Saturday, April 4, 2009

Crucifix in a death hand, pt. 3

She beat her mother to death with a crucifix

Awash in mysticism and dementia this drama unfolded Monday in a little apartment on the
rue de l'église.

"I had visions in a dream. I saw that I was the devil, that I was evil and that I had to do it." So declared Élisabeth F., 34, to the police soon after killing her mother Thérèse, 81, during the night on Monday.

The drama unfolded at around 1:15 am in a little apartment the two women occupied on the first floor at 7, place de l’église, in Lourdes. The old woman was asleep in her bedroom and her daughter, like every evening, unfolded the sofa bed in the dining room where she slept. Suddenly, certainly “taken with an attack of dementia” in the words of state prosecutor Gérard Aldigé, she went into her mother’s room and lept upon her in order to do the harm her recent vision incited. She grabbed a lamp from the night table and with it landed several blows upon the face and body of her mother. In a state of extreme agitation, she next took a slat from the bed and continued to hit her mother; she began once again, this time with the crucifix which had evidently been fixed above the bed of her elderly mother. The poor woman could not survive such a flurry of violence.

Prostrate and covered in blood

Soon after, Élisabeth went back into the dining room to call the SAMU [paramedics -LoS]. She simply said: “Come, I’ve just killed my mother.” When the firemen and police arrived her mother was prostrate and covered in blood. As the body of the old woman was transported to the morgue, investigators collected their first statements and placed the young woman in custody. The incoherence of her statements quickly convinced them that she was insensate.

The examining doctor diagnosed that she was suffering from serious mental illness and would not be responsible for her actions. Monday at the end of the day she was placed in the psychiatric unit of the Lannemezan hospital.

An apartment shrine

She will again be examined by one or more psychiatrists in the coming days or weeks. “These examinations will allow us to determine if she is or isn’t capable of standing trial” explained the state prosecutor.

The two women lived here “for about 2 years” reported Émile Magendie, the owner of their apartment. Apparently they had been living in a little lodging on the rue Bartayres. They had left Champagne and the rest of their family for Paris before installing themselves in the Marial city a little more than four years ago. It seems that Thérèse was no longer in contact with her ex-husband and her seven other children. Élisabeth no longer saw them either. The family had come apart after several personal quarrels. Élisabeth, a secret to nobody, suffered from serious psychological problems (see article below).

Very pious, they chose this city because of the devotion they vowed to the Virgin and God. Their two-room flat was stuffed with religious objects, statuettes of Mary and the crucifix. “They were really very faithful, not to say mystics” confirms a neighbor, who always saw them together. Lately Thérèse went out much less. She looked tired. As for Élisabeth, her condition had worsened.

At Lourdes, everyone who crossed their path assures “that they demonstrated a great mutual attachment, they had a great and real love for each other.”

Yesterday in the corridor of their little building, a cat was meowing before their door. It was theirs. It searched in vain for its mistresses. In the afternoon the owner of the apartment took it to the SPA.

"She dreamed of giving her mother a tomb."

Jacques Barzu, departmental president of the Red Cross, knew Thérèse and Élisabeth well: “The came to pick up their care packages every week, I felt they were very close and attentive to one another. I’m devastated by this news; I didn’t think she was so disturbed or violent. Depressive, yes.” He said that for Élisabeth "The future of her mother was an obsessive preoccupation, above all, her death. She often evoked the last remains of her mother and complained of not having enough money to offer her a tomb.” In effect, with both of their small pensions, retirement for one and disability for the other, they lived with about 700 euros. “For three weeks I felt bad about them both,” continued Jacques Barzu. “I remember when they arrived at Lourdes, it was Christmas evening, they had a hard-boiled egg for the both of them. The Red Cross gave them packages of food and some things for everyday life. Thérèse suffered as well. She called me Friday night to unload and speak about the decline of her daughter. She told me that she was in a great mental suffering.”

Father Bernard Saint-Voirin also evoking their mutual love, dwelt a little on their life in Lourdes as, “two lost in life. The daughter was very depressed. She pursued long and brilliant studies but something happened which remains in a shadowy place. I didn’t feel alarmed, however, and I received them every month.”

Lourdes, the "fraternal city"

This affair is yet another reminder that Lourdes, called the “fraternal city", attracts the distressed from the world over.

“There are many people lost or suffering from mental problems, who sometimes come to live here” said a member of the SAMU.

The volunteers of the Red Cross and Secours Catholique know very well those who come daily for help.

Unfortunately some of these wanderers end up in dramas such as the one which occurred during Monday night.


  1. That's quite a tale ... it's so easy to slip into viewing it as fiction, watching the Polanski film reel through my mind.

    Another thing altogether to consider the real horror of it, a thing that happened.

    The cat at the end lends a witchcraft ring to it all...

  2. Yes, I should have posted the second installment without comment....I was rather clumsily trying to point out just that cinematic quality, how it played out as if in a film, but it comes across as being rather insensitive and exploitative.

    It's actually a very sad tale on many levels: the poverty, madness, isolation. I can't even begin to imagine how they scraped by on 700 euros a month. One hard-boiled egg at Christmas, apparently....


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