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Landru’s Secret (ePub)

The Deadly Seductions of France’s Lonely Hearts Serial Killer

WWI True Crime P&S History Social History 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918

By Richard Tomlinson
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
File Size: 4.4 MB (.epub)
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781526715319
eBook Released: 14th November 2018


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On 12 April 1919, the Paris police arrested a bald, short, 50-year-old swindler at his apartment near the Gare du Nord, acting on a lead from a humble housemaid. A century later, Henri Désiré Landru remains the most notorious and enigmatic serial killer in French criminal history, a riddle at the heart of an unsolved murder puzzle.

The official version of Landru’s lethal rampage was so shocking that it almost defied belief. According to the authorities, Landru had made “romantic contact” with 283 women during the First World War, luring ten of them to his country houses outside Paris where he killed them for their money.

Yet no bodies were ever found, while Landru obdurately protested his innocence. “It is for you to prove the deeds of which I am accused,” he sneered at the investigating magistrate.

The true story of l’affaire Landru, buried in the Paris police archives for the past century, was altogether more disturbing. In Landru’s Secret, Richard Tomlinson draws on more than 5,000 pages of original case documents, including witness statements, police reports and private correspondence, to reveal for the first time that:

Landru killed more women than the 10 victims on the charge sheet.

The police failed to trace at least 72 of the women he contacted.

The authorities ignored the key victim who explained why the killings began.

Landru did not kill for money, but to revel in his power over what he called the “feeble sex”.

Lavishly illustrated with previous unpublished photographs, Landru’s Secret is a story for our times: a female revengers’ tragedy starring the mothers and sisters of the missing fiancées, a lethal misogynist and France’s greatest defence lawyer, intent on saving his repulsive client from the guillotine.

This is a fascinating book about a serial killer who is one of the most prolific to ever live. In spite of that, no bodies were ever found. The author does a thorough job of detailing what happened. Highly recommended for those with an interest in this type of subject.

NetGalley, Morris Morgan

French culture has a long fascination with serial killers

The Guardian 18/11/21

What a fascinating story indeed, I love reading about true crime but don’t get to much these days but what a great book and story this is. The other surprise is that I have read quite a bit on serial killers, but I had never heard of this story before. Henri Désiré Landru or the ‘Bluebeard of Gambais’ is reported to have killed 10 women and 1 man, or at least these are the ones the authorities know about, there are suggestions of many more to that figure. A fascinating book about two women who want to bring him to justice and unmask one of France’s biggest serial killers. Huge credit must go to the author Richard Tomlinson who has put in a huge amount of research and writing in putting this book together from all the source material. This book is a gripping read for sure, and certainly one I would happily recommend to others.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I love true crime but I’ve not heard of Landru - Frenchman, swindler, and potentially prolific serial murderer. This book covers the period of time between his first and last alleged victims, and his subsequent murder trial.

I found this book entertaining and engaging. I’ve been on quite a historical true crime kick recently, and this was definitely one I enjoyed. It read as very well researched, and I especially liked how the history of the time was flavour rather than a large part of the book - these disappearances (no bodies were ever found so was it murder?) occurred during the tumultuous back drop of WWI which is a huge topic in and of itself, so I really appreciated the focus on the lives of the women and Landru rather than that.

I also really enjoyed the nuanced writing of the trial. You couldn’t help but feel that Landru was completely guilty but there were no bodies and no evidence alongside some questionable detective work, and it was interesting reading how it played out and why the jury likely convicted like they did.

As with all cases this old, we will never know the full truth of what happened, and Landru took his secrets with him. But I thought this book went a long way in laying out the facts so you could make up your own mind. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone interested in historical true crime!

NetGalley, Kelly Palmer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wow wow wow I love true crime and this book was spellbinding! Recommend.

NetGalley, Michelle Coates

Henri Landru is supposed to be the worst serial killer in French history. In this stunning case, no bodies were ever found, and only 10 charges were brought. The count is likely much, much higher though. The facts of the real story were locked away in secret French police files for 100 years and only came out in the last 40 to 50 years. During the early years of WWI when Paris was nearly bare of men, Landru was placing lonely heart ads in order to meet women. He got tons of responses, and set about meeting multiple women around the city each day. Good true crime, filling in my knowledge about Mr. Landru and his wretched murders.

NetGalley, Valerie Shampine

A work of meticulous research.

Times Literary Supplement, 20th December 2019 – reviewed by Ingird Wassenaar

This is true crime writing at its best – a thoroughly researched account that looks beyond one man’s horrific acts and explores the social and cultural milieu his crimes exposed. Richard Tomlinson pored over thousands of pages of court records and witness statements to recreate the shocking story of French serial killer Henri Landru, who claimed at least 11 victims before his arrest in 1919. And the author mounts a prosecution of his own, showing how the pervasive sexism of the time and the indifference of the French authorities almost allowed a monster to escape justice. Highly recommended.

Dean Jobb, Goodreads, February 2019

I used to think that the villain in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City was creepy. Well, meet Henri Landru in Richard Tomlinson’s chilling tale of France’s notorious serial killer.

A friend in London told me about Tomlinson’s Landru’s Secret: The Deadly Seductions of France’s Lonely Hearts Serial Killer. I bought a copy as soon as it was released in the U.S. in late December and took it on a recent long-haul flight, but not without first removing the jacket cover. Stare into the eyes of this monster and imagine his trial in 1921. Guaranteed nightmares.

See the full review here

Jennifer Lin, Goodreads, January 2019

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Move over, Ted Bundy

In the category of charming serial killers, Henri Landru may take the prize. I’d never heard of him (I suspect most Americans haven’t) but this Frenchman was quite the headline-grabber a hundred years ago. His ghastly story is astonishing—and remains fascinating, thanks to the author’s archives-digging and engaging writing.

The book has what you want in a true-crime page-turner: the beguiling swindler and his hapless victims; two women who doggedly pursue their sisters’ killer; bumbling authorities; and a sensational trial that gripped the Continent (celebs in the gallery: Rudyard Kipling and Maurice Chevalier!).

Hitchcockian details abound—a mysterious trunk, a heavy package dumped in a pond; “foul smoke” from his chimney. The whole thing is très macabre, especially when you realize he may have killed dozens. Highly recommended!

Amazon.com Customer

As featured on Can't Make This Up History Podcast

To listen, click here

Can't Make This Up History Podcast, March 2019

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Landru - the seductive serial killer

However could his victims have been so naïve? How could they have been so credulous?
Henri Désiré Landru, one of France’s most infamous serial killers, found his future victims by the simple means of putting lonely-hearts adverts in newspapers. A brief declaration that he was a gentleman of means who was looking for a partner was enough to attract some hundred women over a two-year period. Full for the full review, click here

Amazon Customer

Tomlinson pored over thousands of pages of court records and witness statements to recreate this shocking story of deception and murder. And he mounts a prosecution of his own, presenting abundant evidence that Landru “operated in a society that took women’s inferiority for granted and in the middle of a terrible war, valued men’s lives more highly.” This is true-crime writing at its best—a thoroughly researched account that looks beyond one man’s horrific acts and explores the social and cultural milieu his crimes exposed.

Read the full review here

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

The story of one of the most notorious serial killers in criminal history has been unearthed after being buried in police archives for the past century.

For the full feature, click here

Mail Online, Amie Gordon

Author interview article as featured by

Bridget Galton, Ham & High (online & print), 6th February 2019

As featured on The Serial Killer Podcast

Listen here

The Serial Killer Podcast, December 2018

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Unfathomable, but true

I just finished reading Landru's Secret and what is truly shocking, even unfathomable, is that this is a true story -- meticulously researched and brought to terrifying life by author Richard Tomlinson. Henri Landru is a madman.
As I was drawn into the nightmare story of this serial killer from a century ago, I marveled at Tomlinson's reporting. This should be a CSI show set in Paris in the early 20th century!

Amazon Customer

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Fascinating read. Loved it!

Well researched and a joy to read even though the main character was a WWI era French serial woman killer. I'm shocked I didn't know about this story before. Fascinating. Me and my wife couldn't put down the book til the end. Highly recommended.

Amazon Customer

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Brings another time and place to life
Among the most interesting aspects of the book is the close look at why Landru could confidently expect to get away with murder.

Amazon Customer

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ The making of a murderer
Landru was a criminal and killer on an almost industrial scale, but in the peculiar way of things, he’s been turned into an almost glamorous, semi-fictional monster - a sort of Parisian Jack the Ripper.

This book brilliantly marshalls a mass of puzzling and contradictory information to tease out the unfolding story of his crimes and to explore his enigmatic personality and motives. It not only a forensic account of the making of a murderer, it is also a vivid portrait of a society - with its indifferent government officials, incompetent and prejudiced policemen and egotistical lawyers - that allowed Landru to flourish.
But most especially, it’s a moving story of the women who were his victims and of the women who brought him to justice.

Amazon Customer

Listed in 'six books at top of the tree' feature

The New European, 6th December 2018 – by Charlie Connelly

A real-life Bluebeard: on the track of France’s most notorious serial killer
In the early 1900s, Henri Landru lured at least ten unsuspecting women to their deaths and later incinerated their bodies.

Click here to read the full review

The Spectator (online and print), 8th December 2018 - reviewed by Zoë Apostolides

From the evidence available, Landru killed at least a dozen women between 1914 and 1919, as well as the 17 year old son of his first victim. If it wasn’t for the work of two young woman desperate to find their missing sisters, Landru would have kept on killing, undetected. The attitude of the police and legal teams towards the victims and witnesses, mostly women, hindered the investigation and, like Landru himself, were a symptom of the misogyny rampant in France at the time. The victims and witnesses were slandered to fit their ideas and the real people ignored and forgotten. Landru murdered because he enjoyed having power over women, and as a criminal on the run it was the only power he had, other than terrorising his wife and children, who were all implicated in his crimes.

This book comprehensively covers the murders and trial of Landru, a truly repulsive man. The author uses contemporary sources and intelligent guesses to put together the timeline of events, adding information that the Paris police missed or ignored because it didn’t fit their timeline and motive. This book provides the reader with information about life in Paris during WW1 as well as social attitudes towards women and crime.

Rosie Writes... Blog

New evidence shines light on France’s most notorious serial killer

Radio France Internationale, 26th November 2018 - words by Jan van der Made

As featured on Most Notorious true crime podcast

Listen here

Most Notorious Podcast, Erik Rivenes

Featured on Crime Traveller website.

"Between 1915 and 1919 French serial killer Henri Désiré Landru is known to have taken the lives of 10 women and one youth before he was caught. Here, author Richard Tomlinson breaks open this intriguing case, revealing how the police misinterpreted a crucial piece of evidence, Landru’s incriminating notebook, which was then almost certainly stolen by one of the detectives, allowing the secrets it contained to remain untold."

See full feature here

Crime Traveller website

★★★★★ Fascinating and charming

You may not expect a book about serial murder to have charm, but this one does. Very readable and lovingly researched, it takes you into the lives of French people of a kind who feature little in the history books. This is a story of the French home front in the First World War, of the quiet desperation of a variety of women who are left alone and who seem to sleepwalk into the arms of a monster. Landru's victims, their families and his family are all fascinating, and the detail here is wonderfully rich. Less charming are the blundering lawyers and detectives, apparently determined to make a mess of the prosecution. Fortunately the author is there to make sense of things.

Amazon Customer

***** #MeToo thriller set in 1st World War Paris

I am great fan of thrillers, and here we have a gem of Parisnoir to add the genre. Tomlinson elegantly takes us on a journey of discovery following the hunch of his heroine, a humble housemaid, as she hunts down and tries to bring her sister's killer, the eponymous Landru, to justice. His misogyny and that of early 20th century French law are chilling and all the more shocking for this being a true story. The research involved in recreating this French mystery is both impressive and admirable. A real #MeToo for our times.

Amazon Review

***** His audacity is breathtaking
An unbelievable book in its content and breadth of detail. I was astounded at his audacity. Beautifully researched and written with a depth of feeling.

Amazon Review

***** A true life Sherlock Holmes

Astonishing that this story is not better known, but it really comes to life in this thrilling investigation. With the flair of a Poirot or a Holmes coupled with a 21st century consciousness, Richard Tomlinson has followed up on elements of the mystery that the police of the time ignored and unearthed a much more complex and chilling truth behind the character of Landru and those around him. A great combination of dogged research and gifted storytelling which remains very relevant for today’s treatment of female victims of crime.

Amazon Review

***** WORLD WAR 1 SERIAL KILLER - a brilliant book

I bought this book because of the absolutely mesmerising and terrifying cover - and I had no idea who Landru was. I am so glad I did as it is simply one of the most gripping stories and uncovers a whole new aspect to the fallout from World War 1. French women were at the time totally dependent on male protection - society was deeply misogynistic and as vast numbers of boyfriends, husbands and fathers died at the Front,vulnerable women turned to small ads to look for replacements. Read the full review here

Amazon Review

***** An unbelievable story

This is a gripping and harrowing story, told with great originality in a style which brings the characters and the period to vivid life. Highly recommended.

Amazon Review

About Richard Tomlinson

Richard Tomlinson first came across the Landru case in the early 1980s while trawling through old newspapers in Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale. Landru’s Secret is the result of his long quest to discover the real identities of Landru’s supposedly besotted fiancées and the truth about why and how they disappeared. An award-winning journalist and author, he recently published an acclaimed biography of the Victorian cricketing hero W.G. Grace.
'Magnificent’ – Daily Telegraph. ‘Terrifically readable’ – Mail on Sunday. ‘Revelatory’ – Evening Standard.

Henri Désiré Landru arrested in Paris

12th April 1919

On 12 April 1919, Henri Désiré Landru, the most infamous serial killer in French criminal history, as notorious in France as Jack the Ripper in England, was arrested at a dingy apartment near Paris’s Gare du Nor.

The trial of Henri Désiré Landru begins

7th November 1921

Henri Désiré Landru's trial took place in November 1921 at Versailles and was attended by a number of leading celebrities, including the novelist Colette, Rudyard Kipling and the actor and singer Maurice Chevalier. On 30 November 1921 Landru was found guilty by a majority verdict of all 11 murders and sentenced to death.

The trial of Henri Désiré Landru

30th November 1921

On 30 November 1921, French serial killer Henri Désiré Landru was found guilty by a majority verdict of 11 murders and sentenced to death. He was executed by guillotine on 25 February 1922.

The execution of Henri Désiré Landru

25th February 1922

Henri Désiré Landru was convicted of 11 murders in November 1921. He was executed by guillotine on 25 February 1922.

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