The recent release of two films starring Vincent Cassel about the notorious French killer, kidnapper, and bank robber Jacques Mesrine plunged me into an obsession for French criminals. So the timing was perfect (for me, at least) for Ravencrest Books to release Die in Paris: The True Story of France’s Most Notorious Serial Killer. (Full disclosure: Its author, Marilyn Z. Tomlins, contributes to this blog.) The 420-page true story did more than satisfy my blood lust; it gave me a deeper understanding of the horrors France suffered during the German Occupation of the early 1940s.
Marcel Petiot, a doctor who sold heroin and cocaine prescriptions on the side, padded his income by selling safe escape to South America to Jews fleeing Nazis. But, like the crooked lawyer in Paul Verhoeven’s 2006 film Black Book, Petiot was setting up his “clients,” pocketing not only the steep fee they paid for passage, but also the cash and jewels they took with them. He did this by killing them before any ship set sail.
Die in Paris begins with a gruesome discovery in the 16th arrondissement: some 60 bodies in various states of decomposition. The chop shop was a true chamber of horrors, with a stove specifically for burning corpses, and walls designed to accommodate syringes laden with deadly poison. I won’t reveal any more of the gory details, but will say only that Tomlins did extensive research to present a photographic depiction of Paris in the 1940s, and a man deeply disturbed from childhood on.
Like all too many police procedurals, the one involving Petiot suffered from bureaucratic hurdles. French cops had to run everything by their German oppressors, and even before they got wind of the murders, French citizens were reluctant to blow the whistle because Petiot was rumored to be killing Nazis and collaborators. Or runmored to be allied with the Germans. Either way, no one wanted to be involved, and so a shocking number of people knew about the fleshy pile-up in the tony 16th.
Die in Paris is every bit as luridly fascinating as the Mesrine double bill….except nothing here has been altered for the purposes of entertainment. It didn’t have to be.