Thursday, September 22, 2011

French Serial Killer Catherine Deshayes, “La Voison” - 1680


The estimated number of La Voison’s victims ranges up to 2,500.

From 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica: La Voisin. Catherine Monvoisin, known as “La Voisin” (d. 1680), French sorceress, whose maiden name was Catherine Deshayes, was one of the chief personages in the famous affaire des poisons, which disgraced the reign of Louis XIV. Her husband, Monvoisin, was an unsuccessful jeweller, and she practised chiromancy and face-reading to retrieve their fortunes. She gradually added the practice of witchcraft, in which she had the help of a renegade priest, Étienne Guibourg, whose part was the celebration of the “black mass,” an abominable parody in which the host was compounded of the blood of a little child mixed with horrible ingredients. She practised medicine, especially midwifery, procured abortion and provided love powders and poisons. Her chief accomplice was one of her lovers, the magician Lesage, whose real name was Adam Cœuret. The great ladies of Paris flocked to La Voisin, who accumulated enormous wealth.

Among her clients were Olympe Mancini, comtesse de Soissons, who sought the death of the king’s mistress, Louise de la Vallière; Mme de Montespan, Mme de Gramont (la belle Hamilton) and others. The bones of toads, the teeth of moles, cantharides, iron filings, human blood and human dust were among the ingredients of the love powders concocted by La Voisin. Her knowledge of poisons was not apparently so thorough as that of less well-known sorcerers, or it would be difficult to account for La Vallière’s immunity. The art of poisoning had become a regular science. The death of Henrietta, duchess of Orleans, was attributed, falsely it is true, to poison, and the crimes of Marie Madeleine de Brinvilliers (executed in 1676) and her accomplices were still fresh in the public mind. In April 1679 a commission appointed to inquire into the subject and to prosecute the offenders met for the first time. Its proceedings, including some suppressed in the official records, are preserved in the notes of one of the official rapporteurs, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie. The revelation of the treacherous intention of Mme de Montespan to poison Louis XIV and of other crimes, planned by personages who could not be attacked without scandal which touched the throne, caused Louis XIV to close the chambre ardente, as the court was called, on the 1st of October 1680. It was reopened on the 19th of May 1681 and sat until the 21st of July 1682.

Many of the culprits escaped through private influence. Among these were Marie Anne Mancini, duchesse de Bouillon, who had sought to get rid of her husband in order to marry the duke of Vendôme, though Louis XIV banished her to Nérac. Mme de Montespan was not openly disgraced, because the preservation of Louis’s own dignity was essential, and some hundred prisoners, among them the infamous Guibourg and Lesage, escaped the scaffold through the suppression of evidence insisted on by Louis XIV. and Louvois. Some of these were imprisoned in various fortresses, with instructions from Louvois to the respective commandants to flog them if they sought to impart what they knew. Some innocent persons were imprisoned for life because they had knowledge of the facts. La Voisin herself was executed at an early stage of the proceedings, on the 20th of February 1680, after a perfunctory application of torture [the application of torture is a claim contradicted by more recent scholarship]. The authorities had every reason to avoid further revelations. Thirty-five other prisoners were executed; five were sent to the galleys and twenty-three were banished. Their crimes had furnished one of the most extraordinary trials known to history.

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Wikipedia excerpt: The death of the king's sister-in-law, the Duchesse d'Orléans, had been falsely attributed to poison, and the crimes of Marie Madeleine de Brinvilliers (executed in 1676) and her accomplices were still fresh in the public mind. In parallel, a riot took place where people accused witches of abducting children for the black masses, and priests reported that a growing number of people were confessing to poisoning in their confessions.

In 1677, the fortune teller Magdelaine de La Grange was arrested for poisoning, and claimed that she had information about crimes of high importance. The arrest of the successful fortune teller and poisoner Marie Bosse and Marie Vigoreux in January 1679, made the police aware that there existed a network of fortune tellers in Paris who dealt with the distribution of poison.    

The 12 March 1679, La Voisin was arrested outside Notre-Dame de Bonne-Nouvelle after having heard mass, just before her appointed meeting at Catherine Trianon. In April 1679, a commission appointed to inquire into the subject and to prosecute the offenders met for the first time. Its proceedings, including some suppressed in the official records, are preserved in the notes of one of the official court reporters, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie.    At the arrest of La Voisin, her maid Margot stated that the arrest would mean the end of a number of people of all positions of society. The arrest of La Voisin was followed by the arrest of her daughter Marguerite Monvoisin, Guibourg, Lesage, Bertrand, Romain and the rest of her network of her associates. La Voisin was imprisoned at Vincennes, were she was subjected to questioning. On 27 December 1679, Louis XIV issued an order that the whole network should be exterminated by all methods regardless of the rank, sex or age of those involved.    

La Voisin confessed to the crimes she was accused of and described the development of her career. She was never subjected to torture: a formal order was issued giving permission to the use of torture, but it was made clear that the order was not to be put in effect, and consequently it was never made use of. The reason it suggested to be the fear that she might give away the names of influential people if she was questioned under torture. La Voisin never mentioned the names of any of her clients during the interviews. She once mentioned to the guards, that the question she feared most was that they should ask her about her visits at the royal court. It is likely that she was referring to Montespan as her client and her attempt of murdering the king, and that she feared that such a confession should result in her execution for regicide. Her list of clients, the arranging of the black masses, her connection to Montespan and the murder attempt on the king was not to be revealed until after her death, when it was stated by her daughter and confirmed by the uncontaminated testimonies of the other accused.    

La Voisin was convicted of witchcraft and was burned in public on the Place de Grève in Paris the 22 February 1680. In July, her daughter Marguerite Monvoisin revealed her connection to Montespan, which was confirmed by the statements of the other accused. This caused the monarch to eventually close the investigation, seal the testimonies and place the remaining accused outside of the public justice system by imprisoning them under a lettre de cachet.

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For more cases of this type, see: Occult Female Serial Killers

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