PARIS, FRANCE — On January 19, 1870, thousands flooded the Place de la Roquette outside La Concierge prison in Paris to witness the guillotine execution of Jean-Baptiste Troppmann.
The 22-year-old Troppmann had been condemned to die for cruelly and calculatingly wiping out the entire Kinck family in the course of a financial swindle.
No doubt existed as to Troppmann’s guilt. He brazenly told police:
“I killed Kinck to grab the money he said he had in his bank. It was a necessity for me to kill the other members of the family so to suppress all the witnesses.”
That fact, coupled with the way France’s burgeoning tabloid industry covered the murders, whipped the assembled throngs into a mad frenzy for blood.
At 7 A.M., the guillotine delivered the gory goods. Not only did Troppmann lose his head, but, as the blade severed the prisoner’s neck, he managed to chomp his teeth down on the executioner’s thumb. What a spectacle.
Jean-Baptiste Troppmann initially met Jean Kinck, 43, in early 1869. The pair conspired to concoct a counterfeiting operation, with Troppmann handling the physical labor while Kinck footed the bills.
Realizing that if Kinck could finance a phony-money-printing facility he must have plenty of the real stuff, Troppmann instead decided to kill and rob his would-be partner.
During a trip to scope out a secret location for their plant, Troppman dropped a fatal dose of prussic acid into Kinck’s wine. He then buried the body of the married father of six and wired the now-widowed (and six months pregnant) Hortense Kinck, asking for money.
Believing that her husband was still with Troppmann, Hortense, 40, wrote a check for 55,000 francs and dispatched the couple’s oldest son Gustave to deliver it on August 25. Once Troppmann got the bank note, he chopped Gustave into pieces.
Unable to cash the check, Troppman summoned Hortense to come meet him in Pantin. The family took a train, booked a hotel, and died that very night.
In succession, Jean-Baptiste Troppmann stabbed and/or strangled Hortense and the rest of her children — Henri, 13; Marie, 10; Achille, 8; Emile, 6; and Henri, 2. Afterward, Troppmann buried the remains in an alfalfa field.
On September 20, a farmer happened upon the mutilated corpses and sparked an instant manhunt.
Two days later, Troppmann rather dramatically tipped his hand in Le Favre. He was crossing a bridge when a policemen passing by mentioned the discovery of the bodies and the top-priority dragnet out for the killer.
In a panic, Troppmann hurled himself off the bridge in an effort to either escape or commit suicide. Rescuers pulled him from the water, though, and quickly discovered he had Gustave Kinck’s identification papers in his pocket.
Initially, while under arrest, Troppmann attempted to blame the crimes on Jean and Gustave Kinck, claiming the son must have killed his father and then offed the rest of the family before fleeing to America. That story falls apart as soon as Gustave’s corpse is unearthed with a knife in the neck.
From there, Troppmann detailed how he committed the murders. He talked of poisoning Jean Kink’s wine and said, in terms of the others:
“I led Gustave to the hotel where he wrote to his mother to tell her to go to Paris with her children. I then told him I was going to lead him to his father. When we were in an isolated place, in the middle of the fields, I stabbed my companion in the back … The Kinck lady arrived in the evening. I came to join her at the station and I told her that I was going to lead her to her husband.”
The courts convicted and sentenced Troppmann rapidly. Three months passed before his scheduled beheading, during which an onslaught of tawdry new Paris newspapers shocked and scandalized citizens with gruesome details.
On that last January morning, then, the masses got what they came for — justice in the form of a real life (and death) horror show.
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