Monday, June 18, 2018

Death In The City Of Light by David King

The year was 1944 and the place was Paris, France.  Paris was under occupation by the Nazi regime of Germany although the tide of war seemed to be turning.  There had been mass roundups of those the Nazi's considered undesirable; Jewish individuals, gypsies, gangsters, etc.  There was a Resistance in place, in fact many groups of Resistance fighters.  With all the horror going on, no one expected the discovery that was made in March.  An horrid stench came from an apparently unoccupied house.  When the police investigated, a scene of horror was revealed.

The stench came from an attempt to burn bodies.  There were dismembered bodies in the house and more outside in the yard in a pit full of lime.   The bodies were so decayed that there was little hope of identifying the victims or even numbering them or determining their gender.  Who could have created this horror?

The answer seemed to be the owner.  Dr. Marcel Petiot owned the house and the police believed, killed the people found there.   At first the headlines were lurid, hinting at sexual motives.  The police came to believe that he, instead, was so despicable that he used the circumstances of the death camps and the German occupation to victimize those most in danger.  Petiot offered desperate people passage to another country where they could be safe and start over.  For most of them, however, the trip started and ended at his house and they were never heard from again.

The trial was one of the most sensational in the country's history.  Petiot declared himself a Resistance fighter and said various things such as the bodies were put in his house by the Germans or that the bodies were Germans he had killed in his Resistance role.  There were never any firm body count.  The police eventually charged him with twenty-seven murders.  Petiot claimed he had killed sixty-one Germans.  Regardless of the number Petiot was found guilty and executed.

With the cover of the war, this case has never gotten the attention from true crime investigators that one might expect from such a large body count.  The war obscured Petiot's crimes and his trial occurred as the country was recovering from the Occupation.  David King has brought the facts of the case to light in this book and had access to previously classified documents from the police in order to do so.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

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