David Poratta

Paris’ Ghastly ‘Dr. Satan’ shining false hope when France ‘went dark’

Beyond sadistic: Marcel Petiot poisoned Jews & others desperate to flee war-ravaged Europe.

(Marcel Petiot – center – at trial via Getty Images)

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It starts young. At age 11 he allegedly sexually harassed a girl in his class and, later, was twice judged mentally ill (once after a robbery and again in 1914). In 1916 while in the French army Petiot was caught stealing blankets, morphine, wallets and…jailed. Back at the front in 1918 he was discharged after an ‘accident’ with a grenade and his foot.

Post-war, Petiot became a doctor. In 1926 he had an affair with Louise Delaveau, who then disappeared (neighbors spotted him loading a trunk into his car, but police ruled Delaveau ‘a runaway’). As mayor of Villeneuve-sur-Yonnem, he was suspended in 1931 following complaints over thefts and financial dealings.

WWII: So far, so damn ominous: With the German occupation of Paris, Petiot gave out ‘disability certificates’ allowing men to evade Germany’s brutal forced labor program, the Service du Travail Obligatoite – STO. He was convicted of over-prescribing drugs…despite two witnesses, both addicts, mysteriously vanishing before the trial. He was active in various schemes and eventually came upon his deadly….

Escape From Nazi-Occupied France Scam

No Way Out: Petiot quickly twigged to the sad reality, but huge lucrative potential to be made from those desperate (Jews, partisans, even criminals, etc.) to pay any price to flee an ever threatening landscape.

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Working under the alias Dr. Eugene he began to perpetuate his grisly and horrifically efficient fraud on the vulnerable and terrorized. For 25,000 francs each, Petiot/Eugene would smuggle you out of France, maybe via Portugal, but eventually to some South American locale. The panic-stricken & desperate who opted-in were shepherded to Petiot via cohorts late at night. After coughing up cold hard cash etc., the forlorn were told the last detail was simply a required health inoculation.

His injections were cyanide.

They died. He took their lives, money and…even suitcases brought for their non-existent escapes. (Photos of his later trial show a virtual wall of suitcases, 47 in all).

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At first Petiot dumped bodies in the Seine (ugh) then a quick-lime pit and/or burned bodies. In 1941 he bought a house at 21 rue le Sueur (16th arrondissement, near the Arc de Triomphe). His ‘disposal’ methods at this location are described below.

Gestapo Hunt a Non-Existent Escape Route. One major drawback to any fake escape scheme during the occupation was the Gestapo believing it was real. They assumed Petiot’s scam was an actual, legit resistance plan. Intrigued and seeking info they forced a prisoner to infiltrate his network. He disappeared, but another succeeded in infiltrating the ‘network’, and four Petiot accomplices were arrested. Tortured, they confessed ‘Dr. Eugène’ was Petiot. One accomplice was released and the others, though tortured for months, never revealed details of the supposed Resistance network – as it didn’t exist. Miraculously, the three were released in January 1944.

Neighbors & Body Parts – rue le Sueur.In March ’44 came the long awaited spring air, balmy temps…and a horrific, putrid stench that forced Petiot’s neighbors to call police, then, les pompiers. The latter discovered a grisly Dante-esque scene: body parts in a basement coal fire, others decomposing in a backyard chemical pit with others stuffed in a canvas bag. There were suitcases, clothing, the victims personal property, and other grim items. Petiot though, was gone.

Photo: Searching Petiot’s Home

Le Matin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

End Game: Petiot hid out with a patient, claiming it was the Gestapo, incensed at his killing their ‘agents’, who were hunting him, and not police. Bizarrely, under the alias “Henri Valeri” Petiot not only joined the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) but was appointed captain, and then –deep breath here –tasked with counterespionage & prisoner interrogations…which also required him, and others, to hunt down one Marcel Petiot when it surfaced Petiot was probably still in Paris. (Hey Hulu, need a show to follow The Bear? )

Eventually spotted and arrested at a Metro station, he was carrying 50 sets of ID, 31,000 francs and a gun. He was charged with some 27 murders and his estimated profit ran to 200 million francs (any volunteers to calculate the current value of that sum in any currency?).

On trial in March 1946, facing 135 criminal charges, his lawyers claimed Petiot only murdered (and ….dissolved) German agents or double-agents, and or enemies of France, and that all of his clients were happily living in South America  –and naturally would never think of returning nor admitting involvement. At trial Petiot claimed to have killed more than 60 persons (all German, or course).

Petiot was convicted of 26 murders. All, I believe, were Jewish. Though the final count may never be known it is believed Petiot murdered anywhere from 60 to 200 persons.

Yes. 200.

He met the blade (Guillotine) in 1946.

About the Author
David is passionate about unearthing and sharing forgotten and off-the-beaten-path hidden Parisian & French stories. You can find many of these at his Substack website. He has lectured at Université Paris Dauphine & ISEFAC among other institutes, has lived in the US & Canada, and traveled widely. A past Canadian & US TV journalist and survivor of New York's media trenches (ABC, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes et. al.) he visited Israel for the first time in 2023 and is currently learning Hebrew.
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