Joseph Vacher  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Joseph Vacher (November 16, 1869, – December 31, 1898, Bourg-en-Bresse, Ain) was a French serial killer, sometimes known as "The French Ripper" or "L'éventreur du Sud-Est" ("The South-East Ripper") due to comparisons to the more famous Jack the Ripper. His scarred face, accordion, and plain, white, hand-made rabbit-fur hat became his trademark appearance. He was executed in 1898 after confessing to killing and mutilating 11 women and children. In 1976 French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier made a film called The Judge and the Assassin, which was inspired by Vacher's story.



The son of an illiterate farmer, young Joseph was sent to a very strict Catholic school, where he was taught to obey and to fear God. In 1893, while in military conscription, he fell in love with a young maidservant, Louise, who was not at all attracted to him. When his time in the army was over, he tried to woo her and propose to her for the last time before returning home, but she was bored by him and mocked him. In a rage, he shot her four times (she was badly injured, but survived) and then tried to commit suicide. Shooting himself twice in the head accomplished nothing more than paralyzing one side of his face (one of the bullets remained forever lodged in his skull) and putting him in a mental institution in Dole, Jura. Medical treatment did nothing for him, but the doctors released him as "completely cured" one year later. Shortly after his release, at the age of 25, he began his murder spree.

During a three-year period beginning in 1894, Vacher murdered and mutilated at least 11 people (one woman, five teenage girls, and five teenage boys). Many of them were shepherds watching their flocks in isolated fields. The victims were stabbed repeatedly, often disemboweled, raped, and sodomized. Vacher was a drifter, travelling from town to town, from Normandy to Provence, staying mainly in the southeast of France, and surviving by begging or working on farms as a day laborer.

In 1897, Vacher tried to assault a woman in a field in Ardèche. She fought back and her screams soon alerted her husband and son, both of whom came rushing to her aid. The men overpowered Vacher and took him to the police. The authorities had little evidence that Vacher was responsible for the rash of murders, but Vacher soon confessed to everything.

Insanity plea

Vacher claimed he was insane because of a quack cure given to him as a child, when a rabid dog bit him (in fact he was not bitten at all, just licked), then changed his mind and said that he was sent there by God, just like Joan of Arc, in order to make people think and understand the real virtues of faith. He was however judged sane by the Cour d'Assises of Ain (the county where he murdered two youngsters) and sentenced to death on October 28, 1898. Vacher was executed by guillotine two months later, at dawn on December 31, 1898. He refused to walk towards the scaffold and had to be dragged by the executioners.

In popular culture

In 1976, French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier made a film called Le juge et l'assassin (The Judge and the Murderer), which was inspired by Vacher's story. The name of the murderer, played by Michel Galabru, is slightly changed into "Joseph Bouvier" (in French, bouvier and vacher are two words describing the same profession, a herdsman).


  • Lacassagne, Alexandre, Vacher l'éventreur et les crimes sadiques, 1899 (French)
  • Bouchardon, Pierre, Vacher l'éventreur, Albin Michel, 1939, 252 p.
  • Deloux, Jean-Pierre, Vacher l'éventreur, E/dite Histoire, 2000 (1995), 191 p. (Main source used to improve this article)
  • Garet, Henri and Tavernier, René, Le juge et l'assassin, Presses de la cité, 1976, 315 p.
  • Hülsmanns, Dieter. Vakher, Joseph Melzer Verlag, Darmstadt, 1966, 97 p.
  • Kershaw, Alister. Murder in France, Constable, London, 1955, 188 p.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Joseph Vacher" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools