Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Poisoner - Domestic servant
Number of victims: 3 - 23 +
Date of murders: 1833 - 1841 / 1851
Date of arrest: July 1, 1851
Date of birth: 1803
Victims profile: Members of the families of her various employers for whom she worked as a cook
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Brittany, France
Status: Executed by guillotine in Rennes on February 26, 1852
Hélène Jégado (1803–1852) was a French domestic servant and serial killer. She is believed to have murdered as many as 36 people with arsenic over a period of 18 years. After an initial period of activity, between 1833 and 1841, she seems to have stopped for nearly ten years before a final spree in 1851.
Early life and crimes
Hélène Jégado was born on a small farm in Plouhinec (Morbihan), near Lorient in Brittany. She lost her mother at the age of seven and was sent to work with two aunts who were servants at the rectory of Bubry. After 17 years, she accompanied an aunt to the town of Séglien. She became a cook for the curé where an incident arose where she was accused of adding hemp from his grain house to his soup.
Her first suspected poisoning occurred in 1833 when she was employed by another priest, Fr. François Le Drogo, in the nearby village of Guern. In the three months, between June 28 and October 3, seven members of the household died suddenly, including the priest himself, his aging mother and father, and her own visiting sister, Anne Jégado. Her apparent sorrow and pious behaviour was so convincing she was not suspected. Coming shortly after the cholera epidemic of 1832 the deaths may have been put down to natural causes.
Jégado returned to Bubry to replace her sister where three people died in the course of three months, including her other aunt, all of whom she cared for at their bedside. She continued to Locminé, where she boarded with a needleworker, Marie-Jeanne Leboucher—both Leboucher and her daughter died and a son fell ill. It is possible that the son survived because he did not accept Jégado's ministrations. When in the same town, the widow Lorey offered Jégado a room, she died after eating a soup her new boarder had prepared. In May 1835, she was hired by Madame Toussaint and four more deaths followed. By this point in time, she had already put seventeen people in their graves.
Later in 1835, Jégado was employed as a servant in a convent in Auray, but rapidly dismissed after several incidents of vandalism and sacrilege.
Jégado worked as a cook in other households in Auray, then Pontivy, Lorient, and Port-Louis where she was employed only briefly in each one. Often, someone fell ill or died. Among her most infamous murders is of a child, little Marie Bréger, who died at the Château de Soye (Ploemeur) in May 1841, ten years and one month before her final arrest. Most victims died showing symptoms corresponding to arsenic poisoning, though she was never caught with arsenic in her possession. There is no record of suspected deaths from late 1841 to 1849, but a number of her employers later reported thefts; she was apparently a kleptomaniac and was caught stealing several times.
Her career took a new turn in 1849 when she moved to Rennes, the capital city of the region.
In 1850, Jégado joined the household staff of Théophile Bidard, a law professor at the University of Rennes. One of his servants, Rose Tessier, fell ill and died when Jégado tended her. In 1851, one of the other maids, Rosalie Sarrazin, fell ill as well and died. Two doctors had tried to save Sarrazin and because the symptoms were similar to those of Tessier, they convinced the relatives to permit an autopsy. Jégado aroused suspicion when she announced her innocence before she was even asked anything, and she was arrested July 1, 1851.
Later inquiries linked her to 23 suspected deaths by poisoning between 1833–1841, but none of these was thoroughly investigated since they were outside the ten-year limit for prosecution and there was no scientific evidence. Local folklore has attributed to her many unexplained deaths - some of which were almost certainly due to natural causes. The most reliable estimate is that she probably committed about 36 murders.
Jégado's trial began December 6, 1851 but, due to French laws of permissible evidence and statute of limitations, she was accused only of three murders, three attempted murders and 11 thefts. At least one later case appears to have been dropped since it involved a child and police were reluctant to upset the parents by an exhumation. Jégado's behaviour in court was erratic, changing from humble mutterings to loud pious shouting and occasional violent outbursts against her accusers. She consistently denied she even knew what arsenic was, despite evidence to the contrary. Doctors who had examined her victims had not usually noticed anything suspicious, but when the most recent victims were exhumed, they showed overwhelming evidence of arsenic and possibly antimony.
The defence lawyer, Magloire Dorange, made a remarkable closing speech - arguing that she needed more time than most to repent and could be spared the death penalty since she was dying of cancer anyway.
The case attracted little attention at the time, pushed off the front pages by the coup d'état in Paris.
Jégado was sentenced to death by guillotine and executed in front of a large crowd of onlookers on the Champ-de-Mars in Rennes on February 26, 1852.
Hélène Jegado (1803-1851) was a French domestic servant and serial poisoner. She murdered at least twenty-three people with arsenic between 1833 and 1841 and in 1851.
Hélène Jegado was born in Brittany, France in 1803 in the middle of the French Revolution and was orphaned seven years later. She went to live with two aunts who were servants. At the age of 23 she became a servant girl herself.
Her first known poisoning is from the year 1833 when she was working for a priest, Le Drogo, in Guern. In the three months between June 28 and October 3 she poisoned seven members of the household, including the priest, and her own visiting sister. Her apparent sorrow and pious behaviour was so convincing she was not suspected.
Jegado went to replace her sister in Bubry and poisoned three people, including her other aunt. She continued to Locmine, where she boarded with a needlewoman, Marie-Jeanne Leboucher - both her and her daughter died and a son fell ill. He survived (maybe because he did not accept her ministrations). When a widow in the same town offered her a room, she died after eating a soup Jegado had prepared.
In 1831 Jegado joined a convent - and several nuns died before she renounced her new habit.
Jegado worked all over the country in many households and was employed only briefly in each. Often someone fell ill or died. Apparently the poisonings were retaliation for what Jegado considered ill treatment; if somebody admonished her, she answered with poison. Most victims died showing symptoms of arsenic poisoning, though she was never caught with arsenic in her possession. If she tended the "sick", she in effect ensured that they died. There is no record of suspected deaths from 1841 to 1849 but a number of her contemporary employees later reported a number of thefts; she was apparently a kleptomaniac and was caught stealing several times.
In 1850 Jegado joined the household staff of Théophile Bidard, a professor at the University of Rennes.
One of his servants, Rose Tessier, fell ill and died when Hélène tended her. In 1851, one of the other maids, Rosalie Sarrazin, fell ill as well and died. Two doctors had tried to save Sarrazin and because the symptoms were similar to those of Tessier they convinced the relatives to permit an autopsy. They found nothing, but enlisted the aid of the Procureur-General to talk to her employer. Jegado aroused their suspicions when she announced her innocence before she was even asked anything, and she was arrested 1851.
Later inquiries traced 23 cases of poisoning between 1833-1841 to her, but speculations of possible deaths ran to about 60.
Jegado's trial began December 6, 1851 but, due to local contemporary laws of permissible evidence and statute of limitations, she was accused only of 3 murders, 3 attempted murders and 11 thefts. Jegado's behaviour was erratic, changing from humble mutterings to loud pious shouting. She consistently denied she even knew what arsenic was, against all evidence to the contrary. Doctors who had examined her victims had not usually noticed anything suspicious, but when some of the victims were exhumed, they showed signs of arsenic.
Jegado was sentenced to death by guillotine and executed in 1851.
JEGADO, Helene (France)
To be able to control precisely one’s lachrymal glands, to cry on demand, is a great advantage after having poisoned someone.
This ability was used to the full by French peasant Helene Jegado when, as repeatedly happened, members of the families of her various employers for whom she worked as a cook, unexpectedly died. Seemingly overcome with grief, she would leave, taking with her the bottles of wine and sundry valuable articles she had stolen, and gain similar employment elsewhere, with the same deadly results.
In 1830 she took a job in the household of Professor Bidard at Rennes. Unaccountably another maid fell ill, and Helene devoted all her spare time to nursing her friend, but all to no avail, for her patient died. Again the crocodile tears flowed, but it wasn’t long before she made a new friend, Rosalie Sarrazin, who had filled the now vacant post. A rift soon appeared in their relationship, for Rosalie was better educated than Helene and so she was put in charge of the household accounts, but fate remedied the situation – the remedy being arsenic powder – and within months poor Rosalie complained of stomach pains.
The complaints did not last long, however, and neither did the new maid.
Helene might have been good at crying, but not at being able to control her guilty conscience, for when the police came to the house to investigate the sudden death, Helene opened the door and, on seeing them, exclaimed, ‘I am innocent!’ To which the officer replied, ‘What of? Nobody has accused you of anything!’
Helene Jegado was tried at Rennes in December 1831 on three charges of murder and a similar number of attempted murders.
No poison was found in her possession, and because no doubt she had sold all the valuables she had stolen, no apparent motive was found. But when her employment record was checked and found to coincide with nearly two dozen mysterious deaths, the court came to but one conclusion, and in 1832 Madamoiselle Jegado kept an appointment with Madame Guillotine but did not keep her head.
In England most of the clothes belonging to his victims were the perquisite of the executioner, but not in France during the Revolution. Most garments were cut into pieces and used for the cleaning of the scaffold, which rapidly became soaked with blood and fragments of flesh. But what of the hair, shorn from the necks of those about to be guillotined? It was reported at the time that:
A new sect has lately been formed in Paris; in their zeal to associate themselves with the counter-revolutionaries by every possible means, the initiates, who are animated by a pious respect and tender devotion to the guillotine, have the same desires, the same sentiments, and in these days, the same hair; toothless women are eager to buy the locks of any goldenhaired young spark who has been guillotined, and to wear such tresses on their heads. It is a new branch of commerce, and a perfectly new kind of devotion too, so let us respect these blonde locks; our late aristocrats will at least have been of some use – their hair will hide the bald heads of a few women!
Amazing True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott
Arsenic a La Bretonne
By Victor MacClure
On Tuesday, the 1st of July, in the year 1851, two gentlemen, sober of face as of raiment, presented themselves at the office of the Procureur-General in the City of Rennes. There was no need for them to introduce themselves to that official. They were well-known medical men of the city, Drs Pinault and Boudin. The former of the two acted as spokesman.
Dr Pinault confessed to some distress of mind. He had been called in by his colleague for consultation in the case of a girl, Rosalie Sarrazin, servant to an eminent professor of law, M. Bidard. In spite of the ministrations of himself and his colleague, Rosalie had died. The symptoms of the illness had been very much the same as in the case of a former servant of M. Bidard's, a girl named Rose Tessier, who had also died. With this in mind they had persuaded the relatives of Rosalie to permit an autopsy. They had to confess that they had found no trace of poison in the body, but they were still convinced the girl had died of poisoning. With his colleague backing him, Dr Pinault was able to put
such facts before the Procureur-General that that official almost at once reached for his hat to accompany the two doctors to M. Bidard's.
The door of the Professor's house was opened to them by Helene Jegado, another of M. Bidard's servants. She was a woman of forty odd, somewhat scraggy of figure and, while not exactly ugly, not prepossessing of countenance. Her habit of looking anywhere but into the face of anyone addressing her gave her rather a furtive air.
Having ushered the three gentlemen into the presence of the Professor, the servant-woman lingered by the door.
"We have come, M. Bidard,'' said the Procureur, "on a rather painful mission. One of your servants died recently--it is suspected, of poisoning.''
"I am innocent!''
The three visitors wheeled to stare, with the Professor, at the grey-faced woman in the doorway. It was she who had made the exclamation.
"Innocent of what?'' demanded the Law officer. "No one has accused you of anything!''
This incautious remark on the part of the servant, together with the facts already put before him by the two doctors and the information he obtained from her employer, led the Procureur-General to have her arrested. Helene Jegado's past was inquired into, and a strange and dreadful Odyssey the last twenty years of her life proved to be. It was an Odyssey of death.
Helene was born at Plouhinec, department of Morbihan, on (according to the official record) "28 prairial,'' in the eleventh year of the republic (1803). Orphaned at the age of seven, she was sheltered by the cure of Bubry, M. Raillau, with whom two of her aunts were servants. Sixteen years later one of those aunts, Helene Liscouet, took Helene with her into service with M. Conan, cure at Seglien, and it was here that Helene Jegado's evil ways would appear first to become manifest. A girl looking after the cure's sheep declared she had found grains of hemp in soup prepared for her by Helene.
It was not, however, until 1833 that causing death is laid at her charge.
In that year she entered the service of a priest in Guern, one Le Drogo. In the space of little more than three months, from the 28th of June to the 3rd of October, seven persons in the priest's household died. All those people died after painful vomitings, and all of them had eaten food prepared by Helene, who nursed each of them to the last. The victims of this fatal outbreak of sickness included Helene's own sister Anna (apparently on a visit to Guern from Bubry), the rector's father and mother, and Le Drogo himself. This last, a strong and vigorous man, was dead within thirty-two hours of the first onset of his illness. Helene, it was said, showed the liveliest sorrow over each of the deaths, but on the death of the rector was heard to say, "This won't be the last!'' Nor was it. Two deaths followed that of Le Drogo.
Such a fatal outbreak did not pass without suspicion. The body of the rector was examined by Dr Galzain, who found indications of grave disorder in the digestive tracts, with inflammation of the intestines. His colleague, Dr Martel, had suspicions of poison, but the pious sorrow of Helene lulled his mind as far as she was concerned.
We next find Helene returned to Bubry, replacing her sister Anna in the service of the cure there. In three months three people died: Helene's aunt Marie-Jeanne Liscouet and the cure's niece and sister. This last, a healthy girl of about sixteen, was dead within four days, and it is to be noted that during her brief illness she drank nothing but milk from the hands of Helene. But here, as hitherto, Helene attended all the sufferers. Her grief over their deaths impressed every one with whom she came in contact.
From Bubry Helene went to Locmine. Her family connexion as servants with the clergy found her room for three days in the rectory, after which she became apprentice to a needlewoman of the town, one Marie-Jeanne Leboucher, with whom she lived. The Widow Leboucher was stricken ill, as also was one of her daughters. Both died. The son of the house, Pierre, also fell ill. But, not liking Helene, he refused her ministrations, and recovered. By this time Helene had become somewhat sensitive.
"I'm afraid,'' she said to a male relative of the deceased sempstress, "that people will accuse me of all those deaths. Death follows me wherever I go.'' She quitted the Leboucher establishment in distress.
A widow of the same town offered her house room. The widow died, having eaten soup of Helene's preparing. On the day following the Widow Lorey's death her niece, Veuve Cadic, arrived. The grief-stricken Helene threw herself into the niece's arms.
"My poor girl!'' exclaimed the Veuve Cadic.
"Ai--but I'm so unhappy!'' Helene grieved. "Where-ever I go--Seglien, Guern, Bubry, Veuve Laboucher's--people die!
She had cause for grief, sure enough. In less than eighteen months thirteen persons with whom she had been closely associated had died of violent sickness. But more were to follow.
In May of 1835 Helene was in service with the Dame Toussaint, of Locmine. Four more people died. They were the Dame's confidential maid, Anne Eveno, M. Toussaint pere, a daughter of the house, Julie, and, later, Mme Toussaint herself. They had eaten vegetable soup prepared by Helene Jegado. Something tardily the son of the house, liking neither Helene's face nor the deathly rumours that were rife about her, dismissed her.
To one as burdened with sorrow as Helene Jegado appeared to be the life conventual was bound to hold appeal. She betook herself to the pleasant little town of Auray, which sits on a sea arm behind the nose of Quiberon, and sought shelter in the convent of the Eternal Father there. She was admitted as a pensionnaire. Her sojourn in the convent did not last long, for queer disorders marked her stay. Linen in the convent cupboards and the garments of the pupils were maliciously slashed. Helene was suspect and was packed off.
Once again Helene became apprentice to a sempstress, this time an old maid called Anne Lecouvrec, proprietress of the Bonnes-oeuvres in Auray. The ancient lady, seventy-seven years of age, tried Helene's soup. She died two days later. To a niece of the deceased Helene made moan: "Ah! I carry sorrow. My masters die wherever I go!''
The realization, however, did not prevent Helene from seeking further employment. She next got a job with a lady named Lefur in Ploermel, and stayed for a month. During that time Helene's longing for the life religious found frequent expression, and she ultimately departed to pay a visit, so she said, to the good sisters of the Auray community. Some time before her departure, however, she persuaded Anne Lefur to accept a drink of her preparing, and Anne, hitherto a healthy woman, became very ill indeed. In this case Helene did not show her usual solicitude. She rather heartlessly abandoned the invalid--which would appear to have been a good thing for the invalid, for, lacking Helene's ministrations, she got better.
Helene meantime had found a place in Auray with a lady named Hetel. The job lasted only a few days. Mme Hetel's son-in-law, M. Le Dore, having heard why Helene was at need to leave the convent of the Eternal Father, showed her the door of the house. That was hasty, but not hasty enough. His mother-in-law, having already eaten meats cooked by Helene, was in the throes of the usual violent sickness, and died the day after Helene's departure.
Failing to secure another place in Auray, Helene went to Pontivy, and got a position as cook in the household of the Sieur Jouanno. She had been there some few months when the son of the house, a boy of fourteen, died after a sickness of five days that was marked by vomiting and convulsions. In this case an autopsy was immediately held. It revealed an inflamed condition of the stomach and some corrosion of the intestines. But the boy had been known to be a vinegar-drinker, and the pathological conditions discovered by the doctor were attributed by him to the habit.
Helene's next place was with a M. Kerallic in Hennebont. M. Kerallic was recovering from a fever. After drinking a tisane prepared by Helene he had a relapse, followed by repeated and fierce vomiting that destroyed him in five days. This was in 1836. After that the trail of death which had followed Helene's itineracy about the lower section of the Brittany peninsula was broken for three years.
In 1839 we hear of her again, in the house of the Dame Veron, where another death occurred, again with violent sickness.
Two years elapse. In 1841 Helene was in Lorient, domestic servant to a middle-aged couple named Dupuyde-Lome, with whom lived their daughter and her husband, a M. Breger. First the little daughter of the young couple died, then all the members of the family were seized by illness, its onset being on the day following the death of the child. No more of the family died, but M. Dupuy and his daughter suffered from bodily numbness for years afterwards, with partial paralysis and recurrent pains in the extremities.
Helene seems to have made Lorient too hot for herself, and had to go elsewhere. Port Louis is her next scene of action. A kinswoman of her master in this town, one Duperron, happened to miss a sheet from the household stock. Mlle Leblanc charged Helene with the theft, and demanded the return of the stolen article. It is recorded that Helene refused to give it up, and her answer is curious.
"I am going into retreat,'' she declared. "God has forgiven me my sins!''
There was perhaps something prophetic in the declaration. By the time Helene was brought to trial, in 1854, her sins up to this point of record were covered by the prescription legale, a sort of statute of limitations in French law covering crime. Between 1833 and 1841 the wanderings of Helene Jegado through those quiet Brittany towns had been marked by twenty-three deaths, six illnesses, and numerous thefts.
There is surcease to Helene's death-dealing between the years of 1841 and 1849, but on the inquiries made after her arrest a myriad of accusers sprang up to tell of thefts during that time. They were petty thefts, but towards the end of the period they begin to indicate a change in Helene's habits. She seems to have taken to drink, for her thefts are mostly of wine and eau de vie.
In March 1848 Helene was in Rennes. On the 6th of November of the following year, having been dismissed from several houses for theft, she became sole domestic servant to a married couple called Rabot. Their son, Albert, who was already ill, died in the end of December. He had eaten a farina porridge cooked by Helene. In the following February, having discovered Helene's depredations from the wine-cupboard, M. Rabot gave her notice. This was on the 3rd of the month. (Helene was to leave on the 13th.) The next day Mme Rabot and Rabot himself, having taken soup of Helene's making, became very ill. Rabot's mother-in-law ate a panade prepared by Helene. She too fell ill. They all recovered after Helene had departed, but Rabot, like M. Dupuy-de-Lome, was partially paralysed for months afterwards.
In Helene's next situation, with people called Ozanne, her way of abstracting liquor again was noticed. She was chided for stealing eau de vie. Soon after that the Ozannes' little son died suddenly, very suddenly. The doctor called in thought it was from a croup fever.
On the day following the death of the little Ozanne Helene entered the service of M. Roussell, proprietor of the Bout-du-Monde hotel in Rennes. Some six weeks later Roussell's mother suddenly became ill. She had had occasion to reproach Helene for sullen ill-manners or something of that sort. She ate some potage which Helene had cooked. The illness that ensued lasted a long time. Eighteen months later the old lady had hardly recovered.
In the hotel with Helene as fellow-servant there was a woman of thirty, Perrotte Mace, very greatly relied upon by her masters, with whom she had been five years. She was a strongly built woman who carried herself finely. Perrotte openly agreed with the Veuve Roussell regarding Helene's behaviour. This, with the confidence reposed in Perrotte by the Roussells, might have been enough to set Helene against her. But there was an additional cause for jealousy: Jean Andre, the hotel ostler, but also described as a cabinet-maker, though friendly enough with Helene, showed a marked preference for the younger, and comelier, Perrotte. The Veuve Roussell fell ill in the middle of June. In August Perrotte was seized by a similar malady, and, in spite of all her resistance, had to take to her bed. Vomiting and purging marked the course of her illness, pains in the stomach and limbs, distension of the abdomen, and swelling of the feet. With her strong constitution she put up a hard fight for her life, but succumbed on the 1st of September, 1850. The doctors called in, MM. Vincent and Guyot, were extremely puzzled by the course of the illness. At times the girl would seem to be on the mend, then there would come a sudden relapse. After Perrotte's death they pressed for an autopsy, but the peasant relatives of the girl showed the usual repugnance of their class to the idea. Helene was taken red-handed in the theft of wine, and was dismissed. Fifteen days later she took service with the Bidards.
These are the salient facts of Helene's progression from 1833 to 1851 as brought out by the investigations made by and for the Procureur-General of Rennes. All possible channels were explored to discover where Helene had procured the arsenic, but without success. Under examination by the Juge d'instruction she stoutly denied all knowledge of the poison. "I don't know anything about arsenic--don't know what it is,'' she repeated. "No witness can say I ever had any.'' It was believed that she had secured a large supply in her early days, and had carried it with her through the years, but that at the first definite word of suspicion against her had got rid of it. During her trial mention was made of packets found in a chest she had used while at Locsine, the place where seven deaths had occurred. But it was never clearly established that these packets had contained arsenic. It was never clearly established, though it could be inferred, that Helene ever had arsenic at all.
The first hearings of Helene's case were taken before the Juge d'instruction in Rennes, and she was remanded to the assizes for Ille-et-Vilaine, which took place, apparently, in the same city. The charges against her were limited to eleven thefts, three murders by poisoning, and three attempts at murder by the like means. Under the prescription legale twenty-three poisonings, six attempts at poisoning, and a number of thefts, all of which had taken place within the space of ten years, had to be left out of the indictment. We shall see, however, that, under the curious rules regarding permissible evidence which prevail in French criminal law, the Assize Court concerned itself quite largely with this prescribed matter.
The trial began on the 6th of December, 1851, at a time when France was in a political uproar--or, more justly perhaps, was settling down from political uproar. The famous coup d'etat of that year had happened four days before. Maitre Dorange, defending Helene, asked for a remand to a later session on the ground that some of his material witnesses were unavailable owing to the political situation. An eminent doctor, M. Baudin, had died "pour maintien des lois.'' There was some argument on the matter, but the President ruled that all material witnesses were present. Scientific experts could be called only to assist the court.
The business of this first day was taken up almost completely by questions on the facts produced in investigation, and these mostly facts covered by the prescription. The legal value of this run of questions would seem doubtful in the Anglo-Saxon idea of justice, but it gives an indication of the shiftiness in answer of the accused. It was a long interrogation, but Helene faced it with notable self-possession. On occasion she answered with vigour, but in general sombrely and with lowered eyes. At times she broke into volubility. This did not serve to remove the impression of shiftiness, for her answers were seldom to the point.
Wasn't it true, she was asked, that in Locmine she had been followed and insulted with cries: "C'est la femme au foie blanc; elle porte la mort avec elle!''? Nobody had ever said anything of the sort to her, was her sullen answer. A useless denial. There were plenty of witnesses to express their belief in her "white liver'' and to tell of her reputation of carrying death.
Asked why she had been dismissed from the convent at Auray, she answered that she did not know. The Mother Superior had told her to go. She had been too old to learn reading and writing. Pressed on the point of the slashed garments of the pupils and the linen in the convent cupboards, Helene retorted that somebody had cut her petticoats as well, and that, anyhow, the sisters had never accused her of working the mischief.
This last answer was true in part. The evidence on which Helene had been dismissed the convent was circumstantial. A sister from the community described Helene's behaviour otherwise as edifying indeed.
After the merciless fashion of French judges, the President came back time and again to attack Helene on the question of poison. If Perrotte Mace did not get the poison from her--from whom, then?
"I don't know anything of poison,'' was the reply, with the pious addendum, "and, God willing, I never will!''
This, with variations, was her constant answer.
"Qu'est-ce que c'est l'arsenic? Je n'en ai jamais vu d'arsenic, moi!''
The President had occasion later to take her up on these denials. The curate of Seglien came to give evidence. He had been curate during the time of M. Conan, in whose service Helene had been at that time. He could swear that M. Conan had repeatedly told his servants to watch that the domestic animals did not get at the poisoned bait prepared for the rats. M. Conan's servants had complete access to the arsenic used.
Helene interposed at this point. "I know,'' she said, "that M. Conan had asked for arsenic, but I wasn't there at the time. My aunt told me about it.''
The President reminded her that in her interrogation she had declared she knew nothing of arsenic, nor had heard anyone speak of it. Helene sullenly persisted in her first declaration, but modified it with the admission that her aunt had told her the stuff was dangerous, and not to be used save with the strictest precautions.
This evidence of the arsenic at Seglien was brought forward on the second day of the trial, when witnesses began to be heard. Before pursuing the point of where the accused might have obtained the poison I should like to quote, as typical of the hypocritical piety exhibited by Helene, one of her answers on the first day.
After reminding her that Rose Tessier's sickness had increased after taking a tisane that Helene had prepared the President asked if it was not the fact that she alone had looked after Rose.
"No,'' Helen replied. "Everybody was meddling. All I did was put the tisane on to boil. I have suffered a great deal,'' she added gratuitously. "The good God will give me grace to bear up to the end. If I have not died of my sufferings in prison it is because God's hand has guided and sustained me.''
With that in parenthesis, let us return to the evidence of the witnesses on the second day of the trial. A great deal of it had to do with deaths on which, under the prescription, no charge could be made against Helene, and with thefts that equally could not be the subject of accusation.
Dr Galzain, of Ponivy, who, eighteen years before, had performed the autopsy on Le Drogo, cure of Guern, testified that though he had then been puzzled by the pathological conditions, he was now prepared to say they were consistent with arsenical poisoning.
Martel, a pharmacist, brother of the doctor who had attended Le Drogo, spoke of his brother's suspicions, suspicions which had recurred on meeting with the cases at Bubry. They had been diverted by the lavishly affectionate attendance Helene had given to the sufferers.
Relatives of the victims of Locmine told of Helene's predictions of death, and of her plaints that death followed her everywhere. They also remarked on the very kind ministrations of Helene.
Dr Toussaint, doctor at Locmine, and son to the house in which Helene had for a time been servant, told of his perplexity over the symptoms in the cases of the Widow Lorey and the youth Leboucher. In 1835 he had been called in to see Helene herself, who was suffering from an intermittent fever. Next day the fever had disappeared. He was told that she had been dosing herself, and he was shown a packet which had been in her possession. It contained substances that looked like kermes-mineral, some saffron, and a white powder that amounted to perhaps ten grammes. He had disliked Helene at first sight. She had not been long in his mother's service when his mother's maid-companion (Anne Eveno), who also had no liking for Helene, fell ill and died. His father fell violently ill in turn, seemed to get better, and looked like recovering. But inexplicable complications supervened, and his father died suddenly of a haemorrhage of the intestinal canal. His sister Julie, who had been the first to fall sick, also seemed to recover, but after the death of the father had a relapse. In his idea Helene, having cured herself, was able to drug the invalids in her care. The witness ordered her to be kept completely away from the sufferers, but one night she contrived to get the nurses out of the way. A confrere he called in ordered bouillon to be given. Helene had charge of the kitchen, and it was she who prepared the bouillon. It was she who administered it. Three hours later his sister died in agony.
The witness suggested an autopsy. His family would not agree. The pious behaviour of Helene put her beyond suspicion, but he took it on himself to dismiss her. During the illness of his father, when Helene herself was ill, he went reluctantly to see her, being told that she was dying. Instead of finding her in bed he came upon her making some sort of white sauce. As soon as he appeared she threw herself into bed and pretended to be suffering intense pain. A little later he asked to see the sauce. It had disappeared.
He had advised his niece to reserve his sister's evacuations. His niece replied that Helene was so scrupulously tidy that such vessels were never left about, but were taken away at once to be emptied and cleaned. "I revised my opinion of the woman after she had gone,'' added the witness. ``I thought her very well behaved.''
HELENE. I never had any drugs in my possession--never. When I had fever I took the powders given me by the doctor, but I did not know what they were!
THE PRESIDENT. Why did you say yesterday that nothing was ever found in your luggage?
HELENE. I didn't remember.
THE PRESIDENT. What were you doing with the saffron? Wasn't it in your possession during the time you were in Seglien?
HELENE. I was taking it for my blood.
THE PRESIDENT. And the white powder--did it also come from Seglien?
HELENE [energetically]. Never have I had white powder in my luggage! Never have I seen arsenic! Never has anyone spoken to me of arsenic!
Upon this the President rightly reminded her that she had said only that morning that her aunt had talked to her of arsenic at Seglien, and had warned her of its lethal qualities. "You deny the existence of that white powder,'' said the President, "because you know it was poison. You put it away from you with horror!''
The accused several times tried to answer this charge, but failed. Her face was beaded with moisture.
THE PRESIDENT. Had you or had you not any white powder at Losmine?
HELENE. I can't say if I still had fever there.
THE PRESIDENT. What was that powder? When did you first have it?
HELENE. I had taken it at Locmine. Somebody gave it to me for two sous.
THE PRESIDENT. Why didn t you say so at the beginning, instead of waiting until you are confounded by the witness? [To Dr Toussaint] What would the powder be, monsieur? What powder would one prescribe for fever?
DR TOUSSAINT. Sulphate of quinine; but that's not what it was.
Questioned by the advocate for the defence, the witness said he would not affirm that the powder he saw was arsenic. His present opinion, however, was that his father and sister had died from injections of arsenic in small doses.
A witness from Locmine spoke of her sister's two children becoming ill after taking chocolate prepared by the accused. The latter told her that a mob had followed her in the street, accusing her of the deaths of those she had been servant to.
Then came one of those curious samples of `what the soldier said' that are so often admitted in French criminal trials as evidence. Louise Clocher said she had seen Helene on the road between Auray and Lorient in the company of a soldier. When she told some one of it people said, "That wasn't a soldier! It was the devil you saw following her!''
One rather sympathizes with Helene in her protest against this testimony.
From Ploermel, Auray, Lorient, and other places doctors and relatives of the dead came to bear witness to Helene's cooking and nursing activities, and to speak of the thefts she had been found committing. Where any suspicion had touched Helene her piety and her tender care of the sufferers had disarmed it. The astonishing thing is that, with all those rumours of `white livers' and so on, the woman could proceed from place to place within a few miles of each other, and even from house to house in the same towns, leaving death in her tracks, without once being brought to bay. Take the evidence of M. Le Dore, son-in-law of that Mme Hetel who died in Auray, His mother-in-law became ill just after Helene's reputation was brought to his notice. The old lady died next day.
"The day following the revelation,'' said M. Le Dore, "I put Helene out. She threw herself on the ground uttering fearsome yells. The day's meal had been prepared. I had it thrown out, and put Helene herself to the door with her luggage, INTO WHICH SHE HASTILY STOWED A PACKET. Mme Hetel died next day in fearful agony.''
I am responsible for the italicizing. It is hard to understand why M. Le Dore did no more than put Helene to the door. He was suspicious enough to throw out the meal prepared by Helene, and he saw her hastily stow a packet in her luggage. But, though he was Mayor of Auray, he did nothing more about his mother-in-law's death. It is to be remarked, however, that the Hetels themselves were against the brusque dismissal of Helene. She had "smothered the mother with care and attentions.''
But one gets perhaps the real clue to Helene's long immunity from the remark made in court by M. Breger, son-in-law of that Lorient couple, M. and Mme Dupuyde-Lome. He had thought for a moment of suspecting Helene of causing the child's death and the illness of the rest of the family, but "there seemed small grounds. What interest had the girl in cutting off their lives?''
It is a commonplace that murder without motive is the hardest to detect. The deaths that Helene Jegado contrived between 1833 and 1841, twenty-three in number, and the six attempts at murder which she made in that length of time, are, without exception, crimes quite lacking in discoverable motive. It is not at all on record that she had reason for wishing to eliminate any one of those twenty-three persons. She seems to have poisoned for the mere sake of poisoning. Save to the ignorant and superstitious, such as followed her in the streets to accuse her of having a "white liver'' and a breath that meant death, she was an unfortunate creature with an odd knack of finding herself in houses where `accidents' happened. Time and again you find her being taken in by kindly people after such `accidents,' and made an object of sympathy for the dreadful coincidences that were making her so unhappy. It was out of sympathy that the Widow Lorey, of Locmine, took Helene into her house. On the widow's death the niece arrived. In court the niece described the scene on her arrival. "Helene embraced me,'' she said. "'Unhappy me!' she wept. `Wherever I go everybody dies!' I pitied and consoled her.'' She pitied and consoled Helene, though they were saying in the town that the girl had a white liver and that her breath brought death!
Where Helene had neglected to combine her poisoning with detected pilfering the people about her victims could see nothing wrong in her conduct. Witness after witness --father, sister, husband, niece, son-in-law, or relation in some sort to this or that victim of Helene's--repeated in court, "The girl went away with nothing against her.'' And even those who afterwards found articles missing from their household goods: "At the same time I did not suspect her probity. She went to Mass every morning and to the evening services. I was very surprised to find some of my napkins among the stuff Helene was accused of stealing.'' "I did not know of Helene's thefts until I was shown the objects stolen,'' said a lady of Vannes. "Without that proof I would never have suspected the girl. Helene claimed affiliation with a religious sisterhood, served very well, and was a worker.''
It is perhaps of interest to note how Helene answered the testimony regarding her thieving proclivities. Mme Lejoubioux, of Vannes, said her furnishing bills went up considerably during the time Helene was in her service. Helene had purloined two cloths.
Helene: "That was for vengeance. I was furious at being sent away.
Sieur Cesar le Clerc and Mme Gauthier swore to thefts from them by Helene.
Helene: "I stole nothing from Mme Gauthier except one bottle of wine. If I commit a larceny it is from choler. WHEN I'M FURIOUS I STEAL!''
It was when Helene began to poison for vengeance that retribution fell upon her. Her fondness for the bottle started to get her into trouble. It made her touchy. Up to 1841 she had poisoned for the pleasure of it, masking her secret turpitude with an outward show of piety, of being helpful in time of trouble. By the time she arrived in Rennes, in 1848, after seven years during which her murderous proclivities seem to have slept, her character as a worker, if not as a Christian, had deteriorated. Her piety, in the face of her fondness for alcohol and her slovenly habits, and against her now frequently exhibited bursts of temper and ill-will, appeared the hypocrisy it actually was. Her essays in poisoning now had purpose and motive behind them. Nemesis, so long at her heels, overtook her.
It is not clear in the accounts available to me just what particular murders by poison, what attempts at poisoning, and what thefts Helene was charged with in the indictment at Rennes. Twenty-three poisonings, six attempts, and a number of thefts had been washed out, it may be as well to repeat, by the prescription legale. But from her arrival in
Rennes, leaving the thefts out of account, her activities had accounted for the following:
In the Rabot household one death (Albert, the son) and three illnesses (Rabot, Mme Rabot, the mother-in-law); in the Ozanne establishment one death (that of the little son), in the hotel of the Roussells one death (that of Perrotte Mace) and one illness (that of the Veuve Roussell); at the Bidards two deaths (Rose Tessier and Rosalie Sarrazin). In this last establishment there was also one attempt at poisoning which I have not yet mentioned, that of a young servant, named Francoise Huriaux, who for a short time had taken the place of Rose Tessier. We thus have five deaths and five attempts in Rennes, all of which could be indictable. But, as already stated, the indictment covered three deaths and three attempts.
It is hard to say, from verbatim reports of the trial, where the matter of the indictment begins to be handled. It would seem from the evidence produced that proof was sought of all five deaths and all five attempts that Helene was supposed to be guilty of in Rennes. The father of the boy Ozanne was called before the Rabot witnesses, though the Rabot death and illnesses occurred before the death of the Ozanne child. We may, however, take the order of affairs as dealt with in the court. We may see something of motive on Helene's part suggested in M. Ozanne's evidence, and an indication of her method of covering her crime.
M. Ozanne said that Helene, in his house, drank eau de vie in secret, and, to conceal her thefts, filled the bottle up with cider. He discovered the trick, and reproached Helene for it. She denied the accusation with vigour, and angrily announced her intention of leaving. Mme Ozanne took pity on Helene, and told her she might remain several days longer. On the Tuesday following the young child became ill. The illness seemed to be a fleeting one, and the father and mother thought he had recovered. On the Saturday, however, the boy was seized by vomiting, and the parents wondered if they should send for the doctor.
"If the word was mine,'' said Helene, who had the boy on her knees, "and the child as ill as he looks, I should not hesitate.'' The doctor was sent for about noon on Sunday. He thought it only a slight illness.
Towards evening the child began to complain of pain all over his body. His hands and feet were icy cold. His body grew taut. About six o'clock the doctor came back. "My God!'' he exclaimed. "It's the croup!'' He tried to apply leeches, but the boy died within a few minutes. Helene hastened the little body into its shroud.
Helene, said Ozanne, always talked of poison if anyone left their food.
"Do you think I'm poisoning you?'' she would ask.
A girl named Cambrai gave evidence that Helene, coming away from the cemetery after the burial of the child, said to her, "I am not so sorry about the child. Its parents have treated me shabbily.'' The witness thought Helene too insensitive and reproached her.
"That's a lie!'' the accused shouted. "I loved the child!''
The doctor, M. Brute, gave evidence next. He still believed the child had died of a croup affection, the most violent he had ever seen. The President questioned him closely on the symptoms he had seen in the child, but the doctor stuck to his idea. He had seen nothing to make him suspect poisoning.
The President: "It is strange that in all the cases we have under review the doctors saw nothing at first that was serious. They admit illness and prescribe mild remedies, and then, suddenly, the patients get worse and die.''
M. Victor Rabot was called next. To begin with, he said, Helene's services were satisfactory. He had given her notice because he found her stealing his wine. Upon this Helene showed the greatest discontent, and it was then that Mme Rabot fell ill. A nurse was put in charge of her, but Helene found a way to get rid of her. Helene had no love for his child. The child had a horror of the servant, because she was dirty and took snuff. In consequence Helene had a spite against the boy. Helene had never been seen eating any of the dishes prepared for the family, and even insisted on keeping certain of the kitchen dishes for her own use.
At the request of his father-in-law Helene had gone to get a bottle of violet syrup from the pharmacist. The bottle was not capped. His father-in-law thought the syrup had gone bad, because it was as red as mulberry syrup, and refused to give it to his daughter (Mme Rabot). The bottle was returned to the pharmacist, who remarked that the colour of the syrup had changed, and that he did not recognize it as his own.
Mme Rabot having corroborated her husband's evidence, and told of Helene's bad temper, thieving, and disorderliness, Dr Vincent Guyot, of Rennes, was called.
Dr Guyot described the illness of the boy Albert and its result. He then went on to describe the illness of Mme Rabot. He and his confreres had attributed her sickness to the fact that she was enceinte, and to the effect of her child's death upon her while in that condition. A miscarriage of a distressing nature confirmed the first prognosis. But later he and his confreres saw reason to change their minds. He believed the boy had been poisoned, though he could not be certain. The mother, he was convinced, had been the victim of an attempt at poisoning, an opinion which found certainty in the case of Mme Briere. If Mme Rabot's pregnancy went some way in explaining her illness there was nothing of this in the illness of her mother. The explanation of everything was in repeated dosing of an arsenical substance.
The witness had also attended Mme Roussell, of the Bout-du-Monde hotel. It was remarkable that the violent sickness to which this lady was subject for twenty days did not answer to treatment, but stopped only when she gave up taking food prepared for her by Helene Jegado.
He had also looked after Perrotte Mace. Here also he had had doubts of the nature of the malady; at one time he had suspected pregnancy, a suspicion for which there were good grounds. But the symptoms that later developed were not consistent with the first diagnosis. When Perrotte died he and M. Revault, his confrere, thought the cause of death would be seen as poison in an autopsy. But the post-mortem was rejected by the parents. His feeling to-day was that Mme Roussell's paralysis was due to arsenical dosage, and that Perrotte had died of poisoning. Helene, speaking to him of Perrotte, had said, "She's a chest subject. She'll never get better!'' And she had used the same phrase, "never get better,'' with regard to little Rabot.
M. Morio, the pharmacist of Rennes from whom the violet syrup was bought, said that Helene had often complained to him about Mme Roussell.
During the illness of the Rabot boy she had said that the child was worse than anyone imagined, and that he would never recover. In the matter of the violet syrup he agreed it had come back to him looking red. The bottle had been put to one side, but its contents had been thrown away, and he had therefore been unable to experiment with it. He had found since, however, that arsenic in powder form did not turn violet syrup red, though possibly arsenic in solution with boiling water might produce the effect. The change seen in the syrup brought back from M. Rabot's was not to be accounted for by such fermentation as the mere warmth of the hand could bring about.
Several witnesses, interrupted by denials and explanations from the accused, testified to having heard Helene say that neither the Rabot boy nor his mother would recover.
The evidence of M. Roussell, of the Bout-du-Monde hotel, touched on the illnesses of his mother and Perrotte. He knew nothing of the food prepared by Helene; nor had the idea of poison occurred to him until her arrest. Helene's detestable character, her quarrels with other servants, and, above all, the thefts of wine he had found her out in were the sole causes of her dismissal. He had noticed that Helene never ate with the other domestics. She always found an excuse for not doing so. She said she had stomach trouble and could not hold down her food.
The Veuve Roussell had to be helped into court by her son. She dealt with her own illness and with the death of Perrotte. Her illness did not come on until she had scolded Helene for her bad ways.
Dr Revault, confrere of Guyot, regretted the failure to perform a post-mortem on the body of Perrotte. He had said to Roussell that if Perrotte's illness was analogous to cholera it was, nevertheless, not that disease. He believed it was due to a poison.
The President: "Chemical analysis has proved the presence of arsenic in the viscera of Perrotte. Who administered that arsenic, the existence of which was so shrewdly foreseen by the witness? Who gave her the arsenic? [To Helene] Do you know? Was it not you that gave it her, Helene?''
At this Helene murmured something unintelligible, but, gathering her voice, she protested, "I have never had arsenic in my hands, Monsieur le President--never!''
Something of light relief was provided by Jean Andre, the cabinet-making ostler of Saint-Gilles, he for whose attention Helene had been a rival with Perrotte Mace.
"The service Helene gave was excellent. So was mine. She nursed Perrotte perfectly, but said it was in vain, because the doctors were mishandling the disease. She told me one day that she was tired of service, and that her one wish was to retire.''
``Did you attach a certain idea to the confidence about retiring?''
"No!'' Andre replied energetically.
"You were in hospital. When you came back, did Helene take good care of
"She gave me bouillon every morning to build me up.''
"The bouillon she gave you did you no harm?''
"On the contrary, it did me a lot of good.''
"Wasn't the accused jealous of Perrotte--that good-looking girl who gave you so much of her favour?''
"In her life Perrotte was a good girl. She never was out of sorts for a moment--never rubbed one the wrong way.''
"Didn't Helene say to you that Perrotte would never recover?''
"Yes, she said that. `She's a lost woman,' she said; `the doctors are going the wrong way with the disease.'
"All the same,'' Andre went on, "Helene never ate with us. She worked night and day, but ate in secret, I believe. Anyhow, a friend of mine told me he'd once seen her eating a crust of bread, and chewing some other sort of food at the same time. As for me--I don't know; but I don't think you can live without eating.''
"I couldn't keep down what I ate,'' Helene interposed. "I took some bouillon here and there; sometimes a mouthful of bread--nothing in secret. I never thought of Andre in marriage--not him more than another. That was all a joke.''
A number of witnesses, friends of Perrotte, who had seen her during her illness, spoke of the extreme dislike the girl had shown for Helene and for the liquids the latter prepared for her. Perrotte would say to Helene, "But you're dirty, you ugly Bretonne!'' Perrotte had a horror of bouillon: "Ah--these vegetable soups! I've had enough of them! It was what Helene gave me that night that made me ill!'' The witnesses did not understand all this, because the accused seemed to be very good to her fellow-servant. At the bedside Helene cried, "Ah! What can I do that will save you, my poor Perrotte?'' When Perrotte was dying she wanted to ask Helene's pardon. Embracing the dying girl, the accused replied, "Ah! There's no need for that, my poor Perrotte. I know you didn't mean anything.''
A witness telling of soup Helene had made for Perrotte, which the girl declared to have been poisoned, it was asked what happened to the remainder of it. The President passed the question to Helene, who said she had thrown it into the hearth.
The most complete and important testimony in the trial was given by M. Theophile Bidard, professor to the law faculty of Rennes.
The facts he had to bring forward, he said, had taken no significance in his mind until the last of them transpired. He would have to go back into the past to trace them in their proper order.
He recalled the admission of Helene to his domestic staff and the good recommendations on which he had engaged her. From the first Helene proved herself to have plenty of intelligence, and he had believed that her intelligence was combined with goodness of heart. This was because he had heard that by her work she was supporting two small children, as well as her poor old mother, who had no other means of sustenance. (The reader will recollect that Helene was orphaned at the age of seven.)
Nevertheless, said M. Bidard, Helene was not long in his household before her companion, Rose Tessier, began to suffer in plenty from the real character of Helene Jegado.
Rose had had a fall, an accident which had left her with pains in her back. There were no very grave symptoms but Helene prognosticated dire results. One night, when the witness was absent in the country, Helene rose from her bed, and, approaching her fellow-servant's room, called several times in a sepulchral voice, "Rose, Rose!'' That poor girl took fright, and hid under the bedclothes, trembling.
Next day Rose complained to witness, who took his domestics to task.
Helene pretended it was the farm-boy who had perpetrated the bad joke. She then declared that she herself had heard some one give a loud knock.
"I thought,'' she said, "that I was hearing the call for poor Rose.''
On Sunday, the 3rd of November, 1850, M. Bidard, who had been in the country, returned to Rennes. After dinner that day, a meal which she had taken in common with Helene, Rose was seized with violent sickness.
Helene lavished on her the most motherly attention. She made tea, and sat up the night with the invalid. In the morning, though she still felt ill, Rose got up. Helene made tea for her again. Rose once more was sick, violently, and her sickness endured until the witness himself had administered copious draughts of tea prepared by himself. Rose passed a fairly good night, and Dr Pinault, who was called in, saw nothing more in the sickness than some nervous affection. But on the day of the 5th the vomitings returned. Helene exclaimed, "The doctors do not understand the disease. Rose is going to die!'' The prediction seemed foolish as far as immediate appearances were concemed, for Rose had an excellent pulse and no trace of fever.
In the night between Tuesday and Wednesday the patient was calm, but on the morning of Wednesday she had vomitings with intense stomach pains.
From this time on, said the witness, the life of Rose, which was to last only thirty-six hours, was nothing but a long-drawn and heart-rending cry of agony. She drew her last breath on the Thursday evening at half-past five. During her whole illness, added M. Bidard, Rose was attended by none save Helene and himself.
Rose's mother came. In Rose the poor woman had lost a beloved child and her sole support. She was prostrated. Helene's grief seemed to equal the mother's. Tears were ever in her eyes, and her voice trembled. Her expressions of regret almost seemed to be exaggerated.
There was a moment when the witness had his doubts. It was on the way back from the cemetery. For a fleeting instant he thought that the shaking of Helene's body was more from glee than sorrow, and he momentarily accused her in his mind of hypocrisy. But in the following days Helene did nothing but talk of "that poor Rose,'' and M. Bidard, before her persistence, could only believe he had been mistaken. "Ah!'' Helene said. "I loved her as I did that poor girl who died in the Bout-du-Monde.''
The witness wanted to find some one to take Rose's place. Helene tried to dissuade him. ``Never mind another femme de chambre,'' she said. "I will do everything.'' M. Bidard contented himself with engaging another girl, Francoise Huriaux, strong neither in intelligence nor will, but nevertheless a sweet little creature. Not many days passed before Helene began to make the girl unhappy. "It's a lazy-bones,'' Helene told the witness. "She does not earn her keep.'' ("Le pain qu'elle mange, elle le vole.'') M. Bidard shut her up. That was his affair, he said.
Francoise meantime conceived a fear of Helene. She was so scared of the older woman that she obeyed all her orders without resistance. The witness, going into the kitchen one day, found Helene eating her soup at one end of the table, while Francoise dealt with hers at the other extreme. He told Helene that in future she was to serve the repast in common, on a tablecloth, and that it was to include dessert from his table. This order seemed to vex Helene extremely. "That girl seems to live without eating,'' she said, "and she never seems to sleep.''
One day the witness noticed that the hands and face of Francoise were puffy. He spoke to Helene about it, who became angry. She accused her companion of getting up in the night to make tea, so wasting the sugar, and she swore she would lock the sugar up. M. Bidard told her to do nothing of the sort. He said if Francoise had need of sugar she was to have it. "All right--I see,'' Helene replied sullenly, obviously put out.
The swelling M. Bidard had seen in the face and hands of Francoise attacked her legs, and all service became impossible for the girl. The witness was obliged to entrust Helene with the job of finding another chambermaid. It was then that she brought Rosalie Sarrazin to him. "A very good girl,'' she said. "If her dress is poor it is because she gives everything to her mother.''
The words, M. Bidard commented, were said by Helene with remarkable sincerity. It was said that Helene had no moral sense. It seemed to him, from her expressions regarding that poor girl, who, like herself, devoted herself to her mother, that Helene was far from lacking in that quality.
Engaging Rosalie, the witness said to his new domestic, "You will find yourself dealing with a difficult companion. Do not let her be insolent to you. You must assert yourself from the start. I do not want Helene to rule you as she ruled Francoise.'' At the same time he repeated his order regarding the service of the kitchen meals. Helene manifested a sullen opposition. "Who ever heard of tablecloths for the servants?'' she said. "It is ridiculous!''
In the first days the tenderness between Helene and the new girl was quite touching. But circumstance arose to end the harmony. Rosalie could write. On the 23rd of May the witness told Helene that he would like her to give him an account of expenses. The request made Helene angry, and increased her spite against the more educated Rosalie. Helene attempting to order Rosalie about, the latter laughingly told her, "M. Bidard pays me to obey him. If I have to obey you also you'll have to pay me too.''
From that time Helene conceived an aversion from the girl.
About the time when Helene began to be sour to Rosalie she herself was seized by vomitings. She complained to Mlle Bidard, a cousin of the witness, that Rosalie neglected her. But when the latter went up to her room Helene yelled at her, "Get out, you ugly brute! In you I've brought into the house a stick for my own back!''
This sort of quarrelling went on without ceasing. At the beginning of June the witness said to Helene, "If this continues you'll have to look for another place.'' "That's it!'' Helene yelled, in reply. "Because of that girl I'll have to go!''
On the 10th of June M. Bidard gave Helene definite notice. It was to take effect on St John's Day. At his evening meal he was served with a roast and some green peas. These last he did not touch. In spite of his prohibition against her serving at table, it was Helene who brought the peas in. "How's this?'' she said to him. "You haven't eaten your green peas--and them so good!'' Saying this, she snatched up the dish and carried it to the kitchen. Rosalie ate some of the peas. No sooner had she taken a few spoonfuls, however, than she grew sick, and presently was seized by vomiting. Helene took no supper. She said she was out of sorts and wanted none.
The witness did not hear of these facts until next day. He wanted to see the remainder of the peas, but they could not be found. Rosalie still kept being sick, and he bade her go and see his doctor, M. Boudin. Helene, on a sudden amiable to Rosalie where she had been sulky, offered to go with her. Dr Boudin prescribed an emetic, which produced good effects.
On the 15th of June Rosalie seemed to have recovered. In the meantime a cook presented herself at his house to be engaged in place of Helene. The latter was acquainted with the new-comer. A vegetable soup had been prescribed for Rosalie, and this Helene prepared. The convalescent ate some, and at once fell prey to violent sickness. That same day Helene came in search of the witness. "You're never going to dismiss me for that young girl?'' she demanded angrily. M. Bidard relented. He said that if she would promise to keep the peace with Rosalie he would let her stay on. Helene seemed to be satisfied, and behaved better to Rosalie, who began to mend again.
M. Bidard went into the country on the 21st of June, taking Rosalie with him. They returned on the 22nd. The witness himself went to the pharmacy to get a final purgative of Epsom salts, which had been ordered for Rosalie by the doctor. This the witness himself divided into three portions, each of which he dissolved in separate glasses of whey prepared by Helene. The witness administered the first dose. Helene gave the last. The invalid vomited it. She was extremely ill on the night of the 22nd-23rd, and Helene returned to misgivings about the skill of the doctors. She kept repeating, "Ah! Rosalie will die! I tell you she will die!''
On the day of the 23rd she openly railed against them. M. Boudin had prescribed leeches and blisters. "Look at that now, monsieur,'' Helene said to the witness. "To-morrow's Rosalie's name-day, and they're going to put leeches on her!'' Rather disturbed, M. Bidard wrote to Dr Pinault, who came next day and gave the treatment his approval.
Dr Boudin had said the invalid might have gooseberry syrup with seltzer water. Two glasses of the mixture given to Rosalie by her mother seemed to do the girl good, but after the third glass she did not want any more. Helene had given her this third glass. The invalid said to the witness, "I don't know what Helene has put into my drink, but it burns me like red-hot iron.''
"Struck by those symptoms,'' added M. Bidard, "I questioned Helene at once. It has not been given me more than twice in my life to see Helene's eyes. I saw at that moment the look she flung at Rosalie. It was the look of a wild beast, a tiger-cat. At that moment my impulse was to go to my work-room for a cord, and to tie her up and drag her to the justiciary. But one reflection stopped me. What was this I was about to do--disgrace a woman on a mere suspicion? I hesitated. I did not know whether I had before me a poisoner or a woman of admirable devotion.''
The witness enlarged on the tortures of mind he experienced during the night, but said he found reason to congratulate himself on not having given way to his first impulse. On the morning of the 24th Helene came running to him, all happiness, to say that Rosalie was better.
Three days later Rosalie seemed to be nearly well, so much so that M. Bidard felt he might safely go into the country. Next day, however, he was shocked by the news that Rosalie was as ill as ever. He hastened to return to Rennes.
On the night of the 28th-29th the sickness continued with intensity. Every two hours the invalid was given calming medicine prescribed by Dr Boudin. Each time the sickness redoubled in violence. Believing it was a case of worms, the witness got out of bed, and substituted for the medicine a strong infusion of garlic. This stopped the sickness temporarily. At six in the morning it began again.
The witness then ran to Dr Pinault's, but met the doctor in the street with his confrere, Dr Guyot. To the two doctors M. Bidard expressed the opinion that there were either worms in the intestines or else the case was one of poisoning. "I have thought that,'' said Dr Pinault, "remembering the case of the other girl.'' The doctors went back with M. Bidard to his house. Magnesia was administered in a strong dose. The vomiting stopped. But it was too late.
Until that day the witness's orders that the ejected matter from the invalid should be conserved had been ignored. The moment a vessel was dirty Helene took it away and cleaned it. But now the witness took the vessels himself, and locked them up in a cupboard for which he alone had the key. His action seemed to disturb Helene Jegado. From this he judged that she had intended destroying the poison she had administered.
From that time Rosalie was put into the care of her mother and a nurse. Helene tried hard to be rid of the two women, accusing them of tippling to the neglect of the invalid. "I will sit up with her,'' she said to the witness. The witness did not want her to do so, but he could not prevent her joining the mother.
In the meantime Rosalie suffered the most dreadful agonies. She could neither sit up nor lie down, but threw herself about with great violence. During this time Helene was constantly coming and going about her victim. She had not the courage, however, to watch her victim die.
At five in the morning she went out to market, leaving the mother alone with her child. The poor mother, worn out with her exertions, also went out, to ask for help from friends. Rosalie died in the presence of the witness at seven o'clock in the morning of the 1st of July. Helene returned. "It is all over,'' said the witness. Helene's first move was to look for the vessels containing the ejections of the invalid to throw them out. These were green in hue. M. Bidard stopped her, and locked the vessels up. That same day justice was invoked.
M. Bidard's deposition had held his hearers spellbound for over an hour and a half. He had believed, he added finally, that, in spite of her criminal conduct, Helene at least was a faithful servant. He had been wrong. She had put his cellar to pillage, and in her chest they had found many things belonging to him, besides a diamond belonging to his daughter and her wedding-ring.
The President questioned Helene on the points of this important deposition. Helene simply denied everything. It had not been she who was jealous of Rosalie, but Rosalie who had been jealous of her. She had given the two girls all the nursing she could, with no intention but that of helping them to get better. To the observation of the President, once again, that arsenic had been administered, and to his question, what person other than she had a motive for poisoning the girls, or had such opportunity for doing so, Helene answered defiantly, "You won't redden my face by talking of arsenic. I defy anybody to say they saw me give arsenic.''
The Procureur-General invited M. Bidard to say what amount of intelligence he had found in Helene. M. Bidard declared that he had never seen in any of his servants an intelligence so acute or subtle. He held her to be a phenomenon in hypocrisy. He put forward a fact which he had neglected to mention in his deposition. It might throw light on the character of the accused. Francoise had a dress hanging up to dry in the mansard. Helene went up to the garret above this, made a hole in the ceiling, and dropped oil of vitriol on her companion's dress to burn it.
Dr Pinault gave an account of Rosalie's illness, and spoke of the suspicions he and his colleagues had had of poisoning. It was a crime, however, for which there seemed to be no motive. The poisoner could hardly be M. Bidard, and as far as suspicion might touch the cook, she seemed to be lavish in her care of the patient. It was not until the very last that he, with his colleagues, became convinced of poison.
Rosalie dead, the justiciary went to M. Bidard's. The cupboards were searched carefully. The potion which Rosalie had thought to be mixed with burning stuff was still there, just sampled. It was put into a bottle and capped.
An autopsy could not now be avoided. It was held next day. M. Pinault gave an account of the results. Most of the organs were in a normal condition, and such slight alterations as could be seen in others would not account for death. It was concluded that death had been occasioned by poison. The autopsy on the exhumed body of Perrotte Mace was inconclusive, owing to the condition of adipocere.
Dr Guyot spoke of the case of Francoise Huriaux, and was now sure she had been given poison in small doses. Dr Boudin described the progress of Rosalie's illness. He was in no doubt, like his colleagues, that she had been poisoned.
The depositions of various witnesses followed. A laundress said that Helene's conduct was to be explained by jealousy. She could not put up with any supervision, but wanted full control of the household and of the money.
Francoise Huriaux said Helene was angry because M. Bidard would not have her as sole domestic. She had resented Francoise's being engaged. The witness noticed that she became ill whenever she ate food prepared for her by Helene. When she did not eat Helene was angry but threw out the food Francoise refused.
Several witnesses testified to the conduct of Helene towards Rosalie Sarrazin during her fatal illness. Helene was constant, self-sacrificing, in her attention to the invalid. One incident, however, was described by a witness which might indicate that Helene's solicitude was not altogether genuine. One morning, towards the end of Rosalie's life, the patient, in her agony, escaped from the hold of her mother, and fell into an awkward position against the wall. Rosalie's mother asked Helene to place a pillow for her. "Ma foi!'' Helene replied. "You're beginning to weary me. You're her mother! Help her yourself!''
The testimony of a neighbour, one Francoise Louarne, a domestic servant,
supports the idea that Helene resented the presence of Rosalie in the
house. Helene said to this witness, ``M. Bidard has gone into the
country with his housemaid. Everything SHE does is perfect. They leave
me here--to work if I want to, eat my bread dry: that's my reward. But
the housemaid will go before I do. Although M. Bidard has given me my
notice, he'll have to order me out before I'll go. Look!'' Helene added.
"Here's the bed of the ugly housemaid--in a room not too far from the master's. Me--they stick me up in the mansard!'' Later, when Rosalie was very ill, Helene pretended to be grieved. "You can't be so very sorry,'' the witness remarked; "you've said plenty that was bad about the girl.''
Helene vigorously denounced the testimony as all lies. The woman had never been near Bidard's house.
The pharmacist responsible for dispensing the medicines given to Rosalie was able to show that arsenic could not have got into them by mistake on his part.
At the hearing of the trial on the 12th of December Dr Pinault was asked to tell what happened when the emissions of Rosalie Sarrazin were being transferred for analysis.
DR PINAULT. As we were carrying out the operation Helene came in, and it was plain that she was put out of countenance.
M. BIDARD [interposing]. We were in my daughter's room, where nobody ever came. When Helene came to the door I was surprised. There was no explanation for her appearance except that she was inquisitive.
DR PINAULT. She seemed to be disturbed at not finding the emissions by the bed of the dead girl, and it was no doubt to find them that she came to the room.
HELENE. I had been given a funnel to wash. I was bringing it back.
M. BIDARD. Helene, with her usual cleverness, is making the most of a fact. She had already appeared when she was given the funnel. Her presence disturbed me. And to get rid of her I said, "Here, Helene, take this away and wash it.''
The accused persisted in denying M. Bidard's version of the incident.
M. Malagutti, professor of chemistry to the faculty of sciences in Rennes, who, with M. Sarzeau, had been asked to make a chemical analysis of the reserved portions of the bodies of Rosalie, Perrotte Mace, and Rose Tessier, gave the results of his and his colleague s investigations. In the case of Rosalie they had also examined the vomitings. The final test on the portions of Rosalie's body carried out with hydrochloronitric acid--as best for the small quantities likely to result in poisoning by small doses--gave a residue which was submitted to the Marsh test. The tube showed a definite arsenic ring. Tests on the vomit gave the same result.
The poisoning of Perrotte Mace had also been accomplished by small doses. Arsenic was found after the strictest tests, which obviated all possibility that the substance could have come from the ground in which the body was interred.
In the case of Rose Tessier the tests yielded a huge amount of arsenic. Rose had died after an illness of only four days. The large amount of arsenic indicated a brutal and violent poisoning, in which the substance could not be excreted in the usual way.
The President then addressed the accused on this evidence. She alone had watched near all three of the victims, and against all three she had motives of hate. Poisoning was established beyond all doubt. Who was the poisoner if not she, Helene Jegado?
Helene: "Frankly, I have nothing to reproach myself with. I gave them only what came from the pharmacies on the orders of the doctors.''
After evidence of Helene's physical condition, by a doctor who had seen her in prison (she had a scirrhous tumour on her left breast), the speech for the defence was made.
M. Dorange was very eloquent, but he had a hopeless case. The defence he put up was that Helene was irresponsible, but the major part of the advocate's speech was taken up with a denouncement of capital punishment. It was a barbarous anachronism, a survival which disgraced civilization.
The President summed up and addressed the jury:
"Cast a final scrutiny, gentlemen of the jury,'' he said, "at the matter brought out by these debates. Consult yourselves in the calm and stillness of your souls. If it is not proved to you that Helene Jegado is responsible for her actions you will acquit her. If you think that, without being devoid of free will and moral sense, she is not, according to the evidence, as well gifted as the average in humanity, you will give her the benefit of extenuating circumstance.
"But if you consider her culpable, if you cannot see in her either debility of spirit or an absence or feebleness of moral sense, you will do your duty with firmness. You will remember that for justice to be done chastisement will not alone suffice, but that punishment must be in proportion to the offence.''
The President then read over his questions for the jury, and that body retired. After deliberations which occupied an hour and a half the jury came back with a verdict of guilty on all points. The Procureur asked for the penalty of death.
THE PRESIDENT. Helene Jegado, have you anything to say upon the application of the penalty?
HELENE. No, Monsieur le President, I am innocent. I am resigned to everything. I would rather die innocent than live in guilt. You have judged me, but God will judge you all. He will see then . . . Monsieur Bidard. All those false witnesses who have come here to destroy me . . . they will see. . . .
In a voice charged with emotion the President pronounced the sentence condemning Helene Jegado to death.
An appeal was put forward on her behalf, but was rejected.
On the scaffold, a few moments before she passed into eternity, having no witness but the recorder and the executioner, faithful to the habits of her life, Helene Jegado accused a woman not named in any of the processes of having urged her to her first crimes and of being her accomplice. The two officials took no notice of this indirect confession of her own guilt, and the sentence was carried out. The Procureur of Rennes, hearing of this confession, took the trouble to search out the woman named in it. She turned out to be a very old woman of such a pious and kindly nature that the people about her talked of her as the "saint.''
It were superfluous to embark on analysis of the character of Helene Jegado. Earlier on, in comparing her with Van der Linden and the Zwanziger woman, I have lessened her caliginosity as compared with that of the Leyden poisoner, giving her credit for one less death than her Dutch sister in crime. Having investigated Helene's activities rather more closely, however, I find I have made mention of no less than twenty-eight deaths attributed to Helene, which puts her one up on the Dutchwoman. The only possible point at which I may have gone astray in my calculations is in respect of the deaths at Guern. The accounts I have of Helene's bag there insist on seven, but enumerate only six--namely, her sister Anna, the cure, his father and mother, and two more (unnamed) after these. The accounts, nevertheless, insist more than once that between 1833 and 1841 Helene put away twenty-three persons. If she managed only six at Guern, that total should be twenty-two. From 1849 she accounted for Albert Rabot, the infant Ozanne, Perrotte Mace, Rose Tessier, and Rosalie Sarrazin--five. We need no chartered accountant to certify our figures if we make the total twenty-eight. Give her the benefit of the doubt in the case of Albert Rabot, who was ill anyhow when Helene joined the household, and she still ties with Van der Linden with twenty-seven deaths.
There is much concerning Helene Jegado, recorded incidents, that I might have introduced into my account of her activities, and that might have emphasized the outstanding feature of her dingy make-up--that is, her hypocrisy. When Rosalie Sarrazin was fighting for her life, bewailing the fact that she was dying at the age of nineteen, Helene Jegado took a crucifix and made the girl kiss it, saying to her, "Here is the Saviour Who died for you! Commend your soul to Him!'' This, with the canting piety of the various answers which she gave in court (and which, let me say, I have transcribed with some reluctance), puts Helene Jegado almost on a level with the sanctimonious Dr Pritchard--perhaps quite on a level with that nauseating villain.
With her twenty-three murders all done without motive, and the five others done for spite--with her twenty-eight murders, only five of which were calculated to bring advantage, and that of the smallest value--it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Helene Jegado was mad.
In spite, however, of evidence called in her defence--as, for example, that of Dr Pitois, of Rennes, who was Helene's own doctor, and who said that "the woman had a bizarre character, frequently complaining of stomach pains and formications in the head''--in spite of this doctor's hints of monomania in the accused, the jury, with every chance allowed them to find her irresponsible, still saw nothing in her extenuation. And very properly, since the law held the extreme penalty for such as she, Helene went to the scaffold. Her judges might have taken the sentimental view that she was abnormal, though not mad in the common acceptation of the word.
Appalled by the secret menace to human life that she had been scared to think of the ease and the safety in which she had been allowed over twenty odd years to carry agonizing death to so many of her kind, and convinced from the inhuman nature of her practices that she was a lusus naturae, her judges, following sentimental Anglo-Saxon example, might have given her asylum and let her live for years at public expense. But possibly they saw no social or Civic advantage in preserving her, so anti-social as she was. They are a frugal nation, the French.
She Stands Accused by Victor Macclure