FULL TEXT: Brussels – Mme. Marie Therese Joniaux, accused of the murder of three of her relatives for the purpose of obtaining the insurance on their lives, was this (Sunday) morning sentenced to death.
The jury was out only three-quarters of an hour. So were the arguments of the lawyers in the famous case that the closing speech of the defense was not finished until 1 o’clock this morning.
There was a period of anxious waiting until the members of the jury filed into the courtroom, where their leader solemnly announced:
~ GUILTY ON THREE COUNTS. ~
“We find the prisoner, Mme. Henri Joniaux, guilty on all counts of murdering and administering poison with intent to cause the death of Alfred Ablay, the brother of the prisoner; Leonie A. May, the sister of the prisoner, and Jacques Vanden Kerehoe [sic, Kerehove], the uncle of the prisoner.”
Then the judge of the assize court pronounced sentence of death upon Mme. Joniaux.
There were no scenes of undue excitement upon the part of friends of the prisoner to break the stillness of the early morning.
The prisoner, who is a daughter of Gen. Ablay, married first the well-known bibliophile and historian, M. Frederick Faber, by whom she had a daughter; secondly, a widower named M. Joniaux, chief engineer to the department of roads and bridges in Antwerp.
Although involved in debt she undertook to pay the premiums on insurance policies for 50,000 francs and 40,000 francs, respectively, effected on the life of Mlle. Faber, daughter of Leonie Ablay with two Swiss and Dutch companies.
These policies, which were in favor or Mlle. Faber, daughter of Mme. Joniaux, were signed at the end of December, 1891.
~ THREE MYSTERIOUS DEATHS. ~
On February 23 Mlle. Ablay died somewhat suddenly at Mme. Joniaux’s house in Antwerp. In March, 1893, M. Vanden Kernhove, a rich manufacturer of Ghent and an died suddenly from what was described as an attack of apoplexy immediately after a dinner to which he had been invited by M. and Mme. Joniaux.
In February, 1894, M. Alfred Ablay, who had come to Belgium from Paris to sue one of his sons for means of support, died suddenly at Mme. Joniaux’s house.
[“Found Guilty of Poisoning Her Brother, Sister and Uncle. - End Of A Famous Trial - For Months It Has Consumed the Time of the Belgian Assize Courts - Mme. Joniaux Killed Her Relatives to Obtain Life Insurance - No Excitement at the Verdict - Jury Out less than An Hour.” The Washington Times (D.C.), Feb. 3, 1895, p. 1]
FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Madame Marie Therese Joniaux, the second wife of a distinguished engineer holding a Government appointment at Antwerp, was known in Belgian society as a beautiful and brilliant woman, with charming manners, and a fondneses for the pleasures of the card-table.
The daughter of a distinguished soldier, General Jules Ablay, she had as a young girl enjoyed social celebrity, and it was considered quite a romance .that soon after her father’s death she fell in love with and married a studious man with anything but a large income. The husband of her choice was M. Frederic Faber, a well-known bibliophile and historian.
The modest means of M. Faber did not prevent Mme. Faber, who had inherited very little from her father, continuing to entertain and to lead the life of a woman of fashion.
But with the outward show there were terrain little economies practised in the Faber household. One of these economies was the receiving into the family circle of a paying guest.
This paying guest was M. Henri Joniaux, a clever engineer, who some years previously had come to Brussels to take up a well-paid Government appointment, bringing his wife and family with him.
In Brussels M. Joniaux’s wife died, and it was after her death that he took up his residence with the Fabers, whose acquaintance he made soon after he came to the Belgian capital.
On Dec. 4, 1884, M. Faber died of a sudden attack of gout.
In 1886 it was announced that M. Joniaux, a widower, had taken as his second wife the charming widow of his old friend and host, M. Faber.
Mme. Joniaux had loved her first husband, who was devoted to her, and though afterwards, when the story of her inner life was revealed, unpleasant things were said about M. Faber’s hasty exit from the scene, it is probable that the real cause of death appeared on the burial certificate.
~ House of Death. ~
In her second venture the brilliant society lady was equally fortunate. M. Joniaux and his wife were a devoted couple, and apparently the world was going well with them.
Soon after the wedding M. Joniaux made a further advance in his profession and was promoted to the post of chief engineer in connection with some Government works at Antwerp.
In Antwerp the happy pair took a fine house near the Rond Pont of the Boulevard Leopold, No. 33, Rue de Nerviens, where they lived luxuriously and entertained lavishly.
But if they were fortunate in their new home, some of their guests were not. No. 33, Rue de Nerviens, gradually began to acquire the reputation of being particularly fatal to the members of the family of Mme. Joniaux, nee Ablay.
Her sister, Mlle. Leonie Ablay, died suddenly while on a visit to No. 33, and her brother, M. Alfred Ablay, died suddenly when on a visit to No. 33. But a death which was even more “sudden” than that of Madame’s sister and brother was that of her uncle, M. Jacques Vanderkerkhove, a prosperous manufacturer of Ghent, who had remained a bachelor until past the age of sixty, but who, it was understood, was about to worry a young lady for the sake of whose son it would have been better had the marriage taken place some years earlier.
~ Cruel Loss Succeeds Loss. ~
The Colonel — he was a colonel of the Civil Guard as well as a manufacturer — came one day from Ghent to Antwerp to attend a little dinner which M. Joniaux was giving to celebrate a still further honour which had been paid to him by the Government. Immediately after dinner the colonel and expectant bridegroom was taken ill, and died a few hours later.
It is the custom in Belgium, as in France, for a family to inform their friends of a bereavement in a printed communication with a deep black border, which is called a “lettre de faire part.”
It was in February, 1892, that M. and Mme. Joniaux had “with deep sorrow” to inform their friends of the “cruel loss” they had sustained by the death of Mlle. Leonie Ablay, who had died suddenly at 33, Rue de Nerviens, from an attack of influenza.
It was in March, 1893, that M. and Mme. Joniaux had to inform their friends of the “cruel loss” they had sustained by the sudden death of Madame’s uncle, M. Jacques Vanderkerkhove, at 33, Rue de Nerviens, from a sudden attack of cerebral hemorrhage.
It was in February, 1894, that M. and Mme. Joniaux had to inform their friends of the “cruel loss” they had sustained by the sudden death of Madame’s brother, M. Alfred Ablay, at 33 Rue de Nerviens, from a sudden attack of heart disease.
Influenza, cerebral hemorrhage, heart disease. According to the certificates of death signed by a medical man who was called in to No. 33, these were the causes of the three cruel losses which overwhelmed M. and Mme. Joniaux with such “deep sorrow.”
But when the certificate of M. Alfred Ablay’s death was received at the Gresham Life Office, London, accompanied by a claim for 100,000 francs, or £4,000 in English money, the managing director, Mr. Perrin was, to use a homely phrase, somewhat taken aback.
The policy of insurance on the life of M. Alfred Ablay, a strong, healthy man of forty-two, had only been issued a few days previously to Mme. Joniaux through the Brussels office.
Mr. Perrin telegraphed to Brussels, only to find that the notice of death had been given after the body had been buried.
He at once, through the Brussels agent, communicated with the authorities at Antwerp, and demanded the exhumation of the body.
When the story of the insurance, followed in a few days by another sudden death at 33, Rue de Nerviens, was told at Antwerp to the Public Prosecutor, he at once made up his mind on a matter over which he had for some time been hesitating.
Rumours had reached him when Mlle. Leonie died. Rumours had reached him when M. Vanderkerkhove died. But, after all, the death certificates were quite in order. M. Joniaux was a high and honoured Government official, and Madame was a charming lady who went into the best society.
But this heavy insurance of the life of a man who had only a very small income, who had led rather a dissipated life, and had even at one time been a tramway conductor in New York, was, when followed by sudden death the day after a policy had been procured, a matter that could not possibly be given the benefit of the charitable doubt.
An order was, therefore, issued for the exhumation not only of the body of Madame’s brother Alfred, but for the exhumation of the bodies of Madame’s sister Leonie and her uncle Jacques.
A searching inquiry was at once made into the private life of the second Mme. Joniaux, and two important facts were ascertained.
One was that the society lady had for years past been in financial difficulties and had borrowed money in every direction, often at extortionate interest; and the other was that she had at various times procured a quantity of morphia.
It was ascertained that she had benefited financially by the death of her uncle, who, had he lived, would have been married in a few days and would then-have made a will in favour of his wife and her son; that Leonie was insured for £3,000 and that the money had gone to Mme. Joniaux; and that each of the three deaths had happened “suddenly” after the victims had been specially invited to come and stay at No. 33. It was also discovered that each of the three deaths had’ taken place at a time when it was absolutely necessary for Madame to have a sum of money in hand with which to settle the pressing claim of a creditor for “money lent.”
On April 18, 1894, the charming Mme. Joniaux was arrested and charged with the murder of the three relatives who had died so suddenly in her beautiful home.
~ Tongues Set Wagging. ~
At that the tongues of Antwerp wagged, and from Brussels and Ghent and Lonvain — the homes of various members of the Ablay family came rumours so sensational, so dramatic, and so intensely interesting that the Belgian papers devoted column after column to them, and “ Madame Joniaux Day by Day “ was for some weeks the leading feature of “ L’Indépendence Beige.”
“The Mysteries of Antwerp, Ghent, and Louvain” was the standing headline, but the word mysteries was a misnomer. The public Press tried Mme. Joniaux and found her guilty.
When she was taken to the preliminary inquiry she was hissed and hooted, and carriage.
The three deaths laid to her charge were not sufficient to satisfy the public appetite. A fourth case was added to the “Mysteries.”
Some little time before the tragedies at Antwerp occurred a young relative, Lionel, a youth, had been found dead under extraordinary circumstances in a pond on the family estate.
He did not come to breakfast one morning. A search was made, and Lionel Ablay was found lying under the water, with his feet tied up in a sack.
It was explained that he had been practicing for a sack race, and must have gone too near the pond and fallen in.
The Belgian Press explained that Mme. Joniaux benefited by this extraordinary death, but there was never the slightest proof that she was in any way associated with this earlier tragedy in the unfortunate Ablay family.
~ Fatal Dinner Engagement. ~
But there was a still more dramatic story which turned upon a death with which she was connected.
Colonel Vanderkerkhove, the bachelor of sixty-four, only came to Antwerp for the day,
and the dinner. A cab was ordered to be at the door of No. 33 to take him to the railway station, as he intended to return to Ghent that night.
He had arranged another dinner party on the following evening. It was to be at his own house. The guests were to be some old friends of his and the lady who was presently to become his wife.
In the small hours of March 18, 1893, the colonel died. The body remained at Antwerp.
On the afternoon of March 18 the guests arrived at the colonel’s house at Ghent for the little dinner party. Among them was the fiancée, who received the felicitations of her future-husband’s friends.
But where was the future husband? The housekeeper had not had any communication from him, but after all the colonel might have been detained. He would arrive in time for the festivity.
~ Dramatic Situation. ~
The company were all assembled and were getting anxious about the absent host, when the door opened and M. Joniaux appeared, accompanied by a solicitor.
“Let all the effects here be placed under seal,” said M. Joniaux.
Then he turned to the astonished lady.
“Depart, ma’dame,” he is reported to have said. “ You have no longer any right here.
M. Vanderkerkhove is dead.”
Never, surely, upon the stage was there a more intensely dramatic situation than that scene of real life.
It is only fair to say that M. Joniaux was never implicated in the crimes of his wife.
But he suffered cruelly in his reputation and in his career for the series of tragedies that had happened under the hospitable roof of his beautiful home.
Mme. Joniaux, after the preliminary examination in April, 1894, remained in prison
until January, 1895.
It was on Jan. 7th, a bitterly cold morning, with snow falling heavily, that a mighty crowd assembled outside the Assize Court of Antwerp.
When the closed carriage in which the eagerly-expected villainess of the greatest poison drama of the century was seated drove through the howling mob it was found that the gates by which she should have entered were closed — and locked.
She sat cowering in the carriage while a gendarme went off for the keys.
When the carriage drove into the enclosure and she alighted at the door for prisoners, it was seen that her face was white as death and that her teeth were chattering.
“It is the cold,” she was heard to say. “ I am frozen! “
~ Merciless Cross-Examination. ~
When the doors of the court were opened every available inch of space was quickly filled.
Elegant ladies were there with opera glasses, officers in military uniform made great patches of colour, the world of art and fetters was liberally represented, and among the distinguished audience were at least two ambassadors.
All eyes were turned to the prisoners’ dock when, after the judges had taken their seats, Therese Marie Joniaux was summoned to appear.
The little door at the back of the “bench of the accused “ opened, and a tall, elegant lady, clad in black, with a black hat decorated with an aigrette [a tiara] and ostrich feathers, entered between two gendarmes.
Mme. Joniaux wore a heavy veil, but directly she was called upon to speak she threw it back and faced her judges, a statuesque figure, with beautifully chiseled features. Calm and dignified, she never once faltered in her brilliant “fencing” with the President, who, as is the custom in Continental courts, made the most daring accusations against her, and cross-examined her mercilessly on her replies to his questions.
~ Hearsay Evidence. ~
When the act of accusation was read she punctuated it with shrugs of the shoulder, little tosses of the head, and elevations of the eyebrows, and all the little signs of criticism that can be conveyed by the play of the features.
The questions put to her by the presiding judge sound strange in our English ears.
“You poisoned your three relatives,” he said, by way of opening the proceedings. “Do you deny it?”
“Absolutely,” replied the prisoner.
“And yet the deaths coincide in a remarkable manner with the periods at which it was necessary you should find large sums of money.”
Mme. Joniaux shrugged her shoulders, “It suits you to say so,” was her quiet answer.
At another period of the trial the judge told her that her mother-in-law had said that she had a “hole” in her brain, and that she would certainly one day commit crimes.
The judge in a French court does not rule out hearsay evidence. He makes use of it against a prisoner from the bench. The trial lasted for twenty-seven days. The evidence against the new Brinvilliers, as she was called, was overwhelming.
But she bore herself so courageously, and parried the thrusts of the accusing judge with such amazing skill, that for a time there was almost sympathy with her.
~ War with Fate. ~
“ It has been a war with fate with me for fifteen years,” she said. “I gambled, I borrowed money, I sought to lighten in every way the crushing debt I had contracted, but I am no murderess.”
But long before the trial was over it was proved that she was.
There was no poison found in the bodies of her victims, but that they had died from influenza, apoplexy, or heart disease was proved to be utterly impossible, in spite of the death certificates granted by the medical men.
She had insured her brother and sister for large sums, and then bought morphine, poisoned them, and drawn the insurance money.
~ Deliberate Poisoner. ~
She pretended that her sister had insured herself, that at her death the money might go to pay “a sacred debt” — a debt incurred by her mother, but she could not give the particulars, because of an oath she had taken not to.
But Mme Joniaux had the money, and discharged some of her own debts with it. She had bought morphine before each death, and in each case the conditions of death were exactly those which would occur in cases of morphine poisoning.
It was proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the beautiful Mme. Joniaux, a born gambler, a woman who had been detected cheating at cards in private circles, trying to cheat at Spa, incurring suspicion at Monte Carlo, borrowing money under false pretences, obtaining jewellery one day and pawning it the next, had, when all her sources of credit were exhausted, turned to life insurances as a means of obtaining money.
She had insured her relatives for large sums, and had deliberately poisoned them, in order to draw the stakes for which she had played.
The trial had commenced on the 7th of January. It came to an end in the early morning of Sunday, February 3rd. In the afternoon of Saturday the jury asked for an interval. They were weary, faint and exhausted. At 7:00 the court reassembled and the final speeches were made.
Outside a great crowd had gathered, waiting for the verdict. Snow was falling heavily, but vast crowds waited on, long after midnight. It was just upon two o’clock in the morning when the jury gave their verdict of “Guilty.”
Then the judge pronounced the awful sentence of the law, and the woman of fashion, with a white face and staring eyes, heard that she was to die.
“It will be the first time she has lost her head,” whispered an eye-witness, filled with admiration of the marvellous murderess, still self-possessed, still by her iron will keeping back her woman’s tears of misery and shame.
It was twenty minutes to three when the condemned woman left the court and was driven across Antwerp through the blinding snow to her prison.
~ Law Had No Ace. ~
A body of mounted guards rode by the side of the vehicle to protect her from the fury of the mob, who cried “ Lynch her! “
The bars and restaurants of Antwerp had kept open to accommodate the vast number of people who had “made a night of it” in order to hear the news at the earliest moment. Bat the death penalty had been abolished in Belgium, and there was no scaffold waiting for Therese Maria Joniaux.
Her sentence was speedily committed to penal servitude for life. She had gambled, with Death as her trump card, but the Law had discarded the ace from its pack of punishments.
• • • • •
It is a significant and a disquieting fact that all the deaths this modern Brinvill-iera had brought about by poison were duly certified as arising from natural causes.
But for the action of the English insurance office it is more than probable that the charming Mme. Joniaux would have invited more relatives to 33, Rue de Nerviens, and would have drawn further large sums of money from the insurance companies.
This form of the death gamble is rarely an occasional indulgence. When once it has been successfully accomplished it becomes a habit.
[“Geo. R. Sims, “The Second Madame Joniaux: The Death Gamble,” Lloyd’s Weekly News (London, England), Mar. 17, 1909, p. 15]
Jacques Vanden Kerehove (Vanden Kerehove), uncle, died Mar. 1893
Alfred Ablay, brother, died Feb. 1894
Leonie Ablay, sister, died Feb. 23, 1895
Lionel Ablay, “a young relative,” speculated murder, died before the Mar. 1893 murder