Voison, Louis Marie Joseph
Louis Marie Joseph Voison was a french butcher who
was convicted of the murder of his Belgian mistress, Emilliene Gerard
(32), whose dismembered corpse was found by a road sweeper on 1 November,
Evidence suggests that Miss Gerard visited Voisin
after an air-raid and found him with another woman. During the fight
that followed Voison battered Miss Gerard to death. In an attempt to
conceal her identity, he used his butcher's knife to dismember the body,
and concealed the parts in several bags. Voison then called at Miss
Gerard's lodgings and said that she had gone away for a few weeks.
The next day the bags containing her remains were
found by a road sweeper in Bloomsbury and investigations soon led the
police to Voison. One of the bags also contained a crude note scrawled
on a scrap of paper and planted with the intention of throwing the
police of the scent. Conversely, it assisted them, for when they had
Voison write the words that appeared on the note, his handwriting and
poor spelling matched.
Convicted at the Old Bailey in January, he was
sentenced to death by Mr Justice Darling, and hanged by John Ellis and
Edward Taylor. The hanging took place in Pentonville prison on 2nd March
1918, Voison was forty two years old at the time.
Voisin was a French butcher who worked in London. It was his poor
English spelling which provided damming evidence against him at his
trial for the murder of a former mistress.
The Case Details
the early morning of 2 November 1917, a roadman known as Jack the
Sweeper found a bundle in Regent Square, in Bloomsbury. The bundle had
been done up in sacking had been dropped over the railings of the
central garden; the garden that was tended to by Jack the Sweeper. Once
he untied the bundle he found that it contained the trunk and arms of a
women, but the head, legs and hands were all missing. Jack the Sweeper
then ran and found a police constable.
further search of the garden in Regent Square found a paper parcel,
which contained both missing legs. There was no sign of the head and
both hands. The sacking which had contained the torso was a meat sack,
stencilled with the words "Argentina La Plata Cold Storage". On a
sheet was a laundry mark, sewn in red cotton, which read "II H."
With the remains were some pieces of course muslin, silk and lace
underwear, and a scrap of brown paper on which the words "Blodie
Belgiam" were roughly scrawled.
Metropolitan Police quickly traced the laundry mark to 50 Munster
Square, located in the neighbourhood east of Regent's Park. The occupant
of two rooms in the house was a 32 year old French lady, Emilienne
Gerard, whose husband was away fighting in the French Army. She had been
missing since 31 October 1917, when there had been an air raid by German
Examination of Gerard's rooms located a number of small bloodstains in
both the kitchen and bedroom. On a table was a IOU for £50 signed by
Louis Voisin, whose portrait also hang over the mantelpiece. With the
knowledge that the dismemberment had been performed by someone with an
understanding of anatomy, the meat sack, the muslin was a type used by
butchers to wrap meat and that Voisin was a butcher, the police decided
to question Voisin.
Voisin lived in the basement of 101 Charlotte Street, which was less
than half a mile from Munster Square and a mile from Regent Square. When
the police arrived to question Voisin, he was seated in the kitchen with
a woman called Berthe Roche.
Both were then taken for further
questioning at Bow Street Police Station. Voisin, who spoke broken
English, was a powerfully-built man: short and thick-set, with a heavy
jaw and dark upturned moustaches. Berthe Roche understood little English
and so a police officer who spoke French was used during the
questioning. Chief Inspector Wensley, who led the investigation, asked
Voisin if he would write the phrase "Bloody Belgium". After some
hesitation, Voisin wrote the phrase five times and each time he made the
identical spelling mistake. The handwriting in each example also closely
matched the example found on the brown paper.
incriminating evidence was soon discovered. The rent of Mme. Gerard's
room in Munster Square was paid by Voisin who also had a key to the
room. He stated that he called there on 2 November to feed the cat.
While there, Voisin explained to the landlord that Mme Gerard would be
away for a week or two and that he was expecting delivery of a sack of
potatoes. Voisin's own kitchen was stained and an earring, later
identified as Mme Gerard's, was found in a blood-stained towel. Among
the keys taken from Voisin was that of a coal cellar underneath the
pavement of Charlotte Street. In this cellar was found a cask containing
the missing head and both hands.
the remains and having visited both Munster Square and Charlotte Street
rooms, the pathologist Bernard Spilsbury reconstructed how Mme Gerard
has died. She had been struck by at least 8 blows on the head and face.
These blows had not killed her, though her head was a mess. They were
followed by an attempt at strangulation, for which the towel served to
muffle her cries; which is when an earring became caught in the towel.
Spilsbury confirmed that the dismemberment had been performed by a
butcher with a butcher's knife.
examining the rooms at Munster Square and Charlotte Street, it was
obviously a the later place that the attack had occurred. In the back
room, mingled with traces of animal blood, there was human blood
everywhere. Chiefly it lay in lines and splashes on the floor and wall
round a door leading into a back-yard. There was also human blood found
on the door and the ceiling above the door. There were yet more stains
of human blood found on the sink and draining board.
appears that the following is what happened to Mme Gerard. On the night
of 31 October 1917, during the air raid, she had gone to shelter with
Voisin in his basement in Charlotte Street. Once she had arrived, she
found Berthe Roche with her lover. Of the two women, Gerard had known
Voisin for far longer. There was a heated argument during which Gerard
probably threatened Voisin with exposure, upon which Roche struck Gerard
several blows with a poker. It was felt that Voisin had not struck the
blows, as with both his expertise and strength there would have been one
powerful blow instead of the several blows to Gerard's head. When Gerard
cried out, Voisin grabbed her from behind and smothered her cries with
the towel while Roche continued the attack with the poker.
killing her they dismembered the body and conveyed some of the remains
to Mme Gerard's rooms at Munster Square; hence Voisin's telling the
landlord that he was expecting a sack of potatoes. He then smeared some
blood around Gerard's kitchen and took away a sheet from the bed.
Intending to confuse any subsequent investigations, Voisin wrote the
note (including the spelling mistake) and left the sack, sheet and note
in Regent Square; where they were later discovered by the cleaner Jack
the Sweeper. As the head and hands were still recognisable, they were
kept by Voisin in his cellar.
Although Roche had struck the blows with the poker, the judge at their
Old Bailey trial ruled that Roche should she held on remand. Voisin was
found guilty of the murder of Mme Gerard and sentenced to death by
March 1918, Louis Voisin (aged 42) was executed at London's Pentonville
Prison. The Chief Executioner was John Ellis.
Berthe Roches was later tried and found guilty of being an accessory
after the fact. She was sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment. However, she
went mad in prison and was committed to a hospital for the insane where
she died on 22 March 1919.