Pauline Picard disappeared but then they found her … or so they thought.
Most parents know that raising a child is a full-time job and requires the deepest love a human can give. Being a parent of a child that goes missing must surely rank as one of the most horrendous experiences anyone can suffer. It was April 1922 when two-year-old Pauline Picard was playing on the family farm in Goas al Ludu, Brittany, France, when she disappeared.
The Search for Pauline Picard
Pauline’s frantic parents enlisted the help of the local police and scores of volunteers in the search for her. This thorough search turned up no trace of the missing girl and hopes began to fade. Pauline’s parents, however, never stopped believing or hoping that something would turn up. A few weeks after Pauline Picard vanished, it seemed as though fate had smiled down on her worried parents.
News broke that a girl matching Pauline’s description was seen in Cherbourg. A local police officer found the girl and placed her in a hospice for caretaking. Authorities showed a photograph of the toddler to Pauline’s mother and she burst into tears with recognition of her daughter. Le Matin French newspaper reported on May 8 that Mrs. Picard said, “That’s my daughter.” The Picards quickly boarded a train to Cherbourg to retrieve the little girl at the hospice, but after spending about two hours with her, they realized that the little girl didn’t recognize the couple. She looked like Pauline, but she wasn’t behaving like her.
Reunion With the Family
Nonetheless, they took the lost toddler home to the family farm with the hope that her memories would return. Also according to Le Matin in their May 12 article, the other Picard children immediately recognized Pauline. The neighbors too believed her to be Pauline, and local police believed they had reunited the family. Everyone was overwhelmed with the relief of finding the toddler, and no-one seemed too concerned about how she ended up in Cherbourg in the first place. How could she have made that journey of some 200 miles in just several weeks?
The reunion between the Picards and their daughter did not go entirely according to plan. From the very beginning, Pauline seemed to be very fearful and shy, and at no time did she converse in her native dialect. Her parents attributed these discrepancies as trauma and largely ignored them for several more weeks. At one point, the Picards reported that Pauline was becoming herself again and seemed to remember the farm. However, the more time the family spent together, the more the Picards were uncertain if it was really their daughter.
Discovery of a Little Body
On May 27, Le Petit Parisien reported that a cyclist had found the body of a little girl about 800 meters from the Picard farm. The body was badly decomposed and the hands, feet, and head were missing. Next to the body were neatly folded clothes. Pauline’s mother indicated that the clothes were the ones Pauline had on when she disappeared. Interestingly, the body was in a place that investigators searched multiple times during the initial investigation of Pauline Picard’s disappearance. Residents also indicated that they passed that exact spot numerous times and had never seen a body there. They speculated that someone must have placed the body there rather recently.
The same article reported that a local farmer by the name of Yves Martin who had gone raving mad asked the Picards if they had found little Pauline. When they said they had, he asked if they were sure if it was her. Then he made a comment that he was guilty and then he left with a crazy look in his eyes.
Also on May 27, Le Matin reported that investigators had found a head near the body. Subsequently, they determined that it was too large to belong to the small body.
Unexplained Mysteries and Questions
At that point, there was a little girl who looked like Pauline Picard but didn’t act like Pauline living with the Picards. Nearly a kilometer away from the farm, a cyclist found the body of a little girl with Pauline’s clothing lying nearby. The most identifying parts of the body – the hands, feet, and head – were missing, while the parts animals mostly attack first were still intact. A strange skull found near the body was not hers. Furthermore, a crazy farmer had stated that he was guilty, but of what was anyone’s guess.
There are still so many questions. Many of the townsfolk believed that Pauline was still alive somewhere. Assuming that this is true, then who was the little girl that had wandered Cherbourg alone, and why didn’t her real parents ever claim her? How could the Picard family and neighbors identify the girl as Pauline? What did Yves Martin mean? Was he responsible for one or both victims? And who’s skull did they find? Is this simply a situation in which, like the Bobby Dunbar case of 1912, everyone wanted to believe so desperately that the missing child was still alive, the family easily adopted a child that wasn’t theirs?
The Picards spent the rest of their lives wondering what ultimately happened to their daughter. In June, the little girl found in Cherbourg sadly went to an orphanage and spent the rest of her life in anonymity.
Note: This article relies on reports by French reporting agencies (as translated). Some details from the New York Times report are inconsistent with those original French sources. English translations of French newspapers, Le Matin and Le Petit Parisien, are by nursejessika on Reddit.com.