Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Standing timidly at the top of the stairs, Léa Papin watched her older sister attack their employers, Madame Lancelin and her daughter Genevieve with a carving knife. Christine Papin tore at their faces viciously, blood splattering her crisp white apron. Christine, panting wildly, suddenly looked up at her sister for a moment. Wordlessly, Léa came down the stairs, her maid uniform brushing the wooden steps as she descended. In the hands of Christine Papin, Genevieve was being stabbed repeatedly in the face and neck, her screams nearly obliterated by the blood gurgling out of her mouth. Christine had beaten Genevieve in the face severely with a hammer and was reaching for a pewter pitcher on the bottom step of the stairs.
“Tear her eyes out!” Christine Papin screamed hoarsely to her younger sister Léa, who was standing above the Madame. Léa grabbed the hammer on the floor and swung it at Madame Lancelin, who was trying to climb away on her hands and knees. Christine had already attacked the Madame, but the blunt force of the hammer had not rendered her unconscious yet. Léa mercilessly beat the Madame until she could no longer hold the heavy hammer in her hands. Leaning down, Léa used her fingers to gouge out the eyes of the Madame, who was convulsing and still trying to crawl away using her fingernails on the thick blood soaked carpet. Christine, a moment later, also gouged out the eyes of Genevieve in her last moments alive.
Christine and Léa Papin then surveyed the massacre, their breaths coming in quick gasps and heavy chokes. Their accomplishment lay before them, a gory mess of blood and tissue spread throughout the front room and the staircase. Christine closed her eyes for a moment and calmed her rapid breathing. Léa stood above the bodies in horror, her head shaking in disbelief, tears streaming down her cheeks, and felt her insides twist and harden with each gulp of air she took. Christine looked at her sister sentimentally, and touched her cheek with a bloody hand. The red sticky stain marred Léa’s pale white skin, but then, Léa was beautiful even with ashes or dirt on her face, Christine thought. Taking Léa’s trembling hand in hers, Christine stepped over the blood and led her sister to the kitchen. Christine washed her face and hands first with the hottest water she could stand, and then helped Léa wash. Avoiding the disarray at the bottom of the stairs, the two sisters climbed the stairs to the attic where Christine lit a single candle and set it in front of the small window. The two sisters took off their bloodied maid’s uniforms, and got into their small twin bed, pulling the covers up as far as they could.
Monsieur Rene Lancelin, a retired solicitor from Le Mans, anxiously awaited the arrival of his wife and daughter at his brother-in-law’s home. Madame Lancelin and Genevieve were never late, and Monsieur Lancelin was getting worried. Perhaps Madame had forgotten her earrings, or Genevieve had misplaced her hat. But the longer he waited, the less likely it was that either scenario had occurred. Monsieur Lancelin rushed to his three story home at 6 Rue Bruyere, finding all the lights out, except for a flickering candle in the attic. Upon trying the door, he found it locked from the inside. The Monsieur couldn’t find his keys, so he knocked several times. When no one answered the door, the Monsieur decided to call the police. Something was wrong. At the very least, even if his wife and daughter had already left for the dinner, the maids would have answered the door.
When the police arrived, they found that the only way into the house was to climb the back wall of the house and go through the back door. With the fuses blown in the home, the police had to maneuver their way through the house in the darkness. When they reached the staircase, the bodies of Madame Lancelin and Genevieve were found. Resetting the fuses, with the electric lights switched on, the police were able to see what exactly had happened to the two women. The two women’s faces were literally unrecognizable due to the astonishing blunt trauma forced upon them. Not only were their faces smashed in, the eyes of each woman had been crudely removed. The thighs and legs of the women had been mutilated, but most of the assault was directed at the faces of the victims. The police immediately believed a deranged man had attacked the women, for who else could have delivered the vicious blows that annihilated the women’s faces so badly? Noticing the blood that trailed up the stairs, the police began to follow the drops, step by step, all the way to the attic.
Prying the locked door open, the police found the two family maids nude and clutching each other. On the floor was a pile of maid uniforms, stained dark red, and the hammer that was used in the killings. The two women were motionless, but had a peculiar air about them. Their hair was disheveled, and the younger woman appeared to have been crying and looked genuinely frightened. The older woman had a darkness in her eyes, seeming to hold the younger woman protectively in her arms.
Christine and Léa Papin were brought to the police station for questioning. The two women, now wearing their nightgowns, confessed readily to the murders of Madame and Genevieve Lancelin, but claimed the killings were done in self defense. They each gave specific details on the killings and neither had a reason for why they had committed the crime. Christine, 27, appeared to be the dominant person in the relationship, often speaking for Léa or interrupting her during the interrogation. Léa, 21, was quiet and nervous while admitting her part in the murder, twirling her dark hair in her fingers and absently staring at the floor as she spoke.
The Lancelin murders were a fantastic horror to the French public. The murder of the Lancelin women was not only terribly brutal, but frightened the people who heard the story of the two maids that had bludgeoned their employers. The analysis of Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Lacan, prominent French analysts and philosophers, believed that the murder was a direct result of the working class struggle. Earning wages were very low, and employees were expected to work long hours, often without any time off. People became fearful of their hired help, for nobody knew if they would be the next slain by a deranged and angered maid or gardener.
Christine, Léa, and Emilia Papin were brought up south of Le Mans, France in the early 1900’s. After the marriage between Gustav and Clemence Papin disintegrated, Clemence was unable to care for her daughters and placed Christine and Emilia in orphanages. Though she visited them regularly, Christine was deeply affected by the abandonment of her mother. Léa was cared for by an uncle until she was 15. Emilia went on to become a nun, while Christine and Léa sought work as maids in Le Mans.
Though six years apart in age, Christine and Léa were close sisters, preferring to work together as often as possible. In 1926, they were employed by Monsieur Rene Lancelin at 6 Rue Bruyere in Le Mans. Christine was the cook, while Léa worked as the chambermaid. They lived in the attic of the house, sharing a small bed. The two women were regarded as honest, hardworking, and proper maids who kept to themselves and rarely spoke a word to their employers. Working 12-14 hours a day, six and a half days a week, Christine and Léa never complained and seemed to enjoy the fact that they could work together. The one half day they had off from work they spent visiting their mother. When alone in the attic, they made exquisite dresses with sewing techniques Christine presumably learned at the orphanage.
Madame Lancelin and her youngest unmarried daughter Genevieve were known to be viciously meticulous about the maid’s work, often wearing white gloves to check the dusting and sent typed letters about cooking methods to Christine. Though not much is known about the relationship between the Lancelin family and the Papin sisters, Christine was reported to be fiercely jealous of Genevieve, who on occasion, would attempt conversation with Léa. Christine considered Léa to be her one and only confidant, her beloved soul mate, and most of all, her property. Sexual relations between Christine and Léa were suspected by the Lancelin family, mainly because the two women spent so much time together in the attic and had an abnormal fondness for each other. Christine believed she had once been Léa’s husband in another life and treated Léa as her wife. Such was the dominance in the strange relationship that Léa found herself slipping deep into Christine’s personality.
After seven years at the Lancelin home, Léa had virtually no thoughts or ideas to distinct herself from Christine. The two sisters were remarkably alike, in that they shared the same facial structure, hairstyle, and body type. Christine and Léa were seldom seen as two people, for Christine took away any differing qualities Léa once had. In 1929, a disagreement over money between Christine and her mother occurred. Christine no longer visited her mother and refused Léa to go either. Clemence Papin still wrote to her daughters, but her letters were ignored. The two sisters now only went to mass or local parks on their half day off. Christine and Léa were now absolutely isolated except for the Lancelin family.
In late 1932, Christine’s ruthless obsession and odd affection towards Léa was coming to a head. Her rationality had all but gone, and she began having fits of rage directed at Léa for no apparent reason. Her kind character traits were dissolving and what was left was a woman senselessly abiding by the words and laws of a family she slowly began to abhor. Léa could do nothing but watch her sister deteriorate as they cooked and cleaned the Lancelin household day by day. Christine had lost contact with reality and had begun having auditory and visual hallucinations, now known as symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. Léa was prone to severe panic attacks when confronted with bouts of anxiety, which began to get worse while working with Christine, who controlled everything Léa did.
February 2, 1933 was a particularly cold day, with the wind blowing violently and temperatures freezing outside. Léa was cleaning upstairs, while Christine was ironing a blouse for the Madame on the bottom floor. The shadows in the house began to lengthen as the late afternoon sun went down, and soon it was completely dark outside. While the Madame and Genevieve were getting ready for dinner with the Monsieur, the iron blew the fuses in the house and all the electric lights went out. Stomping down the stairs, the Madame was livid with Christine, for this was the second time in the week the fuses had blown. The Madame confronted Christine, telling her that she would be punished severely and began criticizing her for her recent insolence. Christine listened to all of this while clutching the iron handle tight in her hand. The Madame continued belittling her until Christine opened her mouth and began screaming. She let go of the iron and lunged at the Madame, knocking her to the floor and beating her with her fists. Running to the kitchen, Christine grabbed the first thing she saw, which was a hammer and a carving knife. She came back to the staircase and struck the Madame in the head as hard as she could and watched her fall to the floor.
Genevieve heard the screaming and rushed down the stairs in the dark. She was greeted on the bottom step by a carving knife wielded by Christine, who slashed and stabbed as quickly as she could. Genevieve dropped to her knees, her outstretched hands reaching for her mother. At some point, Léa joined Christine and began bludgeoning the Madame. Using a hammer, a pewter pitcher, and a carving knife, the sisters beat the Madame and Genevieve for an agonizing thirty minutes. When finished, Christine and Léa cleaned themselves up and retired to the bedroom in the attic to await the arrival of the police.
After the arrest, Christine and Léa were placed in separate jails for eight months while the trial was being prepared. The police investigators worked tirelessly to find a purpose for the sadistic killings, but could find no evidence that the crime had been premeditated. It was as if both sisters had simply murdered their employers without incident. In July 1933, Christine’s sanity was rapidly fading. She paced in her cell endlessly and began crying out for Léa. Her behavior was unprecedented, for her words and body language expressed a sexual need for her sister. She crawled and ground her body on the floor, screaming and hollering as loud as she could for Léa. Eventually, she tried to gouge out her own eyes and was put in a straightjacket. The next day, she asked to see the police and amended her former statement that Léa had been involved in the killings. She claimed that she had acted alone, and that her episode the previous day had been almost exactly the same the day of the murder. Her statement suggested her violent manner in jail the night before was a direct correlation to that night in February. But Léa, intent on standing by Christine in court, insisted that she had committed murder at the Lancelin home. The police and the judge presiding over the case dismissed Christine’s admission on the grounds that Christine was just trying to set Léa free.
By September 1933, the Papin sisters were on trial for two counts of murder. Christine confessed to the murder of Genevieve, while Léa confessed to the murder of the Madame Lancelin. Psychiatrists found Christine and Léa responsible for the killings, although it seems probable that Christine was a paranoid schizophrenic and lacked personal accountability for her part in the murders. The defense suggested that the Papin sisters suffered from the disorder folie à deux, in which the paranoia of the dominant party is shared by the passive and obedient party. The homosexual and incestuous relationship between Christine and Léa was denied by the two, despite Monsieur Lancelin’s allegations and Christine’s wild and unmistakable fixation on Léa. Psychiatrist’s testimony in the case showed that the Papin family had an extensive history of mental illnesses. Many of their relatives had been committed to institutions and an uncle had suffered from epileptic seizures and other mental maladies. Gustav Papin, Christine and Léa’s father, was not only an alcoholic, but had raped his eldest daughter, Emilia, at the age of 9.
On the night of the murder, the two sisters were experiencing psychosomatic menstrual cycles; something that might have contributed to Christine’s manic and vicious temper when confronted by the Madame. The motive for the crime might have been that Christine, convinced the Lancelin family would dismiss her and Léa, felt that she had no choice but to murder the Madame and Genevieve. Christine’s extreme fear that she would be separated from Léa might have somehow allowed her to attack the Madame without first thinking of the consequences, for Christine and Léa had no money to flee from the Lancelin home. Holed up in the attic, just waiting for police, Christine might have felt like she was at a dead end. With average intelligence, Christine would have been the principal reason Léa, found to be of low intelligence, decided not to escape after the murders. Léa might have also been frightened of Christine’s overwhelming anger and submitted to her completely.
The jury’s deliberation for Christine and Léa Papin lasted only four minutes. The verdict for Christine was death by guillotine, while Léa was to serve ten years hard labor in prison. The dominance from Christine was seen as the one and only reason Léa committed the crime, thus, she was given a short and more lenient sentence. Christine fell to her knees in the courtroom upon hearing the verdict. Léa appealed against her sentence but was denied several months later. Since women were rarely given the death penalty in France in the 1930’s, Christine’s sentence was reduced to hard labor for life.
In Rennes prison, Christine’s health quickly began to decline. She refused to eat, and was unable to take care of herself. She continued to cry out for Léa incessantly, using explicit words and behavior to describe the suffering and anguish of being apart from her sister. Léa was briefly reunited with Christine, but did not recognize her, saying, “She is very nice, but she is not my sister.” In a public asylum in Rennes, Christine died in 1937 of Cachexia, known as a wasting disease from self-inflicted malnutrition. Her death was thought to be a direct result of being separated from Léa. In 1943, Léa was released from prison for good behavior after serving eight years. She went on to live with her estranged mother and worked as a maid in Nantes, fifty miles away under the name Marie.
In 1966, Léa was interviewed by a French journalist from France-Soir. She was described as a “ghost of the past that has burnt her until she is the color of ash.” Léa admitted that she saw vivid apparitions of Christine visiting her in her room. Léa was convinced that the spirit of Christine was living in paradise. She also kept a number of photos of Christine and a trunk containing all the dresses and memorabilia Christine and she had collected over the years they spent together in the Lancelin home. Léa Papin was widely thought to have died in 1982, but documentarian, Claude Ventura, (En Quete des Soeurs Papin), claimed in 2000 that he had found the real Léa Papin living in a hospice in France. She had suffered a stroke that rendered her speechless and partly paralyzed. This woman died on July 24, 2001 and was buried next to Clemence Papin in Ciemetiere de la Bouteillerie, in Nantes. The identity of the woman in the hospice was never proved, and the likeness of her was compared to photographs of the real Léa Papin showing little resemblance.