Photo of barrage balloon from America from the Great Depression to World War II, at the Library of Congress.
Today in Odd History
French Bluebeard Guillotined (February 25, 1922)
Today in Odd History, Henri Desire Landru, "The French Bluebeard," was guillotined for the murders of 10 women, and one boy, the son of one of his victims.
Landru was a conman long before he became a murderer. He was not a handsome man, but he was possessed of a silver tongue, an intelligent mind, and, one must assume, great personal charisma. He did well in school, attending the School of Mechanical Engineering, and when he was drafted into the Army at the age of 18, he succeeded there, too. His greatest success, however, was with women. He seduced his cousin, Mademoiselle Remy, in 1891; she became pregnant, and bore him a daughter. He married her two years later. They would eventually become estranged, as Landru's criminal activities became more and more notorious, but not until she had borne him 3 more children.
After his marriage, Landru left the Army to become a clerk. He posted a sum of money to his employer as a bond, and his employer disappeared with it. This event would prove to be a turning point for Landru. He started his own business, running a garage and a used furniture store, and he also started conning women out of their fortunes. He was very sympathetic to the widows who came to him to sell the furniture from their marriages, convincing them to give him their pensions so he could invest the money for them. He never did invest their funds, of course; he merely spent them.
Remarkably, several years passed before Landru was caught. In 1900, he attempted to withdraw bank funds with a false ID. He was sentenced to two years in prison for fraud. Over the next decade, he would go to prison 7 more times, and each time he was released, he would go back to his life of crime. The details of his schemes varied, but they usually revolved around the same core--convincing lonely, desperate people to entrust their savings to him. Most of his victims were women, but he ran the same sorts of scams on retired soldiers, as well. He never seemed to feel remorse for what he had done.
In 1908, Landru was brought to trial for the first time on the kind of setup that would eventually lead to his death. He was already in prison in Paris for fraud when the court in Lille convicted him of defrauding Madame Izore of her dowry. He had placed an ad in a newspaper, claiming to be a well-to-do widower seeking matrimony. Madame Izore was a 40-year-old widow who had made the mistake of answering him. He persuaded her to give him her 15,000-franc dowry in exchange for some deeds, which turned out to be counterfeit. He spent 3 years in prison for what he had done to her, on top of the sentence he was already serving, but the dowry was already gone.
Just before World War I, Landru was released from prison, but he had no place to go. He was estranged from Remy, his mother was dead, and his father had committed suicide. He could have rejoined the Army, but instead he drifted for awhile, keeping always one step ahead of the law, and being convicted in absentia after he left a place. In 1914, he returned to the marriage scam that he had worked against Madame Izore. He placed an ad in a Paris newspaper: "Widower with two children, aged 43, with comfortable income, serious and moving in good society, desires to meet widow with a view to matrimony." Madame Cuchet, a 49-year-old widow with a 16-year-old son named Andre, answered his ad. Although her family was suspicious of "Monsieur Diard," who said he was an engineer, Cuchet fell completely under his spell. Even when her brother-in-law (who had searched "Diard's" villa near Chantilly when Cuchet asked him to accompany her there) showed her a chest full of love letters from other women, she would not give him up. Instead, she rented a villa near Paris, and "Diard" moved in with her and her son. Soon after, Landru opened a bank account with funds he said were part of his inheritance from his father. In January, Cuchet and Andre disappeared, and Landru presented Remy with Cuchet's watch.
More victims followed. Madame Laborde-Line, an Argentinean widow, arrived at Landru's villa July 1915, with her two small dogs in tow. None of the three was ever seen again. Madames Guillin and Heon also disappeared from the villa in 1915. In 1917, a 19-year-old servant girl, Andree Babelay, disappeared near the villa. She was the only one of Landru's victims who had nothing to offer himno money, no land, only her own self. She is an anomaly in the otherwise clear pattern of Landru's crimes.
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