News from the past, between fascination and repulsion

the essential
The reading of “Crimes and Miscellaneous Facts in Lot-et-Garonne” offers a dive into the bloody cases told by the press between 1919 and 1939. Sordid stories, but which always arouse the same interest…

Recently published by La Geste editions, “Crimes and miscellaneous fact in Lot-et-Garonne” sheds a surprising light on obscure and also obscure facts that occurred in our department between 1919 and 1939. The author of this book, Benoît Boucard, studied the period between period wars through the press, in this case the newspaper “La France de Bordeaux et du Sud-Ouest”.

Founded in 1887, this newspaper is a regional version of “La France de Paris”. It is gradually becoming one of the top titles in the region and therefore deals with information from Lot-et-Garonne. Its circulation will reach 239,000 copies in 1939. Compromised during the German occupation, it will disappear in September 1944.

7,500 newspapers studied

Benoît Boucard had already studied the local press for his previous book: “The Second World War in Lot-et-Garonne” (La Geste editions). This study allowed a better understanding of daily life during the dark years, the articles that evoke restrictions, the organization of Alsatian refugees, the few sporting events, etc. Regarding this dive into the various facts between 1919 and 1939, the author “stripped” more than 7,500 newspapers and retained hundreds of cases that he classified in different chapters: robberies, burglaries and “other dishonesty”, drownings, accidents at work, fires, transport (cars, trains, planes), crimes of passion, “social misery and madness”, etc.

A sum of 450 pages.
photo BP

The set gives a succession of facts and reproduces the style of the articles of the time. Sometimes a date and just a few lines constitute a tale (e.g. August 6, 1930, “A 4-year-old is killed by a car in Agen”), but dramas are also told over time, as the history of the investigation (such as that of “Petit Nice”, a bar on rue Emile-Sentini in Agen, the scene of a deadly settling of accounts between bandits in the middle).

Cases that made headlines

These cases are explained in detail, all identities are given and we follow the investigation and sometimes the prosecution of perpetrators of violence. There are, therefore, many unknown stories, “crushed dogs” (the name given to the news by journalists), reflections of a time obviously, no doubt more revealing than the famous “big cases”, such as the Moirax crime. For this Delafet case, no less than forty pages, is very interesting truth about instruction and judgment.

February 12, 1932: the Moirax case on the front page "the France of Bordeaux and the South West".

February 12, 1932: the Moirax case appeared on the front page of “La France de Bordeaux et du Sud-Ouest”.

But other facts that made headlines are presented to us, such as the double crime of Cours in 1937, the Monflanquin infanticide (1938), the murder of Temple-sur-Lot in 1929 (“A corpse in the closet”), the poisonings of Condat (1925), the Maricide of Lavardac in 1924 (“After killing her husband, she dismembers his corpse and throws it into the river”) or “the Nérac affair” (1922, with the presence of a… ), the triple death sentence of Monbahus, etc.

The patois at the bar

Hunting stories, disasters related to bad weather, fires, various and generally morbid accidents, thus tell a time. Cars and trains are recent modes of transport, and when they get out of control, the consequences are dire. During this interwar period, motor vehicles with four or two wheels were “relatively rare”, the author points out. In Lot-et-Garonne “we travel on foot, by bicycle, in a cart pulled by animals that are responsible for various events that we no longer find today. Culturally, the department, very rural, still lives as it did decades ago. Just read the records of the hearings to discover that cultural and social levels are often very low and that, despite compulsory schooling, French continues to be poorly mastered. In the courtroom, defendants and witnesses speak patois and only patois. language is so ingrained in everyday life that justice personnel, with long studies and a high cultural level, understand it without difficulty.” Thus, during the Monbahus case (1921), the journalist covering the trial (the most sensational one Agen has known since the Cespy case) stipulates that magistrates or lawyers do not need an interpreter…

Attractive title for Nérac's drama (February 1922): "in the land of the wizards"...

Tempting title for Nérac’s drama (February 1922): “In the land of the Magi”…

It should be noted that at this time the print press was at its height in France. Almost everyone reads. And news is an important journalistic genre. Every occasion is good to, as we still say in the business, “bring you to the front page”, i.e. big headline, to attract readers. Because news fascinates and, to a large extent, takes precedence over national or international news. Between 1919 and 1939, Europe gradually advanced to war, but the rule of proximity prevailed: the case of the sharecropper thrown into the bottom of a well at Hautefage-la-Tour (November 1922) will undoubtedly be discussed more in Lot – et. -Garonne than Mussolini’s March on Rome (October 1922)…

Violent shocks, serious injuries

Driven by madness, jealousy, greed, recklessness or bad luck, crimes of blood or accidents also testify to the harshness of time. The shocks are violent, the injuries are serious, and the gestures that today we consider vital are ignored. We got a seriously injured person out of a wrecked car as best we could. If he’s still alive, well, we’ll take him home, not the hospital… When help is needed, we still have to find a phone. The gendarmes sometimes come by bicycle, the doctor has to ask about a car. “As for first-aid gestures, they are non-existent, adds the author. We move the wounded over a more or less long distance, often without precautions.”

October 6, 1921: Two trains collide at Agen station (two dead, a dozen injured).

October 6, 1921: Two trains collide at Agen station (two dead, a dozen injured).
Balisati snapshot archive

There are, therefore, 400 pages of different facts that Benoît Boucard gives us to read. It’s impossible to name them all, so let’s just name a few. In the series “our friends the animals”, the nautical escape of a young bull in Agen (1937) that was carried by the river current to Colayrac, but rescued; in 1938, an angry ox escaped from the Pin market, and crossed the city towards… Corne, before being shot by a policeman!

Between Anna Karenina and Lorena Bobbitt

In the series of crimes and passionate despair, the stories are usually terrifying, like this woman throwing herself at Agen under a train (1931), as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; or that betrayed wife who takes advantage of her husband’s sleep to mutilate him with a razor (“She mutilated the infidel to put him in a position to not start over”)… The dramas of misery, suicides of poverty, intra-family violence also portray , sometimes extreme precariousness. In 1931, the corpse of an elderly man was discovered at her home, rue des Martyrs in Agen. Significant facial injuries suggest a crime.

eaten by rats

Aged 79, this “old man” (term used by the journalist at the time) went every day to the bar “La Traction” (corner of rue Raspail/boulevard Sylvain-Dumon) where his daughter worked, to get food. . One day he doesn’t come. Worried, we go to his house, we find him dead and mutilated. The investigation will show that the victim, who is asthmatic, died asphyxiated by the gas that escaped from a pipe, a pipe gnawed and therefore punctured… by rats. The man lost consciousness, fell to the ground and mice began to devour him: an ear, an eye, his head, etc.

An atrocious case, told in a very raw way to readers, also illustrating the fascination/repulsion relationship that surrounds these stories and these places where death has reached. It was only a century ago, but let’s face it, this unhealthy attraction is still… current.

“Crimes and Miscellaneous Events in Lot-et-Garonne 1919-1939”, by Benoît Boucard (La Geste editions). 452 pages, 25€

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