French Aristocrat, Jurist, Womaniser, and Serial Killer
Born 1749, Guillotined 1793
How does one sum up the life of such a towering figure as Nadjarian de Mulhouse? In many ways, he was both a yin and a yang. On the one hand, the eminent jurist and lawyer, while on the other hand, a serial murderer so foul that even Robespierre shuddered.
Unfortunately, the good citoyens failed to foresee the rise of the Internet, and now for the first time, this incredible story can be made public after much digging and rifling through the stacks of the Bibliotheque Nationale and other dark corners.
In 1749, Nadjarian de Mulhouse was born Felix Nadjarian in Mulhouse (obviously) in Alsace-Lorraine to a local peasant woman following an assignation she had with a passing Armenian officer. She was poor, but she was honest, and she had a father who Felix described as "large and violent" in his later (suppressed) autobiography, and who made the hapless Caucasian major make an honest woman of her. This he did, until he went back to visit his sister in Armenia and was subsequently court-martialled and executed for desertion. Lisette never got over this, and struggled to bring her son up alone, often resorting to prostitution to put food on the table. One of her main customers was the local lord of the manor, one Jean, 6e Comte de Mulhouse, in exchange for her continued existence on his land. Young Felix was often forced to watch him thrashing away above her because this was the only way in which the Comte could properly succeed to the generative task. In 1763, while the Comte was on one of his "aventures" with Lisette, Felix had enough. He took a solid iron candlestick and stove in the Comte's head, killing him instantly. Felix then stole the Comte's clothes (at 14, Felix was tall for his age, whereas the Comte was short, and unprepossessing) and escaped to Paris.
The tale becomes a bit fuzzy here, although in 1766 there were legends about dead bodies found in the Bois de Vincennes with their genitals cut off and stuffed in the still-open wounds, but no culprit for these murders were ever found. Suzette Carval, in her Nadjarian de Mulhouse: La legende (2007), believes that these were the very first of his murders, however, the evidence on which she relies is uncorroborated at best, relying mainly on the testimony of a Parisian flophouse inhabitant who was found dead the next day from severe alcohol poisoning. I firmly believe that "Pintle-stuffer" is little more than a fairy story.
Needless to say, in 1769 a man calling himself Felix-Julien-Jean Nadjarian de Mulhouse graduated as a maitre in law from the Law Faculty of the University of Paris. He became an advocate and often appeared in the High Court of Paris, where, for reasons best known to himself, he specialised in defending and prosecuting impotent husbands in relation to annulment (this being the only way in which one could get divorced under the ancien régime.) He also gained a reputation as an inveterate womaniser and once had to be spirited out the courtroom via the stairs that led down to the cells and disguised as a common criminal to escape the wrath of an irate merchant whose daughter he had deflowered the night before and (as it later transpired) left in a delicate condition. However, this served as a wake-up call to him, as he scaled back his philandering to masqued balls and whore houses and ceased with the bragging.
It should be noted here that Nadjarian de Mulhouse was possessed of an incredible skill at talking and gulling. Despite having no formal education whatsoever and barely being able to read when first he came to Paris, he was able to feign entry to the notoriously demanding Law Faculty ahead of many, many well-born sons of gentryfolk. In the records, he claimed to have been put into Holy Orders where he learned his letters at the age of eight before leaving at 13 to escape the pyre after an allegedly false allegation of raping a nun. Amazingly, this must have been believed.
So far, he was a philanderer and a womaniser and a whoremonger, but not yet a murderer. He continued to prong his way around Paris until he was caught in 1779 with his trousers down in a whorehouse performing an act that was allegedly "so disgusting that it is shameful to write further of this"
by none other than the legendary Jean-Étienne-Marie Portalis
, who was impatient with waiting for his turn, and up on business from Aix-en-Provence
. Yes, that Portalis. Portalis who would later go on to be appointed by Napoléon
to draft the Code Civil
along with Bigot-Préameneau, Tronchet, and Maleville. Portalis later wrote expressing astonishment of Nadjarian de Mulhouse's genitals, which he described as "a most astonishing member, like unto the forearm of a giant clutching a very shiny pumpkin"
and "Nadjarian de Mulhouse could very probably plough an acre of farmland on his hands and his knees."
It should be noted that this, while exaggerated, probably accounted for his skill at seduction, if only by society demoiselles
becoming more curious than was good for them.
However, this discovery left Nadjarian in some disrepute. Clients dried up, as they found themselves laughed out of Court (which back then was very much a theatrical experience) when they were represented by the "Alsatian Ploughshare." Nadjarian needed an alternate line of work, and fast.
In 1780, he found it. He was elevated to the bench and became a judge. There are two reasons for this even though he was a disgraced figure. Firstly, his aforementioned fast mouth and, quite frankly, enormous balls. He was reportedly (Carval, 2007) interviewed by the chief justices of the High Court of Paris and asked why he should be elevated to such a height when he had disgraced his name and his profession. His answer was to go over that all particular judge's rulings from memory for the past four years and explain why, legally, around half of them were totally wrong and possibly even worthy of appeal. Shocked, the panel relented and allowed him to be sworn in.
Rumour has it that around this time, Nadjarian de Mulhouse, still an inveterate womaniser, contracted the syphilis, as it was about here that he started acting very peculiarly. He once reportedly was invited to a society party and "walked backwards the whole of the eve and, shockingly for him, made no attempt to corrupt or deprave any of the ladies in attendance." On another occasion he was found outside Notre Dame singing "L'artilleur de Metz" while dressed as one of the toy animals from Marie Antionette's farm. Some times he would arrive in Court to hear a case and sit completely motionless throughout it and even after all the other judges had retired to considered their decisions. Then he would get up and start asking questions of counsel long since left the chamber. However, arguably his most lasting contribution to French jurisprudence was the wearing of the toque. In 1783, he turned up to Court late, as usual, with a white chef's hat perched perkily on his head. When asked about it, he replied, "What chef's hat?" Unfortunately this was a criminal trial at which the death penalty was sought by the prosecutor, and when about to pronounce the sentence of death, the priest present in the courtroom took him to one side and told him that it was "shameful" that he should sign away a man's life with such frivolous headwear. Nadjarian de Mulhouse seemed to understand this and rose. Five minutes later, he came back with a black chef's hat perched on his head. Defeated, the priest could not object. However, such was the sagacity of his verdict in this (and other) matters in which he wore the black chef's hat that firstly his fellow judges and later the parties' lawyers all began to wear a black toque in Court as a mark of respect for him. There are still, in fact, decisions that he made that were held to be good law even in the 1st Republic and under Napoleon and therefore an arguable precedent (insofar as France has legal precedent other than in an advisory sense) today. In the case of Georges de Clichy, he set out what was described (Guillaume Richard, 1989) as "the most succinct, logical, and incorruptible statement of the law of self-defence that maybe ever will be produced."
It is still the custom in France to wear such a hat in Court.
In 1789, the Revolution came. Nadjarian de Mulhouse initially threw his support behind the aristocracy and became, once again, a hate figure. However, when he saw the quarter in which the wind was blowing, he switched sides at the drop of a hat and began to support the revolution. With his gift of the gab he was able to convince the revolutionary leaders that he not only saw the error of his ways in backing the hated King, but also that he had always secretly supported the Revolution and was terrified into it by powerful and corrupt aristocrats who threatened to murder him by "slicing off his privy parts and placing them in his mouth until he did bleed to death." Robespierre was horrified and insisted that Nadjarian-Mulhouse (he avoided the National Razor in the first instance by removing the "de" from his name) name these aristocrats. He did so. One of them was Etienne, 7e Comte de Mulhouse, son of the 6e Comte that Felix had murdered at 14. All were subsequently guillotined. Popular rumour has it that Nadjarian himself pulled the rope.
It was around this time that Nadjarian de Mulhouse began to murder. Carval (2007) believes that he first murdered someone who threatened to denounce him to the Committee of Public Safety for some reason and, acting in pre-emptive self-defence, he killed him. The man, Guilhem Souvignet, was a soldier who defected during the Revolution to man the barricades, and his body was found with a knife in his gut near the Palais de Luxembourg, and also with his head cut off and his genitals stuffed in the mouth. The constable who discovered it noted that it was "an old wound, from which blood had flown" but that the decapitation was less bloody, implying that the man had been stabbed and then decapitated later. However, given that this was the Terror, and citoyens were losing their heads all o'ert'show, and were often mutilated after death (Charlotte Corday's severed head was punched in the face by her executioner, and later on, headless bodies were used in hellish, macabre puppet shows for the edification of the tricoteuses as they knitted incessantly below the head-bucket) the man was written off as yet another corpse to bed Liberty on.
More killings persisted throughout the Revolution and the Terror and even after the Thermidorean Reaction which saw St Just and Robespierre both deposed. Nadjarian-Mulhouse had long since ceased to be a judge, as the Committee of Public Safety never had much in the way of need for justice. The method was the same - the victim was found naked with his genitals cut off, allowed to bleed to death from this wound, then the severed genitals stuffed in the mouth. Often the head would then be severed as an afterthought to try to make the person look like they had been lawfully executed. Certainly, some of them had. The more sadistic (and popular) executioners during the Terror began to perform this humiliation on their victims for the edification of the crowd. However by 1793 Nadjarian began to get sloppy, possibly as the syphilis took its increasing toll. He would forget to decapitate his victims - and in any event, by then the rate of guillotining had slowed down somewhat. Memberless cadavers began to attract attention until on 25 July 1793, he was caught wrestling a man to the ground, naked apart from his tricorne hat, and then slicing off his genitals. The screams attracted a baying mob who set upon Nadjarian and would no doubt have lynched him from a nearby ceiling rafter had the police not intervened and brought him before the Committee of Public Safety. When asked how he pled, he said he was not guilty as he was a jurist. "The law, it's me!" he cried out no less than eight hundred times during the proceedings until he was unanimously found guilty and sentenced to death by guillotine. The Judge's summation was that "The Republic has no need of your law."
Felix-Julien-Jean Nadjarian de Mulhouse had no children that he knew of. He remains a controversial figure. On the one hand, he was a syphilitic mass murderer who used other mass murders to cover up his crimes. On the other hand, he was an excellent lawyer and jurist and his legacy is still on the crania of every jurist in France. Comparisons have been made to Gilles de Rais, the great medieval general and lord of battles who also was a sadistic rapist, murderer and heretic. I do not think these are unfounded.
I think by all accounts, we can agree that he was a colourful character.
"Nadjarian de Mulhouse: La legende", Suzette Carval, Paris: LGDJ, 2007
"Trial by Impotence", Pierre Darmon, Paris: Hachette, 1978
"Meutriers oubliés de France", Georges Souvignet, Paris: Hachette, 2001
"Les grands arréts de la jurisprudence administrative", Long, Weil, Braibant, Delvolvé, Genevois, Paris: Dalloz, 2007
"Nadjarian: une bio nouvelle", Guillaume Richard, Paris: Livre de poche, 1989
LieQuest 2013, son.