Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Marcel Petiot

The Politician

Villeneuve-sur-Yonne now had a certified madman in charge, and Petiot acted the part. His kleptomania was an open secret, Mayor Petiot was suspected of stealing money from the town's treasury, the bass drum from a local band, even a large stone cross that Petiot had once deemed an eyesore. Some despised Petiot; others called him the best mayor ever. Petiot, for his part, blamed all criticism on crass political enemies.

In June 1927, Petiot married Georgette Lablais, the 23-year-old daughter of a wealthy landowner in nearby Seignelay. Their only child, a son Gerhardt, was born the following April.

Eight months after that happy event, Petiot was accused of stealing several cans of oil from Villeneuve-sur-Yonne's railroad depot. As it turned out, Petiot had purchased the oil legally, but he did commit fraud by denying receipt of the shipment and claiming a refund. In early 1930 the court at Sens fined him F200 and sentenced him to three months in prison. Petiot was suspended as mayor for four months, but managed to have the conviction reversed on appeal.

In the meantime, more serious trouble was afoot.

One night in March 1930, fire razed the home of dairy unionist Armand Debauve. His wife Henriette was found inside, beaten to death with a blunt instrument. Police suspected murder during robbery, since F20,000 was reported missing from the house. Footprints led across the nearby fields toward Villeneuve-sur-Yonne. Rumors spread that Henriette Debauve was Dr. Petiot's mistress and that he was seen near her home on the night of the crime. The witness in that case, a Monsieur Fiscot, declared his plans to testify but made a fateful visit to Dr. Petiot's office instead. Fiscot sought treatment for his rheumatism. He received an injection and died three hours later, Petiot signing the death certificate blaming his demise on an aneurysm.

In April, Armand Debauve spoke to police, telling them that a resident of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne had claimed Dr. Petiot could identify Henriette's killer. Local gendarmes sought help from police headquarters in Paris, but the file was somehow "misplaced," disappearing until April 1946. By that time, Dr. Petiot was charged with multiple murders in Paris and no one seemed interested in reopening the Debauve investigation.

During the next 16 months, the local prefect logged numerous complaints against Mayor Petiot, most involving theft or financial irregularities. Prosecutors investigated, finding that 138 alien registration applications and F2,890 in fees had been held at city hall, never relayed to the proper authorities. Petiot blamed his secretary, who obliged the mayor by accepting responsibility. But Petiot was still suspended as mayor for a second time in August 1931, and he resigned the next day. The village council also resigned in sympathy, leaving files in disarray and many purchase orders obviously altered.

Petiot's mayoral office was officially revoked the next month, but he did not seem to mind. Five weeks later, on October 18, he won election as the youngest of 34 general councilors from the Yonne district. As usual, his tenure was stormy, with Petiot accused of stealing electric power from the village of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne in August 1932. At trial on that charge the following year, the judge dubbed Petiot's defense "pure fantasy," and sentenced him to 15 days in jail and a F300 fine. The appeal dragged on for a year, affirming Petiot's conviction but suspending the jail time, with his fine reduced to F100. The conviction cost Petiot his council seat, but it hardly mattered, since he had moved his family to Paris in January 1933.

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