Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Birthday Henri Desire Landru, Ladykiller

Henri Désiré Landru (born April 12, 1869 in Paris, France – executed February 25, 1922 in Versailles, France) was a French serial killer and real-life Bluebeard.

Early life

Landru was born in Paris. After leaving school, he spent four years in the French Army from 1887 – 1891. After he was discharged from service, he proceeded to have a sexual relationship with his cousin. She bore him a daughter, although Landru did not marry her; he married another woman two years later and had four children. He was shortly swindled out of money by a fraudulent employer. He turned to fraud himself, operating scams that usually involved swindling elderly widows. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment in 1900 after being arrested and found guilty of fraud, the first of several such convictions. By 1914, Landru was estranged from his wife and working as a second-hand furniture dealer.


Landru began to put advertisements in the lonely hearts sections in Paris newspapers, usually along the lines of "Widower with two children, aged 43, with comfortable income, serious and moving in good society, desires to meet widow with a view to matrimony." With World War I underway, many men were being killed in the trenches, leaving plenty of widows upon whom Landru could prey.

Landru would seduce the women who came to his Parisian villa and, after he was given access to their assets, he would kill them — possibly by strangulation or stabbing — and burn their dismembered bodies in his oven. Between 1914 and 1918, Landru claimed 11 victims: 10 women plus the teenaged son of one of his victims. With no bodies, the victims were just listed as missing, and it was virtually impossible for the police to know what had happened to them as Landru used a wide variety of aliases in his schemes. His aliases were so numerous that he had to keep a ledger listing all the women with whom he corresponded and which particular identity he used for each woman.

In 1919, the sister of one of Landru's victims, Madame Buisson, attempted to track down her missing sibling. She did not know Landru's real name but she knew his appearance and where he lived, and she eventually persuaded the police to arrest him. Originally, Landru was charged only with embezzlement. He refused to talk to police, and with no bodies (police dug up his garden, but with no results), there was seemingly not enough evidence to charge him with murder. However, policemen did eventually find various bits of paperwork that listed the missing women, including Madame Buisson, and combining those with other documents, they finally built up enough evidence to charge him with murder.

Trial and execution

Landru stood trial on 11 counts of murder in November 1921. He was convicted on all counts, sentenced to death, and guillotined three months later in Versailles. Forty years later, there was a rumour that the daughter of Landru's lawyer Vincent de Moro-Giafferi found a picture Landru had drawn while awaiting execution, and on the back of it he had apparently written, "I did it. I burned their bodies in my kitchen stove."

In popular culture

Landru was the inspiration for Charlie Chaplin's film Monsieur Verdoux (1947). The original story was written by Orson Welles, who originally wanted to direct the film with Chaplin in the title role. However, since Chaplin did not like to be directed by anyone but himself, Chaplin bought the story from Welles. Chaplin then wrote, directed, and starred in Monsieur Verdoux himself.

The 1960 film, Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons, starred George Sanders as Landru.

The 1962 film Landru, directed by Claude Chabrol, was inspired by the murders.

In the 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone entitled "The New Exhibit," a wax figure of Landru plays an important role.

The case also featured in one of the episodes of the 1976 BBC series Second Verdict.

A 2005 French movie named Désiré Landru is another adaptation of this story.

In 2001, the French satirical journalist Frédéric Pagès, writing under the pseudonym Jean-Baptiste Botul, published a book entitled Landru: Precursor of Feminism (Landru, Precurseur du Feminisme: La Correspondance Inedite, 1919-1922).

Accounts in English include Dennis Barden's The Ladykiller: The Life of Landru, the French Bluebeard [1] and William Bolitho's Murder for Profit. [2]

Henri Désiré Landru's severed head is on display at the Museum of Death in Hollywood, California.[3]


1.^ London: Peter Davies, c, 1972
2.^ New York: Harper and Brothers, 1926, Chapter five: The Poetry of Desire Landru.

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