In 1933, an ordinary little iron caused a murder which caught the attention of the whole French population and put two maids from the city of Le Mans in center of more or less wacky speculations that are still being analyzed today. I present to you Christine and Léa Papin, the murderous sisters.
Their shaky first steps in life
The two sisters were born near Le Mans, in an already quite dysfunctional family, even for the times.
Their parents, Clémence Derée and Gustave Papin, have a chaotic marriage affected by Clémence’s infidelity and paranoia and Gustave’s alcoholism. Their first daughter Emilia, is born in 1902 but doesn’t bring any joy or fun in the household. Clémence isn’t a loving mother, and people suspect that Gustave sexually assaulted her daughter when she was only 10 years old.
Christine enters this beautiful family in 1905. Clémence doesn’t feel like raising another baby (I’m not even kidding, she just didn’t feel like it), so baby Christine is sent to Gustave’s sister, who will raise her until she is 7 or 8 years old.In 1912, it’s Léa’s turn to enter the rotten family tree, and she arrives right at the moment when everybody’s fed the fuck up. Clémence and Gustave divorce in 1913 (divorces are near impossible at the time, so things must have been real screwed up in this house), and Clémence gets custody of her three kids. She didn’t want custody that much, so she places Emilia and Christine in a strict religious orphanage, and gives Léa to her brother so she doesn’t have to do any raising.
The two oldest sisters rapidly find their place in the orphanage, and even if their life is quite shitty there, they find some solace in their relationship. Emilia is very protective of her little sister Christine, who then wants to follow her when she enters the convent. However, Clémence is absolutely opposed to that. Is it because she loves her daughter and wants her to come home ? NOPE ! She simply wants Christine to finish school and start working to make her some dough. Same thing for Léa, who she places in another religious orphanage after her brother’s death. Mother of the year award goes to Clémence !
When Christine finally turns 15, Clémence takes her out of the orphanage and into upper-class families to be a maid. Those families describe her as discreet and hardworking, and thanks to their recommendations, Christine manages to be hired by the Lancelin family. She even manages to negotiate and get her little sister Léa to be hired too. For the first time in their lives, the two sisters get to live and work together.
At the Lancelin’s house, things ain’t all sunshine and rainbows
Once the Papin sisters are hired by the Lancelin family, they quickly bond. Christine is very protective of Léa, just like Emilia was of her. The two sisters argue so much with their mommy dearest that Ms. Lancelin, who’s fed the hell up, asks Clémence in 1928 to stop contacting her daughters and taking their money.Don’t get it twisted, that doesn’t mean that Ms. Lancelin was a nice little old lady. She was severe and smug, and she had the nasty habit of yelling at her maids every chance she got. But hey, when you’re a maid in the 1920’s, those things kinda come with the territory.Apart from that, the maids are well treated compared to others at the times: they are fed and accommodated, and they even get time off once a week. This good treatment will make the crime even less understandable for the attorneys and the police officers in charge of the case.
This damn iron
Remember when I said that an Ordinary iron caused the murder ? I wasn’t kidding.In January 1933, Léa Papin was accused of breaking the Lancelin’s iron. That can seem futile, but not to Ms. Lancelin. Léa got her shit rocked, and the reparation fees were taken out of her salary. Léa, and by extension Christine, took the hit without saying anything, but they were 👏pissed👏off.
On February 2nd, 1993, while everyone was already on edge, the iron said « today’s the day », and caused a short-circuit that plunged the whole house into darkness. The two maids were « fuck it, not fixing it », so when Ms. Lancelin and her daughter came home and the lights didn’t turn on, they got angry, but Christine wasn’t taking shit no more.
She jumped on Ms. Lancelin and Léa, as the ride-or-die bitch she is, jumped on the daughter. The two maids ripped out their employers’ eyes, and started hitting them with a vase, a knife, scissors and a hammer, as if Bob the Builder watched one Dexter episode too many.In this quite bloody murder, one detail still baffles experts today: the two sisters went particularly hard on the genitals of the Lancelin women.
A few hours later, Mr. Lancelin and his brother-in-law, but they can’t get into the house. Worried, they go to the police and tell them that no lights are on even though four people are supposed to be in the house. The police officers, expecting a robbery, go back to the house with the two men. One of the policemen enters the house through the roof and opens the door from inside. Everybody enters silently and uses torches to avoid turning on the lights (which don’t work anymore anyway). While trying to get up the stairs, one of the police officers stumbles on an eye, just there chilling on one of the steps. Sooooooo, big change of atmosphere for the policemen who were probably used to little theft and adultery cases. After that, no one wants to lead the way up the stairs, but the policemen had to do their jobs, so everyone got more or less confidence to the second floor.
The scene they stumble upon makes them shit bricks. The bodies were barely recognizable after what the maids had done to them. Panicked, one of the policemen went out to call for backup, while the others continued to explore the house, expecting to find the maids in the same state as their employers.
Once they get to the maids’ room, they can’t manage to open the doors. The backup comes with a locksmith and stand there shaking and sweating while the man does his job. When the door finally opens, everybody is expecting to see two more dead and mutilated bodies.Instead, they find the two sisters chilling in their bed (yes, one bed) in their nightgowns. They immediately confess and get dressed to go to the precinct looking a millions francs (the currency at the time). In the interrogation room, Christine narrates the whole event while Léa just nods. The eldest tells some kind of John Wick-type scenario and says « we had to defend ourselves, it was their skin or ours ». No, Christine, you were just mad and decided to risk the death penalty instead of quitting because you’re a dumbass.
The two crazy sisters basically put the nose around their own necks, so they were quickly put into two separate jail cells to await their trial. Léa obeyed and waited like a good little girl, while Christine went a bit cuckoo bananas. She started to have psychotic episodes, but the experts at the time concluded that she was perfectly sane and fit to stand trial, which begun on September 28th, 1933. Let me summarize it for you:
« Yo, look at how they messed up their bosses, cuz ! »
« Shit, bitches be crazy, they have something wrong in their heads ! »
« Actually, they are perfectly sane. »
« Oh word ? »
« Word, cuz, I’m an expert. »
[45 minutes of deliberation later]
« Okay, death penalty for Christine and 10 years of forced labor and 20 years of banishment from the city for Léa ! »
« K bye ! »
Of course, the iron was never questioned.
The bitter end of the Papin sisters
Christine’s death sentence was commuted to 20 years of forced labor by the French president Albert Lebrun, but it was already to late for her. She was having fits and was refusing to eat, so she was committed to the psychiatric hospital of the city of Rennes, where she died in 1937. But she was sane, the experts said so !
Léa got her sentenced reduced and was released on February 2nd, 1941. The Second World War is the perfect distraction for her, so she discreetly moves back in with her mommy dearest. She lived a quiet life in the city of Nantes and died in almost complete anonymity on July 24th, 2001.
Where they insane though ?
While the case was unfolding, there were three main opinions: the prosecution who thought they were sane, the defense who thought they suffered from a shared psychosis, and the communists who affirmed that they had committed murder in the name of class warfare.
As time passed, the experts all settled on the communist theory. JK, for most of them Christine suffered from the same paranoid tendencies as her mother, and those tendencies turned into a psychosis. And since Léa was heavily influenced by her sister (some say that they had an incestuous relationship), she followed her into insanity. The familial chaos and their ambiguous relationship with Ms. Lancelin, who sometimes acted like their mother, didn’t help at all. Paranoia surely pushed Christine to murder, which explained the « we had to defend ourselves, it was their skin or ours ». Ms. Lancelin had become a mother figure for two women who absolutely hated their mom, which caused her demise.
Moral of the story: don’t have kids if you can’t raise them right. I don’t wanna die because you’re an asshole.