It is interesting how war can affect moral perspective. Take the case of Marcel Petiot. If you believe Paris police, he was an evil, horrendous serial killer. If you believe Petiot's version of the story, he was a patriot.
Petiot, a French physician, was convicted of murdering 26 people in Paris during World War II. As David King explores in unprecedented detail in Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris, there were likely many more, perhaps up to 100. Petoit claimed he was a Resistance member who killed Germans and collaborators. Others, like the jury, said he used a phony escape network to lure people — and their money and valuables — into his deadly clutches.
One thing is clear. Petoit took advantage of the horrors of the war. As King points out, when thousands of people are disappearing and dying, who will think the disappearance of a couple people they know is the work of a serial murderer? And what person of Jewish descent is going to approach authorities in Nazi-controlled France to report a missing relative? After all, 33,000 Jews alone disappeared in France an 11-week period after Nazis began a mass round-up of Jews in mid-July 1942, some 13,000 in Paris in just 48 hours.
Although Death in the City of Light has somewhat of a choppy feel, it is thoroughly researched and told. King doesn't present it as some sort of mystery tale. The reader fairly well knows from the outset that Petiot is involved or responsible. A preface sets the stage with police fortuitously discovering dismembered body parts and bones, as well as bodies in a in a coal stove and lime pit, in property owned by Petoit. The balance of the book is given over to the ensuing investigation, the search for Petoit, and his trial. With the investigation as a framework, King explores Petoit's background, including him becoming a physician after getting a 100 percent mental disability rating following his service in World War I and potential murders prior to the war, as well as life in Nazi-occupied France, Petoit's scheme and some of his victims.
Police concluded that, acting under the pseudonym "Dr. Eugène," Petoit claimed to be part of a network that could help people escape France to Argentina by way of Spain. Not only did they pay varying sums of money, they were instructed to arrive at their ultimate rendezvous in Paris with their most valuable possessions packed in no more than two suitcases or sewn into their clothes. Police would later discover 49 pieces of luggage Petoit hid containing hundreds of items — but no money or valuables. Petoit had also remodeled the property in which the human remains were found, including the construction of a small triangular room with solid brick walls about 8.5 inches thick containing only eight iron hooks, a false door on the walls and a concealed peephole. Petoit's escape network cover was good enough that he was actually arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo, although he was released after several months.