In November, 1902, news broke in the British press that a French “Jack the Ripper”, by the name of Henry Vidal, was about to go on trial for his crimes.
The Gloucester Echo, provided its readers with an account of what those crimes were in its edition of Tuesday, 4th November, 1902:-
THE FRENCH JACK THE RIPPER – A SERIES OF MURDERS
“Vidal, known as the Jack the Ripper of the South, was brought before the Alpes Maritimes Assize Court in Nice this week.
The prisoner, who murdered three women and attacked several others with intent to kill, has been awaiting trial since last December, and the doctors have had long consultations as to his sanity. They arrived at the conclusion that he was to be considered as a being of “attenuated responsibility.”
The man is about thirty-five years old, has had an adventurous life, and is the son of respectable parents. His mother keeps an hotel at Hyeres, near Cannes.
In court, he presented a dazed aspect, and looked around wildly from time to time. His hair was carefully brushed and oiled, and his moustaches were waxed. At one part of the indictment, he seemed overcome, and he covered his face with his hands.
HIS ATTACK ON JOSEPHINE MURENO
The first crime recorded of the prisoner was committed last November, at Nice.
He met a woman named Josephine Mureno, and went to her rooms.
As she was in the act of lighting a candle, Vidal caught her with one hand by the back of her hair and with the other stabbed her between the shoulders.
The woman shrieked for help, and Vidal ran away, leaving her half dead.
She was taken to hospital, and recovered.
HE ATTACKS ANOTHER VICTIM
A few days after that, Vidal was in Marseilles, where he met in a cafe a woman named Louise Guinard, who was wearing a good deal of mock or genuine jewellery at the time.
He went with her to her lodgings in the Rue Chevalier-Roze, and tried to kill her exactly as he had attempted to kill the woman at Nice.
He stabbed her, but she made a vigorous resistance, kicked Vidal in the stomach, and knocked him over, but he was soon up again. After having stabbed Guinard four times he ran away.
This woman, too, has recovered.
HE MURDERS A VICTIM
Now came a third victim, who was murdered outright.
Going from Marseilles to Toulon, Vidal met there a young woman named Antonia van Dusselin. He went also to her rooms, and the next day asked her to accompany him to Tamaris, where he knew the owner of a villa who would be sure to invite them to luncheon.
Both accordingly went by boat to Tamaris, and there Vidal, leading the woman along a lonely road, suddenly attacked her. This time his knife went home, and Antonia van Dusselin was soon a corpse.
To rifle her pockets and annex her rings and other jewels formed but the work of a moment, and Vidal then went back to Nice. There he pawned the dead woman’s trinkets and had a rest.
MORE BLOODY BUSINESS
Towards the middle of December, he was at his bloodthirsty business again.
One evening in that month, a compartment of a second-class carriage of a train which reached Ezc, the lovely mountain-side place between Nice and Monte Carlo, was found in a state of disorder and marked with blood. The door was open, and the station-master at once sent men along the line with lanterns.
They found near the railway by Beaulieu a man’s hat, a bloodstained knife, and, on the opposite side, the dead body of a young woman, whose throat was cut and the fingers of her left hand fearfully gashed.
The murdered woman was identified Gertrude Hersbrunner, of Berne, employed at a boot and shoe shop in Monte Carlo. She was a person of excellent character, and was returning from Nice, where she had been visiting one of her aunts. Her purse, watch, and chain had been taken by the murderer.
THE ARREST OF VIDAL
Vidal was arrested at Nice railway station towards the end of last December for endeavouring to travel without a ticket. In his possession were found articles stolen from an hotel, and there were incriminating bloodstains on his clothes. His face and hands were scratched, and, finally, the police found that they had in their grasp the notorious woman slayer.
Vidal is strongly suspected of having murdered another woman, who at one time was a servant to his mother, but in any case, he has enough to answer for in connection with what he has confessed and with what has been proved against him.
HIS COURT APPEARANCE
His cross-examination was conducted with difficulty, the prisoner refusing to give any definite answers to the presiding judge. He seemed to be very sore about the accusations of murdering for money, but he had to admit that he stole the purse, watch, and chain of the Swiss girl, Mdlle. Hersbrunncr.
As to the woman Van Dusselin, whom he murdered at Tamaris, near Toulon, he said that he had killed her just because she was a woman.
As the judge was describing various phases of the horrible crime, the prisoner writhed in his seat, and protested that the facts stated were wrong. Here he was reminded that he had already affirmed these facts to be true before a judge d’instruction, whereupon he replied that he had made so many wild statements that he had forgotten them.
Being closely pressed about the murder of the Swiss girl in the train near Eze, the prisoner stated that after he had killed her, he jumped out on the line with her body in his arms.
After this, several witnesses were called, including M. Orsatti, special police superintendent at the Nice station, who arrested Vidal, and the Court adjourned.”
MURDER TRIAL AT NICE – VIDAL’S CRIMES
The London Daily Telegraph and Courier, reported on his next appearance in court in its edition of Wednesday, 5th November, 1902:-
“At Nice was resumed today the trial of Henry Vidal, the Southern Jack the Ripper, accused of the murders of two women and of attempts to assassinate others.
Numerous witnesses were called, in addition to the police superintendent of the Nice Railway Station, and some others, who were heard yesterday.
Among these were the sister of the respectable Swiss girl, whom Vidal murdered in the train between Nice and Monte Carlo, Madame Delaplace, who employed Vidal’s victim, and the latter’s aunt, Madame Blazer.
Then came Josephine Moreno, whom Vidal tried to murder in her room at Nice, and who gave her evidence in Italian-French.
She was followed by two of her friends, who had been asked by Vidal to accompany him but had refused.
None of these persons threw any further light on the tragedies, which have been fully described in the indictment.
Today, the prisoner’s sister-in-law, Madame Rey, was called, but a letter was put in from her in which she stated that she was too agitated to appear.
LOUISE GUINARD’S TESTIMONY
Louise Guinard, whom Vidal tried to murder at Marseilles, was accordingly placed in the witness-box, or what stands for it in French courts of justice.
She gave her profession as that of a fancy-linen laundress, but it appears that she is not too busy in that line, as she is able to go about in cafes at night. Guinard deposed that she met the prisoner in the Maison Doree, of Marseilles on the 7th of last December. He offered her a drink, and then went out with her.
On the way to her house, he said that he was afraid of being recognised, so he wanted to call a cab.
Guinard objected, so he went with her to her residence.
There, he caught her by the neck, knocked her down on a lounge, and tried to stab her. He gave her several knife-thrusts in the hands, but she was able to resist, and she sent him a kick in the stomach which made him sprawl on the ground. He soon arose and stabbed her in the arms, but, as she was calling loudly for help, he ran away.
The woman distinctly identified the prisoner at the bar, and her evidence was endorsed by that of a waiter at the Marseilles Maison Doree, who saw her leave the establishment with Vidal.
LABOURING UNDER A DIRE DELUSION
The prisoner replied, when questioned by the judge about his attempt on the life of the women, that he had no remembrance of any such events as those described by Guinard and the waiter.
They were both, he thought, labouring under a dire delusion.
HE GAVE HIMSELF AWAY
Soon after, the prisoner gave himself away, for he admitted that, according to the testimony of another witness, he was in the Marseilles Maison Doree on the evening of Dec. 7th last, and that he asked for a hot brick for his feet.
A doctor, being called, deposed that the witness Guinard had a narrow escape from the murderer’s knife. She struggled successfully to preserve her breast at the expense of her hands and arms, which were fearfully gashed.
HIS ARRIVAL IN MARSEILLES
An hotel-keeper at L’Estaque, near Marseilles, deposed as to the arrival of Vidal in his establishment, where the prisoner received several letters and telegrams.
Then followed the depositions relative to the murder of Antonia van Dusselin, or Brusselin, at Tamaris, near Toulon.
A police superintendent stated that the girl received a terrible knife thrust, which pierced her coat collar and entered her neck. The murderer took her ring and keys, and plundered her rooms in Toulon.
Vidal admitted the murder of Antonia, but denied the robbery.
MORE WITNESSES GIVE EVIDENCE
The police official was followed by several of Antonia’s female friends, who could merely say that she went away with somebody like the prisoner from the Alsatian tavern at Toulon.
The court was next occupied with the Saint-Raphael charges against the prisoner.
Vidal, while in an hotel at Saint-Raphael, watched a newly-married couple, especially the woman, who was covered with jewellery. He hired a room quite close to theirs, but, fortunately for themselves, they left the hotel suddenly.
The landlord, being suspicious about Vidal’s movements, watched him; but, in spite of the vigilance exercised, the prisoner was able to plunder three rooms in the establishment.
THE PRISONER’S STATE OF MIND
Some evidence was now taken relative to Vidal’s doings in the French Soudan, and Professor Lacassagne was called on to testify as to the prisoner’s state of mind, and to give some ides as to the man’s responsibility for the bloodthirsty deeds of which he stands accused.
Dr. Lacassagne had made a long study of Vidal’s physical and mental peculiarities, and, in court today, he stated that the man’s responsibility was limited.
He was born after the death of his father, who died of a malignant lung disease. He had had a severe attack of typhoid when in the army, which left him like a skeleton, and he attempted to commit suicide several times.
Dr. Lacassagne, who had also examined Vacher, the Jack the Ripper of country girls, whom he murdered as they were minding cattle, said that there was no relation between the two cases. Vacher murdered through sheer love of bloodshed, whereas Vidal murdered for money.
In conclusion, the medical specialist gave it as his opinion that the prisoner was a degenerate specimen of humanity on the verge of imbecility.
The proceedings were then adjourned until tomorrow.”
THE FRENCH JACK THE RIPPER – DEATH SENTENCE PASSED
The last day of his trial was Wednesday, 5th November, 1902, and The Gloucester Echo reported on the proceeding and the verdict on Thursday, 6th November, 1902:-
On the resumption of the trial of Vidal at Nice today the Procurator of the Republic delivered his speech for the prosecution.
The law officer of the Government strongly objected to the “attenuated responsibility” theory of the medical men who had examined the mental and physical condition of the prisoner. The chief question before the Court was to decide if Vidal should pay with his head for the murders of the two women.
A MONSTER AND A PLAGUE ON SOCIETY
The man, in the opinion of the Public Prosecutor, was a monster, a plague of society, who was only prevented by chance from taking the lives of other persons besides those whom he had murdered.
As to his mental condition, the prosecutor admitted that the man had little intelligence.
He was mediocre in everything save crime, and that was proved by all the precautions he took to establish an alibi and to clear away all suspicion.
These crimes he committed in order to get money, as he was too lazy to do work of any kind, and he never remained long at any employment.
As to extenuating circumstances, the prosecutor told the jurors that they would look for them in vain.
In the crimes committed by the prisoner, there were only atrocious circumstances, which aggravated his guilt. His motives were utterly base and his methods hideous.
No excuses for clemency could be adduced from the characters of his victims. In the presence of pain and death, the unsullied woman and the others were equal.
Vidal, moreover, did not seek his victims among women of a certain class. He did not hesitate to murder the spotless and innocent Swiss girl, Gertrude Hersbrunner, whom he surprised in the train near Eze,
The prosecutor concluded by reminding the jurors that if they gave any verdict but that which he expected they would be failing in their duty, and they would cause throughout the whole country deep and painful astonishment.
Vidal, in fact, has found no one to give him any sympathy, except his lawyer, who, as in duty bound, has done his best for the man.
During the proceedings in the court, people in the street frequently shouted for Vidal’s head, and the vehicle which takes him from the Palais de Justice has to be carefully guarded by mounted gendarmes.
THE DEFENCE SUMS UP
After the strong speech for the prosecution, it was evident that Vidal had nothing to hope for.
This was made more manifest by the prisoner’s counsel, Maitre Tribes, who acknowledged at once the difficulties of his position, and who showed that he was fully aware of the impression made on the minds of the jurors by the speech of the Public Prosecutor, and especially by that part of it referring to the cases of Gertrude Hersbrunner, the Swiss shop woman of Monte Carlo, a respectable girl, and of the poor derelict of the Toulon night-houses who was lured out to Tamaris and there cruelly murdered.
Maitre Tribes, throughout his defence, tried to make the most of the theory of attenuated responsibility and rather wearied the Court by his long quotations from the medical reports on the mental condition of his client.
The jurors then retired, and were not long in deliberation.
They brought in a verdict of guilty this evening, and Vidal was condemned to the guillotine.”
HIS SENTENCE COMMUTED
However, as the following article, which appeared in The London Daily Telegraph and Courier on Saturday, 10th January, 1903, reported, the death sentence was commuted to one of life imprisonment:-
“The President of the Republic has commuted the death sentence of Vidal, known as the “Jack the Ripper of the South of France.”
The man is now to be sent to penal servitude for life.
The prisoner, when informed of the news today at Nice by his advocate, showed no emotion.
Vidal’s mother exerted herself a good deal to prevent the guillotining of her son, who, she asserts, is weak-witted.”