1937, thousands of visitors flocked to Paris for the
great International Exposition. On July 19, 1937, 22-year-old ballet
student Jean De Koven, arrived with her aunt Mrs Ida Sackheim and
checked into the Hotel des Ambassadeurs. Jean made the acquaintance of a
young man known only as Bobby, who spoke with a thick German accent, and
they arranged to go on a date a few days later.
As Jean De Koven left the hotel lobby on July 26,
1937, with her new acquaintance it would be the last time her aunt would
see her again, alive. When she did not return her aunt went to the
police who laughed off her suspicions. They said was probably enjoying a
romantic interlude with her lover. Later when her aunt again returned to
the police with a ransom demand note for $500 they accused her of
participating in a publicity stunt. However, their opinion quickly
changed when 15 days later Jean De Kovan's traveler's checks were cashed.
The signature on the backs of the checks were proved to be obvious
forgeries. Her body would not be found for another four months.
On September 8, 1937, the body of chauffeur, Joseph
Couffy was found on France's Paris-Orleans Road. He had been shot in the
back of the neck and his car was missing.
On October 17, 1937, the naked body of theatrical
producer, Roger Le Blond was found in the back seat of his car at Neully-Sur-Seine
Cemetery. He too had been shot in the back of his neck and his wallet
On November 29, 1937, real estate agent, Raymond
Lesobre was found sprawled face down on the floor of a villa in St-Cloud.
He had been shot in the back of the neck and his wallet was also missing.
A business card belonging to Herr Shott.
When the inspectors questioned Shott they were
informed that his nephew, Fritz Frommer, had recently gone missing. He
was last seen in the company of a young German, named Siegfried
Sauerbrey who was renting a villa in St-Cloud.
On December 8, 1937, Inspectors Poignant and Bourguin
went to the villa where Sauerbrey was staying. As they approached the
villa a young man who introduced himself M. Karrer asked if he could
help them and invited them inside. When Inspector Bourguin asked to see
his papers he calmly reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun. His
first shot hit Poignant in the shoulder. Bourguin grabbed his wrist but
Karrer kept on firing. Another shot grazed Bourguin's forehead and as he
and Bourguin were struggling for control of the gun Poignant saw a small
hammer lying on a table and hit Karrer full force on his skull. Karrer
dropped to the floor. He was immediately hand-cuffed and taken into
Police searched the villa and found the body of Fritz
Frommer in the cellar. He had been shot in the back of the neck. As they
searched the grounds they noticed the front steps had recently been
replaced. When police dug under the steps they found the body of Jean De
During his interrogation, Karrer coolly confessed to
police that his real name was Eugen Weidmann. He also confessed to the
murders of Jean De Koven, who he strangled while she was drinking tea,
and Fritz Frommer, who he was afraid was going to talk to the police,
Joseph Couffy, Roger Le Blond, and Raymond Lesobre. His motive was
Weidmann was a career criminal who, while
incarcerated for robbery, met Fritz Frommer, Roger Million, and Jean
Blanc. When they were released from prison they met up together and
decided to establish a criminal partnership. Their plan was to kidnap
wealthy tourists and steal their money. Their first attempt failed when
the man they targeted became suspicious and put up a fierce struggle.
They were forced to let him go. They were successful with their second
attempt which was unfortunate for Jean De Koven. Weidmann was also
confronted with a passport belonging to Jeannine Keller which had been
found in his bedroom. He stated that she had been lured to Paris with a
job offer for a private nurse. Weidmann took her for a walk in the woods
near Fontainebleu, strangled her, hid her body in a cave, and stole her
He went on trial with his accomplices in March of
1939 but was the only one who received the sentence of death.
On June 17, 1939 Eugen Weidmann became the last
person to be publicly executed in France.
The crowd began gathering the night before at the
Pallais de Justice at Versailles. There were hundreds of drunk, rowdy
spectators who had gathered to witness the macabe event. By 4:00 am the
unruly crowds had swelled with people vying to find an idea spot in
order to witness the beheading. Surrounding building owners were
charging exhorbitant fees for spectators to get a bird's eye view.
Because the excution had taken place later then usual there was enough
light for photograpers to snap away and even record films of the event.
After Weidmann had been beheaded there were reported stories of women
who had broken through the police barriers to dip their handkercheifs in
his blood. Authorities were so appalled at the scandalous behavior of
the crowds and the illegal photographs and filming, that a week later
they decreed that all further executions would be held in private.
Eugen Weidmann (February 5, 1908 – June 17,
1939) was the last person to be publicly executed in France. Executions
by guillotine in France continued in private until September 10, 1977,
when Hamida Djandoubi was the last person to be executed.
Weidmann was born in Frankfurt am Main in Germany to
the family of an export businessman, and went to school there. He was
sent to live with his grandparents at the outbreak of World War I;
during this time he started stealing. Later in his 20s he served five
years in Saarbrücken jail for robbery.
During his time in jail Weidmann met two men who
would later become his partners in crime: Roger Million and Jean Blanc.
After their release from jail, they decided to work together to kidnap
rich tourists visiting France and steal their money. They rented a villa
in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, for this purpose.
Their first kidnap attempt ended in failure because
their victim struggled too hard, forcing them to let him go. In July
1937, they made a second attempt, Weidmann having made the acquaintance
of Jean De Koven, a 22-year-old New York dancer visiting her aunt Ida
Sackheim in Paris.
Impressed by the tall, handsome German, De Koven
wrote to a friend: "I have just met a charming German of keen
intelligence who calls himself Siegfried. Perhaps I am going to another
Wagnerian role - who knows? I am going to visit him tomorrow at his
villa in a beautiful place near a famous mansion that Napoleon gave
During their meeting they smoked and "Siegfried" gave
her a glass of milk. She took photos of him with her new camera (later
found beside her body, the developed snapshots showing her killer).
Weidmann then strangled and buried her in the villa's garden.
The group then sent Million's mistress, Collette
Tricot, to cash de Koven's $430 in traveller's cheque and 300 francs in
cash. Sackheim received a letter demanding $500 for the return of her
niece. De Koven's brother Henry later came to France offering a 10,000
franc reward from his father Abraham for information about the young
woman. However, by that time she was dead.
On September 1 of the same year, Weidmann hired a
chauffeur named Joseph Couffy to drive him to the French Riviera where,
in a forest outside Tours he shot him in the nape of the neck and stole
his car and 2500 francs.
The next murder came on September 3, after Weidmann
and Million lured Janine Keller, a private nurse, into a cave in the
forest of Fontainebleau with a job offer. There he killed her, again
with a bullet to the nape of the neck, before robbing her of 1400 francs
and her diamond ring.
On October 16, Million and Weidmann arranged a
meeting with a young theatrical producer named Roger LeBlond, promising
to invest money in one of his shows. Instead, Weidmann shot him in the
back of his head and took his wallet containing 5000 francs.
On November 22, Weidmann murdered and robbed Fritz
Frommer, a young German he had met in jail. Frommer, a Jew, had been
held there for his anti-Nazi views. Once again the victim was shot in
the nape of the neck. His body was buried in the basement of the Saint-Cloud
house where De Koven was interred.
Five days later Weidmann committed his final murder.
Raymond Lesobre, a real estate agent, was shot in the killer's preferred
fashion while showing him around a house in Saint-Cloud. Five-thousand
francs were taken from him.
Officers from the Sûreté, led by a young inspector
named Primborgne, eventually tracked Weidmann to the villa from a
business card left at Lesobre's office. Arriving at his home, Weidmann
found two officers waiting for him. Inviting them in, he then turned and
fired three times at them with a pistol. Although they were unarmed, the
wounded Sûreté men managed to wrestle Weidmann down, knocking him
unconscious with a hammer that happened to be nearby.
Weidmann was a highly co-operative prisoner,
confessing to all his murders, including that of de Koven, the only one
for which he expressed regret. He is reported to have said tearfully: "She
was gentle and unsuspecting ... When I reached for her throat, she went
down like a doll."
The murder trial of Weidmann, Million, Blanc and
Tricot in Versailles in March 1939 was the biggest since that of Henri
Désiré Landru, the modern-day "Bluebeard", 18 years earlier. One of
Weidmann's lawyers, Vincent de Moro-Giafferi, had indeed defended Landru.
Also present was the French novelist Colette, who was engaged by Paris-Soir
to write an essay on Weidmann.
Weidmann and Million received the death sentence while Blanc received
a jail sentence of 20 months and Tricot was acquitted. Million's
sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
On June 17, 1939, Weidmann was beheaded outside the
prison Saint-Pierre in Versailles. The "hysterical behaviour" by
spectators was so scandalous that French president Albert Lebrun
immediately banned all future public executions. Unknown to authorities,
film of the execution was shot from a private apartment adjacent to the
prison. British actor Christopher Lee, who was 17 at the time, witnessed