Friday, July 16, 2010
When a nun decides to devote her life to the Lord, it is under the strictest and purest of hearts. Vowing poverty, chastity, and obedience, a nun dedicates her entire being to helping others, working earnestly for the church, and loving her fellow man unconditionally. By following these rules of conduct, a nun is seen as a compassionate and kindhearted individual, a beam of light to which any corrupt or dishonest person can reveal their crooked misdeeds. A nun, understanding her faults and sins as human nature, accepts her own errors publically and privately. She is the true essence of goodness in the world, forgiving and adoring even the vilest fiend as children of the Lord.
When Hélène Jégado took her vows as a nun, she was lying to everyone, including God. Hélène broke every rule in the good book, as it were, and showed herself to be the most monstrous French woman who donned a habit and rosary beads in the early 1800’s.
Born in Brittany, France in 1803, Hélène Jégado did not have the privilege of growing up with loving and caring parents. Her family consisted of illiterate and unwed peasants living off the streets and peddling for money. As a result, Hélène was brought up as an orphan in early childhood. The desertion of her family at such a young age distressed and lowered her self esteem enormously. Hélène felt she had done something wrong and had to pay a price for whatever she had done to leave her parentless. She eventually clung to every person who would have her company; her only wish was to be loved without question. After being torn from her sister at a very young age, Hélène not only felt despised, but cheated somehow by the world.
Hélène taught herself a great many things as she grew up in an orphanage, mostly learning how to successfully steal from the rich and poor alike. She also learned how to cook, which would help her immensely when searching for jobs as an adolescent. Wealthy homes were always in need of someone like Hélène, who could provide them with excellent cleaning services and cooking abilities.
Beginning her employment as a domestic servant, Hélène got her first taste of what a real family was like. The laughter and the coddling, and the joy of small children scampering through the house warmed her heart. Hélène yearned for the family she felt she deserved and should have had. Hélène spent many afternoons caring for the family, dreaming that they were her own. Finding the happiness and bliss in a little home almost too much to handle, Hélène realized that joining a nunnery would fit her lifestyle better. Who better than God to love her completely? He would never desert her, or leave her alone and frantic for affection.
Giving her life to the Lord sometime in the early 1820’s, Hélène immersed herself in the convent, becoming a model nun and saintly woman. She learned how to cook excellently with her fellow nuns, deciding that this would be her new family. Unfortunately, Hélène was a severe kleptomaniac, stealing from the till every chance she got. She even stole from the blind nuns, the avid churchgoers, and the priest himself. By committing her first deadly sin, greed, Hélène was playing a very dangerous game with her God. When her theft was discovered, she was dismissed from the convent, her head bowed and secretly smiling to herself. If this was what she could get away with, well then, there was so much more!
The second convent Hélène went to was unaware of her previous offense, and she quickly gave her vows again, learning to be more discrete about stealing this time. As a cook at the convent, Hélène concocted beautifully arranged and delicious meals, amazing her peers and the priest as well. While the convent residents were dining on Hélène’s meals, Hélène searched through their belongings for spare money, constantly checking the till for more to take.
But Hélène was not fulfilled with just money. She tried her hand at something much more evil. Sprinkling arsenic in her fantastic cooking, Hélène watched as her fellow nuns became violently ill with stomach cramps and vomiting. Hélène was yet again dismissed from the convent, the head nun believing Hélène had a hand in the sicknesses that was rapidly harming her nuns. Instead of writing up a report of the incident, Hélène was asked to leave the convent immediately. Hélène’s crime was the second deadly sin, wrath.
In 1833, Hélène moved on to work as a domestic cook for François Le Drogo in Guern. In the span of three months, seven members of the family took ill. When the typical symptoms of arsenic set in, it was believed by the visiting doctor that the family was suffering from the recent outbreak of cholera. Luckily for Hélène, cholera had very similar symptoms of arsenic poisoning, allowing Hélène to keep her job for a little longer than usual. Hélène further went to great lengths to assure her job security by attending to the needs of all the sick family members, treating them like her own flesh and blood. Perhaps it was a desperate need for her own longing to have a family of her own to attach herself to, but Hélène took great pleasure in helping the people she had purposefully poisoned.
Kleptomania ended her employment with François Le Drogo, her master finding missing jewelry and money often when Hélène was present. Hélène offered no explanation to her master when confronted with the absent belongings. She packed her bags and left Guern to seek other employment. Finding work wherever it was available, Hélène continued her usual and favorite deadly sins; greed and wrath. In the span of one decade, Hélène was responsible for the deaths of at least 23 people with arsenic poisoning, including her own sister. As she left each job, she grieved solemnly and convincingly, stating sadly, “Wherever I go, people die.“
In 1849, Hélène was working as a cook for a family in Rennes, France, successfully caring for them for eight years without using arsenic in any of her food preparations. It is possible Hélène finally found a family in which she could feel completely comfortable with, and became a loved household member, as she had always wished. Though she seemed truly devoted to the family, Hélène’s greed got the better of her, and she was caught stealing money from the master.
With another dismissal, Hélène decided to give the family one last perfect and scrumptious dinner, filled with arsenic. Collecting her belongings and clearing out all of her worldly possessions, Hélène suddenly noticed something very odd. There was talking and laughter coming from downstairs, a jolly little party in progress. With Hélène’s experience with arsenic, it took effect in several hours, and it was already the next morning. The family that had come to care a great deal for Hélène in the last eight years showed no signs of sickness whatsoever. Without any formal goodbye, Hélène left the home dumbstruck. Perhaps God had seen her evil doings and had ordered wellness and health for the family.
Attaining a job as a cook and domestic servant soon after her dismissal, Hélène began work for Theodore Biddard, a local university professor in Paris. The professor lived alone, with only two other servants as his companions. Although a slightly introverted and serious man, he was kind and good to his workers, affording them time to idly chat with one another and giving them special treats when they showed exemplary work. Hélène enjoyed working for the professor, but had issue with the two other servant girls, whom she felt were being favored more than she by the professor. Rose Tessier, a heavyset and jovial woman in her early thirties, charmed the professor unfairly, as thought by Hélène. She set to making a cake specifically for Rose, adding a large amount of arsenic to her concoction. If Rose was to go, she would get the full brunt of Hélène’s jealousy. Rose immediately fell ill after eating a piece of the cake, retiring to her room to privately anguish without disturbing the professor.
Hélène was constantly at Rose’s side as she grew sicker and sicker from the poison quickly consuming her body. Rose died in the night, leaving all of her money and jewelry free for the taking. Hélène cordially accepted everything as her own, stealing almost everything except for a few trinkets on the bureau. The professor was saddened by the loss of one of his servants, suggesting she have a proper burial at his own expense. In most ways, Hélène noticed, the professor was kinder than any of the priests she had known in her lifetime. Hélène vowed secretly to herself that she would not use arsenic in any of his food.
Days after Rose’s death, the other servant girl, Rosalie Sarrazin, became sick as well, complaining of the same symptoms that Rose had. Rosalie died the very night she ate the same cake as Rose. The professor, who had grown quite fond of his servants, became distraught over their sudden and quick deaths. He ordered autopsy’s done on both women, already suspicious of the seemingly deadly cake. When it was revealed that each woman had lethal amounts of arsenic in their systems, the professor sat shocked. How in the world had the arsenic gotten in the cake? Theodore Biddard, an intellectual man, understood right away that Hélène Jégado had made the cake and gave both women the cake without taking any for herself. In addition, Hélène had guarded the cake from the Biddard, telling him it was too sweet for him and contained nuts, which he was allergic to.
Arriving home with police, Biddard sought out Hélène, who was busy doing the wash, her arms soaked to the elbows with soap and bubbles. Hélène looked up at Biddard and the policemen, and quickly rinsed her hands. “What is the meaning of this? I have done nothing wrong,” Hélène barked without hesitation, “Rose made the cake, not I. Rose put something in the cake to hurt you, sir. I have done nothing wrong, sir, nothing at all.”
Hélène’s desperation was all the police needed to apprehend her. Without even a word from police, Hélène had inadvertently accused herself of the crime of poisoning. News spread quickly about Hélène Jégado, and her previous employers all felt a shiver when they realized their loved ones had died after dinner cooked by Hélène. Working all over northern France, Hélène had had countless employers, all of them suspecting her of murder. The trivial issue of stealing was disregarded and Hélène’s previous poisonings began to add up. It was suggested she had viciously murdered nearly 60 people in her twenty-odd years of employment.
Before the magistrate, Hélène denied any killings and said she was innocent even before details of the murders were exposed. First accused of 17 murders, including her sister’s, Hélène was charged with three murders and three attempted murders.
Found guilty in December 1851 to death by guillotine, Hélène Jégado spent her remaining time in a small cell reading her bible and constantly asking any passing guard or person of authority for clemency. It was no use, for Hélène’s crimes were thought to be so heinous, so treacherous and evil in nature, no person would ever see her fit to wander the streets alone again. What disturbed the public so dramatically was the fact that this horrible woman had been a nun- twice. Not only was she a thief, but also a murderer. By the good book, Hélène had trampled carelessly on two of God’s deadly sins, greed and wrath.
On February 26, 1852, at Champ-de-Mars in Rennes, France, snow filled the streets and came blustering down in thick flakes almost obliterating the sight of 49-year-old Hélène as she was led to the guillotine. The weather did not deter the hoards of people who came to see Hélène’s ultimate demise. They crowded the execution area, pushing for the best spot to see the beheading. The mercy God had offered Hélène early in life did not save her that fateful day as the blade of the guillotine fell from its high tower, severing Hélène Jégado’s head from her body. It is unknown if Hélène was the first and possibly only ex-nun to be beheaded, but it is largely probable that she was.