Real-life gothic horror: The Vampire of Saint-Ouen in L’Écho de Paris (1886)

Image

In L’Écho de Paris from 1 April 1886 I came across this intriguing headline announcing the arrest of the Vampire of Saint-Ouen accused of violating a corpse at a cemetery.  At first I thought it was some sort of macabre April Fool’s joke. The definition of a vampire is also a bit different from the one in contemporary, popular mythology. But apparently the term vampire also covered necrophilia in the nineteenth century, according to Montague Summers’ introduction to the history of vampires in his scholarly classic The Vampire, his Kith, his Kin (1928), which you can read here.

A slightly disturbing Google search taught me that this article was in fact about an actual crime. On the 25th of March 1886 someone had opened the grave in the Cimetière de Saint-Ouen of an eighteen-year old woman buried only the day before and had desecrated her corpse. The April 1st article in L’Écho de Paris triumphantly writes that the police has arrested the ‘auteur de ces actes monstreux’ [author of these monstruous acts], a young 25 year old man names Charles Duhamel who confessed to the crime and who was obviously ‘en proie des horribles hallucinations’ [in the grip of horrible hallucinations]. You can read the newspaper article here.

But there was a twist. Duhamel didn’t do it. Charles Duhamel turned out to be a mentally unstable copycat who had confessed to this crime that had in fact been committed by a man named Henri Blot (1860-1898). He was the real vampire of Saint-Ouen:

‘On 12th June Blot again violated a tomb, he fell asleep, was discovered and arrested. On 27th August, when brought to trial, and the judge expressed his horror of such acts, he replied callously: “Que voulez-vous, chacun a ses passions. Moi le cadavre, c’est la mienne!” [What do you want, we all have different desires. Mine is the cadaver!] Dr. Motet was unable to certify him insane, and he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.’ (Summers, 1928, p.69)

On 29 August 1886 L’Écho de Paris also informed their readers that the real vampire had been caught and convicted, this time in a report of the court case tucked away on page two under Chronique des Tribunaux which you can read in full here.

Image

Two months after his arrest Charles Duhamel had been declared insane and released on 1 June. Blot then committed his second crime in June. He dug up the corpse of a recently buried young girl, which he hid in a shed on the cemetery. When police investigated the building, Blot –no mention of him sleeping here – fled through the window. Officers managed to arrest Blot and later discovered the girl’s body in the shed. The article also tells us that twenty-six year old Henri Blot was a day labourer who had previously worked at the cemetery just as his father had before him. He had a child and a wife who had left him because was abusive towards her.

In this second article in L’Écho de Paris the reporter also mentions that the first female victim was well known in ‘la vie galante de Montmartre’ (read: prostitute). This was of course completely irrelevant, but added a bit of sexiness to a story that, well, wasn’t very sexy. The story suited L’Écho de Paris’ obsession with sex and crime perfectly of course; a fascination also reflected in many of their serial novels. It also fitted the zeitgeist of the late nineteenth century. Vampires, prostitutes, violated corpses: a great gothic horror story served up with a bit of outrage to the evening newspaper’s readers while they were having their dinner. Bon appétit!

Sidenote: The British author of the 1928 vampire book, Montague Summers (1880-1848) was an eccentric and controversial figure in his own right: Catholic clergyman, author, scholar, vampirologist. Google him at your own risk.

Advertisements