Losing one’s head … but love has nothing to do with it …

The Guillotine being washed down after Dr. Petiot’s execution. Always, this time of the year, I remember with a smile what my mom used to say to me: “Marilyn,” she would say, “when you meet a young man one of these days, please don’t lose your head …” But why would I remember those words […]

The Guillotine being washed down after Dr. Petiot’s execution.

Always, this time of the year, I remember with a smile what my mom used to say to me: “Marilyn,” she would say, “when you meet a young man one of these days, please don’t lose your head …”

But why would I remember those words of hers this time of the year?

Because of my murderer – Dr. Marcel Petiot.

He lost his head on a May 25: Saturday, May 25 1946 to be exact. He lost it to a widow: The Widow – the guillotine. This Monday it will be 63 years ago. He can be seen to the right here on a photo the Paris police issued of him on his arrest.

As those of you who know me and those of you who do not know me but read my blog regularly will be aware, I’ve written a book about Dr. Petiot. The rights to my book (approx 130,000 words) – title: DIE IN PARIS – are available.

But now today here I am going to speak about Dr. Petiot and the guillotine – the anniversary of his death giving me the opportunity. So be warned this blog entry promises to be gory. Maybe.

The Petiot Case began in the early evening on Saturday, March 11, 1944. WW2 was raging and France, having surrendered to Hitler’s Germany, was occupied. Every day at noon the Wehrmacht marched down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées to the accompaniment of a brass band and the Nazis’ red, white and black Swastika fluttered from the Eiffel Tower. Food and fuel were rationed, and a black-out and 10 p.m. to dawn curfew were in force in Paris. On that night residents of a street – Rue le Sueur – close to the Arc de Triomphe summoned the police because a foul smoke was pouring, and had been doing so for five days, from a chimney of a town house at No. 21. The police and some fire fighters broke into the house and found that human remains were being burnt in the furnace of a water boiler in the property’s basement and in an outhouse quicklime was devouring some more human remains. The town house belonged to a Dr. Petiot, or a Dr. Piot, as this was how the first police report spelled his name. He went on the run and was apprehended only after the Liberation of Paris (August of that year of 1944). He was sentenced to death for the murder of 26 people though the police and pathologists, considering the amount of human remains found at his town house, thought that he might well have killed up to 200. He had sold his victims – many were Jews – a bogus escape route from Occupied Paris to Argentina. The police had not been able to establish how he had killed his victims, but I think I’ve worked it out. He lies buried in a cemetery I can see from the windows of my apartment. His is a mass grave under a lush lawn; he lies there with others who had been guillotined. It’s a peaceful spot … this time of the year yellow and white daisies break through the grass … I go there some days.

Dr. Petiot had written a strange book while in prison; it was about how to beat chance. He had written : Not one of all the creations is happy with its lot. The stone is sad thinking of the oak which grows in the sun. The oak is sad when it thinks of the animals that it sees running in the shade of the woods. The animals are sad dreaming of the eagle soaring into the sky. And man is unhappy because he cannot understand why he has been put here… he is aware of all his imperfections …

I am often asked why I’d become interested in Dr. Petiot and gruesome things like the guillotine. At first I did not know – my mom was a true crime reader, my husband was a true crime reader, my sister is a true crime reader, but I could not even read Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ – but now I do know, but this I will keep to myself for the moment. When I have a publisher, or when I publish my book myself, then I will speak about it.

France abolished capital punishment in 1981, but had not guillotined anyone since 1977. Once, France even guillotined in public but this was banned in 1938 when the dawn beheading of a German-born robber, kidnapper and murderer – Eugène Weidmann – turned into a sickening and shocking manifestation of hysterical excitement; female onlookers had rushed forward to dip their handkerchiefs into his freshly-spilled blood.

Of Dr. Petiot’s execution the Paris chief pathologist and autopsy surgeon who had to be present to verify that the doctor was indeed dead, would say: For the first time in my life I saw a man leaving death row if not dancing, at least showing perfect calm. Most people about to be executed do their best to be courageous, but one senses that it is a stiff and forced courage. Petiot moved with ease, as though he were walking into his surgery for a routine appointment.

Dr. Petiot had not however appreciated being awakened that morning.

This is how I write about it in my book:

At 4:45am, the witnesses approached Petiot’s cell. He lay on his back. His handcuffed hands rested on his chest. His chained legs were crossed. He wore a pair of black prison pyjamas. He was fast asleep. The witnesses squeezed into the cell.

“Petiot, wake up,” called Dupin. (fyi: This is the judge who sentenced Petiot to death.)

Petiot stirred.

“Have courage. Be brave. The time has come,” said Dupin.

These were words tradition required him to say.

Petiot opened his eyes. He glared at Dupin.

“You’re a pain in the ass,” he hissed.

People who had witnessed guillotine executions, used to say that after decapitation, the eyelids and lips of the guillotined had continued to contract for five or six seconds. Rumour has it that Dr. Petiot had continued to smile and flutter his eyelids for at least twenty or thirty seconds after his head had been severed from his body.

Why one may wonder was he smiling? From a poor working-class family his killing spree had made him a wealthy man. He had charged his victims huge fees for his bogus escape route and after their death he had gone with a cart to their homes to help himself to their belongings.

After his execution his wife and only child (a son) left France and settled in a sunny South American country …

(DIE IN PARIS is written in English, therefore if you are a British, Irish or American publisher or literary agent and my book might interest you, feel free to get in touch.)

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

7 Responses

5-23-2009 at 11:49:34

I would dearly love to see your book – Die in Paris – find a publisher. It should!

I’ve read Marilyn’s book and I can tell you that she has a bestseller here.

Where are the buggers?????

5-23-2009 at 13:22:45

I too would love to see you find a publisher Marilyn. I will keep my fingers crossed.

5-24-2009 at 18:49:11

I know Dr. Petiot’s history not well and I would like to read your book.
I know it is a very fascinating story. So I also hope thst you will soon get word from a publisher who is to make you an offer.

5-26-2009 at 06:13:39

I am a supporter of the capital punishement.

5-26-2009 at 19:19:02

Marilym Z Tomlins – I wish I am a publisher.

5-26-2009 at 19:32:03

Well it sounds very interresting !
i am waiting for this book ^^
i’m almost certain i will discover things about France i didn’t know ^^

10-8-2010 at 08:12:17

[…] Losing one’s head.. But love has got nothing to do with it! Marilyn explains all about the Guillotine that did for Petiot.  She says… “Rumour has […]

If you wish not to miss one of my blogs, do subscribe.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


Should you wish to contact me you can do so by email: marilyn@marilynztomlins.com