The Marquis Alain Jules Antoine Romain Gaspard de Bernardi de Sigoyer wasn’t a marquis at all. He was really Alain de Bernardi, a con artist who dabbled in murder.
In 1944, Paris was occupied by the German army. Times were tough for civilians, but Alain was an exception.
The con man had no difficulty gaining favour with the German occupation forces.
And no wonder. Alain was in the wine business.
He wheeled and dealed until he became a wealthy man. No one carrying on business with Alain knew he had been in and out of jails and asylums most of his adult life.
On March 28, 1944, a distraught mother showed up at a Paris police station to report her daughter, Jeanne, had
failed to return home. Jeanne’s mother claimed her daughter was the beautiful 23-year-old Marquise Jeanne etc., who had gone to see her estranged husband about child support.
Detectives called on Alain, who readily admitted his wife had paid a visit to him.
They had quarrelled, which was not unusual. Jeanne was in the process of obtaining a divorce. He assured detectives his wife had left in a huff and he had not seen her since.
When it became obvious the tides of war were turning, Alain attempted to ingratiate himself with the resistance forces, but it was too late. He was known as a friend to the German army. Alain was arrested shortly after Paris was liberated.
There was Alain, in prison with the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars on deposit in various banks.
From time to time he wrote
letters to friends seeking help. All were read by his jail-e rs. One such letter caught their attention.
It was addressed to Irene Lebeau, who had been his wife’s maid. He
requested Irene dispose of several dresses belonging to Jeanne. What made
them take notice was the phrase, “Be fearful of the red armchair.” The police decided to call on Irene to get an explanation.
Irene informed police the answer to their questions could be found in old vaults under the Marquis’ home.
When police started digging, they uncovered clothing Jeanne’s mother identified as having been worn by her daughter when she had disappeared almost a year earlier. Digging deeper, they uncovered the decomposed body of Jeanne de Bernardi.
Irene confessed that she had been the Marquis’ mistress for years, going back to before his marriage to Jeanne. He had often abusing her physically. After his marriage, she often observed him treating his wife in the same manner. Finally, Jeanne had left her husband.
Irene had been present the night Jeanne showed up at her former residence demanding funds to support her two children. At one point, while Jeanne was sitting in the red armchair, Alain began to strangle her with a length of cord.
The Marquis said he would kill Irene if she interfered. In her opinion, Alain had killed his wife to prevent her from getting half his fortune.
Detectives questioned Alain in jail. They asked what he had been referring to when he wrote about the red armchair. Jokingly, Alain replied, “So Irene would know what to expect if she talked.” The statement wasn’t a confession of murder, but it was good enough. Alain was charged with Jeanne’s murder.
When Alain’s charges were made public, Irene didn’t fare well. Investigators felt she may have been an accomplice.
In December 1946, the Marquis and the former maid stood trial for murder. Irene Lebeau took the witness stand and related that she had been seduced by Alain in 1940 when she was 17 years old.
After his marriage to Jeanne, she was hired to look after the couple’s only child. In 1943, there was an unwelcome addition to the family. Irene had given birth to Alain’s second child. That’s when Jeanne packed and left. Irene professed Alain had murdered Jeanne on the red armchair.
Alain took the witness stand in his own defence. He said that after he and Jeanne had agreed to divorce, they had reconciled. It hadn’t worked because Irene constantly argued with his wife.
Alain told the court that the two women continually argued over him. In the heat of one such argument, Irene shot Jeanne in the head. The strangulation had been a figment of Irene’s imagination.
Alain’s testimony was scintillating courtroom drama, but its effect was a surprise. The presiding judge ordered Jeanne’s body exhumed and the head X-rayed. No semblance of a wound or a bullet was found.
Alain’s stupid lie from the witness stand sealed his fate.
On Dec. 22, 1946, the French jury took only half an hour to find Alain de Bernardi guilty of murder. Irene Lebeau was found not guilty. The bogus Marquis had his head removed by the guillotine.