Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Werewolf Syndrome: Compulsive Bestial Slaughterers

Vacher the Ripper

In 1824, twenty-nine-year-old Antoine Léger went to live in the woods by himself, and apparently he was not content to just live off animals.  He lured a girl into his cave and killed her.  Apprehended, he was tried by the district court of Versailles, at which time it came out that he'd eaten parts of his victim.  Alienists diagnosed him as being psychotic.

Joseph Vacher
Joseph Vacher

By century's end, in 1897, a tramp named Joseph Vacher, 29, was tried in France for eleven murders.  He had been arrested after a seventeen-year-old shepherd was found strangled, stabbed, and with his belly ripped open.  Vacher wrote a confession for the judge, claiming that he suffered from an irresistible impulse and had committed murder during frenzies.  He thought that, having been bitten by a rabid dog when he was a child, his blood had been poisoned.  As his victims died, he said, he drank blood from their necks.

A team of doctors examined the defendant.  In the end, because his memory was clear about the crimes and because he had run off, they decided that Vacher had demonstrated sufficient awareness to be judged sane and therefore responsible for what he had done.  Yet he had a history of "confused talk," spells of delirium, persecution mania, and extreme irritability.  Indeed, three years earlier he had been treated in an asylum when he'd killed a woman and had sex with her corpse.  He also had once removed the genitalia from a boy and from a girl.  If anyone had a claim to insanity, he did, but in 1898, at the Ain Assizes, he was convicted, and within two months executed.

Ironically, during Vacher's spree, Dracula was published in 1897 in England, introducing the shocking image of the predatory life-sucker who commanded wolves and could shift into the shape of one.

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