Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Murder of Lady Mazel By Major Arthur Griffiths 1899

The Murder of Lady Mazel By Major Arthur Griffiths 1899

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One of the earliest of grave judicial blunders to be found in French records is commonly called the case of Lady Mazel, who was a lady of rank, living in a large mansion, of which she occupied two floors herself: the ground floor as reception-rooms, the first floor as her bedroom and private apartments. The principal door of her bedroom shut from the inside with a spring, and when the lady retired for the night there was no access from without, except by a special key which was always left on a chair within the chamber. Two other doors of her room opened upon a back staircase, but these were kept constantly locked. On the second floor was lodged the family chaplain only; above, on the third floor, were the servants.’

One Sunday evening the mistress supped with the abbé as was her general practice; then went to her bedroom, where she was attended by her waiting-maids. Her butler, by name Le Brun, came to take her orders for the following day, and then, when the maids withdrew, leaving the key on the chair inside as usual, he also went away, shutting the spring door behind him.

Next morning there was no sign of movement from the lady, not at seven a.m. (her time for waking), nor yet at eight—she was still silent, and had not summoned her servants. Le Brun, the butler, and the maids began to be uneasy, and at last the son of the house, who was married and lived elsewhere, was called in. He expressed his fears that his mother was ill, or that worse had happened, and a locksmith was called in, and the door presently broken open.

Le Brun was the first to enter, and he ran at once to the bedside. Drawing aside the curtains, he saw a sight which made him cry aloud, “My mistress has been murdered!” and this exclamation was followed by an act that afterwards went against him. He opened the wardrobe and took out the strong box. “It is heavy,” he said; “at any rate there has been no robbery.” The murder had been committed with horrible violence. The poor woman had fought hard for life; her hands were all cut and lacerated, and there were quite fifty wounds on her body. A clasp knife, much discoloured, was found in the ashes of the fire. Among the bedclothes they picked up a piece of a coarse lace cravat, and a napkin bearing the family crest, twisted into a nightcap. The key of the bedroom door, which had been laid on the chair, had disappeared. Nothing much had been stolen. The jewels were untouched, but the strong box had been opened and some of the gold abstracted.

Suspicion fell at once upon the butler, Le Brun. The story he told was against himself. He said that after leaving his mistress he went down into the kitchen and fell asleep there. When he awoke he found, to his surprise, the street-door wide open. He shut it, locked it, and went to his own bed. In the morning he did his work as usual until the alarm was given; went to market, called to see his wife, who lived near by, and asked her to lock up some money, gold crowns and louis d’or, for him. This was all he had to tell, but on searching him a key was found in his pocket: a false or skeleton key, the wards of which had been newly filed, and it fitted nearly all the locks in the house, including the street-door, the antechamber, and the back door of the lady’s bedroom. The napkin nightcap was tried on his head and fitted him exactly. He was arrested and shortly afterwards put upon his trial.

It was not alleged that he had committed the murder himself. No blood had been found on any of his clothes, although there were scratches on his person. A shirt much stained with blood had been discovered in the loft, but it did not fit Le Brun, nor was it like any he owned. Nor did the scrap of coarse lace correspond with any of his cravats; on the contrary, a maid-servant stated that she thought she recognised it as belonging to one she had washed for Berry, once a footman in the house. The supposition was that Le Brun had let some accomplice into the house, who had escaped after effecting his purpose. This was borne out by the state of the doors, which showed no signs of having been forced, and by the discovery of Le Brun’s false key.

Le Brun was a man of exemplary character, who had served the family faithfully for twenty-nine years, and was “esteemed a good husband, a good father, and a good servant,” yet the prosecution seemed satisfied he was guilty and put him to the torture. In the absence of real proofs it was hoped, after the cruel custom of the time, to force self-condemnatory admissions from the accused. The “question extraordinary” was applied, and the wretched man died on the rack, protesting his innocence to the last.

A month later the real culprit was discovered. The police of Sens had arrested a horse-dealer named Berry, the man who had been in Lady Mazel’s service as a lackey, but had been discharged. In his possession was a gold watch proved presently to have belonged to the murdered woman. He was carried to Paris, where he was recognised by someone who had seen him leaving Lady Mazel’s house on the night she was murdered, and a barber who shaved him next morning deposed to having seen that his hands were much scratched. Berry said that he had been killing a cat. Put to the torture prior to being broken on the wheel, he made full confession. At first he implicated the son and daughter-in-law of Lady Mazel, but when at the point of death he retracted the charge, and said that he{61} had returned to the house with the full intention of committing the murder. He had crept in unperceived on the Friday evening, had gained the loft on the fourth floor, and had lain there concealed until Sunday morning, subsisting the while on apples and bread. When he knew the mistress had gone to mass he stole down into her bedroom, where he tried to conceal himself under the bed. It was too low, and he returned to the garret and slipped off his coat and waistcoat, and found now that he could creep under the bed. His hat was in his way, so he made a cap of the napkin. He lay hidden till night, then came out, and having secured the bell ropes, he roused the lady and demanded her money. She resisted bravely, and he stabbed her repeatedly until she was dead. Then he took the key of the strong box, opened it, and stole all the gold he could find; after which, using the bedroom key which lay on the chair by the door, he let himself out, resumed his clothes in the loft, and walked downstairs. As the street-door was only bolted he easily opened it, leaving it open behind him. He had meant to escape by a rope ladder which he had brought for the purpose of letting himself down from the first floor, but it was unnecessary.

It may be remarked that this confession was not inconsistent with Le Brun’s complicity. But it is to be presumed that Berry would have brought in Le Brun had he been a confederate, even although it could not have lessened his own guilt or punishment.

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