Hélène Jégado

Last updated
Hélène Jégado
Helene Jegado.jpg
Hélène Jégado at her trial, historical print (ca. 1851)
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.


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.


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.


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.

Related Research Articles

<i>Strong Poison</i> 1930 mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers

Strong Poison is a 1930 mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, her fifth featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and the first in which Harriet Vane appears.

Théophile Bidard was a well-known law professor in Rennes, France during the 1840s and 1850s. He was one of the principal witnesses for the prosecution in the Hélène Jégado trial in 1851. Employed as a cook, Jégado had killed two of Bidard's servants with arsenic after a long series of similar crimes over a period of eighteen years. She was executed by guillotine in February 1852.

Daisy Louisa C. De Melker simply known as Daisy de Melker, was a trained nurse who poisoned two husbands with strychnine for their life insurance while living in Turffontein, Johannesburg South in the central Transvaal, and then poisoned her only son with arsenic for reasons which are still unclear. She is the second woman to have been hanged in South Africa.

Ottilie "Tillie" Klimek was a Polish American serial killer, active in Chicago. According to accounts, she pretended to have precognitive dreams, accurately predicting the dates of death of her victims, when in reality she was merely scheduling their deaths. While contemporary accounts tell of her cheerfully telling her husbands that they were going to die, there is no record of her claiming to be a "psychic."

Judy Buenoano American serial killer

Judias V. “Judy” Buenoano was an American convicted murderer who was executed for the 1971 murder of her husband James Goodyear. She was also convicted for the 1980 murder of her son Michael Buenoano and of the 1983 attempted murder of her fiancé John Gentry. Buenoano is also acknowledged to have been responsible for the 1978 death of her boyfriend Bobby Joe Morris in Colorado; however, by the time authorities made the connection between Buenoano and Morris, she had already been sentenced to death in the state of Florida.

Janie Lou Gibbs American serial killer

Janie Lou Gibbs, néeHickox was an American serial killer from Cordele, Georgia, who killed her three sons, a grandson, and her husband, by poisoning them with rat poison in 1966 and 1967.

Audrey Marie Hilley was an American murderer. Her life and killing spree are the subjects of the 1991 telefilm Wife, Mother, Murderer.

Thallium poisoning is poisoning due to thallium and its compounds which are often highly toxic. Contact with skin is dangerous, and adequate ventilation should be provided when melting this metal. Many thallium(I) compounds are highly soluble in water and are readily absorbed through the skin. Exposure to them should not exceed 0.1 mg per m2 of skin in an 8-hour time-weighted average. Thallium is a suspected human carcinogen.

George Sweeney Trial

The George Sweeney Trial in 1806 in Richmond, Virginia was a trial in which George Sweeney, the grand-nephew of George Wythe, one of the founding fathers of the United States, was acquitted of murdering Wythe. Wythe was a distinguished attorney who attended the Philadelphia Convention in 1775 and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776; in 1806, he died of arsenic poisoning. Before he died, Wythe accused his nephew of murder and changed his will to exclude him. Wythe's black housekeeper provided evidence that George Sweeney had tried to poison Wythe, her son and her, but by law was prohibited from testifying in a criminal case against a white man. Sweeney was tried and found not guilty. The case is used as an example of how racism in early American law resulted in an acquittal.

Donald Harvey American serial killer

Donald Harvey was an American serial killer and orderly who claimed to have murdered 87 people, though official estimates are between 37 and 57 victims. Harvey said he started out killing to "ease the pain" of patients. As time progressed, he began to enjoy it more and more and became a self-described "angel of death". Harvey was serving 28 life sentences at the Toledo Correctional Institution in Toledo, Ohio, having pleaded guilty to murder charges to avoid the death penalty.

Events from the year 1851 in France.

Black Widows of Liverpool British murderers

Catherine Flannagan and Margaret Higgins were Irish sisters who were convicted of poisoning and murdering one person in Liverpool, Lancashire, England and suspected of more deaths. The women collected a burial society payout, a type of life insurance, on each death, and it was eventually found that they had been committing murders using arsenic to obtain the insurance money. Though Catherine Flannagan evaded police for a time, both sisters were eventually caught and convicted of one of the murders; they were both hanged on the same day at Kirkdale Prison. Modern investigation of the crime has raised the possibility that Flannagan and Higgins were known or believed by investigators to be only part of a larger conspiracy of murder-for-profit—a network of "black widows"—but no convictions were ever obtained for any of the alleged conspiracy members other than the two sisters.

Lyda Southard American murderer

Lyda Southard was born on October 16, 1892, and died on February 5, 1958, of a heart attack. She is considered one of America's first known female serial killers, preceded by Jane Toppan. It was suspected that she had killed her four husbands, a brother-in-law, and her daughter by using arsenic poisoning derived from flypaper to poison them in order to obtain life insurance money.

Sophie Ursinus German serial killer

Sophie Charlotte Elisabeth Ursinus was a German serial killer believed to have been responsible for poisoning her husband, aunt, and lover, and of attempting to poison her servant. Her trial led to a method of identifying arsenic poisoning.

Elizabeth Fenning, also known as Eliza Fenning (1792–1815) was an domestic servant whose controversial conviction for attempted murder became a cause célèbre.

Martha Wise, born Martha Hasel, was an American poisoner and serial killer. After her husband died and her family forced her to end a relationship with a new lover, Wise retaliated by poisoning seventeen family members, of whom three died, in 1924. She was convicted of one of the murders, despite defense claims that she was mentally ill and that her lover had ordered her to poison her family. The case is considered one of the most sensational of the era in Ohio, where it occurred.

Sarah Dazley, later known as the "Potton Poisoner", was an English murderer convicted of the poisoning of her husband William Dazley. Dazley was suspected, but not tried, in the poisoning of her first husband Simeon Mead and their son Jonah Mead in 1840. The murder of William Dazley took place in Wrestlingworth, England.

Hannah Hanson Kinney was an American seamstress who was charged with the murder of her third husband, George Kinney in 1840. Arsenic, the alleged murder weapon, was found in Kinney's stomach during an autopsy. Though Kinney was acquitted, public records indicate that Kinney's second husband, Reverend Enoch W. Freeman, and Freeman's father, died of arsenic poisoning years earlier. Public consensus following Kinney's trial deemed her guilty, and she published an autobiography in 1841 to defend herself.

Arsenic poisoning cases

Arsenic poisoning, accidental or deliberate, has been implicated in the illness and death of a number of prominent people throughout history.

The Onion Pie Murder occurred on 7 January 1852 in Chiddingly. The crime was committed by Sarah Ann French who murdered her husband William French by administering a deadly dose of arsenic to his meal, an onion pie.


There are few comprehensive accounts in English.

In French:

Fictionalized accounts :