Georges-Alexandre Sarret


Georges-Alexandre Sarret

A.K.A.: "The French Acid Bath Murderer"

Real name: Giorgio Sarrejani

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Dissolved two bodies in sulphuric acid - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 4 +
Date of murders: 1925 - 1931
Date of arrest: 1931
Date of birth: September 23, 1878
Victims profile: Louis Chambon-Duverger, and his mistress, Noémie Ballandraux / Elderly men
Method of murder: Shooting / Starvation / Poisoning
Location: France
Status: Executed by guillotine at Aix-en-Provence on April 10, 1934

Death of Sarret
Monday, Apr. 23, 1934

In sunny Aix-en-Provence, the morbid were up at dawn one day last week, hurrying to the square in front of the ancient Hotel de Ville. Squads of blue-clad soldiers were already there, keeping the crowds as far as possible from an open space in the square's centre. Soon a rattling wagon drove up, loaded with red-painted timbers, ropes, boards. Trained like circus roustabouts, a crew of workmen sprang into action. In three-quarters of an hour uprights and braces were screwed together, the pulley strung, platform, trip lever and block slipped into place. A bale of fresh dry straw was ripped open, a zinc-lined wicker casket was unloaded, and Mme Guillotine raised high her thin red arms in the pale Provençal light.

All this time a busy little old man in a derby hat was rushing officiously about. Craning their necks behind rows of police, onlookers whispered that it was "Monsieur de Paris," traditional name for France's executioner, otherwise Anatole Joseph Deibler, 76.* Immediately another closed van rattled into the square and out jumped the assistant executioners, a priest, and a scowling, square-jawed man in shirtsleeves. Again the whisper went round: "C'est lui! C'est Sarret!"

Georges Alexander Sarrejani, alias Sarret, was a Trieste-born Greek who three years ago succeeded the late infamous Henri Desire Landru as France's most spectacular murderer when a M. Poncel returned from a vacation in Italy to his villa near Marseilles.

M. Poncel found the dining room floor ruined by strange stains, a heap of acid-eaten rags near the garden hedge, and a horrid stinking mess in a corner of the garden.

Georges Sarret had prepared carefully for his chosen profession of insurance murderer by studying medicine, chemistry and law at Marseilles. He also needed confederates. These he found in the persons of the Bavarian sisters Philomena and Catherine Schmidt who had been unofficially accused as German agents during the War.

Methodical M. Sarret found the Schmidt sisters elderly, invalid husbands and insured them. The husbands promptly died and Georges Sarret pocketed most of the insurance money on threat of turning the Schmidt sisters over to the police as poisoners and War spies. From then on the business prospered.

Sarret, Schmidt & Cie. made its first mistake when healthy Catherine Schmidt insured herself for a million francs as Mageli Herbin, and the real Mageli Herbin promptly died of pneumonia. Insurance companies became suspicious. Detectives investigated and found a series of mysterious facts but no direct evidence of crime.

Sarret. Schmidt & Cie. were in the habit of renting various small villas as "nursing homes." Under a boulder in the garden of Sarret's house in Marseilles, detectives found a great mass of bones—rat bones, cat bones, assorted dog bones up to the skeleton of a St. Bernard, all more or less decomposed by acid.

Soon thereafter Georges Sarret rented M. Poncel's villa L'Hermitage and got into difficulties with another of his underlings, an unfrocked priest named Louis Chambon and the latter's mistress, a Mile Ballandreaux. When M. Poncel returned, found the horrid mess in his garden and the stains on the floor, French detectives at once remembered M. Sarret's garden and its pile of acid-eaten animal bones. The Schmidt sisters were questioned for hours. Finally Catherine Schmidt confessed.

Louis Chambon, the unfrocked priest, had threatened to peach on Georges Sarret. Chambon was lured with his mistress to the house, and while Catherine Schmidt kept a motorcycle engine roaring in the cypress shaded courtyard to drown all noise, Georges Sarret shot priest & mistress from behind a screen. They drove into Marseilles where Murderer Sarret purchased a bathtub, then sent the terrified Schmidt sisters back to wander for three nights about the house with its two reeking corpses.

On the fourth day Georges Sarret returned with 26 gallons of sulphuric acid in the back of his car. The bodies were crushed in the bubbling vat until even the bones and teeth had dissolved, then the thick sludge that had once been Louis Chambon & friend was dumped by pailfulls in the garden. Next morning Georges Sarret poked about with a stick and carefully picked out a few gold fillings, one gold crown, six flattened bullets.

Thanks to Georges Sarret's legal knowledge, the trial dragged on month after month. Finally last October he was condemned to death, the Schmidt sisters to ten years at hard labor.

And so last week he went to meet Mme Guillotine before the Town Hall of Aix-en-Provence. The end of drama was not yet. Strapped quickly to the board, he was pushed beneath the knife. The executioner tripped the lever, the triangular blade crashed down—and jammed, half way down. "Imbeciles!" bellowed Murderer Sarret. "Be quick can't you!" For ten minutes he lay with his head on the block while perspiring, embarrassed workmen argued and tinkered. Executioner Deibler clutched at his weak heart. Then up went the knife to crash down again, successfully this time. Guillotine and crowds were gone and the square hosed and washed before breakfast.

* Seventy-six-year-old M. Deibler has officiated at exactly 300 executions. He has long talked of retiring to the country, wants to raise chickens.

Georges-Alexandre Sarrejani

Philomène Schmidt

Catherine Schmidt

Sarret's execution