Bonjour, mes amis! Once again, we are going to take a look at some of the mysteries, conspiracies, scandals, and creepy tales from the rich history of one particular nation. And on today’s agenda… France!
10. The Death of an Artist
At first, the story of Jean-Marie Leclair was one of great success. Born in Lyon in 1697, he initially apprenticed as a lacemaker before studying dance. Then, he turned to music and proved to be one of the most talented violinists of his era, even being celebrated as the “French Corelli.” By the time he was in his 50s, Leclair was a composer of renown who often performed for the European royals.
His life took a turn in 1758. His second marriage ended and, for some reason, Leclair decided to move into a small house located in a sketchy part of Paris. This was unusual because the composer could definitely afford much better living quarters.
His life ended abruptly on the evening of October 22, 1764. Leclair was stabbed three times as he arrived home and died in his vestibule. He was discovered by the gardener the next morning and, even though the Parisian police conducted an investigation into Leclair’s death, they never found out who did it. His nephew was a popular suspect, as was Leclair’s ex-wife, or even just a random attack, but the true identity of the murderer remains a mystery.
9. The Château de Chambord
The Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley is one of the most stunning and distinctive examples of French Renaissance architecture, although the identity of the person who designed it is an enigma. No records, building plans, or even contemporary texts about its construction have survived, although some have theorized that the architect might be none other than Leonardo da Vinci.
From a chronological perspective, the timelines line up. In 1516, an aging Leonardo accepted an invitation from the King of France, Francis I, to move to his court and become the “premier painter, architect, and engineer of the king.” He then died in 1519, the same year that construction began on the Château de Chambord.
Those who have studied the works of the Italian polymath have no doubt that they see his influence in many elements of the castle such as the ornamental facades and the grid-style layout, but especially in the castle’s most iconic feature – the staircase. At the time, the design for the staircase was unique in French architecture – a double spiral that allowed two people to go up or down the stairs without running into one another. People couldn’t help but notice that it greatly resembled the “double helix” design which appears in numerous sketches by Leonardo. Could the designs for the castle be da Vinci’s final masterpiece?
8. The Disappearance of the Father of Cinematography
Supporters of Louis Le Prince argue that the French inventor is the person who should be regarded as the true “father of cinematography,” even though people like Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers usually get the credit. They say that Le Prince shot the first film in history in Leeds, back in 1888, but that he mysteriously disappeared before showing it to the general public.
It seems that Louis Le Prince might have been a victim of his own ambition because, at a time when there was a patent race between various inventors, he wanted to take it slow in order to perfect his creation. Even though he made his first film in 1888, he waited two years before he decided that it was finally ready for its first public exhibition.
The show was scheduled to take place in September 1890, in New York. Le Prince had been staying in Dijon with his brother, Albert, following their mother’s death. He boarded a train for Paris containing all of the materials and patents he needed for the showcase, but he never made it to the French capital. His friends were waiting in Paris to pick him up, but they could find no trace of him.
Several juicy theories popped up following his disappearance, but none were ever substantiated. One said that Albert Le Prince killed his brother over their inheritance and that Louis, in fact, never made it onto the train. Others alleged that Le Prince killed himself by drowning, or that he vanished on purpose to start a new life somewhere else but by far the most salacious idea was that the inventor’s disappearance and subsequent death were arranged by none other than Thomas Edison, who wanted to ensure his monopoly over this new and revolutionary invention.
7. The Encounter of Marius Dewilde
One of France’s strangest UFO stories occurred on the night of September 10, 1954, in the northern commune of Quarouble, when a local railway worker named Marius Dewilde claimed to have received a visit from two aliens.
As reported by the New York Times, a cigar-shaped UFO landed near Dewilde’s garden gate, and out came two small creatures wearing space suits that resembled diver’s costumes. The alien ship then shot a “paralyzing beam of light” at Dewilde which prevented him from moving in closer to investigate and, by the time he recovered, the extraterrestrials were already getting ready to take off again. Apparently, the authorities investigated the encounter and found unusual marks on the railway tracks but, unsurprisingly, there was no definitive proof of an alien visitation.
As strange as it is, that’s not where the story ends because word of Dewilde’s experience spread far & wide, including to the wine-producing village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, hundreds of miles south of Quarouble. Keen to protect their constituency and vineyards from possible alien invaders, the local mayor and the town council passed a municipal decree banning all UFOs, stating that “the overflight, the landing and the takeoff of aircraft known as flying saucers or flying cigars, whatever their nationality is, are prohibited on the territory of the community.”
6. Hemingway’s Stolen Suitcase
Nowadays, Ernest Hemingway is remembered as one of America’s greatest novelists, but that was not always the case. In the early 1920s, he was a struggling writer who had yet to publish any work of fiction. Hemingway had moved to Paris with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, where he was writing as a foreign correspondent by day and working on his novels by night.
In 1922, the 23-year-old journalist was sent on temporary assignment to Lausanne, Switzerland, where it looked like he might finally get his big break. An editor told him that he liked his writing and wanted to see more, so Hemingway told his wife to pack up his manuscripts and come to Switzerland.
Since Hadley was not sure what her husband needed, she packed everything – manuscripts, notes, drafts, even the carbon copies. Almost every word of fiction that Ernest Hemingway had written up until that point was in that suitcase…and then the suitcase was stolen at the Paris train station. Hemingway lost several short stories and, most notably, the draft for his first novel – a story set in World War I which, for whatever reason, he never attempted to rewrite.
What happened to the stolen suitcase is a mystery, but it remains sort of a Holy Grail for literary buffs who are still holding out hope that it might be found in some dusty attic one day.
5. The Dupont de Ligonnès Case
One of the most heinous and shocking crimes in the modern history of France occurred in April 2011, when the bodies of the Dupont de Ligonnès family were found buried in the garden of their home in Nantes. Agnès Dupont de Ligonnès and her four children had been shot in the back of the head with a .22 long rifle, but missing from this morbid lineup was the head of the family, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès.
Obviously, he became the prime suspect in the murders and the more the investigation went on, the more evidence was found against him. Dupont de Ligonnès had a .22 rifle which he had inherited from his father and went to shooting ranges in the months leading up to the crimes to learn to use it. He also made some suspicious purchases, such as bags of chalk lime and cement, bullets, garbage bags, a spade, and a trolley. Lastly, he also wrote to his children’s schools and told them that the family was moving to Australia, so they wouldn’t be suspicious when the kids didn’t show up for class.
All signs pointed to Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès carrying out the premeditated murders of his family. But by the time the police found their bodies, which happened a few weeks after their deaths, Xavier was a ghost. Even though he left an obvious trail as he traveled to the southwest of France, once he reached a commune named Roquebrune-sur-Argens he simply vanished. Some believed that he went into the nearby mountains and committed suicide but no body was ever found, despite an extensive search.
4. The Ghost of Pont Marie
A city like Paris has a long and bloody history, so it’s no surprise that it also comes with more than its fair share of ghost stories. One of the most intriguing comes from a short but turbulent period known as Vichy France.
During World War II, France was divided in two – one part was directly occupied by the Germans, while the other was Vichy France, which, although technically independent, was merely a puppet state of the Nazis.
But this period of hardship also saw many people rise up and fight for their country as part of the French Resistance. One of them was an unnamed Parisian lady who was married to a resistance fighter. She began an affair with an SS officer so she could collect information and deliver it to the resistance.
One cold winter night, she was supposed to meet her husband on the Pont Marie, a bridge that crosses the Seine, but he never showed up. Knowing that he would never miss their appointment unless something bad had happened, the woman began crying, but she refused to leave. She kept waiting through the night and, by morning, she had frozen to death. Ever since then, people crossing the Pont Marie have reported seeing her ghost, especially on cold nights, still crying and waiting for her husband to show up.
3. The Praslin Affair
At first glance, the scandal which became known as the Praslin Affair seemed like a straightforward case – husband and wife marry; husband has affair with nanny; husband kills wife. It sounds like a familiar scenario but, in this particular case, the aftermath was far greater than anyone could have ever predicted. It proved to be one bourgeois scandal too many for the common people of France, who once again took to the streets to riot. We’re not saying that the Praslin Affair was solely responsible, but it was one of the events that directly led to the 1848 Revolution which saw the abdication of King Louis Philippe I and the abolishment of the monarchy.
So what exactly happened? Well, what we know is that on August 17, 1847, Françoise, Duchess de Choiseul-Praslin, was found stabbed to death in her bedroom. Her husband, Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, was armed with a gun and showed the signs of a fight. He claimed that an intruder broke into their home and attacked them, killing his wife before he could retrieve his pistol.
The duke was soon arrested. Everyone thought he did it because they suspected him of having an affair with the governess, Henriette Desportes. The duke committed suicide before his trial began, still proclaiming his innocence on his deathbed. However, once he was dead, the prosecution dropped the case and the police stopped the investigation, so they never established with any certainty whether Praslin was guilty of his wife’s murder or not.
2. The Beast of Gévaudan
It wasn’t safe to roam the province of Gévaudan alone back in the mid 18th century. That is because a vicious creature was on the prowl and it had a taste for human flesh. Known as the Beast of Gévaudan, it was described as being “like a wolf, yet not a wolf” and was considered responsible for hundreds of attacks, resulting in 100 deaths and over 300 injuries.
The first victim was recorded in June 1764, when the beast attacked a 14-year-old shepherdess named Jeanne Boulet and ripped her throat out. Over the next few years, the attacks kept coming as the beast mostly preyed on lone women and children, although nobody was truly safe from the monster.
As the number of victims kept climbing, the regional government offered a large reward for whoever killed the beast. Tens of thousands of men took up the challenge, but the creature eluded them. Then, in early 1765, a 10-year-old boy named Jacques Portefaix became a hero after protecting his friends during an attack and driving the beast away armed only with sticks. Once his story spread throughout France, the king sent his royal hunters to slay the Beast of Gévaudan. One of them shot a large wolf and claimed the reward thinking that the beast was dead, but the attacks continued.
It wasn’t until June 1767 that a farmer named Jean Chastel seemingly ended the monster’s reign of terror. Once he heard that the beast was in his neck of the woods, he headed into the mountains alone, allegedly armed with silver bullets. He killed the beast when it tried to attack him and then took the body to the king, who looked at it once and then ordered it to be destroyed.
1. Le Grêlé
We are going to end with something a bit different – the mystery surrounding one of France’s most notorious serial killers of modern times known simply as Le Grêlé, or “the pockmarked man.” After committing multiple rapes and murders during the ’80s and ’90s, he disappeared and his identity remained a secret for 35 years… until early October 2021, when he was finally identified.
Le Grêlé was a former gendarme named François Vérove who had committed suicide shortly before being publicly named. He had recently been called in for questioning and was due to give a DNA sample to compare it to traces left at the scene, so it is likely that he realized that it was only a matter of time before he was discovered. Vérove left behind a written confession and his DNA was subsequently matched to samples from the murders, thus confirming that he was the infamous Le Grêlé. Now, the only mystery still left to untangle belongs to the Paris police, as they try to piece together Le Grêlé’s crime spree to see if there are more victims.
We wanted to show that all mysteries have answers and they can be found eventually, as long as people keep looking for them. It might take weeks, months, years, or, like in this case, three-and-a-half decades, but they are out there waiting to be discovered.