30 January 1899
NOTORIOUS FRENCH MURDERER GUILLOTINED
A Mania for Blood - Women, Girls and Shepherd Boys Are Brutally Slain - Twenty Three Deaths Traced to Him - His Deeds
Joseph Vacher, the French Jack the Ripper, was guillotined at Bourghon-Bresse, capital of the department of the Ain, the other morning. He protested his innocence and simulated insanity to the last. Vacher, who was 29 years old, was condemned at the October Assizes at Ain. He is known to have brutally murdered four boys, six young women and girls and an aged widow.
The crimes of Joseph Vacher have surpassed in number and atrocity those of the Whitechapel murder (sic) known as Jack the Ripper. His homicidal mania first broke out in 1894. He claimed after his arrest that as every action has an object and as his motive was neither theft nor vengeance, his irresponsibility was established. Physiologically physicians have regarded the case as interesting. It was shown that Vacher had been confined in an asylum for the insane and that while doing military duty a love affair caused him to attempt self destruction by shooting.
The victims of Vacher were shepherds and shepherdesses, and his rage was particularly directed against girls. He first cut the throats of his victims with a knife and afterwards mutilated them with a razor. He was arrested last year after the police had searched for him a long time in vain.
In defense of Vacher it was pointed out that when a youth he was bitten by a mad dog and that the village herbalist gave him some medicine, after drinking which he became irritable and brutal, whereas he had previously been quiet and inoffensive. It also appears from these statements that from that time he had developed a passion for human blood. Referring to his crimes, Vacher is quoted as saying:
"My victims never suffered for, while I throttled them with one hand, I simply took their lives with a sharp instrument in the other. I am an anarchist, and I am opposed to society, no matter what the form of government may be."
The desperate criminal was notoriously vain and fancied himself a hero. He refused to speak about his crimes, except on two conditions. One was that the full story of his murders be published in the leading French papers and the other that he should be tried separately for each crime in the district where it was committed.
The exact number of Vacher's victims will never be known, but it is said that twenty three assassinations had been brought home to him in October last and the number was added to as time wore on. In fact, it is doubtful whether the murderer himself knew the real number of his victims. He nonchalantly told the story of some fresh tragedy from time to time to the examining magistrate as the details come back to his mind, and in each case the investigation has furnished full corroboration of Vacher's narrative. The bodies in each case were found in the places he indicated - in lonely thickets or in unused wells. He seems to have killed merely for the sake of killing.
Born near Lyons, Vacher served his military term in a regiment of Zouaves and showed himself to be a good soldier, so that he was made a non-commissioned officer, although there were complaints against him of being brutally severe to recruits.
It was shortly after Vacher left the service that he became ill, owing to disappointment in a love affair, and attempted to blow out his brains with a revolver. The bullet was never extracted from his skull and, according to one report, the wound produced recurrent fits of insanity, and caused him to be confined for a time in an asylum for the insane at Dole.
Since that time and until his arrest Vacher appears to have wandered through the country districts of France committing murders. He was undetected and unsuspected until by mere accident he was caught almost red handed near Lyons at the beginning of October.
In every case Vacher seems to have been seized with a frenzy after attacking his victims as he cut and slashed them horrible and often dismembered them. One day Vacher told the magistrate that he considered himself to be a scourge sent by Providence to afflict humanity.
Vacher killed one man, he claimed, because the victim wore a clean shirt, which the murderer coveted, and he admitted that he sometimes murdered people because he needed money and food.
One of the most remarkable features of this extraordinary case was the clever manner in which Vacher succeeded in shifting suspicion from himself. About two years ago he murdered a shepherd boy on a country road a few miles from Lyons, hacked the boy almost to pieces and then continued on his way. The murder was discovered within a few minutes and search for the murderer was promptly instituted. A gendarme, mounted on a bicycle, overtook Vacher and called upon him to produce his identification papers, whereupon Vacher quietly handed over to the police officer his discharge as a non commissioned officer of a regiment of Zouaves.
"Why, that is my old regiment," exclaimed the gendarme. "I am hunting for a man who has just cut a boy's throat. Have you seen any suspicious characters?"
"Oh, yes," answered the murderer, serenely. "I saw a man running across the fields to the north about a mile back from here."
The gendarme then hurried off after the imaginary murderer, and the real scene of his crime.
The most prominent victim of Vacher was the Marquis of Villeplaine, who was killed while walking in his park in the southwestern part of France, not far from the Spanish frontier. Vacher crept up behind him, felled him with a stick and then cut his throat. The murderer carried off the coat of the marquis and his pocket book containing some banknotes. He then sought refuge in Spain.
The boasting of the murderer led to the detection of a number of his crimes after his arrest.
For instance, he killed a boy 16 years old near Lyons in June, 1897. The crime would never have been discovered but for the boasting of Vacher, as the boy was a notorious poacher and chicken thief and his disappearance created no stir at all.
In January of the year past Vacher made a furious assault on a warden of the prison at Lyons, where he was confined, and almost beat him to death before the prison guards could overpower him.