Marcel André Henri Félix Petiot (January 17, 1897 – May 25, 1946) was a French doctor who was convicted of multiple murders after the discovery of the remains of 26 people in his home in Paris after World War II. He is suspected of killing more than sixty victims during his life.
Petiot was born January 17, 1897 at Auxerre, France. Later accounts make various claims of his delinquency and criminal acts during childhood and adolescence, but is unclear whether they were invented afterwards for public consumption. It should be noted, however, that a psychiatrist diagnosed him as mentally ill on March 26, 1914, and he was expelled from school many times. He finished his education in a special academy in Paris in July of 1915.
During World War I, Petiot was drafted into the French infantry in January 1916. In Aisne he was wounded and gassed and exhibited more symptoms of mental breakdown. He was sent to various rest homes, where he was arrested for stealing army blankets and jailed in Orleans. In a psychiatric hospital at Fleury-les-Aubrais he was again diagnosed with various mental ailments but was returned to the front in June of 1918. He was transferred three weeks later after he shot himself in the foot, but was attached to a new regiment in September. A new diagnosis was enough to get him discharged with a disability pension.
After the war Petiot entered the accelerated education program intended for war veterans, completed medical school in eight months and went to become an intern in Evreux mental hospital. He received his medical degree in December 1921 and moved to Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, where he received payment for his services both from the patients and from government medical assistance funds. At this point, he was already using addictive narcotics. While working at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, he gained a reputation for dubious medical practices, such as the supply of narcotics, and the performance of then-illegal abortions.
Petiot's first victim might have been Louise Delaveau, the daughter of an elderly patient, with whom he had an affair in 1926. Delaveau disappeared in May and neighbors later said that they had seen Petiot load a trunk into his car. Police investigated, but eventually dismissed her as a runaway. That same year, Petiot ran for mayor of the town, hired an accomplice to disrupt a political debate with his opponent, and won. Once in office, he embezzled from the town funds. In 1927 he married Georgette Lablais. Their son Gerhardt was born the next year.
The local prefect received numerous complaints about Petiot's theft and shady financial deals. Petiot was eventually suspended as a mayor in August 1931 and resigned. The village council also resigned in sympathy. Five weeks later, on October 18, he was elected as a councilor for the Yonne district. In 1932 he was accused of stealing electric power from the village of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne and he lost his seat in a council. Meanwhile, he had already moved to Paris.
In Paris, Petiot attracted patients with his imaginary credentials, and built an impressive reputation for his practice at 66 Rue Caumartin. However, there were rumors of illegal abortions and overt prescriptions of addictive remedies. In 1936 he was appointed médecin d'état-civil with authority to write death certificates. The same year, he was briefly institutionalized for kleptomania, but was released the following year. He still persisted in tax evasion.
After the outbreak of World War II and the fall of France, Petiot begun to provide false medical certificates to French citizens who were drafted to forced labour into Germany, and treated sick workers that had returned. He was also convicted, in July 1942, of over-prescribing narcotics, despite the fact that two addicts who would have testified against him had disappeared. He was fined 2400 Francs.
According to his own tall tales, Petiot also developed secret weapons that supposedly killed Germans without leaving forensic evidence, had high-level meetings with Allied commanders, engaged in resistance activities (planting booby traps all over Paris), and worked with a (nonexistent) group of anti-fascist Spaniards.
Petiot's most lucrative activity, however, was his own false escape route. He adopted a "code-name" "Dr. Eugène". He accepted anyone who could afford his price of 25,000 Francs per person regardless of whether they were Jews, resistance fighters, or ordinary criminals. His aides Raoul Fourrier, Edmond Pintard, and René-Gustave Nézondet directed victims to his hands. Petiot claimed that he could arrange a safe passage to Argentina or elsewhere in South America through Portugal. He also claimed that Argentinean officials demanded inoculations and injected his victims with cyanide. Then he took all their valuables and disposed of the bodies. People who trusted him to deliver them to safety were never seen alive again.
At first Petiot dumped the bodies in the Seine, but he later destroyed the bodies by submerging them in quicklime or by incinerating them. In 1941, Petiot bought a house at 21 rue le Sueur.
What Petiot failed to do was to keep a low profile. The Gestapo eventually found out about him and, by April 1943, they had heard all about his "route". Gestapo agent Robert Jodkum forced prisoner Yvan Dreyfus to approach the supposed network, but he simply vanished. A later informer successfully infiltrated the operation and the Gestapo arrested Fourrier, Pintard, and Nézondet. Under torture they confessed that "Dr Eugène" was Marcel Petiot. Nezondet was later released but three others spent eight months in prison suspected of helping Jews to escape. Even under torture, they did not identify any other members of the resistance - because they actually knew of none. The Gestapo released the three men in January 1944.
During the intervening seven months, Petiot hid with friends, claiming that the Gestapo wanted him because he had killed Germans and informers. He eventually moved in with a patient, Georges Redouté, let his beard grow and adopted various aliases.
When the Resistance and the Paris police rose against German troops in Paris, Petiot adopted the name "Henri Valeri" and joined the French Forces of the Interior (FFI). He became a captain in charge of counterespionage and prisoner interrogations.
When the newspaper 'Resistance' published an article about Petiot, his defense attorney from the 1942 narcotics case received a letter in which his fugitive client claimed that the published allegations were mere lies. This gave police a hint that Petiot was still in Paris. The search began anew - with "Henri Valeri" among those who were drafted to find him. Finally, on October 31, Petiot was recognized at a Paris metro station, and arrested. Among his possessions were a pistol, 31,700 francs, and 50 sets of identity documents.
Petiot was placed on death row at La Santé prison. He continued to claim that he was innocent and that he had only killed enemies of France. He claimed that he had discovered the pile of bodies in 21 Rue le Sueur in February 1944, and assumed that they were collaborators that members of his "network" had killed.
Police noticed that Petiot had no friends in any of the major resistance groups. Some of the groups he'd mentioned had never existed, and there was no proof of any of his claimed exploits. Prosecutors eventually charged him with at least 27 murders for profit. Their estimate of his loot ran to 200 million francs.
Petiot went on trial on March 19, 1946, facing 135 criminal charges. René Floriot acted for the defense, against a team consisting of state prosecutors and twelve civil lawyers hired by relatives of Petiot's victims. Petiot taunted the prosecuting lawyers, and claimed that various victims had been collaborators or double agents, or that vanished people were alive and well in South America under new names. He admitted to killing just nineteen of the twenty-seven victims found in his house, and claimed that they were Germans and collaborators - part of a total of 63 "enemies" killed. Floriot attempted to portray Petiot as a resistance hero, but the judges and jurors were unimpressed. Petiot was convicted of 26 counts of murder, and sentenced to death.
On May 25, Petiot was beheaded, after a stay of a few days due to a problem in the release mechanism of the guillotine.