Thursday, September 22, 2011

Marie Besnard, French “Queen of Poisoners” - 1949

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Accused of poisoning her mother, Marie Besnard, a 53-year-old widow leaves the Palace of Justice, Poitiers, France, under the watchful eye of a gendarme. She is alleged to have poisoned 13 relatives for their money.

[“Female Bluebeard?” The Courier-Mail (Brisbaine, Australia), Sep. 5, 1949, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Poitiers, France – Mme. Marie Besnard, a 54-year-old widow accused of dispatching 11 victims with poison in the last 25 years, went on trial today for murder


Her court session had advance billing as one of the most sensational in France since “Bluebeard” Henri Desire Landru was convicted in 1921 of taking an equal toll of lady lovers.

The state charges that the stout, bespectacled Mme. Besnard counted her parents and two husbands among her victims. She has denied all murder charges and has six lawyers to defend her.

The trial, in the justice palace where Joan of Arc was questioned five centuries ago by a committee of bishops, is expected to last a week. Some 100 witnesses are to be heard.

In a preview appearance yesterday, to answer a forgery charge, Mme. Besnard pouted when the judge insisted she give straight answers.


“Some people call you vicious and a liar. Other testimony shows you were a decent, well-behaved woman without blame. What have you to say?
“ he asked.

The widow replied: “I’m not a solid piece of gold.”

She was found guilty of forging a postal cheque for about $26 to defraud an old, illiterate aunt. The court let her off with a $34 fine and suspended her two-year sentence – and set the stage for the murder charges.

Of seven witnesses called in the forgery trial, none had a bad word for her. It was sais she had a reputation for piety and charity.

A local psychology professor was asked his opinion.

“I don’t know,” he mused. “She must have been all right when she was young, and even now she doesn’t look so bad.”

[“Pious Widow faces trial – Accused of Killing 11 With Poison,” syndicated (AP), The Windsor Daily Star (Ontario, Canada), Feb. 21, 1952, p. 21]



FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): Paris. – One of the longest serials in French criminal history opens its third installment soon when Marie Besnard goes on trial accused of poisoning her father and mother, second husband, father-in-law, a cousin and a neighbor.

Madame Besnard, nicknamed “the good old lady of Loudun” – her home town – appeared at her first trial in 1952. The trial was adjourned after six days of hearing in which her guilt could not be proven.

The second trial, two years later, also was adjourned, the court laving decided that further instigation was necessary and that toxicologists had to make a fresh evaluation.

Madame Besnard was held in jail for four and hall years. Released on bail, she went back to Loudun where she managed to live down the scandal.

This third trial is expected to last weeks, at the end of which she will be declared guilty or not.

The verdict hinges largely on experts’ conclusions as to whether arsenic found in the corpses of Madame Besnard’s friends and relations originated from natural sources in the soil or was given to them by the accused.

Marie Besnard has always denied having had anything to do with the deaths. The confidence and calm she displays has baffled juries.

[Paul Ghali, “Woman To Face Third Trial for Six Murders,” (from Chicago Daily News), The Corpus Christi Times (Tx.), Nov. 24, 1961, p. 24]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4): Bordeaux, France, Dec. 12 – A jury Tuesday acquitted Marie Besnard, 62-year-old widow, of a charge of poisoning 11 relatives. It was the third trial since the case was first opened in 1949.

The two previous trials were stopped before the case got to the jury because of disputes about the arsenic content found in the exhumed bodies.

For each trial a new panel of scientific experts was named. Almost all the experts agreed that the bodies contained an unusual amount of arsenic, but the prosecution never was able to prove Mme. Besnard was responsible.

No motive ever was established for the alleged murders, but the prosecution claimed Mme. Besnard had benefited from inheritances in every case.

[“Jury Frees Widow In 11 Poisonings,” syndicated (AP), The Salt Lake Tribune (Ut.), Dec. 13, 1961, p. 11]



Auguste Antigny, 33 (her first husband), died 1927.
Marie-Louise Labrèche Lecomte, 86, great aunt, died Aug. 22, 1938.
Toussaint Rivet, 64, died Jul. 14, 1939.
Blanche (Lebeau) Rivet, 49, died Dec. 27, 1939.
Pierre Davaillaud, 78 (her father), died may 1940.
Louise Gouin, 92 (her maternal grandmother), died Sep. 2, 1940.
Marcellin Besnard, 78 (her stepfather), died Nov. 19, 1940.
Marie-Louise (Gouin) Besnard, 68 (her stepmother), died Jan. 16, 1941.
Lucie Bodin, 45; sister of Léon, found hanged; died Mar. 27, 1941.
Pauline Bodineau, 88, Marie’s cousin, Jul. 1, 1945.
Virginie Lalleron, 83, Marie’s cousin, Jul. 9, 1945.
Marie-Louise Davaillaud, 71 (her mother), died Jan. 1949.
Léon Besnard (husband), died Oct. 1947.



Jul. 21, 1949 – Marie Besnard charged under maiden name (Marie Joséphine Philippine Davaillaud), aged 53
Feb. 21, 1952 – Trial begins at Poitiers; adjourned on Feb. 25, 1952.
Mar. 15, 1954 – Trial continues
Apr. 2, 1954 – freed on bail.
Nov. 1961 – Trial continues.
Dec. 12, 1961 – acquittal.



For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.


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