February 2, 1933
Le Mans, France
Sisters Christine (27) and Léa (21) Papin kill and mutilate two of their employers
Christine and Léa had begun working for the Lancelin family — René, Léonie, and their adult daughter Geneviève — in 1926 as live-in maids. Seven years later, they killed Léonie and Geneviève.
On the evening of February 2, 1933, the Lancelin family was away from their home. René was with a friend while Léonie and Geneviève went shopping, and the family was to meet later for dinner before going to Léonie’s brother’s house to retire for the night. Meanwhile, the Papin sisters were busy with their work which included the retrieval of an electric iron from a repair shop. Unbeknownst to the sisters, the iron was still faulty and when they plugged it in, a short circuit caused a fuse to blow. As the Lancelin family was not expected back until the following day, the sisters decided to wait until morning to repair the iron and fuse.
Léonie and Geneviève arrived home unexpectedly to find the house dark. According to Christine’s testimony, Léonie flew into a rage and attempted to attack Christine. Christine retaliated by using a heavy jug to strike Léonie in the head, and Geneviève immediately came to her mother’s aid. Christine responded by gouging Geneviève’s eyes from her skull; Léa mimicked her sister by doing the same to Léonie. Once both women were blinded, Christine rushed into the kitchen to bring hammers and knives to use with her sister to batter and mutilate their employers over the next two hours.
The beatings were so severe, crime writer Morris Gilbert reported, “A human tooth was implanted amid the hair of a human temple.” Stabs and slashes to the women, concentrated on their faces, chests, thighs, buttocks, and genitals, mutilated the mother and daughter. Those who witnessed the crime scene later likened the cuts to the women’s bodies to score lines found on bread loaves. Léonie’s eyeballs were later recovered from the folds in her scarf. One of Geneviève’s was found beneath her body while the other was on the stairs.
After the attack, the Papin sisters disrobed, went to their attic bedroom, and waited for René to return home.
René became concerned when his wife and daughter failed to meet with him for dinner as planned and went to his home to check on them. He found the house to be locked and alerted police. Inside, the police and René found the bodies of the murdered Lancelins. The Papin sisters were thought to have been killed as well but were found alive, covered in blood, and huddled together in their bedroom. They readily confessed to committing the crime.
During trial, it was noted the sisters had experienced prolonged childhood physical, mental, and sexual abuse from their parents. It was suggested the sisters had shared delusional disorder — also called folie à deux, or “madness for two” — caused by their shared childhood trauma, and which can cause auditory hallucinations, severe paranoia, and violent outbursts. This theory was supported by an incident while Christine was in prison awaiting her trial, in which she attempted to tear her own eyes out. It was speculated the emotional detachment of the Lancelins (René reportedly never spoke to either sister during the 7 years they worked for and lived with him, and Léonie only communicated via written notes) had been the driving force behind the sister’s attack.
Others believed the attack was class warfare, an active rebellion against the upper class. Even amongst those who suspected this motive, the opinions of the participants were polarized. While some journalists portrayed the sisters as cruel employees who would brutally attack their kind-hearted, fair-paying employers, others seemingly celebrated the women for attacking the Lancelins due to the ill treatment the family had doled out upon the exploited sisters.
It was also alleged the sisters were engaged in a lesbian, incestuous relationship. This theory cites the fact the sisters were found nude in bed together on the night of the murders, as well as a remark reportedly made by Christine in prison in which she declared, “In some future life I shall be Léa’s husband.”
Both sisters were convicted of their roles in the murders, with Christine being held as the instigator and Léa the accomplice. Christine was sentenced to beheading by the guillotine, the first woman in France to receive such a sentence in 50 years. Léa was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor to be followed by 20 years of imprisonment. Christine’s self-harm continued in custody and led to her death penalty being commuted to life imprisonment. She died in 1937 from cachexia after refusing to eat. Léa was released early for good behavior, having served 8 years of her sentence.
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Coffman, Christine E. “Framing Christine Papin.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Duke University Press. Volume 9, Number 3, 2002
“Model Servant Girls Suddenly Become “Two Furies”.” The San Francisco Examiner. January 6, 1935
Gilbert, Morris. “Such A Horrible Crime that the Jury Said, “Off With Her Head”.” Harrisburg Sunday Courier. March 4, 1934
“Can France Go Through with the Guillotine for its Most Brutal Murderess?” The Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. December 17, 1933