“Dr. Satan,” France’s World War II Serial Killer Physician
Gay Paree didn’t exist while German forces occupied Paris in World War II. The “City of Light” had blackout requirements, a 9 p.m. curfew, and shortages of food, clothing, and tobacco. Amidst this, a man who would be called “Dr. Satan” preyed upon those desperate to escape. No one knows how many people Dr. Marcel Petiot murdered. A jury convicted him of 26 killings, he admitted to 63 he said were justified, and a leading forensic scientist estimated 150.
Petiot’s questionable behavior long predated the occupation that made him infamous. When arrested for stealing mail as a teenager, a psychiatrist found him mentally ill. A similar situation occurred after he joined the French Army in January 1916. According to author David King, physicians said several times during the war that Petiot had numerous mental health conditions. He spent the last several months of the war in mental institutions. He was discharged on disability in July 1919 even though doctors later said he required institutionalization with “continuous surveillance,” King wrote in Death in the City of Light.
Somehow, though, Petiot attended an accelerated medical school program after his discharge. He graduated with honors in 1921 and practiced medicine in a small town southeast of Paris. He was extremely popular among his patients and elected mayor by a large margin in 1926. Around the same time, a woman who was in a relationship with Petiot disappeared. Police closed their investigation after deciding she was a runaway.
During his term as mayor, suspicions of numerous small thefts surrounded Petiot. In August 1931, accusations of embezzlement led to his suspension, but he resigned from office the day before it took effect. Less than two months later, he was elected to the Department of Yonne’s council. He lost the office the following year when charged with stealing electricity for his home. He was convicted, but a court eventually waived his short prison sentence. During this time, he moved to Paris.
Again, while his patients loved him, Petiot faced legal issues. For example, in 1936 he allegedly assaulted a police officer arresting him for stealing a book. A…