The Untold Story Of "The French Ripper," Who Killed Twice As Many Victims As Jack The Ripper

Meet France's answer to Jack the Ripper - Joseph Vacher. As far as killers worse than Jack the Ripper go, Vacher is pretty bad. Known as "The French Ripper," Vacher was twice as deadly as his English counterpart, committing horrible acts of violence throughout France during the 1890s. He was known wear a fur rabbit hat, possibly made from the hide of one of many animals he gleefully killed in front of the general public as he wandered the countryside. Later, he turned his twisted animal violence onto 11 known human victims, mutilating and assaulting them even when they were underage or already dead. The horrifying facts of the French Ripper are gruesome and almost senseless. 

Unlike Jack the Ripper, who was never caught (or even identified), Vacher was captured and put on trial, although technically he was charged for only one of his crimes. And although the French Ripper had spent time in asylums after attempted murder and suicide, he ultimately lost his insanity plea and ultimately died by guillotine in 1898, when he was only 29. 

Vacher's prosecution was as noteworthy as his life, with ground-breaking forensic techniques being used to convict him of his crimes. But you have to wonder what, if not insanity, prompted this serial killer to live such a harmful life.

  • Joseph Vacher Didn't Just Kill People - He Mutilated Their Corpses

    Between 1894 and 1897, Vacher's crimes weren't limited to murder. It's believed that he raped even his child murder victims. The bodies of the people he killed were violated sexually as well, with Vacher committing sexual acts with at least four of the corpses. The sexual body parts of many of his victims were "desecrated and purloined on several occasions" and he disemboweled many of his victims, too.

    Vacher's known victims suffered similar fates. In November 1894, he killed a 13-year-old girl and mutilated her body. A few months later, he did the same to a 17-year-old girl. In 1895, he killed a 58-year old woman and had sex with her dead body but a few days later he killed and mutilated a 16-year-old-girl. His next two victim were 17 and 15-year-old boys whom he killed and castrated. In 1896, he murdered and raped a 19-year-old woman as well as a 14-year-old girl, whose genitalia he mutilated. He killed a 14-year-old-boy and threw his body down a well in May 1897 before killing his last victim, a 13-year-old-boy whom he also sodomized, in June of 1897.

  • After His First Love Refused His Marriage Proposal, He Stalked Her And Shot Her

    As Vacher's time in the military was coming to an end, he attempted to woo a woman he'd long admired, a maid named Louise Barant. Barant and Vacher shared a meal one night, but when he proposed marriage that same night and she refused, he threatened to kill her. Vacher then stalked Barant for weeks, combining begging, self-pity, and charm to try to get her to marry him. She did her best to avoid Vacher but gave in and agreed to meet him at a dance one evening. When another man tried to talk to Barant, Vacher lunged at him and she ran away. 

    Barant began to realize that she would need to leave town completely to get away from Vacher so she made up a story that she had to return home to her mother, who had prohibited her from marrying him. He sent her love letter after love letter and, finally, Barant responded by telling him "it would be best if you stopped writing to me... everything is finished between us... I do not love you. Adieu, Louise."

    Vacher went into a rage and was given a four-month leave from the military and went to confront Barant. He went to her mother's house, demanding that she give back his letters and all other gifts he'd given to her. That wasn't enough and he still asked that she leave with him and that they start a life together. When once again she refused, he pulled out a gun and started firing. He shot Barant three times (although some accounts say four) with one of the bullets going through her mouth and the other two grazing her head. He then turned the gun on himself, firing twice into his face.

    Both Barant and Vacher survived their wounds. 

  • Before His Murder Spree, Vacher Tried To Kill Himself Several Times And Was Committed To Numerous Asylums

    Vacher spent some time in the hospital, having given himself a wound that covered the length of his jaw and created puss near his right ear. When he breathed, his cheek flapped because he'd damaged one of his facial nerves.

    Once he recovered enough, the doctors sent him to Dole Asylum where he attacked doctors, threw furniture, and wrote to authorities that he was being abused. In August of 1893, Vacher escaped from the asylum but was captured a few weeks later and sent back to Dole. On the train ride, he jumped out of the bathroom window and escaped again. He was found two days later, and sent back to the asylum yet again. Once there, he tried to kill himself by beating his head against the wall.

    At Dole, Vacher was declared not responsible for his actions and, after the local court found him not guilty of his crimes against Louise due to insanity, he was sent to a state-run asylum near Grenoble. On the trip from Dole to the new asylum, Vacher acted out and tried to escape, but he arrived at Saint-Robert asylum in December 1893. He spent just over three months there before being released in April 1894, reportedly "completely cured."  

  • He Killed Mostly Farmers And Shepherds In The French Countryside

    Vacher got out of the Saint-Robert asylum on April 1, 1894. In May or June of 1894, he killed his first victim, Eugénie Delhomme. Delhomme was a factory worker in Beauchrepaire, France, whom Vacher strangled and stabbed to death. He then assaulted and mutilated her body. 

    Delhomme was different than most of Vacher's victims, however, because many of the people he killed - generally believed to be between 11 and 14 people total, also posited to be as many as 27 - were rural shepherds. He didn't seem to care about age or gender - just killing men and women who tended their flocks in relatively isolated settings.

  • Joseph Vacher Killed His Pets In Front Of Onlookers

    As Vacher wandered the countryside, he had two pets with him - a magpie and a small dog named Loulette. One day, Vacher stopped at the home of Regis Bac to beg for food. Bac gave Vacher some stew, which Vacher tried to share with his dog. The dog turned away from the offering, Vacher reportedly said, "If you don't want to eat it, I will kill you." He then clubbed the dog over the head. After that, he continued with his brutality and killed the bird as well. Bac was horrified but gave Vacher a shovel so he could bury both pets. 

  • After Being Arrested For Public Indecency, Vacher Wrote An Unprompted Confession To His Murders
    Photo: Mihály Munkácsy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    After Being Arrested For Public Indecency, Vacher Wrote An Unprompted Confession To His Murders

    Vacher was charged with the minor offense of public indecency in August 1897. He was sentenced to three months in jail, during which time he wrote a confession to the murders he'd committed. The reasons for his confession are debated. There was no real reason he would have been suspected of his murders, but, by some accounts, he may have been arrested at one point as a person of interest in one of the killings he actually did commit. It's possible that he thought the police were on his tail and wanted to get a jump on his insanity defense.