WW1 … Serial Killer Dr Marcel Petiot Was One Of France’s Poilus (Bearded Ones) Soldiers

To mark the 100 years after fighting halted on the first World War, leaders from 70 countries including French President Emmanuel Macron and American President Donald Trump gathered at the Arc Dr Triomphe to remember the millions who died in the conflict.But here we present another interesting aspect of the war

Marilyn Z Tomlins

When Dr Marcel Petiot (see my book Die in Paris) was guillotined on Saturday, May 25, 1945, he had a scar on his left foot.

Always was this man – France’s most prolific serial killer – proud of the scar. He showed it to those he told the story of his Great War experience. Of how he was a Bearded One during WW1 having bravely fought for France.

November 11,  France – and indeed the world – commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 (the Great War).

Always a solemn day of remembrance in France, joining France’s President Macron will be Russia’s Putin and the States’ Trump and scores of other heads-of-state and heads-of-government.

Since I’ve become interested in Dr Marcel Petiot and wrote the book Die in Paris, November 11, because I know someone who had fought in this war,  has become something of  a day of contemplation for me too. By ‘know’ I mean that I got to know Dr Petiot well writing about him: I believe I know him better than any other living human being does.  Maybe his grandson in Brazil thinks he does, but I am not blinkered when it comes to Dr Petiot’s life and crimes.

Petiot, born Marcel André Henri Félix, at 3 a.m. on Sunday, January 17, 1897, was therefore 17 years old on the outbreak of the Great War  in 1914. Too young by one year to be mobilised, he, having passed his baccalauréat school-leaving examination with flying colours, was impatient to go fight his country’s enemy – the Germans . He wanted to become a physician, but he thought that medical studies could wait until such time that the war was over –  won, France the victors and the Germans the defeated.

He spent the days reading in the garden of the house in Auxerre of the two women who was raising him.

I will now quote from Die in Paris.

For six months Marcel read and waited for his call-up papers. Finally, tired of waiting, he enlisted. On Tuesday, January 11, 1916, six days short of his nineteenth birthday, he reported for duty at the army training camp in the town of Sens, 58 kilometres north of Auxerre and 116 kilometres south-east of Paris. In those later years when he spoke about his childhood, he would also make sure that everyone knew that he had volunteered and that he had not waited to be mobilised like some coward. His enlistment number was ‘1097’, he said. Believing it would advance his chances of getting into medical faculty later, he had requested to be inducted to a medical corps. Ten months later, on Tuesday, November 16, fully trained, he heard that he was to be an ordinary soldier of the trenches. He joined the 89th Infantry Regiment, also based in Sens.

In April 1917, on Monday 16, fifteen months in the army, Private Petiot saw his first great battle. He marched with his regiment to liberate the Chemin des Dames— the Ladies’ Road— that was being held by the Germans. The road, twenty kilometres long and running along a rugged ridge between the rivers Aisne and Ailette, had been held by the Germans since the outbreak of war in 1914. He was one of a million Poilus – Bearded Ones -to go into battle under the command of General Charles Mangin. His regiment focussed on the Germans entrenched around the town of Craonne. On the first day of the offensive, the Nivelle Offensive, named after General Robert Nivelle, Commander of the French army, 40,000 Bearded Ones were killed or wounded. The final casualty figure stood at one hundred and eighty-seven thousand. Another 350 Allied soldiers were also listed as casualties. Craonne was destroyed.

Marcel was a casualty too.

The story that he would tell was that he had taken a direct hit in his left foot from a German shell. He said that wounded and in great pain he was carried by stretcher to a field hospital where his wound – it was ten centimetres in diameter- was dressed. He was given a strong sedative that plunged him into a deep sleep. When he awoke several hours later, he thought that he had died because all he could see were tombstones; the wounded had been evacuated to a nearby cemetery. At nightfall, still in great pain, he was moved to a church. He spent the night on its floor. The following morning he was transported to a hospital in the town of Orléans, 295 kilometres south.

He gave the date on which he was wounded: Sunday, May 20, 1917. The Nivelle Offensive had ended on Wednesday, May 9, 1917.

No one noticed the discrepancy.

Petiot would, but for a brief period, spend the rest of his active service either in a hospital or a mental institution.

I will again quote from Die in Paris:

the hospital in Orléons, Marcel lay in a large ward lined with beds on which lay other war wounded. All were young men. Some were blind. Others had lost limbs or were covered in bandages from which seeped blood and pus. Compared to such suffering his wound seemed trivial to all, but him. It healed and he was told that he was to return to his regiment. He told the nurses that he could not wait to get back to the front. A few hours later he called a nurse to his bed. He told her that he had a fierce headache and violent pains in his chest. He was told he would not after all be able to rejoin his regiment. He seemed heartbroken at the news.

In the days that followed, nurses reported to the doctors that Private Petiot was not well. They said they had noticed that he jumped at sudden noise, fainted often, had violent and unprovoked outbursts and that he slipped easily from a state of euphoria into one of inertia when he lay on his bed, rubbing his hands together. The doctors diagnosed war neurosis – shell shock – and gas poisoning; the patient would have to be transferred to another medical institution.

Marcel, told what medical institution the doctors had in mind, flew into a rage. He was to be transferred to the town’s mental asylum. He calmed down only when the doctors explained that no one thought he was mad, but that it was routine procedure to institutionalise shell shock victims.

Yes, those soldiers suffering from shell shock were thought mad and institutionalised.

On Friday, July 4, 1919, the war over since November 11, 1918, and Germany indeed defeated, Petiot’s military career ended. It had begun 42 months earlier. For most of those months he had been either in hospital or in a mental asylum. And there had been two weeks in a military prison for theft. He was discharged with a disability pension.

For the rest of his life he drew that disability pension, because in 1923 a team of psychiatrists appointed by the French army had assessed his mental state and diagnosed him as suffering from dementia praecox – premature senility- and fatigue, lack of interest in life, indifference to the future, inactivity, and coveting solitude. A previous team of psychiatrists had already diagnosed him as suffering from a pronounced depression with melancholy, inertia, hyper-emotionalism, memory loss and crying bouts and added that he suffered from epileptic seizures which had badly scarred his tongue because of biting it during seizures.

Such mental problems were not however a hindrance to him passing himself off as a physician after the war, first to his family in Auxerre, then to his patients in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne and then to all – patients, neighbours, friends and family – in Paris where he had moved in January 1933, the month and year that Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

and year that Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

This was how he advertised his arrival in Paris in a leaflet he distributed himself on a bicycle.

I am again quoting from Die in Paris:

‘Please note that the medical clinic on the first floor of Number 66 Rue de Caumartin, previously run by Dr Garnier and the well-known Dr Valéry, university prize winner, is now run by:

‘Doctor Marcel PETIOT. Graduate of the Paris Medical Faculty in 1921. Regional councillor for the Yonne. Ex-intern of hospitals and asylums, and hospital and hospice doctor. Clinic director. Doctor in charge of the permanent medical office of the Seine Prefectural Subdivision.

‘The clinic is right in the centre of Paris and is close to all transport— bus and Métro; Saint-Lazare and Caumartin stations. It has the most modern and sophisticated equipment, including X-ray, UV, UR, superficial and deep radiotherapy, radio-active substances, laboratory, galvanisation and faradisation, ionisation, cryotherapy, diathermia— all frequencies, high-power shortwaves, induced fever, electric scalpel, surgical instruments,

ozonotherapy, aerotherapy, etcetera.

‘This advanced equipment allows DR MARCEL PETIOT to practise general medicine and gynaecology in the best possible conditions, and with all the resources of the best specialist instruments.

‘In 1921, DR MARCEL PETIOT developed a technique allowing the complete suppression of pain in childbirth without general or local anaesthetic and without potentially dangerous surgical intervention.

‘The method permits pain suppression in even the most painful complaints (sciatica, rheumatism, neuralgia, zona, neuritis, ulceration and cancer).

He is the AUTHOR of papers on nervous diseases and their modern treatment (particularly in the treatment of recurring complaints and drug/alcohol addiction).

‘He is the ORIGINATOR (in cooperation with a well-known physiologist) of a technique and material permitting the cure of any non-generalised tumour, not affecting the vital organs. This includes not only external or internal ganglions, cysts, lipoma, polyps, vegetations, warts, strawberry marks, goitres, deformities, tattoos, scars as well as fibromas and malignant tumours and even deep cancer before its terminal stage.

‘The application to ulcers, varicose veins and haemorrhoids leads to very rapid and definitive results.

‘Analogous principles permit the regulation of the endocrine glands and the treatment of states of general deficiency— arteriosclerosis, anaemia, obesity, change of life, diabetes, cardiac or renal insufficiency, arthritis, nervous breakdowns and senility.

‘Personalised methods allow a maximum and rapid absorption of the active medical substances, thanks to the appropriate catalysts— chemical, microbial and physical. The control of nervous and circulatory nervules, oxozone (very concentrated ozone, supplied by special apparatus), electrotherapy, ionisation, radioactivity …

‘The application of this information increases the effect without increasing the medicinal dose and gives convincing results in the most obstinate illnesses and in the most

hopeless cases, notably: In acute and chronic respiratory conditions, influenza, pneumonia, emphysema, asthma and especially tuberculosis.

‘In infectious diseases of the blood, gastritis, enteritis, appendicitis, nephritis, furunculosis, salpingitis, gonorrhea, syphilis (with addition of sero and autoserotherapy).

‘In organic diseases relating to the bones, generalised neoplasm, cardiac lesion, the liver and stomach, fatigue etc

‘Thanks to rapid means of transport, he can respond very promptly to calls to his telephone: PIGalle 77-11.

 ‘He is very willing to work with a patient’s regular doctor when the means at his disposal or his personal methods are required.

fees are quite affordable, even for those with the most modest incomes. The Social Security and Word-Accident formalities are of course accepted.

‘DR MARCEL PETIOT, a veteran invalided out of the army, is honoured by the confidence shown to him by veterans and retired personnel. He accepts vouchers for free


‘Director of two clinics, with assistants chosen from various sectors of Paris and the suburbs, disposing of ambulances and appropriate portable equipment, he is also doctor in charge of the permanent medical office.

‘The organisation provides day and night urgent medical assistance for his clientele— trades people, hoteliers, landlords, restaurateurs, theatre directors— without obligation. They are thus guaranteed against ALL expenses, indiscretion, trouble and responsibility.

‘Simply Call PIGalle 77-11.

‘Private individuals are at liberty to accept this service when their regular doctor is absent.

‘When necessary, the patient is quickly taken to the private or public hospital of his choice.

‘DR MARCEL PETIOT requests that you excuse his use of this vulgar form of publicity in order to inform the public that he has set up practice in the centre of Paris for

all consultations and home treatment requested through the family doctor.       

‘And, for the special medical care briefly indicated above.

‘DR MARCEL PETIOT would be most grateful if you would make a note of his address: 66 Rue de Caumartin, PARIS-IX, and of his telephone number: PIGalle 77-11’.

In Paris, Petiot began killing people. First a man and a woman who would have given evidence against him in drug-dealing trials. Next, when World War Two broke out, his killing of Jews and others who wanted to escape from German-occupied Paris and France, began.

He was guillotined for the murder of 26 people. As such he remains France’s most prolific murderer. Yet, the police chief, judging by the amount of human remains found at Petiot’s Paris town house, thought that he must have murdered at least 200 people. (The 26 named victims were missing people whose relatives or friends had linked to Petiot.)

The French fought bravely in WW1 and France lost 1,397,800 soldiers.

I will again quote from Die in Paris.

In 1926, France was still struggling to recover from the devastating losses of the Great War. More than 8.5 million Bearded Ones had gone into battle. Of them, 1.4 million had lost their lives, and another 4.4 million had been wounded. More than half a million had suffered the humiliation of being taken prisoner by the Germans. There had also been the loss of 55,000 kilometres of roads, thousands of bridges, hundreds of railway lines, 812,000 buildings and 54,390 square kilometres of farmland. All those roads, bridges, railway lines, buildings and farmland had to be reconstructed. France also had to repay millions of dollars borrowed from the United States, a task so gargantuan that the franc collapsed. 

Other nations suffered soldier loss as well:

USA: 116,708

Romania: 250,000

Serbia: 275,000

Italy: 651,010

Turkey: 800,000

Britain: 885,138

Austro-Hungarian Empire: 1,100,000

France: 1,397,800

Russia: 1,811,000

Germany: 2,036,897

Those numbers add up to 9,323,553 or for each day of the war – 6,221 soldiers.

Altogether 8,9 million civilians were killed.

It was believed to have been the war of all wars, that there would never be another like it. No one had though reckoned that Corporal Adolf Hitler of the German army was not going to accept his country’s defeat.

Marilyn Z Tomins is a Paris based author best known for her non fiction crime  books

Website of Author Marilyn Z Tomlins



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