Writing about a serial killer

We are immensely proud to be welcoming Marilyn Z. Tomlins to the Raven Crest stable. Her true life crime epic on Dr Marcel Petiot – France’s most notorious serial killer – “Die in Paris” is now available in eBook on Amazon. She has kindly contributed the below article for us.

France's most notorious serial killer
Available at Amazon

I was always very scared as a child. Everything frightened me. I once caused a traffic accident because I was running away from a very small dog who only wanted to play. I could never watch a horror film or read a horror book. Even Stephen King’s books scared me.  I certainly could not read true crime. Once I bought a book about the Moors murders, then I became scared just looking at the cover and threw the book away, and I love books and look after them as if they are diamonds.

Thirty years ago – I was already living in Paris – I began to experience a strange flash. The first time it happened – in broad daylight – I thought I had dozed off and had had a nightmare, but the second time it happened I knew that I was wide awake. I saw myself lying on the floor of a dark, dank, roughly-cemented basement room. There was no furniture in the room. I was naked. I was lying on my stomach and I had long blonde hair (which I did have then) and there was blood everywhere, on the floor, on the walls, over me, and my hair was caked with blood. And yes – I was dead. In other words I saw my own dead body.

When I had this flash the first time and told my husband, he echoed my thoughts – I’d had a nightmare.  When it happened for the second time he did not say anything. From then on I experienced the flash regularly. Convinced that the flash was prophetic I was sure I was going to be murdered.

I told my family about the flashes. I told friends. All reacted in the same way. They said: “Oh goodness Marilyn, don’t say that please! And do be careful!”

In 2005 I was reading a book about World War Two France and my eye caught the name Marcel Petiot. I had heard of Dr Petiot about twenty years before that: someone told me that he had murdered very many people in Paris during the Second World War. “What happened to him?” I had asked. “I am happy to say he was guillotined,” was the reply.

I had thought of Dr Petiot no more until that day in 2005. That day I had to know more about this serial killer who had been guillotined for the slaughter of 25 people, the youngest of his victims, a Jewish boy, just seven years old.

Dr Petiot had drawn me down into him so to speak – and it was very dark down there.

A few weeks into my research I came to how he had disembowelled and dismembered his victims. He did so in a basement room of his Paris townhouse. The room was roughly-cemented, without furniture, dark and dank. I was sitting on my settee in my living room, files and books laid out on the floor around me, and my head started to turn. I thought I was going to faint.  The flash of the past thirty years – the basement room of my flash was Dr Petiot’s basement room. I tried to think when I had last had the flash and knew only that I’d not had one for a while.

Next, I learnt that Dr Petiot was buried in a mass grave in a cemetery that my building overlooked. I came to live in this flat twenty years ago but the cemetery was not then visible from my windows but had become so just at the time when I had become interested in Dr Petiot because some buildings across my avenue had been demolished. In my years in Paris, each time I’d moved to a different flat, I had gradually moved closer to the cemetery. And there I was living across the street from it, and looking down on the graves from my ninth floor flat.

Coincidence?  Maybe. I do however know that I’ve not had the flash again.

Already having overcome my childhood fears, and writing true crime, I decided that I was going to write a book about Dr Petiot. He was little known outside of France and even many French did not know about him: he was part of France’s collaboration with the Nazi Germans during World War Two and that was something they did not wish to be reminded of.

Researching Dr Petiot was not easy. “Bof! Why do you want to dig that up again!” I was told when asking for information.

I persevered.

I visited Auxerre, the town where he was born. I walked its streets to get the feeling of the town. Alone, in the darkness of night, I stood outside the house where he was born. I visited Villeneuve-sur-Yonne the village where he began to practice medicine and of which he had become Mayor. In the middle of the night, alone, he used to cycle down to the Yonne river that flowed through the town, the headlight of his bicycle not switched on. I waited for night to fall and I walked down to the river and I sat there in the dark, alone. In Paris, I walked the route he walked with his victims. I always did so at nightfall because it was always in the darkness that he met up with his victims.

I have now lived with Dr Petiot for eight years, researching him, writing about him, and talking about him. I found out the whereabouts of his grandson. I found out that he was a prominent politician in a South American country. I emailed him, told him that my research showed me that Dr Petiot was his grandfather, and asked if I could speak to him. He did not reply. I emailed him three times and each time his reply was silence.  Now I wonder if he knows about my book ‘Die in Paris’.

Leave a Reply