Born in Auxerre, France, on January 17, 1897, Marcel André Henri Félix Petiot was dubbed “Doctor Satan” by the press because he used his position and authority as a physician to prey upon people who were to desperate to flee Nazi-occupied Europe. However, long before he became one of France’s most notorious serial killers, Petiot — who was also called the “Butcher of Paris” by the media — was convicted of selling drugs on France’s black market during World War I, indicating he had no qualms about profiting from the chaos of war.

He Served In World War I

Petiot had a troubled childhood: he was reportedly thrown out of school multiple times and diagnosed with mental health issues in his late teens. In the midst of World War I, 19-year-old Petiot joined the French Army in January 1916, and the following year he was wounded during battle and sent to multiple medical centers for physical and psychological treatment. During this time, he was arrested and sent to jail for stealing drugs, army supplies, and his fellow patients’ possessions. Following his release from jail, he went to a psychiatric hospital where he was diagnosed with multiple psychiatric issues, but Petiot was sent back to the front lines in June 1918. However, less than a month after he was returned to the war, Petiot was injured, which eventually lead to a discharge from the French Army with a disability pension.

He Attended Medical School

After Petiot was discharged from the military, he attended medical school, completing his degree in just eight months because of an accelerated program designed to help veterans get formal educations. After earning his degree in December 1921, Petiot moved to Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, a city in north-central France, where he began treating patients, building his practice by offering questionable — and sometimes illegal — services.

He May Have Murdered a Woman After She Became Pregnant With His Child

Experts believe Petiot committed his first murder in May 1926, when Louise Delaveau — the granddaughter of one the 29-year-old doctor’s patients — went missing. Petiot had been having a clandestine relationship with the young woman, and not long after Delaveau vanished, a headless female corpse was pulled from a nearby river. While the body was never conclusively identified as Delaveau, many of the residents of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne were convinced the dead woman was Petiot’s girlfriend whom he had murdered after she became pregnant with his child and refused to let him perform an illegal abortion.

He Performed Illegal Medical Procedures

While Petiot was suspected of murdering a local woman, he still managed to become the mayor of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, and in June 1927, he married 23-year-old Georgette Lablais. The following year in April 1928, Georgette gave birth to their first child, but having a family didn’t stop Petiot from committing crimes. In August 1931, he lost his job as mayor after he was caught embezzling money from the city, and in 1932 he was accusing of stealing electricity from Villeneuve-sur-Yonne. Petiot promptly moved to Paris and set up a medical practice, and because he over-prescribed medications and performed illegal abortions, plenty of Parisians were eager to become his patients.

He Offered To Help People Escape From The Nazis

Several years later on June 10, 1940, German soldiers fighting in World War II invaded Paris, and soon after France’s capital city was taken over by the Nazis, Petiot began offering his help to people who wanted to flee to the country. The French doctor claimed he was a part of an escape network designed to help Jewish people and members of the Resistance leave Europe for South America. However, this service wasn’t free, and Petiot charged a fee of 25,000 francs for every person he agreed to help escape from the Nazis.

He Harmed The People Who Were Desperate For His Help

After being paid nearly 30,000 francs to help Jews and members of the Resistance leave the country, Petiot told the desperate people they wouldn’t be allowed to enter Argentina unless they had a specific vaccination. Thinking the doctor was going to inoculate them against typhoid, the men and women — who were afraid of being captured by Nazis intent on genocide — allowed Petiot to administer the injection. However, instead of giving them a dose of a vaccine, the French doctor injected them with strychnine, ending their lives.

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He Murdered His Victims For Financial Gain

After murdering the very people who had trusted him to help them escape death at the hands of the Nazis, Petiot pocketed their fees and stole all of their possessions — including the clothes and jewelry off of their lifeless bodies — they’d brought with them for passage to South America. While it’s possible the French serial killer got some sort of psychological thrill from murdering his victims, with some people speculating he may have used a peephole to watch them die slow and agonizing deaths, Petiot seems to have been motivated almost entirely by financial gain.

He Dismembered His Victims’ Bodies After Murdering Them

Once he killed his victims, Petiot dismembered their corpses, presumably to help him dispose of their remains. The French doctor used his medical training to cut off his victims’ heads, arms, and legs, and Petiot also scalped the men and women he murdered, even removing their ears, lips, and eyebrows, most likely to hinder identification. Petiot — who was called “Doctor Satan” by the press — disemboweled his victims before tossing their remains into the nearby River Seine where some of the body parts eventually surfaced.

He Burned His Victims’ Remains To Destroy Evidence Of His Crimes

While Petiot disposed of many of his early victims by throwing their remains into the river, Doctor Satan eventually started getting rid of their corpses in the garage and basement of his home at  21 Rue le Sueur in Paris. In his garage, the French serial killer dug a pit and  filled it with quicklime, a chemical used to hasten decomposition. In addition to tossing his victims’ remains into the pit of quicklime to destroy the bodies of the people he killed, Petiot burned their corpses in the basement’s furnace.

His Crimes Were Uncovered When His Neighbors Complained About A Fire In His Home

While incinerating his victims’ bodies helped Petiot get away with his crimes for several years, this practice is also what finally led to the discovery of his shocking murders. On March 11, 1944, Doctor Satan’s neighbors contacted law enforcement because foul-smelling smoke had been coming from Petiot’s Paris home for days. When firemen arrived at the physician’s home, they found a fire burning in the basement’s furnace; upon further investigation, they were horrified to discover human remains from 27 different people, as well as nearly 50 suitcases filled with the possessions of several men and women.

Investigators Initially Thought His Victims May Have Been Killed By The Nazis

Immediately after the bodies were found in Doctor Satan’s home, French officials were unsure how to proceed. Because the Nazis had taken over Paris and were notorious for committing depraved acts of violence, Parisian police thought the Germans may have been responsible for murdering the men and women found in Petiot’s home. They also considered the possibility that the Nazis had enlisted the French doctor to kill the people on their behalf, or at least dispose of their remains. Consequently, French officials didn’t try to arrest Petiot — or even question him about the corpses discovered in his basement — until they were ordered to do so by the Germans.

He Was A Fugitive For Several Months Before He Was Caught

When they finally had a warrant to arrest the French serial killer, Petiot was nowhere to be found. Doctor Satan — who quickly realized the authorities had found 27 dismembered corpses in his house — evaded law enforcement for several months, using multiple aliases to avoid detection. Petiot, calling himself “Henri Valeri,” was active in the 1944 liberation of Paris, and he was eventually arrested on October 31, 1944, after he was recognized at a subway station in the capital city.

He Initially Denied Killing Anyone

Following his arrest, the French serial killer denied harming any of the people who were found dead in the basement of his home. According to Petiot, he discovered the corpses in his cellar and concluded they were enemies of France, such as informants and Nazis, who had been killed by other members of the Resistance. However, officials investigated this defense and determined Doctor Satan hadn’t been involved with any well-known Resistance groups before the bodies were found, and some of the organizations he claimed membership to didn’t actually exist. During his trial, Petiot admitted to murdering 19 of the men and women who were found dead in his cellar, but he insisted they were enemies of France, not people who were desperate to flee the Nazis.

He Was Beheaded For His Crimes

Doctor Satan’s trial began on March 19, 1946, and he was charged with more than 100 different crimes. While Petiot — and his defense attorney — tried to convince the jury he was a member of the Resistance who had killed to protect the people of France from the Nazis, the French serial killer doctor was convicted of murdering 24 people, including Yvan Drefus, Nelly-Denise Hotin, Lina Wolff, Joseph Piereschi, Joseph Réocreux, Joséphine-Aimée Grippay, Joachim Guschinov, Jean-Marc Van Bever, Gisèle Rossny, François Albertini, Paul-Léon Braunberger, Claudia Chamoux, Annette Basset, Adriene Estébétéguy, and Margaret, Kurt, and René Kneller. On May 26, 1946, Petiot was executed via guillotine at La Santé Prison, in Paris; he was 49 years old.


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