Joseph Vacher (1 Viewer)


Joseph Vacher

A.K.A.: "The French Ripper" - "The South-East Ripper"

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape - Necrophilia - Mutilation
Number of victims: 11
Date of murders: 1894 - 1897
Date of arrest: August 4, 1897
Date of birth: November 16, 1869
Victims profile: One woman, five teenage girls, and five teenage boys
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: France
Status: Executed by guillotine on December 31, 1898

Joseph Vacher (November 16, 1869, – December 31, 1898, Bourg-en-Bresse, Ain) was a French serial killer, sometimes known as "The French Ripper" or "L'éventreur du Sud-Est" ("The South-East Ripper") due to comparisons to the more famous Jack the Ripper murderer of London, England in 1888. His scarred face, accordion, and plain, white, hand-made rabbit-fur hat became his trademark appearance.


The son of an illiterate farmer, young Joseph was sent to a very strict Catholic school, where he was taught to obey and to fear God. In 1893, while in military conscription, he fell in love with a young maidservant, Louise, who was not at all attracted to him. When his time in the army was over, he tried to woo her and propose to her for the last time before returning home, but she was bored by him and mocked him. In a rage, he shot her four times (she was badly injured, but survived) and then tried to commit suicide. Shooting himself twice in the head accomplished nothing more than paralyzing one side of his face (one of the bullets remained forever lodged in his skull) and putting him in a mental institution in Dole, Jura. Medical treatment did nothing for him, but the doctors released him as "completely cured" one year later. Shortly after his release, at the age of 25, he began his murder spree.

During a three-year period beginning in 1894, Vacher murdered and mutilated at least 11 people (one woman, five teenage girls, and five teenage boys). Many of them were shepherds watching their flocks in isolated fields. The victims were stabbed repeatedly, often disemboweled, raped, and sodomized. Vacher was a drifter, travelling from town to town, from Normandy to Provence, staying mainly in the southeast of France, and surviving by begging or working on farms as a day laborer.

In 1897, Vacher tried to assault a woman in a field in Ardèche. She fought back and her screams soon alerted her husband and son, both of whom came rushing to her aid. The men overpowered Vacher and took him to the police. The authorities had little evidence that Vacher was responsible for the rash of murders, but Vacher soon confessed to everything.

Insanity plea

Vacher claimed he was insane because a of a quack cure given to him as a child, when a rabid dog bit him (in fact he was not bitten at all, just licked), then changed his mind and said that he was sent there by God, just like Joan of Arc, in order to make people think and understand the real virtues of faith. He was however judged sane by the Cour d'Assises of Ain (the départment where he murdered two youngsters) and sentenced to death on October 28, 1898. Vacher was executed by guillotine two months later, at dawn on December 31, 1898. He refused to walk towards the scaffold and had to be dragged by the executioners

In popular culture

In 1976, French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier made a film called Le juge et l'assassin (The Judge and the Murderer), which was inspired by Vacher's story. The name of the murderer, played by Michel Galabru, is slightly changed into "Joseph Bouvier" (in French, bouvier and vacher are two words describing the same profession, a herdsman).


As far as 19th century serial killers are concerned, there are the well known, such as Jack the Ripper from London, and H.H. Holmes from Chicago, and then there are the ones that people SHOULD know about, like Vincenz Verzini from Italy, and this week's profile, Joseph Vacher from France.

Far more vicious than his London counterpart, Vacher was active over four years, killing as he went wandering the French countryside, begging for food.

Right after the rash of prostitute killings in London around 1888, the south east part of France experienced a far greater string of vicious mutilation murders.

From the middle of 1894 through 1897, no less than eleven men and women were murdered, both mutilated and sexually assaulted around the woods of Tournon.

So vicious were the killings, the French authorities investigating the deaths tabbed the murders the work of the "Ripper of the South East."

It wasn't until a local vagrant named Joseph Vacher confessed to the murders, while incarcerated for a seperate attack on a couple collecting wood nearby, that authorities were able to put a face to the crimes terrorizing the area for the last four years.

Homeless and disturbed, Vacher was a man who just wandered the southeast area of France, begging and stealing whatever he needed to survive. He learned this early on in his life, being born into extreme poverty, the 15th child of a poor peasent family.

He tried to escape the trappings of his impoverished life by joining the French army in 1892, but after what he percieved as lack of appreciation, he tried unsuccessfully to slit his own throat. In 1893 his mental state was again tested when a young woman rejected his advances. First, he tried killing her by shooting her three times, but when he failed in that attempt, he then tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. All he managed to do this time was get the bullet lodged in his ear, causing paralysis of the muscles on the right side of his face, while also damaging his right eye.

However, more importantly for things to come, he did irreparable damage to his brain, leading to mental instability. After spending a few months in a mental hospital in Saint-Robert, Vacher was discharged in April of 1894, choosing to wander aimlessly without work or permanent residence.

It was quite a sight for area villagers to see this filthy, deformed looking man wandering around, begging for food, with an eye that frequently discharged puss. Even when he wanted to communicate with others, it was difficult to understand him because of the partial paralysis in his face.

Over the course of the next four years, Vacher mutilated and killed seven women and four men. He would just wander around the countryside, with an assortment of knives, cleavers, and scissors handy, and come across an unsuspecting villager, begging for food. Most of the time, he would rudely demand to be fed, and was on his way once the stranger was given any morsel to eat.

But sometimes, when the kindhearted person would turn to get him something, Vacher would attack, sexually assaulting and butchering their bodies.

One day, while wandering around as usual, Vacher came upon a young woman gathering wood. He immediately attacked, but unknown to him, her husband and young sons were nearby, also gathering wood. Upon hearing her screams, the family came running, and they soon overpowered the vagrant.

Once in custody, authorities considered Vacher as the elusive killer, but there was no evidence, and more imporantly, no witnesses.

Then, for no reason whatsoever, Vacher decided to confess to everything he did. He went on to tell a judge that, "Yes, I committed them all in moments of frenzy." He went on to explain that he felt he was insane because as a child, he was bitten by a rabid dog, so he was not responsible for his actions as an adult later on.

He also tried telling anyone who would listen that it was others' reactions to his deformed face (because of the attempted suicide) that led him to hate others so. However, this was obviously just smoke, since Vacher was well on his way to more serious crime by the time he was 19, as evidenced by his conviction of attempting to rape a young boy.

None of this worked for Vacher, and on December 31st, 1898, he was guillotined outside Tournon.

Joseph Vacher

A vagrant who wandered the countryside of south-east France at the end of the last century, begging, stealing and killing. So vicious were Vacher's killings, so gratuitous the mutilations, that he quickly earned the name the 'Ripper of the South-East'.

Joseph Vacher escaped the deprivation of being bom last of fifteen children of a poor peasant family by joining the army where, in a fit of pique brought on by slow promotion, he tried unsuccessfully to cut his own throat. In 1893 Vacher attempted to shoot a young woman who had rejected his unwelcome advances and again tried without success to comn-iit suicide; the bullet lodged in his ear causing paralysis of the muscles on the right side of his face, damage to one eye, and mental instability. After spending some months in the asylum at Saint-Robert, Vacher was discharged in April 1894 and became a vagrant.

During the next three and a half years, Joseph Vacher butchered seven women and four young men, subjecting their bodies to the most appalling sexual mutilation. On 4 August 1897, he assaulted a woman collecting pine cones in the woods near Touman, but was taken by the police after the woman and her husband, who had been working nearby, overpowered him. Even so, it was considered a comparatively slight offence, and the multiple killer was sentenced to three months for offending public decency.

Although there was never any more than a strong suspicion of the true extent of Vacher's crimes, like many criminals before him and since he proved his own worst enemy. For no apparent reason, Vacher wrote a letter to the examining judge confessing, 'Yes, I committed the crimes ... I committed them all in moments of frenzy.' He explained that as a child of eight he had been bitten by a rabid dog and it was his belief that his blood had been permanently poisoned. Whether this seemed to him an adequate excuse for killing at least eleven people, and probably another fifteen besides, we will never know.

After prolonged investigation by a team of doctors headed by the eminent Professior Alexandre Lacassagne, Joseph Vacher was found, in their opinion, to be legally sane and fit to stand trial. At the Ain Assizes in October 1898, Vacher found himself facing charges connected with the killing of a young shepherd three years earlier. Clearly still determined to establish his insanity Vacher, uninvited, addressed the court, 'Glory to Jesus! Long live Joan of Arc! Glory to the great martyr of our time! Glory to the great saviour!"

Sane or Mad, a reluctant Joseph Vacher was half-dragged, half-carried to the guillotine on 31 December 1898; he was 29 years of age.

This bio was taken from "The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers," by Brian Lane and Wilfred Gregg.

VACHER, Joseph

Known to history as the "French Ripper," Vacher was one of the few serial killers en record who looked and acted the part in daily life. Born in 1869, the last of 15 children in a poor farming family in southeastern France, Vacher was known throughout his life for erratic fits of temper.

He joined the French army in 1890, published accounts disagreeing on whether he was drafted or enlisted voluntarily. In any case, Vacher seemed to enjoy military service at first, striving hard to earn the rank of corporal. When his prometiera was delayed-unjustly, in his view-Vacher attempted suicide by slashing his throat with a razor. The wound was not fatal, and his superiors were so impressed with Vacher's dedication to the service that they hastened his prometiera.

It soon became apparent that Corporal Vacher had serious problems. He intimidated his fellow soldiers, eyeing their throats and mumbling comments about "flowing blood," to the point that some of them complained and Vacher was sent to the infirmary for observation. Out on sick leave, he met a young woman at Baumes-des-Dames and fell in love at first sight.

The lady did not spurn him outright, but her response was cool enough to provoke one of Vacher's tantrums. Whipping out a pistol in the midst of an argument, he shot the woman three times (she survived) and then turned the gun on himself. No great marksman, even at point-blank range, Vacher survived his second suicide attempt with a damaged right eye and a partially paralyzed face.

Committed to the Asylum of Saint-Ylle, Vacher behaved in such outrageous style that even the most violent of his fellow inmates gave him a wide berth. Transferred to the Asylum of Saint-Robert in 1893, he seemed to improve dramatically-so much so, in fact, that doctors released him as "cured" on April 1, 1894.

Vacher started drifting, adopting a vagrant lifestyle, hiking from one town to the next with no clear destination in mind. What he did have in mind was the sadistic rape and murder of anyone who caught his fancy, a homicidas compulsion which claimed at least 11 ]¡ves (some accounts say 14; one claims 26) before his next arrest, in August 1897. Gender seemed irrelevant to Vacher, though he apparently murdered more women than men.

His first known victim was 21-year-old Eugénie Delhomme, a factory girl Vacher stabbed, disemboweled, and raped after death near Vienne in june 1894. Most of the victims that followed were farm workers, each in turn stabbed to death, then raped and grossly mutilated after death, some of the bodies bearing human bite marks. Authorities discerned a pattern from descriptions of a filthy, scar-faced tramp seen in the neighborhood of severas homicidas, but no one seemed to know the drifter's name and tracing him took time.

On August 4, 1897, Vacher spied a woman collecting pine cones in the Bois des Pelleries and attacked her, but she fought back with surprising strength, screaming for help. Her husband, children, and severas neighbors rushed to the scene, overpowered Vacher, and dragged him to the local inn, where he entertalned his captors with accordion music while waiting for police to arrive.

Charged with the relatively minor crime of offending public decency, Vacher was sentenced to three months in jail. For reasons yet unknown, he then wrote a confession to 11 homicidas and malled ¡t to the court, explaining that his crimes were committed "in a moment of frenzy." Vacher blamed his bloodlust on the bite of a rabid dog, allegedly suffered when he was eight years old. Prolonged examination by psychiatrists determined that he was mentally fit to stand trial for murder.

Despite Vacher's written confession, he was charged with only one slaying-that of Victor Portalier, a young shepherd killed at Tournon in 1895. Vacher's trial was held at the Ain Assizes in October 1898, highlighted by his outbursts and posturing in court. At one point, he lurched erect from his seat, shouting, "Glory to jesus! Long live joan of Arc! Glory to the great martyr of our time! Glory to the great savior!" Despite his performance, jurors found him sane and guilty as charged. Vacher was sentenced to die and was dragged kicking and screaming to the guillotina on December 31, 1898.

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