Paris, the night of July 21-22, 1928. Barefoot, in a nightgown, holding her baby in her arms, Louise descends the stairs of her small building screaming. The janitor warned of gunshots, so he went out into the yard and intercepted it. The hairy Louise screams, like crazy, that she just killed her husband. At midnight the twentieth after midnight the building at 34 rue de Bagnolet, in the 20th arrondissement, was in full swing.
On the second floor, under the horrified gaze of the neighbors, Paul Grabbe lies in a pool of blood. Louise, resumed her frantic race toward the police station, still clinging to her little Popol, her two-and-a-half-year-old. Facing the supervisor, she removes at once the reasons for her action: the brutality of her drunken husband, unable to hold a job; The horror was when he attacked her a few hours before, but especially their son shivering with fever… As the story progresses, she goes back in time, to reveal the tragic story of a couple who are passionately in love and turned into hate. Mrs. Grappy, born in Landy, really saw all the colors with her Paul. Three years earlier, he had already made headlines when he revealed that after deserting him in 1915, he had lived for ten years disguised as a woman to escape justice! When the victim’s name is mentioned, a policeman said, “Nice bastard, misfortune.” Public opinion and the press would widely feel these same feelings: contempt for the victim, pity for the killer. Six months later, during the trial, defense attorney, Maurice Garson, will not hesitate to play this reversal of roles. What if the real victim was this 36-year-old woman prematurely? Isn’t she a loving mother, a patient and hardworking wife?
Desperate action or self-defense or premeditated?
True, at first glance, the facts push in favor of self-defense. So what happened on July 21? For a few days, Popol had measles. The cost of the doctor and medication further added to the stress in the household of this worker, whose meager budget is weighed down by her husband’s alcoholism. “Often, I purposely forgot to eat dinner, and preferred to buy his wine and have peace. But when there wasn’t enough–I calculate an average of five liters a day–there were always the same arguments and threats,” in the afternoon, after Returning from the infirmary, Louise ran out of money for the “daily red ration.” Enraged, Paul decides to put his alliance on a pawnshop to quench his thirst. At 10 p.m., after he came back dead drunk, he attacked Louise and the child. She panics. “I grabbed the revolver that was on the heater, by the headboard, and turned around, shooting my husband at nearly close range.”
The case seems simple, but investigators have found several conflicting evidence. First of all, they found an intact bullet, on the ground, next to the shot casings, as if Louise had let it slide while frantically loading the pistol. If I took the time to put the bullets in, was it self defense? That evening, an event rare enough to distinguish spirits, the neighbors heard neither arguing nor children crying. Moreover, Louise’s medical examination did not reveal any trace of violence, not even her age. Finally, the position of the body on the bed is that of the sleeping man. Didn’t Louise kill her husband in his sleep? Perhaps even premeditated…the hypothesis prompts the investigating judge to delve into the defendant’s past. Turns out her role within the extraordinary couple is complex to say the least.
Paul and Louise were born six months apart: he is in the Haute-Marne in 1891, and she is in Paris in 1892. From the moment they met, there was nothing trivial. They meet at the age of 17 studying violin and mandolin, an unlikely working-class pastime, especially for a boy. But after his school fails, Paul wants to fill in the gaps and rise above his own. He also started a promising career in the optics workshop. Louise, got her studies certificate, an achievement that proves abilities she wouldn’t have the chance to develop. After two years of their love at first sight, on November 9, 1911, they married. Eleven months later, Paul began his two-year military service. Louise returns to her mother’s house, but she rents a room where the couple meet in the evening with passion. A month before Skittles, their happiness is brutally interrupted by a declaration of war.
Rallyed on August 1, 1914, Paul was shot in the leg on the 31st. In November, barely appearing on the forehead, he injured the index finger of his right hand. Suspected of self-mutilation, he narrowly escaped court-martial thanks to the testimonies of his comrades. Amputated by two battalions, he spent six months convalescing with growing disgust at this senseless war, in which soldiers, for instance, were shot at the slightest degree of indiscipline. His command quickly demands his return, which he considers ridiculous since he can no longer pull the trigger on a weapon. He calls him the “Slacker” and threatens to shoot him, taking revenge on his commander who would rather leave him. And he does! He was declared missing on May 22, 1915, and was subject to the death penalty. Since then, he’s had one obsession: Hiding. Which of him or Louise had the idea of disguising him as a woman? We don’t know, but together they build the character of Cousin Susan Landgaard. Louise gets dressed and puts them on Paul, who is undergoing electric waxing to remove his facial hair. Given his short stature and delicate features, this transformation is amazing. To part with their acquaintance, they left the Batignol region for the 16th District.
Suzy, this seductive and dangerous “other”
Very cautious for the first few months, Paul began to get bored and allow himself more nightly walks. In the alleys of the Bois de Boulogne. There he discovers the seductive power of Suzy, the character he plays with more fun. He flirts, lives in slums and gradually slips into unbridled sexual practices, which he describes in detail in his memoirs. Suzy becomes the darling of shady Parisian nights, while Louise overworks herself to earn money to fund expensive beauty products. Always in love and under the influence, she accepts everything, including following him on his nefarious travels. He even asks her to take a rich lover, Baku, and she complies. “I was disgusted with this life, but I gave in to his desires. With this man, I never knew how to revolt.”
At the end of the war, due to the lack of amnesty for deserters, Paul remained Susie. But now the couple seems to be in love. The era favors homosexuality, fashionable fins. With her hair cut in the arena, Paul Suzy poses in front of the paparazzi and celebrates her successes. In 1925, after ten years of this existence, when the law finally pardoned fugitives, she was again Suzy Paul. Then his story spread to the editorial board. “Mademoiselle Suzanne, known as ‘the boy’, lives again in Paul Grappe, a fugitive … pardoned”: The title of Le Petit Parisien sums up well the internal breakdown of Paul’s identity as he slowly loses his footing. Distraught, he alternates between his two wardrobes, drinks more and more and unleashes Louise. When she becomes pregnant, doubt about paternity affects their already deteriorating relationship: is it Paul’s baby or Paco’s? To reassure her husband she says she still loves, she leaves the lover and plunges into a devastating face-to-face encounter that ends tragically on July 21, 1928.
In view of these elements, the investigating judge for some time considered Paco to be the partner of cold and manipulative Louise. But the investigation stops, and an event will lead to the establishment of Louise as a martyr: while imprisoned in Saint-Lazare prison, her son’s condition worsened. He was hospitalized with tuberculous meningitis, and he is dying. She is only allowed to see him once, three days before his death.
When her trial began on January 19, 1929, it was the grieving mother who presented herself to the jury. Dressed completely in black, she wears a jet necklace with the image of her inner child on it. “He killed me,” she said, “and made me suffer.” Abundant in this sense, his lawyer concludes his argument by saying: “This woman has nothing left but the memory of a monster and the image of her dead child. It is not the culprit, but the murderer Paul Grape! The jury is shocked and convinced, and will deliberate in a quarter of an hour: she is acquitted. Louise again, and began a secret second life that ended sixty-two years later, at the age of 89. For his part, didn’t Paul stop living long before his death, in 1914, the victim of a war that shattered many destinies?
picture: Louise during her trial in the dock. She was defended by Maurice Garson, a famous lawyer who will succeed in obtaining his client’s acquittal.
sources: National Archives, including the Maurice Garson Collection. La Garçonne et l’Assassin, by Fabrice Virgili and Daniel Voldmann (Editor of Payot, Coll. Petite Bibliothèque, 2011).
Look for Florence Montiel in France Blue In the podcast of the Sidony Punic program Wait a minute! She tells you “Landy’s case, you kill the transvestite fugitive”