Christine and Léa Papin were two quiet French girls who committed one of the most heinous acts in French history. Unlike many other female serial killers who carried out numerous crimes, the Papin sisters became known for the one murderous afternoon they spent killing the two women they worked for. The torture and mutilation they inflicted upon the bodies were horrifying, especially to contemporaries, since the two girls looked so polite and innocent. But looks can be deceiving, as the crime scene photos prove in bloody detail.
Christine and Léa Papin's mother, Clémence, gave birth to her first child, a girl named Emilia, in 1902. By the social standards of the time, Clémence was forced to marry Emilia's father, Gustave, and they went on to have two more children together: Christine, born in 1905, and Léa, born six years later.
After Clémence gave birth to Christine, she sent Emilia and Christine to be raised by their paternal aunt. It appears Gustave truly loved Clémence, but she was rumored to be having an affair with her boss and was more interested in him than her family. When Gustave tried to move Clémence out of Le Mans to a nearby city, she attempted to end her life at the prospect of leaving. She was unstable and the marriage became volatile - as Clémence pulled away from her family, Gustave began drinking more and more. The couple fought and the girls were often caught between their parents in the drama.
Shortly after Clémence gave birth to Lea in 1911, she discovered that her husband had molested Emilia. Emilia was only 10 at the time and Clémence left Gustave. She divorced him, although not for the safety of her daughters. She did it to punish Gustave for cheating on her - but even worse, she blamed Emilia for the rape and sent her to live in an orphanage at Le Bon Pasteur convent.
When the marriage ended, Clémence sent Léa to live with her great uncle. Emilia was at the orphanage and she soon placed Christine there as well. Christine had been raised by her aunt before entering the orphanage and, once there, she and Emilia became quite close.
Details and the timeline are unclear, but by some accounts, Christine and Léa both spent time in psychiatric institutions after their parents' divorce.
Emilia soon became a nun and Christine wished to join her, but her mother forbade it. Clémence wanted Christine and Léa to work as domestic servants so they could support her. She pulled Christine out of Le Bon Pasteur and found her various jobs working as a maid in Le Mans. Christine had learned basic domestic skills at the convent and was able to transfer those to her work. Léa, who stayed with her uncle until he passed, went to the orphanage for a time, but as soon as she was old enough to work, Clémence found her jobs as well.
The girls gave their incomes to their mother, who continued to find different jobs for them because she didn't think they were being paid enough. They preferred to work together whenever they could.
Christine started working for the Lancelin family in Le Mans in 1926. After a few months, Léa began to work for them as well. René Lancelin was a retired lawyer who lived with his wife, Léonie, and one of his daughters, Geneviève. There were two daughters in the Lancelin family, but one had married and moved out of the home.
Christine worked as the cook while Léa worked as the maid. They both worked 14 hours a day.