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Pierre François LACENAIRE





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: December 14, 1834
Date of arrest: February 2, 1835
Date of birth: December 20, 1800
Victims profile: A man named Chardon (a slum-dwelling transvestite) and his mother
Method of murder: Stabbing with a shoemaker's awl - Beating with a hatchet
Location: Paris, France
Status: Executed by guillotine on January 9, 1836
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Pierre François Lacenaire (1800 in Lyon – 1836) was a famous French poet and murderer.

Upon finishing his education with excellent results, Lacenaire joined the army, eventually deserting in 1829 at the time of the expedition to the Morea. He became a crook and was in and out of prison, which was, as he called it, his "criminal university". Whilst in prison, Lacenaire recruited two henchmen, Victor Avril and François Martin, and wrote a song, "Petition of a Thief to a King his Neighbor", as well as "The Prisons and the Penal Regime" for a journal.

At the time of his execution for a double murder he wrote Memoirs, Revelations and Poems. He turned his trial into a theatrical event and his cell into a salon.

Dostoevsky read about Lacenaire's case and it inspired him to write Crime and Punishment, in which Raskolnikov's crime was a copy of Lacenaire's almost down to the last detail.

Foucault believed Lacenaire's notoriety among Parisians marked the birth of a new kind of lionized outlaw (as opposed to the older folk hero), the bourgeois romantic criminal, and eventually to the detective and true crime genres of literature.

Lacenaire is portrayed in the epic movie Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise), directed by Marcel Carné. There is also a French film called Lacenaire starring Daniel Auteuil.


Jean François Lacenaire

In 1835, Pierre-François Lacenaire was convicted of a double murder and an attempted third. While in prison awaiting his trial, Lacenaire held press conferences, entertained writers, allowed a phrenologist to measure the bumps on his head and make a life mask, and received countless letters from the public. Lacenaire spent his time writing poetry and reading the classics. According to Victor Hugo, he discussed serious literature with his jailer and Lacenaire went so far as to will the jailer his personal library. (Wright, 1981, p. 31)

At the trial itself, Lacenaire took command of the proceedings by confessing all of his crimes in detail and stunned the courtroom with an improvised closing soliloquoy. Rumors circulated that he was to be pardoned after conviction and be made chief of a special branch of police. This sounded much like the familiar case of the bandit, Vidocq. In fact, Lacenaire claimed to have been inspired by Vidocq's memoirs. Reading Vidocq showed Lacenaire that the real "school of crime" was the nineteenth century prison. In order to learn from the best, Lacenaire got himself arrested for a minor crime and spent a year learning from the experts.

Lacenaire's main goal was to become "the scourge of society." (Wright, 1981, p. 35) It is questionable how much he actually learned from his fellow convicts. His crimes were hardly those of one schooled in the art of murder. He and an accomplice were convicted of a brutal, amateurish butchery of a slum-dwelling transvestite and the latter's aging mother.

The criminals committed the crime under the belief that there would be a huge monetary reward for their efforts, but Lacenaire was mistaken in his theory that the victims possessed a hoard of money. His second venture was even less professional than his first attempt. He lured a bank messenger to a false rendezvous, seeking to rob him and slit his throat. This job was completely botched, and again, Lacenaire was forced to flee empty-handed.

After his conviction, Lacenaire wrote his memoirs and, with some of his poems, they were published after his execution and became a best-seller. Dostoevsky read of the case and it inspired him to write Crime and Punishment, in which Raskolnikov's crime was a copy of Lacenaire's almost down to the last detail. (Wright, 1981, p. 32) A French encyclopedia called him an "odieux assassin", and devoted almost as much space to Lacenaire's career as to that of the famous general Lafayette. (Grand Dictionnaire Universel, 1860)

Lacenaire's name was lost for a while, and then resurrected in Marcel Carné's 1945 film, Les Enfants du Paradis. Lacenaire was sentenced to a rendezvous with the guillotine, and while the newpapers claimed that he died a coward, his admirers claimed that he played out his heroic role to the end.


Pierre François Lacenaire

Pierre-François Lacenaire, the "Manfred of the gutter," was one of France's most notorious 19th century criminals. He and an accomplice named Avril called on an acquaintance of Lacenaire's named Chardon on December 14, 1834. As soon as they got into Chardon's apartment, Avril seized him by the throat and Lacenaire stabbed him in the back. Then Avril finished him off with a hatchet, while Lacenaire went into the bedroom and quickly killed the old woman with a shoemaker's awl. Eventually, Avril, who was imprisoned for another offence, came forward with information that led to Lacenaire's arrest for the murders. Lacenaire in turn gave a full confession which implicated Avril.

Their executions were carried out quietly and unannounced, on a cold and foggy morning in January 1836, just over a year after the murder of the Chardons. Lacenaire remained calm and polite and watched Avril's execution without flinching. The men had made up at the end.

The night before the execution, Lacenaire called to his old accomplice: "The earth will be pretty cold tomorrow." "Ask to be buried in a fur coat," shouted Avril. When Lacenaire's head was on the block, there was an accident that would have broken another man's nerve. The blade of the guillotine dropped, then stuck halfway. As it was hauled up again, Lacenaire twisted his head to look up at the triangular blade. A moment later, it fell again. Lacenaire was thirty-six years old when he died.



DATE(S): 1834

VENUE: Paris, France

VICTIMS: Three confessed

MO: Killed robbery victims

DISPOSITION: Guillotined, 1835



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