In 1984, America was dealing with the fallout from prolific killers, Richard Ramirez and Jeffrey Dahmer. Across the water, Paris was about to embark on years of terror from Thierry Paulin.
Born on the 28th November 1963 in Martinique, a former French colony in the Caribbean, Thierry Paulin had a difficult childhood. His father left days after he was born, and his young mother couldn’t cope with raising a child. Paulin was given to his paternal Grandmother, who regarded him as a nuisance.
When he was 10, he moved back in with his mother, who had a new husband and children. Paulin struggled to get on with his new siblings and he was violent towards them. At 12 years old, he threatened a teacher with a knife that he had brought from home. He was immediately labelled a troublemaker by the teachers, and they sent a letter home to his mother, which he intercepted and then replied to the letter himself including his mother’s forged signature. Paulin eventually failed his exams and left school.
His mother asked his estranged father, Gaby, to look after Paulin, and he was packed off to live in Toulouse, France. His father agreed on the basis that he would stop paying child support for him, in return for giving Paulin a trade, like plumbing or masonry.
Paulin enrolled at college to study hairdressing and electrician trade, but his heart wasn’t in his studies, and he was more concerned about meeting friends at cafes and nightclubs. He eventually dropped out and became a door-to-door salesman, despite Gaby’s offer to give Paulin a job, himself.
At 17, Paulin joined the parachutist regiment of the French army, where he was assigned as a hairdresser at the Périgon barracks. He was bullied by his comrades for his race and his homosexuality.
On the 14th November 1982, while on leave from the army, Paulin robbed his local grocery store in Toulouse. The owner knew him, so he was promptly arrested. He was given two years in prison with a suspended sentence, and so he went free.
In 1984, Paulin had decided that Toulouse had nothing left to offer him and went to live with his mother again, who had now moved to Nanterre, a suburb of Paris. Their relationship was still strained after their last period together, and he soon left and found himself a small room in a hostel.
Paulin paid his rent by working as a waiter in the drag club, Paradis Latin. He dressed in drag and performed to an audience; he had found his people. Soon after joining the club, Paulin met 19-year-old Jean-Thierry Mathurin who was from French Guiana and was a severe drug addict. The two fell deeply in love and had a chaotic and dependant relationship.
The couple moved into a hotel on rue Victor Massé that cost 275 francs per night. The pair attended countless parties and were known at all the hotspots in Paris. To afford these lavish nights out, they used credit cards that they could not afford to pay, so they started pickpocketing around the city, stealing cheque books, credit cards and prescription drugs to resell. It quickly escalated to more than just stealing from passers-by.
The 18th district, known as Butte-Montmartre, is towards the north of Paris. It sits on top of the hill and is home to a diverse group of people. Sex workers, pimps, drug dealers are among its inhabitants, but it is also home to immigrants, artists and older people, all on smaller incomes.
In the space of two months, eight elderly women were viciously murdered by Paulin and Mathurin, and in every case the motive was burglary. Only one would survive this spate of attacks.
The first wave of murders
“Paulin was a born criminal. Attacking a grandmother is a triumph without peril which brings no glory.” — Jean-Claude Mulès, La Brigade Criminelle.
On the 5th October 1984, the news swept around Paris that two elderly women had been assaulted. Anna Barbier-Ponthus was 83 and lived in a small apartment on Rue Saulnier. She had been beaten and then smothered by a pillow. 91-year-old, Germaine Petitot had been attacked in her apartment at the bottom of Montmartre on Rue Lepic. She survived but was too traumatised to give a description of her attackers. The perpetrators got away with just 300 francs (around $47 in 2020).
On the 9th of October, firefighters were called to an apartment building that was on fire. Inside lay the body of Suzanne Foucault, who was 89 years old. She had been suffocated with a plastic bag and her watch and 500 francs were stolen.
On Monday 5th of November, the body of a retired teacher, Ioana Seicaresco was found at boulevard de Clichy. She had been tied up with electrical wire and savagely beaten to death. She was 71 years old. This time, the killers had taken 10,000 francs.
Two days later, Alice Benaïm was found in her apartment, by her son. She had been beaten and made to drink cleaning fluid, to force her to disclose the location of the 400 francs she owned. She was 84 years old. The next day, Marie Choy was found by her care nurse. She has been tortured, tied up and gagged with a towel. The killers stole 200 francs.
“The way to make them talk was by twisting their fingers. It was to make them suffer.” — Dominique Rizet, Journalist.
On the 9th of November, 75-year-old Maria Mico-Diaz was killed by the same murderers. She had been stabbed and eventually suffocated using a cloth. The killers took 200 francs.
On the 12th of November, Jeanne Laurent, 82 and Paule Victor, 77 were found, both dead and their apartments had been turned upside down in the search for money. They had been killed a week before their discovery.
The money that Paulin and Mathurin stole funded their lifestyles. Parties, drugs and nightclubs, which would bring crowds of new acquaintances who used the couple for their new-found wealth.
The panic mounting around Paris was evident and the police had no suspects for the fingerprints left behind. Locals were terrified and began to question the competence of the police force.
“The sense of fear among the population persisted. Compounded by the professional disarray in still having failed to question them, and not having been able to do anything to ease the concern of the public.” — Philippe Bilger, Prosecutor on the case.
There was no central fingerprint database at the time, so Paulin’s fingerprints from the grocery store robbery were not in general circulation. In response, the police deployed hundreds of officers to monitor the 1,500-metre radius of Montmartre, hoping to calm the locals’ concerns and to prevent further attacks.
The area was becoming risky for the couple, so they went to live with Paulin’s father in Toulouse as a temporary measure. His father was still unhappy with Paulin’s decision to leave Toulouse years earlier, and he did not accept his new relationship. The couple eventually grew weary of each other and Mathurin returned to Paris, whilst Paulin stayed in Toulouse, reconnecting with old friends.
He put his effort and remaining money into starting his own business, Transforme Star, a talent agency for trans artists, in Toulouse. He enticed locals with champagne and cocaine as if it were Paris, but the lights and drugs did not have the same pull as they did in the capital. The business failed around a year later in 1985.
The second wave of murders
A year had passed since the last murder. The police were still lost in their spiderweb of theories, and it was about to get worse; Thierry Paulin had returned to Paris.
On the 20th December 1985, Estelle Donjoux was strangled in her home. She was 91 years old and lived in the 14th district. The killer had expanded the area in which he roamed to provide more opportunities for finding a victim. On the 4th January 1986, Andrée Ladam, 77, was killed by Paulin. Five days later, Yvonne Couronne, 83, was murdered in her apartment. It’s unknown whether any money was taken during these murders.
Paulin was using the same strategy he used before; he would follow the women home, push inside their apartment when they opened the door, take their money, and then he would kill them. The missing element from these attacks was the brutality; it would become apparent during the trial that Mathurin was the more violent of the two murderers. But the police now knew that the same person was responsible for the spate of murders that started in 1984, and they were beginning to understand the killer.
Four more names would be added to the docket, and on the 12th of January, Marjem Jurblum and Françoise Vendôme would be found strangled in the 11th and 12th districts. Three days later, Yvonne Schaiblé was found dead in her apartment in the 5th district. The last victim of this spree would be Virginie Labrette, 76, who was found in her 12th district apartment.
Between February and June of 1986, the murders stopped. Paulin had found work at a media agency as a talent scout and had an income keeping his lifestyle afloat. The company went bankrupt in May 1986 and Paulin found himself without a job and no way to fund his nights out.
On the 14th June 1986, the killings started again, and Ludmilla Liberman was killed by Paulin in her home, coming back from the market.
In August, Paulin attacked his drug dealer with a baseball bat. The dealer had called the police himself because of the severity of the incident. Paulin was arrested and sentenced to 16 months in prison at Fresnes. By the time he was released, he had been diagnosed as HIV positive. The police had still not compared his fingerprints to any of the prints on file from the murder scenes.
Realising he had limited time left to enjoy himself, he began to throw extravagant parties, sparing no expense, all the time paying for alcohol and drugs with the money belonging to the women he had murdered.
On the 25th November 1987, Paulin murdered Rachel Cohen and Berthe Finalteri, who were 79 and 87, and both lived in the 10th district. Two days later, he strangled Geneviève Germont.
Whilst celebrating his 24th birthday with his friends in various Parisian nightclubs, Geneviève had recovered in hospital and had managed to give the police a description of her attacker.
On the 1st December 1987, Paulin was arrested by Francis Jacob, a local policeman who recognised Paulin from the description Geneviève had given. After two days in custody, Paulin admitted to all of his crimes and quickly told the police about Mathurin’s involvement in the killing spree.
Whilst in police custody, Thierry Paulin acted like a film star. He borrowed money from family to buy the papers to collect articles about his case and seemed unconcerned about building a defence with his lawyers, to ensure he stayed out of prison.
“The photos and pictures were awful; it was difficult, very difficult. I must admit that when I studied the case files that I didn’t have lunch; I didn’t have dinner — I couldn’t.” — Michèle Arnold, defence lawyer.
On the 16th April 1989, Paulin died from the effects of AIDS, suffering from tuberculosis and meningitis, aged 26. He would never serve time for some 20 women he viciously killed.
“Paulin was not a serial killer; he was a spree killer. A serial killer is a pathological killer, who kills to experience a physical or moral pleasure…he enjoys the terror he inspires in others.” — Jean-Claude Mulès, La Brigade Criminelle
Jean-Thierry Mathurin was sentenced to life in prison plus 18 years without parole. He was only tried for the first set of attacks. Mathurin was released in January 2009, after serving 20 years.