Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods



Three days after he was taken into custody unlike the commoners, Lord de Rais was held in comfortable chambers in Nantes the inquest into Gilles acts began in earnest. Pierre de LHopital, chief judge of Brittany began the process by having interviews with the parents and relatives of the lost children of Machecoul. One mother tells the heartbreaking tale of being coerced by Poitou to turning over her son to him and Lord de Rais who promised to care for and educate the boy. The next day, as the boy and the murderers were preparing to leave, the mother had second thoughts and begged de Rais to return her boy. Gilles did not even acknowledge her presence and rode off with the 10-year-old child. The woman never saw her child again.

LHopital and his prosecutor, the friar Jean de Touscheronde, heard the complaints of 10 families whose children had disappeared and who blamed Lord de Rais for the kidnappings. From September 18 through October 8, LHopital and the secular prosecutor listened to the plaintive wails of grieving parents who feared their children had fallen into the hands of a monster. During some of the inquest, the ecclesiastical authorities were also present, in the person of the Vicar of the Inquisitor, Jean Blouyn.

By October 13, the judges had heard enough testimony from the relatives of the victims and formally indicted Lord de Rais on 34 charges of murder, sodomy, heresy and violating the immunity of the church. This last charge was in connection with Gilles robbery and kidnapping at St. Etienne. The indictment claimed 140 children had been the victim of Gilles and his accomplices, over the course of 14 years the indictment set the date of the first murder at 1426 when in fact it did not occur until at least 1432. Included in the charges were accusations that Gilles had on several occasions expressed remorse and shame for his acts, once promising to take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to cleanse his soul. But the killings continued instead.

Standing before the ecclesiastical and secular judges, Gilles was asked to answer to the charges. Instead, he verbally attacked the authorities, calling them ribalds and simoniacs (someone who sells ecclesiastical pardons or indulgences) and asserting that he would rather be hanged by a rope around his neck than respond to such ecclesiastics and judges. Four times the judges asked Gilles to make a plea, and four times he ignored them. Left with no other choice, the Bishop of Nantes excommunicated Gilles de Rais. The hearing adjourned.

Two days later, a contrite Gilles appeared again before his judges. Having been denied Communion and the penitential rite and apparently fearing for his immortal soul, Gilles recognized the authority of the court and admitted to having maliciously committed and perpetrated the crimes described in the indictment. A tearful and humbled Gilles asked forgiveness from the court for his verbal outbursts earlier. The vice Inquisitor and bishop absolved him and readmitted him to the Church.

Gilles then went on to admit to many of the crimes he was accused of, except the summoning of demons. He swore upon a Bible and offered to take a test of fire to show his innocence. The prosecutor, however, stood by the accusation and produced Poitou, Henriet, Prelati and Blanchet who each testified to Gilles attempts to conjure up the devil. The testimony of the accomplices was taken over the course of five days, and at the end, the judges asked Gilles what he had to say now. Cooperative but still reticent, Gilles replied he had nothing to add and agreed that the testimony should be published as a warning to heretics.

Torture implement, using a sharp iron bar under the chin
Torture implement, using a
sharp iron bar under the

But the prosecutor was not satisfied with Gilles response and asked that he be allowed to apply torture to force a confession from Lord de Rais. The judges agreed and ordered Gilles to be taken to the dungeon at La Tour Neuve. They hoped that a visit to the torture chamber would loosen Gilles tongue.


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