Weird History

France Was Still Beheading Criminals The Year 'Star Wars' Came Out 

April A Taylor
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If asked when France last used the guillotine as judicial punishment in a trivia contest, most people would probably guess much longer ago than 1977. Most would also not guess that when France first introduced beheading by guillotine as a form of the death penalty in 1792 that it was invented to be a more humane method of execution. 

The contraption that many associate with the rampant bloodshed of the French revolution was, in fact, used well into the 20th century. The last criminal to find himself literally cut short by the razor's edge was Hamida Djandoubi on September 10, 1977. Also known as the "Pimp Killer," Djandoubi was convicted of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering his ex-girlfriend.

Despite the morbidness of decapitation, it was the end of the line for most people on death row in France from 1792 until the 1950s. By the time the Pimp Killer beheading took place, many of the criminals who had been facing execution received clemency. Hamida Djandoubi's crime was considered so brutal, the French President at the time declined him a reprieve.  

The Pimp Killer Carried Out The Murder In Front Of Two Teenaged Girls
The Pimp Killer Carried ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list France Was Still Beheading Criminals The Year 'Star Wars' Came Out
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One indication of Hamida Djandoubi's extreme cruelty in his crime is that he was so determined to kill his ex, Elisabeth Bousquet, he didn't try to hide the crime from two witnesses. After being outraged that his ex-lover accused him of being her pimp to authorities, Djandoubi spent the next few months waiting until he saw her again to enact revenge. She came to him, in the end, claiming she wanted to be with him again.

The Pimp Killer took Bousquet home, beat her, raped her with a club, and burned her several times with a cigarette while forcing the two teenaged girls he had living with him at the time to watch. After torturing Bousquet, Djandoubi took her to the outskirts of town where he strangled her and left her body. She was found four days later, but Djandoubi wouldn't be caught for another month. 

He Tried To Delay His Beheading With Cigarettes And Rum
He Tried To Delay His Be... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list France Was Still Beheading Criminals The Year 'Star Wars' Came Out
Photo: Fclon+/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Pimp Killer's last 20 minutes of life were uniquely recorded by Judge Monique Mabelly, who was assigned to witness the execution. She wrote that just before being taken to the guillotine, Djandoubi was visibly nervous and did what he could to delay the inevitable. She described him as "...almost like a child that will do anything to delay bedtime!" 

The guards had given Djandoubi two cigarettes and then a glass of rum. He tried to ask for a third cigarette, saying he preferred a different brand, but the executioner pointed out they were only delaying the inevitable. The rum may have calmed his nerves slightly, but there was no avoiding the guillotine. 

The Guillotine Wasn't The First Time Djandoubi Lost A Limb
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Photo: Cluster Munition Coalition/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

Djandoubi and his victim, Elisabeth Bousquet, met in the hospital while he recovered from a work accident that resulted in partial loss of his right leg. In 1971, he was employed as a landscaper and his accident included equipment used in his profession.

Djandoubi wore a prosthetic limb after the accident. This new handicap kept him from finding work, and he took up drinking and doing drugs. It may have even been the reason he turned to work in the world of drugs and prostitution. Later, at trial, his prosthetic limb would play into much of his defense attorney's attempts to convince the jury he was mentally unstable due to his injury.

He May Or May Not Even Have Been A Pimp
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Photo:  Ken/Flickr

Djandoubi's inability to get work forced him into some shady dealings, but it's unclear if he was actually a pimp. He was motivated to murder Bousquet because she accused him of being her pimp to authorities. He claims it was his resentment at her false accusations that made him seek revenge.  

According to Djandoubi, Bousquet was the one wanting to prostitute herself for money, and Djandoubi was offended at the notion. Then again, he's the one who was keeping two teenage girls at his home and "in his employ" when Bousquet was murdered.