The murder of Fualdès
A true story published August 1, 1863 in "All the year round", a weekly journal conducted by Charles Dickens.
At daybreak, on the 20th March, 1817, a woman, following a path on th ebanks of the river Aveyron, very near Rodez, saw, revolving in the eddy caused by a mill, some dark object, which a closer inspection proved to be the body of a man. Having got assistance from the mill, the body was dragged out, and was at once recognised as that of M. Fualdès, a retired magistrate. Information was immediately given, and the autorities of Rodez, accompanied by two medical men, proceeded to make an examination of he body. On removing the cravat, the throat was found to be fearfully cut, and further examination showed that strangulation had not preceded the infliction of the wound; no other wounds were found on the body. The absence of all signs of a struggle, and the nature of the wound inflicted, pointed to more than one murderer.
Who could the assassins be?
Although M. Fualdès had filled the office of public accuser, no incidents in his judicial career were known that could have given rise to an act of vengeance so deadly. Moreover he had retired into private life since the Restoration. It was therefore to the circumstances of his private life that attention was directed. It was found that on the previous evening, March 19th, at eight o'clock, he had left home, alleging an appointment, and, taking with him a parcel believed to contain bills for a considerable amount, representing in part the value of some land he had lately sold. Judging from what he himself had stated in the course of the day, the object of his appointment was supposed to be the negotiation of these bills.
All this pointed to a planned robbery.
Other facts threw light on the locality of the crime. A walking-stick, identified as the property of Fualdès, had been picked up on the evening of the 19th at the corner of the Rue des Hebdomadiers. A handkerchief, twisted as if it had been used as a gag, had also been found in the same street. Several persons had been observed on te look-out in and about this street; two players on the hurdy-gurdy had been noticed playong persistently from eight to nine o'clock; whistles, cries, signals, had been heard. The noise of a struggle and stifled groans were also spoken to.
The Rue des Hebdomadiers once indicated, suspicion immediately fell upon the Bancals, the principal lodgers in a house having the worst reputation. An examination showed blood-stains on several objects, and traces of recent washing in the rooms on the ground floor occupied by these people. The family consisted of father, mother, Marianne, a girl of eighteen, and three young children. The parents, their eldest daughter, and Colard, living on the second floor with Anne Benoît, were arrested.
Although there was every reason to believe that all these persons had been concerned in the murder, yet it was evident that they could not have originated it.
In whose interest could the murder have been done?
Rumour pointed to Bastide-Grammont, a merchant of Rodez, and a distant relation and godson of the murdered man. This Bastide was a man of very unusual height. Several witnesses deposed to meeting, on the night of the 19th, a group of men carrying, on a sort of stretcher, some heavy object. Some persons, who had shown curiosity about the object of this procession, had been knocked down by a giant marching at its head. Bastide was known, by his previous admissions, to have been in debt to Fualdès to the extent of about ten thousand francs, and he had been heard, on the 19th, speaking to Fualdès of a rendezvous for the evening, promising, in words which had now a terrible meaning, to settle his account. The discovery of a visit paid by Bastide to the house to the house of Fualdès early on the morning of the 20th, during which he had ransacked the drawers of the magistrate, decided his arrest. Jausion, another relative, a banker, known to be mixed up with Fualdès in business matters, his wife, and Madame Galtier, a sister of Bastide, were also captured.
Meanwhile, a porter, named Bousquier, had let fall, while drinking in a public house, that on the night of the 19th he had been employed to carry a bale which he had been told contained contraband tobacco. On being questioned by the police, he pointed out one Bach as his employer. Both were taken into custody. Another arrest was made on March the 28th. Missonier, a cutler, habitually allowed a beggar to sleep in a stable, in the Rue des Hebdomadiers, belonging to him.
This man stated that on the 19th he went to bed earlier than his wont, that about eight o'clock he heard a noise as of men dragging a body, and that the door of the stable was leaned against, as if it had been expected to find it open. This seemed to implicate Missonnier, a half idiot, whose stable was to have been probably borrowed for the deed. Every effort was made to extract a confession from Bousquier, the porter, who seemed to be the least guilty. He at last stated that, hired by Bach to carry a bale of tobacco, he had been taken to the house of the Bancals; that he had found there Bancal and his wife, Colard, Missonnier, a woman unknown to him, and two 'gentlemen'.
He was shown a large package done up in a blanket, and with two large wooden bars to carry it by. He was then told that it contained a dead body, and was threatened with death if he breathed a word. They left the house; the tall gentleman, armed with a gun, going in front of four bearers, Colard, Bancal, Bach, and himself; the other, also armed, bringing up the rear with Missonnier. He then described the way they took, his account agreeing with that of the various witnesses. Arrived at the bank of the river, the body was thrown in; and, after fresh injunctions to secresy accompanied by threats, the gentlemen left them. He identified Bastide, Anne Benolt, Bach, Colard, and the Bancals.
About the other of the two 'gentlemen' he was uncertain. So far all seemed clear; but were all the accomplices in custody?
The police in vain sought the organ-grinders, who must have been cognisant of the crime. It was found that the police had that night been taken off duty, and M. Coustans, the commissaire, was dismissed; no further steps were taken against him at that time. Meanwhile, examinations were constantly going on.
One of the little Bancals declared that, through a hole in the bed-curtains, she saw a gentleman laid on the table and murdered. The authorities had, besides, the confession of Bancal. Attacked by a prison fever, and finding himself at the point of death, he made a statement sparing himself, but agreeing in the main with other indications.
Having in some sort the character of a religious act, his confession was not brought forward on the trial. It was in substance as follows:
"Coming home from work about six or half- past on the 19th of March, I heard Missonnier and Bach talking together," said Missonnier.
"That's his custom; he doesn't come in before nine o'clock, and then he goes straight to bed."
I asked of whom they were speaking?
"Of his beggar," said Bach; "and as we want his stable—— " "In an hour, if that'll suit you," said Missonnier.
I noticed one or two organ-grinders in our street, and called my wife's attention to their incessant playing.
About a quarter-past eight, Colard came in in a great hurry, and said, "Why are the children not in bed?"
Presently Bach came in and told us to send them to bed, and then went out again. My wife then sent the children to bed. Almost immediately afterwards we heard a great noise, seemingly at a distance, and Colard went out, returning again in two or three minutes. In the interval, some one knocked at the door, and a lady in a shawl and a black veil entered. My wife asked her to sit down. All this while the noise continued; whistles were heard every now and then, and the organs went on as before. The noise approached, and presently there came a violent knocking at our door. The lady, frightened, got up, and my wife shut her into a closet. I opened the street door, Colard holding the candle.
"We found several men, who were dragging and forcing another, in whom to my surprise I recognised M. Fualdès. Behind him was Bastide. They shut the door."
"In the name of God, what do you want with me?" cried Fualdès. "What do I want?" returned some one, whom I knew to be Jausion, " I want your name on these papers." Fualdès said, "This is infamous violence."
Bastide asked for an inkstand, and Fualdès wrote on papers presented to him by Jausion. At this time I noticed Bach, Missonnier, Anne Benoit, and Colard. Colard whispered to Bastide, and showed him a knife. Bastide, almost laughing, said, "Good." This was the first I had seen that led me to think they would kill him.
When Fualdès had done writing, he said, "Is that all?" and looked round him. "After what I've done," said Jausion, "I know you; you won't spare me." "And yet you know that I have spared you," replied Fualdès. "And you repent of it?" cried Jausion. "Why, you see he does," said Bastide. "That's like them all," said Colard; "because they're rich they think they can do anything." After this there was a silence. At last Bastide said, "Come, let's finish!" "Give me my hat," said Fualdès. "Your hat!" said Jausion, and he began to jostle him. Fualdès cried out, "Do you want to kill me? Ah, Bastide! Ah, Jausion!" They pushed him down. "Come," said Bastide, "we must finish him."
Colard rushed forward with the knife, When Anne Benoit said, "Baptiste, what are you doing?" He thrust her away, and brandished the knife over her. They took Fualdès by the head and feet, and laid him on the table. I held his feet. I trembled; but my wife told me that Fualdès was in the wrong:, and that our fortune would be made. Then Colard raised the knife. I turned away my head. Fualdès cried out once or twice, and I heard him say, "Let me make my peace with God." There was a tub placed to catch the blood, and, as our pig had had no wash, we gave it the blood. By the light of the lamp that my wife held, I saw the curtains of the bed move, and said so, Benoit ran and found our little Magdeleine asleep.
Bastide offered us four or five hundred francs to allow her to be killed. My wife made me signs to consent, but I refused. We had now to dispose of Fualdès's body. We tied it up in a sheet and blanket. Bach said he had a porter ready. Bastide wished to put the package in the closet (in which, unknown to him, the lady was), in order that the porter might not see what it was. On opening the door, he cried out in an awful voice, "What's this? We're all discovered. Don't let's neglect our safety."
The lady cried out, "I've seen nothing; I know nothing." "That shows," said Bastide, "that she's seen and knows everything." Bastide and Colard were for killing her: but Jausion declared that if any one touched her he would have to answer it to him. They gave way. Bach was for her taking an oath. "Bah!" said Bastide.
"What's an oath? Words. We must frighten her, and swear to her that if she ever lets it be supposed that she came here to-day, she is a dead woman. Do you hear?" turning round, and in a terrible voice, "If you speak, you die, either by knife, poison, water, or fire. You die!" he repeated, in so dreadful a voice that we were all frightened.
Jausion then led her out. Bach also went out, both returning shortly, Bach bringing his porter. The package was still on the table. "Is that your bale?" said the porter. "I can't manage if. by myself." "We'll help you," said Bach, "but it's not tobacco." "No!" said Bastide, in a big voice, "it's not tobacco; it's a dead body." The porter shuddered.
"You tremble! Be at ease. And let me tell all, that the first who takes it into his head to speak of what has passed, is passing, or is going to pass, will speak his own doom." "Silence or death!" Colard promised for all; "we repeated the oath after him. Bastide and Jausion made us repeat it after we had thrown the body into the river."
Bancal's confession concluded with an account of the transport of the body, in substance the same as that of Bousquier. He died the day after making it. It got to be known in the town that some unknown female had, probably unintentionally, witnessed the murder. Who was it? Humour was busy with several names in a manner not at all pleasant to the owners.
But, on the 29th of July, M, Clémandot, an officer, let fall expressions which showed that he knew who it was. The friends of a lady, whose name had been mentioned, at once called on him to state all that he knew, and the matter coming to the ears of the prefect, Clémandot declared that a Madame Manzon had herself told him that she was in the house of the Bancals on the 19th. This Madame Manzon, separated from her husband, was living with her only child. The daughter of M. Enjalran, a respected magistrate, her conduct had forfeited her her position in the best society at Rodez, to which, however, she still held on loosely. At the request of her father, she was privately questioned by the prefect. It would be impossible, in anything like a reasonable space, to give an account of the strange conduct of this woman.
The prayers and threats of her father, the entreaties of the prefect, confrontations with Clémandot, and a visit to the scene of the crime, at last produced an avowal that, being on the evening of the 19th in the Rue des Hebdomadiers, she was alarmed by a noise, and entered the first door she saw— that of the Bancals— and that from the closet into which she was thrust on the entry of the men dragging Fualdès, she had witnessed the murder; that she was sworn to secresy under threats of death; and that, after wandering about all night, she returned home in the morning so frightened, that for many nights she was obliged to have a little girl to sleep in her room. She added, that she was at the time dressed in man's clothes. Scarcely, however, had she made this declaration, than she retracted it, and on inquiry it appeared that the friends of Bastide had had an interview with her. Day after day she varied her account, and finished by asserting that the whole story was a pure invention of Clémandot's.
Thus matters went on: the interest of the public being constantly kept at a high pitch by the vagaries of Madame Manzon, who came to be known as Madame Mensonge: and by an attempted escape of the principal prisoners.
At length, on the 18th of August, the trial came on before the Court of Assises at Rodez. The prisoners were Bastide, Jausion, his wife, the woman Bancal and her daughter Marianne, Anne Benoit, Colard, Bach, Missonnier, Bousquier, Frauçoise Galtier, and one other person, the charge against whom was afterwards withdrawn. No fewer than three hundred and twenty witnesses were summoned. The prisoners adopted what is called "the system of denegation," which merely means that they deny their guilt. Bastide called several witnesses to establish an alibi, but he appeared to be the only one for whom a regular defence was attempted. The interest attaching to the confession of Bousquier was wholly lost sight of, when, on the fifth day of the trial, Madame Manzon was called. Expectation was not disappointed. Half avowals, theatrical gestures, entreaties of the court, faintings. At one time a file of soldiers was placed for her protection between herself and the prisoners. The judge, to reassure her, also ordered a sentry to stand guard at the door of her house. But all in vain. She declared that some woman had been present and witnessed the murder, but that she herself never set foot in the house till taken there by the magistrates. Yet she confirmed beforehand all that certain witnesses were expected to depose, these witnesses being persons to whom she had told her original story.
Commissioners appointed to examine into the state of Fualdès's affairs, proved that his estate was in debt to the extent of about forty-three thousand francs. In addition to this sum, bills to the extent of ninety thousand francs had been protested. It was, however, shown, and Jausion himself had admitted, that, by the sale of his land Fualdès should, at the very least, have been in a position to clear all his engagements.
What was the origin of all these obligations?
M. de Séguret, the buyer of the land, on being requested to give his opinion as to the motive of the crime, supposed that Fualdès had signed bills for Jausion on receiving in exchange a letter of guarantee; and that Fualdès, probably wishing to arrange all his affairs before leaving Rodez after the sale of his land, no course was open to Jausion but the withdrawal of the bills, which he found impossible, or the suppression of the letter of guarantee. To get the key of the drawers where this letter and the books of Fualdès were kept, was therefore of the greatest consequence, and the disappearance of these documents was quite explained by the visit on the morning of the 20th.
By the destruction of the books, all trace of the debt of Bastide had also disappeared.
On the 3rd of September, the examination of witnesses was concluded; and on the 12th (the trial having begun on the 18th of August) the jury gave their verdict on upwards of fifty questions submitted to them. The woman Bancal, Bastide, Jausion, Bach, and Colard, were condemned to death; Missonnier and Benoit to perpetual imprisonment with hard labour; Bousquier to one year's imprisonment and a fine. The others were released.
On appeal, it was found that a part of the form of oath had been omitted in the case of some of the witnesses. The proceedings were therefore quashed, and a new trial was appointed to take place at Albi.
Madame Manzon, committed to prison for false evidence, consoled herself by writing her memoirs. In answer to her, Clémandot published his version of the affair; and, from all sides, there was a perfect shower of memoirs, answers, letters, and confidences.
The prisoners, too, did what they could to sustain the interest of the drama by again attempting to escape.
The new trial began on the 25th of March, 1818.
The witnesses had now increased in number to three hundred and forty. Bach had resolved to confess, and, in addition to what the others had said, he accused Bessière- Veynac, René, Yence, and Louis Bastide, of having been present at the murder. Madame Manzon was at last, after infinite trouble, and only in a second examination, got to confirm the other declarations by returning to her first account. The woman Bancal also made a statement tending to exclude herself from all actual participation in the crime.
The statement of the little girl, Magdeleine Bancal, received greater development The law not allowing a child to give evidence against its parents, the deposition of persons to whom this girl had spoken were received. She had said that after being sent to bed on the second floor, she heard a great noise; and that, being curious to know the cause, she slipped down stairs, and got into the bed without being seen. She declared that it was Jausion who gave the first blow, and that Bastide completed the horrible work: Colard and her father holding the feet, and Anne Benoit the tub: her mother stirring the blood with her hand as it fell. She confirmed that part of her father's confession about the offer for her life, and added, that she was sent by her mother on tie following morning to her father working in the fields, with a message that he was to do he knew what. She found him employed in digging a hole, which she thought was meant to bury her in. She gave the message, but her father kissed her with tears in his eyes, and bade her be a good girl and go back home. The hole was afterwards made use of, to bury the pig, which had died from drinking the blood.
On the 4th of May, the final verdict was found.
The woman Bancal, Bastide, Jausion, Colard, and Bach, were condemned to death; Anne Benoit to hard labour for life; Missonier to a year's imprisonment. Bastide, Jausion, and Colard, only were executed; the sentence of death was commuted in the other cases.
A mystery still hangs over the case.
With regard to the motive of the crime, the evidence is by no means clear, although the conjectures of M. de Seguret had great probability to support them. With regard to the actors, we find Madame Manzon declaring that all the guilty were not arrested, and Bach directly naming four other persons. Yence, Constans the police officer, and Bessière-Veynac, were subsequently tried, but each succeeded in establishing an alibi to the satisfaction of the jury.
Two organ-grinders, who confessed to having been at Rodez on the 19th of March, were examined by the police and released.
Where, then, were the two who must have had a knowledge of the crime, if, indeed, they were not accomplices?
In 1841, the foundations of a new house were being dug in a garden in Rodez. The excavations brought to light, two human skeletons, together with the keys of hurdy-gurdies. It was remembered that in 1817 this very garden had belonged to Jausion.