Dissecting The Strange Crimes Of The Papin Sisters

Christine and Léa Papin committed two murders in February 1933 — and their names have haunted France in the 90 years since. Their crimes were so grisly that the details are not for the fainthearted. Yet the case has proved so fascinating that it is constantly retold, reshaped, and reexamined by each generation. Were these crimes emblematic of a crack in society? Were they in the grip of mental illness? Were the sisters also lovers? All these questions and more have proved increasingly elusive and intriguing with every passing year.

The suspects

Before they became known as the infamous Papin Sisters, Christine and Léa Papin were seemingly like any other girls from Le Mans, France. Christine was born in 1905 and Léa in 1911 to parents Clémence Derré and Gustave Papin.

After news of the crimes of the Papin Sisters gripped the nation, pictures of the innocent-looking girls were published far and wide. Onlookers would be amazed that the two women pictured could possibly commit such depraved acts.

They will not soon be forgotten

"The double crime of Christine and Lea Papin will not soon be forgotten," wrote Bernard Lauzac in Police magazine in 1933. To give you an idea of the crime, the publication used the headline "Les Arracheuses d'Yeux" — "The Eye Gougers."

The article continued, "It will even remain, not only in Le Mans but in criminal and judiciary records, as one of the most terrifying and cruel murders ever committed." Yet people couldn't look away from it.

The photo that captivated the world

It was this photo that had French intellectuals fascinated by the case of the Papin Sisters. They came to believe that the finer details of these bloody murders were emblematic of everything that was wrong with society at the time.

"With their wavy hair and their white collars, how sensible Christine and Léa Papin seem in the old photo that some papers published! How had they become those haggard furies offered up to public condemnation in the photos taken after the drama?" wrote Simone de Beauvoir in 1960's La Force de l'âge.

They blamed it on their childhood

"One must accuse their childhood orphanage, their serfdom, the whole hideous system set up by decent people for the production of madmen, assassins, and monsters," de Beauvoir said, echoing the outrage felt by others.

"The horror of this all-consuming machine could only be rightfully denounced by an exemplary act of horror: the two sisters had made themselves the instruments and martyrs of a somber form of justice," de Beauvoir continued.