Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Henri Landru

The Arrest and Investigation of Landru

Madame Collomb
Madame Collomb

Landru had taken great pains to separate his victims from their families, but after their deaths, he took equally strong measures to assure the families that their loved ones were alive and well. Two of Guillin's friends received postcards from Landru, saying that Guillin was unable to write herself. He forged a letter from Buisson to her dressmaker and another to the concierge of her Paris apartment. Landru represented himself as the attorney of Madame Jaume, who was divorcing her husband, and successfully closed out her bank accounts.

Two years after Buisson met Landru, her son, who was living with her sister, passed away. Obviously the family wanted to notify Mme. Buisson, but was unable to find her. Her sister remembered that Buisson had whispered her intention of running away to Gambais with a "Monsieur Guillet." She wrote to the mayor of Gambais, seeking help in locating either Buisson or Guillet. The mayor replied that he knew of neither of them, but perhaps she should meet the family of a Madame Collomb, who was also missing in Gambais. She had vanished under similar circumstances.

Landru at his arrest
Landru at his arrest

Unbeknownst to anyone, Collomb had disappeared after meeting Landru in early 1917.

The tenant of the villa in question, the mayor told the family of Buisson was not Monsieur Fremiet, the fiancé of Buisson, but M. Dupont. However, when the police went to Villa Ermitage, as Landru's estate was known, they could not find Fremiet, Dupont, Diard (the name given to Collomb's family) or Landru. The villa was unoccupied but recently lived-in.

Mademoiselle Lacoste, Buisson's sister, was not discouraged. She had seen "Fremiet" so she began combing the streets of Paris near Fremiet's old residence looking for him. In 1919, her search paid off. She spotted Landru coming out of a dry goods shop and followed him, only to lose him in the crowd. She returned to the store and found out that the man's name was not Fremiet, but Guillet, and that he lived in the Rue de Rochechouart with his mistress. Immediately, the police were summoned and Landru was arrested.

A notebook used as evidence
A notebook used as
evidence

But on what charge should he be held, the gendarmerie wondered? Clearly murder was suspected, but where was the body? There was no evidence that Landru had killed anyone and the strong-willed "Bluebeard" was unwilling to discuss anything with authorities.

They returned to Gambais, where a thorough search was undertaken. The gardens were excavated looking for bones, but the only remains police found were those of a pair of dogs. They searched his old villa at Vernouillet and came up equally empty. All the police had to go on was a cryptic memorandum book where Landru had meticulously recorded his income and expenses.

But within the copious notes were several names that interested authorities. On one page was the entry: "A Cuchet, G. Cuchet, Bresil, Crozatier, Havre. Ct. Buisson, A. Collomb, Andree Babelay, M. Louis (sic) Jaume, A. Pascal, M. Thr. Mercadier." Buisson and Collomb were missing and the authorities soon learned that the whereabouts of the Cuchets were also in question. They suspected this was a list of victims. But again, they had no bodies.

Landru in police custody
Landru in police custody

Confident in the erroneous knowledge that he could not be convicted of murder without a body (such a conviction is possible under French law), Landru kept silent and refused to talk with police. For two years, authorities investigated the disappearances of his victims, yet Landru never admitted anything. Slowly, they learned that each of the women in the ledger had met Landru through his marriage advertisements and had disappeared. Interestingly, Landru had recorded the purchase of one-way tickets from Paris to Gambais for each of his victims, while marking round-trip tickets for himself.

In the ashes police found small bones, undoubtedly human, as well as burned, but still recognizable fasteners of the kind worn on the clothes of French women. Landru had disposed of his victims by burning their remains. How they were killed was still a mystery, but what had happened to M. Collomb and M. Buisson, as well as the nine others, was clear.

Two years after his arrest, Landru was charged with 11 counts of murder and set for trial.

The gardens in Gambais and Vernouillet were dug up time and time again. Authorities tried to link Landru to purchases of acids and other chemicals, to no avail. Finally, neighbors at Gambais told authorities of the noxious fumes that often emanated from the kitchen. The stove that Landru had installed shortly after his arrival in Gambais was inspected and horrific evidence of murder was uncovered.

Landru's oven
Landru's oven

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