In 1893 Louise Barant crossed paths with Joseph Vacher, he became obsessed with her, stalked her and shot her then himself. Both survived the shooting, Vacher was sent to an insane asylum. He was released on April 1, 1894, on May 19 he committed his first admitted murder. Investigators involved with the murders believe that this murder was not his first, but Vacher insisted it was. His last murder was committed on June 18, 1897 and he attacked his last victim on August 4, 1897. He confessed to 11 killings but is believed to have committed more than 25. His victims were spread throughout the French countryside, that was one of the reasons he was not caught for so long. By the time most of his victims were found he was miles away. In a couple of instances, someone else was blamed for the crime, even when Vacher was seen and reported to police as being in the area. Joseph Vacher was known and feared as “The Killer of Little Shepherds”.
Douglas Starr also covers the history of Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne and the development of forensic science. He shows the relationship between his science and a popular theory of the day, promulgated by Cesare Lombroso who believed there were people that were ‘born criminal’ and that the tendency to commit crimes is genetic and revealed in certain telltale body traits. He also writes about Alphonse Bertillon who developed an identification systems consisting of ‘eleven critical measurements’ and Hans Gross, Austrian criminologist who promoted the idea of psychology for interrogation instead of the methods used as the time, namely torture.
This a well researched book. Douglas Starr takes the time to educate his readers on the social and economic conditions of the area and the time period. It is also well written, fascinating to read and not boring in any way. I recommend this book.