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October 07, 2007
Main street, village of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne. It was here that Dr. Petiot murdered for the first time.
Sixty-one years after Dr. Marcel Petiot, dubbed "Dr. Satan" by French newspapers, was guillotined for the murder of 26 people, he remains France's most prolific murderer.
"Gentlemen, don't look, this won't be very pretty." It was one minute before five on a spring morning in Paris. Marcel Petiot, a physician by profession, was living his last few minutes on earth. The men he had addressed those words to gave no indication that they had heard him. They had come to watch, to witness the guillotine make him pay for his crimes. They were wishing that they were elsewhere, anywhere, but not there in the front courtyard – the cour d'honneur or ceremonial courtyard, as it was known - of La Santè prison on Paris's Left Bank.
Some of the men had been on the prosecution team that had decided that "Dr. Satan," as the media had dubbed Petiot, was to die; others had been on his defense team. Present also were a couple of prison warders, a couple of uniformed policemen, the prison chaplain, and Paris's chief medical examiner and autopsy surgeon, Dr. Albert Paul. The latter would have to verify, after the guillotine's lethal caress, that the recipient had not survived. Dr. Paul would never tire of saying that he found having to do that such an unnecessary thing – as if anyone could survive the guillotine.
It was May 25, 1946: a Saturday morning. Dr. Petiot, 49, had stood trial at the Assize Court at the Palais de Justice for the murder of 27 people. He had been found guilty of the murder of 26. The police had thought, though, that he had murdered many more: 200 was the number they suggested. "To be on the safe side, I'll settle for 150," one of the police investigators had said.