Henri Désiré Landru (12 April 1869 – 25 February 1922) was a French serial killer and real-life “Bluebeard”.
Landru was born in Paris. After leaving school, he spent four years in the French Army from 1887 – 1891. After he was discharged from service, he proceeded to have a sexual relationship with his cousin. She bore him a daughter, although Landru did not marry her; he married another woman two years later and had four children. He was swindled out of money by a fraudulent employer. He turned to fraud himself, operating scams that usually involved swindling elderly widows. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment in 1900 after being arrested and found guilty of fraud, the first of several such convictions. By 1914, Landru was estranged from his wife and working as a second-hand furniture dealer.
Landru began to put advertisements in the lonely hearts sections in Paris newspapers, usually along the lines of “Widower with two children, aged 43, with comfortable income, serious and moving in good society, desires to meet widow with a view to matrimony.” With World War I under way, many men were being killed in the trenches, leaving plenty of widows upon whom Landru could prey.
Landru would seduce the women who came to his Parisian villa and, after he was given access to their assets, he would kill them and burn their dismembered bodies in his oven. Between 1914 and 1919, Landru claimed 11 victims: ten women and the teenaged son of one of his victims. With no bodies, the victims were simply listed as missing, and it was virtually impossible for the police to know what had happened to them, as Landru used a wide variety of aliases in his schemes. His aliases were so numerous that he had to keep a ledger listing all the women with whom he corresponded and which particular identity he used for each woman.
In 1919, the sister of Madame Buisson, one of Landru’s victims, attempted to track down her missing sibling. She did not know Landru’s real name but she knew his appearance and where he lived, and she eventually persuaded the police to arrest him. Initially, Landru was charged only with embezzlement. He refused to talk to the police, and with no bodies (police dug up his garden, but with no results), there was seemingly not enough evidence to charge him with murder. However, the police did eventually find various bits of paperwork that listed the missing women, including Madame Buisson, and combining those with other documents, they finally acquired enough evidence to charge him with murder.
List of victims
- Mme. Jeanne-Marie Cuchet (last seen January 1915)
- Mme. Cuchet’s son, André Cuchet (last seen January 1915)
- Mme. Thérèse Laborde-Line (last seen 26 June 1915)
- Mme. Marie-Angélique Guillin (last seen 2 August 1915)
- Mme. Berthe-Anna Héon (last seen 8 December 1915)
- Mme. Anne Collomb (last seen 25 December 1915)
- Andrée-Anne Babelay (last seen 12 April 1916)
- Mme. Célestine Buisson (last seen 19 August 1916)
- Mme. Louise-Joséphine Jaume (last seen 25 November 1917)
- Mme. Anne-Marie Pascal (last seen 5 April 1918)
- Mme. Marie-Thérèse Marchadier (last seen 15 January 1919)
Trial and execution
Landru stood trial on 11 counts of murder in November 1921. He was convicted on all counts, sentenced to death, and guillotined three months later in Versailles. During his trial, Landru traced a picture of his kitchen, including in it the stove in which he was accused of burning his victims. He gave this drawing to one of his lawyers, Auguste Navières du Treuil. In December 1967, the drawing was made public. Landru had written in pencil on the back, Ce n’est pas le mur derrière lequel il se passe quelque chose, mais bien la cuisinière dans laquelle on a brûlé quelque chose (It is not the wall behind which a thing takes place, but indeed the stove in which a thing has been burned). This has been interpreted as Landru’s confession to his crimes.
In popular culture
Landru is listed as one of the wax effigies at Roger’s Museum in H. P. Lovecraft’s 1932 short story collaboration “The Horror in the Museum”. For some years his waxwork was exhibited in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds in London.
Landru was the inspiration for Charlie Chaplin’s film Monsieur Verdoux (1947).
The 1960 film Bluebeard’s Ten Honeymoons starred George Sanders as Landru.
The 1962 film Landru, directed by Claude Chabrol, was inspired by the murders.
In the 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone entitled “The New Exhibit”, a wax figure of Landru plays an important role.
The 1967 Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons” depicts a society that periodically descends into rape and murder under the influence of a computer-ruler named Landru.
The case is featured in one of the episodes of the 1976 BBC series Second Verdict.
A 2005 French movie named Désiré Landru is another adaptation of this story.
In 2001, the French satirical journalist Frédéric Pagès, writing under the pseudonym Jean-Baptiste Botul, published a book entitled Landru: Precursor of Feminism (Landru, Précurseur du Féminisme: La Correspondance Inédite, 1919–1922).
Accounts in English include Dennis Barden’s The Ladykiller: The Life of Landru, the French Bluebeard and William Bolitho’s Murder for Profit.
Henri Désiré Landru’s severed head is on display at the Museum of Death in Hollywood, California.
Landru is the subject of an exhibit in the film Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum.