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Williamsport Sunday Grit
1 January 1899

Murdered and Mutilated More Than a Score of People
But Savagely Struck Down Innocent Shepherd Boys and Girls

By Associated Press
Paris, Dec. 31.
Joseph Vacher, the French Jack the Ripper, was guillotined at Bourg-on-Bresse, capital of the department of Ain, this morning. He protested his innocence and simulated insanity to the last. Vacher, who was 29 years of age, was condemned at the October Assizes at Ain. Early in life he is known to have brutally murdered four boys, six women and girls, and an old widow. Most of the victims were tending herds, when Vacher came behind them and cut their throats. His homicidal mania first broke loose in 1894. He claimed after his arrest that as every action had an object, and as his motive was neither theft nor vengeance, his irresponsibility was established. Psychologically, 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 his self-destruction by shooting.


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 with the other. I am an Anarchist and I am opposed to society, no matter what form of government may be."

This 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 was 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 know: but it is said that 23 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 came 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 much so that he was made a non commissioned officer, although there were complaints against him of being brutally severe to recruits.

A recruit, a member of a well known family, told how Vacher once abused him so terribly on the drill ground that he lost his temper and sprang at Vacher. Happily for the recruit, he was seized by his companions before he succeeded in striking Vacher, otherwise the young man would most likely have bee sentenced to death by a court martial.

It was shortly after Vacher left the service that he became ill, owing to disappointment in a love affair, and attempted to blow his brains out 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 be 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 horribly, 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 of his victims, he claims, because he wore a clean shirt which the murderer coveted, and he admitted that he sometimes murdered because he needed money and food.

One of the 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 form Lyons, hacked the body almost into pieces, and then continued on his way. The murder was discovered within a few minutes after, and search for the murderer was promptly instituted. A gendarme, mounted on a bicycle, overtook Vacher, and he called upon him to produce his identification papers, whereupon Vacher quietly handed over to the police officer his discharge as a non commissioned officer from 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 character?"

"Oh, yes," answered the murderer serenely; "I saw a man running across the fields to the north about a mile back from here."

"Thank you," cried the gendarme. "I'll be after him"

The gendarme then hurried off after the imaginary murderer, and the real culprit quietly stole away from the scene of his crime.


The most prominent victim of Vacher was the Marquis de 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 heavy stick, and then cut his throat. The murderer carried off the coat of the Marquis and his pocketbook, 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 of age, named Bully, near Lyons, in June 1897. The crime would never have been discovered but for the boastings of Vacher, as the lad was a notorious poacher and chicken thief, and his disappearance created no stir at all. Vacher informed the Magistrate that he met Bully on the high road and killed him in an unoccupied house, where they went to pass the night. The murderer added that he spent some hours in cutting the body to pieces, and finally threw the remains into a well on the premises. There, later, the police found parts of the decomposed body.

In January of the present year Vacher made a furious assault on a warden of the prison at Lyons, where he was confined. The murderer hit the warden on the head with a chair, and almost beat him to death before other prison guards could overpower him.

On Oct. 30 of the present year Vacher was sentenced to death, since which time he has continued feigning insanity.

Related pages:
  Joseph Vacher
       Press Reports: Fort Wayne News - 27 January 1898 
       Press Reports: Iowa State Press - 30 January 1899 
       Press Reports: Iowa State Press - 7 June 1899 
       Press Reports: Marion Daily Star - 20 November 1897 
       Press Reports: Naugatuck Daily News - 28 January 1898 
       Press Reports: New York Times - 6 November 1898