Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Castle of Horrors

As the record-keeping of the 15th century was not as fastidious as we have come to accept in court proceedings, actual dates of the disappearances of children are rough at best. In few cases can dates be assigned, and in many cases even the year is suspect.

The first child-snatching attributed to Gilles de Rais occured, historians believe, sometime in 1432, when Gilles de Sille, a cousin of de Rais, reportedly abducted a young apprentice whom de Sille wanted to carry a message to the castle at Machecoul. The anonymous 12-year-old boy, apprenticed to Guillaume Hilairet, a furrier, was the son of Jean Jeudon. When the boy disappeared and Hilairet sought out the nobleman de Sille, he was told the boy had been kidnapped by thieves in the village of Tiffauges. In Gilles trial, the events were testified to by Hillairet and his wife, Jean Jeudon and his wife, and five others from Machecoul. There is no evidence linking Gilles de Rais to this kidnapping, but he was charged with the boys death.

In Jean Benedettis biography of Gilles de Rais, he speculates what happened to the youngster:

He was pampered and dressed in better clothes than he had ever known. The evening began with a large meal and heavy drinking, particularly hippocras, which acted as a stimulant. The boy was taken to an upper room to which only Gilles (de Rais) and his immediate circle was admitted. He was then confronted with the true nature of his situation. The shock thus produced on the boy was probably an initial source of pleasure for Gilles.

An accomplice in many of the crimes, Etienne Corrillaut, known as Poitou, testified that de Rais then raped the boy as he was hanged from a hook by the neck. Before the child died, Gilles took him down, comforted him, repeated the act and either killed him himself or had him slain.

Poitou testified that the child victims were murdered sometimes by decapitating them, sometimes by cutting their throats, sometimes by dismembering them, sometimes by breaking their necks with a stick, and that there was a weapon specifically for their execution, known as a braquemard. A braquemard is a short, thick double-edged sword.

Gilles de Rais rarely left a child alive for more than one evenings pleasure, Poitou claimed. Many times they were dealt mortal wounds before de Rais sodomized them. He would then take his pleasure as the child died. Occasionally, he would perform a sex act with a dead child.

In his own confession, Gilles testified that when the children were dead he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and heads he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the said children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed

Many of the bodies were disposed of through cremation in the chamber of horrors. The fires burned slowly over time so as to minimize the smell, testified Henriet Griart, another co-conspirator. Poitou also claimed the ashes were then dumped in the cesspool or moat.


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