Throughout history, many heinous crimes have been committed by many evil, troubled men and women. Some of the stories have survived through the centuries while others have been all but forgotten and left behind. The story of the Demon Tailor, also known as the Werewolf of Chalons, is one such case. Historically, people believed in a thing known as Damnatio memoriae, which is a Latin phrase that means “damnation of memory”. This was the ultimate dishonor to criminals, that they would essentially be erased from history. In ancient times, this was much easier because there was less documentation but as time went on, it became a much more complex process and by association, a much lesser used tool in convicting and sentencing criminals.
In the 1500s in France, this unnamed man owned a tailor shop in the heart of Paris. According to historical records, he would lure children into his shop unsuspectingly, where he would then torture, rape, and eventually kill them by slitting their throats. In the form of a butcher, he would dismember and dress the bodies, consuming the remains and disposing of the bones by bleaching them and hiding them in barrels. It was also reported that he would scour the woods looking for victims, purportedly in wolf’s form, where he supposedly killed several dozen more victims. The total number of murders in this case is still unknown but it was definitely a heinous case and he definitely was a serial killer in a time when such a term might not have existed in common language yet.
In December of 1598, the man was arraigned on multiple murder charges. He was convicted quickly and easily, likely because of the superstitious nature of the case. Sentenced to burning at the stake, the man never showed a single ounce of remorse or asked for forgiveness. Even as his body burned, he simply cursed to the very end. The interesting part of this case is definitely the reported werewolf element, but it’s even more interesting that he was convicted with such a lack of proven evidence. Although the bones were presumed to be human, he never confessed and it’s not clear whether officials determined the species or if they were just superstitious and acting on fear or assumptions.
After the Werewolf of Chalons was executed, every single record of his trial, crimes, and his very existence were destroyed. The state decided it wanted no memory of this heinous criminal and the things that he did. For serial killers, after all, the fame and notoriety is what it’s all about. Even in death, remembering and revisiting serial killers and their crimes is giving them exactly what they wanted. Back then, officials considered it very important to dishonor their names by eliminating them -as much as possible – from history.
Mystical Madness in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages in Europe, witches, werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural beings were very common and often caught and burned at the stake. It was a standard solution for these types of fiends, who may or may not have actually been criminals or have supernatural powers. Rather than relying on evidence and trying to get the facts, law enforcement and other officials simply relied on their superstition and word of mouth to find and kill all of the offenders that claimed to be any type of werewolf, witch, or other supernatural being.
In that regard, the Demon Tailor wasn’t really all that unique. Of course, the fact that he killed as many as 50 people (the exact body count is unknown), puts him on a much higher level than other offenders. Another thing working against him is the fact that his sister, brother, and two children all were tried the same year for murder, as supposed werewolves and witches that killed children. All of them were convicted and burned at the stake. The sister was the only one who’d committed any crimes but they were all executed because of their claims of supernatural abilities and the fear that such a claim inflicted on the general public. France was just one of the many countries in Europe that was affected by the mystical, potentially mythical creatures of the Middle Ages.