Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Werewolf Syndrome: Compulsive Bestial Slaughterers

The Spectral Man

Gilles Garnier was an odd-looking, reclusive man living in Dole, outside Lyons, France, with his wife and children.  They didn't have much, so Garnier would go into the woods to look for game.  One day, he later reported in a tortured confession, he encountered a "spectral man," who offered him an unguent and showed him how to become a wolf.  That way, he'd have an easier time chasing down game for his family.  Garnier said that he proceeded to kill, but his victims were often human.  He was caught in 1573 after people saw him attack a child and forced to confess.  That's when he offered his version of the trapped-in-a-wolf story.

After the Feast of St. Michael, he claimed, a ten-year-old girl wandered into a vineyard.  In the form of a wolf, he seized and "killed her both with his hands, seemingly paws, as with his teeth."  He dragged the body to the woods, stripped off the clothing, and indulged his lust for raw flesh.  Then he tore off some to take home to his wife.  He tried this again with another little girl, but the approach of a group of people interrupted him.  About a week later, he attacked a young boy, ate flesh from the thighs and belly, and tore off a leg.  Then he apparently made the mistake of attacking a child while he was still in human form and this time witnesses recognized him.  He and his wife were both arrested.

Garnier blamed a force outside himself.  The court agreed that he was the victim of dark forces, but that failed to mitigate their decision to find him guilty.  They believed they must purge him from their midst, and only the purity of fire would accomplish that.  Because the case was so shocking, the Parliament of Franche-Comtè decided to set an example.  To show people what would happen should they enter into pacts with the devil, they burned Garnier alive.  Afterward, a pamphlet was printed at Sens, vividly depicting his crimes, conviction, and punishment.  In truth, he'd probably done nothing of the kind, but children were being attacked in that area by wolves, and in light of the pervasive superstition, it was easy for witnesses to "see" human features on these beasts.  Indeed, there were eyewitnesses at Garnier's trial who corroborated his statements.  Yet he was likely the victim of contagious hysteria.

A case that depicts acts similar to actual serial killers with a penchant for torture and blood showed up in France not long afterward.

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