"Dr. Satan"/Dr. Marcel Petiot: The Serial Killer Real-Life Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

By Jacob Shelton

(Getty Images)

Few people embodied the duality of man quite like Dr. Marcel Petiot, the French doctor who spent World War II robbing and murdering Jewish people under the auspices of helping them escape from the Nazis. This real-life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde spent his entire life deceiving people throughout Europe while making a small fortune.

Hardly A Model Soldier

It's hard to say if the young Marcel Petiot was evil from the moment he was born in 1897, but he never seemed to be all that good. He was a smart child but had behavioral problems in school. He was in an out of various primary schools as a child before finally finishing his studies in time to join the French army during World War I despite a previous charge of mail theft.

During the first World War, Petiot was hardly a model soldier. He was tried for stealing blankets issued by the military but found not guilty by reason of insanity before he was sent back to the front. It's not entirely clear what happened to Petiot after returning to battle, but he was discharged from the military for abnormal behavior, and while institutionalization was suggested, he was allowed to return to normal life.

(Associated Press)

Your Obedient Servant

In 1921, Petiot established a medical practice in Villaneuve, quickly won over the locals, and became a much-beloved figure in the community even after he became a suspect in the disappearance of Louise Delaveau, his lover and the daughter of one of his patients, five years later. An informant claimed to have seen the doctor place a large trunk in his car around the time she went missing, but Delaveau's body was never found, and police never solidly linked Petoit to her disappearance.

After he was cleared, Petiot ran for mayor and succeeded by hiring locals to disrupt the town debate, flustering his opponent so much that the mad doctor looked like the only appropriate candidate. He was removed from the position after embezzling the town's money in 1931, but a year later, he wound up on the town's council. He had to be removed from that position after city officials discovered he was stealing electricity from the town to power his home.

(Associated Press)

Paris, Je T'aime

Somehow, in the middle of all of this larceny and lover murder, Petiot found time to marry and have a child. Having squeezed Villaneuve dry, the family moved to Paris after Petiot's removal from the town council, where he set up a medical practice and found himself briefly institutionalized for threatening to bash in a police officer's face after he was caught stealing a book.

Even with the legal trouble that followed him from place to place, Petiot's patients adored him, and it's not hard to see why. He rode his bike 15 miles in the dark to treat poor patients on the outskirts of Paris, and he rarely billed anyone. His wife later claimed that if she hadn't done his bookkeeping, Petiot would never have sent out a bill.

Whether or not he billed for the narcotics that he gave out to addicts is another question altogether. Before France fell to the Nazis in 1940, Petiot was on the hook for prescribing dangerous narcotics, but the case never went to trial because the addicts who were set to testify against him disappeared. He was fined 2,400 francs, and only World War II showing up on France's doorstep stopped him from being investigated for the two disappearances.

(AGIP - Rue des Archives / Granger, NYC)

A Despicable Scheme

In 1940, Nazi-occupied France was a mix of German sympathizers and resistance fighters, and Petiot figured out that he could make a fortune by playing both sides. He claimed to be a member of the French resistance, painting himself as an admirable member of the public while he continued to sell narcotics and inviting Jews to his practice at 66 Rue Caumartin with the promise that he would help them escape France in exchange for 25,000 francs.

Once the fee was paid, Petiot told the hopeful refugees that they needed to be inoculated for their travels and then injected them with cyanide. After his victims were dead, he stole any valuables they had and dumped their bodies in the Seine. The Gestapo soon stepped up their presence on the streets of Paris, though, so Petiot began disposing of his victims with quicklime.

Eventually, the Nazis picked up Petiot's accomplices, who were essentially thugs that he paid to take care of the dirty work he didn't have time for. Suddenly, it was up to the harried doctor to take care of everything, and he started falling behind, which is dangerous when your work involves body disposal. After going out of town for a few days in March 1944, Petiot's neighbors noticed a horrible smell coming from his house and called the police under the suspicion that something was on fire. They found body parts strewn across the apartment, some bagged up but others just sitting around on the furniture. A quick search of the garage uncovered vats of quicklime and an incinerator stacked with limbs.

(Unknown author)

Conviction And Death

When Petiot returned home, he convinced the officers that the body parts had belonged to Nazis, but Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu was skeptical. He picked up everyone related to Petiot—his wife, his brother, and his former accomplices—charged them all with aiding and abetting a lunatic. Petiot stayed in hiding for a month, as the Invasion of Normandy took up much of everyone's concern, but he couldn't really fly under the radar. He ended up actually joining the French resistance and got so good at it that a French newspaper ran a profile on him, resulting in his identification and arrest at a train station in October 1944. He had 50 sets of identifying documents on him.

On March 19, 1946, Petiot went to trial on 135 criminal charges, where it was revealed that he made some $2 million (about $28 million today) from his murder-for-profit scheme. Petoit admitted to killing 27 people, though he may have been responsible for the deaths of more than 60, and he was convicted for 26. He was executed by guillotine on May 25, 1946, and his last words were said to be, "Gentlemen, I ask you not to look. This will not be very pretty."

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.