Born to a highly respected bourgeoise family in Poitiers, France, Mademoiselle Blanche Monnier was a brown-eyed beauty, known for her charming joyful personality and breathtaking good looks.
By 1876, the 25-year-old French socialite had amassed quite a collection of love letters from several affluent suitors requesting her hand in marriage, but it was not to be as Blanche’s heart already belonged to another: a penniless lawyer several years her senior.
The couple planned to elope and rumors of an illegitimate child made their way to the ears of Blanche’s mother, Madame Louise Monnier, who forbade her from marrying a man with no prospects and little to no wealth. Madame Louise ordered Blanche to end the relationship at once but she refused, as to live without the love of her life was not to live at all.
Enraged, widow Madame Louise consulted with her son Marcel and together they hatched a plan that would surely persuade Blanche to marry one of her wealthy suitors instead: completely nude, they threw her in the attic, locked the door, and refused to release her until she relented.
To their surprise, Blanche remained steadfast, cementing her captivity in the attic. Meanwhile, Madame Louise informed the police her daughter had vanished without a trace. Over time, the distraught community speculated the young woman had fallen victim to a madman and met a vicious end.
Blanche was assumed dead and might as well have been for she was made to sleep on a straw mattress littered with insects and forced to survive on scraps barely enough to sustain a small child. Many days she was left without food entirely. Her only company were the rats that scurried about in the night.
Unlike the German fairy tale Rapunzel, there was no escape for Blanche as the lone window in the room was boarded shut and a padlock made the front door impenetrable.
Nine years into her captivity, the man for whom Blanche had lost nearly a decade of her life suddenly passed away, leaving her more hopeless than ever. Despite his death, Madame Louise refused to release her. Blanche would spend another 16 years locked away in the attic.
On May 23, 1901, relief finally came. An anonymous letter arrived at the office of the Paris Attorney General:
“Monsieur Attorney General: I have the honor to inform you of an exceptionally serious occurrence. I speak of a spinster who is locked up in Madame Monnier’s house, half starved, and living on a putrid litter for the past twenty-five years — in a word, in her own filth.”
At first, he assumed the unsigned letter was nothing more than a twisted hoax, after all, 75-year-old Madame Louise was known as a woman of high morality and standards, without a cruel bone in her body. Nevertheless, the man was so disturbed by the contents of the letter that he decided to investigate the author’s morbid claims. Along with several policemen, he rushed to the Monnier home located at 21 rue de la Visitation.
Donned in a black and white gown, Madame Louise sat calmly in the living room and paid no attention to the men as they pounded on the front door. Left with no choice, they broke in and rushed to the attic, where they were met with an overwhelmingly repulsive stench. They smashed the padlock to bits and gagged as they walked into a real-life house of horrors.
An emaciated Blanche was found on the brink of death, lying on the bug-infested straw mattress, surrounded by urine, feces, and moldy remnants of rotten bread and oyster shells. Weighing a paltry 55 pounds, she was covered in a blanket and rushed to Hôtel Dieu Hospital.
After spending half her life in the dark attic, Blanche was unable to face daylight or stand on her own two feet. Upon taking her first breath of fresh air in a quarter-century, the poor woman remarked, “Ah, how lovely it is.”
Madame Louise and her son were promptly arrested. The former passed away in the prison infirmary just 15 days later due to heart failure. Marcel was left to face the charges alone.
Marcel told the court his sister had simply gone mad and locked herself in the attic as a form of protest against their mother. He insisted she could have left at any time, but made no effort to do so.
Marcel’s wild claims were disputed by several witnesses who testified they often heard the poor woman’s desperate cries for help in the middle of the night. One witness recalled hearing Blanche shout, “What have I done to be locked up? I don’t deserve this horrible torture. God must not exist then, to let his creatures suffer in this way, and no one to come to my rescue!” 8 years earlier.
Despite hearing her screams, no one dared to help the destitute woman for fear of angering the ever-prominent Madame Louise.
Marcel was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in prison, however, the conviction was overturned upon appeal after he convinced the court that he had never been violent towards his sister and that he too was an innocent party, forced to abide by the rules of their oppressive mother who he insisted was the true — and only — mastermind of the sadistic plot to imprison Blanche.
Marcel was once again a free man, but his acquittal resulted in significant public outrage. His family was forced to acquire police protection and go into hiding after receiving several death threats, and his 17-year-old daughter’s impending marriage to a well-respected police officer was promptly canceled as horrid details of the case made front-page news.
Miraculously, Blanche survived but was never the same. She was diagnosed with a myriad of ailments from anorexia to schizophrenia and having nowhere to call home, was placed in a psychiatric facility in Blois, France, where she passed away just 12 years later.
To this day, the author of the anonymous note which returned Blanche her freedom is unknown. Some say it was the spouse of a housemaid who became sick to his stomach after learning of her captivity, others believe it was Marcel himself to avoid becoming responsible for his sister as Madame Louise’s death was imminent. The identity of Blanche’s savior will likely remain a mystery until the end of time.
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