Mur­der in the Métro

  • Laeti­tia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France
  • Gayle K. Brunelle, Ph.D. and Annette Finley-Croswhite, Ph.D.

An enthralling his­tor­i­cal study of an unsolved murder

On the evening of May 16, 1937, the train doors opened at the Porte Dorée sta­tion in the Paris Métro to reveal a dying woman slumped by a win­dow, an eight-inch stiletto buried to its hilt in her neck. No one wit­nessed the crime, and the killer left behind lit­tle foren­sic evi­dence. This first-ever mur­der in the Paris Métro dom­i­nated the head­lines for weeks dur­ing the sum­mer of 1937, as jour­nal­ists and the police slowly uncov­ered the shock­ing truth about the vic­tim: a twenty-nine-year-old Ital­ian immi­grant, the beau­ti­ful and elu­sive Laeti­tia Toureaux. Toureaux toiled each day in a fac­tory, but spent nights work­ing as a spy in the seamy Parisian under­world.  Just as the dan­ger­ous spy Mata Hari had fas­ci­nated Parisians a gen­er­a­tion before, the mys­tery of Toureaux’s mur­der held the French pub­lic spell­bound in pre-war Paris, as the police tried and failed to iden­tify her assassin.

In Mur­der in the Métro, Gayle K. Brunelle and Annette Finley-Croswhite unravel Toureaux’s com­pli­cated and mys­te­ri­ous life, assess­ing her com­plex iden­tity within the larger polit­i­cal con­text of the time. They fol­low the trail of Toureaux’s mur­der inves­ti­ga­tion to the Comité Secret d’Action Révo­lu­tion­naire, a secret right-wing polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion pop­u­larly known as the Cagoule, or “hooded ones.” Obsessed with the Com­mu­nist threat they per­ceived in the grow­ing power of labor unions and the French left wing, the Cagoule’s lead­ers aimed to over­throw France’s Third Repub­lic and install an author­i­tar­ian regime allied with Italy. With Mus­solini as their ally and Ital­ian fas­cism as their model, they did not shrink from com­mit­ting vio­lent crimes and foment­ing ter­ror to accom­plish their goal. In 1936, Toureaux—at the behest of the French police—infiltrated this dan­ger­ous group of ter­ror­ists and seduced one of its lead­ers, Gabriel Jean­tet, to gain more information.

The  tale of Laeti­tia Toureaux epit­o­mizes the tur­bu­lence of 1930s France, as the coun­try pre­pared for a war most peo­ple dreaded but assumed would come. This period, there­fore, gen­er­ated great anx­i­ety but also offered new opportunities—and risks—to Toureaux as she embraced the iden­tity of a “mod­ern” woman.  The authors unravel her mur­der as they detail her story and that of the Cagoule, within the pop­u­lar cul­ture and con­flicted pol­i­tics of 1930s France.

By exam­in­ing doc­u­ments related to Toureaux’s murder—documents the French gov­ern­ment has sealed from pub­lic view until 2038—Brunelle and Finley-Croswhite link Toureaux’s death not only to the Cagoule but also to the Ital­ian secret ser­vice, for whom she acted as an infor­mant.  Their research pro­vides likely answers to the ques­tion of the iden­tity of Toureaux’s mur­der and offers a fas­ci­nat­ing look at the dark and dan­ger­ous streets of pre-World War II Paris.

French His­tory
May 2010
312 pages, 6 x 9, 11 halftones
ISBN 978–0-8071–3616-4
Cloth $39.95