Woman Declared Dead Despite Being Alive

Author Ed Anderson

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Jeanne Pouchain Holding Her CatJean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty Images

Jeanne Pouchain is alive and well. Everyone can see that with their own eyes. However, the French government believes that the woman is dead. This confusion has led to a very complicated life for the woman at the center of the controversy.

She is working diligently to prove that she is alive. However, once the government declares a person deceased, it is next to impossible to get them to reverse course. They seem content to let Jeanne deal with the ramifications of her alleged death.

One of the things that she is dealing with is not having access to medical care. In 2016, Jeanne went to see her general practitioner. Both were stunned when her carte vitale was spat out of the machine. Neither assumed anything was wrong; they laughed about technology being difficult sometimes.

Jeanne stopped laughing when the pharmacist suggested that she might need to pay for her diabetes medicine out of pocket. It became clear that something was amiss, but she couldn't figure out what it was.

Then she thought about another weird circumstance. Her passport application was declined. At the time, she figured that it must have been something she did. Perhaps, an essential piece of paperwork was forgotten.

But with everything happening at once, Jeanne knew that it couldn't just be a coincidence. Something weird was going on, and she wanted to know what it was.

Finding Out She's Dead

The mystery deepened soon after she visited the doctor. When the bank statement for her business came in, it showed that she was in the red. However, she had deposited more than $14,000 in checks to the account. There should have been no reason for her account to be in the negative.

Jeanne decided to go to the bank; she figured that she would get everything settled. The employees at the local branch knew her, some of them since she opened the business account nearly three decades ago. She waited patiently for the Director of the branch to come out and speak to her.

When he did, Jeanne was in for a shock. He explained to her that she didn't exist. As his words flooded her ears, Jeanne began to become defensive. Her arguments centered on the fact that he knew her and could see her. It made no sense to either of the people that she didn't exist when she clearly did.

The branch director explained that there was nothing he could do. There was no explanation for why this was happening, nor did the bank have any answers. They had no control over anything. He then requested her checkbook, but Jeanne refused. He handed her the uncashed checks and apologized for whatever was happening.

There had to be a logical explanation for everything that was happening. And Jeanne vowed to find out what it was.

The Truth Will Out

After the incident at the bank, Jeanne's nerves were on edge. Still, she went about her life as she normally would. Weird things kept happening, but most of the time, she was assured that it was just a glitch in the computer system. But there were too many of these instances for them to be a coincidence.

In October 2017, Jeanne's passport application was once again denied. She knew something was wrong this time because she sent in even more documents and followed every instruction to the T. Nothing made sense.

A few weeks later, on November 12, 2007, Jeanne would start to get some of the answers that she craved. But she would like what she learned.

Bailiffs showed up at her home with a letter for Jeanne's husband, Pierre-Jean. The document was a legal form declaring that she was dead in the eyes of the French government. Both had to re-read the letter to make sure they understood it correctly.

According to the letter, Jeanne Pouchain had been declared dead by a judge in an ongoing lawsuit. The lawyer for a former employee told the court that she died in February 2016. Remarkably, the judge allowed the attorney's testimony to stand as fact without checking further into it.

It seemed unbelievable. How could no one ask for a death certificate or even try to prove that she was dead?

Behind The Lawsuit

As is usually the case, the lawsuit started with good intentions—precisely, Jeanne's desire to help a woman who seemed to be in distress. In 2000, she ran a highly specialized cleaning business. 90% of her employees were women in desperate situations; most of them needed the money to care for their families.

According to Jeanne, she was a fair but firm boss. As long as the employee was working, they were safe. No one was ever laid off when she was the owner. They were given raises every year. Everyone prospered and seemed to enjoy working together.

In the Fall of 2000, Jeanne lost a cleaning contract for an office complex. French law states that employees whose primary job was to clean the establishment transfer to the new company in this situation. Everything seemed to go off without a hitch.

Situations like this had played out multiple times before in Jeanne's company. She made sure to have a lawyer and an accountant to deal with the process. There should have been no issues.

But there was.

As Jeanne calls her, Madame H was the only employee who needed to be transferred to the new company. Everything seemed to go well.

But in January 2001, Jeanne received a timesheet from her former employee. There was a demand for payment of 200 hours of work. It seemed like a simple mistake had been made. She sent a letter to Madame H informing her that she was no longer the employer in question.

Madame H did not take kindly to that answer. In 2004, Jeanne was taken before an industrial tribunal. Despite her insistence that the transfer was handled correctly, the tribunal ordered her to pay more than $15,000 to her former employee.

She refused and ended up "dead."

Select To Fight

Jeanne refused to pay and legally didn't have to because Madame H's lawyers brought the case against her former company, Select Services. Another judge ruled that the verdict was null and void because of this technicality. The war between the former friends was heating up.

Five years after the initial tribunal case, Madame H brought a new lawsuit against her former employer. This time, she named Jeanne personally in the case. In 2013, the tribunal declared that the case had been ruled on and closed. There would be no second chance in front of them.

Jeanne would be forced to pay legal fees. She said that didn't matter; all she wanted was for this unfortunate situation to be done.

Sylvian Cormier, Jeanne's attorney, told her that the letter from the tribunal was probably a false stop. He figured that Madame H was likely determining her next move and how she could best present her case and win.

Sometime after the tribunal's decision, another case started. This time the lawsuit was against Jeanne's heirs. It was in these documents that she had been declared dead.

With the announcement of Jeanne's death, the tribunal heard the case again. This time it was against her heirs, so it was not the same arguments the tribunal had already heard. Madame H came out of it victorious, partly because no one opposed her.

Pierre-Jean and their son were ordered to pay the former employee nearly $50,000.

Frozen In Place

Weeks after the verdict was handed down, Pierre-Jean and their son's bank accounts were frozen. Bailiffs came and started to take assets from the men, including a 2002 Porsche Boxer that belonged to Jeanne's husband.

He protested that they had no right to take the vehicle because the Pouchains had a separation des biens agreement in place. Much like a prenuptial agreement, it stated that each person maintained ownership of their assets, and they could not be taken to pay off their spouse's debt. There is no logical reason why this happened.

Frustration reached a boiling point within the family. With every new asset that was taken away or frozen, resentment rose between the men and Jeanne. Nobody understood why this was happening to them. Or how to make it stop.

Jeanne sold her jewelry and anything else of value. She had to try and protect her family's assets. It worked, but she is left without an income. She can't open the restaurant of her dreams because, officially, she is dead. Currently, the only income they have is from Pierre-Jean's business.

She has started to write a memoir about the ordeal. However, she can't sign a book deal or anything until the French government overturns her death declaration. Which she hopes is soon.

What Comes Next

Jeanne and her son reconciled before he moved to French Guiana for work. Both understand that the stress the situation is causing is not the other's fault. Their eyes are trained on Madame H.

Sylvain has upped the ante in the case. He requested fraud and making false declaration charges be brought against Madame H and her team of lawyers. It is the first step in helping Jeanne regain her "alive" status and do things that most people take for granted.

There is also a motion in the civil courts to protect the rest of the Pouchain men's assets. However, it is not likely that either case will see a court date or a resolution to the issue this year. In this case, there is hope that Jeanne can be declared alive again. But it could take two years before an investigating judge gets to the bottom of what happened.

Several judges in various courts have said they do not have the authority to bring Jeanne back from the dead. It has resulted in officials being brought into the case and everyone looking at it. Many have wondered why there are so many irregularities.

They have all noted that Jeanne certainly seems alive, given she has talked to them all. Most people believe this has been a revenge war waged against her by Madame H, but no one is entirely sure why.

Jeanne hopes that one day soon, she will be alive again in the eyes of the law.

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Ed Anderson is a true crime and gossip writer from Detroit, Michigan. Ed is the author of several true crime books, most recently Cold Cases From Around The World.

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