Serial killers … Profiling … Just ordinary guys … ?

FBI agent Robert K. Ressler (1937-2013) coined the term ‘serial killer’. The FBI’s top criminologist,he studied the psychology of dozens of killers, the knowledge he thus obtained having allowed him to profile someone who had not killed just once but repeatedly. And such a killer he then called a serial killer. I became interested in Dr […]

Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins

Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins

FBI agent Robert K. Ressler (1937-2013) coined the term ‘serial killer’. The FBI’s top criminologist,he studied the psychology of dozens of killers, the knowledge he thus obtained having allowed him to profile someone who had not killed just once but repeatedly. And such a killer he then called a serial killer.

I became interested in Dr Marcel Petiot, France’s most prolific serial killer which led to me writing a book about him –  Die in Paris. (I am not going to give you the link – just look for Die in Paris Marilyn Z. Tomlins.)

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

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

From Robert K. Ressler’s writings I have drawn up the following list of the characteristics of a serial killer.

Dr Petiot, or Marcel, as I call him in my book because I got to know him so well, possessed 14 (in red) of the 18 characteristics below.

Dr Marcel Petiot

Dr Marcel Petiot

1. More than 80% are men.
2. They are intelligent, yet they did badly in school and even dropped out.
3. They come from dysfunctional families.
4. They have domineering mothers.
5. There are histories of alcoholism and mental problems in their families.
6. They hate their parents.
7. They were psychologically and physically abused as children by a member or members of the family.
8. They were sexually abused as children.
9. They spent times in psychiatric or reform institutions as children.
10. They have a history of having tried to commit suicide even as children.
11. More than 60% wet the bed as children and even until beyond the age of 12.
12. They have a fascination with fires.
13. They tormented and killed small animals as children.
14. They have a fascination with pornography which may have started in their childhood.
15. They were loners as children and were even so as adults.
16. They stole small valueless objects as children and even continued to do so as adults.
17. They want to be admired.
18. They are liars.

Dr Petiot (or shall I continue to call him Marcel?) was guillotined for the murder of 26 people. Judging by the amount of human remains found at his Paris townhouse the police chief of the time however thought that he had murdered more than 200 people. “To be on the safe side I will settle for 150,” he said.

Dr Petiot's murder house (copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

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

In this stove in a basement room of his townhouse Petiot burnt some of the bodies of his victims. You will see the human ash on the floor

In this stove in a basement room of his townhouse Petiot burnt some of the bodies of his victims. You will see the human ash on the floor

Herewith is a chapter of Die in Paris. It is Chapter 1 (Child) of Part 2 (Child, Soldier, Doctor and Mayor) of the book.

If you enjoy this chapter you can buy either the softback or electronic edition of the book from all amazon sites.



Félix Iréné Mustiole and Marthe Marie Constance, born Bourdon, both had a problem with names; he said that Iréné was a woman’s name and Mustiole that of a bull, and she hated all of hers so much that she called herself Clémence. Therefore, when their first child was born at 3am on Sunday, January 17, 1897, at Number 100 Rue de Paris, then, as now, Auxerre’s main street, they put little thought into naming him. Marcel was after Marcellus Saint of January 16 because the female Rosalina was that of January 17, and André and Henri were after his grandparents. Félix the couple added so as not to break with Petiot family tradition to name a firstborn son after his father.

Rue de Paris, the River Yonne flowing gently close by, runs northeast from a small square in the heart of the town’s business centre and to a vineyard, where, since the seventh century, the Clos de la Chainette wines have been produced. Number 100, a two story partially timbered building where his parents rented a modest two bedroom apartment on the top floor, is today an art school run by the town’s council. Beside the building stands a chapel constructed at the beginning of the seventeenth century for the Sisters of the Visitation of Mary whose convent was nearby at the time of Petiot’s birth. Today, the town’s history museum permanently displays artwork in the chapel: one of these is French artist’s François Brochet’s Massacre of the Innocents.

Félix and Clémence met at the local Post Office where they both worked; he was twenty-nine and she twenty-one. He was a technician installing telephone exchanges. She sorted the mail. It was a job she would give up when she fell pregnant.

When Petiot was two years old Félix and Clémence put him in the care of one of his aunts. Félix had been promoted to Chief Technician which meant that he was to lay telephone lines across the Burgundian countryside and Clémence, not wishing to be left at home, had decided to go on the road with him but that she would not take their little son with her. Henriette Bourdon, Clémence’s older sister, an illiterate spinster, shared her home with another spinster, Marie Gaston, also illiterate, whom she described as her maid. The two lived in an old brick house that stood behind a stone wall so high that all that could be seen from the house was the tip of the tower of the town’s twelfth century Saint-Etienne cathedral. Both devout Christians, they were often seen dressed in black coats and veiled, walking down the road towards the cathedral to attend an early morning mass, their tiny charge walking unsteadily between them and holding on to the hem of the coat of one of them.

Later, married and the father of a son himself, Petiot, bitter at his parents’ desertion of him – that was how he described it – said that he was either born out of wedlock or that he was conceived before the two were legally married and that they had consequently never loved him. He was equally resentful towards the two spinster women. He said that as they had never been mothers they had had no idea how to rear a child. They beat him he said and they dragged him from his warm cot on cold and rainy winter mornings to take him to early mass with them. He said that when he grew too big for the cot they refused to buy him a bed so that he had to sleep with his legs pulled up almost to his neck; he said it gave him a pain in his back. He also spoke of the high wall that was around the two’s property and that they had kept a steel gate in the wall bolted because they did not welcome casual callers. At first too short to reach the bolt he had felt trapped. It had certainly also made him a lonely child because although he could hear other children playing outside on the street, he could not join them.

Toddler Marcel was pretty.

On market mornings l’Henriette, as the old spinster was called, and Marie took him along when they went shopping and the fishmonger and the baker pinched his cheek and told him to admit that he was a girl and not a boy. But when the fishmonger’s wife gave him a shrimp and the baker’s wife gave him a warm croissant, jam dripping from it and onto his starched gray Knickerbockers suit, and he smiled at them, his black eyes sparkling, they said that he was indeed a boy. Such sparkling black eyes they said would one day break the heart of many a girl.

What Henriette and Marie did not tell the stall keepers and their wives, but which they did report to Félix and Clémence in letters which a scribe, their priest, had written on their behalf was that the little boy was not settling down well. He cried often, he threw tantrums when he rolled on the floor or banged his head against a wall, he pulled up the plants in their garden or crushed their flowers, and he hit the two of them and kicked them, pulled their hair and bit them. The two parents when they did reply to the letters always wrote that they were very sorry that their son was not behaving well but they could not take him back immediately.

Only three years later, Marcel then five years old, did the two spinsters have something flattering to write about him to his parents. They wrote that his uncle, Félix’s brother, a local schoolmaster, had, a few months previously started to teach him to read and write and that he was already reading and writing like a child of ten. Knowing that they, being illiterate, were not best placed to judge reading and writing skills, they pointed out that this was the verdict of both his uncle and their priest. Both men, they wrote, thought that Marcel was a genius and that he would one day become someone really grand. Like a doctor.
As for the genius himself; when he would later so bitterly speak of his birth and childhood, he would say that having been able to read and write was a true blessing; it meant that the two old spinsters finally considered him sufficiently grown-up not to have to sleep in a toddler’s cot. They bought him a bed.

In 1908 Félix and Clémence returned to Auxerre and to the top floor apartment at Number 100 Rue de Paris. Marcel joined them. He was eleven years old and a pupil at the local school; he had started school at the age of seven as French law required. As the two parents learned, he was top of his class.

The two, having already witnessed with alarm their son’s misbehavior when on short visits to Auxerre in the past, were even more alarmed when they one day saw him stick a pin into a bird’s eyes. When they asked Henriette and Marie if he had ever done such a bad thing before, they were told that he certainly had. They would also learn that their son liked to impale worms and insects on knitting needles and that he might even have killed his own cat. The story the two were told was that he had thrown the cat into a cauldron of hot water in which Henriette was soaking the week’s washing but that fortunately she had walked into the scullery just in time to save the cat’s life. Though, later he had indeed killed the animal; Henriette had found its lifeless body in his room under his bed and as his hands and arms were covered in scratches he had obviously either smothered or strangled it. Later, Petiot reading about this in Paris newspapers, he vehemently denied that he had ever killed his cat; indeed that he had ever taken the life of any living creature.

Still trying to digest such distasteful revelations about their son, Clémence, making Marcel’s bed one morning, found that the sheets were soiled. Marcel had wet the bed. As she and Félix knew several people with young children who were wetting the bed, they thought that it was part of growing up. Soon, though, they saw that his trousers were often wet: he had started to suffer from daytime incontinence. Clémence then took him to their GP but reported back to her husband that the doctor had said that children often wet the bed and that all grew out of it. This child however did not, and soon the daytime incontinence developed into incontinence of both the bladder and the bowl. When he started coming home from school in tears because he had had an accident in the classroom, Clémence took him back to the GP. She also then discussed with the doctor her son’s cruelty towards small animals, but she was again reassured by what the doctor told her: little boys were often cruel to their pet cats and dogs and it was nothing to become alarmed about. Of the double incontinence the doctor repeated what he had already told her about bed-wetting: children grew out of such things.

Marcel continued to walk around with soiled clothes and his parents, trusting their doctor, ignored it. They had something else on their minds anyway. Clémence was pregnant. It was 1909 and she was thirty-three years old and Félix was forty-one and twelve years had gone by since Marcel’s birth.

Given no explanation as to his mother’s expanding waistline, Marcel was sent back to Henriette and Marie’s house to spend the final months of the pregnancy with the two spinsters. On his return to the Rue de Paris apartment, he was again given no explanation for the presence of a baby in the house. Instantly, though, he loved the little thing; a boy named Maurice. He would also later say that seeing his little brother for the first time, he had been unable to take his eyes off him. He would also say that until Maurice’s birth, he had not loved anyone, and until he had met Georgette, his wife, the only other human being that he had loved, was his brother.

Both loves would be reciprocated.


In 1910, the Post Office again promoted Félix. He became Site Inspector and he was to be transferred to the town of Joigny, sixteen miles away. Maurice would be going along, but not Marcel. He, when he heard that he was to return to Henriette and Marie, refused to be separated from his little brother. He clung to Maurice and both children screamed at the top of their voices; Marcel in anger and Maurice, not understanding what was going on, in fear.

In Joigny, Félix’s promotion allowed the Petiots to rent a comfortable house in the centre of the town. Marcel joined them during school holidays when Henriette and Marie would put him on a train.  Bu then his double incontinence had stopped, it had stopped without treatment as the GP had said it would, and he also no longer wet the bed. He still had bouts of aggressiveness when he would loudly argue with his classmates, but his teachers never intervened; they thought that a brilliant scholar – he was still top of the class – was intolerant of classmates who were not quick learners, and should therefore not be reprimanded.

In 1911, the family said farewell to Joigny. Félix was transferred back to Auxerre.   Marcel prepared to return home but heard that he was to remain with Henriette and Marie. Again he protested vigorously but Clémence was not well and he was told that he should shut up because he was not to return home and that was final.

A year later Clémence passed away. Cancer killed her. She was thirty-six years old and Félix was thirty-four. He, unable to cope with his loss, sent Maurice to Henriette and Marie too. Marcel was fifteen years old and Maurice was three.  The two spinsters, already having brought up Marcel had little courage to bring up yet another child, so Marcel announced that he would bring up his little brother. Therefore, in the morning before he left for school he bathed, clothed and fed Maurice. In the afternoons after school he played with him and remembering how he had been taught to read and write at the age of three, he tried to do the same for Maurice, albeit failing totally. The younger did not have the elder’s intelligence. Maurice would remain an academic failure.


Two years passed. The grieving Félix, having returned to Joigny, let Henriette and Marcel know that he was to come back to Auxerre and that he would not be setting off again. He thought that his two sons should return to live with him.
Once back home Marcel’s behavior deteriorated. He either incessantly argued with everyone or he would fall silent for days when he would even ignore Maurice. He also played truant from school when the headmaster would summon Félix to warn him that his son would be expelled should the truancy continue. Félix’ response was to belt Marcel.

One day Félix was summoned to the school yet again. The headmaster told him that his son had fired a bullet into his classroom’s ceiling; he therefore had no choice but to expel him. The noise of the shot had caused commotion throughout the school with frightened children and equally frightened teachers running out on to the playground. Would he know how the boy had got hold of a pistol the headmaster asked Félix. The latter knew; he was a firearms collector and Marcel had stolen a pistol from his collection, and later when he recounted the incident to friends over a drink in a bistro he admitted that it was all rather funny: Marcel only wanted to brighten a boring lesson on colonial Africa.

Marcel escaped expulsion.

In February 1914, aged seventeen and his mother dead for just under two years, Marcel collided with the law. The townspeople had been reporting to the Post Office that letters they had mailed had not arrived and the sorting clerks – once they had been Clémence’s colleagues – had no recollection of having handled them. It was obvious that there was a thief in town. There was and he was caught red-handed: it was Marcel. He was on Rue de Paris pushing what looked like a short fishing rod into one of the Post Office’s yellow mail boxes when a policeman walked up. The fishing rod was a stick with glue at one end. He was taken to the station house and a policeman went to fetch Félix. The latter on hearing that his son was the letter thief dropped his head into his hands; he wondered what he was going to tell his late wife’s colleagues from the sorting office. The police thought that Marcel had been looking for money or money orders to cash, or perhaps for embarrassing information with which he could blackmail the senders or the intended recipients.

As French law required – this is still so today – that a minor facing a criminal charge should be mentally assessed, a child psychologist was to speak to Marcel. Should the psychologist find him fit to stand trial, he would appear in front of a children’s court to face the charge of theft and damaging public property, and if found guilty he would be sent to reform school until he turned eighteen. This time, finding no reason for clemency, the headmaster of his school immediately expelled him. The expulsion though would not be a problem; Félix’s brother began tutoring his nephew at home.

On Thursday, March 26, Marcel, neatly dressed and his nails clean and his hair cut and oiled back from his face, and accompanied by Félix who was equally dignified in dress and look, appeared before a judge for a preliminary hearing. The child psychologist had already handed in his diagnosis; after having had a conversation with Marcel, he had come to the conclusion that the 17-year-old suffered from mental problems. He described these as hereditary. Félix, when he heard this, exploded. There was no insanity in the Petiot family and neither was there in that of the Bourdons he shouted at the psychologist and the judge. He demanded a second opinion.

Two months later, on Wednesday, May 6, father and son were back in Court. A second psychologist had confirmed his colleague’s diagnosis. Félix requested yet another assessment and again the judge capitulated.

In Court, on Friday, August 14, six months after the commencement of the case, a third child psychologist confirmed his two colleague’s diagnosis. Quickly, before Félix could protest again, the judge gave his verdict. Marcel would not have to go to reform school, but he would have to receive treatment for his mental problems; he need not be institutionalized but could receive his treatment as an outpatient. Félix was to choose the institution. He did no such thing. Secretly, while his brother had been tutoring his son at home, he had been looking for a school to send him too and he had found one in the city of Dijon. Marcel had only one year of study left before he could sit for his baccalauréat school-leaving examination. Usually a bachelier was nineteen years old. Such a feat had impressed the headmaster.

Dijon, at ninety-three miles from Auxerre, the school would be close enough for Félix to be able to keep an eye on his son while far enough not to have him under his feet all the time.

A few days later father and son set off by train for Dijon.

It is not known what reason Félix had given the headmaster for Marcel’s expulsion from the Auxerre school, but within two months he was back at the Auxerre railroad station and waiting for the Dijon train to steam in. Marcel had again been expelled. As the headmaster had told Félix in a phone conversation, his son had been caught passing pornographic sketches and postcards around his classroom and that he had also made indecent proposals to the boys in his dormitory.

Back in Auxerre, Marcel returned to Henriette and Marie’s house. His father had turned his back on him.

On Saturday, July 10, 1915, Marcel received his baccalauréat diploma with a mention of honors. He had again studied at home. Félix’s brother his tutor.


Marcel told his uncle that he wanted to become a physician: in the fall he would be enroling at the medical faculty in Paris. When Félix heard it, he laughed. He believed that Marcel would never amount to anything in life. Or, if he did make his mark on the world, it would be for some no-good deed.

Marcel did not enroll at the Paris Medical Faculty. He decided that a medical career could wait. The Great War was raging and he was torn by an intense anger at the Germans for making war against his motherland. He was eighteen years old and eligible for the draft. He wanted to go and kill the filthy Boches.


Dr Marcel Petiot as a young family doctor.

Dr Marcel Petiot as a young family doctor.



Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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: