“I am innocent!” declared Hélène, thereby proving her guilt.
This is a true crime twistery. You can read about it in Colin And Damon Wilson’s book, Written in Blood: A History of Forensic Detection. My account is taken from there.
The interesting thing about true crimes, as opposed to the sort made up by over-imaginative writers like me, is that more often than not they are disappointingly straightforward. The criminals are not fiendish geniuses of evil, hatching convoluted conundrums that cannot be fathomed by anyone except the most cunning of detectives. They are, generally, a rather stupid bunch who give themselves away in the most idiotic manner.
This is a case in point. If it’s the least twisty of my twisteries, my defence is that this is what actually happened.
The year is 1851. A Breton peasant by the name of Hélène Jegado was employed as a servant in the house of Professor Théophile Bidard of the University of Rennes. What Professor Bidard, and the other members of the household, did not know was that Hélène Jegado was a prolific poisoner, already responsible for the deaths of at least twenty three people, one of whom was her own sister.
As a domestic servant, she had access to arsenic, which was used as rat poison in those days. Being a bit of a nasty piece of work, Hélène saw no reason to limit her use of the substance to rodents.
I’ll let Wilson and Wilson take up the story:
“When a servant named Rosalie Sarrazin, of whom she was jealous, died in agony that July, an investigating magistrate accompanied police officers to the house. ‘I am innocent!’ declared Hélène without preamble. ‘Of what?’ asked the magistrate, ‘No one has accused you.’” (Wilson & Wilson, Written in Blood, Robinson 1989, p88.)
And so, by an unprompted declaration of innocence, she revealed her guilt. An investigation was launched into her past; the trail of death discovered. The amazing thing really is how she had managed to get away with so many murders, and for so long – her career as a murderer spanned twenty years.
That’s it. A real life twistery. I think I’ll go back to making them up.