Doctor turned serial killer in World War II Paris

Wed Nov 9, 2011 10:30am EST
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Nazi-occupied Paris was a terrible place to be in the waning days of World War II, with Jews, Resistance fighters and ordinary citizens all hoping to escape. Disappearances became so common they often weren't followed up.

And one man used the lawlessness for his own terrible purposes, killing perhaps as many as 150 people.

Yet it wasn't until thick black smoke seeped into buildings in a fashionable part of the city that firefighters and police were called to an elegant townhouse where they found body parts scattered around -- setting off a manhunt that led them, eventually, to Marcel Petiot.

The crime was very much of its time, said David King, who chronicled the hunt for Petiot in "Death in the City of Light."

"Paris was not a good place to be. A lot of people were trying to leave Paris, a lot of people just disappearing. He had it plotted out, a very devious plan," said King, in a telephone interview.

"Respect for the law was tarnished under the Nazis. Even if you suspected something, a lot of people were very, very reluctant to go forward, especially if they were Jewish."

Petiot, as it turned out, was a respected physician who turned serial killer by night, preying largely on Jews desperate to leave Paris by luring them in with promises of escape. He was accused of murdering "only" some 27, but authorities suspected his real toll was far higher.

King, a former history professor, first stumbled across reference to the killings while browsing in a bookstore and picking up a World War Two memoir by a spy. At first, he couldn't believe what he read.   Continued...