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Beast of Gévaudan - Serial Killer of the Eighteenth Century ?

Beast of Gevaudan

Under the reign of Louis XV, dozens of people are victims of a wild animal in the Gevaudan, former name of the region that roughly corresponds to current Lozère. But, soon, it is also the Archède, Haute-Loie and Cantal that are affected by the ravages of the mysterious animal.

The appearance of the "beast"

In the spring of 1764, a woman was attacked near Langogne by a beast that her cattle put to flight. Shortly after, the corpse of a 14 year old girl is found. This victim is the first of a long list.

According to witnesses, the animal responsible for the assault of the shepherdess and the death of the girl is not a wolf, but a huge beast with a big head, reddish flanks, a black stripe on the back and a bushy tail.

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Three years of terror and savage aggressions

The bloody attacks succeed one another and several children, in particular, are killed. A boy who returns from the fields pushing his flock suddenly sees the beast fall on him. He has a torn belly and dies within minutes. A girl, who goes alone to the pasture under her mother's gaze, is attacked by the animal. Her mother and two brothers rush to her aid, but when they reach the scene, the body is already almost unrecognizable: the belly was searched, the skin of the skull torn off and partially folded over the face.

A real psychosis seizes the inhabitants of the region who do not leave home without knives or forks. Some rummage are conducted, but without much success. The few newspapers of the day report these attacks and the excitement is so great that a regiment of King's soldiers, dragons, is dispatched to the scene. As if it had felt it, the beast, after sowing terror in the Vivarais and Gevaudan, wins the Aubrac and the Margeride, where it continues to kill, leaving many corpses shredded and ... beheaded on the spot! The beatings organized by the dragons seconded by the villagers give no result. What's more, the beast is playing soldiers after an operation against it, for example by killing and decapitating a victim under their windows.

More carnages

Two wolf hunters who came from Normandy, Denneval and his son, set out in pursuit of the beast, but in vain. On May 1, 1765, however, two inhabitants of the region, the brothers Martel de la Chaumette, mortally wounded a big wolf. Is the beast of Gevaudan dead? In fact, the carnage resumed soon after. Faced with the magnitude of the events and, especially, because it begins to ridicule him for his powerlessness, King Louis XV sends the lieutenant of his hunts, François Antoine, said Antoine de Beauterne, reputed to be the best rifle of the kingdom to track the animal. After three months of hunting, Beauterne kills, in September 1765, near Sainte-Marie-des-Chazes, a huge wolf, whose body is stuffed and then taken to the Court, where it causes a sensation.

The remains seem to have been preserved for some time at the Paris Museum, and then it loses its trace. It is actually a "political montage" in every sense of the term: the stuffed wolf was deliberately "tampered with" to produce the most terrifying sensation possible, which allowed, at least to Paris, to stop attacks against the royal power.

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The end of the beast

But the success is too soon celebrated: soon after, the massacre begins again. A young noble, the Marquis d'Apcher, then organizes new rummages in the forests of his domain. There lives with his two sons an old gamekeeper, Jean Chastel, said the "son of the witch". Chastel has already been suspected, without it being possible to find evidence against him. May 16, 1767, a girl, friend of Chastel, dies, attacked by the beast. As a result of the pain, the old man changes his behavior completely: he falls into absolute piety and decides to kill the animal. During a new fight, June 19, 1767, Chastel kills a new wolf which, according to witnesses, manifested curious behavior: at the moment when the hunter put it in play, the animal stopped and it seems that it did not try to flee. This time, the hecatomb stops definitively. According to official figures, the beast killed more than 100 women and children and wounded 30 others during the three-year period.

A human beast?

Contemporaries believe that the crimes of the famous beast are the work of one or more giant wolves: the one killed by Antoine de Beauterne, the one shot by Jean Chastel and the one wounded by the Martel brothers. But some point out that lone wolves are not used to attacking humans in general, let alone decapitating corpses. A recent and more than probable thesis evokes the joint actions of a man disguised as a wolf to commit these acts, and having thus benefited from the general psychosis, and a trainer who would have thrown animals on the neighboring inhabitants. Some witnesses say, indeed, to have seen the beast cross a stream standing on its hind legs. It is, at the time of the case, a widespread opinion among the peasants, which is why the Chastel family, who live surrounded by molosses, is frequently accused. These dogs are probably wild-backed dogs, one of which was a hybrid of dog and wolf, probably trained to kill. This is shown by the recent expertise of the Museum's scientists based on the autopsy report of the time. This could explain why the animal, knowing his trainer, has stopped when he seen Chastel approaching him.

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Was the beast unique?

Nobody knows. In any case, it was not alone: ​​one or more thinking heads, disguised or not were at the origin of the crimes. No doubt they were accompanied sometimes, but not always, in their murderous hunt by one of these mastiffs, also harnessed with leather, which made it less sensitive to hunters' bullets.

A young witness of the time will write later to the king: "This beast was not a wolf. (...) Black and dirty hair hid its face. (...) A beast who was a man, a man who was no longer one. (...) A man known to all here, but whose name I will not mention: he has today paid his obnoxious mistakes. "

The question that arises today is why, in this campaign, as in those where other beasts have plagued, it was allowed to perpetuate such acts. But don’t crimes of serial killers raise the same question regularly?

An epidemic of "beasts"

Any animal attack that escapes rational explanations, that is to say that does not fall under the usual behavior of the animal concerned, quickly causes rumors and often, true psychoses. The beast of Gevaudan is not the only animal to have sown terror in France and one can quote in this regard, the beast of Evreux (1633-1634), the beast of Brive (1783), the beast of Cézailler (1946-1951). The most ferocious, however, seem to have been the beast of Auxerrois and that of Vivarais. The first arises in 1731 and the number of its victims rises to 28. It is described as a tiger or, again, a wolf. The Beast of Vivarais raging, meanwhile, from 1809 to 1816, in the Gard. It is also described as a wolf, but would be the size of a donkey, with a brown coat, a black mane, long ears and big breasts. Its audacity is so great that it even enters homes. None of these two animals were killed or captured.

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