The Serial Homicide Case of the Day, from "Hunting Humans, the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Serial Killers" , by Michael Newton
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Landru, Henri Desire
Born in Paris during 1869, the future "Bluebeard" was a bright student who studied mechanical engineering at age sixteen. He served four years in the army, rising to the rank of sergeant before his discharge in 1894. During the same period, Landru seduced his cousin and she bore him a daughter in 1891, becoming his wife two years later. On discharge from the service, he enlisted with a Paris firm requiring cash deposits from its new employees, but the owner soon absconded with his money, leaving Landru bitter at society in general.
He logged the first of seven felony arrests in 1900, sentenced to a two-year term for fraud. He drew another two years in 1904, thirteen months in 1906, and three years in 1908. While still imprisoned on the latter term, he was returned to Lille for trial on charges of swindling 15,000 francs from a middle-aged widow he met through a lonely-hearts ad in the newspaper. That conviction earned him another three years, but Landru accepted his punishment philosophically, fathering three more children during his brief vacations from prison.
Free on parole in 1914, Landru was suspected by police of various offenses and convicted in absentia, sentenced to a four-year prison term and lifelong deportation to New Caledonia, to be imposed upon his apprehension. He had nothing left to lose except his life, and by the outbreak of the war in Europe, he was risking that, as well.
In 1914, posing as "Monsieur Diard," he struck up an acquaintance with a widow, Madame Cuchet, and her 16-year-old son. Despite warnings from her family, the lady furnished a villa at Vernouillet and the three of them set up housekeeping. The Cuchets disappeared in January 1915, with Landru pocketing 5,000 francs on the deal and presenting his wife with the woman's gold watch, as a gift.
In early June 1915, Landru began courting another widow, Madame Laborde-Line. She sold off her furniture on June 21, telling friends she was going to live with her future husband at Vernouillet. Madame Laborde-Line was last seen alive on June 26, after which Landru sold her securities and other belongings for cash.
Meeting his victims through lonely-hearts ads had become a routine, and by the time he disposed of his second mark, Landru had two more waiting in the wings. A Madame Guillin, 51, joined him at Vernouillet on August 2, and Landru sold off her securities a few days later. By December, a series of forged documents had siphoned 12,000 francs from the missing woman's account.
Calling himself "Dupont," Landru rented a villa al: Gambais, south of Paris, in December 1915. His latest paramour, Madame Heon, joined him there on. December 8, and was never seen again. Her friends were briefly pacified by notes from Landru, each explaining that the woman could no longer write herself, because of failing health.
Victim number six, Madame Collomb, had maintained correspondence with Landru since May 1915, accepting his pledges of true-blue affection. She moved into his Gambais villa in November 1916, but their romance was short lived, the lady vanishing on Christmas day.
In January 1917, Landru met a young servant girl, Andree Babelay, at the railway station, offering her a place to stay while she looked for work. On March 11, Andree told her mother she was engaged, and she moved in with Landru full-time on March 29. Penniless, she had nothing to offer in terms of financial rewards, but her days were still numbered. By April 12, she had vanished without a trace.
In July, after more than two years of running correspondence, Landru began courting Madame Buisson. They boarded the train for Gambais on August 19, and she was seen no more. Suspicious relatives launched their own investigation in the face of police indifference, and began comparing notes with the family of Madame Collomb.
Landru, meanwhile, continued his courting apace. Madame Jaune met her husband-to-be through a matrimonial agent, moving to Gambais on November 25, 1917; five days later, Landru cleaned out her bank account. Madame Pascal joined the list on April 5, 1918, her furniture sold as an afterthought. Madame Marchadier accepted Landru's proposal on New Year's Day, 1919; she moved to Gambais two weeks later... and vanished.
Pressure from the Buisson and Collomb families eventually forced police to arrest Landru on April 12, 1919. A notebook was found, bearing cryptic notations on each of his victims, but excavations around his villa unearthed only the remains of three dogs. No trace of his human prey was ever found, and Landru remained uncooperative, certain that he must go free in the absence of bodies.
Prosecutors disagreed, and his trial at Versailles, in November, became a sensation. Neighbors from Gambais recalled the rancid smoke sporadically produced by Landru's chimney, and the court was satisfied. Convicted of murder, he was sentenced to die in spite of the jury's recommendation for clemency. Taking his secrets to the grave, Landru was guillotined on February 23, 1922.
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