The French Ripper
Death sometimes comes in strange ways. The victims of serial killers are people who often cannot predict their own demises. They have angered no person, they have committed no crime, and in many cases, it is only a bit of random bad luck that brought them to the attention of a killer.
Joseph Vacher, who was known as the French Ripper, later claimed to commit his acts of depravity in a fit of frenzy. He had always been a man who had little self-control, whose fits of violence and rage were difficult to predict. His chosen victims, if they were chosen at all, included a wide variety of people. There was no way for them to protect themselves or to even understand what made them the targets of this terrible man.
Vacher was born in 1869 in t a very poor French family. He was the fifteenth child, and one more mouth to feed in a desperate time. Despite his humble beginnings, however, he always thought that he was destined for great things. On that belief, he left his Catholic school to join the French army.
Despite his belief in his own destiny, he was not recognized for his work. In a fit of despair, he attempted to slice open his own throat. This suicide attempt was not successful, and it led to further problems in his chosen profession of soldiering.
When he was a soldier, he was infatuated with a young maid named Louise. When she turned down his advances, he entered a futile, frothing rage. When he was dismissed from his post, he came to Louise to beg her to be his wife. When she again refused, Vacher shot the young woman four times and turned the gun on himself.
Louise was lucky to survive, and Vacher again cheated death. This time, however, the shooting left him disfigured. He had shot himself twice in the head, and the result was a face that was paralyzed down one side. Later autopsies revealed that his brain was damaged and that there was a bullet that was lodged in his ear for the rest of his life.
Vacher considered himself to be disfigured, and this shaped the course of his life. He was taken to a mental institution, where he would stay for a year. At the end of the year, his doctors stated that he was completely cured of the dark impulses that had put him there. It wasn’t long after that when he started to kill.
Vacher became a wanderer after his release. He drifted from place to place, wearing a signature white rabbit fur hat. He earned enough money to eat by begging along the roads and by occasionally working on random farms. It was during this time that he began to kill.
Vacher’s murders began when he was around 25, just a year after his release from the mental institution. For the next three years, he would kill somewhere between 11 and 27 people. The numbers, gained from Vacher’s later testimony, were uncertain. He chose his victims without rhyme or reason. At the very least, he is known to have killed five young men, five teenage girls, and one woman.
In the isolated French countryside, it was easy for Vacher to find his victims alone and vulnerable. Most of them were shepherds, people who watched their flocks a long way from the eyes of others or from the city.
Though his victims might have been diverse, his method of killing them fell into a pattern. All of Vacher’s victims were stabbed to death. Many of them were disemboweled and sexually assaulted. The nature of the crimes got attention, but because they were so spread out and because Vacher was constantly on the move, he was not caught for some time.
In 1897, Vacher was finally caught. A woman that he attempted to assault beat him off and screamed for her husband and sons. Though the police knew that Vacher had committed the other murderers, there was no evidence. They might even have had to let him go before Vacher began to confess.
Vacher pled insanity when he was brought before the court. He said he had been driven mad by a dog bite, and that he was Joan of Arc returned to the world.
The court was unmoved, and he was sentenced to die by guillotine on the last day of 1898. Vacher was physically dragged to the guillotine, and then his head was cut off.