In his book, Album of Paris Crime Scenes 1901–8, Alphonse Bertillon catalogued a number of crime scenes, victims, and assassins. Bertillon was a French police officer who developed the first reliable method of criminal identification using measurements and photographs. I was looking at his book about the Paris crime scenes, and I found an intriguing set of photographs that sent me down a rabbit hole searching for more information about this murder.
I put together the outline but I couldn’t find much info about this murder. That’s not to say there is no information available–there may be. But the record itself was handwritten (in pencil) 118 years ago, and is, of course, written in French, all of which puts me at a disadvantage. I love the French language, but I cannot learn it to save my life. I sound hopelessly American, despite practicing French every day for a year using Duolingo. I celebrated the one-year mark by giving up French practice, but I still love the language.
Now to the crime. In the spring of 1903, Berthe de Brienne was found murdered in Paris. Berthe was described as a “demimondaine”, i.e., a woman who belongs to the demimonde (the fringes of respectable society). Demimondaines were considered to be of doubtful morality and low social standing.
Berthe was known for her passion for jewelry and her dark complexion, and her dramatic appearance caused the locals to nickname her the Queen of Madagascar. Berthe was 42 years old, and she’d recently broken up with a man named Constant le Boucher and “transferred her attentions to a young man she met at the Café Americain.” This man was 21-year-old Jules Paul Martin, a grocer’s assistant. Martin was nicknamed “the Jeweler” because of his knowledge of precious stones (and presumably because his name was actually Jules). Berthe’s friends were highly suspicious of Jules, and predicted he would murder her to get possession of her jewelry.
And that seems to be exactly what happened. On Saturday, May 9, 1903, the Queen of Madagascar was found strangled in her flat at 9 Rue Chalgrin. “Her murderer, who evidently knew her habits well, ransacked her apartment and went off with all her money and jewels estimated at about £4000,” wrote the London Observer. The closest approximation I could make to today’s value is roughly $171,000 in 2021.
These are the pictures in Bertillon’s book, all labeled “l’assassin”:
I’m not sure which one is Jules. The photos on the left and right have the word “Martin” printed on them. My guess is Jules is the fellow on the left.
Further confirming police suspicions, Jules disappeared from Paris, and headed to Glasgow, where he was apprehended and arrested for the murder of Berthe de Brienne. The police dug through his luggage and found a box containing jewelry which is believed to have belonged to Berthe. This is all I was able to learn about Berthe or Jules.
One last note is that I presented the photos to map to the way I wrote this story but in his book, Alphonse Bertillon arranged the photographs in a more fanciful sort of way. A little less police documentation, a little more intrigue: