Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Francoise Trenque, “The Arsenic Saint” – Serial Killer – France, 1829


Jun. 1, 1828 – began slow poisonings of brothers, father; wine.
Circa Jan. – continued poisonings; Bernard, sister, ill.
Feb. 27, 1829 – poisoned corn-cake.
Mar. 11, 1829 – Joseph, brother, dies.
Mar. 12, 1829 – brother Francoise dies; father dies.
Mar. 14, 1829 – poisoned mother, coughs blood (dies?).
Jul. 9, 1829 – court hearing.
Sep. 16, 1829 – executed, guillotine.

It is unclear from the following article exactly how many murders there were. It would seem that there were six: father, mother, 2 brothers, 2 sisters.


FULL TEXT (Article from 1882): During the first quarter of the present century there lived in the commune of Arronede, Department of Mirande [currently Gers Dept.], France, a carpenter named Trenque. His family consisted of his wife, two sons and two daughters. The younger of these latter was named Francoise. She was from her earliest childhood of a devotional character, modest and retiring, and gave her people no rest until they permitted her to enter the Convent of the Ursulines at Auch. There she served in a domestic capacity, the nuns imparting what instructions they could to her in her leisure hours.

For three years the girl remained at the nunnery, her life marked excessive and fervent devotion. It was noted at the time that her piety was of a somewhat hysterical order. She was often in the habit of roaming about the somber nooks and corners of the rambling pile, murmuring prayers and mouthing strange and incomprehensible words, more like the ravings of a madwoman than the utterances of a sane person.

The nuns became frightened at her eccentric manners at last, and when some fruit was stolen from the convent store-rooms made the suspicion of her having stolen it the excuse for sending her away. She went back to her father’s house, and remained there till she was twenty-four years old. When she left the house was empty, and her hands were dark with the blood of her family. This pious and devout girl within a year swept from the face of the earth by poison [sic] those who should have been nearest and dearest to her.

The commencement of Francoise Trenque’s crimes dated from June 1, 1828 [error in orig. “1882”]. On that day Trenque, with his eldest son Joseph and a workman, went to the Mayor’s house at Arronede to perform some work. They spent three days there. Each day Francoise brought them from their own house the meals which she had prepared for them, and each day they experienced such intolerable pains in the bowels that they finally had to abandon work and go home, leaving it unfinished.

Some weeks passed before old Trenque was well enough to resume work. He took both his sons with him this time, and Francoise carried them their meals as before. The old programme repeated itself, and they had again to leave their labor unperformed.

Six months passed. During this time the Trenque family, with the exception of Francois, alternated between sickness and convalescence. With the diabolical deliberation of a fiend, the fanatic daughter was slowly poisoning her father and brothers by mixing arsenic with their wine.

One day the other daughter, Bernarde, drank some of the wine destined for the men folks. She was at once seized with convulsions and horrible pains. The rural doctor summoned to her aid neither suspected nor detected her actual malady. He ascribed her condition to cramps, and prescribed friction of the legs and body with oil. Francois undertook the task. She used brandy instead of oil, until her wretched victim was blistered and almost flayed alive. The torture saved Bernardo’s life, however. She never quite recovered from its effect, but she escaped poisoning again, as will be seen.

At the commencement of the year, the father, sons and eldest daughters of the Trenques, impregnated with poison, broken in constitution and devoured by constant fevers, were hurrying toward the grave. The villagers, unable to explain their condition, said that a curse had fallen on the house, and shunned its inmates as if they had been smitten by a plague.

Up to this time Mother Trenque had been spared by the demon to whom she had given birth. Now, however, her time had come.

On February 27, 1829, Francoise baked a big corn-cake, the choicest portion of which she pressed upon her mother. The remainder was eaten by her family, herself and her sister. That night witnessed a scene of horror in the Trenque house.

Convulsions shook the rooms, and cries of anguish echoed among the rafters. To her victims, who could not leave their beds. Francoise administered medicines in which she never failed to mingle some of the poison, whose effects they were intended to ameliorate. Among all the crimes which touch on the incredible, none was ever imagined like that of this demon devotee murmuring prayers as she poisoned the medicines of her parents and her brothers.

On March 11th Joseph Trenque, the eldest son died in shocking agonies.

Next day his brother Francoise [sic] went the same road. In his last agonies Francoise cried out that he was burning up with thirst. His sister give him an apple to suck the juice from. This apple she had pricked with a needle and filled full of arsenic.

Now a horrible suspicion dawned on old Trenque – a suspicion which he seems not to have cherished before. But it was too late to save him. He was dying, and knew it. He might have accused Francoise, but he was a proud man, unwilling to make public a doubt that would put shame on is family, especially as it could not benefit him. He simply sent for a notary and had his will made, disinheriting the daughter whom be knew to be is murderess in favor of her sister. He dictated his will in the intervals of blood-curdling convulsions. The parricide stood calmly by and heard it to its end. As he sank back exhausted and cried out for drink, she put one of her poisoned potions to his lips. At the contact, old Trenque gave utterance to a terrible cry.

“Ah!” he screamed, “it is to hell that you send me living and dead!”

And beating the air with his hands he fell back again, writhing and twisting for a few moments, and then stiffening into the rigidity of death, with his face distorted out of all semblance of itself.

His daughter sank upon her knees beside the corpse and prayed.

There still remained one living creature in the house of death beside the fiend who had destroyed the other members. That was the mother. During the terrible tableau which ended in the death of her husband and son Madame Trenque was confined to her bed in the next room. The utterances of their agonies mingled with her own moans of pain.

The daughter now turned her attention to her.

It was on March 12th that Trenque and his younger son had found a termination of their torments. On March 14th Francoise administered to her mother a dose of poison so potent that it caused her to vomit a torrent of blood. The crimson shower spattered the parricide kneeling and praying at the bedside of the parent she bad destroyed.

The notary who had drawn the old man’s will had, meanwhile, communicated with the authorities his suspicion that all was not right in the Trenque house, and on the evening of her last murder Francoise was arrested. There was poison, poison everywhere in her pockets, her trunks, the drawers, wine-bottles, medicine vials, flour barrel, sugar sack, even in her bosom, where a packet of arsenic nestled beside her scapulary.

In spite of these damnatory discoveries, she denied her guilt, and swore it was a plot on the part of godless people to injure her.

She was brought to trial at the Gers assizes July 9th, 1829. She defended herself, calmly and coldly. With mathematical stolidity she developed a theory tending to show that one of the neighbors, who was on bad terms with her family, was guilty of her crime, supporting it with all manner of cunningly devised imaginary details. But it availed her nothing. After a three days’ trial the jury found her guilty and sentenced her to death.

A fierce dispute broke out among the newspapers with regard to her sanity. But the law considered her sane enough to kill, and killed her on September 16, 1829. On the morning of the execution she sent for the Prosecuting Attorney, and said to him:

“I alone am guilty of the crimes of which I have been condemned. The old woman whom I accused is innocent. I wanted to save my head and lied.”

“And why did you kill them ?” she was asked.

“For money,” was the cold-blooded reply. “I love money I adore it. I used to steal from the nuns in the convent, and they never suspected it, When I returned home I wanted our house and garden for myself. Why,” she added, her eyes with cupidity, “they are worth at least 4,000 francs. Now let me pray.”

And she did.

She went to the guillotine with a firm tread, holding in her hand a crucifix, which was confined to her neck by a gold chain. At the scaffold she said:

“Lend me a pin, some one. You know I can not wear this around my neck when my head is off.”

The pin being given, she fastened the crucifix to her breast and said:

“All is well. Let us go on.”

A couple of minutes later she had gone on, following the victim for whose lives her own paid the insufficient penalty.

Francoise Trenque is to this day known as “the arsenic saint” in the district in which her crimes are one of chose house-hold legends which time can not destroy.

[“‘The Arsenic Saint.’” - A Parricide Who Poisoned and Prayed Together – Carpenter Trenque’s Demon Daughter – ‘I Killed them for Money!. I Love Money. I Adore It!’” The Cincinnati Enquirer (Oh.), Oct. 28, 1892, p. 11]


FULL TEXT: Auch, September 16. - The Gazette des Tribunaux made known, on July 20, the details of this appalling affair; it has since reported the rejection of the cassation appeal brought by Françoise Trenque, convicted of a double parricide, and of the poisoning of her brothers and sisters. This unhappy woman awaited calmly, in the Aucli prison, the outcome of this appeal, when in the morning of Wednesday the 10th of this month, her confessor came to find her in the dungeon where she was locked up alone, and announced to her, without many detours, that he had no more hopes. "I should have suspected this morning," said Trenque, to my defender's elongated face. The poor man didn’t dare to tell me; ask him to come and take my confession. "

M. Allen Rousseau, who had lent the condemned, before the Court of Assizes, the support of his ministry, went in fact to her. "It's very nice of you," said the Trenque woman, "to have hidden my fate from me; you certainly knew this morning what the abbot told me! Besides, you are very good; you thought it would hurt me, you were wrong. I have prayed my rosary twenty times to ask God to maintain my judgment, I am happy: besides, you know, it is just that I die. When I am cut to pieces, I won’t suffer enough for justice; I would not experience the sufferings that I made my poor parents endure; may God have mercy on their souls; they deserve to go to heaven because they are martyrs. I am the sole perpetrator of this crime, she added. And what I wanted to you yourself to believe about my having been advised by an accomplice, were as many falsehoods as I could imagine to save my head. "

In the course of this conversation Françoise Trenque admitted that it was a miserable greed that had brought her to this series of murders; a few arpens [“French acres”]  of land and a meager house had not seemed too dearly bought to her, at the cost of the existence of the authors of her days and of the beings who held her closest by blood ties.

Then she asked that the confessor come back to her. "All dreams are lies, said the unhappy woman, I dreamed last night that I was happy at home in the middle of my family. What a difference! ... What time should I get on the scaffold? "

This question was only answered by saying that we were going to celebrate a mass for her. Taken to the chapel, she prayed fervently, as she has not stopped doing since her detention. Even saw a few tears were seen rolling in her eyes. These were the first tears she had shed since her crime.

After the divine service, the prayers of the agonists were recited for her, charitable people from the city came to see her and offered her grapes, but she ate only a small bunch of them. She repeated her confession in front of everyone, and exonerated the person she had so cautiously accused. As she was exhorted to take courage, "fear nothing," she said, "I will be able to carry on the scaffold the forces which have served me to commit such great crimes." At this moment she cast her eyes on a little crucifix that she had around her neck and that she had never left. "What to do with this crucifix," she said with horrible composure, "it is around my neck, you understand very well that it cannot remain there ..." She immediately conceived the plan to sew it to her shirt; they gave her thread and a needle, and she fixed the divine image on the left side of her chest.

When the executor and his assistants arrived, she said without any emotion at all: “I want to do my own preparation.” She cut her hair and tied the parricides shirt herself, the last piece of clothing she had to wear. wear instead of torture. She observed that her face, according to the terms of the judgment, should be covered with a black veil, "It is perfectly just," she said: "I am not worthy to see the light of day." They covered her face, and told her that the fatal hour had struck. The dismal procession, preceded and followed by an immense crowd, was said to be on the march.

While Françoise Trenque was tied on the tilting board, the clerk read out to the public the judgment which condemned this girl to have her right hand and her head severed. She heard this terrible reading with the greatest calm. Immediately, an aide to the executor detached her right arm, and put her hand on the chopping block, which was severed in the blink of an eye; two seconds later the torture was complete.

This is how the forfeit of this unhappy woman was expiated, whose apparent candor, exemplary manners and devotion were so generally known in the land she would still live in, had not the proofs which arose against it would not have been fortified by her confession. You would never have thought she was a criminal.
[“Execution Of Françoise Trenque, Condemned To The Torture Of The Parricides, For Having Poisoned Her Father, Her Mother, Her Brothers And Sisters.” (“Exécution De Françoise Trenque, Condamnee Au Supplice Des Parricides, Pour Avoir  Empoisonne Son Pere, Sa Meme, Ses Freres Et Soeurs”), Gazette Des Tribunaux (Paris, France), Sep. 23, 1829, p. 1102 (p. 2)]


FULL TEXT: Auch,16 septembre. – La Gazette des Tribunaux a fait connaître, le 20 juillet, les détails de cette épouvantable affaire; elle a rapporté, depuis, le rejet du pourvoi en cassation formé par Françoise Trenque, convaincue d’un double parricide, et de l’empoisonnement de ses frères et de ses sœurs. Cette malheureuse attendait avec calme, dans les prisons d’Aucli, l’issue de ce recours, lorsque dans la matinée du mercredi 10 de ce moi, son confesseur vint la trouver dans le cachot où elle était enfermée seule, et lui annonça, sans beaucoup de détours, qu’il ne lui restait plus d’espérances. « J’aurais dû m’en douter ce matin, dit a fille Trenque, à la mine allongée de mon défenseur. Le pauvre homme n’a pas osé me il dire; qu’on le prie de venir lui en faire mes reproches. »

Me Allen Rousseau, qui avait prèté le condamnée, devant la Cour d’assises, l’appui de son ministère, se rendit en effet auprès d’elle. « C’est bien joli de votre part, dit la fille Trenque, de m’avoir caché mon sort; vous saviez certainement ce matin ce que vient de me conter M. l’abbé! Au reste, vous êtes bien bon; vous avez cru que cela me ferait du mal, vous vous êtes trompé. J’ai repassé mon chapelet vingt fois pour demander à Dieu le maintien de mon jugement, me voilà contente: d’ailleurs, vous le savez, il ést juste que je meure. Quand on me couperait en morceaux, je ne souffrais jamais assez pour la justice; je n’éprouverais pas les souffrances que j’ai fait endurer à mes pauvres parens; que Dieu ait pitié de leur âme; ils ont bien mérité d’aaler au ciel, car ce sont des martyrs. Je suis seul auteur de ce crime, a-t-elle ajouté. Et ce que j’ai voulu vous croire à vous-mème sur les conseils et la complicité voisine, était autant de faussetés que j’ai imaginées de sauver ma tête.»

Dans le courant de cette conversation Françoise Trenque avoua que c’était une misérable cupidité qui l’avait portée à cette série d’assassinats; quelques arpens de terre et une chétive maison ne lui avaient point paru trop chèrement achetés, au prix de l’existence des auteurs de ses jours et des êtres qui lui tenaient le plus près par les liens du sang.

Elle a ensuite demandé que le confesseur revint au d’elle. « Tous les songes sont mensonges dit  malheureuse, je rêvais ianuit dernière que j’étais heureuse chez moi et au milieu de ma famille. Quelle différence! … A quelle heure dois-je monter sur l’échafaud? » 

On ne répondit à cette question qu’en disant qu’on allait célébrer une messe pour elle, conduite à la chapell, elle a prié avec ferveur, comme elle n’a pas cessé de le faire depuis sa détention; on a même vu quelques larmes rouler dans ses yeux: c’étaient lès premiers pleurs q’elle eût répandus depuis son crime.

Après l’office divin, on furent récitées pour elle les prières des agonisans, des personnes charitables delà  ville vinrent ia voir et lui offrirent du raisin, mais elle en mangea seulement une petite grappe. Elle répéta ses  aveux devant tout le monde, et disculpa la personne qu’elle avait si caîomnieusement accusée. Comme on l’exhortait à prendre du courage, « ne craignez rien, dit-elle, je saurai porter sur l’échafaud les forces qui m’ont servi à commettre de si grands crimes.» En ce moment elle jeta les yeux sur un petit crucifix qu’elle avait à son cou et qu elle n’avait jamais quitté. « Que faire de ce crucifix, dit-elle avec un horrible sang-froid, il est à mon cou vous comprenez bien qu’il ne peut rester là... Elle conçut aussitôt le projet de le coudre à sa chemise; on lui donna du fil et une aiguille, et elle fixa la divine image an côté  gauche de sa poitrine.

Quand l’exécuteur et ses aides arrivèrent, elle dit sans aucunement s’émouvoir: « Je veux faire moi-même ma toilette. » Elle se coupa les cheveux et nassa elle-même la chemise des parricides, le dernier vêtement qu’elle dût porter au lieu du supplice. Elle fit l’observation que sa figure, d’après les termes de l’arrêt, devait être couverte d’un voile noir, « C’est bien juste, dit-elle: je ne suis pas digne de voir le jour. » On lui couvrit la figure, et on lui annonça que l’heure fatale avait sonné. Le lugubre cortège, précédé et suivi d’une foule immense, serait en marche.

Pendant que Françoise Trenque était attachée sur la bascule, le greffier donna lecture au public de l’arrêt qui condamnait cette fille à avoir le poing droit coupé et la tète tranchée. Elle entendit cette terrible lecture avec le plus grand calme. Aussitôt, un aide de l’exécuteur détacha son bras droit, et mit sur le billot sa main, qui fut tranchée en un clin d’œil; deux secondes après le supplice, était consommé.

C’est ainsi qu’a été expié le forfait de cette malheureuse, don’t l’apparente candeur, les mœurs exemplaires  et la dévotion étaient si généralement connues dans la contrée qu’elle habitait, que, si les preuves qui s’élevaient contre elle n’eussent été encore fortifiées par ses aveus. On n’aurait jamais pu la croire criminelle.

[“Exécution De Françoise Trenque, Condamnee Au Supplice Des Parricides, Pour Avoir  Empoisonne Son Pere, Sa Mre, Ses Freres Et Soeurs.” Gazette Des Tribunaux (Paris, France), Sep. 23, 1829, p. 1102 (p. 2)]


Other sources:
Jean Baptiste Joseph Champagnac, Chronique du crime et de l'innocence. Vol. 8, Paris, Ménard, 1833, pp. 344-361.
Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser, Vol. 23, 1829, Stuttgart & Zübingen, p. 1024.
J.-B. Champagnac, Causes célèbres anciennes et nouvelles, Vol. 8, 1833, Menard, Paris, pp. 354-61.
Recueil critique de jurisprudence et de législation, 1829, p. 334.
Le Messager des chambres (newspapers): Jul. 20, 1829, p. 3.
Dalloz & ‎Tournemine (Victor Alexis Désiré Dalloz, ‎Tournemine, ‎Armand Dalloz),  Jurisprudence générale du Royaume en matière civile, commerciale, ... 1829, p. 334





More cases: Female Serial Killers Executed


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