The Trial of Pierre-Antoine Lemire

Read here a gut-wrenching and surprising tale of poisoning and vomiting, the unapologetic attempted murder of one’s own parents plus thirteen innocent bystanders.

I recently came across a newspaper account of an 1848 trial concerning attempted murder, a copy of which can be found here. The article is in French, but below I present my English translation (with a lot of help from an online translator).




(Special correspondance of the Gazette of the Courts.)
President: Mr. Marais de Beauchamps.
Hearing: 25 November

A series of crimes, unprecedented perhaps in the criminal annals, brings to the benches of the Court of assises a young man of twenty-five years. According to the accusation, Lemire, after having conceived the frightful thought of taking both his father’s and his mother’s life, would not have shrunk from the frightful project of what he wanted to achieve by poisoning thirteen others at the same time. It is arsenic which would have been the instrument of death employed; but fortunately none of the victims has succumbed, and although the symptoms of poisoning were clearly manifested, at least it did not produce its terrible intended consequences.

The accused is introduced; his appearance indicates a well-off farmer; his physiognomy, which does not lack a certain distinction, is cold and without emotion.

At a quarter past ten, the bailiff announced the court.

Attorney General Treilhard co-sits the seat of the public prosecutor.

Maître Daviel is sitting on the defense bench.

To the usual questions, the accused declares himself to be named Pierre-Antoine Lemire, twenty-five years old, farmer at Foucarmont.

According to the indictment, the summary of the charges of the proceedings:

Towards the end of December, 1847, the commune of Villers-sous-Foucarmont saw itself consummated with a crime of which the conception revealed a profound degree of perversity and stupidity in its author. A man wanted to take the life of his father and mother, and to better hide his parricide hand, he did not fear exposing fifteen people to death. Thanks to God, the poisoning did not achieve its intended results, with funereal and irreparable consequences, for any of the fifteen victims, but the culprit must nonetheless submit to a severe account of human justice. The Lemire parents lived for a long time in the town of Villers-sous-Foucarmont, when in 1846, their only son Pierre Antoine Lemire married the young Boulanger. At the time of this marriage, Lemire Sr., of the Sun-Co farm, which he himself owned, yielded his farm to his son, and gave him a gift of this building, estimated at about 85,000 francs to pay certain debts and to pay to the Lemire parents, donors, an annual and lifetime annuity of 1,200 francs, which, however, was to be reduced to 400 francs. All the while they would continue to stay with their son.

The debts of the farm amounted at that time to about 34,000 francs. Lemire, who had not found in his father examples of good administration or even of good conduct, had early contracted habits of laziness and dissipation. In going through a book of expenditure kept by him from July 25, 1846 to June 15, 1848, we find no less than 2,000 francs paid in the meantime to various cafés, for open credits, without counting the consumption which he paid daily; so it is not long to resort to loans; the Sun-Co farm was mortgaged by Lemire, as it had been by his father. Soon the number of cracks was such that fixing them would have cost almost the value of the building. The products of the farm did not make it possible to pay for the interests of the sums due and the needs of a household where order and economy did not reign by far. Lemire was heading quickly for ruin.

Such was the position of this man when, eighteen months after his marriage, life together had become unbearable for Lemire and his parents. The parents made clear their intention to withdraw and put an end to the cohabitation; they rented from the widowed lady Merlier a house situated in the same town of Villers. Lemire, whose position was already so embarrassing that his notary had advised him to sell his property as the only means of escape from complete ruin, still saw, by his parents’ retreat, an increase of his expenses, as the annuity payable to his parents thusly increased from 400 to 1,200 francs per month, under the terms of the gift agreement. He was going to be obliged to serve them well. It was then that he conceived the horrible thought of extinguishing this lifetime rent of 1,200 francs by killing his father and mother. Then passed the events in the detail of which the accusation will enter.

On Saturday, December 18, 1847, Lemire’s mother, assisted by her servant and a woman by day, went about seven o’clock in the morning to make the bread. The three women kneaded the dough, which had been diluted with hot water brought from the kitchen of the farmhouse. They made fourteen loaves weighing five to six kilograms, and a few small pastries, apple pies, and pear pies. The whole was put in the oven around eleven o’clock. The servant Virginie Delahaye had also made a small cake that she cooked separately and that she ate around noon. Shortly after, she felt indisposed and had some vomiting. Towards half past nine, the Lemire parents, a woman Asselin, Casimir Asselin, his son, twelve years old, and according to witnesses, Lemire himself, ate apple pie. The woman Asselin, who had eaten a piece as big as a hand and as thick as a gros sous [a very large penny] is wide, felt almost immediately great pains in her stomach, vomited, and scarcely reached her house, her legs fainting beneath her. There she had several more vomitings, lay down, and suffered cruelly for the whole night. The young Asselin son, who ate a piece half the size of his mother’s, had the same symptoms. He was bedridden for two days; during which he felt a burning thirst and stomach contractions. Lemire Sr., after tasting, went to Foucarmont to bring a pie to the Rimbert couple, his friends. During this journey, he suffered so much that he could hardly return to his house. He was sick all night.

The Rimbert couple and his or her sister, Madame Bouvin, each ate a piece of this pie. In the evening all three experienced an indisposition and were seized with vomiting.

Lemire himself felt no discomfort. About four o’clock he set off for Foucarmont, accompanied by a Sieur Pierre Asselin, to whom the father had given two little pears pies, and who had eaten them. At Foucarmont, they spent the evening at Sir Vigneron’s café, where they drank coffee, eau-de-vie, a bottle of frontignan, and played billiards. On his return, Asselin experienced the same pains. He was sick all night: he did not sleep; the alvine excrement accompanied the vomiting. As for Lemire, with whom Asselin had gone to bed, he complained only of a few vague pains and headaches.

Two other people from the Lemire household, the servants Gantel and Balluet, experienced even more serious symptoms: Gantel, after having eaten two pies around five o’clock in the evening, and Balluet after eating, at about half-past seven, some baked the night before. Gautel, in excruciating pain, was writhing in his bed, and devoured by an unquenchable thirst, he rose at night to quench it at the horse’s trough. Balluet suffered horribly, and during the course of the night, he vomited blood and other matters.

The next morning, Sunday, the widow Delahaye, who had eaten only her little cake the night before, and feeling better after a painful night, tried to eat a pear pie. Almost immediately her vomiting began anew; she lost count of the incidents; she was forced to go to bed. Balluet and Gantel couldn’t think of eating breakfast. At nine o’clock, Lemire’s father, who had risen, though suffering, his wife, Lemire, the Sieur Sellier (a painter), and the Sieur Diseux, begin to breakfast. The Lemire parents ate pear pie, Diseux accepted a piece; Sellier took a smaller one; the latter two were indisposed all day. They experienced head and stomach pains, which lasted until the next day. His father almost immediately felt the same symptoms as the day before. He went to bed again.

Lemire’s mother suffered during mass of strong stomach pains, she scarcely had enough strength to return home. When she arrived, she took a broth; the vomitings began immediately.

Finally, the widow Louvard, who had also eaten pear pie before going to mass, was seized with the same pains and vomitings.

On Monday morning they sent for a doctor, who, recognizing the cause of this strange malady, hastened to fight the effects of poison, of which all testified the presence. The mayor of the town, immediately informed by the doctor, hastened to put in a safe place all that remained of bread and pastry cooked on Saturday morning. All the materials thus seized were subjected to chemical analysis, confided to MM. Girardin and Morin. The leavening, breads, pies, and pastry, analyzed separately, provided a quantity of arsenic such that the experts could cover several capsules and form a metal ring. Thus, there can be no doubt about the presence of arsenic in the flour used for bread on December 18th. First, the presence of poison in this flour can not be the result of a natural effect. The expert chemists declare it. Moreover, the flour used to make bread and pastry was obtained with wheat supplied by Lemire. The miller Maclard came, Thursday, December 16th, to bring the flour contained in a bag. Led by the daughter Virginie Delahaye, he emptied the bag into the kneading petrin¹, which he covered with his table; the empty sack was left in the oven; the cuttings and bran from the ground wheat were brought to the attic; part of the cuttings and bran was subjected to chemical analysis. There was no trace of arsenic.

The sack in which the flour had been brought contained a small quantity adhering to the canvas; it was collected, subjected to the same analysis; it was totally devoid of arsenic. Of course, when the miller Maclard emptied his sack of flour on Thursday, the 16th, in the kneading petrin, this flour contained no part of arsenic, however, two days later, this flour was poisoned: because the bread and the pastries were poisoned, because a piece of dough, kept for leavening, according to the custom, is also poisoned, because finally a small quantity of flour, removed from the kneading petrin, and set aside during the confection of bread, was subject to the same tests, and it also contained poison. Here is a well-established point: it is that on Thursday the 16th, the flour was not poisoned, but it was by Saturday morning. During this time, the flour remained in the kneading petrin, placed in the oven. This oven itself is built in a herbage adjoining the farm, 35 meters from the square courtyard, formed by the buildings; from the dwelling-house it is impossible to see the oven, so that it was easy to get into it; moreover, the key to this oven remained all day, not at the door, but hidden behind the brace of one of the windows, which suggests, first of all, that the person who mixed the arsenic into the flour contained in the kneading petrin, knew well where to find the key of the furnace, to be able to get into there; the person must live there.

When the examining magistrates went to the places where this poisoning had been perpetrated, a grave fact was noticed by them; it is because of all the persons of the household, one of whom could not eat pastries due to not being home, only two were not affected with the symptoms of poisoning, Lemire and his wife. Their conduct was examined, and if the magistrates did not succeed in establishing the complicity of the young wife, at least they have definitively established the guilt of the husband. The wife, Virginie Lemire, who, being instructed by her husband of his execrable plans, wished to escape the obligation of eating pastry, or perhaps her husband, without informing her, removed the obligation by forcing her to leave; the Lemire woman left on Saturday morning, the 18th, for Neufchâtel. There she found her mother, the Boulanger woman, with whom she returned to Caule, dwelling of the Boullanger (sic) couple. She stayed there until Monday morning; she kept herself away from home for two days, contrary to her habit. She did not eat any of the poisonous pastries, and therefore experienced none of the symptoms that other people experienced.

As for Lemire, it was impossible for him to be absent, like his wife, during these two days; it would have been to surrender himself to the hands of justice. He had to stay; but, staying beside his father and his mother, was it not easy for him to avoid a danger he knew about? He remained so.

The magistrates’ examination follows Lemire’s steps and footsteps from Saturday morning on, to determine whether or not he ate baked goods or showed symptoms of poisoning. At half-past three, there was the first meal in which the apple pies were eaten; Lemire pretended to have eaten; later he only said he had eaten a small amount. The witnesses of this meal do not dare to affirm to have seen him eating pie; the girl Dalahaye saw him eating, but she does not know if it was pie or anything; his own account alone affirms it, but we shall soon surprise him in flagrant contradiction, and we shall see what degree of confidence his statements deserve. The accusation does not hesitate to say that he did not eat, because he was not sick during this first day. He does not contradict this point.

In the evening, at supper, there was still bread from the previous batch, so that except for Belluet, as we have said, no one ate new bread or pastries. After supper, Lemire went to bed. He shared a bed with the Sieur Pierre Asselin. The latter suffered a lot and vomited frequently. Lemire felt nothing, but prudence forced him to complain, he complained of pain in his head. As for vomiting, he had none.

On Sunday morning Lemire was to go and get his wife from Caule, at the Boulanger’s house; his father wants to give him an apple pie to take to the Boulanger family, he hesitates to leave and spends the day without going to Caule; no doubt it was because he saw no reason to go and kill in this new house.

Instead of going to get his wife, Lemire leaves for Foucarmont, where his coffee habits called him two, three, and even four times a day; he sees the couple Rimbert, to whom his father had given the day before an apple tart; he inquires what has happened at home; he tells them that everyone in his house has been sick. “I myself,” he adds, “have experienced vomiting.” Why this lie, if not to put oneself in the public eye on the same rank as the other victims, and to remove suspicions?

Lunch time is coming. Lemire, his father, Sellier, and Deseux are present. The latter thinks he has seen Lemire eat pie, but the witness Sellier affirms, in two categorical depositions, that he has eaten no kind of pastries.

So, up to this time, Lemire has not yet been seen, in a positive way, eating pastries. He is always gay, he seems to be in his ordinary state, he drinks brandy as he is used to; lastly, nothing in him conveys the slightest indisposition. It is the witness Sellier who declares it.

He leaves for the hunt. He returns at dinner time. They sit down at the table; they still eat the bread of the previous batch. After the soup, the mother of the accused takes to vomiting. She goes for the first time in the yard, a second time in the garden. Lemire makes himself absent, no one accompanies him. When he returns, he declares that he too has just vomited, but nobody has seen him yet. His mother, in her statement of the 1st of January, 1848, says that she did not see her son vomit; only that he claimed to have been sick. Then, seven months later, on the 17th of June, she declares, in the most positive manner, that she saw him vomit in the garden, just as she did, after having eaten the soup.

This second statement, so contrary to the first, does not need to be discussed, for intention that it dictates is obvious. So, of the five or six people present, only his mother would have seen him. Evidence will not fail to prove that she has lied, and that Lemire has not taken any vomiting during dinner.

The first evidence is found in the answers of the servant Balluet. This man had doubtless been coached when, on the 17th of January, 1848, he declared that he had seen Lemire vomit in the courtyard after dinner. In this deposition he repeats it a second time; he specifies more: his mother and the wife Louvard accompanied him; then, in a hurry of questions, he fears compromising himself and ends up declaring that he was mistaken when he declared that he had seen Lemire vomit Sunday at the time of the dinner. He adds that he saw him sick at no point in the day. This is not the only evidence. The dinner was over for some time when a Monsieur Mouchaux, a tailor at Foucarmont, arrived at Lemire’s house; he was hired to dine, he did not eat new bread. While he was dining alone, Lemire went out, he was about half an hour away; when he returned he pretended that he had just vomited, he took some tea, ate some hard bread and a raw apple. Mouchaux remained there for three whole hours; he declares that Lemire seemed to him to be perfectly in his ordinary state, he had all his gaiety, he played a game of address; he drank two glasses of brandy and left with a Sieur Isidore Asselin for Foucarmont, about four o’clock. From four o’clock to seven o’clock Lemire remained at the Café Vigneron, took some coffee, several glasses of brandy, some liqueurs, and played billiards. None of the witnesses noticed any sign of indisposition, although he had told everyone what had happened at home, adding that he himself had experienced vomiting. And in this connection it should be noted that if the accused had been [indisposed because of the poison], it would have been absolutely impossible to digest raw vegetables, drink coffee and brandy in such a large quantity. It was, indeed, a singular diet for a man who felt prey to vomiting.

Lemire finally returns from Foucarmont, accompanied only by Isidore Asselin. It was supper time. Lemire asks for hard bread; he is told that there is no more. Lemire was for a moment frozen, but, in a leap of faith³, he took a freshly baked loaf and cut a piece of it. Isidore Asselin then did the same. Asselin ate his bread and was sick all night; he vomited once, but was better the next day. As for Lemire, it is here that he is betraying himself in a fatal manner; he has just taken a piece of new bread; his friend eats his; Lemire, on the other hand, pretends to carry one or two pieces to his mouth and hastens to throw the rest to his dog. This fact was serious; it had to be explained. If he gave his bread to the dog, it is, he says, because his servant Balluet advised him by saying that he himself had been sick after having eaten this same bread. But, on this important point, it is contradicted in the most formal way by Balluet, who claims to have said nothing of the like, and to have not yet suspected at that moment that the new bread was the cause of his pains. Thus the explanation he invented to save himself will serve only to ruin him.

However, there is no longer any old bread. Lemire is going to be obliged, like all the people of the house, to eat poisoned bread; he understands the necessity of not pushing further his attempt at poisoning without exposing himself to the common danger. Then, under the pretext of inquiring whether the cause of the sickness that reigns in the household for two days does not lie in the bread, he actually gives them to his dogs. They will be sick, he thought, and this experience will suffice for everyone to stop eating this bread. Having thus provided for his own safety for the morrow, Lemire went to bed; was he sick during that night from Sunday to Monday? He claims it, and his mother affirms it with him. He declared at first to have vomited twice; later, he claimed that he had been taken only once for vomiting. His mother got up, he said; she came to find him and emptied the vessel that contained the discarded material. Lady Lemire makes a similar statement.

How then to explain the deposition of the wife of the accused, who, too, claims to have emptied this vase on Monday morning, about eleven o’clock, on her return from Caule? These contradictions cannot be explained except in the unwitting zeal that these two women displayed throughout the course of the examination to save their son and their husband; but these contradictions establish in a certain way that neither of these two women has emptied the vase in question, because this care was not necessary, because finally Lemire had not been ill during the night from Sunday to Monday; and what proves it is that on Monday morning, at about seven o’clock, Lemire went to pray to M. Lefevre, a doctor at Foucarmont, to come and take care of the men of the house. The daughter Cressent, a servant of M. Lefebvre, received Lemire, who did not appear to her to be uneasy at all; he had, she said, his ordinary manner. The doctor immediately went to see Lemire’s son, who did not appear to him any more to have been ill, who did not claim to him [to have been ill], and who in no way asked for his care.

Thus, while in the Lemire house fifteen people were eating pastries or freshly baked bread, and had all the symptoms of poisoning with arsenic, only two people felt nothing: the first is Lemire’s wife who was cautiously absent; the second is Lemire himself, Lemire, who, obliged to stay, has never been seen, except by his mother, eating pastries or bread; Lemire, who has never been seen prey to vomiting, except by his mother; Lemire, finally, on the figure or in the attitude of whom no one can see the least trace of indisposition or suffering.

All of these points combine to accuse this man. The care he takes to send away his wife and leave her at Caule; the care he takes to avoid eating poisoned food; the special exception the poison makes for him; his lies in his answers; his contradictions; the awkward zeal with which his mother defends him, his mother who was always so deplorably weak for him; everything, until then a paternal curse, which has already inflicted on him an early expiation.

The investigation appeared to have taken a recess; Lemire was still at liberty; Lemire’s father, who had not been mistaken about the truth in this affair, had not yet forgiven his son. Often in quarrels caused by their inherent drunkenness, the father had treated his son as poisoner in the presence of all his servants. Another time, in the public square of the village, in the presence of all the inhabitants assembled for the planting of the tree of liberty, the father, in a discussion, had thrown in his son’s face the word scoundrel, adding that for a long time he had deserved the scaffold. These facts, collected by the examination, are not heard [in court, from the father] to corroborate in a solid way the prosecution’s narrative. It is in vain that the father denies them today. One can not doubt [Lemire’s guilt] simply because of the father’s present denials, the motive of which will escape no one, and the formal declarations of many witnesses, notably the servant Balluet; it is therefore in vain that the Lemire family has sought to mislead justice by directing its suspicions on a Dubuc girl; a former servant of Lemire, and who for the last ten years has had only good relations with them; Lemire’s father sometimes came to their house to take some wine; he borrowed money from them, even the smallest sums.

According to the Lemire family, the Dubuc daughter would, by this poisoning, have sought revenge for the fact that her father had rented out the house she inhabited; but besides the fact that this girl is declared by Merlier, sister of Lemire’s father, incapable of bad thought, it is still certain that this girl could renew her lease, and that she did not want it. This system of delinquency thus falls before what is not only odious, but also improbable.

Accordingly, Pierre Lemire is accused: firstly, to have voluntarily, on December 18, 1847, in Villers-sous-Foucarmont, by the effect of substances that can give death, attempted to take the life of Sieur Antoine Lemire and Dame Marguerite-Emilie Cahingt, with the circumstance that the said Lemire husband and wife are his legitimate father and mother; secondly, to have voluntarily, at the same time and at the same place, by the effect of substances which may give death, attempted to take the life of 1° Virginie Delahaye, 2° Balluet, 3° Gantel, 4° the widow Louvard, 5° Diseux, 6° the Asselin woman, 7° Casimir Asselin, 8° Pierre Asselin, 9° Isidore Asselin, 10° Sellier; 11° Rimbert, 12° the woman Rimbert, 13° and the widow Beuvin; crimes provided for and punished by art. 301, 302, and 299 of the Penal Code, bearing punitive and infamous penalties.

We call witnesses. Eighteen are called to charge and two discharge. The President then proceeds to the examination of the accused.

Mr. Chairman: Accused, stand up. When were you married?
A. July 4th, 1846.

Q. Did not your father and your mother give you the property you occupy, the responsibility of paying the What debts would it take, and give them a lifetime annuity of 400 francs, which would amount to 1,200 if they cease to live with you?
A. Yes, Sir.

Q. How big were the debts you have paid?
A. I do not know.

Q. Have not you borrowed for personal debts?
A. I do not remember.

Q. At the time you were prosecuted for the crime that brings you to these benches, were you going to cease your living arrangement with your father and mother?
A. Yes, Sir.

Q. Why were you going to separate?
A. Because my father had found a house to rent.

Q. Yes, but he had to have a motive other than that one?
A. This separation was caused by my father’s violent character.

Q. You say that you do not know the number of the engagements contracted by you and the loans that you have made; can not you tell us if, last December, your resources were not nearly exhausted?
A. No, Sir. I still had twenty thousand francs.

Q. The departure of your relations would oblige you to serve them the life annuity of 1,200 francs; Were you in a position to give them this annuity?
A. Yes, Sir; I had 20,000 francs left, minus the service of the rent.

Q. You have been reproached for your coffee habits, and especially an expense of more than 2,000 francs in a single café.
A. I went to the café, but did not spend that amount; I had to pay the cafeteria for loans of money.

Q. Were you not a pharmacy student at Mr. Thibaut’s, and then, on the occasion of the unfaithfulness with which you were reproached, did you not pretend to poison yourself with white powder, that you would have wanted to pass for arsenic, and which, in reality, was only sedlitz powder?
A. Yes, Sir, it’s true.

Mr. Chairman: Let’s get to the facts of the prosecution.

Q. On the 18th of December, your wife went to Neufchâtel: was that planned in advance?
A. Yes, Sir.

Q. Did you go to the oven on December 18th?
A. No, Sir.

Q. That day, the 18th of December, had not, what are called bowls of pills² in the country, been cooked? Did you eat some?
A. Yes, Sir.

Q. As much as your father, as your mother?
A. No, Sir.

Q. Why?
A. Usually, I eat little.

Q. Were you indisposed?
A. I felt some pains in the evening.

Q. Did you tell anyone?
A. Yes, Sir, I talked about it over coffee.

Q. The next day Sunday, what did you do?
A. I ate a ball in the morning, about seven or eight, and went hunting.

Q. Were you indisposed?
A. Yes, Sir.

Q. At what time did you feel unwell?
A. Around ten o’clock.

Q. Did you vomit?
A. Yes.

Q. Did anyone see you? Did you tell anyone?
A. No.

Q. Did you attend dinner?
A. Yes, Sir.

Q. Did you eat like everyone else?
A. I ate only soup.

Q. Why?
A. I went out immediately to vomit.

Q. Were you seen?
A. No.

Q. What became of you next?
A. I went to sleep.

Q. How long did you stay in the dining room?
A. About half an hour.

Q. How long did you stay in bed?
A. I stayed until half past one; we had dinner at noon.

Q. In the evening, did you eat?
A. Yes.

Q. Were you alone?
A. I was with Anselin.

Q. Did you eat freshly baked bread?
A. Yes.

Q. How much new bread did you eat?
A. I do not know well; a little piece.

Q. Did not you throw the rest to your dogs?
A. Yes.

Q. Why?
A. Because Balluet told me that it could hurt me, that he had been sick from eating it.

Mr. President: But Balluet said positively that no notice of this kind was given to you; and then, as he said that in front of the examining magistrate, you were wrong.
A. It was because it made me nervous to see myself deny it when I was accused.

Q. But if what you say is true, why would Balluet contradict you? A. I can not understand.

Q. During the night, were you sick?
A. Yes, Sir, I vomited twice.

Q. It appears from the investigation that your father has reproached you very seriously on several occasions and accused you of having poisoned him.
A. He was drunk, and when he’s drunk, he does not know what he’s saying.

Q. Did he reproach you with the servants?
A. I do not know if the servants were there.

Mr. Chair: Sit down. Bailiff, call the first witness.

Mr. Troûde, notary at Foucarmont, reports on the position of fortune of the accused; his father gave him a farm worth 80,000 francs, about 25,000 debts he had to pay; and a rent of 1,200 francs for the benefit of the father and mother. Lemire borrowed 35,000 francs to pay the debts on the building and his personal debts. Last May, he sold this building, and on the sale price he had about 12,000 net francs left.

M. Lefebvre, doctor at Foucarmont, and uncle by marriage of the accused, was called on December 20 to see the Lemire family: everyone complained of vomiting and bowel pains. The doctor suspected the insertion of toxic substances: he made the mayor give warning; the examining magistrate arrived, and the justice made a seizure.

Q. What is the reputation of the father and mother of the accused?
A. They are excellent; they are very good people.

Q. Does not the son have dissipation habits?
A. Unfortunately, yes.

Q. What is his character?
A. He is a young man, very soft, but very dizzy, very light, very playful. He never does anything to further his life; he goes so long as he has money in his pocket.

Q. In the country, has public opinion spoken out about the crime?
A. Public opinion has spoken in the sense of the negation of the guilt of the young man (Movement).

Q. This is your personal opinion?
A. Yes, Sir.

Messrs. Girardin and Morin, chemists, who did the analysis bread and cakes remaining at Lemire’s home; both declare that there is no doubt in their minds about the presence of arsenic in considerable quantity. They also did the analysis of the flour in the bag that had been used to make bread and cakes, but they found no arsenic, which proves that that which they had found had to have been put in during preparation.

The statements of the other witnesses did not offer any interest; only they tend to detract from the charges that the investigation had collected against the accused. The witnesses are unanimous in stating that Lemire himself had eaten poisonous cakes and bread, which, like all those at home, would have been the result of the poisoning. In the country, according to the witnesses, they do not believe in the guilt of the accused.

In the presence of these statements, the attorney general Treilhard thought it his duty, in his loyalty, to abandon the accusation, and to admit that it was not possible to condemn Lemire.

After a few keenly felt observations of Maître Daviel and the summary of the president, the jury enters its chamber for deliberations; and they return soon with a verdict of acquittal.

The hearing is adjourned at four o’clock.

What was my interest in this story? About four months before this poisoning occurred, Pierre-Antoine Lemire, the accused, had a son named Antoine-Edouard Lemire. This means that the young wife, Virginie Boulanger, probably took this child with her when she fled to Neufchâtel and then Caule to see her parents. Although the article doesn’t mention it, she would have been keeping both herself and her child safe from the poisoning. (While on that topic, I appreciated that the prosecution allowed for the possibility that she didn’t know about her husband’s intention to poison his parents. After all, women were not legally allowed to do as they please at that time.)

The son, Antoine-Edouard Lemire, would go on to marry a woman named Elisabeth Berthe Loupia, who would leave him a widower by 1884. That year, he married a woman named Françoise Ridley Courtenay. Françoise had been married to a man named Philippe Léopold Joseph Désire Leclercq, but was widowed in 1881. She was the second daughter of Louise Patience Ridley and Charles François Courtenay, my third great-grandparents. Imagine my surprise to find that my third great-aunt married a man who’s father was on trial for trying to kill his parents, poisoning fifteen people in the process. And this wasn’t the only trial concerning the family in 1848. That same year Charles François’ older brother was accused (and later convicted) of insurgency during the July revolution. He had pretended to be a socialist, fighting alongside and even leading them, killing several national guardsmen along with his son.

As a reader of this account of Pierre-Antoine Lemire’s trial, I was shocked by his actions, his denial of his complicity, and his lack of remorse. I was appalled that he ended up going free and that all of the witnesses decided not to testify against him.

¹A petrin is a kind of raised wooden box in which dough was stored for rising. Afterwards, the dough would be placed on top of the box for kneading.

²Probably the hardest phrase for me to translate in this article was “Des boules, des bouloches,” which literally translates to “bowls of pills.” However, “boule” could also translate to “ball,” and “bouloches” could translate to “pillings.” I’m still not sure what this means, but my best guess is that a bunch of loaves of bread in a basket looks something like a bowl full of pills. It may have only been used in a very small region.

³Probably the second hardest phrase for me to translate in this article was “payant d’audace.” The literal translation is “paying daring,” but that isn’t something we’d say in English. It appears that the phrase is at least a little bit antiquated, so it wasn’t easy to find a good equivalent in English. The examples I found seemed to insinuate that a lot of luck, or hopefulness for luck, was involved. This distinguishes it from the more common phrase “avec audace,” which simply means “boldly” or “daringly.” “Payant d’audace,” on the other hand, is something one does when they’re unsure of what to do — actually quite the opposite of boldness. I remembered a way in which I’ve tricked myself to jump off of a cliff into water. It’s a line of reasoning like this: I want to jump off of this cliff into water, but I’m scared to do it. I don’t think that there’s any good reason not to do it, such as a high chance of injury. So, I wish that I would just jump. Once I’ve jumped, there’s no way to back out of it. So I jump! I wondered if there’s a concise phrase for that, and it seemed like a “leap of faith” would work pretty well.

Feel free to ask me about modeling & simulation, genetic genealogy, or genealogical research. And make sure to check out these ranges of shared DNA percentages or shared centiMorgans, which are the only published values that match peer-reviewed standard deviations. That model was also used to make a very accurate relationship prediction tool. Or, try a calculator that lets you find the amount of an ancestor’s DNA you have when combining multiple kits.

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