November 8, 1954
Vendôme, Centre-Val de Loire
Denise Labbé (20) drowns her 2-year-old daughter Catherine to “prove” her love to her lover
Labbé was a single mother when she began a relationship with 24-year-old Jacques Algarron. The relationship reportedly had strong and unhealthy Dominant/submissive overtones, including Algarron allegedly coercing Labbé into sleeping with other men to force her to later beg his forgiveness.
When the forgiveness game grew boring, Algarron told Labbé she needed to prove her love with a grand gesture. Author Ellery Queen — a pseudonym for fiction and non-fiction crime writers Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee — wrote a tantalizing dialogue between the lovers, supposedly after Algarron demanded proof of Labbé’s affection, though this exchange was likely pure fabrication:
“‘Proof?’ Denise cried. ‘Say the word, my darling, and I’ll jump off the Eiffel Tower!’
“Algarron made a languid gesture. ‘And suffer for only a moment?’ he smiled. ‘To merit my love, you must go from suffering to suffering. What is required is a terrible, beautiful sacrifice.’”
To merit my love, you must go from suffering to suffering. What is required is a terrible, beautiful sacrifice
The “terrible, beautiful sacrifice” was Labbé’s 2-year-old daughter Catherine. Queen suggested Algarron used this ploy to rid himself of Labbé: either she would refuse and he would end the relationship or she would consent and the police would end the relationship for him.
Over the coming months, Labbé made at least two attempts on her daughter Catherine’s life (some sources say up to four). She stopped herself from hurling the toddler from a bridge on one occasion, and returned a canal where she had left Catherine to die on another. Finally, while visiting her sister, Labbé held Catherine’s head under water in a basin (pictured in an illustration from the trial) and claimed the death to be accidental. Friends and family were suspicious, the police were notified, and Labbé confessed, admitting “Yes I killed my daughter but it was a ritual murder.”
Labbé immediately implicated Algarron of persuading her to kill Catherine and the pair stood trial together. Labbé was found guilty of murder with extenuating circumstances and sentenced to life imprisonment while Algarron was convicted of provoking the crime and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor.
Inset: Denise Labbé and Jacques Algarron
Odell, Robin. The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2010
Nash, Jay Robert. Crime Chronology: A Worldwide Record, 1900-1983. 1984
Queen, Ellery. “The Diabolical Lover.” St. Louis Globe-Democrat. February 24, 1957