Not many tourists (or Parisians) find themselves on this narrow little street that connects the Place du General Patton and the grand Avenue Foch. I would venture to guess that only a small percentage of Parisians even know about the nefarious past of Rue le Sueur or should I say, one of its buildings.
On the evening of 11 March 1944, 5 months before the liberation of Paris, Monsieur Marçais, resident of 22, rue le Sueur, called the police over his concern for the immense amount of black smoke billowing from the chimney across the street at number 21. He was worried about a potential chimney fire in the unoccupied house. The neighbors later noted that the smoke had been heavy for the prior 5 days and the stench was nauseating.
Two policemen arrived on their bicycles and attempted to gain entry but were not successful. A neighbor who knew the owner telephoned him. Dr. Marcel Petiot lived at 66, rue Caumartin, approximately 15 minutes away by bike. He told the police to wait, as he would be right over with the keys.
After one half hour and no Dr. Petiot, the policemen were so worried about a fire that they called the fire department from which a truck and crew were sent immediately (the fire station still exists at 8, rue Mesnil). After smashing a window, several of the men were able to get inside the dark house. They followed the smell down to the basement where the most hideous scene unfolded.
Discovery of Bodies
Two coal furnaces were blazing away with the dismembered remains of several humans inside. As the men looked around (lit by a flashlight), they saw skulls, arms, legs, and other human parts easily recognizable surrounded them. The odor and stench of decomposing bodies (or what was left of them) were too much. The police and firemen exited the basement and building.
When the Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu arrived, a tour of the basement (now fully lit up), courtyard, and adjacent small buildings revealed an even more ghastly scene. Carefully stacked piles of human remains were on the floor, a bag containing a human torso was discovered, and bloody tools were lying around. Leaving the basement, they entered the courtyard and went into a small building which contained a triangular room. There were no windows or furniture. The walls were very thick and imbedded in the walls were numerous iron hooks. A viewing lens had been constructed in the wall so that someone could stand in the adjacent room and view whatever was going on in the soundproof triangular room.
Moving on to the small carriage house, Massu and his team found a pit. A rope and pulley hovered above the pit. It was estimated that the depth of the pit was 12 feet. What was confirmed were the decomposing bodies layered with quicklime.
Dr. Marcel Petiot was a respected physician in the community. He was married to Georgette and they had a 16-year-old son at the time. He purchased the building on Rue le Sueur in 1941 and had extensive renovations done, especially in the basement and several other small outbuildings on the property. The surrounding wall was raised so that the neighbors could not see into the courtyard. A triangular room was built in the basement to exacting specifications, including only one entrance, thick walls, hooks embedded in the walls, and a peephole drilled into the wall to accommodate a viewing piece.
Fraudulent Escape Network
For years, Dr. Petiot passed himself off under various names, alias, and disguises. While living with his wife and son across town, Petiot began an operation where he would promise and arrange safe passage out of occupied France to various people who could pay the fee. Typically, these were Jews trying to escape deportation. However, there were many others, including gangsters, prostitutes, and even a 6-year old child, who sought out “Dr. Eugène” for his assistance. He would advise them to bring lots of money and all of their jewelry. The first stop on their voyage was a visit to the basement of 21, rue le Sueur. Unfortunately, none of them ever made it out of the basement.
Shortly after the police discovered his basement, Petiot went into hiding. He managed to elude capture until 31 October 1944 when he was taken into custody. Many rumors surrounded Petiot including murders he never did commit, he was a Gestapo agent, and it was a story made up by the Germans for propaganda purposes. It turned out that at one point, the Gestapo gave the French authorities the order to arrest him.
During his trial in March 1946, Petiot acknowledged and took responsibility for the murders. His defense was that he ran a resistance organization and the victims were all German sympathizers or members of the German military.
In the end, it was clear that Dr. Petiot was a serial killer (with all the modern day identifiable traits of a serial killer). It was estimated he killed more than 200 victims. He was convicted and beheaded on 25 May 1946 in the courtyard of the Prison de la Santé.
The original building at 21, rue le Sueur was carefully demolished in 1952. No one knew where Petiot had stashed the cash, jewelry, and other valuables he stole from his victims. The person who bought the building was very deliberate in taking it apart. As you stand in front of 21, rue le Sueur, the buildings on either side are original from that time. You’ll notice the architectural style of the building sandwiched in between is quite different.
Oh, by the way, the original basement remains intact.
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Copyright © 2015 Stew Ross