Baron de Rais, was a Breton knight, a leader in the French army and a companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc. He is best known by his reputation and conviction as a prolific serial killer of children.
In his confession, Gilles maintained the first assaults on children occurred between spring 1432 and spring 1433. The first murders occurred at Champtocé-sur-Loire; however, no account of these murders survived. Shortly after, Gilles moved to Machecoul where, as the record of his confession states, he killed, or ordered to be killed, a great but uncertain number of children after he sodomized them. Forty bodies were discovered in Machecoul in 1437.
The first documented case of child-snatching and murder concerns a boy of twelve called Jeudon (first name unknown), an apprentice to the furrier Guillaume Hilairet. Gilles de Rais’ cousins, Gilles de Sillé and Roger de Briqueville, asked the furrier to lend them the boy to take a message to Machecoul, and, when Jeudon did not return, the two noblemen told the inquiring furrier that they were ignorant of the boy’s whereabouts and suggested he had been carried off by thieves at Tiffauges to be made into a page. In Gilles de Rais’ trial, the events were testified to by Hillairet and his wife, the boy’s father Jean Jeudon, and five others from Machecoul.
In his 1971 biography of Gilles de Rais, Jean Benedetti tells how the children who fell into Rais’s hands were put to death:
[The boy] was pampered and dressed in better clothes than he had ever known. The evening began with a large meal and heavy drinking, particularly hippocras, which acted as a stimulant. The boy was then taken to an upper room to which only Gilles and his immediate circle were admitted. There he was confronted with the true nature of his situation. The shock thus produced on the boy was an initial source of pleasure for Gilles.
Gilles’ bodyservant Étienne Corrillaut, known as Poitou, was an accomplice in many of the crimes and testified that his master hung his victims with ropes from a hook to prevent the child from crying out, then masturbated upon the child’s belly or thighs. Taking the victim down, Rais comforted the child and assured him he only wanted to play with him. Gilles then either killed the child himself or had the child killed by his cousin Gilles de Sillé, Poitou or another bodyservant called Henriet. The victims were killed by decapitation, cutting of their throats, dismemberment, or breaking of their necks with a stick. A short, thick, double-edged sword called a braquemard was kept at hand for the murders. Poitou further testified that Rais sometimes abused the victims (whether boys or girls) before wounding them and at other times after the victim had been slashed in the throat or decapitated. According to Poitou, Rais disdained the victim’s sexual organs, and took “infinitely more pleasure in debauching himself in this manner … than in using their natural orifice, in the normal manner.”
In his own confession, Gilles testified that “when the said children were dead, he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and heads he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed”.
Poitou testified that he and Henriet burned the bodies in the fireplace in Gilles’ room. The clothes of the victim were placed into the fire piece by piece so they burned slowly and the smell was minimized. The ashes were then thrown into the cesspit, the moat, or other hiding places. The last recorded murder was of the son of Éonnet de Villeblanche and his wife Macée. Poitou paid 20 sous to have a page’s doublet made for the victim, who was then assaulted, murdered, and incinerated in August 1440.