The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

 
 
 
Dr Couty de la Pommerais

Dr Couty de la Pommerais


A carte-de-visite portrait of Doctor Edmond-Désiré Couty de la Pommerais, who murdered first his mother-in-law and then his mistress with digitalis. He was guillotined on 9 June 1864.

When Pommerais found himself in financial trouble, he persuaded his mistress, a young widow named Madame de Pauw, to fake an illness in order that he might collect on her insurance policy. The faked illness soon became all too real and Madame de Paux died in agony. His mother-in-law Madame Dubizy had already died suddenly under suspicious circumstances. The noted forensic pathologist Professor Auguste Tardieu established the presence of digitalis in the body of Madame de Paux; his evidence was sufficient to convict Pommerais, who was duly executed.

The crime was much reported in the British press. The following is an abridged extract from a much longer article in the Dublin Evening Mail (11 June 1864): ‘He made more than one abortive attempt to secure for himself a rich wife through the medium of matrimonial offices; and at length one day meeting Mdlle. Dubizy in an omnibus, and hearing that she was an heiress, he followed her home to discover her abode, and contrived to secure an introduction to her family. […] La Pommerais knew that his mother-in-law possessed some £2,000, which upon her death would descend to his wife without any similar restriction; and not long after his marriage, Madame Dubizy, whose health had previously been excellent, died suddenly, with symptoms strongly suggestive of the action of a violent poison. Whether she was murdered by her son-in-law is, of course, still an open question, since he was not brought to trial upon that charge; but, unquestionably, the circumstances of her decease are pregnant with suspicion. La Pommerais received her money, but so small a sum was far from being commensurate with his desires, and then it was that he conceived the cunning scheme by the accomplishment of which his life has become forfeit.’

The article here moves on to an account of the second murder. ‘He renewed his relations with Madame Paux – who was overjoyed to find her old lover once more at her feet – and told her that he had conceived a project by which he might make ample provision for her and for her children. He proposed to insure her life for £22,000, paying for her the first annual premium, which would amount to £758; and he told her that if, soon after this operation had been effected, she pretended to be seriously ill, the companies would gladly buy up the policies by giving her an annual income of £240, of which he would take half as reimbursement of his outlay. […] La Pommerais made the insurances through a broker, and paid the premium, most probably with the money which he had inherited from Madame Dubizy […]. When he had induced Madame de Paux to make over to him the policies by endorsement, by deed, and by will, he told her that the time had arrived for her to simulate a severe illness, and that he would give her drugs which would produce the appearance of alarming symptoms. The end soon came. The oftener he visited her the worse she became, and at last she died in horrible agonies, only two or three hours after he had last quitted her.’

Photographer unidentified.

 

Code: 126708
 
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© Paul Frecker 2018