"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



"The Case of the 13th Coffin" sounds like an old Sherlock Holmes mystery, but it really happened in 1950s France. This story comes from the "Lowell Sun," September 14, 1953:
Fronsac, France, Sept. 14--This French village buzzed today over the mystery of the 13th coffin.

It all began when P. Dorneau asked the village cemetery watchman to open the family mausolem and rearrange the 12 coffins it contained to make room for additional burials.

Jules Taris, the watchman, went about the task. When the mausolem was opened, he inspected the coffins. There were 13 instead of 12. He counted again...thirteen.

He notified P. Dorneau, the latter could not explain. Only 12 members of the Dorneau family were buried there. He notified the mayor, who refused to believe his story.

Then the 13th coffin was opened. It contained the body of a fair-haired girl, dressed in a low-cut ball gown and dancing slippers.

No one in the village could identify her. The cemetery had no record showing the body was there.

Police believe the girl may have been murdered. There were indications of head injuries. But if a murder, who is the victim and what was the motive? Who was the murderer?

Police confessed that they did not even know where to begin an investigation of the mystery.

Judicial authorities in nearby Libourne are expected to send orders soon for an official exhumation and the opening of an official inquiry.
Doctors who examined the body came to the conclusion that the mystery woman likely died of meningitis, so police decided that at least they didn't have an unsolved murder on their hands. However, as far as I can tell, it was never learned who the girl was, or how she came to be buried in the Dorneau vault.

10 comments:

  1. The police didn't know where to begin? Yikes. Inspector Maigret probably didn't begin his career in the village of Fronsac, then...

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  2. http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/96404053

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    1. That's an odd little story, as it doesn't jibe with the reports from the doctors that the woman died of natural causes. It also seems unlikely that the Nazis would bury her in a ball gown.

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  3. But what did they do with her afterwards? Eviction from the grave seems excessive.

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    1. As I recall, the family agreed to just leave her there.

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  4. Was she an adult or a child/teen? Maybe her family couldn't afford a good burial for her and figured that no one would notice the extra coffin.

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    1. She was described as a young adult woman, so I'm guessing maybe early-mid twenties.

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  5. But again, if her family were poor, how did they get the ball gown? It sounds like something reminiscent of Poe.

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  6. If she was the cabaret singer murdered by the Germans, then surely there would have been wound marks or injuries. And if she was murdered, who would go to the trouble of putting the body in a coffin and burying it in a crypt. Surely a shallow grave somewhere out in the country would be quicker and having less chance of being discovered.

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  7. Perhaps the cemetery employees placed the casket in the wrong vault? Years ago, I read a book "Secrets of the Funeral Industry" or something titled along those lines; all kinds of macabre, hushed up incidents of misplacing remains, accidental switching of cremated remains, burying people in the wrong plot or placing the casket in the wrong vault. The standard thinking in the industry seems to be keep quiet about the mishaps and hope that the families never discover what happened.

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