|Born||February 5, 1908
Frankfurt am Main, Germany
|Died||June 17, 1939 (aged 31)
|Criminal charge||Conspiracy, kidnapping, fraud, robbery, murder, resisting arrest|
|Criminal status||Executed by guillotine on June 17, 1939|
Eugen Weidmann (February 5, 1908 – June 17, 1939) was a German criminal and serial murderer who was executed by guillotine in France in June 1939, the last public execution in that country. (Executions by guillotine continued in private until Hamida Djandoubi‘s execution on September 10, 1977).
Weidmann was born in Frankfurt am Main in Germany to the family of an export businessman, and went to school there. He was sent to live with his grandparents at the outbreak of World War I; during this time he started stealing. Later in his twenties he served five years in Saarbrücken jail for robbery.
During his time in jail Weidmann met two men who would later become his partners in crime: Roger Million and Jean Blanc. After their release from jail, they decided to work together to kidnap rich tourists visiting France and steal their money. They rented a villa in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, for this purpose.
Their first kidnap attempt ended in failure because their victim struggled too hard, forcing them to let him go. In July 1937, they made a second attempt, Weidmann having made the acquaintance of Jean De Koven, a 22-year-old New York City dancer visiting her aunt Ida Sackheim in Paris.
Impressed by the tall, handsome German, De Koven wrote to a friend:
“I have just met a charming German of keen intelligence who calls himself Siegfried. Perhaps I am going to another Wagnerian role – who knows? I am going to visit him tomorrow at his villa in a beautiful place near a famous mansion that Napoleon gave Josephine.”
During their meeting they smoked and “Siegfried” gave her a glass of milk. She took photos of him with her new camera (later found beside her body, the developed snapshots showing her killer).
Weidmann then strangled and buried her in the villa’s garden. She had 300 francs in cash and $430 in traveller’s cheques, which the group sent Million’s mistress, Colette Tricot, to cash. Sackheim received a letter demanding $500 for the return of her niece. De Koven’s brother Henry later came to France offering a 10,000 franc reward from his father Abraham for information about the young woman.
On September 1 of the same year, Weidmann hired a chauffeur named Joseph Couffy to drive him to the French Riviera where, in a forest outside Tours he shot him in the nape of the neck and stole his car and 2500 francs.
The next murder came on September 3, after Weidmann and Million lured Janine Keller, a private nurse, into a cave in the forest of Fontainebleau with a job offer.
There he killed her, again with a bullet to the nape of the neck, before robbing her of 1400 francs and her diamond ring. On October 16, Million and Weidmann arranged a meeting with a young theatrical producer named Roger LeBlond, promising to invest money in one of his shows. Instead, Weidmann shot him in the back of his head and took his wallet containing 5000 francs.
On November 22, Weidmann murdered and robbed Fritz Frommer, a young German he had met in jail. Frommer, a Jew, had been held there for his anti-Nazi views. Once again the victim was shot in the nape of the neck. His body was buried in the basement of the Saint-Cloud house where De Koven was interred. Five days later Weidmann committed his final murder. Raymond Lesobre, a real estate agent, was shot in the killer’s preferred fashion while showing him around a house in Saint-Cloud. Five thousand francs were taken from him.
Officers from the Sûreté, led by a young inspector named Primborgne, eventually tracked Weidmann to the villa from a business card left at Lesobre’s office. Arriving at his home, Weidmann found two officers waiting for him. Inviting them in, he then turned and fired three times at them with a pistol. Although they were unarmed, the wounded Sûreté men managed to wrestle Weidmann down, knocking him unconscious with a hammer that happened to be nearby.
Weidmann was a highly co-operative prisoner, confessing to all his murders, including that of de Koven, the only one for which he expressed regret. He is reported to have said tearfully:
“She was gentle and unsuspecting … When I reached for her throat, she went down like a doll.”
The murder trial of Weidmann, Million, Blanc and Tricot in Versailles in March 1939 was the biggest since that of Henri Désiré Landru, the modern-day “Bluebeard“, 18 years earlier. One of Weidmann’s lawyers, Vincent de Moro-Giafferi, had indeed defended Landru. Also present was the French novelist Colette, who was engaged by Paris-Soir to write an essay on Weidmann.
Weidmann and Million received the death sentence while Blanc received a jail sentence of twenty months and Tricot was acquitted. Million’s sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
On June 17, 1939, Weidmann was beheaded outside the prison Saint-Pierre in Versailles. The “hysterical behaviour” by spectators was so scandalous that French president Albert Lebrun immediately banned all future public executions.
Unknown to authorities, film of the execution was shot from a private apartment adjacent to the prison. British actor Christopher Lee – who was 17 at the time – witnessed the event. He would later go on to play headsman Charles-Henri Sanson in a French TV drama about the French Revolution, in which his character made prolific use of the device.
Books about Eugen Weidmann
- Beaux Ténèbres – La Pulsion du Mal d’Eugène Weidmann by Michel Ferracci-Porri (Beautiful darkness, The Impulse to Evil of Eugen Weidmann) 412 pages, Editions Normant, France 2008
- Comments On Cain by F. Tennyson Jesse (New York: Collier Books; London: Collier-Macmillan, Ltd., 1948, 1964), 158p., p. 99–158, “Eugen Weidmann: A Study in Brouhaha”. There is a drawing of Weidmann as the frontispiece of the book.
A guillotine is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions by beheading. The device consists of a tall, upright frame in which a weighted and angled blade is raised to the top and suspended.
The condemned person is secured with stocks at the bottom of the frame, positioning the neck directly below the blade. The blade is then released, to quickly fall and forcefully decapitate the victim with a single, clean pass so that the head falls into a basket below.
From its first use, there has been debate as to whether the guillotine always provided a swift death as Guillotin had hoped. With previous methods of execution intended to be painful, there was little concern about the level of suffering that they inflicted. Because the guillotine was invented specifically to be humane, the issue of pain and suffering was seriously considered.
The question of consciousness following decapitation remained a topic of discussion during the guillotine’s use.
The following report was written by Dr. Beaurieux, who experimented with the head of a condemned prisoner by the name of Henri Languille, on 28 June 1905:
Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. This phenomenon has been remarked by all those finding themselves in the same conditions as myself for observing what happens after the severing of the neck …
I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. […] It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: “Languille!” I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.
Next Languille’s eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again […].
It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement – and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead