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)
After Babelay's disappearance, Landru moved to another villa, near Gambais. He had a large cast-iron stove installed, and grew roses, living quietly until he seduced Madame Buisson, a wealthy widow who moved in with him after he had courted her for nearly a year. She disappeared in April 1917. Another woman, Madame Collomb, also vanished near the villa in early 1917. Landru Madame Louise Leopoldine Jaume vanished in September, and the cast iron stove was put into use, as the neighbors noticed thick, black smoke billowing from the chimney. Annette Pascal came next, in the spring, and finally came Marie Therese Marchadier, "La Belle Mythese," who had once entertained the French Army and who became friends with Landru when he came to Paris to buy her furniture. She went to Gambais in late 1918, and was never seen again.
It would be inconceivable that Landru had been involved with so many disappearances in such a short period of time without attracting notice, except that he worked very carefully to avert suspicion. He started by creating distance between his victims and their families, and after his victims were dead, he wrote to their friends, families and acquaintances, assuring them that everything was okay. Sometimes he said that the women were ill, and unable to write themselves. Sometimes he forged letters that appeared to come from his victims themselves. In Madame Jaume's case, he assumed the guise of her attorney and closed her bank accounts.
Had Madame Buisson's son, who had gone to live with his aunt when his mother moved in with Landru, not died, Landru might have continued his activities indefinitely. But the boy did die, and Buisson's sister wrote to the mayor of Gambais, asking if he could help her locate either Madame Buisson, or "Monsieur Fremiet," the man her sister had told her she was in love with. He had no word of either party, but suggested that she contact Madame Collomb's family, since she had also been reported missing near Gambais, and under similar circumstances. He also informed her that the tenant of the villa was a man named Monsieur Dupont. The Collomb family was searching for Monsieur Diard. Landru, the man behind all these aliases, had already left Gambais; the police found no evidence of him when they searched the villa, though it was clear that someone had been living there, and quite recently.
Madame Buisson's sister decided that if the police could not help her, she would help herself. She remembered her sister's fiance, and she went to his old address in Paris and began to search for him. In 1919, she finally spotted him coming out of a store, and followed him until he melted into the crowd. She went back to the shop, where the owner recognized her description of the man he knew as "Monsieur Guillet," who lived with his mistress in the Rue de Rochechouart. Madame Buisson's sister summoned the police, who arrested Landru immediately.
Once Landru was in custody, the police began searching for the evidence that would allow them to convict him of murder. They searched his old villa, where he had lived with Madames Laborde-Line, Guillin and Heon, and where little Andree Babelay had disappeared, but found nothing except the skeletons of two small dogs. His villa at Gambais yielded only a memo book, in which Landru had tracked his income and expenses. One page caught the authorities' attention, however. It contained a list of names: "A Cuchet, G. Cuchet, Bresil, Crozatier, Havre. Ct. Buisson, A. Collomb, Andree Babelay, M. Louis (sic) Jaume, A. Pascal, M. Thr. Mercadier," beside expenditures for one-way train tickets. It seemed clear that this was a list of victims. But no bodies had been found, and Landru refused to talk. He stonewalled the police for more than two years, while they excavated his gardens and fruitlessly attempted to connect him to the purchase of acids or other chemicals which might have been used to dissolve the bodies. Finally, the police learned of the noxious smoke which would sometimes billow from the kitchen stove. (If it seems incredible that no one had thought to look at the stove before this, remember that the police were looking for something unusual, something out of the ordinary. A large cast-iron stove was a perfectly normal appliance in the early 20th century.) They sifted the ashes of the stove, and found small, charred bones, which appeared to be of human origin. Even more damning, they found metal fasteners, of the sort found on women's clothing. Landru was finally charged with 11 counts of murder.
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