FULL TEXT: Paris. May 26. – Not since the, memorable Landru, known as “Bluebeard,” the wholesale murderer, has France been so startled as it has by the revelations brought out in the recent trial of Antoinette Scierri.
Landru, the colossal murderer, hunted his victims, and robbed them, and committed his murders to coyer up his robberies. But Antoinette killed her victims for the sheer enjoyment of seeing them die.
“Bluebeard” Landru, the police calculated, had murdered about fifty women whom he had married or offered to marry. Antoinette achieved, according to the police estimate, a list of about thirty victims, but in only one case did she take any of their belongings.
Antoinette Scierri had a most exceptional opportunity for indulging her weakness for destroying human life – she was a professional nurse. In this capacity she was able to enlist her services at the bedside of people who were under the doctor’s care and taking medicine. Thus she was left in charge of patients and had every opportunity to administer the fatal dose and cover up her crime.
When the patient died and the doctor at his next call was surprised at the news, Antoinette had a story to. tell him of the last moments, of the departed patient which concealed the true facts and symptoms and completely misled the attending physician.
In the course of her recent trial it was proved that, she had murdered at least a dozen persons, and one of them was the man she loved and was engaged to marry. When the unfortunate man, Henri Rossignol, fell ill and sent for her to nurse him back to health and strength, the impulse was so irresistible that she mixed her usual fatal dose and sat entranced on the edge of the bed as she watched the dying agonies of the man she loved.
Antoinette has now been condemned to the guillotine, but whether she will be executed is doubtful, in spite of the enormity of her crimes.
She came two years ago to live in the little town of St. Gilles, near the famous old city of Nimes, in the south of France. She was an excellent professional nurse and practiced her calling in St. Gilles and the surrounding country. She had a remarkably winning and ingratiating manner, both with patients and their families.
Antoinette had a rather mysterious past. She has been married to M. Salomon, a wealthy business man, who discovered that she had been unfaithful.
The woman possessed a marked power of fascinating men. At. St. Giles she became engaged to Henri Rossignol, and handsome and wealthy landowner, somewhat younger than herself.
The exposure of Antoinette’s crimes began on April 9 last. On that day Madame Gouant, wife of one of the leading business men of the town, died while under treatment for asthma. Antoinette had been acting as her nurse.
The police had already begun to suspect Antoinette on account of the death of Rossignol, a powerful and healthy young man, who was merely suffering from a serve attack of grippe. A soon as Madame Gouant died they arrested Antoinette and began an investigation, which revealed an astonishing trail of mysterious deaths wherever she had acted as nurse. It is probable the total number attributable to her will never be known. The police actually exhumed the bodies of twelve supposed victims of Antoinette.
In a stable connected with the Gouant house the police found a big bottle of pyralion, a composition of arsenic, large enough to poison a hundred people. Pyralion is generally used in vine culture to protect the vines against disease. As there extensive vineyards in the neighborhood of St. Gilles, the poison is always available in large quantities there.
M. Gouant, the father-in-law of the deceased woman, is a great owner of vineyards, and the presence of poison in his stable did not at first seem a remarkable circumstance. When he was questioned, however, he said that neither he nor any of his employees had purchased or used pyralion recently.
A considerable quantity had been taken from the bottle. Investigation proved that Antoinette had obtained it through a vine grower of her acquaintance. An autopsy was performed on Madame Gouant’s body and over fifteen grains of arsenic were found in her intestines.
Several circumstances indicated that Antoinette had been planning to poison the elder M. Gouant, father-in-law of the dead woman, an old man in feeble health. Antoinette, in her fascinating way, had urged the old man to let her nurse him back to health, and he had consented just as his daughter was nearing her end. The Gouants lived in a very beautiful house, with splendid kitchen and wine cellars, and Antoinette, an accomplished sensualist, enjoyed its luxuries and good cheer thoroughly.
The old man’s fatal course of treatment would have begun on the day of his daughter-in-law’s death. Antoinette’s arrest just saved him.
The poisoning of Henri Rossignol, her fiancé, was the most remarkable and dramatic of Antoinette’s deeds. The young man was laid up last March with a severe attack of grippe, accompanied by violent pains in the chest, fever and headache. The doctor called in gave him the usual treatment to overcome the bacterial infection and restore his strength.
Antoinette immediately hurried to the bedside of her suffering lover and began to nurse him in the tenderest manner. She scarcely left him day and night, and her devotion was really beautiful to see. Under her care the headache and painful symptoms from which he had been suffering subsided. He attributed his improvement to his fiancée and begged her not to leave him for a moment.
One of the strangest features of the case was that Antoinette seemed really affectionate and unselfish toward Rossignol except when she had an opportunity of poisoning him. The pleasure of watching the dying agonies of a victim was more than she could resist, even though he was her lover when well.
Antoinette had a wonderfully gentle bedside manner, as everybody who met her in the sickroom found. She watched over a patient like a mother over a sick child, and seemed to be counting every breath, every movement, every change in the sufferer’s face. She was tireless and was always willing to sit up and watch by the “bedside longer than the rules of her calling required. It seemed that she enjoyed at all times a deep pleasure from watching the face of a sick person.
But Rossignol did not grow stronger under the treatment which made him feel happier and more comfortable. On the contrary, he grew weaker and weaker, and on March 18 passed away, still believing firmly in the devotion of his dear nurse and sweetheart.
The autopsy on Rossignol’s body once more revealed the presence of arsenic in the intestines. There was no probability that the dead man committed suicide. The doctor had not proscribed any medicine with arsenic in it. Antoinette had had plenty of opportunities to give him the poison in small quantities. Therefore it was almost a certainty she poisoned him.
This discovery placed her in a difficult position. Hitherto she had pleaded that she never gave poisons or drugs to her patients at all. Now she made a surprising and ingenious defence. She declared that Rosalie Gire, an older woman who had been associated with her in nursing Rossignol and other persons, had taught her to use pyralion in the medicine of her patients.
“Rossignol was suffering cruelly at first,” said Antoinette, “and I was anxious to do something to relieve him. Rosalie told me that the medicine the doctor had given him was an excitant and was greatly increasing his suffering. She told me that the medicine she gave me was a sedative and would stop his pain. She told me to put a little in the medicine at first.
“I tried it on him and was delighted to find that it acted as Rosalie said it would. I gave it to him quietly several times when the pains returned and it always stopped them.’’
This declaration placed Rosalie Gire in a difficult situation, as she undoubtedly had worked with the other woman. The police promptly arrested her and questioned her. She denied absolutely that she had ever supplied poison to Antoinette or made any statement like that attributed to her by the other woman.
Then Rosalie Gire made what was perhaps the most astounding revelation of the whole case. She said that on the night of Rossignol’s death she returned to his house, knowing that his condition was critical and that Antoinette was exhausted.
“I went quietly into the sickroom,” said Rosalie, “and an astonishing sight, which I shall never forget, met my eyes.
The dying man was lying on his back gasping, just breathing his last. Antoinette was seated at a table near the bedside, enjoying a great bottle of champagne, a cold pheasant with truffles and other delicacies.
“Just as Rossignol expired, she seated herself on the bed and leaned over him and peered into his eyes as one entranced.
“She was so excited that she did not notice that I was present. On her face was an expression of delirious joy, although the man I supposed she loved deeply was living.
“I asked her what was the meaning of this banquet, and she answered that she had been obliged to take some refreshment to save herself from a collapse, as she had been up for three nights and days.”
The police could find no evidence to connect Rosalie Gire of complicity in the poisonings and they released her.
It appeared that Antoinette was in the habit of dropping a teaspoonful of the arsenical mixture in a patient’s medicine. French doctors often prescribe a medicine called a “tisane” in large quantities, and a teaspoonful of the poisonous mixture was not likely to be noticed in this.
Antoinette could make the death of a patient as quick or slow as she pleased. As a rule, it suited her wicked plans to be present at a long-drawn-out agony.
The deaths among Antoinette’s patients, for several months prior to her arrest, ran at the rate of one a week. Basing their calculations on this figure, many people are inclined to believe that she had killed as many as a hundred victims during the last two years in this populous region of Southern France. Others again believe that her frenzy for murder had only reached its height in the past few months, and that the total in the St. Gilles locality would not be over thirty.
On March 24, six days after the death of Rossignol, Mlle. Martin, a pretty young girl, daughter of the leading- lawyer of the town, died while being nursed by Antoinette. The next death, as far as has been traced, was that of Madame Gouant, on April 9, already referred to.
Just before the death of Rossignol. The victims among Antoinette’s patients had died fast. On Christmas Day occurred one of the most dramatic tragedies in which she was involved. M. and Madame La Chapelle, two of the most distinguished members of St. Gilles society, both died, one within three hours of the other.
Investigation showed that Antoinette had deliberately planned that this devoted and interesting husband and wife should both die on the greatest festival of the Christian year. She had planned for herself the supreme joy of watching them expire in agony while the rest of the world was rejoicing.
Madame La Chapelle was the first to fall sick from quinsy. Her husband, who was devoted to her, spent most of his time at her bedside helping Antoinette to nurse her. As a result, he became dangerously ill himself of the same disease.
The husband was confined to his bed. in the next room to his wife. With great apparent kindness, Antoinette offered to nurse him, too. so that no additional nurse need be brought into the house. The wife died first, and Antoinette kept the husband constantly informed of her approach to the end.
As soon as the wife died. Antoinette went into the next room and watched with dreadful joy the dying agonies of the husband.
Just before this, on December 11, Mlle. Marie Drouard, a young girl much admired in St. Gilles society, had died under the care of Antoinette. One after another the deaths of those she had nursed in St. Gilles and the neighborhood were traced back for two years.
Dr. Max Vincent, one of the medical witnesses, testified that Antoinette had lost all sense of right and wrong, but it was simply the wilful wickedness of a normal mind and not a case of mental disease. He considered her fully responsible for her acts from the legal no hit of view.
The trial in the city of Nimes aroused intense excitement and it was difficult, to approach the courthouse. There was an almost interminable procession of witnesses describing how they had lost their nearest and dearest relations after they had been attended in their sickness by Antoinette.
One young woman, Mme. Mirman whom Antoinette had attended, survive her treatment. The accused gave poison to her for an entire year without killing her. She suffered cruelly and will probably continue to do so for the rest of her life. With death-like, face and trembling hands, the unfortunate woman described the details of her treatment by the nurse.
The jury required one hour to decide the case of Antoinette Scierri, and unanimously found her guilty. The judge then promptly sentenced her to be guillotined.
[“Poisoned Her Patients - The Guillotine Now Awaits Antoinette, the French Nurse, Who Couldn’t Resist Mixing Arsenic in the Medicines as She Hurried 30 Victims to Their Graves,” The American Weekly (San Antonio Light) (Tx.), Jun. 6, 1926, p. 7]