For a person’s misdeeds to truly stand out during the atrocities of WW2 they must be truly irredeemable. Dr. Satan, also known as Marcel Petiot, was a particularly nasty serial killer who operated out of France during WW2.
His is a troubling tale of one man’s descent from petty crime into devilry. As with many https://www.historicmysteries.com/jack-the-ripper/ when looking at the exploits of Dr. Satan one question stands out. How did he get away with it for so long?
Who Was Dr. Satan?
Marcel Petiot was born on 17th January 1897 in Auxerre, France. The writing was on the wall from an early age that something was missing in the psyche of Marcel. At the age of 11, he took his father’s gun to class one day and fired it for seemingly no reason. Later that year he propositioned another 11-year-old for sex.
These incidents led to the first of many school expulsions. As a teenager, Marcel robbed a postbox and was subsequently arrested for theft and damaging public property. This resulted in his first psychiatric evaluation. His criminal charges were dropped when he was diagnosed with a mental illness.
His first run-in with the law did little to dissuade Marcel from his criminal exploits. He continued to be a delinquent and was repeatedly arrested. These later arrests led to his diagnosis being reaffirmed in 1914.
The diagnosis of mental illness didn’t stop the French army from accepting Marcel’s application to join the war effort in 1916. He hadn’t been serving for long when he was injured during the Second Battle of the Aisne. This led to another psychiatric evaluation during which he was diagnosed with having had a breakdown.
This diagnosis meant he was shipped out to a series of rest homes. Military service had done nothing to straighten him out and he was once again arrested, this time for stealing military blankets, and morphine as well as the personal items of other recuperating servicemen.
Marcel was sent to a psychiatric hospital in Fleury-les-Aubrais. He was, you guessed it, diagnosed with yet more mental illnesses. He was treated and shipped back out to the front in the June of 1918. This last deployment was cut short when he injured his foot with a grenade. He was diagnosed and sent home with a military pension.
Dr. Satan Becomes a Doctor
When the war ended Petiot joined the accelerated education program for war veterans. Within eight months Petiot had finished medical school and was working as an intern at Evreux. For the first time in his life, he kept his head down and graduated in December 1921.
He then moved to Villeneuvre-sur Yonne where he wasted no time in going back to his criminal ways. He purposely got his patients hooked on addictive drugs and secretly applied for state medical assistance for his patients (this meant he was paid by both his patients and the government for each treatment, double dipping). It has also been claimed he carried out backroom abortions and stole from his patients.
In 1926 Petiot met Louise Delaveau, the daughter of an elderly patient. She is widely believed to have been his first murder victim. She disappeared in May of the same year.
Neighbors reported seeing Petiot placing a large trunk in his car around the same time Delaveau had disappeared. Police investigated but found nothing. A few weeks later police pulled a similar trunk out of the Yonne river: it was full of unidentified female body parts.
The scandal didn’t slow Petiot down. He somehow became Mayor that same year. The following year he married Georgette Lablais, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Their son was born in 1928.
Petiot’s Mayorship was full of various scandals, including embezzlement and theft as well as a healthy dose of fraud. He resigned in August 1931 but his charm was such that he still had many supporters. He was soon elected once again, but this time as a counselor. This proved to be short-lived: it was soon discovered he had been stealing electricity.
By the time Petiot had lost his council seat, he had already moved to Paris to reinvent himself. Using fake credentials he attracted wealthy patients and set up a well-respected practice at 66 Rue de Caumartin. He went back to his old habits of prescribing addictive drugs and committing fraud. He was also institutionalized for kleptomania around this time but was soon released.
The Rise of Dr. Satan
Up to this point, Petiot had proven himself to be mentally ill and largely without morals but had done little to earn himself the name Dr. Satan (besides his likely murder of Delaveau). Suffice it to say WW2 brought out the worst in this already deeply troubled man.
Petiot managed to dodge the forced 1940 German draft of French civilians by forging disability certificates and continued his work as a doctor. He then began portraying himself as a hero. He claimed to be fighting the German occupation and being a part of the French resistance.
In reality, under the guise of “Dr. Eugene” he set up a fake escape network. He claimed to be able to get those who the Germans were persecuting out of France via passage to Argentina and other South American nations through Portugal.
His price was 25,000 Francs per person. Jews, resistance fighters, and convicted criminals were directed to Dr. Satan by three of Petiot’s co-conspirators. He told these people that an inoculation was required for entry into Argentina.
When they agreed to receive the inoculation he would then inject them with cyanide. Once they had passed he robbed them of their possessions and disposed of the bodies.
At first, he simply began dumping bodies in the Seine. Once this became too risky he changed tactics and submerged them in quicklime or burnt them. The Gestapo eventually got wind of what was going on.
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They had heard rumors of Dr. Satan’s escape route and believed him to be affiliated with the resistance. They forced a prisoner, Robert Dreyfus, to approach the escape network but he vanished (into a lime pit most likely).
Eventually, the Gestapo gathered enough evidence to arrest three of Petiot’s accomplices, but they never got the man himself. Despite torturing the three men the Gestapo never gained actionable intel on the resistance. It never seemed to occur to the Gestapo that this was because they were dealing with a serial killer, not a people smuggler.
Discovery and Capture
On March 11th, 1944 Dr. Satan’s luck finally ran out. His neighbors complained to the police of foul smells emanating from his home as well as large amounts of smoke coming from his chimney. Fearing a fire, the police summoned firemen and entered the house.
They entered a house of horrors. In the basement were the buried remains of 10 people. In the roaring fire of the coal stove were yet more human remains. When they inspected the backyard they found, even more, remains in a quicklime pit. The house was full of the suitcases, clothing, and personal property of his victims.
The media soon caught wind of the story. A media circus followed during which Petiot was dubbed “Doctor Satan ”.
Petiot however had escaped, and managed to stay hidden for seven months. He told friends that the police had found the bodies of Germans and informers he had killed for the cause. He managed to hide out until the liberation of Paris in 1944.
Dr. Satan was finally caught on the 31st of October 1944 when he was recognized at a Paris metro station and arrested.
A Fitting End
Ever the con man, Doctor Satan believed he could get away with his crimes one last time. At his trial, he repeatedly claimed to have been a member of the resistance. He stated the bodies were those of informers and German conspirators. He claimed that they had been killed by his allies in the resistance, not him.
This time his luck had run out. Dr. Satan had no allies in the resistance and half the groups he claimed to have joined had never existed. He was eventually convicted of 26 counts of murder and sentenced to death. Dr. Satan was executed by beheading on 25th May 1946.
Petiot was likely guilty of many more than 26 murders. He took the true number with him to the grave. Dr. Satan is a startling reminder of how evil men can slip through the cracks, especially in times of war.
Top Image: Marcel Petiot, known for his crimes as Dr Satan, after his arrest in 1944. Source: Unknown Author / Public Domain.
By Robbie Mitchell
Smith. J. 2004. 100 Most Infamous Criminals. Arcturus Publishing
Macrae. M. 2022. Dr. Satan: The Unbelievable Story Of Serial Killer Dr. Marcel Petiot. CVLNation. Available at: https://cvltnation.com/dr-satan-the-unbelievable-story-of-serial-killer-dr-marcel-petiot/
King. D. 2022. Death in the City of Light. Crown. Available at: https://archive.org/details/deathincityoflig00king
Newton. M. 2008. Dr. Marcel Petiot. Crime Library. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20121007230412/http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/history/petiot/5.html
Maeder. T. 1980. The Unspeakable Crimes of Dr. Petiot. Little, Brown, and Co.