Monday Mystery: Murder on the Métro

In the spring of 1937, a young Frenchwoman in a green suit boarded a train at la Porte de Charenton, headed into Paris. She was the only passenger in the first-class carriage when the train departed at 6:26 pm.

The lady in the green suit was found a minute later, at the next station, a 9" dagger buried in her neck. She died en route to the hospital. She had never named her killer.

The case of Laetitia Toureaux is a quintessential locked-room mystery: She was alone when she boarded the train, and alone when she was found, and yet in between stops someone else had apparently entered her isolated car and committed a brutal murder.

There does not appear to have been much of an investigation, or at least not much of a competent one. The inspector in charge had a temper and was furious when he found a young gendarme pawing stuff at the scene with his bare hands, destroying fingerprints willy-nilly. He did manage to stop everyone before they got their mitts all over the victim's handbag, which contained little more than her makeup, keys, some small amount of money, and a letter about a rendezvous that evening. Her ID said she was (Yolande-)Laetitia Nourrisat Toureaux, and gave an address in Paris.

Toureaux, a young widow, proved to have an interesting life, which for the 1930s meant she was very pretty, and frequented dance halls of questionable repute. Unusually for an unsolved case, it seems to be widely known who dunnit, or at least who ordered it done: A shadowy political cabal called ''La Cagoule," or "the Hood", who spewed revolutionary -- usually fascist -- philosophy in random directions in between the wars. After losing her husband to tuberculosis, Toureaux apparently took up undercover police work in both the figurative and literal senses, taking a series of lovers from the revolutionaries until she could infiltrate La Cagoule itself.

I haven't seen anyone name a specific assassin, although supposedly someone confessed via anonymous letter to police in 1962, supposedly from a doctor in Perpignan. Translated from the Zig Zag article:
Mr Commissioner, I do not know if this letter will reach you. Perhaps you will toss it into the (waste)basket before you, as the work of a madman, and maybe it would be better off that way. No doubt you remember the assassination of Laetitia Toureaux, which took place in the Porte de Charonton, in the Métro, on the 16th of May 1937. I am the assassin of Laetitia Toureaux...
I could find only one source (from my lazy spot here at the desk, without spending any money) that gave the autopsy results for Toureaux. Translated from Paris mystérieux et insole (pp 255-6)
The next day, the 18th of March, Dr. Paul, the medical examiner, delivered the results of his practical autopsy of the cadaver. The report, in glacial prose, excluded the hypothesis of suicide, which was equivocal. The examiner's conclusions were formal: It was medically in-con-cie-va-ble. The report was without doubt on the subject: "Death was due to a knife blow given with extreme violence, which, striking to the right of the nape, transected the carotid and jugular, and damaged the spinal cord. The slice followed one direction from high to low, from right to left, and from back to front, and indicates that when Mme Tourneaux was struck, her head was turned to the left. The sharpness of the wound proves that there was no fight." 
The most interesting part to me, frankly, is that I've never heard of this before. I read about creepy unsolved crime things all the time and this my first encounter with the name. From what I can see of the Preface to Murder In The Métro, which is part of the Google Books preview, the authors are bound and determined to tell an exciting story. The last time I saw someone recount such dramatic resistance to their pawing through countless boxes of moldy government paperwork was in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, so you'll forgive me if I take some of their conspiracy theory cum grano salis.

Check the category label for more Monday Mysteries!


Brunelle, Gayle K & Finley-Croswhite, Anne. Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France. LSU Press, 2010
Lesbros, Dominique. Paris mysterieux et insolite. Editions de Borée, 2005.


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