The rape and murder of a French bookbinder's apprentice, 1848

[Drop-title:] Affaire Cécile Combettes. Condamnation du Frère Léotade. Rouen, A. Surville, [1848]. 8vo (21 x 13,5 cm). 8 pp. Stitched. With a woodcut on the first page showing a portrait of Frère Léotade in profile. Untrimmed. In good condition, with a few stains and the rather delicate paper slightly wrinkled.

 

A pamphlet, not found recorded, detailing the murder of Cécile Combettes, a 15-year-old French bookbinder's apprentice.

 

On April 15, 1847, Cécile went to deliver some books at the Frères des écoles chrétiennes de Toulouse. She was accompanied by a young colleague and her employer, the bookbinder Bernard Conte. Cécile didn't return from her visit. The next day her body was discovered at the cemetery of Saint-Aubin, opposite the dwelling of the Frères. Her head was slashed open and her body appeared to have been thrown over the wall of the cemetery. The police arrested several suspects including Frère Léotade (Louis Bonafous).

 

Almost a year later, on April 4, 1848, the court of Toulouse sentenced Bonafous to a life of hard labour for the rape and murder of Cécile; he died in prison on January 27, 1850. However, one lawyer, Jean Cazeneuve, was convinced of his innocence. He voiced his opinion in several pamphlets published between 1848 and 1856, questioning the impartiality of the judge and calling for rehabilitation of Bonafous. To no avail. Indeed, Cazeneuve was sued for defamation and spent three months in prison.

 

The real killer was perhaps Jean-Joseph Aspe, the cook of the Frères. Apparently Aspe confessed his crime to a priest. And although he was sent to a penal colony for a crime committed in 1866, he was never convicted of the murder of Cécille. The murder and the subsequent legal process prompted a huge public outcry in France and indeed in Europe. Many felt that the indictment of the brother was fuelled by strong anti-clerical sentiments.

 

The present pamphlet was apparently published just after the brother's conviction. It opens with a rather picturesque description of the cemetery of Saint Aubin and the lodgings of the Frères des écoles chrétiennes. Then follow details about the crime and the subsequent process leading to the conviction of the brother. The pamphlet closes with three other news items.

 

Not found recorded.

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