Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Marcel Petiot

Charnel House

Jean-Marc Van Bever, victim
Jean-Marc Van Bever,

A police review of Petiot's background helped identify two victims from the slaughterhouse at 21 Rue le Sueur. One was Jean-Marc Van Bever, a Paris drug addict who procured his narcotics from Dr. Petiot until February 1942, when Van Bever was jailed in a crackdown on pharmacies trading in illicit drugs. Van Bever admitted buying fraudulent prescriptions from Petiot, but he vanished days before his March 1942 trial. At the time, police believed Van Bever was likely murdered by underworld associates, but they reconsidered that judgment two years later, in light of their discoveries on Rue le Sueur.

Raymonde Baudet, police file photo
Raymonde Baudet,
police file photo

Another victim was identified as Marthe Khaït, the mother of another addict — one Raymonde Baudet — who also bargained with Petiot for her poison of choice. Baudet had been jailed in March 1942, two weeks before Van Bever disappeared, and Petiot had come to Marthe Khaït with an idea to help himself get off the hook. Mrs. Khaït should lie under oath, he suggested, claiming that some of Raymonde's prescriptions — written in her mother's surname — really belonged to Marthe, thereby weakening the prosecution's case against Petiot. Khaït agreed, then had a change of heart after consulting her physician. She vanished March 26. Later, her husband received two letters declaring Marthe's intention to leave the country. The husband consulted Petiot, who confirmed Marthe's plans to escape Nazi-occupied France. Unconvinced, Raymonde Baudet reported her mother missing on May 7, 1942, but no trace of Marthe was found until officers searched 21 Rue le Sueur.

In July 1942, Petiot was convicted in both narcotics cases. He was fined F10,000 for each offense, but the fine was reduced on appeal to a total of F2,400. Inspector Roger Gignoux suspected Petiot of murdering Khaït and Van Bever, but he had no proof that either victim was dead until March 1944. By that time, Petiot had disappeared.

Maurice Petiot, Marcel's brother
Maurice Petiot,
Marcel's brother

The search for Petiot began in earnest on March 13, 1944. His wife and son were questioned in Paris, along with his brother Maurice. Maurice Petiot, lacking his brother's gall or cunning, soon confessed that he had delivered the quicklime to 21 Rue le Sueur, acting on Marcel's orders. Charged with conspiracy to commit murder, Maurice was jailed on March 17. Georgette Petiot was also detained suspected of aiding husband Marcel in his crimes.

German commissaire Robert Jodkum provided the motive for Petiot's murders, along with details of Petiot's eight-month imprisonment by the Gestapo. Petiot had been arrested in May 1943, along with three others, on suspicion of smuggling Jews out of occupied France. Casting their net for witnesses, police found a Paris resident who planned to flee but changed his mind. Marcel Petiot, he said, had offered passage to South America, with all required travel papers, for F25,000. One who used Petiot's service and vanished forever was Joachim Guschinov, a Jewish furrier. When he disappeared in January 1942, Guschinov took with him some F500,000 in cash, five sable coats, plus gold, silver and diamonds worth as much as F700,000.

René-Gustave Nézondet

Once the "escape" network was exposed, police had no difficulty capturing Petiot's accomplices. A childhood friend of Petiot's, René-Gustave Nézondet, was arrested on March 17, 1944. A friend of Nézondet's picked up the same day, Roland Porchon, admitted referring clients to Nézondet and Petiot. In July 1942, Porchon told detectives, Nézondet had described Petiot as "the king of the criminals," claiming that he had seen "16 corpses stretched out" in the basement of 21 Rue le Sueur. A second witness recalled Nézondet's admission that he had helped Petiot hide bodies. Nézondet, for his part, initially denied the charges, then confessed on March 22. He had a different chronology for the story, though, claiming that he first learned of the slaughter on Rue le Sueur in November or December 1943, when Petiot was in Gestapo custody. Besides the corpses, he had also seen a diary — now missing — which listed the names of "50 or 60" victims.

Roland Porchon, police photo
Roland Porchon,
police photo

Six others were arrested in the Petiot manhunt, including a barber who referred clients to Petiot from his shop on Rue des Mathurins and Albert and Simone Neuhausen, who were held for receiving stolen property after they confessed that they helped remove suitcases from 21 Rue le Sueur. Most of the suspects were released in April 1944, though Nézondet remained in custody for 14 months. Marcel Petiot was still a fugitive on June 6, 1944, when Allied troops invaded France and the investigation ground to a halt.

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