I think every major city has a famously unsolved crime, a case that the police just couldn’t crack. From the Black Dahlia in LA to Jack the Ripper in London, there is something about an unsolved murder that can capture the intrigue and fascination of a metropolis. Paris is no different.
On 16 May 1937 a well-dressed and respectable young woman named Laetitia Toureaux boarded a first class metro carriage at Porte Charenton station on the line 8. Though the rest of the train was busy, she was the only passenger travelling in first class. The train pulled away from the platform at 18.27 and arrived at the next station, Porte Dorée, less than two minutes later. When the doors opened passengers boarding the train discovered Toureaux dying, a knife in her neck and a pool of blood around her seat. She died minutes later without speaking a word.
Nobody saw the murderer.
Initial reports on the murder focussed on Toureaux’s respectable life. Widow to a successful French industrialist, she worked in a glue factory during the day and held down a second job at a music hall in the evenings. The press were fascinated by the mystery and the police were stumped.
Before long however, the tide began to turn as more details of Toureaux’s life emerged. She was Italian and frequented nightclubs where she was known to acquaintances as ‘Yolande’, not Laetitia. Suspicions raised further when it was discovered that the young murder victim had a third job, working in surveillance and as a courier for a private detective agency. Soon, investigations revealed that she was also working for a fourth employer, the far-right extremist group known as La Cagoule.
A complicated life by any standards.
La Cagoule were a group of dangerous extremists. They were extreme nationalists, anti-communist and anti-Semitic and it seemed that the complications ran even deeper for Laetitia. She was working within the Cagoule as a double agent, collecting information on their activities and reporting back to Italian Secret Services and, according to some sources, the French police.
It is supposed that Laetitia was murdered by the Cagoule when they uncovered her betrayals. They were a powerful group. The primary aim of La Cagoule (officially called the Comité Secret d’Action Révolutionnaire) was to overthrow the left-wing French government. It was created and supported by some of Paris’ wealthiest and most influential citizens, including the founder of cosmetics company L’Oreal, Eugene Schueller.
Nobody was ever charged with the murder of Laetitia Toureaux. No witnesses ever came forward. To this day it is referred to as a ‘perfect crime’.
Some members of the Cagoule were tried and imprisoned in 1948 for their 1936-1937 crime spree but the details of this particular crime were never ironed out.
There is much to read about Laetitia Toureaux and about the Cagoule. Books have been written and the original police report is 500 pages long.
The story took an usual twist in 1962 when police received a five-page letter that started with the words ‘I am the murderer of Laetitia Toureaux’. The case was reopened but again, nobody was charged.
A fascinating mystery for sure, but I always feel a bit sad when I think of Laetitia. An immigrant in Paris whose husband had died, working four jobs that put her in an incredibly dangerous position. What courage it must have taken to stand up against the likes of the Schueller and his band of fascists. What a risky and frightening short life she lived.
Laetitia Toureaux is buried with her mother in the Cimetiere de Thiais, just outside Paris. Her headstone names her as Yolande Toureaux.
This article by Annette Finley-Croswhite and Gayle K. Brunelle contains a lot more detail about Laetitia Toureaux’s final journey and her complex life. The article is based on the authors’ book on the subject, Murder in the Métro.
The Wikipedia entry for La Cagoule has lots of interesting information about the group’s activities.