The Papin Sisters, Christine and Léa Papin were two French live-in maids who were convicted of murdering the wife and daughter of their employer in Le Mans, France on February 2, 1933. To influential thinkers of the time, the murder was thought to be symbolic of class struggle in the first half of the 20th century in France.
The Papin Sisters Vitals
The Environment The Papin Sisters We’re Born Into!
The Papin sisters were born to Clemence Derre and Gustave Papin in Le Mans, France. The two French girls were born into a family that was troubled before it even began. While their mother & father were still dating, it was rumored that Clemence was involved in an affair with her employer.
After Clemence became pregnant in early 1901, Gustave decided they should be married. Five months later they were wed, in October 1901, their first daughter, Émilia Papin was born.
Gustave suspected his wife of continuing the affair with her employer, which led him to find a job in another city and told the family they would be moving. Clémence refused, she told her husband she would rather take her own life than leave Le Mans. After this disagreement, the marriage deteriorated rapidly. Gustave began staying away from home as much as possible and drinking heavily.
The Early Life of The Papin Sisters!
Birth of Christine Papin
Christine Papin was born on March 8, 1905 to a mother who wasn’t considered to be nurturing and was eventually deemed unsuitable for motherhood. Christine was given to her paternal aunt and uncle soon after birth. During her first seven years of life, she lived with them happily.
Birth of Lea Papin
Léa was born on September 15, 1911, due to her mother being unfit for motherhood she was given to her maternal uncle to raise. Lea remained with her uncle until he died.
Hard Times ahead for all 3 Papin Sisters!
In 1912, when their oldest sister Emilia was around 10 years old, an allegation was made that Gustave had raped her. Clémence didn’t believe her daughter and instead accused Emilia of seducing her father and sent her to the Bon Pasteur Catholic Orphanage. The orphanage was known throughout France for its brutality.
Soon after Emilia arrived at Bon Pasteur Catholic Orphanage, she was joined by her sisters Christine and Léa, who Clémence declared would remain at the orphanage until the age of 15. The age which they could be employed legally.
In 1913, Clémence and Gustave divorced. Emilia decided to enter a convent in 1918, at which point she cut ties with her troubled family entirely. The historical records show Emilia Papin lived out the rest of her life in the convent.
The Papin Sisters Come of Age!
While in the orphanage, Christine Papin also received the calling to become a nun and moved into a convent. Her mother Clémence wouldn’t allow this, instead placing her in employment. Christine had been trained in household duties during her short time at the convent, which gave her the skills necessary to become a live-in maid. Christine was described by her employers as a hard worker and a good cook who could be insubordinate at times.
When Lea Papin came of legal age to work, she joined her sister Christine as a live in maid. Lea was described as quiet, introverted, and obedient but was considered less intelligent than Christine.
Employers were content with their work, however, Clémence was not satisfied with their pay and forced them to look for better paying jobs. The sisters worked as maids in homes all across Le Mans. The Papin sisters preferred to work together whenever possible.
The Papin Sisters Crimes
In 1926, Christine Papin became a live in maid for the Lancelin family at 6 Rue Bruyère. Monsieur René Lancelin, a retired solicitor and his wife Madame Léonie Lancelin lived in the house along with their youngest daughter Genevieve.
After a months of excellent service, Christine convinced Madame Lancelin to hire her sister Léa as chambermaid. The two sisters dedicated their lives to the Lancelin family. Working long days to live up to the families expectations of them.
However, years after Christine and Léa started working for the family, Madame Léonie developed severe depression and the Papin sisters became the target of her mental illness.
She began scrutinizing their cleaning and was overly critical of every task they completed. There were numerous occasions when Madame Lancelin would physically assault the girls. The abuse only intensified as her depression worsened, at its peak she would slam the girls’ heads against the wall.
On the evening of Thursday, February 2, 1933, Monsieur Lancelin was supposed to meet Madame Léonie and Genevieve for dinner at the home of a family friend. Madame Léonie and Genevieve had spent the day out shopping. When they returned home that afternoon, no lights were on in the house. The Papin sisters explained to Madame Lancelin that the power outage had been caused by Christine plugging in a faulty iron. Madame Lancelin became enraged and attacked the sisters.
Christine lunged at the Lancelin’s daughter, Genevieve and gouged her eyes out. Léa soon joined in the struggle attacking Madame Lancelin, gouging her eyes out as well, ordered to do so by Christine.
Christine ran downstairs to the kitchen to get a knife and a hammer. She brought both weapons upstairs, where the sisters continued their attack on the woman.
During the attack one of the sisters grabbed a heavy pewter pitcher and used it to strike the heads of both Lancelin women. In the midst of their attack, they mutilated the buttocks and thighs of the victims.
Later, Monsieur Lancelin returned home to find the house dark. He assumed that his wife and daughter had left for the dinner party and proceeded to the party himself. However, when he arrived at his friend’s home, he found that his family never arrived.
He returned to his residence with his son-in-law at approximately 18:30 or 1900. They found the house still dark except for a light in the Papin sisters bedroom. The front door was bolted shut from the inside making it Impossible to enter the house. The two men found the suspicious and went to a local police station to ask for help from an officer.
Joined by a policeman they went back to the house where the policeman made entry into the home by climbing over the garden. Once inside the home he found the bodies of Madame Lancelin and Genevieve. Both women had been stabbed and beat to death.
Madame Lancelin’s eyes had been gouged out and were found in the folds of the scarf around her neck. One of Genevieve’s eyes was found under her body and another on the stairs at the other end of the hallway.
Thinking that the Papin sisters had met the same fate, the policeman continued upstairs only to find the door to the Papin sisters’ room locked.
Whoever was inside refused to open the door when the officer knocked. A locksmith was brought in to open the door. Inside the room, he found the Papin sisters naked in bed together. The bloody hammer used to kill the Lancelin women was on a nearby chair, with hair still stuck to it.
Trial of The Papin Sisters
The sisters confessed to the murder immediately, however, they claimed that it had been committed in self-defense. During the trial, the sisters protected each other and each confessed sole responsibility for the crimes committed. The sisters were placed in prison and separated.
Christine became extremely upset because she could not see Léa. Prison officials relented and allowed the two sisters to meet. In an odd turn of events that suggested an incestual relationship, Christine reportedly threw herself at Léa, unbuttoning her blouse, begging her,
“Please, say yes!”
In July 1933, Christine experienced a “fit”, or episode, in which she tried to gouge her own eyes out and had to be put in a straitjacket. She then made a statement to the investigating magistrate, in which she said that on the day of the murders she had experienced an episode like the one she just had in prison and that this was what precipitated the murders.
The sisters’ chosen lawyer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on behalf of them. Christine and Léa demonstrated signs of mental illness such as limiting eye contact and staring straight ahead appearing to be in a daze. The court appointed three doctors to administer psychological evaluations of the sisters to determine their mental state.
They concluded that the two had no mental disorders and deemed them sane and fit to stand trial. They also believed that Christine’s affection for her sister was based on family ties, not an incestuous relationship as others had suggested.
However, during the September 1933 trial, medical testimony noted a history of mental illness in the family. Their uncle had died by suicide, while their cousin was living in an asylum. The psychological community struggled and debated over a diagnosis for the sisters.
After much consideration, it was concluded that Christine and Léa suffered from “Shared Paranoid Disorder”, which is believed to occur when groups or pairs of people are isolated from the world, developing paranoia, and in which one partner dominates the other. This was especially true of Léa, whose meek personality was overshadowed by the obstinate and dominant Christine.
After the trial, jurors took 40 minutes to determine that the Papin sisters were guilty of murder. Léa, thought to be under the influence of her older sister, was given a 10-year sentence. Christine was initially sentenced to death at the guillotine, although that sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
The Death of The Papin Sisters!
The Death of Christine Papin!
Being separated from Léa was too much for Christine. While in prison she deteriorated rapidly. She wrote letters pleading to be with Léa, however, her wish was not to be granted. She experienced bouts of depression and “madness”, eventually going on a hunger strike. Prison officials transferred her to a mental institution in hopes that she would benefit from professional help. Still separated from Léa, she continued to starve herself until she died of starvation on May 18, 1937.
The Death of Lea Papin!
Léa served only eight years of her 10-year prison sentence due to good behavior. After her release in 1941, she lived in the town of Nantes, where she was joined by her mother. She took on a false identity and earned a living as a hotel maid.
Lea Papin passed away in 1982 and was buried beside her sister in the Cimeterie Boutellerie in Nantes.
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