Hélène Jégado

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Hélène Jégado
Helene Jegado.jpg
Hélène Jégado at her trial, historical print (ca. 1851)
Born1803
Died26 February 1852
Rennes, Brittany
Cause of deathExecution by guillotine
Criminal charge3 murders, 3 attempted murders and 11 thefts
Criminal penaltyExecution

Hélène Jégado (1803 26 February 1852) was a French domestic servant and serial killer. She is believed to have murdered as many as 36 people with arsenic over a period of 18 years. After an initial period of activity, between 1833 and 1841, she seems to have stopped for nearly ten years before a final spree in 1851.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

A serial killer is typically a person who murders three or more people, usually in service of abnormal psychological gratification, with the murders taking place over more than a month and including a significant period of time between them. Different authorities apply different criteria when designating serial killers. While most set a threshold of three murders, others extend it to four or lessen it to two. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines serial killing as "a series of two or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone".

Arsenic Chemical element with atomic number 33

Arsenic is a chemical element with the symbol As and atomic number 33. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in combination with sulfur and metals, but also as a pure elemental crystal. Arsenic is a metalloid. It has various allotropes, but only the gray form, which has a metallic appearance, is important to industry.

Contents

Early life and crimes

Hélène Jégado was born on a small farm in Plouhinec (Morbihan), near Lorient in Brittany. She lost her mother at the age of seven and was sent to work with two aunts who were servants at the rectory of Bubry. After 17 years, she accompanied an aunt to the town of Séglien. She became a cook for the curé where an incident arose where she was accused of adding hemp from his grain house to his soup.

Plouhinec, Morbihan Commune in Brittany, France

Plouhinec is a commune in the Morbihan department of Brittany in north-western France.

Lorient Subprefecture and commune in Brittany, France

Lorient is a town and seaport in the Morbihan "department" of Brittany in North-Western France.

Brittany Historical province in France

Brittany is a cultural region in the west of France, covering the western part of what was known as Armorica during the period of Roman occupation. It became an independent kingdom and then a duchy before being united with the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province governed as if it were a separate nation under the crown.

Her first suspected poisoning occurred in 1833 when she was employed by another priest, Fr. François Le Drogo, in the nearby village of Guern. In the three months, between June 28 and October 3, seven members of the household died suddenly, including the priest himself, his aging mother and father, and her own visiting sister, Anne Jégado. Her apparent sorrow and pious behaviour was so convincing she was not suspected. Coming shortly after the cholera epidemic of 1832 the deaths may have been put down to natural causes.

Guern Commune in Brittany, France

Guern is a commune in the Morbihan department of Brittany in north-western France.

Cholera Bacterial infection of the small intestine

Cholera is an infection of the small intestine by some strains of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Symptoms may range from none, to mild, to severe. The classic symptom is large amounts of watery diarrhea that lasts a few days. Vomiting and muscle cramps may also occur. Diarrhea can be so severe that it leads within hours to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. This may result in sunken eyes, cold skin, decreased skin elasticity, and wrinkling of the hands and feet. Dehydration can cause the skin to turn bluish. Symptoms start two hours to five days after exposure.

Jégado returned to Bubry to replace her sister where three people died in the course of three months, including her other aunt, all of whom she cared for at their bedside. She continued to Locminé, where she boarded with a needleworker, Marie-Jeanne Leboucher—both Leboucher and her daughter died and a son fell ill. It is possible that the son survived because he did not accept Jégado's ministrations. When in the same town, the widow Lorey offered Jégado a room; she died after eating a soup her new boarder had prepared. In May 1835, she was hired by Madame Toussaint and four more deaths followed. By this point in time, she had already put seventeen people in their graves.

Locminé Commune in Brittany, France

Locminé is a commune in the Morbihan department of the region of Brittany in north-western France.

Later in 1835, Jégado was employed as a servant in a convent in Auray, but rapidly dismissed after several incidents of vandalism and sacrilege.

Convent Religious community

A convent is either a community of priests, religious brothers, religious sisters, monks or nuns; or the building used by the community, particularly in the Catholic Church, Lutheran Churches, and the Anglican Communion.

Auray Commune in Brittany, France

Auray is a commune in the Morbihan department in Brittany in northwestern France.

Jégado worked as a cook in other households in Auray, then Pontivy, Lorient, and Port-Louis where she was employed only briefly in each one. Often, someone fell ill or died. Among her most infamous murders is of a child, little Marie Bréger, who died at the Château de Soye (Ploemeur) in May 1841, ten years and one month before her final arrest. Most victims died showing symptoms corresponding to arsenic poisoning, though she was never caught with arsenic in her possession. There is no record of suspected deaths from late 1841 to 1849, but a number of her employers later reported thefts; she was apparently a kleptomaniac and was caught stealing several times.

Pontivy Subprefecture and commune in Brittany, France

Pontivy is a commune in the Morbihan department in Brittany in north-western France. It lies at the confluence of the river Blavet and the Canal de Nantes à Brest.

Port-Louis, Morbihan Commune in Brittany, France

Port-Louis is a commune in the Morbihan department of Brittany in north-western France. Inhabitants of Port-Louis are called in French Port-Louisiens.

Ploemeur Commune in Brittany, France

Ploemeur, sometimes written instead as Plœmeur, is a commune in the Morbihan department in the region of Brittany in north-western France.

Her career took a new turn in 1849 when she moved to Rennes, the capital city of the region.

Although there is not much information stating why she committed these crimes, it can generally be linked to psychological issues. The psychopathology model explains that her offenses can be linked to her psychological problems. It is possible that these problems erupted at a young age after her mother died. It is not uncommon for a child to develop abandoned child syndrome due to the parents passing. Jégado once stated that murdering people gave her a sense of power, which she enjoyed.

Arrest

In 1850, Jégado joined the household staff of Théophile Bidard, a law professor at the University of Rennes. One of his servants, Rose Tessier, fell ill and died when Jégado tended her. In 1851, one of the other maids, Rosalie Sarrazin, fell ill as well and died. Two doctors had tried to save Sarrazin and because the symptoms were similar to those of Tessier, they convinced the relatives to permit an autopsy. Jégado aroused suspicion when she announced her innocence before she was even asked anything, and she was arrested on July 1, 1851.

Later inquiries linked her to 23 suspected deaths by poisoning between 1833 and 1841, but none of these were thoroughly investigated since they were outside the ten-year limit for prosecution and there was no scientific evidence. Local folklore has attributed to her many unexplained deaths, some of which were almost certainly due to natural causes. The most reliable estimate is that she probably committed about 36 murders.

Trial

Jégado's trial began on December 6, 1851 but, due to French laws of permissible evidence and statute of limitations, she was accused only of three murders, three attempted murders and 11 thefts. At least one later case appears to have been dropped since it involved a child and police were reluctant to upset the parents by an exhumation. Jégado's behaviour in court was erratic, changing from humble mutterings to loud pious shouting and occasional violent outbursts against her accusers. She consistently denied she even knew what arsenic was, despite evidence to the contrary. Doctors who had examined her victims had not usually noticed anything suspicious, but when the most recent victims were exhumed, they showed overwhelming evidence of arsenic and possibly antimony.

The defence lawyer, Magloire Dorange, made a remarkable closing speech, arguing that she needed more time than most to repent and could be spared the death penalty since she was dying of cancer anyway.

The case attracted little attention at the time, pushed off the front pages by the coup d'état in Paris.

Jégado was sentenced to death by guillotine and executed in front of a large crowd of onlookers on the Champ-de-Mars in Rennes on February 26, 1852.

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References

There are few comprehensive accounts in English.

In French:

Fictionalized accounts :