snapshot of Hamida Djandoubi at the engagement party of his close
friend Louis Bugia.
This photograph was taken just weeks before the
tractor accident that changed his life.
The young woman with him was
one of his many girlfriends.
Another photograph of Hamida out with some friends at a seaside
park in the south end of Marseille.
The Sonacotra, a men's residence, where Hamida lived before and
after his accident.
It was here that Elisabeth came looking for him
the day of the murder.
This is the rehabilitation center where Hamida stayed after his
It's a 40 minute drive away from Marseille in the town
of La Ciotat.
The building where Hamida lived. He was able to rent the apartment
once he received
his disability pension. He lived in this apartment
with his two 15-year-old girlfriends.
It was also here that he
tortured Elisabeth for three or four hours.
The abandoned cabin where Hamida brought Elisabeth to die. With the
olive trees and the distant
waters of the Etang de Berre, it was a
tranquil setting for such a horrific death.
The cabin itself. It was built in the 19th century as an overnight
shelter for workers
in the field but has been abandoned for decades.
The first newspaper article announcing the discovery of the body in
This is the sketch of the crime scene done the afternoon the body
was found. There are also photographs
of the crime scene but out of
respect for Elisabeth and her family, those remain unpublished.
Hamida's arrest was front-page news in Marseille. Police staked out
while he was at the social services office applying
confession. The key passage reads:
'I put the scarf
around her neck and she didn't struggle when I began to choke her ...
I choked her for a few minutes and then I asked for the flashlight so
I could make sure she was really dead. At one point, for reasons I
can't really explain, I kicked the girl's nose but she didn't move.'
confession, Hamida agreed to reenact the crime. The reenactent took
place in November 1974.
A secretary from the police headquarters
played the role of Elisabeth. In this scene,
reaching for the gasoline which he would use to torture
As a young boy, Hamida's mother punished him by forcing harissa, the
hot Tunisan pepper saucen,
into his rectum. As an adult, this became
one of his preferred torture techniques. Here, in the police
reconstruction of the crime, he can be seen reaching for the tin of
harissa on the kitchen shelf.
Here, Hamida shows how he kicked Elisabeth along the dirt path that
leads to the cabin
where he killed her. This photograph is taken in
the afternoon, but in fact the murder
took place at night. Also, you
can see that 35 years ago there was a roof on the cabin.
And, finally, the murder. One must applaud the nerve of the police
secretary (Nadine Pache) for enduring
this simulated murder and the
sensation of having Hamida hover above her. Three decades later,
when visiting the cabin, I lay down in the place where the murder
occurred and I felt such
a surge of panic and oppression that I got
up after a few seconds ...
The trial coverage was decidedly sensational. There is no plea
bargaining in the French system, so his lawyer
wasn't able to
negotiate a reduced sentence in exchange for the confession. This
meant the trail was really
only to determine the sentence - death or
life imprisonment. And the fact that he had already confessed
allowed journalists to open fire. Some actually compared him to
Despite the fact that Hamida had confessed to the crime, 13
questions were nonetheless put to the jury.
The first twelve asked
them to decide whether he had killed Elisabeth, whether he had
and similar chargees. The answers to these could only
be yes. The crucial question was the 13th,
asking whether the jury
found any extenuating circumstances. If they answered yes, it meant
the death penalty could not be applied. They answered no.
The death verdict meant the Djandoubi case became national news. The
following day, lengthy
articles appeared in both Le Figaro
and Le Monde (pictured above). At the time France was
clenched in the debate over abolition and every death sentence
became a political issue.
The official letter of death from President Valéry Giscard-d'Estaing
announcing that Djandoubi's request for grace had been rejected.
Note that the letter was sent by courrier on September 9th and
orders an execution for the following morning. Unlike the American
process which can see appeals drag out for years or decades, in
France it was lightening quick: the verdict was delivered in
February 1977, the appeals court refused to order a retrial in June
1977, the president heard the requerst for grace in August 1977 ,
and the guillotine fell on September 10th, 1977. Seven months from
verdict to death.
By the late 1970s, the guillotine was being used less than once a
Which meant bold, front page headlines when a criminal's head
was cut off.