FULL TEXT: There died recently in the prison of St. Antonio, at Geneva, a woman of the name of Marie Jeanneret, one of the most remarkable criminals of the age, and probably the most extensive secret poisoner of her time. Her case is all the more remarkable in that, it presents some curious psychological problems, and that strangely enough, she was the cause of the abolition of the death penalty in the canton of Geneva.
Marie Jeanneret belonged to one of the most, honorable families in the canton of Neuchatel, where she was born in 1836. She inherited from her parents, both of whom died when she was an infant, a modest competency. Marie remained at school until she readied her nineteenth year, and was carefully and religiously brought up by her uncle, who was also her guardian. Her character, as observed by those about her, was peculiar. She had a defective judgment and a strong will, inconstant taste and iv restless disposition, a tendency to falsehood and a passion for intrigue. She was vain, too, and liked to attract attention and be talked about. On the other hand, she was regular in her attendance at church and assiduous in her religious duties. She did not enjoy very good health, but was suspected of exaggerating her maladies. My dint of reading medical hooks and consulting many doctors, she obtained some knowledge of medicine, of which she was very proud, and often expressed a desire to become a sick-nurse. She complained much of her eyes, pretended at one time to tie blind, and in 1865 consulted Dr. Dor, of Vevey, who ascertained by a decisive experiment that the affection was imaginary. He did not prescribe for her, but it is probable that she took an opportunity, while his back was turned, of appropriating a bottle of atropine. Another doctor whom she consulted prescribed belladonna, and as she kept the prescription by her, she was enabled to procure, a supply of that drug at pleasure. In the spring of 1866 Marie Jeanneret, while staying at. The Pension Beroud, at Vevey. made the acquaintance of a Mlle. Berthet, of Nyon, whose sympathy was won by her sufferings, real or supposed, her insinuating manners and her religious professions.
They became fast friends, were nearly always together, and used each other’s rooms as if they belonged to both. One day, after dinner, Mlle. Berthet asked for a glass of water, but, the day being warm, Jeanneret suggested that a mixture of wine and eau sucreé would be the safer beverage. The mixture was made accordingly and drunk, and shortly afterwards the two friends started for Clarens. On the way thither Mlle. Berthet became very ill. She was sick; the pupils of her eyes seemed to be paralyzed; her heart felt as heavy as lead. Jeanneret showed much sympathy, lifted the lids of her friend’s eyes to examine them more, closely, and suggested remedies. After a short rest at Clarens, Mlle. Berthet, recovered sufficiently to return to Vevey, whither she was accompanied by Jeanneret.
Upon arriving home the latter gave her another drink, and while in the very act of returning her t he glass her friend fell hack on a sofa in a state of litter nervous prostration.. All the night and the whole of the next day she was delirious, and her friends, being informed by telegraph of her illness, fetched her home, and by so doing undoubtedly saved her life. Three days passed before she could sufficiently command herself to explain to her medical attendant. Dr. Lamibassy, of Nyon, how she had been taken ill. After hearing her statement and asking her some questions. Dr. Lambassy said that it looked very much as if she had been poisoned by belladonna. The pupils of her eyes were extremely dilated, her very features were altered, and months elapsed before her sight was fully restored.
Mlle. Berthet also believed she had been poisoned, but by mistake, her idea being that Jeanneret had got her bottles mixed and given her the wrong stuff inadvertently, and this opinion she retained until subsequent revelations showed how terrible had been her danger and how narrow her escape. This was probably Jeanneret’s fist essay at murder, and it wilt he observed, as a curious feature of the case, that she had nothing to gain by her friend’s death. On the face of it the crime was absolutely motiveless.
Prom Vevey, Jeanneret went to Locle, her native place, and in the following October she entered the nursing school at Lausanne, in order to qualify herself for the calling for which she had so often expressed a predilection. After a stay of two months she left the school without completing her course, on the ground that the state of her eyes rendered her unfit for work. Whether she tried any experiments on the patients in the hospital is unknown, but she was occasionally sent out to nurse patients at their own house, and to one of them, Mme. Chabolz, she almost certainly gave belladonna. One night Jeanneret called on Mme. Chabolz’s married daughter, Mme. Eichenberg, and said her mother was very ill. Mme. Euchenberg found the latter with wide open eyes, a face expressive of intense terror, and talking wildly and laughing deliriously. The doctor was sent for and came, but suspected nothing. Another lime she went into the dining room while the Eichenhergs were at supper, and gave the children some bonbons, which she called “princesses.” All who ate of them were very sick and vomited much. Still nobody suspected that Jeanneret was a secret poisoner.
The scene now shifts to Geneva, where, at the time in question, there lived a certain Mme. Juvet, wife of a tradesman, who, together with two friends, had formed the design of establishing a maison de sante, or private hospital for convalescents. The better to fit themselves for this undertaking they spent a few days in the nursing school at Lausanne. While there they made the acquaintance of Marie Jeanneret, who, when informed of their project, applied for the situation of nurse in the new hospital, She asked no salary, only board, lodging and washing. She nursed for the pleasure of nursing, not for money. Her offer was accepted, and after a visit to Locle she went to Geneva, and quickly became absolute mistress of the maison du sante. Mme. Juvet seems to have submitted to her in influence from the first, and before Jeanneret had been in the house many days she contrived to set her and her friends by the cars. They quarrelled, and the latter refused to have anything further to do with the affair, When they were out of the way, Jeanneret took little Julie Juvet, who, she said, was in delicate health, to consult a doctor at Lausanne. Shortly after their return the poor child fell ill, after eating some of the nurse’s bonbons, and took to her bed never to rise from it again. The doctor thought she was suffering from meningetis. One day, as M. Juvet subsequently related, his wife heard her daughter crying in the next room. On going in she found Jeanneret whipping her, and the child begged her mother pitiously not to let the nurse come near her any more. But great was her infatuation, so implicit her confidence, that even this incident does not seem to have shaken Mme. Juvet’s faith in Jeanneret. People remembered afterwards that it was about this time that the nurse told the servants and several others that Mme. Juvet was a doomed woman, and that her son Emile was threatened with a serious illness. A few days later Mme. Juvet did in effect fall ill, and one morning Emile, after drinking a cup of coffee, felt violent pain and vomited profusely. Fortunately for him, he left the maison de sante on the following day, and hencefoward experienced no further unpleasantness, either from drinking cocoa, or anything else.
Meanwhile Mine. Juvet suffered from continual relapses, and whenever Dr. Jeanneret, who attended her, suggested that she was better, Jeanneret always answered that she did not think that the improvement would last. And it did not. Poor little Julie died on December 27, 1865, and a month later her mother was laid in the same grave. When Julie’s body wife afterwards exhumed, it was too much decomposed to be analyzed, but in Mme. Juvet’s body were found great quantities of morphine, antimony and some copper.
Nor were these two the only victims. Before they died the lives of three other inmates of the hospital, all of whom were nursed by Jeanneret, had been quenched by the same means. One was an old woman of the name of Hahn; another “an aged demoiselle,” who was called day; and the third, also a demoiselle bore the name Junod. She died, after three days illness and delirium, in great agony. This finished the maison de sante. Two servants, M. Juvet and Jeanneret, were the only survivors of the household. Still the doctors suspected nothing, or, if they did they kept their suspicions to themselves. Jeanneret, whose occupation was for the moment gone, went into lodgings, pretended to be ill, and took to her bed; but more fortunate than her patients she got better.
When she recovered she began to look out for another situation, and, accompanied by a friend, paid a visit to the hydropathic establishment known as the Mains de Divonne, a beautiful place at the foot of the Jura, and some eight miles from Geneva. She was received by Mme. Vidart, the wife of the late Dr. Paul Vidart, then the proprietor and physician of the establishment. In the course of conversation the friend mentioned that Mlle. Jeanneret had been grade malade in the Maison de Sante Junet, where five persons had died in three months. “How sad!” exclaimed Mine. Vidart. “Yes, it is very sad when so many die, returned Jeanneret, “mais il ya des beaux moments dans la mort.” (There are some beautiful moments in death.) Then she spoke about a place as a grade malade. One of the patients happened lo be wanting a nurse, and Mme. Vidart told Jeanneret she would communicate with her in the course of a few days. After the two women were gone she wrote to a physician in Geneva, asking him to make some inquiries concerning Jeanneret’s character and qualifications. “Don’t have anything to do with her.” was the answer; “all her patients die.” “I can never think of that woman without a shudder, said Mme. Vidart. to me one day; she would have poisoned us all.”
However Jeanneret was shortly afterwards engaged to nurse a Mme. Lenoir, an old lady who was suffering from inflamation of the lungs. She too died, and then Jeanneret leased a furnished room front. M. Gross, a retired schoolmaster, with whom lived Mme. However, his widowed daughter. Again Marie obtained an engagement, this time to nurse Mine. Bourcart, a lady who lived at la Boissiere, a country house near Geneva. Four days after she entered on her duties Mme. Boucart had a “crisis,” accompanied by delirium and vomitings, and Jeanneret told the servants that their mistress would die young like her brother. When Mme. Bourcart became a little better she showed a strong repugnance to Jeanneret, and would not have the nurse near her, and as Monsieur Bourcart had begun to suspect that she was playing some tricks with the medicines, she was sent away. lie remarked one evening that a certain bottle of medicine, of which he knew his wife had taken several doses during the day, bad not diminished in volume. He put the bottle aside, but took no further steps, for though he distrusted Jeanneret it had not then occurred to him that she was a poisoner. She went back to her lodgings, and M. Gross and Mme. Bouvier, whose confidence she had already gained, invited her to live with them on pension.
Three days later Mme. Mouvier fell ill, Mini so rapidly grew worse that it was deemed necessary to call in two physicians, Drs. Lombard and Goudet. They look it to be a case of congestion of the of the brain, albeit Dr. Lombard several times observed that it presented symptoms the like of which he had never seen before. She died on May 22, 1868. Her father, after nursing her a few days, had also been taken ill; his illness followed precisely the same course as hers, and, like hers, ended fatally. They were killed, as was afterwards abundantly proved, by atropine, morphine and antimony. During their sickness one of their relations, a Mme. Legeret, after drinking a glass of eau sucreé given to her by Jeanneret, became so seriously indisposed that she had to be taken home in a cab. The doctor who was called in recognized symptoms of belladonna poisoning, but thinking that Mme. Legeret had swallowed by mistake some atropine intended for external use, he did not suspect foul play. Proper remedies were administered, and after a severe struggle she recovered.
Jeanneret next took up her abode at the Pension Desarzens, and made the acquaintance of Mile. Fritzges who, one day after drinking a glass of lemonade, given to her by the garde malade, became delirious and terribly ill. The doctor who was called in, recognized symptoms of poisoning by belladonna and suspecting foul play, ordered her immediate removal to the cantonal hospital. Doctor Rapin, of the hospital, made a similar diagnosis. he had heard of Jeanneret before. She never went into a house whether as guest or nurse, that a death did not follow. He communicated his suspicious, together with a sketch of Jeanneret’s career, to the procureur general, who for with had her arrested. A long inquiry followed; the bodies of her supposed victims were exhumed. Marie was examined in secret, and after a prolonged inquiry she was placed on her trial The charge against her was that in 1807, and 1818 she had attempted, in the. Canton of Geneva, the lives (1,) Douise Junod; (2,) Jeanne Gay; (3,) Jenny Julie Juvet; (4,) Louise Henriette; (5,) Mme. Bourcart; (6,) Jacques Gros; (7,) Julie Bonvier; (8,) Mme. Legeret; (9,) Demoiselle Fritzges. There were several other charges that might have been brought against her, but as the relatives of the persons whom she may have poisoned did not suspect foul play the bodies were not exhumed, and the attempts she had made in the canton Vaud did not fall within the jurisdiction of the tribunal of Geneva.
Before the trial began the Judge’s instruction entered the accused to be examined by three exports in mental disease, for it was hardly conceiveable that any sane person could be guilty of the series of purposeless and diabolical crimes imputed to Marie Jeanneret. After a long investigation the experts came unanimously to the conclusion that there was discernable in her no sign of feeble-mindedness or mental alienation. She was found guilty of murdering six persons and attempting to murder two others by administering to them poisonous drugs. But as the jury gave for the benefit, of “extenuating circumstances” the court could pronounce no heavier sentence than twenty years imprisonment. At that lime death was the penalty of unqualified murder in the canton of Geneva, and if Marie had been a man she would most assuredly have lost her head. But the jury could not bring their minds to decree the death of a woman, and so the worst and most dangerous prisoner of the age escaped the rightful penalty of her crimes. After letting off Marie Jeanneret with a term of imprisonment, it was clearly impossible, to punish any other murderer more severely, and a law abolishing capital punishment was shortly afterwards adopted by the local legislature.
[“Marie Jeanneret’s Death – Grim Facts In The Career Of This Famous Poisoner. – How She Did Her Work, Her Trial, And The Motive For Crime – Causing The Abolition Of The Death Penalty.” (reprinted from The London Daily News), New York Times (N.Y.), May 11, 1884, p. 5]