had spent in prison awaiting trial from the eight years of her sentence, she will probably have to spend less than two years behind bars.
The Courjault couple’s compatriots were divided over whether an eight-year sentence was sufficient punishment for having committed murder three times.
The intellectuals this writer has spoken to agreed with the psychiatrists that committing post-natal infanticide was not a cold-blooded crime but an action committed in a moment of hopelessness and helplessness when the mother is non compus mentis. Some of them, the most devout amongst them, even thought that as abortion – pre-natal infanticide or feticide – is not a crime in France, post-natal infanticide should not be classified as such either.
Those who did consider post-natal infanticide as a crime argued that the punishment stipulated in Art. 221-4-1 – life imprisonment – should be upheld. They cited the three methods that France has made available to women who did not want a child, but who had not taken precaution not to conceive. They said that France had even legalized abortion so that an unwanted pregnancy could be terminated. Therefore no unwanted child need be born in France in our time and then to be killed.
The first and most popular method of preventing pregnancy is the ‘contraceptive’ pill – The Pill – legalized in France since 1967. Statistics show that 95 percent of women sexually active in France practice birth control and the preferred method of 60 percent is The Pill.
The second most popular is the “morning after pill”, Norlévo™ which since June 1999 can be bought at a pharmacy without a physician’s prescription, and since 2008, a young girl who fears that she might have conceived, has the legal right to request this medication from the medical supervisor at her school, college or university, but on the condition that she accepted birth control advice.
The third method is the RU-486 pill which is commercialized under the name of Mifégyne.
Finally, there is still legal abortion.
In 1975, the year the French parliament legalized abortion, but before the new legislation had become operative (in 1976), 36,400 women had undergone such a surgical termination under medical supervision on French territory which included France’s overseas departments and territories (the DOM-TOM). In 1976, the year abortion had become operative the number of legal terminations had increased to 134,173. Of this number most terminations had been in the capital of Paris (10,095), and the smallest number (187) had been recorded for the DOM-TOM. In 2002 (latest statistics) the number of legal terminations in the capital had dropped to 6,632, Paris having been dethroned by the Nord department of France, traditionally the poorest part of the country, where 6,862 legal terminations had been registered. The lowest number of legal terminations for that year had been in the Lot department in south-central France. Of the women who had undergone a legal termination that year the majority (34,887) was aged between 20/24, while 968 women were 45 and over, and 6,137 of the legal terminations had been carried out on women aged between 12/17.
All these women who had undergone a legal termination had to accept a compulsory period of reflection of one week according to French law. Those who were still legally a minor (under the age of 18) or unmarried also had to consent to meet with a counselor. The minor would not have needed her parents’ permission to undergo the termination procedure and neither would the unmarried woman have needed that of the man who had caused her condition. Some of the women could have been non-residents because a woman in France on a temporary basis (a vacation for example) can also undergo a legal termination.
The gynecologist or physician the pregnant woman had consulted would however have had the right to refuse to perform the procedure, but according to French law he would have had to direct her to one willing to have done so.
Yet, despite the French state’s efforts and laws to prevent infanticide, and, that France has the highest birthrate in Europe (12.2 live births per 1000 persons) infanticide is a crime that is being committed in France at an astonishing rate.
Since the summer of 2006 and the ‘Babes in the Freezer’ case, as the Courjault case is now known, another ten infanticide cases have come to light in the country.
These infanticides were committed in (given in order of proximity to the capital):
Troyes – 93 miles southeast of Paris
Toulouse – 200 miles southwest of Paris
Contres – 202 miles south of Paris
Montluçon – 204 miles south of Paris
Roanne – 242 miles south of Paris
Metz – 333 miles north of Paris
Valognes – 336 north of Paris
Redon – 411 northwest of Paris
Guingamp – 483 northwest of Paris
Albertville – 583 miles southeast of Paris
Of these ten cases of infanticide all but the woman in Redon who was 19 years old were women in their thirties, and all but the Redon woman already had several children. Of the ten women again only the woman in Redon had never been married. As for the others, two of the women were married and still sharing a home with their husbands; one was married and was still sharing a home with her husband but the marriage was in a state of collapse; one was married but had separated from her husband and was living with a lover many years her junior; two were unmarried but living with their lovers; one was divorced and did not have a live-in lover, and two were living alone but had children fathered by different men with them in the home.
The Troyes case:
On an April morning in 2009 Albert B summoned police to the family home. When the police arrived he told them that his wife Jeanne B (37) had set off to the hotel where she worked as a maid that morning and on her return she’d been covered in
blood. As he had been unable to get an explication from her about the bleeding, he thought it best to call the police. Rapidly the police persuaded Jeanne B to tell them what was going on. Her story was that she had earlier that morning given birth to a baby. She directed police to the public garbage bin, not far from the family home, where she had dumped the little body concealed as it was in a plastic bin-lining bag; she had, she said, given birth to the baby in one of the hotel’s toilets. She was taken in for questioning, but still bleeding profusely, she had to be hospitalized and it was only after treatment and incarcerated that she confessed that she had already in the past concealed a pregnancy from her husband and had given birth to that baby without any assistance. This had happened six years previously and on that occasion she had given birth to the baby in the toilet of a supermarket where she had then abandoned the baby; a customer had heard whimpering coming from behind the door of one of the cubicles in the restroom and had summoned the police. That baby, a healthy, full-term infant, had been handed to foster parents. Why did she not want those two babies? Her reply was that she and her husband already had four children (aged between five and seventeen) and she just did not want any more.
The Toulouse case:
In November 2006, the Courjault case still prime time and front page news, Marie H (39), living some 430 miles from Paris, had ended her long-term relationship with Claude T. They were the parents of four children, the eldest a fifteen-year-old daughter. Claude T had moved out from the family home, leaving the children with their mother, but, an attentive father, he still brought food to the house every week. Then, that November he had done so again and when he opened the freezer to store meat he found the small, naked, frozen body of a baby. The body was in a transparent plastic freezer bag. He summoned the police who immediately picked up his ex-partner at her work. She confessed to having killed the baby, a boy, in the minutes after his birth. Why? “I didn’t want it,” she said. She had allowed Claude T to leave without having told him that they were to be parents again. The 15-year-old daughter was arrested with her. She had known that her mother was pregnant and that the little body was in the freezer.
The Contres case:
A retired couple bought an old age in the village of Contres in the picturesque Loire region so popular with tourists. One day, in August 2007, digging in the garden, the man came across the body of a baby. The couple summoned the police who brought in sniffer dogs and soon another tiny body was found buried in the garden. The sniffer dogs were also guided through the house where they found a third body hidden in the fireplace in the living room. The house’s previous owner Françoise H 39 years old and divorced was soon found. She had no other explanation for what she had done than that her marriage had been a bad one and already the mother of four children she had not wanted more; she had not told her husband that she was pregnant. She was an alcoholic. Her ex-husband Cyril H had had no idea that she was going to have another child.
The Montluçon case:
On a cold winter morning of February 2009 a tenant in a four-story apartment building in this town on the River Cher and that dates from the Middle Ages, went down to the basement of the building to store something in his cellar. As he would tell the building’s janitor a few minutes later, something smelled extremely bad down there. The janitor accompanied him down to the basement (buildings in France all have cellars and underground parking bays) and unlocking the door to the cellar from which the bad odor emanated the two men found the badly-decomposed body of a baby. The little body was in a black plastic bin liner bag. The police would then find another badly-decomposed baby’s body in the cellar. The second little body was in a portable picnic freezer bag that was no longer cold. The current tenant of the apartment to which the cellar belonged was rapidly excluded as the babies’ murderer and it was not difficult for the police to find the previous tenant who had moved out twelve months previously. Carolyn T was 38 years old and the mother of two young children and living with a man who was not the children’s biological father. For two days she vehemently denied knowledge of the babies, then, when she did start to speak she denied having murdered them. She had, she said, only abandoned them. “They cried on birth, so they were not stillborn,” she said. Pathologists would establish that each baby (one of each sex) had taken twenty-four hours to die. This she would soon admit; she had, she said, looked in one them and for two days they had continued to breathe. She had had several lovers and without exception all of them denied ever having known or suspected that she was pregnant.
The Roanne case:
It was a warm summer’s day in July 2008 when Catherine L (35) walked into a hospital with severe stomach pain and vaginal bleeding. It did not take the doctors long to establish that she had very recently given birth to a baby. This she denied. She denied it for forty-eight hours when she confessed: Yes, she had given birth to a baby two days previously and she had burned the little body in a nearby wood. But she had not killed the baby, a boy; he had been stillborn. The police removed the baby’s charred remains which were buried in a shallow grave. Catherine L’s husband, a deputy mayor of a village close to Roanne was stunned. His wife, he said, was a caring, loving mother to their two daughters of seven and nine. He had had no idea that he was going to become a father for a third time. Why had she killed this baby? She reminded the police that she had told them that she had not killed the child; he had been stillborn. Her only crime therefore, she insisted, was of not having told her husband about the pregnancy and of having disposed of the body in an unconventional manner.
The Metz case:
This case came to light when in May 2009 a fifteen-year-old youth, being brought up by foster parents, spent a weekend with his biological mother, Sophia V , 32 years old, and his two-year-old half brother. Returning to his foster parents he told his foster mother that there was a baby’s body in the apartment where his biological mother lived. As he told his foster mother, he had gone to fetch an ice cream from her freezer when he had seen the little body. It was in a transparent plastic bag. Sophia V, already the mother of four children (three of them, like the fifteen-year-old, were being brought up by foster parents) but caring for the two-year-old herself, said that she, a woman on her own and unemployed could not financially afford another child. She had told no one that she was pregnant and no one had assisted her during the birth. She was unable to say which of the many men she was sleeping with had fathered the dead baby.
The Valognes case:
In October 2007 Louis M living with Catherine S (34) found the bodies of several babies in the cellar of the apartment the two were sharing. Catherine S had left her previous partner Daniel V and their nine-year-old son for Louis M. The latter having summoned the police, Catherine S quickly confessed that the dead babies were hers; she had killed them immediately after their births. Five of them, she said, had been fathered by Daniel V in the six years that they had been together and he had known about the pregnancies and the consequent murder of the newborns. She, speaking of the babies, told the police: “I wanted them, but I also did not want them.” Louis M, with whom she’d been living for two years, had fathered the sixth baby. She had, she said, concealed the pregnancy from him although he and his mother had become suspicious because of her expanding waistline and had asked her on several occasions whether she was pregnant; she had always told them that she was not. Members of her family and several of her friends
had also suspected that she was pregnant. Said a friend: “She always denied that she was pregnant and we couldn’t be a hundred percent certain because she was always wearing large sweaters.” She had killed the babies within minutes of their birth. “I put my hand over their faces and kept it there until I could see that they were no longer breathing,” she told the police. She also spoke with rancor about she had given birth to her and Daniel V’s nine-year-old son all alone; he had refused to assist at the birth despite that she had wanted him to. Daniel V was charged with “non-assistance to a person in danger.” He told police that he had gone along with Catherine S’s decision not to allow the babies to live because she was not maternal and would not have looked after them. He said that this was why she had not taken their nine-year-old son along when she had gone off to live with Louis M and why he and his new partner had to bring up the boy. He said: “She didn’t want to look after him, so we recuperated him.” But despite not having wanted to look after and rear her own children, she did babysitting for neighbors and helped out at a child care association where one of her colleagues described her as, “She was a devoted worker. She was always ready to listen to the children, to give them advice and to take them out on day trips. We knew that we could count on her. Never before had we had someone who we could trust so totally with the children.”
The Redon case:
The case of the unmarried 19-year-old woman from Redon was different because she had allowed her child to live for 14 months.
It was a cold night in November 2006 when Aline Leliévre summoned police to her small one bedroom apartment because her son David had been kidnapped. She told the police that she had gone down to the basement to chuck the garbage out and to smoke a cigarette and on her return her child was gone. The police were puzzled why someone would want to kidnap the child of a penniless young woman: Aline worked as waitress. Her story was that the child’s father, a young and single waiter, had abandoned her when she had fallen pregnant. Initially, after the baby’s birth she had lived with her parents and they had helped care for the little boy, but having moved to the larger town of Redon, twelve miles from her hometown of Fégréac to find a job, she had to leave the child in the care of a nanny. The latter had however stopped looking after the boy and she consequently had to take him to work with her; a gesture that was ill supported by her employer and the restaurant’s clients. It was not long before Aline confessed: Yes, no one had kidnapped little David; she killed him. She had, she said, suffocated him and she had then dumped the little body, wrapped in a pink sheet she had taken from his bed, in a nearby pond. She had ridden out to the pond in the dark on her scooter, the little pink bundle tied to the pillar seat. The police quickly found the little pink bundle; it was trapped between stones at the bottom of the pond. Incarcerated, she tried to commit suicide by drinking detergent. On trial, she hobbled into the court room every day with the help of crutches; she had broken a leg working out in her prison’s exercise room. Asked why she had murdered her child, she tearfully replied: “I don’t know anymore. I can’t come to terms with it. It hurts too much to talk about it.” Of the father, who remained unnamed (he had left France), she said: “I loved him. I loved everything about him.” Later in the trial she would speak some more about her dead child: “I had a problem coming to terms with having a child,” and she would speak of having been bored when he was sleeping because it was “difficult to be on my own, alone.” She had therefore invented a friend she called Noémie with whom she had long conversations. She had even told her colleagues at work about this very good friend Noémie. Some days having left her child alone in the apartment to go to work, she had told her friends that Noémie was looking after him. She was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. “She did not want her child. He had become a burden to her,” said the judge when he passed the sentence.
The Guingamp case:
It was March 2008 and Easter. The French school children were on vacation for a week and most of them were skiing with their parents, their last opportunity to do so before the spring thaw. Frédéric and Valérie Le Gall and their two children, aged five and three, were also spending the Easter break away from home, a horse farm. In their absence Toni’s father went to stay at the farm to look after the horses. One day, bored, he rummaged through an outhouse. Many boxes and bags were stored there. So too an old freezer. Opened the freezer and discovered the body of baby wrapped in a transparent freezer zip bag. Not waiting for the return of his son and daughter-in-law he summoned the police and they went to find the couple and brought them back to the farm. Valérie, 35, at first denied to the police that she had given birth to the baby, a boy, and had then killed him. An autopsy on the body showed that the baby had been strangled, but because of cranial lesions and bruises on the little torso the pathologists on the case thought that he might also have been battered. But they did say that the lesions and bruises could have been caused during a rough unassisted confinement. Frédéric was arrested too but he convinced the police of his innocence; he had not even known that his wife was pregnant. Neither had anyone else in the couple’s entourage known. “Valérie was a well-built woman,” said a neighbor. Valérie’s explanation for having kept her pregnancy secret and the subsequent murder of the baby was that her nine-year marriage was in trouble and she feared her husband’s reaction on hearing that another child was on the way. She was incarcerated and there in the prison, six months later, her cellmates, her jailers, the prison medical staff – and her husband – were astonished to discover that a severe tummy ache lead to the birth of another child. She’d been pregnant on her arrest, yet, she had again successfully hidden her condition. The baby was born in prison before the ambulance, summoned by the prison staff, could get there. By law a baby born in prison may remain with its mother for two years, but this baby was handed to foster parents. Like Véronique Courjault, Valérie was sentenced to eight years in prison. During her trial she had spoken of “flashes” and “visions” of giving birth and of holding little dead body in her arms. “I want to understand,” she said, and added, “Know that for every day of the rest of my life, I will have to live with what I had done. I need my children. I want to be with my children if I have to continue to live.”
The Albertville case:
In October 2007 Odile P (36) had left her partner of sixteen years, Alex, for her twenty-year-old lover, Jonny . Alex, home and alone and bored, started to go through the cupboards of their two-story house near the slopes where the 1991 Winter Olympics had been held when he discovered the decomposed bodies of two babies in a box in the house’s cellar. Horrified and almost speechless, he summoned the police and led them to the cellar and there they found yet another little decomposed body. Quickly, Odile confessed. She told the police that she was not “maternal” and did not want children. She had hidden her pregnancies from Alex and had given birth without assistance in the bathroom of the apartment the two of them had lived in before they had moved to the two-story house. She said that she did not in fact know whether Alex had fathered the third baby; it might have been Jonny. As for the latter he had told his mother that his girlfriend was pregnant but that she had miscarried while “on the toilet”; that, he told his mother, was what Odile had told him when she was suddenly no longer pregnant. Said Jonny’s mother to journalists: “Odile had put on a lot of weight and o
ften complained about stomach ache but she wouldn’t consult a doctor and then when I saw her again she had suddenly lost a lot of weight.” Court-appointed psychiatrists who assessed Odile’s mental state reported to the prosecutor that she told them that she had kept the bodies because she did not want to abandon them. “I considered them part of myself,” she told them. She had initially kept the bodies in the family freezer, but then she had started to move them around the apartment. When moving from the apartment to the two-story house she had taken the three bodies along, packed into a box. The psychiatrists’ explanation for why she had kept the bodies and kept moving them around was that she had turned them into “dolls” and that she was playing “dollies and mummies” with them. And as one of the police on the case told journalists: “When the couple started to carefully wrap the crockery to move from the apartment to the new house, she took great care to wrap the little bodies as well. Make no mistake, they were going along.” Alex’ reaction to what his partner had done was to say: “There I was thinking that I will never have a child of my own, but from one day to the next I learned that I had fathered three. Put yourself in my place … Frankly, I don’t know whether I will ever get over this. If she did not want my babies, then she could have had abortions. But to have put them into a freezer, this is something I did mot think she was capable of.” Explaining how he could not have known there was a little body in the freezer, he said: “I worked hard (he is a plumber).When I got home I was tired. I didn’t do the cooking so I never had to open the freezer. That was her domain and she certainly made use of it.” DNA tests showed that he had fathered all three babies.
To return to the case of Françoise Laglaine from Bonneuil-Matours. Was she the only woman who had committed infanticide in that region of France at that time? Court archives for her region, the Vienne, show that she was not. In the period 1811/1906 six percent of judged cases were for infanticide against eight percent for homicide and forty-six percent for theft. For the period 1907/1940 infanticide cases had increased to eleven percent while homicide had jumped to eighteen percent and theft had dropped to thirty-one percent. In the years from 1941/1986 (the most recent available statistics) only two percent of the judged cases had been for infanticide against thirty percent for theft, nineteen percent for homicide while the highest percentage of judged cases (36%) were for moral misdemeanors – drug trafficking, indecent exposure, assault, drunken behavior, violence at sporting events and so on.

A female inhabitant of Bonneuil-Matours is called a Bonnimatoise. A male inhabitant is called a Bonnimatoi.

Gendarmes police the French countryside and villages and towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.

Art. 226-25 Law No.2004-800 of 08.06.2004. To establish the genetic characteristics of an individual for purposes other than medical or scientific research without having procured the consent of the individual under Art. 16/10 of the Civil Code, is punishable with a 12-month incarceration and a €15,000 ($22,000) fine.

Paul Strauss was born on September 23, 1852 in Ronchamp, Haute-Sâone, France. He was elected to the French Senate in 1897 and was appointed Minister (Secretary of State) to Hygiene and Social Security Provisions in 1922, a position he held for two years. He was a champion of the sick and the poor, and pregnant single deserted women and abandoned children. He wrote numerous books about poverty and lack of social services in France.

end of article


“Poor & Pregnant in Paris” by Rachel G. Fuchs. Publ. Rutgers University Press/1992.

Archives of Vienne Departement. Dossier No. 2U1564.

Eugène Buret (1810-1842) is said to have inspired Karl Marx.

French author and human rights activist (1802-1885).

“La Misère des classes laborieuses in France et en Angleterre » publisher Paulin, Paris 1840.

“Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo. Published in Paris in 1862.

«Poor & Pregnant in Paris”, by Rachel G. Fuchs, Pulb.Rutgers University Press/1992.


An unbalanced person.

Capital punishment existed in France from the Middle Ages until it was abolished by parliamentary vote in 1981 although no execution had taken place since 1977. The method of execution was the guillotine.

The French Third Republic dated from Sept 4 1870 until June 22 1940. In 1870 France’s population totalled 35,565,800. Latest statistics (January 2009) set France (Fifth Republic introduced on October 5 1958) as the 20th most populous country in the world with 65,073,482 nationals.

Crime of passion.

Perpétueté in French, and perpéte in French underworld slang.

Féderation International de Football Association.

Quote from « Murderous Mothers » by Marilyn Z.Tomlins published on crimemagazinedotcom.

Control Order without him having to post bail.

Not of sound mind. “Non” – not. “Compos” – having command of. “Mentis” – mind.

Under Art. L162-1/16 of the French Penal Code – the Veil Law – abortion was legalized on January 17 1975, but became operative only from January 1 1976. The law is named after Simone Veil, then France’s Minister (Secretary of State) of Health. Before that, under the Napoleonic Code, Art.317 of 1810, abortion carried a incarceration sentence for not only the woman who had undergone an illegal abortion but also for the abortionist, known here as a “faiseuse d’anges” – an angel-maker. Doctors and pharmacists who performed abortions were sentenced to hard labour for life on France’s penal colonies, like Devil’s Island.

Legalized December 28, 1967 under the Neuwirth Law.

Statistics: INSERM – Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherce Médicale (National Institute of Health and Medical Research


Manufactured by HRA Pharma. It is classified in France as a CU (Contraception d’Urgence) –Emergency Contraception. It is however a drug that must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse: in other words, the recipient might not be pregnant. A dose costs €10 (approximately $15) and is reimbursed at the rate of 65 percent by the State’s Security Sociale health scheme.

RU-486 was developed in France by Roussell Ucla in 1980. It must be administered only after pregnancy has been confirmed by a physician. This drug, commercialized as Mifégyne™ was legalized in France in September 1988 but it could be administered only in a hospital or clinic and within 10 weeks of conception. Since 2004 this period has been lengthened to 12 weeks and a woman’s gynaecologist or the family physician was authorized to supply the drug. A dose (two pills) costs €45 (approximately $//) and is, like Norlévo™ reimbursed by the state’s Security Sociale health scheme to 80 percent.

« Départements d’outre-mer et territoires d’outre-mer » -French Guiana, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, New Caledonia, Réunion, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna.

Statistics INSERM – Institut National de la Santé et de la recherche médicale (National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

Statistics INSEE – Institute national de la statistique et des études économique – National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies.

For legal reasons – the women must still be judged – this couple’s identity can not be revealed.











Marilyn Z. Tomlins

One Response

12-3-2009 at 14:00:22

Infanticide is by no means confined to France though, there have been many modern cases of mothers killing children, some pretty horrible like the woman who pushed a car into a lake/river with her four children inside it. Lots of stories like that.

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