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A Book of Remarkable Criminals by Irving

Derues was delivered in the Conciergerie of a male child


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the last dreadful punishment the offending grocer was to be spared nothing. For an aristocrat like Mme. de Brinvilliers beheading was considered indignity enough. But Derues must go through with it all; he must be broken on the wheel and burnt alive and his ashes scattered to the four winds of heaven; there was to be no retentum for him, a clause sometimes inserted in the sentence permitting the executioner to strangle the broken victim before casting him on to the fire. He must endure all to the utmost agony the law could inflict. It was six o'clock when Derues arrived at the Place de Greve, crowded to its capacity, the square itself, the windows of the houses; places had been bought at high prices, stools, ladders, anything that would give a good view of the end of the now famous poisoner.

Pale but calm, Derues faced his audience. He was stripped of all but his shirt; lying flat on the scaffold, his face looking up to the sky, his head resting on a stone, his limbs were fastened to the wheel. Then with a heavy bar of iron the executioner broke them one after another, and each time he struck a fearful cry came from the culprit. The customary three final blows on the stomach were inflicted, but still the little man lived. Alive and broken, he was thrown on to the fire. His burnt ashes, scattered to the winds, were picked up eagerly by the mob, reputed, as in England the pieces of the hangman's rope, talismans.

Some

two months after the execution of her husband Mme. Derues was delivered in the Conciergerie of a male child; it is hardly surprising, in face of her experiences during her pregnancy, that it was born an idiot. In January, 1778, the judges of the Parliament, by a majority of one, decided that she should remain a prisoner in the Conciergerie for another year, while judgment in her case was reserved. In the following August she was charged with having forged the signature of Mme. de Lamotte on the deeds of sale. In February, 1779, the two experts in handwriting to whom the question had been submitted decided in her favour, and the charge was abandoned.

But Mme. Derues had a far sterner, more implacable and, be it added, more unscrupulous adversary than the law in M. de Lamotte.

Not content with her husband's death, M. de Lamotte believed the wife to have been his partner in guilt, and thirsted for revenge.

To accomplish it he even stooped to suborn witnesses, but the conspiracy was exposed, and so strong became the sympathy with the accused woman that a young proctor of the Parliament published a pamphlet in her defence, asking for an immediate inquiry into the charges made against her, charges that had in no instance been proved.

At last, in March, 1779, the Parliament decided to finish with the affair. In secret session the judges met, examined once more all the documents in the case, listened to a report on it from one of their number, interrogated the now weary, hopeless prisoner, and, by a large majority, condemned her to a punishment that fell only just short of the supreme penalty. On the grounds that she had wilfully and knowingly participated with her husband in the fraudulent attempt to become possessed of the estate of Buisson-Souef, and was strongly suspected of having participated with him in his greater crime, she was sentenced to be publicly flogged, branded on both shoulders with the letter V (Voleuse) and imprisoned for life in the Salpetriere Prison. On March 13, in front of the Conciergerie Mme. Derues underwent the first part of her punishment. The same day her hair was cut short, and she was dressed in the uniform of the prison in which she was to pass the remainder of her days.


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