Capturing the French Ripper

Capturing the French Ripper

  Whilst languishing on the beach of a Greek Island this summer, I read the gruesome yet fascinating history of Joseph Vacher, the French Ripper (as you do on holiday!): On the night of 18 June 1897, 13-year-old shepherd Pierre Laurent was returning home to his village near Lyon from the local fruit market, when he was murdered and sexually assaulted. His mutilated body was discovered by local residents the following day. This sickening case was investigated by local law enforcer Émile Fourquet who was about to uncover the heinous crimes of one of the most notorious serial killers in history, known as ‘L’Éventreur’, the French Ripper. Fourquet was an investigating magistrate, working in the market town of Belley, near Aix-les-Bains in the foothills of the Alps. When he read about the murder of the shepherd boy in the local press, it reminded him of the similar killing of Victor Portalier, aged 16, two years earlier in Bénonces, some 30 km away – the case had been closed unsolved. Fourquet immediately sent for the file and soon discovered some striking similarities: both shepherd boys had been stalked by their assailant, who might have been a vagabond. They were both killed by a deep cut to the throat and their bodies were defiled after death. He also found a letter from another magistrate suggesting a connection between the Portalier case and that of the murder of 17-year-old woodcutter’s daughter Augustine Mortureux, also in 1895. Despite the similarities, it was not thought that all these crimes could have been committed by a single hand. However, in Fourquet’s mind a pattern began...